True Confessions from My Own Home Kitchen
Every home cook has their fair share of kitchen disasters; I can attest to that because I’ve certainly had plenty of my own. But in most cases, these little cooking catastrophes can be salvaged so I’ll let you in on a few tips.
I also want to confess to a few corner-cutting tricks that I often turn to when I want to save money, need to make a dish go further or don’t have all the usual ingredients on hand for a dish I want to make. You know what? Cooking is creative. There’s absolutely no need to feel tied to a strict set of rules. In fact, some of my best moments in the kitchen have been when I’ve ‘accidentally’ discovered a different way of doing something. Let me take you through a few of my deep, dark secrets!
When a recipe fails for you, what can you do? Do you patch it together as best you can and still serve it? Throw it away and feel sad for the waste? Do you give it away to a poor soul who loves you despite your funny imperfections? Or do you try and turn it into something else? I’ve done all of the above in my cooking career and frankly, I don’t think any of them have come back to bite me. I even look back and laugh at some of these little disasters!
The too-hot-to-handle disaster
I remember a time when the Kashmiri Chilli I purchased was not mild at all. It was so, so hot I recall the Indian grocery store acknowledged the error of their in-house packing. Oh, dear heaven, when I tasted the first dish I made with it, I thought it might blow my reputation for good.
The best fix for this is to remove the sauce/gravy and refrigerate it for later use. Then, balance out the heat of the dish with something more cooling like natural yoghurt, coconut milk, fresh tomato puree or pureed spinach. When, at a later date, you go to use the sauce that you set aside, balance out the heat the same way and add to your cooked meats or veggies.
Let’s say your curry is too acidic with tomatoes or tamarind, or you were a bit too enthusiastic with the coconut cream. Either of those will balance the other. Tame an acidic curry by adding a ‘rounder’ flavour with yoghurt or coconut cream and for a curry that’s too coconutty, bring back harmony with some more acidic flavours like tomatoes. A lovely ‘smoothie’ base made from ingredients like coriander, mint, lemon juice, spinach or tomatoes, whizzed up in the blender, is the answer.
Revving up a bland dish
On occasion, I’ve been guilty of holding back on herbs for whatever reason and then, when tasting the dish, it seems to lack depth of flavour. That’s easily fixed! Simply crush some more of the herbs, fry them gently in oil and add to the dish. It’ll be exactly as if you wanted.
How to cut corners successfully
There are times when you’re caught out, with unexpected visitors or short on time to get a meal on the table. For those occasions, it’s smart to keep a few ‘secret weapons’ on hand. Here are a few that I turn to when I’m under pressure:
- Pre-bought products – Keeping commercial salad dressings, soup mixes, marinades and spice blends on hand is just smart thinking. Quite apart from my own Latasha’s Kitchen range that helps home cooks stay ahead of the game, I too use commercial products! I’ll often toss a bag of salad leaves into a bowl and add a bottled dressing if I’m pressed for time.
- Flavour boosters – I never feel as though I’m ‘above’ using flavour boosters like packaged stock in liquid or cubes. Whenever I resort to this I enhance the packaged version with extra whole spices or herbs. When making a mid-week Asian broth I sometimes add some white or brown miso for an additional boost. There are times when even though I’ve made my own stock from scratch, I don’t have enough for a recipe – I often don’t have the freezer or fridge capacity to store a large quantity – so I stretch it out with commercial cubes or powder. I cut corners like this all the time and I still get brilliant results.
- Ask your butcher to help – Independent butchers are such wonderful, obliging people! Mine really is my knight in shining armour. Often, I’ll buy my choice of fresh meat and have him mince it for me. He’ll happily make up a mix of pork, veal and chicken for me and I’ll use it to make rissoles, meatballs or koftas. I even get him to butterfly chicken breasts for me and vacuum seal them with my own BYO marinade! Savoury breaded lamb cutlets are a cinch when my butcher does all the tricky, messy work. I make up a breadcrumb mix with my preferred herbs and spices and he does the crumbing and packaging for me.
Is meal prep really worth it?
Like me, you’ve probably seen lots of Instagram and Pinterest posts about meal prep. I always find them so motivating but the truth is, it takes time to be prepared, which kind of defeats the purpose! That said, yes, I do believe meal prep is worth it … when you can manage it. At other times, merely knowing what you have on hand is a great start. Peer into your fridge, freezer and pantry and don’t just see what’s there; pull things out and put them on your kitchen benchtop. Eventually, you’ll see a meal idea emerging.
A slow cooker is a godsend when you don’t know what to cook. You can literally throw a bunch of ingredients in, switch it on and the result is like an aromatic welcoming party when you come home. Try to think, before you go to bed at night, “Do I have some meat in the freezer that I could cook tomorrow night?” Transfer it to the fridge and you’ll be less likely to pick up an expensive takeaway on your way home from work.
Some weeks, I push myself further by placing a selection of ingredients and a pot on my kitchen table, even two days ahead to force myself to start thinking! Out of sight, out of mind really resonates with me. When the inspiration is in front of your eyes, it’s easier to come up with a plan. I might put out tinned chickpeas, a bag of lentils, a small dabba (Indian steel container) of mixed herbs and spices, a jar of paste, a jar of nut butter, a can of tomatoes and a can of coconut milk. All of these get my creative juices flowing. Soon enough, I can picture that delicious, satisfying dish in my mind’s eye and start cooking.
Kitchen fails can be fun!
Given all the above scenarios I firmly believe that home-style food disasters in the home kitchen will never go out of fashion. After all, it’s so much fun!