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Overcooked chicken? Mushy potatoes? Easy fixes for common kitchen mishaps

By Renee Schettler
photos by Kana Okada

How to salvage overcooked chicken, a crumbly cake, mushy vegetables, and more.

How to Fix Mushy Potatoes

Problem: You intended to boil those new potatoes just until fork-tender. But when you drained them, they collapsed into mush.

Solution: "Make mashed potatoes,'" Rozanne Gold, a chef and author of the 1-2-3 series of cookbooks, says. Not in the mood for a mash, make home fries: Drain the potatoes and fry them in a skillet with a small amount of fat―olive or peanut oil, butter, or bacon drippings―stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 20 minutes.

Related: 10 Recipe Ideas for Potatoes

Next time: Gently simmer the potatoes instead of boiling them. The lower temperature causes the starch in them to swell more slowly. As a result, only a bit of the gummy starch leaks out of the potatoes and into the cooking water, says Shirley O. Corriher, a food scientist and the author of CookWise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed (Morrow, $30, amazon.com).


How to Fix Stale Bread


Problem: The loaf you brought home from the bakery the day before yesterday is still sitting on the counter, untouched.

Solution: Flaunt the dry bread's finer points and make crostini. Thinly slice the bread and toast it in a 325° F oven until it's crisp throughout and barely golden at the edges, about 5 minutes. Use the glorified toast as a foundation for bruschetta, as garlic-rubbed croutons to float atop soup, or as you would melba toast. If the bread is so dry that it crumbles when you slice it, toss it into a food processor and pulse to create bread crumbs.

Related: 9 Healthy Predinner Snacks

Next time: As soon as you realize the bread won't be used in time, wrap the still-fresh loaf tightly in a couple of layers of plastic and freeze it. To defrost, leave the bread at room temperature overnight. Then unwrap it and warm it in a 350° F oven for about 20 minutes.


How to Fix Tasteless Tomatoes


Problem: Those out-of-season but enticingly red tomatoes that you couldn't resist buying taste insipid.

Solution: Intensify the flavor by removing moisture, Corriher says. Place the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and, if desired, fresh herbs. Roast in a 200° F oven for about 2 hours. (Large tomatoes should be cut into several thick slices, Romas should be halved lengthwise, and cherry or grape tomatoes should be left whole.) Before serving, drizzle with olive oil.

Related: The Best Jarred Tomato Sauces

Next time: Look for locally grown tomatoes from July through September. (There's a direct relationship between a hot, dry summer and sweet tomatoes; conversely, wet weather brings watery, bland ones.) Outside of peak tomato season, rely on canned or hydroponically grown specimens, or stick with the smaller Roma, cherry, and grape varieties, which tend to be more flavorful.


How to Fix Overcooked Chicken


Problem: You slid some chicken breasts under the broiler and forgot about them until a wisp of smoke reminded you.

Related: The Ultimate Chicken Handbook

Solution: Conceal the burnt edges and the dry interior beneath a simple herb sauce. Stir together some olive oil and coarsely chopped fresh herbs―basil, thyme, tarragon, mint, parsley, or a combination―then add a little salt and pepper. Thickly slice the chicken, fan the pieces onto individual plates, and spoon the sauce over the top. Add some vinegar or lemon juice to the herb sauce, Gold says, and you have a vinaigrette sauce that can dress not just the chicken but also salad greens.

Next time: If "out of sight, out of mind" is a problem for you, cook the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop.

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