Find answers to the hottest, most frequently asked holiday dinner help questions, from how to fix lumpy gravy to tips for frying turkey safely.
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When Thanksgiving dinner is on the line, head to our collection of the 23 most frequently asked holiday questions for help. Whether the gravy is lumpy, the planning is daunting, or you forgot to buy the right flour, we've got the solution for all your holiday dinner nightmare moments. Relax and enjoy–we've got you covered.
Q. Help! My turkey has not thawed yet. What can I do?
If you need to cook your turkey in the next 24 hours and it's not thawed yet, your best bet is probably to thaw it in the microwave oven. Check your owner's manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping from the turkey and place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak. Cook your turkey immediately after thawing it in the microwave. Do not refreeze or refrigerate it before you cook it.
Click here for more information from the USDA on preparing turkey.
Q. What can I do if my dressing is too dry/too gummy?
The question of whether dressing should be dry or gummy is strictly a matter of personal preference, so the best recommendation is to follow the recipe exactly, especially in terms of the amount of liquid that's added. However, if you follow the recipe and think it's too dry, you can always add a little more warm chicken broth and bake just a little bit longer to incorporate the broth. If the dressing is too gummy, you can bake it longer, uncovered, to dry it out a bit.
Q. I have no idea what wine to serve with the Thanksgiving meal. Any suggestions?
You probably want to get both a red and a white wine and plan on about 5 standard glasses per bottle. Count on each person drinking between 3 and 4 glasses over the course of a long dinner. A fruity pinot noir is a good choice for the red; riesling or viognier would be good picks for the white.
Q. How can I get a red wine stain off my white tablecloth?
One tip is to pour boiling water over the stained area; the hot water will remove the stain. If it's not an antique linen cloth, soak it overnight in the washer in a solution of cool water and non-chlorine oxygenated laundry product. The next day, put the tablecloth and the solution through the laundry cycle as usual. A couple of other ideas are to pour a little white wine or club soda over the red wine stain, and then launder as usual.
Click here for more stain-removing ideas from RealSimple.com.
Q. Any ideas for festive drinks that are non-alcoholic?
There are a number of non-alcoholic wines available in supermarkets, as well as some sparkling fruit juices that are always a festive choice. You can also serve a signature drink, such as a festive fruit tea, in lieu of alcoholic beverages.
Q. We planned for 2 but have 8 coming. Any ideas for last-minute dishes?
Don't worry about preparing every dish from scratch–select a couple of recipes you'd like to make, then fill in the menu with some store-bought items such as cakes, pies, bread and frozen vegetable casseroles. If you don't have time to thaw a whole turkey, consider serving turkey breast or turkey tenderloins.
Q. What temperature does the turkey need to hit to be safe?
The minimum safe internal temperature for turkey, according to the USDA, is 165 degrees. When cooking turkeys at high heat, like the Blast Furnace-Roasted Turkey, the thermometers that come with the bird may pop early, so make sure to keep a regular thermometer on hand. To check, insert a thermometer in the thickets part of the breast. Wash the thermometer between tests to ensure you don't cross-contaminate the bird.
Q. How can I get everything ready to serve all at once?
Make a game plan and stick to it. Starting a week ahead, make a list of dishes that can be made ahead and frozen or chilled until the big day. Keep writing until every dish is listed leading right up until serving, that way you'll know when you need to get the ambrosia in the fridge (a few hours ahead) and when the turkey needs to start thawing (one day for every five pounds).
Q. What's the secret to smooth pumpkin pie?
Pies crack when they're overbaked and when they're popped into the fridge too quickly, which causes them to pull away from the crust. If your pie cracks, the important thing to remember is that it still tastes wonderful and, more importantly, a dollop of whipped cream covers a myriad of baking sins.
Q. If I cook the stuffing inside the turkey, will it kill me?
The USDA recommends cooking stuffing outside the turkey, but if you're a sucker for extra flavor and tradition, you don't have to sacrifice safety. Don't over-pack the bird with stuffing–you may need to cook a little in a side dish in the oven. Fill the turkey with warm (not hot) stuffing and cook immediately. Once the turkey is done, remove the stuffing and check the temperature in several spots–you want to make sure it hits 165 degrees. If it's not hot enough, zap it for a few minutes in the microwave.
Q. My gravy is full of lumps. Now what?
Don't lose your mind whisking out every single lump. Instead, pour the gravy through a strainer. Smooth gravy flows through a medium weave strainer, leaving lumps behind. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, though: to avoid having lumps to begin with, be sure to mix the flour with a cold liquid before adding it to the hot grease (this is called making a "slurry").
Q. We don't eat meat. How can we celebrate without turkey, sausage, or bacon?
There are plenty of vegetarian menu options that let you celebrate the day of thanks and keep your meat-free diet. For ideas, check out our collection of vegetarian Thanksgiving menus that are so delicious, no one will miss the meat.
Q. Every year we serve the same dishes. How do I add something new?
In many families, people have favorite dishes. If possible, keep these favorites on the menu and ditch the odd dishes out. If no one really remembers the salad, exchange the family recipe for a festive new one. Or, experiment with the turkey. While everyone remembers "their" dish, it's rare that they recall whether the turkey had a rosemary rub or a molasses brine.
Q. How am I supposed to get all this stuff in one shopping trip?
Plan ahead! Starting now, you can shop for staples or make-ahead dishes. Simply make a full list of everything you need, then sort it out into "Buy Ahead" and "Week Of" categories. Picking up a few things each week helps save your budget and your arms–those shopping carts get heavy!
Q. How can I serve the meal more efficiently?
Set up the buffet serving table the night before and place notes on each trivet or casserole holder to hold the place for a specific dish. That way, you won't be stuck holding the gravy boat when people begin serving or, worse yet, forget about the asparagus dish slowly turning to charcoal in the oven.
Q. Guests want to help. What should I say?
Consider your friends' talents and abilities and assign accordingly. If they're more forgetful, consider asking them to help with setting the table or clean up. If they tend to be, shall we see a bit "creative," err on the side of more instruction (i.e., squash casserole rather than a side dish).
Q. We want to try frying a turkey this year. How can we keep our eyebrows?
Fried turkey is delicious! Make sure to thaw it completely before frying. Line the patio or driveway with aluminum foil to protect from splatters or spills. Slowly lower the bird into the oil to avoid splashing (and a trip to the emergency room). If frying turkeys is really your thing, consider investing in an infrared turkey fryer, which doesn't require oil at all!
Q. I forgot the parsley! What else can I use to garnish the turkey?
If it's green, and even if it isn't, it can be used as a garnish. Any fresh herb adds a bright spot of color and a nice aroma to the serving tray, but also consider a few of our favorites, such as fresh cranberries, orange slices, or cherry tomatoes.
Q. Help! I fed my guest dinner and now they need A morning-after breakfast.
Breakfast is a wonderful meal because it can be as fancy or easy as you'd like it to be. Bake and freeze muffins ahead of time, prepare a breakfast casserole the night before, or whip up a five-star brunch the next morning (you saint, you) to please your guests.
Q. I forgot to put my casserole in the oven! What now?
A turkey (and the cook!) should rest about 30 minutes after baking to let the juices reabsorb, so pop the vegetable casserole in as soon as you remember it. Most cook quickly, so it shouldn't take too long. If your guests are anxious to get eating, go ahead and carve the bird and bring the dish out when it's done. By the time everyone has started serving, your forgotten dish will be piping hot and ready to eat.
Q. My twelve-pound bird has no meat. Where is it all hiding?
To find all the hot spots for delicious white and dark meat. Go slow, use a sharp knife, and take your time. Also, check to make sure you didn't cook it upside down. If so, there's a gold mine of meat waiting on the bottom for you!
Q. My recipe calls for self-rising flour, but I only have all-purpose? Can I make a substitution?
Your cakes, rolls, and other rising baked goods need not go to waste. In place of 1 cup of self-rising flour, you can use 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. You'll get the same rise and the same delicious results.
We get it–sometimes you need a voice to assure you all is ok. If you need to chat with an expert, try these hotlines.
• USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, open Monday-Friday, 1-888-674-6854
• Crisco Pie Hotline, 1-877-367-7438
• Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, open throughout November and December, 1-800-288-8372
• Betty Crocker Hotline, open Monday-Friday year around, 1-888-275-2388
• Ocean Spray Helpline, open Monday-Friday year around, 1-800-662-3263
• Hershey's Hot Line, open Monday-Friday, 1-800-468-1714
Check out Cooking Light Oops!
Inside you'll find the answers for more than 200 common (and frustrating!) cooking and nutrition mistakes that can sometimes perplex even the most experienced cook. Click here to see more from Oops!
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