Saving face: How kitchen klutzes can recapture their culinary mojo

·7 min read

Jun. 13—A klutz, as we all know, is a clumsy person.

A kitchen klutz, then, is someone who's clumsy while cooking.

It's someone who burns the grilled cheese sandwiches and then surreptitiously scrapes off the blackened parts before serving what's left charred-side down, or maybe someone who makes rice so gluey it could be used for papier-maché.

But we're not judging, because we all lose our culinary mojo at one time or another.

So on this National Kitchen Klutzes Day, June 13, we've got some tips and tricks to let you save face when faced with a dinner (or any other cooking) disaster.

In the student-run Clay High School Golden Eagle Café, the kids "are still learning," said Andi Lawrence, an instructor in the culinary arts department and the chef-owner at Foodology, which offers cooking classes for all ages. Sometimes mistakes happen during a lunchtime rush and "we have to be quick on our feet."

If a casserole is burnt on the top or the bottom — or, in a worst case scenario, both — you can scoop the servable portions into a quesadilla or a sandwich.

"Turning something into a sandwich or a wrap is the equivalent of a cake pop for savory dishes," Ms. Lawrence said, referencing the much-loved salvation for sunken, dry, or cracked cakes.

Or what if "the chicken gets overcooked?" she asked.

"Sauces can go a long way" to covering up the mistake and also adding moisture. "If a steak is overcooked," she added, "chop it up" and stir it into a sauce before serving it over, say, rice or mashed potatoes.

Speaking of mashed potatoes, even professional chefs can be kitchen klutzes sometimes. "Everybody makes mistakes, that's for sure," Ms. Lawrence said, sharing a story of her own recipe redemption.

"I was helping a friend of mine do a catering event," she said. She had recently tried a new recipe for mashed potatoes that she'd really liked, and thought they should serve that.

Now, this is "Food 101 — everybody can make mashed potatoes, right?" she presumed.

Well ....

"I made them, and I must've used too much liquid," she said, while managing many other details in a bustling and unfamiliar kitchen with a countdown looming as the service time approached.

She assessed the situation, hoping it would be okay and telling herself, "This is how I did it before."

But this time the mashed potatoes had turned into a "nasty, potato soup-ish gruel," she said with disgust. "The taste was good, but the texture was bad."

With little time to spare, "I ended up using some other veggies," she said, roasting them "to make a root vegetable purée."

And how did the Hail Mary maneuver work out?

It ended up being this "unique gastro-trendy sauce for the dish," Ms. Lawrence said with relief.

"Everybody at the party was talking about how good it was."

So remember that when your recipe goes so, so wrong, there may be a way to help make it right. Just take to heart the famous rallying cry from the movie Galaxy Quest: "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Zucchini, Corn, and Egg Casserole Wraps

Casseroles sometimes get overcooked, and egg-based casseroles especially can get over-browned on the bottom. If this happens, save it by turning it into the filling for a wrap.

5 cups shredded zucchini and/or summer squash (about 3 medium)

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup finely chopped onion

Pinch of salt plus 1/4 teaspoon, divided

1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)

1 1/4 cups cottage cheese

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

10 large eggs, lightly beaten

8 tortillas (flour, whole wheat, spinach or other flavors)

Fresh baby spinach leaves

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (or similar-size 3-quart baking dish) with cooking spray.

Place zucchini and/or squash on a clean kitchen towel, gather up the edges and squeeze out excess moisture.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the zucchini and/or squash and a pinch of salt; cook until very soft and dry; about 4 minutes more.

Transfer the squash mixture to a large bowl. Add corn, cottage cheese, feta, bell pepper, dill, flour, baking powder, pepper and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir until well combined. Stir in eggs. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Bake the casserole until the center is set, the edges are lightly browned, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface and add some spinach. Top with scoops of the casserole, then fold the tortillas to make wraps.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Adapted from Hilary Meyer,

Banana Bread Chocolate Chip Truffles

Banana bread — which so many people have been baking during the pandemic — has a tendency to sink because of its density, or sometimes due to the wrong amount of leavener because the quantity of bananas varies so greatly when simply adding "1 medium" instead of measuring by weight. Turn that banana bread fail into a win with this easier variation on cake pops.

Half of a banana bread loaf (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches)

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup prepared cream cheese frosting

1/3 cup ground pecans

1 cup ground banana chips, divided

Place 32 decorative mini muffin papers into a 9- by 13-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, break up the banana bread with a fork until it is all in crumbs. Add the chocolate chips, frosting, pecans, and 1/3 cup banana chips; stir with the fork until well combined.

Place the remaining banana chips in a small flat-bottomed bowl.

Scoop 1-inch balls of the banana bread mixture and form rounds, then roll them in the banana chips. Place each truffle into a paper cup and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: 32 truffles

Source: Mary Bilyeu

Lighter Coronation Chicken Sandwich

Chicken breasts can be quite easy to overcook, making them dry. The yogurt and lime juice in this sandwich filling will help to rehydrate the meat, and the mango and lettuce will also provide moisture plus flavor.

Fat-free Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons mild curry powder

8 dried apricots, chopped

Small bunch cilantro, chopped

1 small red or green chilli, minced (optional)

Juice of 2 limes

2 cooked chicken breasts, finely diced

Salt and pepper

2 avocados, halved and sliced

4 slices sourdough bread

1 large mango, peeled and sliced thin

2 Little Gem lettuces

In a large bowl, mix 6 tablespoons of the yogurt, the curry powder, apricots, cilantro, chilli (if using), and half the lime juice. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat in the sauce, seasoning to taste. Add more yogurt as needed to make the salad creamy.

Place the avocado in a shallow dish with the rest of the lime juice, tossing to coat.

Divide the chicken mixture equally over 2 slices of bread. Top with mango slices, avocado, and a couple of leaves of the lettuce. Serve immediately.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Source: Adapted from Miriam Nice,

Rice Pudding in a Mug

Even if you rinse extra starch from your rice, cook it for the recommended amount of time, and let it rest before serving, sometimes it can still turn out disappointingly mushy. But that soft, sticky rice will make a perfect base for a sweet, spiced dessert.

1 large egg

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Pinch of salt

1/4 cup dried fruit

1 1/2 cups cooked rice, any kind

Whipped cream, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Whisk in the milk, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, salt, and dried fruit. Add the cooked rice and stir until well-combined, breaking up any clumps of rice.

Divide the mixture between 4 small mugs. Microwave on full power for 1 1/2 minutes, until the pudding has just set. Cook in 30-second increments, as needed, if there is still a lot of liquid. (When ready it will still appear soft, but don't overcook it or the pudding will curdle.)

Carefully remove the mugs from the microwave and let them stand for a minute or two before serving. If you like, top each pudding with whipped cream and an extra sprinkle of cinnamon.

Yield: Serves 4

Source: Adapted from Kelli Foster,

First Published June 13, 2021, 9:30am

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