Thanksgiving Emergency Strategies
Help, help, I have extra guests coming! My gravy doesn’t look right! What to do? These are some holiday entertaining questions that I have been asked over the years. Whether this is the first time you’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner or your 20th time there are always things that seem to come up that feel like emergencies. From lumpy gravy to unexpected guests the pressure can just be too great at times. Not to worry, these are some good strategies that have helped me cope and make everything run smoothly.
Dear Victoria: “My turkey is still a bit frozen and my dinner is in a few hours. What should I do?”
Put that bird into a large pot and run tepid water over it for at least an hour. You can butterfly the turkey so that it cooks faster which should take about an hour and a half at 400 degrees. You can then roast it or grill it. In the future you may want to consider purchasing a fresh turkey and not a frozen one.
Dear Victoria:” I called everyone to the table and started carving the turkey to find that parts of it are still raw or undercooked. How embarrassing! What should I do?”
This situation has happened to most of us at one time or another. Don’t skip a beat and just carry on carving off any parts that are cooked, serve those and put the remaining pieces back in the pan, cover with foil, and cook until done. Most likely the breast meat will be done. Your guests can get a bit of turkey along with your delicious sides while waiting for the rest of the turkey to come out of the oven. In the future you may want to consider carving the turkey first and then cooking it.
Dear Victoria: “I always seem to overcook the turkey. I just don’t know how I keep doing this. Please help!”
For the immediate remedy I suggest you have LOTS of gravy on the table to pour over those dried out pieces of turkey. In the future make sure to invest in a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into your cooked turkey through the thickest part of the breast until it hits the breastbone. Remove the turkey from the oven when it reads 160 degrees. Let your turkey rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
Dear Victoria: “I have a small kitchen and don’t have much room in my oven to cook everything. How am I going to get everything done?”
Tiny New York Kitchen knows this situation all too well! First of all there are plenty of things that you can get cooked in advance. Check your menu and see what you can prepare before needing to place your turkey in the oven. If you have an outdoor grill, then by all means grill your bird. Hey, you can play it off as the “hip thing to do.” Let your side dishes cook in the oven while your turkey is grilling out there in the fresh November air!
Dear Victoria: “I made stuffing and it is pretty soggy. How can I make it un-soggy?”
This is a super easy one. Scoop it out of the turkey and/or the baking dish and spread it out on a baking sheet. Place it in the oven and bake it at 350 degrees until it is how you want it. Scoop it back into the serving dish and serve. No one will be the wiser.
Dear Victoria: “Before I call my guests to the table the food starts to get cold. How can I avoid this?”
Cover serving dishes with lids or foil to keep them warm. If a dish actually gets really cold, that is supposed to be hot, then just put it back in the oven for a little bit. Don’t be too concerned, however, as most Thanksgiving dishes are perfectly fine at room temperature.
Dear Victoria: “My side dishes aren’t browned on top? They just don’t look that appetizing. What should I do?”
If a dish is fully cooked, but doesn’t have that delicious looking brown surface (Potatoes, Vegetables, Stuffing, etc.) then simply put them under a hot broiler at least 4 inches away from the heating element. You may want to turn them as needed until browned on top. MAKE SURE that you watch them carefully. You really don’t want them to go from pasty to burned up! Always put the food too far from the broiler rather than too close. If you follow these instructions then you will get a nice browned crust on top of your dishes.
Dear Victoria: “My gravy looks way too lumpy. I can’t serve lumpy gravy! How do I fix it?”
Not to worry. You will just need to put some hard work into it with a good whisk. Whisk those lumps out. It may take a bit of time, but it can be done. If you have really stubborn lumps add just a bit of hot liquid to coax them out while you whisk. If you STILL can’t get them out take a medium weave strainer and set it over a bowl. Pour the grave in and stir. Smooth gravy will flow through the strainer and the lumps will stay behind. For the future make sure you whisk the flour or cornstarch constantly while you are adding the broth or turkey juices to keep lumps from forming.
Dear Victoria: “Help, my gravy is just way to thick. It looks like brown jelly. How do I thin it out?”
This one is super easy. Drizzle in a bit of hot broth or hot water while whisking and then heat up your gravy until it’s piping hot.
Dear Victoria: “My gravy is too thin. It looks watery. I’m horrified. Is there a good solution to this hot mess?”
This problem is just a bit trickier. Brown 1 tablespoon for every cup of gravy by stirring it in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until it turns a nice deep golden brown. Have your gravy in a wide pan on the stove over a medium high heat. Whisk the browned flour into your gravy and cook. Make sure to whisk constantly until your gravy thickens. This should do the trick.
Dear Victoria: “The top of my pumpkin pie is all cracked and looks horrible. What happened? How can I serve a cracked pumpkin pie?”
Your pumpkin pie was over baked which is why it is cracked on top. Not a soul needs to know, however, if you dollop on whipped cream and carry it to the table like the prize pie it is! Sometimes cooking is like acting. If you flub a line you just carry on like that is how it is supposed to be.
Dear Victoria: “My sister called and asked if she could bring extra guests. My goodness, what am I going to do? Dinner is in an hour!”
I’ve certainly encountered this situation plenty throughout my dinner party throwing life. I’ve always kept an open door policy because I figure that not everyone has a place to go on the holidays, which can be very sad and lonely. The good news is that most of us make way too much food for Thanksgiving. Having unexpected guests can impact a meal however. First of all, forget any leftovers that you were counting on. Make more mashed potatoes, rice or pasta. These items take 30 minutes or less to make. Slice the turkey thin. Make a quick soup by combining chicken broth, pureed cooked vegetable(s), fresh herbs, salt and pepper. As soon as you get the call immediately put bowls of nuts and snacks out before dinner.
Dear Victoria: “I have quite a large group coming for dinner and I don’t have enough room at the table. What do I do?”
You can set up dinner buffet style or you can set up multiple tables as auxiliary eating areas. Living room coffee tables and game and/or card tables work. You can let everyone sit where they want or you can seat people by age or alphabetically or however you decide to seat people. Thanksgiving is about spending time with friends and family. People will have fun no matter where they are sitting. Relax and enjoy yourself.
The abundance of meat in America was a major change in the diet of the early settlers. Rabbits and squirrels were available year-round nearly everywhere, plus deer and other large game in many regions. As settlers moved west, buffalo gained importance in the diet. Fish, shellfish and wild fowl became common food, and they were all essentially “free.” The existence of these various forms of game was a literal life saver in times of uncertain crops and unbroken land. The game gradually diminished, of course, as the population expanded and settlers pushed west, but it provided a large share of the diet in early and frontier days.
Ham, of course, appeared on almost every settler’s table, rich or poor. It might be the only meat served at a meal or it might appear in company with more exotic roasts and fowl, but it was always there – breakfast, dinner and supper.
Corn was also a staple of the colonists, either fresh in summer, or as hominy or corn meal all year. Corn was also put to another use by an early Virginian, Captain George Thorpe, who may have been the first food technologist in America as he invented Bourbon whiskey shortly before he was massacred by the Indians in 1622.
Meal patterns for working people in rural early America were very different from those common today. Breakfast was usually early and light which consisted of bread, hominy grits, and sometimes fruit in season. Coffee, which was a new beverage at the time, was popular that is if it was available. A drink made from caramelized grain was sometimes substituted. Chicory was popular in the South, either alone or used to stretch the coffee. Tea was often made from local leaves such as sage, raspberry or dittany. Alcohol in some form was often served.
Breakfast in more elegant homes or large plantations might be later in the morning, and include thinly sliced roast and ham.
Dinner was served somewhere between midday and midafternoon, depending on the family’s circumstances, and was the big meal of the day. There was almost always ham, as well as greens (called sallat), cabbage and other vegetables. In the proper season, special dainties would appear – fresh fruits and berries, or fresh meat at appropriate butchering times.
Desserts could be simple such as a scooped out pumpkin, baked until done and then filled with milk, to be eaten right out of the shell. Or dessert could be more complex such as ice cream or other fruit flavored frozen pudding or a blanc mange. Blanc mange was prepared from milk and loaf sugar, flavored with a tablespoon or two of rosewater, thickened with a solution of isinglass (derived from fish bladder, soaked overnight in boiling water). This mixture was boiled for 15 to 20 minutes, then poured into molds to set.
If isinglass was not available (most was imported from England), homemade calves foot jelly could be substituted, but eh dessert was not as fine.
Various alcoholic beverages, including wines, applejack, “perry” (hard cider made from pears), or beer were commonly consumed.
In winter, peaches and other fruit disappeared from the dinner table, to be replaced by dishes made from stored apples and dried fruit of various sorts. Soups or broths also took their place. Milk grew scarce as cows “dried up” in the short days. Vegetables gradually decreased in variety as stored crops wilted.
Apples quickly became a staple in early America. Orchards were easy to start, required a minimum of care, and apples stored well. Housewives devised a multitude of “receipts,” including sauces and butters for off-season, as well as many using dried apples.
Supper was late and a light bread and butter, some of the left-over roast from dinner, fruit (fresh if in season, pickled and spiced otherwise), and coffee or tea.
To Be Continued…
Omelets are one of those dishes that you can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The versatile omelet is low in calories too especially if you start with one egg and two egg whites (about 100 calories). Add the fillings of your choice and you have a protein packed meal that will satisfy your hunger.
Choose 1/4 cup of one of these cheese for your omelet.
Choose as many vegetables as you want because they are full of fiber and low in calories.
Choose1/4 cup of these delicious proteins.
Choose one of these for a total treat.
Here are some super easy, but versatile Pasta Salad Ideas from Tiny New York Kitchen. All you need to do is add 3 cups of cooked & chilled pasta (of your choice) and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to one of these inspiring combinations. Try them all throughout the summer for a whole treasure trove of side salads. If you want to make any of these a main dish then add 1 pound of protein such as grilled chicken breasts, grilled flank steak, grilled shrimp, grilled tuna (or canned tuna) or tofu. All recipes below serve 4.
For the Pasta: Cook 3 Cups of Pasta, Toss With 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Then Chill Until Ready To Use. Add the Pasta to One of the Salad Combinations Below.
Nutty Beans & Greens
1 Cup Trimmed & Steamed Haricot Verts
1 Cup Baby Arugula
3 Tablespoons Toasted & Chopped Walnuts
1 Ounce Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Snow Peas & Carrots
1/2 Cup Grated Carrot
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup Thinly Sliced Snow Peas
1/2 Cup Shredded Red Cabbage
1/4 Cup Dry Roasted Peanuts
Cheesy Chickpea & Pesto
1/2 Cup Cooked Chickpeas
1 1/2 Ounces Crumbled Feta Cheese
1 Cup Halved Grape Tomatoes
1 Tablespoon Prepared Pesto
1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
1/2 Cup Thinly Sliced Cucumber
1 Cup Halved Cherry Tomatoes
1 1/2 Ounces Crumbled Feta Cheese
1 1/2 Ounces Sliced Kalamata Olives
Peppery & Nutty
1 Cup Arugula
2/3 Cup Thinly Sliced Radishes
3 Tablespoons Toasted & Chopped Walnuts
2 Ounces Crumbled Goat Cheese
Melon, Mint & Parm
1/2 Cup Fresh Cubed Cantaloupe
2 Tablespoons Fresh Mint Leaves
2 Ounces Thinly Sliced Prosciutto
1 1/2 Ounces Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
Freshly Ground Pepper
Cherry Almond Crunch
3/4 Cup Pitted Halved Fresh Cherries
1/4 Cup Toasted & Thinly Sliced Almonds
2 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Basil
1 1/2 Ounces Crumbled Goat Cheese
1/3 Cup Sliced Avocado
1/4 Cup Red Bell Pepper Strips
1/4 Cup Fresh Corn Kernels
2 Cooked Crumbled Center Cut Bacon Slices
2 Ounces Quartered Fresh Baby Mozzarella Balls
Forget that horrible box stuff and make your own delicious Mac & Cheese. Here is a different spin on the usual cheddar cheese macaroni & cheese dish. Using the brie, cream cheese and mascarpone makes it nice and creamy. I used macaroni pasta here, but you can use pasta shells or farfalle pasta.
2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
12 Ounces of Farfelle or Macaroni Pasta or Shells
7 Ounces Brie (Rind Removed) Cut Into Chunks
5 Ounces Cream Cheese Softened & Cubed
3 Large Eggs Lightly Beaten
1 Cup Mascarpone Cheese
1 Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
3/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Finely Grated Nutmeg
Heat your oven to 375º F. Butter a 2 quart gratin dish. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente and then drain well. DO NOT rinse the pasta. Transfer the hot pasta to a large bowl and toss immediately with Brie and cream cheese until melted and smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone and Parmigiano. Stir the egg mixture into pasta. Season with the kosher salt, pepper and nutmeg. Place the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Serves 6
I hate to throw food away. I really do. Here are some ideas that will transform one night’s extras into a fresh meal.
Toss up a salad. Add leftover roasted meat or fish to fresh lettuces and vegetables. Sprinkle an assortment of cheeses and add your favorite dressing.
Stir up a soup. Cook leftover meats and vegetables in a chicken or vegetable broth. Add fresh or frozen vegetables and cook through. Season as you like. If you have leftover cooked pasta you may want to add as well. Let's not forget tofu.
If you cooked too much pasta don’t worry about it. You can add sausage and spinach to the next night’s leftover pasta. Add a little olive oil and grated cheese and you’re set.
Make some French bread sandwiches. Slice the French bread lengthwise. The long loaves are great for piling with leftover meat and topped with cheeses. Place under the broiler for tasty open-faced sandwiches.
Be creative. I have come up with some good recipes out of a fridge full of leftovers.
Nothing says grilling season like a hot & juicy burger. You can enjoy an American favorite that is new and improved by giving your burger a healthy twist without skimping on flavor. Here are some things that you can do to create a better burger.
Choose Your Patty: For a classic burger it is important to choose the leanest ground beef available. Purists will tell you to use the fattiest ground beef, but if you are trying to cut down on fat and create a healthier burger try using lean meat. I like to use ground sirloin. You also might try: Ground Turkey Breast (usually 99% fat free); Ground Buffalo/Bison (naturally sweet & lean); Veggie Burgers (usually has one seventh the saturated fat of traditional burgers); Fish Burgers; Salmon Burgers (rich in omega-3); Mushroom Burgers (made from large grilled Portobello mushrooms).
Jazz Up Your Burgers: Spices and condiments are key here. Mix in or season your burgers with salt free or low sodium spices. You can get creative here to suit your tastes or mood. I like to use Cajun spices, Italian spices and sometimes a touch of curry spices. You can get a fiber boost and add texture by adding chopped or grated vegetables or herbs.
To Bun Or Not To Bun: Who says a burger must be served on a traditional white bun? Feel free to serve your burgers on 100% whole grain buns or pita pockets. If you are going for a totally bunless burger you might want to try sturdy lettuce or cabbage leaves.
Accessorize: The tasty trimming options are endless, but here are a few ideas. Choose condiments that are low in fat, sodium and sugar. Read the labels on varieties of ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, relish and salsa. Choose low-fat or fat-free varieties of cheese. The white cheeses tend to be lower in fat such as Swiss or provolone. Top your burger with grilled onions and sliced tomatoes. Instead of using iceberg lettuce try radicchio, arugula or romaine. While you’re at it add cucumber slices, radish slices or red pepper rings for some extra crunch.