By CHRISTINE GARDNER, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, at some point in the process you will probably find yourself in a cooking quandary. Invariably, something will go wrong. But that’s okay. As long as you keep your cool and continue to enjoy the day, the meal will still be a success.
Here are some last minute details and tips that can help all of us execute a wonderful meal. If you have questions or need some professional assistance, I will be available throughout the day at email@example.com or post your questions to the Christine Gardner Tyler Paper Food Facebook page. I will do my best to get back to you quickly.
MY TURKEY ISN’T THAWED
A turkey thaws in the refrigerator at a rate of four to five pounds per 24 hours. If you discover on Thursday morning that large parts of the turkey are still frozen, place the turkey in a large, clean container (an ice chest works well) and fill with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.
If only parts of the turkey are still frozen, such as the inside of the cavity, place the turkey in the sink and run water through the cavity. Dry completely, inside and out, and place in the roasting pan. Completely clean the sink and counter area.
When is the Turkey Done?
You have a better chance of hitting your target time and temperature with the turkey if you do a few things in advance.
Before cooking remove the turkey from the refrigerator and bring up to room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes before putting it in the oven. This way your turkey is not ice cold going into the oven. Otherwise, it’s not even cooking for the first 30 minutes in the oven.
Place an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. This is the area between one of the legs and breast and about one to two inches down into the thigh region. Place the turkey in the oven breast side up and legs first. Since the back of the oven is the hottest and it takes the legs and thighs the longest to cook it doesn’t really make sense to place the legs near the front of the oven.
Tuck the wings under the bird and tie the legs together. Tucking the wings keeps them from burning and tying the legs allows them to cook more evenly.
The standard cooking temperature is 350 degrees and the general rule is 15 minutes per pound. This time is only a guideline and will vary depending on your oven and the size of the turkey. Always rely on the meat thermometer to tell you when the turkey is ready.
When the legs and breast begin to brown cover with buttered foil. If you are afraid the breast is getting too dry pour 1/2 cup of broth over the breast and recover with foil.
When the meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees remove the turkey and transfer to a meat platter. Cover completely with foil and set aside for 30 to 45 minutes. The turkey needs time to rest and the juices need to settle into the meat. During this time you can make your gravy and bake your sides.
HOW DO I SERVE EVERYTHING HOT?
If you’ve made any side dishes ahead of time that were refrigerated, remove them from the refrigerator while the turkey is cooking to bring up to room temperature.
After you remove the turkey from the oven it needs to rest for 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the turkey. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees, cover the sides with foil and place in the oven. Remove the foil after 20 minutes and let the dishes brown on top.
During this time you can also be mashing your potatoes. After mashing, turn off the stovetop, cover with a lid and keep warm until ready to serve.
BREAST MEAT IS TOO DRY
Keep a small saucepan of broth on low on the stovetop. For anything that gets too dry, such as breast meat or the top of the dressing, ladle a 1/4 to 1/2 cup over the top and let absorb.
WHAT CAN I DO IN ADVANCE?
Make a list and timeline: Read through all of your recipes completely and make a list of all necessary ingredients. Figure out what you can do ahead of time and prioritize each step.
Gather: Ingredients, dishes, bowls and service pieces. Chop any necessary vegetables and herbs. You can do this for just about everything except potatoes or apples. Store the chopped ingredients in the refrigerator in plastic bags.
Precook: Onions, celery, sausage, bacon and other vegetables that go in the dressing can be sautéed a day ahead of time. You can also blanch your green beans and parboil your unpeeled sweet potatoes and other potatoes. Sweet potatoes can be halved and then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap after boiling to prevent oxidation. Soups can also be prepared a day ahead and reheated later.
Sauces: Cranberry sauce, salad dressings, roux for gravy and white sauce for green bean casserole can be made one to two days in advance.
Dressing: Breads can be cubed and cornbread baked two to three days ahead of time and allowed to dry or stale at room temperature. Bread can also be dried in a 200 degree oven for 20 minutes. Cool completely and place in a plastic bag until ready to use.
Pie Prep: You can make homemade pie crust up to 2 days ahead and store in the refrigerator or a month ahead and store in the freezer. Pies can be made two days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Take the pies out of the refrigerator when you begin to serve the meal and warm in the turned off oven while eating dinner.
Table Setting: Set the table and put out all necessary serving dishes and serving pieces. Before the meal warm your gravy boat and soup terrine with hot water so that gravy and soup stay warm at the table.
Prep the Turkey: The night before remove the turkey from the refrigerator, remove packaging and rinse the turkey inside and out. Place back in the baking dish and pat dry. Cover with plastic and place back in the refrigerator. Be sure to wash your hands, sink and any surfaces that the raw turkey touched with soap and water after handling. If your recipe calls for seasoning, spices or butter to be added to the skin or cavity, the night before is a good time to complete this step.
MY GRAVY ISN’T RIGHT
A number of things can go wrong with gravy. And the problems usually stem from whatever juices came from the roasting pan. But you don’t want to leave that out, because it’s also where you find a lot of the good flavor.
It’s greasy: Use a fat separator if you have one. Otherwise, if you have time, place it in the refrigerator. The fat will separate and rise to the top. It can then be spooned off the top. If you discover your gravy is oily toward the end of its preparation, skim off as much fat as possible with a wide spoon.
It’s doughy tasting or chalky: Make sure the flour has been cooked long enough. When flour is added to the butter or fat, whisk constantly while the mixture cooks until the roux is dark blond and smells nutty. If the gravy tastes floury when you’re almost finished, bring to a simmer and cook for a few more minutes. Add more stock to adjust the thickness, if necessary.
It has lumps: Strain just before serving, using a fine mesh sieve and discard the solids.
It’s too thin: Continue to simmer allowing liquid to reduce. If it is still too thin make a paste of equal parts flour and softened butter, and add a little at a time, whisking constantly, until the gravy thickens.
It’s too thick: Gradually whisk a little stock or water into the gravy until it reaches desired consistency.
It lacks flavor: Adjust seasoning with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. If you use canned stock instead of homemade, the gravy might lack depth of flavor. Boiling the giblets and reserving the liquid to use as part of the gravy will help develop the flavor. You can also add some carrots and onions to the bottom of the roasting pan while the turkey cooks to add flavor to the pan drippings.
It’s too salty: Add a chopped potato and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out the potato pieces and add water to adjust thickness. Check seasoning again.
Defatted pan drippings and juices plus chicken broth to equal 4 cups
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pour the reserved turkey pan juices into a glass measuring cup and skim off the fat. Place the roasting pan over 2 burners over medium heat. Add the wine, pan juices and 1 cup chicken broth. Deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining broth and bring to a simmer, then strain and transfer to a measuring cup. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, to make a dark blond roux. Whisk in the reserved liquid then simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning, to taste, with salt and black pepper. Pour into a warm gravy boat and serve.