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9 Cooking Mistakes We All Make and How to Fix Them

Just the other night I suffered a kitchen disaster. I hate when that happens. I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked way beyond al dente, all the way to total mush.

A person cooking food in a kitchen, with Pasta and Chef

It killed me to dump the whole thing down the disposal, but there was no way to undo that disaster.

Thankfully, that’s not true for every cooking mistake. This is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case.

Too much salt

It’s a common cooking mistake. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup and you have enough ingredients, double the recipe or make more by half, then mix it in with the salty batch a bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired flavor.

Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.

Burnt toast

Don’t toss it until you’ve tried this neat trick: Use your cheese grater to quickly scrape off the burned layer. Works like magic!

Undercooked cake

The first sign of a cake that’s not done is that sinkhole in the middle. Once cooled you cannot re-bake it. But don’t worry. This is not a hopeless kitchen disaster.

Break the cake into pieces (even those parts that are undercooked) and combine them with whipped cream and fresh fruit to make dessert parfaits or one large trifle

ENJOY: 25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your Life

Overcooked vegetables

If you’ve overcooked the broccoli, asparagus or similar vegetables don’t despair. Just tweak your menu a bit to include creamed vegetable soup—cooking mistake averted!

Place the mushy vegetables in the food processor, add hot chicken broth or stock, spices and fresh cream. Process until smooth.

Chopped vegetables could also be combined with chicken, butter, and cornstarch and placed in a prepared pie shell for a pot pie. If it’s carrots or sweet potatoes you need to rescue, whip them together with eggs and pumpkin pie spices to create a soufflé. Follow these basics.

Burnt pudding, custard, soup

Even the most seasoned chefs have been known to burn a custard or two. If you notice that the bottom layer of custard or cream-based soup has turned dark, stop stirring immediately. You don’t want to incorporate any of the burned bottom into the burnt portions.

Pour the remaining custard, pudding or cream into a new pan making sure you don’t scrape up any of the part that’s scorched at the bottom and keep cooking. 

Overspiced food

If taking a taste of the chili, stew or soup sends you running for a glass of anything that will put out the fire, try adding more of every other ingredient except the spices. A raw potato might absorb some of the heat, but don’t expect miracles. Adding hot water is also a technique that may bring down the temperature.

Thin sauces

There are several techniques you can try to thicken the sauce. Work some flour into small amounts of butter. Bring the sauce to boil and drop them in one at a time, while stirring, until the sauce is your desired thickness.

Cornstarch is usually a good thickener, provided you have mixed it with cold water first, and add it to the boiling liquid a little at a time while stirring. Some cooks use dried potato flakes as an emergency thickener. 

Acidic foods

Sometimes a tomato-based sauce will become too acidic for guests. When dealing with an acid, the neutralizing agent should be a base. Try adding 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda at a time to the sauce to reduce acidity.

Some cooks prefer to add sugar for the same reason. Sugar can also reduce the acidity of tomatoes used in salads.

Rescue the pot

Sometimes a burned-on mess cannot be saved. But the pot or pan can be. Try this: Add hot water and a capful or two of fabric softener. Allow the pan to sit undisturbed for a few hours. The fabric softener should loosen most of the burnt food and allow you to remove it with a spatula. 

MORE: Easy Ways to Remove a Burned-On Mess in a Pot, Pan or Casserole

First Appeared: 7-11-14; Updated 3-18-19


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7 replies
  1. dholcomb1 says:

    There is no scientific proof adding potatoes will reduce the salt in a dish that is too salty, in fact it has been disproven scientifically–more than once.

    One is example is: Robert L. Wolke, the author of the book KITCHEN SCIENCE EXPLAINED WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS COOK and professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh conducted an experiment with potato slices cooked in various degrees of salted water and discovered this:

    “…the potato simmered in plain water was bland, the potato simmered in the one-teaspoon-per-quart water was salty, and the potato simmered in the one- tablespoon-per-quart water was much saltier. Does this mean that the potato actually absorbed salt from the “soups?”

    No, All it means is that the potatoes soaked up some salt water, they didn’t selectively extract the salt from the water. Would you be surprised if a sponge placed in salt water came out tasting salty? Of course not. The concentration of salt in the water – the amount of salt per quart – would not be affected. So the salty taste of the potatoes proved nothing, except that for more flavor we should always boil our potatoes – and our pasta, for that matter – in salted water rather than plain water. “

  2. Kathleen French says:

    I had tried EVERYTHING and the burnt on crud just wouldn’t budge. Then I had an idea and it actually worked! Try putting the pot into the freezer, leaving it overnight, then take it out and let it naturally come up to room temp completely. Then try cleaning it. The mess should come right off. I think it’s because of the expanding and contracting of the surface. Don’t do this unless it’s a last resort because you could warp your cookware.

  3. Jana says:

    Great ideas! When rescuing a pot after a burnt food incident, I have added dishwasher detergent to cover the bottom of the pan and then added water, maybe a half inch to an inch and simmer everything on the stove for about an hour or so, watching to be sure the water doesn’t evaporate. The burnt on mess lifts away! Many a pot has been saved this way!! I want to try the fabric softener idea too.

  4. Jo says:

    I made a wonderful trifle from a bundt pan coffee cake that came out in pieces. My husband liked it better than the original!


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