Thanksgiving Cooking Tips
My cell phone rings continuously on Thanksgiving Day with urgent questions from friends and family.
“My turkey isn’t thawed, what should I do?”
“I don’t have any chicken stock, is there something else I can use?”
“What type of bread should I use for my stuffing?”
“My mashed potatoes are lumpy, is there a way to fix them?”
These are just a few examples of the questions I will answer this Thursday afternoon. Here are a few tips from the most common inquiries I get.
The Bird: Plan ahead. Never wait until the day before Thanksgiving to purchase your turkey. Most of the larger turkeys are frozen, and take a few days to thaw. Never thaw a turkey outside of the refrigerator- this can cause food-borne-illness.
After it has cooked fully, let your bird rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting it; this will prevent all of the juices from escaping.
I don’t recommend placing stuffing inside the bird. Even though the chances are slim, food-borne-illnesses can still occur from consuming the stuffing.
There are two ways to make sure your turkey is fully cooked. Place a thermometer in the meatiest part of the bird- the temperature should read a minimum of 165 degrees. Don’t count on the small, plastic pop-up timer that comes with the turkey. Another way to determine doneness is by tilting the bird to one side- if the juices run clear, then the turkey if fully cooked.
Mashed Potatoes: On Thanksgiving Day, there is always plenty to do, don’t waste your time peeling potatoes. Find a large pot, fill it with water, and peel your potatoes one day before. When you’re finished, simply set it aside covered, and it will be ready when you need it.
After cooking, the potatoes should sit for a few minutes and strain; excess water can ruin the taste of the potatoes, and make them runny.
Try using a few tablespoons of fat from the roasting bird in addition to unsalted butter while mixing your potatoes; this really packs a flavor punch!
Stuffing: Make your stuffing from scratch, don’t use the boxed stuff. Preparing stuffing is quite easy if you’ve never done it before. Buy a few loaves of good Italian bread and let it sit out for a few days until it becomes dry. Here’s a link to a fairly easy recipe for old-fashioned stuffing.
Pies: If you’re not a pie expert, buy some at your local store. If you do want to make your own pies, make them a day before Thanksgiving just in case something goes awry. Don’t go non-traditional with your selections either; make sure to have plenty of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pies on hand.
If you’ve never had fresh whipped cream on your pies, it makes all the difference! Buy some heavy whipping cream, and add a small amount of vanilla, powdered sugar, and whip away. This can be done two hours prior to serving your desserts.
Cranberry Sauce: Homemade cranberry sauce is delicious and easy to make. Another benefit of having fresh cranberry sauce, is avoiding the molded can marks from the store bought. Here’s a simple recipe with only three ingredients: cranberry sauce.
Ingredients: Have plenty of the following on hand: chicken stock, celery, carrots, onions, olive oil, unsalted butter, heavy whipping cream, milk, flour, sugar, eggs and fresh sage.
Gravy: When you remove your bird from the oven, do not discard the remnants from the roasting pan; this is where the flavor and the beginnings of your gravy are. Place the roasting pan over a burner on low heat, grab a whisk and start stirring- this loosens all the small particles of protein. Add some flour to the mixture, continue to stir, then deglaze with some good white wine and chicken stock. Adjust seasonings for flavor, strain, and serve. Here is the procedure for gravy.
This particular recipe calls for using corn starch instead of flour – you may use either.
Timing: Having everything ready, and hot at the same time is often the most difficult task to accomplish. The day before your meal, sit down with a pen and paper, and plan out your timeline. If your turkey takes four hours to cook, then the potatoes should be placed on a burner three hours into the cooking process. The stuffing will only take 30 minutes, so it can go in the oven ½ hour before the turkey is done cooking… and so on.
Your Oven: If you don’t cook on a regular basis, turn your oven on and make sure that it’s working.
Leftovers: The best part of Thanksgiving is the leftover turkey sandwiches the day after. After your meal, place all of the remaining proteins in a sealed container, and refrigerate.
If you have any tips to add, we would like to hear from you!