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Flat Zucchini Bread? Stuck Chicken? Get Advice

There are few things more confounding or vexing in the kitchen than a dish gone wrong.

So in the high season for cooking and baking, Atlanta-based food chemist and cookbook author Shirley O. Corriher offers advice for some common kitchen quandaries.

In a recent baking disaster, NPR's Melissa Block made a tasty but dense zucchini bread that didn't rise.

"Well, you've got a couple of options here," says Corriher. "No. 1: Your baking powder was old and totally gone and inactive."

"No," interrupts Block. "It was new!"

"No. 2," says Corriher, "You had very fresh, very nice baking powder or soda, but the recipe called for too much. Now, when you get too much leavening, the bubbles get big, they bump into each other, they get huge, they float to the top and pop, and there goes your leavening. And your zucchini bread is as heavy as lead."

Corriher warns that a baker's first impulse -- to add more leavening -- is wrong. In fact, she says, less leavening will probably correct the problem. She says many perfectly workable cookbooks have recipes that call for too much leavening. The recipes turn out much lighter when less baking power or soda is used.

"You need 1 teaspoon per baking powder per cup of flour in the recipe, or 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour in the recipe," she recommends.

Sticking is another problem encountered by many cooks, but before reaching for the spatula to chisel that stuck chicken breast away from the frying pan, Corriher urges patience.

"This is a Zen moment," she says. "You have to be at peace with the universe. Think happy thoughts. Take a sip of zinfandel, do whatever you have to do, but don't touch the chicken!"

Proteins in the meat are at work, she says. When heated, proteins unloosen their bonds and will stick to the pan before sticking back together. "Once that surface of the chicken is cooked and lightly brown, it will release by itself, and you just slip the spatula under and flip it over. It's going to take 90 full seconds, and this is forever and ever, but don't touch the chicken!"

Once the chicken is cooked, Corriher says you can make a quick, classic reduction sauce (see below).

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