The great Julia Child once said, “The dinner hour is a sacred, happy time when everyone should be together and relaxed.” You might be thinking that it’s easy for a professional chef to find cooking relaxing, especially as you smell something burning and see a pot overflowing. What’s “happy” and “sacred” about that? However, there are ways to avoid dinner disasters to keep the peace between your meal time and your sanity.
Text by Sarah Vice
Serve Simple Dishes
You don’t have to make an extravagant meal to get someone’s attention. Try focusing on a family recipe that you’ve loved since you can remember — or borrow one from this site. If you want to make something simple that looks like it requires more effort, make a pizza from scratch. By “scratch,” I don’t mean you have to let the yeast rise and cure your own mozzarella. Make it from sort-of scratch. Buy a pizza crust, tomato sauce, and your toppings of choice from your local grocer. This helps you avoid frozen pizza, which sometimes contain preservatives. Plus, by not ordering pizza, you save some major pennies. Not a pizza fan? Sounds fake, but okay. Sometimes a simple bowl of spaghetti can go a long way if you’re pairing it with the right garlic bread and salad.
Try taking preemptive measures. Understand how long a meal takes to prepare and cook before you agree on when and what to eat. Uncover your strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen and use them to your advantage. Don’t underestimate your ability to be crafty. Measuring isn’t your natural talent? Send any extra portions home as a parting gift with your guests. You discover you’re exceptional at chopping? Great, you can cook chicken noodle soup with fresh vegetables or make scalloped potatoes. Preparing your meal plan ahead of time is also useful in making sure you have all the ingredients required to cook your dish of choice.
Set the Table
When hosting a party or even having family meals, sitting around a table can help create stronger bonds. Make an effort to set the table before cooking. You can even get your kids — or guests! — to help. It gives you more time to talk about your kids’ days — or to keep cooking if guests arrive early. You also won’t have to stress over not having things in order. Offer to fill their glasses or have a selection of drinks readily available to them.
Practice isn’t honing your chef skills to your liking? There is no shame in ordering take-out, catering, or purchasing a pre-made meal. Take-out can be an option if you’re running late to your own dinner and don’t have time to preheat the oven much less put a meal in. But if you’re looking for a more nutritional option that carries the comfort of a home-cooked meal, check out pre-made dinners. Market Table also offers pre-prepared lunches and catering services to fit all your needs.
Picture it: you’re on your couch, flipping between Cake Boss and Cake Wars. Suddenly, it occurs to you: you can do this. You can make a cake. You’ll be the cake boss, victor of the cake wars. And you’ll win the admiration of your friends at Becky’s next potluck party. After all, it looks so easy: why not try to make a simple layered cake?
If you’re like me, this situation may lead to learning a lesson — or lessons! — the hard way. While reality shows like these make baking look “easy as cake,” in reality, it’s no cake walk. So, in the interest of sparing you from pain and sorrow, here’s what I learned when my attempt to become cake boss became the boss of me.
Size… It Matters
Remember that episode when someone made an Eiffel Tower cake that looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Well, now I know why. One way that a layered cake can turn into a disaster is the size of each layer. When making a layered cake, you want to measure out each layer evenly to ensure that one won’t be thicker than the others. When a layer is too thick, it adds extra weight to the cake. Then, the cake is more likely to crumble all over your freshly cleaned countertop when you add another layer.
Temperature and Patience
My mother always said that patience is a virtue — and baking has taught me it’s one virtue that I don’t have. Apparently, layered cakes can also fall apart if the layers are not cooled. After removing the layers from the oven, you want to let them cool in the pan for about 30 minutes. After the layers have cooled, carefully flip them onto a cooling rack or a flat pan in the freezer. This allows the layers to continue to cool. If the layers aren’t cooled enough, they’re very tender and likely to fall apart in the process of adding the layers, as I learned from experience.
Level the Playing Field
Once the layers have cooled, you’d think it’d be time to build the cake by putting the layers on top of each other. But this is approximately 100% wrong. Instead, you need to make sure the layers are all level and flat. Using a knife, carefully carve the top of each layer so that it’s as flat as possible. If the layers aren’t flat, the lopsided cake will eventually crumble, falling apart and onto your nice Pier 1 runner rug. And not even icing can save the day for an unleveled cake. While using icing in between each layer may seem to even it out, your cake may still crumble.
Heading to a Pot Luck? DON’T Take the Cake!
Real talk: layer cakes take a lot of time and a lot of patience. I started out expecting a masterpiece but ended up with a candidate for a Cake Fails listicle. After losing my own personal Cake War, I felt the full agony of my flour-covered defeat. I couldn’t even face the thought of facing a freezer full of perfectly layered cakes at my local bakery.
Luckily, Market Table offers a solution to my dessert dilemma: Edolyn’s Homemade Pies. Made with care from a family recipe, these single-serving beauties take the cake when it comes to fast, delicious and, most importantly, no-fail desserts. Pick up some Pecan, Lemon Chess, and Sweet Potato pies to impress your guests at your next gathering. Pro-Tip: you can even say you made them yourself. Market Table won’t tell. So if at cake you don’t succeed, try Market Table for Edolyn’s pies!