Kitchen Nightmares

Why is it the only time you cook a complete abomination is when you have dinner guests arriving in 22 minutes? Because when we rush we make mistakes. Sometimes it is the difference between a soup which looks like cabbage water and a stew. Other times, it is the layer of fat on the top of our dish masking the healthy goodness underneath. Help!

No Rewind

Celebrity chefs have the luxury of stopping the film and retaping when they flub something like gravy, you know the lumpy condiment which tastes nothing like your grandmother’s? You also do not have the unlimited celebrity budget to toss out your mistakes and begin anew from a seemingly bottomless pantry.

Your audience is also unlikely to give you a mulligan and wait an additional three hours for you to recreate the soup. Why give in to going out when you can make your disaster palatable and presentable? Right, just fix it.

It looks like soup.

Sauces dress up any dish and make food taste luxurious. Stew sticks to the bones and makes us feel full. What do you do when it looks like brown dishwater instead of the full-bodied gravy you expected?

Beurre Manié

No need to add extra salt.

“Kneaded butter” is the solution to runny substances. Yes, butter, not that oily substance in the plastic tub. Knead together equal parts softened (but not melted), unsalted butter and flour. Start with a quarter cup each. Roll the butter into marbles. Drop them into the brew one at a time.

When they dissolve, they will not make lumps. Stir between the pellets. Check the consistency and add another until you get the thickness you wanted.

Whisk, Repeat

Beat until dissolved.

Is the flour in your cupboard the instant dissolving pre-sifted kind? Turn the fire down to a low boil. Put three tablespoons of it into a bowl. Add three times as much liquid from your pot. Whisk until the flour is all dissolved.

Add about one third of the mixture back to the pot. After simmering for a few minutes, check the thickness. Still not enough? Repeat with more mixture. Be sure to taste!

Turn up the heat.

Boil, Boil, Boil

What makes soups too thin is excess water, wine or stock. Turn up the heat and remove the lid. Excess liquid will evaporate. Be sure to stir so the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pot.

For stews and soups with meat and veggies, remove the liquid to another pot before boiling down so the highlights do not dissolve into mush while you fix the sauce. Strain the liquid through a colander or simply scoop the ingredients out with a slotted  spoon before you raise the heat.

Fat Soup

We are all trying to be more fat conscious and eat healthier. You have made an excellent soup or stew with fresh veggies from the farmer’s market, but there is still a layer of fat at the top of the soup. The fat congeals at the top as the soup cools. Use that to your advantage.

Add Ice

Chill out.

Fill a large metal ladle with ice. Swirl it in the top of the soup. Dip the ladle in far enough to submerge most of it without letting the warm liquid get in with the ice. The fat will stick to the cool underside of the ladle.

Simply wipe it off. Add more ice and repeat the process until you cannot see any more fat floating on the top.

Consider it an investment in better health.

Fat Ladle

If you find you are skimming stew and soup on a regular basis, you may do well to invest in a fat spoon. It allows you to skim the top and allows the fat past the slots to be pulled away from the yummy rest of your dish.

Soak and Toss

Absorbent Food

This is the ultimate in organic waste. Fat absorbing foods like bread and lettuce leaves will rescue you from the artery-clogging fat. Simply lay them on top for a few moments and toss the fat in the bin. If you use bread, you may want to flip it over to do double duty.

What you waste in lettuce or bread is far cheaper than tossing the pot of soup or the medical visits associated with higher fat.

I have all day.

If you are not in a hurry, pop the pot in the refrigerator. As the soup cools, the fat will congeal on the top. Simply spoon it off before putting the pot back on the stove to warm for dinner.


What other surefire methods do you have for thickening sauce or skimming fat?

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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  1. You certainly know a lot about cooking Red
    and I like a nice meal you know, but also I can
    be easily pleased also… Some peeps crave a
    gourmet recipe at every sitting, whereas I will
    often enjoy a wickedly offered snack of this…
    that and definitely the other 🙂

    I like this one Red 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

    • I am a foodie. Not even a closet foodie. I love to eat and actually enjoy cooking. It is the getting me to go to the kitchen which is difficult. 😉

      • I think that there could be some very interesting ways in which to do that, but I figure that Bear will have all those in mind already 🙂 Well being a Foodie is one thing but… Well we won’t even go there 😉 lol

        It is almost the weekend, I do hope that You, Bear and all of your sweet Family have some wickedly enjoyable plans set up…

        Androgoth XXx

        • And rightly he does 😉

          I am hoping for an enjoyable weekend myself. Mayhap a getaway. One never knows. Especially when Bear is the navigator. 😉 Red.

  2. Red, this is the ultimate trick I devised myself, remember you read it here first. Mate says it’s genius at work
    . When stew or soup is too thin and watery , press a suitably-sized, fine double-screened sieve or colander down into it at any time, ( boiling or not), allowing the excess juice to puddle inside it. Scoop the excess juice out with a soup ladle and save the juice removed for cooking vegetables, as stock or another project. No loss in flavour is noted.
    Works every time, even thickening sauces, ie, making tomato sauce or while canning tomatoes (in which the juice is pure tomato juice– which can be preserved separately) or other such wonders…… Sure beats steaming the paint off of the kitchen by boiling stuff for hours in a sad attempt to thicken it.

    Also, if you want GOOD smooth gravy, lump-free, add cornstarch to a glass of cold water, mix it until it’s smooth, and add that to the meat stock juice, then bring it to a boil until it cooks and thickens. For CLEAR gravy use corn starch, for any old gravy use flour. “:)

    • Cornstarch is a secret ingredient in so many things. It is the clear sauce maker. Perhaps I shall put up some other cornstarch recipes and secrets. Hmm.

  3. When my soup or stew includes potatoes, I chop up some potato into little pieces and let them cook and dissolve to thicken the broth as the pot simmers.

    I’ll do the same thing for gravy. Zap a spud in the microwave, peel off the skin and mash it up to thicken your gravy. You’ll never get lumps.

    If you want to add a little color to your gravy, melt some butter in a sauce pan and add an equal amount of flour. Stir continuously over the fire (burners work okay too). Let the butter/flour mixture brown, then use it thicken your gravy.

    I have now given away the secrets I was planning to use for my one and only chance at Food TV fame and fortune…

    • We will just need to name a cookbook after you! When you make your roux (butter/flour), you can season it to add a little punch. You do know you can do it in the microwave, right? Three minutes the first time, and 45 seconds each after that stirring between. Stop two shades before the one you want. Let stand one minute and blend.

      And when you are short on spuds, try potato flakes. I keep them strictly for thickener 😉 Another one is cauliflower. Steamed and riced, it makes casseroles and stews thicker without changing the flavor much (adds just a hint of sweet). My children swear they do not eat cauliflower…joke is on them.

      Mean Momma.

      • I do similar stuff to get my nephew to eat more veggies. He claims he does not eat carrots. Guess again bud…

        • LOL! My children think *I* drink carrot juice. *Evil Laughter* Need to click the food tag in the cloud for more sneaky ways to get him to get veggies. My children have sensory issues, so I have to be really really really sneaky.

  4. Great tips, Red. Having cooked for a living for many years, I think you’ve nailed the key ones to save a dish in an emergency.
    Antoher one is if you’re making stock, let some get very concentrated, then freeze it in an ice tray, and you can use it if you need soup in a hurry. Just concentrate it down so the cubes can be added to water and still be tasty
    Also, great tip on the cornstarch from Raymond. But PLEASE make sure it’s dissolved in cold water before adding to hot…

    • I use stock cubes. Before I freeze them, I personalize them for different dishes. Some, I add pepper flakes or seeds. Others, fresh herbs (rosemary or sage). Makes for a quick fix to the “too watery” soup. I have cooked for decades, but the pay here is lousy. Glad to get a pro thumbs up! Red.

  5. Cooking makes me want to cry. Hubs is the ultimate cook, but perhaps the hardest teacher. Because he wants to Miyagi me. Like listen for changes in sound, be observant of smells, and check for texture. Not “cook 3 lbs of pasta for x minutes.” I have to have explicit recipes that I will probably speed-read and skip an important step because I’m off blogging while I should be listening to the saucepan.

    • ROFL! I tend to make the instructions uber-easy. I am the speed reader, but to be truly honest, I prefer no recipe. I tend to wing it and make it up as I go along. And OMG how many people are you feeding? Three pounds? WOW! *giggles*

  6. Good to know 🙂

  7. The veggie tricks are nearly the only way my kids ever got veggies growing up. Nowadays I often start tomato stock with veggies that have been cooked down to the consistency of mush as I have someone else that doesn’t like veggies (if he only knew what he was eating).

  8. I never thought of potato flakes. Sometimes I just grate a potato or two into the soup, to thicken it OR I use the immersion blender to blend just ‘some’ of the ingredients in the pot leaving most whole. Quick, easy and no-one will be the wiser. OR, why not just double the amount of veggies/ingredients you put in the soup for a thicker, stick to the ribs meal? OR, you can add well rinsed canned white kidney beans (or any of your choice) which has been partially blended with immersion blender and added to the soup.

    I LOVE making soup. Most Sundays in winter I’m in the kitchen chopping and dicing. I’ll do one huge pot of chicken stock and split it in half to make two different soups. Then they go into the freezer in plastic containers ready for me anytime I want something hot and comforting.

    By the way. Another reason I enjoy chopping and dicing is that I find it theraputic. If I’m upset in any way or am trying to work out a problem, I can burn off the extra energy by wacking the cutting board with my big knife!

    • I am the bean-killing queen. I put limas in all sorts of things. Another good one for soup thickener is navy beans or great northerns. I normally run mine through a ricer for a smoother consistency than I can get in the immersion blender. And the potato flakes will thicken in a matter of seconds as opposed to grated potato, which still needs to cook 😉

      I have a foot chopper. Back in the olden days when I sold kitchen equipment as a hobby job, I sold a ton of choppers by telling clients to take out aggression on onions. Warn hubs, if you find onion juice in the kitchen…it has been a bad day.

      I will have to put up some of my single serving recipes. You would like them, as they are cook once, eat many times meals.

  9. As I started reading this I had a flashback to watching the movie ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, to the scene where she makes soup that turn blue from the coloured string she used! When you have guests coming for dinner, prepare ahead! Prepare both yourself and the meal hehe

    • I normally do. When I cook for guests, I spend the last hour spot cleaning and dressing rather than sweating in the kitchen. I also rarely serve soup! I need to get that movie, as I have been told it was enjoyable by a few people.

  10. bear

     /  February 5, 2012

    Great advice…love to cook. Will keep theses tips in mind! And you are a great cook!


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