Thanksgiving 911: What To Do In Case of Emergency
Every Thanksgiving hostess has his or her moments of anxiety. Hell, I've been making holiday dinners and hosting dinner parties for a decade, and I still get a little nervous when it come to roasting the perfect turkey. That combined with kids, houseguests, and having to make an endless supply of side dishes all timed in perfect harmony...it's a lot for one person. Hopefully by the time you've read this post, I will have answered any of your looming questions, but if there is still anything you are concerned about, please leave a comment at the end of the post, and I'll be sure to answer.
1. What if I overcook the turkey, and the breast meat is dry? Slice it thin and soak it in chicken or turkey stock.
2. How do I get the skin beautiful golden brown? Lots of butter! Separate the skin and push butter directly over the meat then spread more butter over the outside of the skin. Also cover just the breast of the turkey with parchment-lined foil.
3. Should I cook the stuffing inside the bird or separate? Here's the deal, cooking stuffing inside the turkey will lengthen your cooking time, and it will make a more mushy stuffing. And the cavity of the bird is a great way to flavor your whole bird by stuffing it with salt, pepper, herbs, veggies, or fruit. Lots of great reasons to cook the stuffing separately.
4. How long do I cook a turkey? 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees. The most important thing is to make sure the thickest part of the bird reads 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. And keep in mind the temp can go up as the turkey rests out of the oven; to avoid over cooking, take it out just under 165 and cover it with foil as it rests.
5. How long should the turkey rest? 20-30 minutes. This allows the juices to distribute and settle into the meat, creating a juicier turkey. If you cut into it right after you remove it from the oven, all those yummy juices will run out.
6. What if the thighs are undercooked when I cut into the turkey, but the breast is fully cooked? Remove the thighs and any other uncooked parts. Place them in a pot of simmering broth on the stove until cooked through. This will make for extra tender meat, and it'll free up your oven space for any side dishes.
7. Is it really necessary to brine a turkey...and what the heck is brining anyway? Brining is basically marinating your turkey in salt water. People do it to help with moisture and flavor, but I don't think it's necessary at all. As far as giving it extra moisture, I love to spread butter underneath the skin. As the turkey cooks, the butter melts into the meat and provides plenty of moisture. In Martha's Turkey 101 recipe she suggests covering the turkey with a wine-soaked cheese cloth and basting every half hour. Yum! You can certainly do that in addition to spreading butter underneath the skin. Though I stand corrected on some of my previous advice to not brine. I've started using this delicious citrus, cider, and herb brine and intend to use it every year!
8. Is it necessary to truss a turkey? You don't have to tie a turkey with butcher's string before roasting. In fact, trussing the turkey will make it take longer to cook. However, If you want it to look better for presentation, click here for detailed instructions.
9. How much turkey should I cook per guest? You need 1-1 & 1/2 lbs per person. If you want to send some leftover home with guests, or if you simply want all those yummy leftovers to last a while, plan on 2 lbs per person.
10. What do I do if my turkey gravy ends up with too much grease in it? Cooking your turkey with butter or oil can give you some extra-oily drippings. Once you've added flour and broth to make your gravy, you can soak up unwanted oil by placing a terry cloth dish towel in the gravy (and taking it out of course). It'll leave behind all the gravy and take with it some of the oil.
11. The dinner is taking much longer to cook than I thought it would and my guests are starving! What should I do? First, you should already have some no-cook appetizers out. Make it easier on yourself by serving easy appetizers like chips and dip, fruit and veggie platters and spiced nuts and popcorn.
12. Which dishes can I make ahead? You want to free up your oven as much as you can on the big day, especially if you have one small oven. Bake your pies and any other desserts a day or two in advance and refrigerate them. If you need to roast sweet potatoes for a side dish, you can do that the day before and reheat them in the microwave before you peel them. Next, try to come up with a cold dish like a salad, and a few hot side dishes that you can cook on the stove instead of in the oven; like sauteed veggies, mashed potatoes, and a soup course. You can make your cranberry sauce a day or two before. You can also cook just the potatoes the day before then put them back on the stove on Thanksgiving and reheat them when you add the cream and butter when you mash them.
13. I have guests with food allergies and restricted diets. What should I serve them? This is a tough one sometimes. You want to be considerate, but at the same time if their diet is their choice and isn't a health issue, you really shouldn't be expected to cater to them. Do not feel the need to serve a God-aweful tofurkey! Vegetarian guests can enjoy veggies. And roated veggies are also a great stand-by for anyone with dairy or gluten allergies. If someone has a milk allergy, I suggest using unsweeted coconut milk in place of cream. I cook with it a lot in my home, and I love it. It has a thickness that stands up well in cooking, and it has a very neutral flavor when cooked. You can also use canned coconut milk to make dairy-free whipped cream.
14. How do I keep the kids busy while I'm trying to cook? Get them involved! My kids love to cook. I give them simple tasks like egg cracking or getting out ingredients. However, if you have a lot of guests over with small children, set up a table or area for them with crafts or activities. And this is also a way to clear adult helpers out of the kitchen as well; whenever I have adult guests who are eager to help but aren't the best in the kitchen, I assign them the task of keeping the kids busy with games.
15. I've never made home made stuffing before. Help! Homemade stuffing isn't hard and tastes so delicious. It's definitely worth it. Start with thick-sliced bread and cut it into cubes. You do need to stale the bread first unless you want totally mushy stuffing. Cut it into large cubes, place on a cookie sheet and place in your oven overnight. DO NOT turn the oven on at all. They will be totally dried out in the morning. You should do this a few days before Thanksgiving. Now comes the flavor base. Sautee sausage, celery, onions, etc. and add it to the bread. Or you can simply add things like dried cranberries and raisins. Then add chicken stock and bake. This is another dish you can prep in advance then combine all the ingredients just before you bake it. It doesn't take long, so it's a great item to put in at the end as your turkey is resting. By the time you carve it, the stuffing will be perfect.
16. What if I've over-seasoned a dish? Over-salting is the worst, because sometimes it simply can't be undone. The best policy with salt is to add it little by little. If you have oversalted something that is liquid, you can help it by adding water or milk, and you can also add a chunk of peeled potato and boil for 15 minutes then remove the potato. If you have put too much sugar in something, add some spice and vice versa--if you've made something too spicy, add some sugar.
17. How can I give sweet potatoes and marshmallows a more sophisticated touch? Puree the potatoes and top with marshmallow fluff instead of mini marshmallows or simply omit the marshmallows and top with brown sugar and pecans.
18. I'm worried that a few desserts won't please everyone's taste, but I don't want to make a ton of pies. What should I serve? Think mini desserts. This can be a chore, but not if you start with the right recipe. Make a basic cheesecake recipe into mini cheesecakes using a muffin pan. Then set out an assortment of fruit, nuts and chocolate syrup so guests can create their own flavor. Another versatile dessert is the cupcake. Start with a large batch of plain white cake mix and add things like cocoa powder, citrus zest and maple syrup to create several different flavors. To keep the icing simple, use a basic white icing and garnish the cupcakes so your guest can easily identify between flavors. For example; sprinkle mini chocolate chips on the chocolate cupcakes, yellow sprinkles or candied lemon peel on lemon cupcakes and chopped pecans on maple cupcakes.
19. This is my first year making a turkey, and I'm afraid I'll ruin it. What is a good back-up plan? Definitely ham! You can slice up a ham and heat it up fast enough to save the day.
20. I am having a large dinner and really want to wow guests. What should I serve? Turduckin. It's a Turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken with layers of stuffing inbetween. It sounds intimidating, but you can have a butcher prep it for you.
22. How can I save money on my meal? Think double-duty ingredients. You can buy mushrooms in bulk to make a stuffed mushroom appetizer and to incorporate mushrooms into your stuffing and green beans. You can also buy puff pastry or phyllo cups to make lots of different appetizers and desserts. Serve several potato dishes, since potatoes are generally inexpensive. Serve simple side dishes, like roasted veggies with olive oil and salt, and serve at least one veggie dish using frozen veggies. You can pick up a large bag of frozen veggies for just a few dollars at most grocery stores. And most of all, if a guest offers to bring something, let them.
23. I've been invited to a last minute holiday dinner, and I need to bring a yummy dessert. What do I do? All you need might already be in your pantry. Take plain sponge cake (homemade or store-bought) and layer it in a deep clear dish with pudding or whipped cream and jam or fresh fruit for a beautiful trifle. You can even use leftover Halloween candy if you're really in a pinch. Layer chocolate cake with whipped cream, chocolate syrup and crushed candy bars.
24. I've ruined my homemade rolls and I don't have any instant ones. What do I do? You should keep a bag of store-bought rolls on hand just in case. But if it's the last minute and you don't have any, take a regular loaf of sandwich bread and place some slices in the oven on a cookie sheet, lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on some dried herbs then bake until they're lightly toasted. Serve it in a napkin lined basket with butter on the side.
25. My male guests want to watch football and my female guests don't. How do I make everyone happy? Don't even have the TV on. Before guests arrive, put on some music. Or better yet, put on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation-the best Christmas movie of all time.
Please, if I've left anything out, which I'm sure I did, leave your question in the comments section below.