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Recipe Rescue

Holiday entertaining is stressful enough; when something goes wrong, it could become a traumatic experience. Here are some quick-save solutions to keep you cool under pressure of a party.

  • If your cookie dough is too dry, stir in a tablespoon or two of milk.

  • If cookies harden and stick to the cookie sheet or a cake sticks in the pan, return them to the oven for 1 minute.

    To cool cookies, place them on a wire rack or a sheet of wax paper sprinkled with sugar. Cookies will cool without getting soggy.

  • Make side dishes ahead, and freeze them.

  • Keep berries, chopped green bell pepper, chopped onion, parsley, soft breadcrumbs, shredded cheese, and a variety of toasted nuts on hand in zip-top plastic freezer bags in your freezer.

  • When frying or sautéing, keep grease splatters as contained as possible by placing a metal colander on top of the skillet.

  • Make use of your microwave for thawing foods or jump-starting the cooking process for meats.

  • Soups and stws can be made less salty or fiery by adding several large pieces of raw potato. Don't forget to remove the potato before serving your dish!

  • Failed pralines can be crumbled over ice cream for a sweet dessert.

  • When a cake turns out dry or layers fail to come out of pans evenly, make parfaits or a trifle. Simply crumble the cake into glasses or a dish, and layer with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

  • For a quick chill on wine and champagne, fill the sink with cold water and ice, and submerge the bottles. This will cool the liquid faster than the freezer or ice bucket.

  • When the chocolate you are melting seizes (clumps), stir in a tablespoon of vegetable oil or shortening to smooth things out.

  • To thicken a mouse, stir in whipped heavy cream.

  • If you accidentally scorch a recipe or sauce, do not scrape the bottom of the pan. Transfer the remainder of the sauce to a clean pan immediately.

  • If a cake gets too brown on top, simply cover it with whipped topping or a sauce.

  • If your chocolate pie is soggy, serve chocolate pudding. If your savory cheese-cake doesn't set, have dip with crackers.

  • Dry stuffing or dressing can be remedied with a little chicken broth.

  • Strain lumps from your gravy, and mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water; add this mixture slowly to thicken the gravy.

Finding yourself in the kitchen without a needed ingredient is a nightmare. instead of sending someone to the store, try a substitution.

  • Buttermilk = 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon with white vinegar

  • A sweet salad dressing = whole-berry cranberry sauce + olive oil + vinegar

  • 1 cup self-rising flour = 1 cup all purpose flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder = 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup powdered sugar = 1 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Process this in a food processor.

  • 1 (1-ounce) chocolate square = 3 tablespoons cocoa + 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

  • 1 medium onion, chopped = 1 tablespoon onion powder

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon dried herbs or 1/4 teaspoon powedered herbs

  • 1 garlic clove = 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

Here's the best tip of all - be prepared. the following are some great planning strategies that you can use to avoid last minute mistakes.

  • Always keep a loaf of French bread in the freezer or a can of pop-and-bake bread on hand.

  • Keep crackers, cream cheese, and jars of pepper jelly in your kitchen to layer as a quick appetizer.

  • Before the guests arrive, use sticky notes to label plates and bowls with recipe names. Enlist help in transferring the correct recipe to the correct serving dish.

  • Plan to stagger recipes. Write down a game plan so that everything isn't coming out of the oven or finishing up at the same time.

  • If you aren't comfortable with cooking, choose a menu of mostly do-ahead recipes. It's a cinch to store dishes in the refrigerator or freezer and warm them at the last minute.

  • Never try a new recipe for guests - always take it on a test-run with your family or friends.

This year, don't let the frenzied moments of hosting a party stress you out. Guests usually won't know that something has gone awry in the kitchen. As long as you can stay calm and never let on, the party will be a Christmas wish come true.

- Home for the Holidays