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How to Avoid (or remedy) Eight Common Thanksgiving Mishaps

Nov 19, 2012 11:20PM ● By Anonymous

Mishap #1: I forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer three days before Thanksgiving.

You bought the turkey well in advance and stored it in the freezer. Next thing you know, it’s the day before Thanksgiving and the turkey is still solid as a rock.

There’s hope yet. Place the turkey in a bath of cold water (don’t remove the plastic wrap). For every one pound of turkey, the bird needs 30 minutes in cold water. Therefore, if you have a 15-pound turkey, defrosting will take 7 ½ hours. It’s not exactly speedy, but it’s not three days, either. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes.

Resist the urge to thaw the turkey on the counter. It might be faster, but bacteria can grow quickly, leading to a risk of food poisoning.

Mishap #2: My mashed potatoes are gluey

You dream of mashed potatoes being fluffy, buttery, and delicious. Instead, you’re left with lackluster, gooey heaps of potato. What happened? The likely cause is your method of mashing. If you try to make mashed potatoes in a food processor or blender, the blades rip through the cell walls of the potato, releasing starches that thin the potatoes down to a paste-like quality. Once this has happened, there’s no going back. However, you can prevent it by either using a ricer to mash the potatoes or mashing them by hand.

Mishap #3: Your turkey is overcooked and dry (or completely raw!)

Stick a thermometer in it. A meat thermometer is small and inexpensive, but invaluable in the kitchen. That turkey might appear to be done, but only a meat thermometer can tell you the truth. Stick it in the thigh area of the bird, which is the thickest part. Check out a digital probe thermometer, which features a heat-proof wire that runs out of the oven to a unit that beeps when the meat is ready. That way, you don’t have to open the oven door frequently, which can slow down cooking time.

Mishap #4: You have lumpy gravy.

This happened likely because you dumped a thickening agent such as flour or cornstarch directly into the hot stock. Other reasons might include adding broth too quickly to a rue or hot spots in a large pan. Next time, whisk the flour slurry into the broth mixture and continue to stir until the gravy is done.

However, you need help now—strain the gravy through a sieve or puree it with an immersion blender, which is a handheld blender that can be put straight into the pot. This should take care of those pesky lumps.

Mishap #5: You overcooked the green beans.

Drab olive-colored green beans might not be the ideal side dish, but it’s easy to spruce them up a bit and serve them anyway. Add some salt and pepper and some shavings of Parmesan cheese, and it’s likely your guests won’t even notice (at least, not enough to mention it). If carrots are the offending vegetable, add a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey to bring out the carrots’ natural sweetness.

To avoid this mishap, stop cooking the vegetables before they are actually done. The veggies will continue to cook once you turn off the heat, so beans that look perfectly done in the pan could be overcooked by the time they are served.

Mishap #6: The milk breaks for your mac and cheese recipe

If you’re using cream for your macaroni and cheese, then you likely won’t have a problem. However, low-fat dairy products can’t be heated above 180 degrees without curdling or “breaking,” which can result in grainy macaroni and cheese. Stabilize the milk by gradually whisking in a thickener such as cornstarch or flour, which will prevent the mixture from curdling and thicken the milk.

Mishap #7: The crust on your apple pie cracks before it bakes

If a pie crust dough rips, it lacks moisture. If your dough starts to tear before the pie has been constructed, brush the surface of the dough with water and then wrap it in plastic and chill for an hour. If a picture-perfect pie is what matters to you, lightly brush the dough with ice water, sprinkle generous amounts of coarse turbinado or granulated sugar, and press the grains gently so the crystals adhere, then bake.

Don’t forget to cover the edge of the pie with tinfoil so they don’t burn before the pie is done.

Mishap #8: Your pie crust is tough instead of light and flaky.

You overmixed the dough. When making pie dough, mix just until the flour has been incorporated. This avoids the formation of gluten, which causes the dough to the be tough. Additionally, shortening works better than butter because it has a lower water content, and you must chill the dough for at least an hour in the fridge or 30 minutes in the freezer before you roll it out.