About the Author
TANYA ZERYCK is a stay-at-home mom who, between reading cookbooks and whipping up culinary delights for her family, is a prolific gardener. Her parents, JOHN AND MARINA BEAR, are the authors of The Something Went Wrong Now What Do I Do Cookbook
(the original edition of How to Repair Food
) and Not Your Mother’s Cookbook.
John is also the coauthor, with Margaret Fox, of Café Beaujolais
, Morning Food
, and Evening Food.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
How to Improvise, Bluff, or Otherwise Muddle Through
This is the Great Encouragement section. This is the place you turn to when the main course has turned gray, when your dessert won’t jell, or when there’s a funny smell in the house and you discover that it’s coming from the kitchen.
Or, more generally, come back to this section when you have a specific problem that isn’t covered in the main part of the text.
Our message is take heart! When everything seems to be going wrong--or has, in fact, already gone wrong--it is still possible to snatch victory (and your dinner) from the very jaws of defeat and the garbage can. You need only courage, a bit of creativity (yours or ours), and a good set of first aid ingredients for repairing damaged food.
Here, then, is our suggestion for a culinary first aid kit, a list of supplies that should equip you to weather a wide variety of kitchen catastrophes. And in case absolutely everything goes wrong, it is even possible to create an entirely satisfactory dinner for four out of emergency supplies you have squirreled away just in case. See Appendix H for details.
The first aid items are listed in alphabetical order. Permission is freely granted to add, subtract, or modify to fit your own needs and wishes.
First Aid Supplies
artichoke hearts (quartered): If you have room in your freezer, keep a couple of boxes of frozen artichoke hearts in the back corner. They are unusual enough that they look special, and they’re one of the few vegetables that stand up well to preserving. If your freezer is full, you can stack a couple of cans of them in the back of the cupboard instead (be sure they’re not the marinated kind, which usually come in jars). They make a great addition to a too-small salad and are part of the emergency meal in Appendix H.
baking kit: Flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, salt, vegetable oil, and vanilla. We could have listed each item separately, but these are what you will need for the emergency dessert in Appendix H. They are also generally available in small quantities (in case you don’t bake much), last for a very long time, and can be used for other things. Flour is handy for thickening soups and stews and fruit desserts. Sugar? You must keep some on hand if you’re going to offer your guests coffee or tea. Cocoa, of course, can be used to make, well, cocoa (which, by the way, is not much harder than using any instant package, and is much tastier). Vanilla adds a homey and very appealing flavor to any dessert. Even if you’re just making an instant vanilla pudding, adding some vanilla extract will make it taste more homemade.
baking mix: There is good, old, reliable Bisquick, which also comes in a reduced-fat version, as well as convenient baking mixes available in your natural food store. With one of these in your pantry, you’ll be comforted to know that you aren’t more than 13 minutes away from home-baked goods like pancakes, cookies, coffee cake, quickbreads, and biscuits.
baking soda: Never let your kitchen be without it. Besides its cooking, medicinal, stain-removing, and deodorizing uses (you probably already have an open box of it in the fridge), it is also the ideal kitchen fire extinguisher, especially for grease fires. Simply pour lots on a fire. Note: Trying to douse a grease fire with water will normally only make things worse.
berries (frozen): Most of the first aid supplies on our list are items that might last you until Y3K without going bad, but this one is different. We recommend keeping on hand frozen berries. They’ll only last for a year or so, but if you haven’t used them for a while, you’ll just have to make some berry pies, a berry sauce for your pancakes or ice cream, berry ice cream to go under your sauce, or some healthful breakfast smoothies. In the meantime, they’re very handy to have around to make all those menu items we just mentioned. Nothing is easier while seeming gourmet than a homemade berry sauce for that gallon of ice cream you just pulled out of the freezer.
bouillon cubes: Any bland soup or stew can be vastly improved with a bouillon cube. Just make sure that, if the dish you’re adding it to is at all thick, you’ve melted the cube in a bit of boiling water first. (Finding a piece of bouillon cube in a mouthful of food is not fun.) And, of course, a bouillon cube is also the start of a pot of soup; just toss in all the sad leftover vegetables at the bottom of the veggie drawer (as well as some of the other things in this list).
capers: So maybe they’re not a usual thing for most people to keep around, but not only are they necessary for the emergency dinner in Appendix H, they offer huge flavor as well. Salty and briny, they add pop to sauces, stews, and many a salad. Mix them with mayo and pickles for a gourmet tartar sauce. Or sauté them in butter to top a fish fillet. Even canned tuna becomes a treat if you mix in a caper or two (or six). Or mix them with that can of shrimp in your emergency supplies for a gourmet snack.
cheese sauce or cheese soup: One can is instant help for some dry casseroles. Pour it on vegetables. Heat it up and pour it on toast for instant Welsh rarebit.
clam chowder: Find a good brand that’s short on potatoes and long on clams. It makes a good first course when you’re faced with less main course than you need, and it’s not bad for snacks or lunch either.
couscous (or rice): Look in the rice section of your store for couscous. Chances are overwhelming that you will find a box of instant couscous, which looks like a grain but is actually a pasta. Buy it and save it, unless you’re not familiar with couscous. In that case, buy two and try one. It’s a great “underneath” for meat, fish, or vegetable stews. It’s exotic enough that it looks special, but it tastes simple and supportive. Best of all, it cooks in only 5 minutes. If you can’t find it (or you or the two-year-old you live with won’t try new stuff), then substitute quick-cooking rice, which even comes in brown nowadays.
evaporated milk: Next on your shopping list is a 12-ounce can of evaporated milk. How many times have you run out of milk in the last two years? See? Use evaporated milk anywhere you’d use whole milk--in desserts, sauces, etc.--adding an equal amount of water (so a 12-ounce can makes 3 cups of milk). You can also use it to make a whipped topping. And there are low-fat and fat-free versions, too. Choose your favorite.
food colorings: Here’s a big secret: a few drops of yellow in your curried rice or biscuit dough makes it look richer. A pallid soup can be reddened a little and made much more appetizing. (Sure, you could grate a little fresh beet into the soup, but do you have a fresh beet on hand? Fine. Then use food coloring instead.) And then there’s the blue mashed potatoes and the green scrambled eggs the kids are still telling their friends about.
garbanzo beans: Also known as chickpeas, these beans are one of the very few kinds of vegetable matter that are not diminished by the canning process. They are great salad and main-course enhancers, be-cause they’re filling and nutritious and interesting looking while being fairly bland and adaptable, tastewise.
gelatin (unflavored): For thickening cool things, unflavored gelatin works wonders. Soften a package in 1/4 cup cold water and add it to 1 cup warm liquid to dissolve it. Then add it to aspic, pudding, cooked pie filling, or whatever. It will even rescue a soggy croquette, if that’s your problem (see “CROQUETTES”). It is also a pretty good start for a lot of fancy desserts. Check any good cookbook or just improvise.
hollandaise sauce (canned or packaged): These days, you don’t need much. Everybody knows it’s sinfully rich and difficult to make, so a graceful dollop over insufficient vegetables can make a big difference. The same goes for fish and eggs. Use it straight, or add a pinch of tarragon and you have a basic version of béarnaise sauce for meat, fish, or vegetables. Add some tomato sauce (2 teaspoons per little can or packet of hollandaise) and you have Choron sauce for eggs or meat. Add 11/2 teaspoons grated orange zest and 2 tablespoons orange juice and you have Maltaise sauce, which will turn the most tasteless fish or vegetable into something exotic.
hot pepper sauce: Is there anything, with the possible exception of a hot fudge sundae--and even then we’re not sure--that isn’t improved by a shake of Tabasco?
lemon juice: Keep a bottle of the reconstituted stuff in your fridge. Lemon juice livens up older vegetables and doubtful fishes. Use it whenever something is darkening that shouldn’t, such as fruit slices, avocados, or parsnips. If you don’t want the finished product to have a lemony taste, rinse whatever it is under gently running cold water before continuing. You can even make lemonade for unexpected company.
lentils: You can purchase these already cooked and canned or dry (in which case they cook up in half an hour or so). We prefer dried, as they are a nice way to thicken a soup (they suck up a lot of liquid during cooking). They can even be the soup. Cook them in broth rather than water to give them a nice flavor. Throw in some sautéed veggies (onion, carrot, and celery) and you have dinner. Cook them with less broth so they’re more stewish and toss in some potato and sausage and you’ve got another dinner. Cook them in even less broth and toss with vinaigrette and you’ve just fancied up your salad.
olives (black, preferably kalamata):