How NOT to Screw Up Dinner

Couple in home kitchen using electronic tablet


  1. Read the recipe from BEGINNING TO END before you start cooking.
    We’ve all done this, haven’t we? It’s happened to me more often than I care to confess actually. I skimmed the recipe and got cooking. Whoops! You mean those onions weren’t supposed to go in the meat mixture but actually the sauce? Yikes! My sweet mother-in-law is a recent example of this. She set out to bake a Tres Leches Cake using a recipe I sent her.  She told me she was very proud of herself as she began laying out her ingredients so she would be well organized and have everything she needed at her fingertips. She started the process by cracking the 5 eggs that were called for and putting them into the same bowl. Fast forward a few steps…the yolks and whites were supposed to be kept separate! She then spent the better part of  a half hour trying to scoop the yolks out the whites, but ultimately gave up and started over. Luckily, she had just bought a dozen eggs so she still had a few to spare, but what a bummer if she had not!A lot of recipes have little twists and turns that you might not have expected. Save yourself the time and trouble and ALWAYS read through the whole thing before you start cracking your eggs. 🙂
  1. Don’t over-substitute.
    Sure, the occasional ingredient substitution is to be expected, and even welcomed at times when you’re trying to lighten up a dish or keep from having to make a last minute grocery store run. But be smart about it. If you’re looking to impress your eaters it may not be the time to replace full fat mozzarella with its pathetic-excuse-for-a-cheese sibling, reduced-fat mozz. That stuff is practically plastic anyway so I’m not sure why that would ever be a good idea, but you get my drift.Also, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear someone complain that a recipe didn’t turn out right, but then confess that they didn’t have milk so they just used water instead. Yuck! Or this is my favorite… “I didn’t have onions or garlic or salt, so I just left those things out. Why is my dish bland?” These are flavor-builders people! You are better off cooking an entirely different meal than leaving essentials out of a recipe.
  1. Salt is your friend.
    Yes, this is absolutely coming from the perspective of a chef not a cardiologist, but please salt your food! Salt in the beginning, salt in the middle and salt again before it hits the table. Ok, I realize I probably just scared a lot of you, but a little bit of salt is all that separates a bland dish from a spectacular one! Salt and taste, salt and taste. Your family will thank you!
  1. Don’t serve food you haven’t tasted.
    Have you ever watched one of those cooking competition TV shows? They’re a everywhere now…Top Chef,  Master Chef, Iron Chef, The Next Food Network Star, just to name a few. The worst thing EVER is when a contestant puts s dish in front of the judges and it’s so bad they can’t hide their disdain and then quickly ask, “Have you tasted this?” Sheepishly the contestant shakes their head. This blows my mind!! You’re trying to win Top Chef and you didn’t TASTE your food before handing it over to be judged?  This is madness! Call me crazy, but my husband and child are the dinner judges every night in my kitchen. I aim to please and would never serve up something I wasn’t sure they were going to love, especially because when something isn’t quite right, it’s almost always an easy fix.
  1. Think of others when adding heat.
    Now this isn’t necessarily something that would screw up dinner for everyone but it could definitely ruin it for one. Think of everyone who will be dining with you when you are making a spicy dish. If someone in your family or party doesn’t like too much heat, it’s better to keep that in mind and tone it down a bit than throw caution to the wind a completely blow out their palate. You can always serve up some extra diced peppers or hot sauce on the side for those who appreciate feeling like a fire-breathing dragon at dinner.
  1. Invest in an internal thermometer.
    There’s nothing worse than cutting into a piece of chicken to see that it is still pink inside. Ewww. If you’re not sure how to tell if chicken or other proteins are cooked to their proper temperature then the best thing to do is buy a food thermometer and check it prior to serving. See this link for proper food temperatures.

So those are my six easy ways to NOT screw up dinner. What do you think? Do you have any funny kitchen-nightmare stories or other suggestions to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you!

Menu Therapy Cooking Tip: How to Peel a Kiwi Easily

Kiwi Slices

I’m about to blow your mind with one of the greatest tricks I learned in cooking school. It came during my two weeks learning Baking and Pastry, a class that seriously scared me to death and had me in cold sweats. Baking is suuuuper tricky. For my final exam I watched in horror as my Charlotte slowly but surely turned into the Leaning Tower of Mousse and Ladyfingers, and nearly burned my eyebrows off peering`into the oven to see if my soufflé was planning on rising sometime this year. STRESSFUL. Classes like Baking a Pastry are surely why “desserts” spelled backwards is s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d. Holy cow.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…the best and most practical trick EVER came from that same class and it changed my life. Seriously I was so pumped. I think my chef instructor was slightly annoyed at how excited this simple trick made me as it is certainly not a classic technique. However, it is easy and awesome and makes my day to day cooking easier and…awesomer?

So if you’re like me and have ever found yourself frustrated at the simple task of taking the furry, prickly, nasty little brown skin off of a kiwi, this video is for you!

Happy Peeling!

5 Things to Eat Before Summer is REALLY Gone With the Wind





Cold Soup- Keep your house cool on a hot summer day and whip up a no-cook gazpacho. Tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers are at their peak this time of year so there’s no better time to eat them in their “raw’ form. Did I mention the health benefits are even greater before all of the nutrients have been cooked out? I’d love to include a gazpacho on the weekly meal plan but knowing what men like my husband and dad would say, I haven’t gotten that brave yet. Check out Ree Drummond’s Gazpacho recipe for one of the best I’ve tasted…and guess what guys, she tops it with shrimp!

Squash Blossoms- These vibrant, orange blossoms most often from a zucchini plant can be found at farmer’s markets around the country during summer. Stuff them with a creamy herbed cheese mixture and lightly fry them up, or thinly slice and sprinkle over a pasta dish. You can’t go wrong. Check out this source for more squash blossom inspiration.

Peaches- Peaches are at their absolute best for a few more weeks. Juicy and sweet- it’s time to take advantage of them. You could toss them in a cobbler, but let’s be honest, couldn’t you do that with frozen peaches just as easily? My suggestion is good old fashioned Peaches and Cream. Slice them up and pour in half and half, or if you dare- heavy cream! Peachy, creamy heaven in a bowl.

Heirloom Tomatoes- Look for heirlooms with their funky shapes and wide spectrum of colors. So ugly they’re cute, as a general rule heirloom tomatoes come from a seed that is at least 50 years old. When preparing an heirloom tomato keep in mind that less is more. Of course you can sauté it up in a pasta dish or roast some to intensify their already perfectly sweet flavor, but I think the nicest thing you can do is just leave them alone. Drizzle chopped heirlooms with good quality extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Simple salad perfection. Check out the entries and winners from Food52’s Heirloom Tomato Recipe Contest for more ideas.

Dessert in a Mason Jar- This was totally my Labor Day game plan. I was in charge of the dessert portion of our weekend potluck so I thought that Banana Pudding served up in a mason jar would be the perfect salute to summer’s farewell. Well, it would have been had I not completely misplaced my mason jars! They must have grown legs and hitch-hiked back to the South because I can’t find them anywhere. The banana pudding was delish, but I just know it would have tasted even better layered into a mason jar! Need more mason jar inspiration? Check out this cute blog with all sorts of tips and tricks.