Thanksgiving Emergency Strategies
Help, help, I have extra guests coming! My gravy doesn’t look right! What to do? These are some holiday entertaining questions that I have been asked over the years. Whether this is the first time you’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner or your 20th time there are always things that seem to come up that feel like emergencies. From lumpy gravy to unexpected guests the pressure can just be too great at times. Not to worry, these are some good strategies that have helped me cope and make everything run smoothly.
Dear Victoria: “My turkey is still a bit frozen and my dinner is in a few hours. What should I do?”
Put that bird into a large pot and run tepid water over it for at least an hour. You can butterfly the turkey so that it cooks faster which should take about an hour and a half at 400 degrees. You can then roast it or grill it. In the future you may want to consider purchasing a fresh turkey and not a frozen one.
Dear Victoria:” I called everyone to the table and started carving the turkey to find that parts of it are still raw or undercooked. How embarrassing! What should I do?”
This situation has happened to most of us at one time or another. Don’t skip a beat and just carry on carving off any parts that are cooked, serve those and put the remaining pieces back in the pan, cover with foil, and cook until done. Most likely the breast meat will be done. Your guests can get a bit of turkey along with your delicious sides while waiting for the rest of the turkey to come out of the oven. In the future you may want to consider carving the turkey first and then cooking it.
Dear Victoria: “I always seem to overcook the turkey. I just don’t know how I keep doing this. Please help!”
For the immediate remedy I suggest you have LOTS of gravy on the table to pour over those dried out pieces of turkey. In the future make sure to invest in a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into your cooked turkey through the thickest part of the breast until it hits the breastbone. Remove the turkey from the oven when it reads 160 degrees. Let your turkey rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
Dear Victoria: “I have a small kitchen and don’t have much room in my oven to cook everything. How am I going to get everything done?”
Tiny New York Kitchen knows this situation all too well! First of all there are plenty of things that you can get cooked in advance. Check your menu and see what you can prepare before needing to place your turkey in the oven. If you have an outdoor grill, then by all means grill your bird. Hey, you can play it off as the “hip thing to do.” Let your side dishes cook in the oven while your turkey is grilling out there in the fresh November air!
Dear Victoria: “I made stuffing and it is pretty soggy. How can I make it un-soggy?”
This is a super easy one. Scoop it out of the turkey and/or the baking dish and spread it out on a baking sheet. Place it in the oven and bake it at 350 degrees until it is how you want it. Scoop it back into the serving dish and serve. No one will be the wiser.
Dear Victoria: “Before I call my guests to the table the food starts to get cold. How can I avoid this?”
Cover serving dishes with lids or foil to keep them warm. If a dish actually gets really cold, that is supposed to be hot, then just put it back in the oven for a little bit. Don’t be too concerned, however, as most Thanksgiving dishes are perfectly fine at room temperature.
Dear Victoria: “My side dishes aren’t browned on top? They just don’t look that appetizing. What should I do?”
If a dish is fully cooked, but doesn’t have that delicious looking brown surface (Potatoes, Vegetables, Stuffing, etc.) then simply put them under a hot broiler at least 4 inches away from the heating element. You may want to turn them as needed until browned on top. MAKE SURE that you watch them carefully. You really don’t want them to go from pasty to burned up! Always put the food too far from the broiler rather than too close. If you follow these instructions then you will get a nice browned crust on top of your dishes.
Dear Victoria: “My gravy looks way too lumpy. I can’t serve lumpy gravy! How do I fix it?”
Not to worry. You will just need to put some hard work into it with a good whisk. Whisk those lumps out. It may take a bit of time, but it can be done. If you have really stubborn lumps add just a bit of hot liquid to coax them out while you whisk. If you STILL can’t get them out take a medium weave strainer and set it over a bowl. Pour the grave in and stir. Smooth gravy will flow through the strainer and the lumps will stay behind. For the future make sure you whisk the flour or cornstarch constantly while you are adding the broth or turkey juices to keep lumps from forming.
Dear Victoria: “Help, my gravy is just way to thick. It looks like brown jelly. How do I thin it out?”
This one is super easy. Drizzle in a bit of hot broth or hot water while whisking and then heat up your gravy until it’s piping hot.
Dear Victoria: “My gravy is too thin. It looks watery. I’m horrified. Is there a good solution to this hot mess?”
This problem is just a bit trickier. Brown 1 tablespoon for every cup of gravy by stirring it in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until it turns a nice deep golden brown. Have your gravy in a wide pan on the stove over a medium high heat. Whisk the browned flour into your gravy and cook. Make sure to whisk constantly until your gravy thickens. This should do the trick.
Dear Victoria: “The top of my pumpkin pie is all cracked and looks horrible. What happened? How can I serve a cracked pumpkin pie?”
Your pumpkin pie was over baked which is why it is cracked on top. Not a soul needs to know, however, if you dollop on whipped cream and carry it to the table like the prize pie it is! Sometimes cooking is like acting. If you flub a line you just carry on like that is how it is supposed to be.
Dear Victoria: “My sister called and asked if she could bring extra guests. My goodness, what am I going to do? Dinner is in an hour!”
I’ve certainly encountered this situation plenty throughout my dinner party throwing life. I’ve always kept an open door policy because I figure that not everyone has a place to go on the holidays, which can be very sad and lonely. The good news is that most of us make way too much food for Thanksgiving. Having unexpected guests can impact a meal however. First of all, forget any leftovers that you were counting on. Make more mashed potatoes, rice or pasta. These items take 30 minutes or less to make. Slice the turkey thin. Make a quick soup by combining chicken broth, pureed cooked vegetable(s), fresh herbs, salt and pepper. As soon as you get the call immediately put bowls of nuts and snacks out before dinner.
Dear Victoria: “I have quite a large group coming for dinner and I don’t have enough room at the table. What do I do?”
You can set up dinner buffet style or you can set up multiple tables as auxiliary eating areas. Living room coffee tables and game and/or card tables work. You can let everyone sit where they want or you can seat people by age or alphabetically or however you decide to seat people. Thanksgiving is about spending time with friends and family. People will have fun no matter where they are sitting. Relax and enjoy yourself.
Some foods need moist, long cooking to tenderize them while others just require a quick sauté in a skillet. Sauté means “jump” in French which describes the tossing and turning in the skillet during the cooking process. There are a few basic secrets to perfect sautéing that will help you get better cooking results.
The trick to successful sautéing is to use a medium-high heat and a small amount of oil. As a matter of fact meats and other protein-based foods should not be turned too often because extended contact with the hot skillet will brown the surface of the food which will deliver extra flavor. Heat the skillet over a medium-high heat and if the pan is too hot you will burn the outside of the food before the inside is cooked so turn down the heat a bit.
Do not use butter for sautéing. Use oil. Butter contains milk solids that burn and smoke at high temperatures. Some cookbooks call for mixing butter and oil which supposedly increases the smoke point of the butter. This does not remove the milk solids that are the problem. You can, however, use clarified butter, but it is easier to use oil for cooking meats. If you want a butter flavor then use it in a pan sauce.
Thick cuts of meat can be difficult to cook through when sautéing. You may want to use a double-cooking method for thick cuts. Double-cut pork and lamb chops, porterhouse steaks, and large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves are too thick to cook through in a skillet on the stove top. It is best to brown them in the skillet, and then finish cooking them in a 400° F oven. Be sure that your skillet is ovenproof.
Make a pan sauce to take advantage of the browned bits in the pan which are loaded with delicious flavor. Remove the meat from the skillet and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep the meat warm. Pour off the fat from the skillet and return the skillet to the medium-high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of minced shallots and a tablespoon of butter. Do not add the butter alone as the skillet may be too hot and the butter will burn. The shallots will act as insulation. Cook for a minute or so to soften the shallots and then add about 1 cup of an appropriate stock. Wine may seem like a good choice, but it can be too strong. Boil the stock, scraping up the bits in the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1to 2 tablespoons of cold butter (a tablespoon at a time) to thicken the sauce lightly.