Thanksgiving disasters solved
Salty gravy? Cracking cheesecake? Frozen bird? Some tricks to save the day
Short list: We've preplanned your mistakes for you and then solved them. You're welcome (save us a slice of pie). (Tribune Co. illustration)
Maybe it's the same problem you have every year. (Looking at you, salty gravy.) Maybe it's a new problem. (Cheesecake? Whose bright idea was cheesecake?)
"Mostly people are too ambitious at Thanksgiving," says Jack Bishop, editorial director of America's Test Kitchen. "They don't actually think about what it takes to get the work done."
Bishop, who helped launch Cook's Illustrated in 1993 and has written multiple cookbooks, creates a timeline the weekend prior.
"If we want to sit down at 5, I work backward from there," Bishop says. "You've cooked your goose at the very beginning if you're coming up with your menu and shopping on Wednesday."
"Most mistakes," he says, "are made in the poor planning phase."
Which is why we've preplanned your mistakes for you. And then solved them.
It's Thanksgiving morning,and my turkey is still frozen.
"This is one of the most common problems home cooks have," says Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Epicurious and author of the just published "Epicurious Cookbook: More Than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes." "They don't realize how long it really can take to defrost a turkey — about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds. A water bath is your only bet on Thanksgiving morning. It takes about 4 hours to totally defrost a 12-pound turkey using this method, so if it's just the inside of the bird, figure a good hour or so. First, wrap the bird in airtight plastic, then place in a basin or sink filled with cold water and replace the water every half-hour."
I need to de-fat my broth, fast.
"The easiest thing is to put the broth in the fridge overnight, but if you have to de-fat quickly, put it in a narrow container," says Bishop. "The fat will rise more quickly to the top and be easier to skim off. You can try to use a paper towel and float that on the surface, but, honestly, if you give it 10-15 minutes, the grease and fat should rise to top. In a narrow vessel, it happens that much quicker."
Thanks, turkey brine. My gravy tastes like a salt lick.
"People who complain about this are often brining a turkey that's already salted," says Bishop. "If you've got a kosher turkey or a Butterball turkey, never, ever brine it. More is not better. That said, the drippings can be on the salty side. Make sure you use low-sodium broth and don't add all the drippings. Make your gravy, taste your gravy and add your drippings a tablespoon at a time. You can always add more drippings, but once it's too salty you can't go back."
My turkey's done, but the stuffing hasn't reached the required 165 degrees.
"Remove the stuffing from the bird and keep cooking it in the oven until it does reach the proper temperature while the bird rests," says Steel. "You can also spoon the stuffing into a microwave dish and cook for 2 to 3 minutes depending on how much stuffing you have."
Bishop recommends microwaving the stuffing before placing it inside the bird (full power, 6 to 8 minutes). "If you put cold, from-the-refrigerator, 35-degree stuffing inside a cold turkey, it's going to take a long, long time to reach 165 degrees," he says.
My cheesecake is covered in cracks.
"Two things," says Bishop. "Overcooking: It should not be cooked beyond 150 degrees. Second: It's sticking to the sides of your springform pan. It wants to shrink as it cools, and if the edges are sticking to the pan it can't. Use a paring knife and run it around the inside of the perimeter of your springform pan (after baking). Then if it wants to contract a bit, it won't crack."
An ingredients tweak may help, too, according to "How to Cook a Turkey," from the editors at Fine Cooking. "Sugar slows cooking by blocking the coagulation of proteins, so adding more provides an extra barrier against overcooking. Another option is to cut an egg out of the recipe. Fewer eggs mean fewer proteins, a slower rate of coagulation and slower cooking."
I prebaked my pie crust, and it shrunk.
"We've discovered that crusts are less apt to shrink in metal and unglazed ceramic pie pans and shrink most dramatically in Pyrex pans, slipping off the rim and down the sides of the smooth glass," say the "How to Cook a Turkey" folks. "Chilling time doesn't seem to make a big difference, but oven temperature does. Higher baking temperatures (425 degrees) encourage shrinkage, while lower heat (350 degrees) minimizes it."
It's go time and my mashed potatoes are cold. Can I warm them without turning them to paste?
"Use your slow cooker," says Bishop. "You can make them start to finish in it, or put them in the slow cooker (while still) hot and put it in a low setting to keep them warm." (Or to reheat them.)
I got distracted while whipping the whipped cream and now it's cement.
"You can actually bring it back by drizzling in a tablespoon of heavy cream and folding it in with a rubber spatula," says Bishop. "Gently. You don't need to be using the electric mixer any more. You've worked that cream enough. In a pinch you could try using milk, but cream is obviously going to be a lot better."