Given the reputation of English cooking, who should know more than the English how to deal with a culinary disaster? And so the most homey, charming, useful and amusing little book on the subject comes from Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, published in England by Macdonald. It's called "The Food Repair Handbook," subtitled "How to Rescue a Disastrous Dish."
While at first glance it would seem a disadvantage that this book is published only in London and Sydney, it is actually an asset. The crucial point of rescuing a culinary disaster is that your guests should not suspect that a calamity has occurred. And since Berriedale- Johnson's hints have not been published in this country, your secrets will be safe from any but your British guests.
You probably wouldn't have much use for her musings on summer puddings, cockles, kippers and large boiled dumplings (though it is a shame to miss the whimsical cartoons and the general advice on cooking everything from souffle's to fried fish) but much of her advice translates into American:
On running out of oven or stove space: "You can always bank pans up on top of each other, especially if their contents are already cooked and only need to be kept warm."
On dropping things: Scoop them back into their containers. "In the case of a cake, a slug of brandy or sherry will help to glue it together again."
To stretch a dish for unexpected guests: Add an extra vegetable to stretch the meat; thin down a soup by adding something similar to it.
Rescuing soups: "On the whole, soups are remarkably forgiving." They tend, however, to suffer from three defects: "no flavour; too much salt; or curdled or separated texture."
The easiest solutions to all flaws are Distraction Techniques, such as croutons heated to crispness with a sprinkle of cayenne; or whipped cream, chopped parsley or mint sprinkled on top at the last minute.
Weak flavor in a soup -- which comes from insufficiently frying or sweating vegetables before adding liquid -- can be bolstered by adding a stock cube, sherry, tomato pure'e or butter. If that doesn't work, try soy sauce, worcestershire or curry paste. Sometimes pure'eing the soup will enhance the flavor.
When there is too much salt, or what she calls "Dead Sea Soup," add potatoes, white bread crumbs, cream or parsley. Liquidize the soup so the "mopping" agent can "percolate throughout." Wine only emphasizes saltiness. And it can curdle soups with heavy milk content.
If the soup curdles, "continue to cook, as it will often sort itself out." Or add more cream or put in blender.
Parsley is the best antidote to excessive garlic. Curry powder will disguise burnt taste, though it will disappear anyhow if you simmer soup long enough.
On smoked salmon: If it is too salty, soak slices in milk a couple of hours and dry them carefully.
Sauce emergency procedures: If custard sauce curdles, put it in blender, then add chopped almonds or toasted sesame seeds to disguise granular texture. The same goes for chocolate sauce; if you can't retrieve it by beating in a couple tablespoons of hot water or a knob of melted butter, add a bit of dark brown sugar just before you serve it so the granular texture "becomes an unusual feature rather than an eyesore."
Wine and egg dessert sauces such as sabayon "are not 'hostess friendly,' as they require last minute whisking over hot water," but a pinch in time -- of arrowroot beaten with the egg and sugar before the wine is added -- will save the texture nine times out of ten.
To "smarten up" a dull brown sauce, add cherries, finely sliced orange rind and juice, chopped prunes, brandy or port.
For instant tomato sauce, mash a can of tomatoes with tomato pure'e, dried onions and herbs, salt and pepper, and cook 5 minutes. To do it even better, add garlic, bacon, white wine and/or cream.
An instant cream sauce can be made from sour cream with lemon juice, chopped herbs and seasoning.
Finally, Berriedale-Johnson has some general advice to rescue disasters yet unencountered:
"For disaster-prone cooks, pancakes are such a convenience for the disposal of their disasters that it is worth their learning to make good ones." Tabletalk
*Goat cheese hasn't yet taken over the pizza market. A recent Gallup Poll found pepperoni still the favorite among pizza toppings for half the population. And even second-place favorites are pretty standard stuff: a three-way tie of sausage, mushrooms and extra cheese. To find the least bit of exotica in nationally popular pizza toppings you have to drop down to 13 per cent of the population, who prefer olives, and 3 percent, who favor sliced tomatoes.
*The croissant phase, it seems, has peaked. What's the evidence for this? Restaurant consultant Mark Caraluzzi says with conviction, "The reason I know that is that I've started to eat one now and then for breakfast -- and enjoy it."
*For all that we complain about restaurants -- not honoring our reservations or overcharging or serving something less than satisfactory -- we don't take those complaints very far. Of the U.S. Better Business Bureau's eight million complaints last year, restaurants accounted for less than one quarter of one percent, or 62nd among the 106 types of businesses ranked. PANCAKES TO THE RESCUE
(Makes 15 to 20 crepes)
1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
Extra oil or butter for pan
Whirl all ingredients in a blender for 30 seconds, or put flour in a bowl and gradually beat remaining ingredients into it. Refrigerate for 2 hours to let flour absorb the liquids. When ready to cook, stir batter and thin if necessary with a bit of water.
Heat cre pe pan or small skillet over moderate-high heat and brush lightly with oil or butter. Pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter and quickly swirl pan until batter lightly covers the bottom, then immediately pour excess batter back into the bowl. Return pan to heat and cook until surface is dry and underside is brown, just a minute or so. Flip and cook a few seconds until brown spots appear on underside. Turn onto waxed paper or towel. Cre pes may be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen until ready to fill.
Michelle Berriedale-Johnson's rules for good crepes:
*Batter should be thin.
*Use an absolutely clean nonstick pan.
*Pan must be very hot.
*Brush on oil very lightly with pastry brush, or with cloth wound around end of wooden spoon and dipped in melted butter or oil.
*Cook thoroughly on first side before turning crepes, and they will be less likely to break.
*If pancakes stick to pan and are messy, fry lightly in butter until crisp, make a layer cake of them and their filling, sprinkle on cheese or bread crumbs and crisp under broiler -- or decorate top if to be served cold.
*Stuffing should be cold when filling pancakes.