Kitchen Catastrophes: The Cooking Failures Quiz

By: Sarah Gleim

Kitchen Catastrophes: The Cooking Failures Quiz
Image: © Justin Paget/Comet/Corbis

About This Quiz

We've all had miserable cooking failures at one time or another. See how you stack up when it comes to some of the most common mistakes by taking this quiz!
When sauteing chicken, what can prevent it from properly browning?
making a roux
overcrowding the pan
To help foods like chicken properly brown, make sure you don't overcrowd your sauté pan — the pieces shouldn't touch in the pan.
adding too much seasoning

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What's a likely reason pasta would end up mushy?
The pasta wasn't broken.
The pot is too small.
One of the most common ways to get mushy pasta is to use a pot that isn't big enough. Adding pasta to a small amount of water lowers the temperature so the water will take longer to return to a boil.
There's not enough salt in the water.

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What can make ground beef dry out while cooking?
cooking in a cast iron skillet
too low temperature
using too lean beef
As tempted as you may be to go with 90 percent lean beef, choose ground chuck, which is typically 80 or 85 percent lean. The extra fat bastes the meat as it cooks, keeping it rich and moist.

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What makes a pie crust doughy and chewy instead of flaky and crispy?
overworking the dough
Overworking flour activates gluten, the protein that gives baked goods its structure. We want gluten in bread and pizza crust, not so much in flaky pie crust.
yeast
too much butter

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When sauteing meats and vegetables, should you start with a hot pan or cold pan?
hot
Always start with a hot pan — only add your meats and vegetables when your oil shimmers. That's a sure indication that it's hot.
cold

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When searing steak, what causes the inside to be done at the same time as the outside, with very little browning?
It's too thick.
There's not enough oil.
The temperature is too low.
For a properly seared steak, you have to crank the heat up to medium-high or high and let the pan sizzle before adding the meat. Try using a cast-iron skillet for best results.

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True or false: You should always add garlic at the beginning of the sauteing process.
true
false
Garlic browns in less than a minute. If you add it to the pan with food that takes 15 minutes or more to cook, it will scorch and taste bitter. Add garlic close to the end of the cooking process.

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True or false: It's best to use low heat when frying food with breading.
true
false
Keep the pan hot — breading will cling to a cool pan and come off of the food.

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Why should you not toss freshly cooked pasta in oil?
It makes the noodles stick together.
The oil will solidify when the pasta chills.
Pasta sauce won't stick to the noodles.
If you add oil to freshly cooked pasta, your sauce won't stick to it. To keep the noodles from clumping and sticking together, toss them with a little sauce immediately after you drain them instead.

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Why might your pizza be soggy?
The oven wasn't hot enough.
Make sure the oven is hot enough before you put the pizza in it. Sauteing vegetables before putting them on the pizza also keeps them from releasing too much water as they bake and causing soggy pizza.
You didn't use enough sauce.
You used too much cheese.

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Should your eggs and dairy products be cold or at room temperature when baking?
cold
room temperature
When you bake with cold eggs and dairy, you end up with dense cakes and breads. Instead, take eggs, butter, and any other dairy products out of the refrigerator 30 minutes to an hour before baking for light and airy results.

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Why would juices run out of meat when you slice it?
You didn't let it rest.
You need to let meat rest once it comes off a grill or out of the oven so the muscles can relax and the juices redistribute. If you cut the meat too soon, you end up with juices all over your cutting board and not in your meat.
Your knife is too sharp.
It's undercooked.

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True or false: When a recipe calls for a dish to simmer for two hours, you can boil it instead in less time and achieve the same end results.
true
false
If you boil something instead of simmering it, the dish will cook too fast. Beef stew is a prime example — cook it too fast and it will be dry and tough; simmer it slowly and it will be moist and tender.

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True or false: It's fine to use a liquid measuring cup to measure dry ingredients like flour.
true
false
To get an accurate reading on the amount of flour in a liquid measuring cup, you'd have to shake the cup. The flour would become compacted, meaning you'd end up with more than you intended. Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients.

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Why would you end up with melted chocolate that looks grainy, separated or scorched rather than chocolate with a smooth, creamy consistency?
It was overheated.
The best way to melt chocolate is slowly and gently. Remove it from the heat before it's fully melted. It's easy to ruin chocolate, and you can't fix it when you do.
It was melted in the microwave.
It was melted in a nonstick saucepan.

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What's a common reason why cookies spread too much when baked?
oversoftened butter
Properly softened butter should yield slightly to gentle pressure. If your butter is too soft, the cookie dough will be more like a batter and will spread too much as it bakes.
overmixed dough
too high heat

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Why do cakes often end up falling flat?
The oven door is opened too much.
Opening the oven door causes cold air to rush in, which drops the temperature and interferes with how baked goods rise. If you need to check on the progress of your cake, use the oven light, and only open the oven door to check the doneness a few minutes before the recipe's specified time.
The oven temperature is too high.
There is too much sugar in the recipe.

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What's a likely cause of tough biscuits?
overworking the dough
Biscuit dough needs to be worked very gently, just so the butter is incorporated into the flour. It's best to pat it out instead of rolling, and work the dough entirely by hand if possible.
not enough butter
not enough baking soda

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True or false: Always use cold egg whites when whipping them for leavening.
true
false
Room temperature egg whites whip up better than cold ones. If your egg whites don't whip properly, your meringue won't form, or your souffle won't have lift.

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What causes a cheesecake to crack while baking?
overbeating the cream-cheese mixture or eggs
Excess beating causes the mixture to get really fluffy. It then falls as it cools, creating those ravine-like cracks that speckle the cake’s surface. But overcooking can also cause a cheesecake to crack.
low-fat cream cheese
not baking in water bath

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What reasons can cause a tough burger off the grill?
flare ups
using lighter fluid
mixing the meat too thoroughly
For perfect burgers, be careful not to compact the meat as you shape the patties.

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How long should you caramelize onions?
20 minutes
30 minutes
up to an hour
If you want really creamy caramelized onions, cook them over medium-low to low heat for a long time, maybe up to an hour.

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What are common causes for lumpy gravy?
adding broth too quickly into a roux
There are several reasons you can end up with lumpy gravy. Adding broth too quickly into a roux, the flour-fat mixture that some gravy recipes start with, is one of them. Another is directly adding dry flour or cornstarch into the hot stock or broth.
not enough roux
used the wrong flour in roux

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True or false: Russet potatoes are ideal for making mashed potatoes.
true
Unlike low-starch (or waxy) red potatoes, which hold their shape well after boiling, russets are high in starch and break down easier. They require less effort to mash, so you're less likely to end up with gluey mashed potatoes in the end.
false

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Why might meats like flank steak end up chewy rather than tender?
too much salt
not sliced against the grain
Be sure to look at the meat before you slice it — you'll see "strings." Always slice perpendicular, not parallel, to the strings, and the meat will be tender and delicious.
heat too high when cooked

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True or false: You're more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp knife.
true
A dull knife is more likely to slip than a sharp one. Have your knives professionally sharpened if you don't know how to properly sharpen them, and use a honing steel to maintain the blade's edge.
false

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True or false: You should avoid tasting your food as you cook.
true
false
Always taste your food as you cook, and readjust the seasoning as needed.

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True or false: You should use an oil with a low smoke point when frying food.
true
false
Avoid using oils with a low smoke point over high heat.

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Why might food you cook on the grill be incinerated?
You're cook them too slowly.
You cook them too fast.
You don't preheat them.
It's critical to preheat your grill before you add food. If you skip this step, heat doesn't have time to stabilize at the correct temperature, and your food will burn before it cooks through.

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Why might food stick to the grill?
The heat is too low.
The heat is too high.
The grates aren't clean.
Before you grill, clean the grates with a wire brush. Preheat the burners on high for 10 to 15 minutes to incinerate any remaining residue from the last cookout, making it easy to clean off.

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You Got:
/30
© Justin Paget/Comet/Corbis

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