Thanksgiving Emergencies: It's Not Ruined....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Ok...I know it can be stressful. Here are some tips and techniques to help you in case you encounter any one of these Thanksgiving Emergencies:

Thanksgiving Emergency #1: "...CRAP!!! THE TURKEY IS STILL FROZEN!!!!!!!!"

You'd be surprised how many times this happens. Myself included. Especially if this is your first time working with a turkey. You must know 2 things:
(1) The turkey comes frozen or fresh (i.e. not frozen) and
(2) If frozen, the turkey must be defrosted.

If you have a fresh turkey it's been vacuum sealed and does not need to be frozen; you can keep it in the fridge until you're ready to brine or cook it. If you bought or are planning to buy a frozen turkey, you need to start defrosting that guy about 2 days prior. The best and preferred way to defrost a turkey is in the fridge -- you basically transfer the frozen turkey into your fridge and let it thaw out there -- which takes 2-3 days depending on the size. If you managed to not do that and you're stuck now trying to prepare a frozen turkey with guests coming over in a few hours, this is what you need to do:

Fill a sink or bathtub up with cold-lukewarm water. Not ice cold water, not warm water; cold-lukewarm If you use ice cold it will take forever; if you use hot water you'll defrost it unevenly and invite bacteria. The trick here is you want the turkey to be completely submerged in the water so this is why you may need to use a bathtub or cooler. Check the water and change it as the turkey is defrosting -- you'll notice it defrosting as the water is getting less and less cold as quickly as you're changing it. If you're really in a pinch then keep the turkey in the packaging, submerge it in warmer water (not hot!), and change the water until the turkey is defrosted. The packaging should prevent the bacteria. Just make sure you cook that sucker all the way through just to make sure! And feel free, while your'e at it, to baptize it in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Remember defrost time will depend on the size of your bird! The bigger the bird, the more time it'll need!

Just leaving it out at room temperature won't defrost in time; you need to do that overnight.

Don't micro wave it; you'll end up cooking it. No, you can't defrost it in the microwave either, if it would even fit in there to begin with.

Thanksgiving Emergency #2: "...The turkey's burning!!!!"

Place aluminum foil on the areas that are burning on the turkey. Clearly your temperature is either too high or the oven temp is not accurate. Reduce the temp by 25 degrees (i.e. if you're set at 400 it's probably actually more around 425 or higher, so reduce it down to 375) and continue to cook. If you have to, cover the whole bird with aluminum foil and cook it, then remove the foil to finish browning the last 10 min of cooking.

Thanksgiving Emergency #3:  "...The mashed potatoes are soggy!!!!!"

Right. This means you didn't drain them properly like I told you to. Don't panic -- place the mashed potatoes in a pot. Place the pot on top of the stove on low flame with the lid off. Cook the potatoes stirring often. The heat will evaporate the moisture. Taste the potatoes and adjust with seasoning and butter/cream if needed.

Conversely, if you really want to be amazing and turn that frown upside down, place the mashed potatoes into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with some parmesan cheese on top (or you can use some shredded cheese). Bake in the 350 degree oven until cheese is melted and bubbly. Same principle, the heat should remove the excess moisture. Adding the cheese helps create a crust to balance out the lost of moisture.

Not perfect, but these should salvage the dish.


No they won't. Why? Cuz you just made an appetizer. Set all the overcooked vegetables aside. Take a large pot and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a whole chopped onion, some carrot and celery (if it's one of the overcooked veg I don't care; add another fresh one again here for the saute) and some salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until softened. Add some garlic -- about 2-3 cloves -- and a bay leaf. Add all of the overcooked veg right on top and stir to combine. Next, add 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth. You should have a stockpile of this stuff in your pantry for Thanksgiving. If you don't because you didn't listen to me, add 3 cups of cold water, a can of tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes), and a tablespoon of chicken seasoning like Lawry's or something equivalent. If you've got bouillon even better! Use that! Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and cook until flavors meld, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust with seasonings. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Let it cool down just a bit. Add some cream to make it creamy and velvety. Render some bacon pieces, then set aside. Serve the soup ladled in pretty bowls or even in shot glasses with some of the crispy bacon on top. If you're veg then do some grated parmesan cheese. Serve it in shot glasses on a silver tray with champagne to your guests as a chic appetizer or as a soup course.

Thanksgiving Emergency #5:  "My gravy turned out way too thick! Damn you corn starch!" 

Easy -- add more liquid and cook it longer. If you used cornstarch especially (or flour) to thicken it, heat and cook duration decreases thickening power. Add some more chicken stock or white wine and cook it longer -- up to 10 minute if you have to. You'll notice the thickness will relax considerably.

Thanksgiving Emergency #6:  "Too much salt! I've produced a diabetic nightmare!"

Ok, salt is a tricky one. Depending on what was oversalted and how badly, it can be salvageable while others just are not edible. If you oversalted the outside of the turkey then simply serve it without the skin. The meat should still be fine because it's so thick. If you salted a soup then add more water to balance it out. It may ruin the consistency you were going for, but that's better than the overly salty taste. If you oversalted a vegetable dish, this is harder to salvage. You may have to turn the dish into an entirely new dish where that dish become an ingredient; ease back on salting the rest of the new dish. Hopefully you didn't use salt for your dessert instead of sugar; if you did it's over and you're serving sundaes for dessert.

Thanksgiving Emergency #7:  "...The stuffing is mushy and sad..."

Easy. Reset your oven to broil. Brush the top of the stuff with some olive oil and set it under the broiler for a few minutes. Top will crisp right up something fancy!

Thanksgiving Emergency #8:  "...I ran out of brown sugar and so did the effing store!"

Ok. Brown sugar is simply a combination of white granulated sugar with molasses. Light brown sugar is less molasses and dark brown sugar is more molasses. If your recipe requires brown sugar, simply use a combination of white granulated sugar and liquid molasses. A good ratio is 1 cup white granulated sugar and 2 Tbsp molasses = 1 cup brown sugar

Thanksgiving Emergency #9: " in the hell am I suppose to thicken this?!" 

Ok, if you're working on gravy you can use cornstarch (follow directions on the container), or a "quick roux" -- take 1 Tbsp soft butter and mix it with 1 Tbsp all purpose flour, then add this slowly in pieces to the gravy, whisking it in. Conversely you can also use quick cooking tapioca!

If you're working on something like a pie filling, and it's already baked. For example, you made apple pie and the apples are cooked and tender but the instead of being glazey it's super thin and watery. This is practically impossible to thicken. So I suggest just serving it differently like a cobbler or crisp instead (think messy and delicious with lots and lots of ice cream!) and if you need that texture, add some melted caramel.

Thanksgiving Emergency #10: "...They stole all the fresh herbs at the store! I HATE THESE PEOPLE!"

No biggie. Use dried. Some fresh herbs are more potent fresh (like rosemary) while others are more potent dried (think thyme). A fantastic blend of dried herbs that's naturally thanksgiving, seasonal, and fancy pants impressive is herbs de provence. You can use that for your turkey, veg, soups, anything really!

Thanksgiving Emergency #11: "I shit you not, I have no rolling pin...but decided to make pie anyway. Please help me." 

Ok, use a wine bottle. Preferably an empty one because it's easier to use. You can also use a thinner glass vase -- basically something smooth that's roughly the shape of a wine bottle or rolling pin. If you're really in the weeds and can't find anything, you're gonna have to roll up those sleeves and use your hands. Push the dough out as evenly as possible and as thinly as you can with your hands and fingers. To get a smooth texture on the top if you need to, take the clean, flat bottom of a saute pan and press it into the top of the dough. This will help you thin it out and make it smooth too. Then invest in a rolling pin -- they're not that expensive and you can use them against burglars.

Thanksgiving Emergency #12:  "Someone stole my potato masher and I'm now staring at a pot of boiled potatoes with a blank stare..."

Super easy.

Drain the potatoes first. If you still want mashed potatoes, you can do one of two things: use a handheld mixer or standing mixer to whip up the drained potatoes. Add butter, etc. to make as you would have normally. You can also use a fork. If you have kids, make them do it. Just as good as using a masher!

Thanksgiving Emergency #13: "I ran out of milk....AND cream...FML..."

All right, don't panic. You don't need cream or milk for anything really. I mean, if you're making rice pudding you're screwed. But for more Thanksgiving dishes you don't "need" it. For mashed potatoes, simply up the butter and use a handheld mixer or standing mixer and whip the everloving shit out of it. Add an absurd amount of butter. Ab-surd. This is typical French style mashed potatoes. You can also use buttermilk, sour cream, and even plain yogurt in a pinch!

If you don't have sour cream or whatever, you can take the potatoes and serve them boiled this year instead. Add a bunch of butter and top with some chopped parsely. It's an Eastern European Thanksgiving this year, kids!

If you're doing a casserole or some other dish that requires it, I can just forgo it probably. It will be drier but probably healthier too.

If you're serving coffee....use some vanilla ice cream for a treat/dessert! It's very continental!

Thanksgiving Emergency #14: "My cream soup is broken and curdled and looks disgusting! I am a culinary failure and need to be voted off the island..." 

Blend it with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Your'e back on the island!

Thanksgiving Emergency #15:  "I have no turkey baster -- I thought that was used for artificial insemination." 

Right,'s not. It's used to baste a turkey or other roast meat. Don't panic -- use a spoon and be careful!

Thanksgiving Emergency #16: "...The power went out!!! OMFG!!!!!!...." 

It can happen. November can be notorious for bad weather. Well, power outage can be a bit tricky. Depending on what you've got, you can continue to cook most of your dinner in the gas stove or gas stove top. If you've got electric you're a bit more SOL. I recommend providing snacks and seeing if power goes back on. If not, I recommend aborting mission and retreating to restaurant. If that's not an option, get out all of the wine bottles you own, mixed nuts, fruit, cheese, salami, raw veg crudite, fancy crackers, fresh bread, and hopefully you've already baked those pies! Light a bunch of candles and have at it!

If it's not raining you can also throw almost everything onto the grill. Cut the turkey into pieces (like chicken). Brush with olive oil, add seasonings, and throw on the grill. For veg -- you can roast them on a baking sheet on the grill if you have the room. If you don't, try to grill them gently directly. If you're doing potatoes or sweet potatoes/yams -- boil them first if you can and then on the grill. Green beans, asparagus, corn -- all directly on the grill. Bread -- slice and brush with olive oil, right on the grill. You can even bake a pie on the grill -- cover with aluminum foil and bake on low heat.

Thanksgiving Emergency #17:  "..."I dropped the turkey.....omg I dropped the turkey....I DROPPED THE EFFING TURKEY!!!!!!!!!!!"

1. Stay calm.

2. Did anyone see this happen? If not, you're golden. Take the turkey and with a nice well dampened cloth, clean the part that dropped on the floor. Even if it's already fully cooked. Even if it's coated in whatever you coated it in. If you have to, rinse that part off. But a good, well dampened cloth or paper towel should do the trick just fine without having to baptize the bird. Again.

3. If someone saw, then scream "Hot potato!" Pick it up casually. Dust it off then look the person who saw it happen straight in the eye, and with your most intimidating voice, say, "If you utter a syllable of this, I will serve you this piece...right here" and point to the part that fell on the floor. With the hair still sticking on it. Brush it off. put your shoulders back, and you serve that bird!

Thanksgiving Emergency #18: "More people?!?!?! That's why it's called an RSVP!!!!!!!"

Ah....the last minute guest. Or guests. Everyone gets them. Some people totally ignorant of what it takes to prepare a big holiday meal tend to being like 10 people with them. And usually these people come empty handed. I mean, you could eat least bring a pie or bottle of liquor with you. But this does not help you. You already bought and are preparing food for 8. Now you have 12. No worries.

All you have to do is amp up the appetizers. You know how you go t a restaurant or someone's house and eat so many nuts or potato chips or whatever crap before the food arrives and then you're stuffed you can't eat the real food? Simply apply that technique here. Load up on the potato chips, nuts, olives, cheese, cured meats...frozen eggrolls...whatever the hell you have. Serve them fast and up front. Get everyone stuffed. Then proceed with the dinner you already have. Just portion it out smaller.

In a pinch if you need a quick snack, make some spiced nuts. This is quick and savory and goes with cocktails:

  • nuts -- cashews, walnuts, pecans, peanuts -- whatever you have or want to use
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • pinch of brown sugar
Throw the nuts in a shallow saute pan. Heat on low heat until warmed through and begin to be fragrant. Add a little butter or olive oil (like a teaspoon) and toss to coat the nuts. Add the seasonings and make sure the nuts are evenly coated. Serve. 

Thanksgiving Emergency #19:  "I forgot....the turkey bag of giblets...inside...the turkey..."

Ok, this happens. Stop crying. Chances are you started to smell something funky burning. It's the plastic bag holding the giblets. Remove it and continue to cook the bird. You're fine. 

If you missed this part and finished the whole turkey with the bag of giblets still inside, then remove it (or as much of it as you can) and try not to eat around where the plastic is melted if it's melted into the turkey. The rest of it should be fine. 

If the turkey smells horrid because of the plastic or the giblets, grate a shitload of lemon, orange, lime -- any kind of citrus zest and stuff it all together with cut up quarters of the citrus inside the cavity. Then, take more citrus and decorate around the turkey with some leftover herbs or leaves or salad -- something green -- so it looks like you did this all on purpose. Also, garlic masks the smell of most things as well. Take some fresh garlic and smash a bunch of cloves. Smash it up into a paste. This releases as much of the essential oil which is where the strong garlic fragrance comes from. Stuff that into the cavity. 

And don't eat the giblets or give it to the dogs! 

Thanksgiving Emergency #20: "...the pie filling isn't's raw and mushy and not good!" 

Ok, you can do a few things. First, if the crust is done but the middle isn't, simply wrap the sides of the pie that are done with aluminum foil and return to oven so middle can finish cooking. 

If something went catagorically wrong with the pie, the middle is just not set properly or it's too mushy and otherwise cannot be served as a pie, serve it as a parfait instead. Intentionally break up pieces of pie crust and all and layer into serving dishes. Top with some whipped cream, then layer of crushed pie, then more whipped cream, and top it with something that would make sense with the pie like sprinkling of cinnamon or crushed pecans or something. Tell everyone you were bored with basic pies and wanted to score points for presentation. You can also use ice cream instead of the whipped cream if you like. 

All right! Hope these help and gave you a laugh! Happy Thanksgiving! 

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