I throw a lot of dinner parties. Other than the requisite dust bunny patrol and deep cleaning the downstairs powder room, I love the whole process: assembling the guest list, planning the menu, shopping for and preparing the dishes, and enjoying the banter around the table filled with good food and good friends.

I am not immune to modern-day anxiety associated with the prospect of inviting people into your home for a meal. But I take steps to combat it.

I delegate beverage detail and music selection. I keep a running list of things guests can bring if they ask. I don’t divulge the menu in advance in case I’d rather take a nap instead of making any one of the courses I’d originally planned. I set the table early in the day because, regardless of how haphazard the situation in the kitchen might be when the guests arrive, if the table is beautifully laid, it looks as if I am in total control.

And I always find a way to repurpose my inevitable culinary mishaps.

In the fall of 2012, we’d invited my husband’s colleagues to dinner for the first time since we’d moved to Maine. I’d planned individual mango soufflés for dessert, but lingered too long over conversation and the cheese course, so they’d sunk in on themselves before I’d returned to the kitchen to pull them out of the oven. I’d splurged on ripe Champagne mangos ,aka Ataulfo, and had no intention of counting them as food waste. I mixed a can of coconut milk with 2 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar and warmed it over low heat until it thickened. Voila! Sunken mango cakes with warm coconut custard became dessert.

It’s not always that complicated. Last month, I’d donated a catered dinner party for eight as an auction item to benefit a local arts organization. I’d planned a fish dish with a chopped herb gremolata as the main course. But the night of the party, I was running late and decided to throw the herbs in the blender instead of hand chopping them. I got a not-so-lovely puree. I tried to turn it into a cream sauce – but spent three seconds too long away from the blender and ended up with herby whipped cream , see recipe. So I ran with it, smearing the chilled cream on the plate before setting the fish on top. The diners asked, after enjoying the bright green, cold counterpoint to the warm, white fish, “What was that?” Um, well, it was a mistake, repurposed.

In commercial kitchens, the phrase for this culinary feat is “bringing it back” so you can serve the plate on time, with pride, while bringing pleasure to the diner. In the home kitchen, having just a few tricks up your sleeve will help cut down on wasted food, time and energy.

Most over-cooked vegetables can be turned into a much more palatable puree. For every cup of mushy vegetables – cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, peas, legumes – combine 2 tablespoons of fat – olive oil, butter, cream or ricotta chees e– 1/4 cup of chopped mixed fresh herbs, up to 1/2 teaspoon of spice – cumin, smoky paprika, cayenne – and a dash of acid – lemon juice or vinegar– and whiz it all in a food processor until smooth. Serve it on the side as you’d planned to do with the vegetable itself, or slather it on bread as a bruschetta topping.

A quart of over-salted soup can be fixed by adding a cup of water or unsalted stock and a potato, peeled and quartered, to the pot. Simmer the soup for 15 minutes and remove the potato, which will have soaked up some of the salt. If it’s still a bit too salty, add a dash of sugar, lemon juice or hot sauce to balance the pot by effectively distracting eaters’ taste buds.

If you’ve added too much spice to the mix, the fix can go one of two ways: If your dish’s flavor profile permits it, add sweetness – maple syrup or dried fruit – to cut the spice. Or if you’re making something creamy, add sour dairy – say Greek yogurt or sour cream – to balance the flavors.

Should the pasta sauce you’re making to go with the fusilli in the pot run a little – or even a lot – dry, reconstitute it with a ladleful of the water the pasta is cooking in. That starch-filled liquid will moisten and bind the sauce better than plain water would.

On the flip side, you can save overcooked pasta by heating a pan with olive oil and sautéing it until it is slightly hardened, simulating the “al dente,” or firm, texture.

Sticky rice is nice if that’s what you were going for, but if you’ve just cooked the rice a bit too long, rinse it under cold water to help separate the grains and get rid of some of the stickiness. I warm it back up for one minute in the microwave or 10 minutes in the oven per cup. If you’ve cooked it way too long, stir in some cream, sugar, cardamom and raisins and make rice pudding.

If you’ve overcooked pork, pull the meat apart with two forks and mix it with a favorite BBQ sauce. Remove the skin on charred chicken, brush the warm flesh with a quick marinade so that it sucks up flavor and moisture.

Overbaked cakes, pies and tarts – ones that are a tad dry but not burnt to a crisp – can be revived with a complementary sauce. If you’ve not planned one, check your freezer. Melted vanilla ice cream is essentially crème Anglaise, and sorbet, unfrozen, is coulis.

There are more cooking disasters that can be turned into triumphs. When you happen upon one, take a deep breath – or better yet, a sip of champagne, itself a famously brilliant mishap – and take a moment to zero in on just how good your Plan B can be.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, a recipe developer and tester and a cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a new cookbook from Islandport Press based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Herbed Whipped Cream for Grilled or Baked Fish

This whipped cream makes a dramatic presentation when brushed on a plate before it’s topped with a piece of grilled fish. If spooned over hot baked fish, it melts into a beautiful sauce.

Makes 2 cups

1/4 cup packed parsley leaves
1/4 cup packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup heavy cream

Combine herbs, oil, garlic, zest, salt and pepper in a blender. Run the blender until the mixture is pureed. Add the cream and run blender for 20-30 seconds until cream is whipped. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours before serving with fish.



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