The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, there's no doubt about that. But, they can also be stressful especially for those feeling the pressure of hosting and preparing the perfect meal. Our new Executive Chef, Donald Stauffer, lays out the top 10 most common Thanksgiving pitfalls and gives his best advice on how to make lemonade out of lemons when encountering these stressful situations.
Problem 1: You’re not prepared ahead of time
To avoid this: Sit down and make a list. Make a guest list. Make a menu. Assign dishes to people and tell them what time to show up (and prepare for both early and late arrivals).
Problem 2: None of your food is done cooking at the same time
To avoid this: Figure out what can be done a few days in advance, like baking the pies. And what can be done the night before, like preparing the salads (all dressings on the side) — so that at least some items are already prepared and ready to go.
If it’s too late: If your side dishes are done before your turkey, don’t be afraid to reheat things in the microwave, or simply keep them warming near the stove under with a tinfoil “tent.”
Problem 3: Your oven or stovetop is too full
To avoid this: Bake your pies the day before. Research recipes that you can “make ahead.” Consider deep-frying or grilling your turkey, freeing up your oven for the rest of the dishes.
If it’s too late: Pull out your slow cookers! Fill them with items like mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles, which just need to keep warm. You can also try covering hot food in foil, wrapping it in towels and parking it in an insulated cooler until it’s dinnertime. (Always be aware of safe storage temperatures and times, of course.)
Problem 4: You forgot to thaw the turkey
To avoid this: Take it out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator three days before Thanksgiving.
If it’s too late: First, try to submerge your turkey in cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. This, however, will take about 30 minutes per pound. You can also cook a frozen turkey it will just take longer — about 40 minutes per pound versus 15 minutes for a thawed, unstuffed turkey. (Stuffed turkeys take longer to cook, so if you’re in a rush, cook the stuffing on the side.) And if desperate times call for desperate measures, you can defrost a turkey in your microwave if it fits — however, even that way, it will take about 60-90 minutes.
Problem 5: Your turkey is dry
To avoid this: Check the bird’s internal temperature every 30 minutes so that you don’t overcook it. For the juiciest meat, after roasting, allow the turkey to rest out of the oven for about an hour by wrapping it in foil and putting a towel on top. (Resting time advice varies: Paula Deen says at least 20 minutes, Wegmans recommends at least 30 minutes, while Gordon Ramsay says, “Another of my secrets is to rest the turkey for a couple of hours or more.”)
Problem 6: Your turkey is undercooked
To avoid this: Calculate cooking time based on your bird’s weight, and plan accordingly. Also purchase a good meat thermometer, so you know exactly when your turkey is fully cooked, and you don’t cut into it before it’s done.
If it’s too late: Carve the turkey before placing it back into the oven so that it cooks faster. Be careful not to overcook it, or it will be dry.
Problem 7: You run out of wine
To avoid this: Have each guest bring their favorite bottle of vino.
If it’s too late: Encourage people to sip on water and soft drinks so each person will drink a little less wine. You can also substitute it with something else — mixed drinks or cocktails. If you don’t have a bar stocked with liquor, try offering hot cider, tea or hot chocolate.
Problem 8: You have run out of gravy
To avoid this: It’s hard to say how much gravy your guests will guzzle down. Plan ahead by keeping a few jars of prepared gravy in the pantry. (Hey, it’s better than nothing!)
If it’s too late: Whip up a new “quickie” batch: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine a half-cup of flour with 3 cups of chicken broth, a cup of dry white wine, half a stick of butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Voilà!
Problem 9: Your mashed potatoes are like glue
To avoid this: Don’t use a food processor, an electric mixer or blender to mash your potatoes — just mash them by hand. Also, don’t use red potatoes, since they don’t have the best texture for mashing.
If it’s too late: Make the best use of them by spreading your “mashed” potatoes into a casserole dish and topping with a few thin slices of butter, sprinkles of shredded cheese, and breadcrumbs on top, and bake at 350 F until the breadcrumbs turn a golden brown. Then, don’t tell anyone they weren’t meant to be that way. Your secret’s safe with us.
Problem 10: You don’t have enough seating
To avoid this: Borrow folding chairs ahead of time so you can squeeze them in at the dining table if need be.
If it’s too late: You planned ahead, but someone brought a plus one, another unexpected guest showed up, and your elderly neighbor stopped by…what do you do now? Don’t feel bad putting people on the sofa, at stools at the Kitchen Island, or making up the coffee table with place mats for the kids. You can also bring in chairs or a bench from the backyard.