How to Survive a Thanksgiving Disaster

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burning turkeySo by now, you've gone shopping, gathered your wares, and hopefully if you are reading this, you are well along in the cooking process (if not, get off the computer and get busy!). But what do you do if it all goes horribly wrong...?

Ok, I’m not trying to be doom and gloom here. And I'm not talking about familial relations, you are on your own there. But in the food and feast arena, it is nice to be armed with a few helpful hints when you are juggling a minimum of six different dishes in the kitchen. Something is bound to not be perfect. So what do you do?

First of all, relax. There is a solution to every problem. Take a deep breath, a big swig of wine, and read on...

I burnt the turkey!
If you are left with an overcooked, dry turkey (which you probably won’t realize until it’s nearly too late) there’s not a whole lot you can do except try to mask it with moisture. My solution: Make gravy! Or at least more gravy than what you put out on the table.

First of all, if you’ve burnt the skin, no worries, just pull it off and discard it. Carve the turkey as you normally would and slice the meat into serving pieces. Put it in a large sauté pan. Thin about 3 cups of gravy with chicken stock and pour it over the meat. It should be enough to coat and barely cover the meat, but if not, add more. Simmer gently over low heat and serve it out of the pan.


Next year, consider brining your turkey to keep it moist and succulent. And set a kitchen timer.

My turkey is raw!
First of all, if you have a meat thermometer, use it! Before you take that turkey out of the oven. Stick it in the meaty part of the thigh, not touching the bone. It should be 165F to be fully cooked.

If you don't have a thermometer, and you've already started carving your turkey before realizing that it’s still gobbling, then never fear, you can still finish cooking it. First of all, the dark meat takes longer to cook than the breast, so chances are the breast is cooked perfectly. If not, stick the entire thing back in the oven until the juices from the thigh run clear when pierced with a knife.

If the breast is cooked (after you've carefully checked it with a small incision), and if you've stuffed the turkey, remove the stuffing, and put it in a roasting pan. Carve the legs and thighs from the turkey, and add those to the roasting pan, cover with foil and put it back in the oven for at least 30 minutes to cook through. Meanwhile, you can remove the breasts, carve them, transfer them to the serving platter, and tent with foil while you wait for the legs and stuffing to finish cooking.

My stuffing is all mushy!
I like my stuffing to be crispy on the outside and nice and moist on the inside, but if yours has gone a bit too moist, and hasn’t crisped up nicely, then simply spread it out on a baking sheet and stick it back in the oven (around 400F should do the trick).

I have lumps in my gravy!
It happens to the best of us and more often that you’d expect. The best thing to do is just put it through a fine-mesh sieve, although if you are like me and you use the neck to make a delicious turkey stock base for your gravy and then add the shredded neck meat to the final product, then you’ll lose the meat shreds. But you will still have all the flavor, and none of the icky, floury lumps.

I overcooked the vegetables!
If you’ve overcooked your broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, greens, or peas, just add some chicken broth and a little cream and puree it into a soup. Seriously. No one wants to eat mushy vegetables, but soup on the other hand is delicious. If the soup seems watery, boil a few potatoes and puree those into the soup as well. If you’ve already mashed all your potatoes, then stir in a scoop. Some grated Parmesan adds a bit of flavor too.

For overcooked Brussels sprouts, heat your oven to 450F and spread them out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast them in the oven to brown and crisp and dry out a bit. OR, chop some bacon and fry until crisp, transfer to a paper towel. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and fry in the bacon fat over high heat to brown and crisp the edges. Transfer to a serving bowl and toss in the bacon. If that doesn’t work, compost them and start over with something else!

Where are the cranberries!?
As many times as you have been to the store, you are likely to forget something. If you remember in time to call one of your guests before they arrive, have them pick up a bag of fresh cranberries as it’s super easy to make: Put a bag of cranberries, 1 cup of orange juice and 1 cup of granulated sugar into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and serve.

If that doesn’t work, you can use other fruits to make a tangy side for your turkey. Saute some sliced apples or pears in a little butter, white wine, brown sugar; simmer some frozen cherries with orange juice and sugar to taste; or just pull out a jar of chutney.

Hopefully some of these tips will solve the worst of your problems. And if anyone else out there has new and interesting ways to make the most out of a kitchen disaster please let me know! I hope everyone’s feast turns out amazing, over-the-top, and delicious.


Happy thanksgiving.