This happens to all of us. Well maybe April Bloomfield doesn’t have this problem, but the rest of us do. Meals gone wrong. You start out with the best intentions, you painstakingly source your ingredients, you envision your dining companions bowing down to your culinary genius. And then you blow it. Undercook the fish, oversalt the sauce. You sneak away to wring your hands in grief, cursing the day you ever picked up a chef knife and wondering if a better use for it would be to trim your toenails.
I’ve had some terrific screw ups. Like the time a guest ran an hour late and I thought I could leave my potatoes in the oven at a low temp while we waited. This trick works for most foods, not fried potatoes. When we sat down for dinner, the potatoes had turned into deliciously salted goose-fried rocks.
Another time I had 16 guests over for Thanksgiving dinner and as I started to carve the turkey, whoops(!) still raw. I clearly hadn’t shoved the probe in deep enough into that poor fellow’s hindquarters.
I’ll never forget the evening that my friend, still a novice cook at that point, had a bunch of us over for a dinner party. She’d put some lamb shanks into the oven, and had gone off to shower and get ready, loving this whole dinner party thing. What a breeze. My heart went out to her when she pulled the shanks out of the oven, crisped to a dark shade of black. Her kitchen suddenly became a triage unit, with three cooks working frantically to save what was left of our meal.
But the good news here is that nearly all kitchen disasters are solvable. Except for the potatoes- they were way beyond rehab. The turkey? I took off the outer breast, the wings, and popped him back into the oven to finish roasting while we started on the other dishes. The lamb shanks? We saved what was left of the meat and made a smooth, dark sauce from the charred onion remains.
Sometimes, when you’re forced to improvise, culinary genius does actually knock on your door. Like when I used a bright and acidic potato salad to thicken up mashed potatoes that were a little too runny.
OK, to be completely honest, the mashed potatoes turned a vivid shade of pink from the red potatoes, hence no finished picture. And the kids surprisingly refused to eat pink mashed potatoes. But damn, they tasted good. And I’ll revisit that technique again, on purpose, with white potatoes.
So here are my parting words of wisdom: play in your kitchen, and when you have a good disaster, go with it. Laugh it off, fix it as best you can, and if you can’t, you’ve got some ammo a seriously good food fight. Happy cooking everyone.