November 25, 2014
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Entertain with Ease this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for connecting with family and friends, enjoying a delicious meal – and, of course, giving thanks.   If you run into any of the Thanksgiving day dilemmas below, try these simple solutions to cut down on kitchen chaos so that you can focus on what really matters – the people who are sitting down and enjoying your Thanksgiving feast with you.

Tackling a frozen turkey.
Frozen turkeys require a great deal of pre-Thanksgiving thawing time. Typically, a ten-pound turkey will take two days to thaw in the fridge, while a 20-pounder can take four days to thaw. If Thanksgiving morning arrives and your bird is still on the icy side, try giving it a cold bath. Fill a large bucket, or the kitchen sink, with cool water and drop the turkey in, in the original wrapper, breast-side down. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cool. No matter how desperate you feel, never thaw a turkey at room temperature. (Note: When thawed in the refrigerator, allow for five hours per pound. When thawed in cool water, allow for half an hour per pound.)

Is it done yet?
The turkey juices are running clear and the drumsticks are wiggling. But how can you be certain that your bird is really done? The only way to know for sure is to take its temperature. Insert an oven-safe or instant-read thermometer in several places – but not deep enough to touch the bone. The turkey is done when the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 180 degrees. Also keep in mind that, until you slice into it, the turkey will continue to cook after it comes out of the oven.

Going cold turkey.
Before you carve that beautiful, golden turkey, you have to let it sit for 20 minutes while the juices redistribute. Of course, this means that the meat will cool by the time it’s served on the table. Not to worry, as for one thing, the gravy and side dishes will help to warm up your cold turkey. You can also heat your serving dishes and plates by running them under piping hot water and drying them just before ringing the dinner bell.

Running out of room in – and on – the oven.

If you have ten different dishes to cook at ten different temperatures, all at the same time, you’re going to run into some difficulties. The trick is to map out your menu ahead of time, then evaluate the number of burners and amount of oven space available. Don’t save everything until the end, as most dishes can be made in advance, and reheated at the end. But, if you’re crunched for time and still have several side dishes to bake, keep in mind that many of these can be cooked at whatever temperature the turkey requires, not just the one stated in the recipe. You’ll just have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

Has your gravy seen better days?
Rich, flavorful gravy can really make – or break – a Thanksgiving meal. Well, what if your guests are about to be seated and your gravy is less than groovy? Depending upon your gravy’s problem, there’s a quick and easy solution at your fingertips. If your gravy falls flat in the flavor department, try adding a splash of fortified alcohol, such as Madeira, sherry, or port. This will give your gravy a smooth, mellow richness. Adding salt will also serve to boost whatever flavor is already present in the sauce. If your gravy is too thin, whisk two teaspoons of cornstarch into two teaspoons of water to form a paste. Whisk this paste into your simmering gravy and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. If, on the other hand, your gravy is too thick, add warmed turkey broth, stirring in one tablespoon at a time until you reach the right consistency. With these quick fixes, you’re sure to get the perfect pour from your gravy boat.

Mending a crack in your crust.
While preparing your family-famous apple pie, the dough ripped as you were rolling it out. You did your best to piece it back together, but your delectable dessert now looks like a piecrust mosaic. To mend your patchwork pie, simply brush the dough lightly with ice water, and sprinkle it generously with granulated or turbinado sugar. Press gently so that the crystals adhere to the dough. When you remove this beautifully baked pie from the oven, your guests will never suspect that a crack lies beneath the sweet, glistening surface.

To clean, or to nap?
After several tasty bites of tryptophan-filled turkey, you’re ready to rest and relax with your guests. As tempting as it may be to put off clean-up duty until later, you’ll definitely want to refrigerate your leftovers within two hours of cooking. Post-meal clean up won’t feel like such a headache if you follow two simple rules: clean the heavy stuff before dinner, and accept help after dinner. If you clean throughout the day, as one side dish after another is complete, and if you force yourself to clean the roasting pan and the sticky mashed potato pot before the meal, you’ll make things a lot easier on yourself. Accepting help from your guests – in clearing, scraping plates, storing leftovers, and stacking the dishwasher – makes quick work of a dirty job. Cleaning can also be your guests’ way of showing thanks for the delicious meal that you prepared.

Feel free to share your low-stress Thanksgiving tips by posting a comment below. Happy Thanksgiving!