Thanksgiving Troubleshooting: 10 Ways to Avoid Disaster

Published in Gourmet Live 11.07.12
Bad things can happen to even the most seasoned cooks on Turkey Day. We've got easy solutions for your kitchen conundrums, including lumpy gravy, dry stuffing, last-minute guests, and burnt pie crust

By Lauren Salkeld
Thanksgiving Troubleshooting: 10 Ways to Avoid Disaster

Planning ahead might be the secret to a stress-free Thanksgiving, but sometimes, no matter how organized you are, you still run into Turkey Day trouble. We rounded up 10 of the most common Thanksgiving mishaps—from forgetting to defrost the turkey to burning the pie crust—and then racked our collective brain for the best last-minute solutions. Follow our advice to keep your Thanksgiving dilemmas from turning into Thanksgiving disasters.

You've Got Last-Minute Guests

It's 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving eve and your sister calls to say she's bringing her new boyfriend—plus his parents and younger brother, the one who plays college football and eats about three times as much as the average person. Before you succumb to a panic attack, relax and focus on hors d'oeuvres. At parties, people have a tendency to fill their bellies with whatever nuts, cheese, dips, and crackers you put in front of them, and while that habit can be irksome if you're serving an elaborate meal, in this case you can use it to your advantage. Start by offering more of your planned hors d'oeuvres, then figure out what you can add to your roster of appetizers. Scout the fridge, freezer, and pantry for supplies, and get ready to improvise: Frozen pizza can be cut into small hors d'oeuvre–size pieces; a jar of olives or a can of white beans can be puréed with garlic and olive oil to make an easy spread; and goat cheese can be scooped into balls and rolled in herbs, spices, or crushed nuts.

For your main course, bread is a lifesaver: Defrost and toast that baguette sitting in your freezer and pair it with an irresistible homemade spread—blend softened butter with either maple syrup or fresh herbs. Bread can also be combined with one or more vegetables plus some eggs and cream and baked into a savory bread pudding. Also check to see if you can double or stretch any of your recipes using what you already have on hand—and don't be afraid to be creative. You might not have more green beans but you do have some red onions, so why not caramelize those and make the dish more interesting and larger. Potato recipes tend to be flexible, making them great candidates for stretching. Try adding pure canned pumpkin and cubed Fontina to puréed potatoes for a cheesy, seasonal—and more substantial—dish. Or, turn mashed potatoes into an enticing gratin by adding puréed cauliflower and garlic.

These menu adjustments might all seem minor, but making several small upgrades is much easier than adding an entirely new dish to your menu—or getting a larger turkey at the last minute, for that matter. It's an excellent way to make your overall feast more substantial.

You've Got Vegetarian Guests

In your effort to expunge last year's unfortunate Tofurky incident from your brain, you also managed to forget that three of your cousins are vegetarians. No one expects an omnivore to prepare a turkey substitute on Thanksgiving, but it's a good idea to serve at least a couple of meat-free options so your veggie-loving guests aren't limited to crescent rolls and cranberry sauce. First, remove any unnecessary or garnish-y meat, such as the bacon topping on the Brussels sprouts or the sausage in the stuffing—if you can't part with the sausage, simply make a meat-free option in addition to the meat-ful version. And speaking of stuffing, don't stuff the turkey. Instead, bake your meat-free stuffing in a casserole dish and serve it as dressing, drizzled with mushroom stock or vegetable broth. Lastly, consider using what you have on hand to add an impromptu dish to the menu. A bag of spinach can easily be turned into creamed spinach with a little cream and nutmeg. Rice, couscous, or quinoa can be dressed up with chopped nuts or herbs, dried fruit, or spices. The goal is to create the illusion that rather than forgetting your relatives' dietary restrictions, you always planned on serving a vegetarian-friendly feast.

You Forgot to Order a Turkey

If it's Thanksgiving Day or even a couple days before and you don't already have a turkey in your refrigerator or on order at the market, the chances of finding one are slim. The good news is that there's an easy and superfast solution: Buy a mix of turkey breasts, drumsticks, and thighs (10 pounds will feed about 8 people), rub them with butter, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, and roast for about an hour and 45 minutes. You can even use the pan drippings to make delicious gravy (the rule of thumb is 1 cup liquid to 1 tablespoon fat and 1 tablespoon flour).

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