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Fri, Sept. 18

7 hacks for dinner mishaps

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WILLIAMS — With every perfectly-planned holiday feast come inevitable moments of panic when you fear that all your planning and preparation has been for naught.

Considering calling the whole thing off and ordering pizza?

The following tips and tricks could help save the day faster than dialing Dominoes, whether you forgot your bird in the freezer or the oven.

Frozen turkey

You’ve been preparing for the big day for almost a week, but —horror of horrors — you wake up early to get the bird in the oven and realize you didn’t give it enough time to thaw. Or worse, you forgot to thaw it entirely.

Before you frantically call around trying to buy a cooked bird, take a few minutes to look at your options. If your turkey is partially thawed, you’re in luck. You may be able to push dinner back by about an hour and still have a perfectly cooked turkey ready to go.

According to the USDA, a thawed, 20-pound unstuffed turkey takes about 4 hours to roast. If your bird is partially frozen, you can count on adding 25 percent, or one hour, to that. That’s doable, especially if you woke up early.

If your turkey is completely frozen, the USDA says it’s safe to roast, just add about 50 percent more cooking time. For a 20-pound turkey, that’s about six hours. The USDA emphasizes that roasting is the only safe method for preparing a frozen turkey — do not grill or deep fry, as it can cause serious injury.

Undercooked/overcooked turkey

You absolutely have to start dinner on time, but the bird is undercooked, meaning less than 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Never fear, you can still start dinner with the bird. The breast pieces, which contain less fat, are often finished before the thighs or legs. If they come out at 165 degrees, you can slice and serve them as normal, and return the dark meat to the oven to finish cooking.

If you’ve gone the other way and left the bird in a bit too long, your breast meat could be dry and crumbly. You can’t uncook a turkey, so Real Simple magazine offers a simple fix: simply fill a food-safe plastic spray bottle with some warm chicken stock and mist the turkey just before serving. If you have extra time, you can place the sliced turkey in a shallow dish, pour chicken stock over the pieces, and return it, covered, to the over for about 10 minutes.

If neither of these options are available, gravy covers a multitude of culinary sins.

Lumpy gravy

The bird is resting, the sides are warming and people are starting to migrate to the table. Time to make the gravy. No matter what liquid your recipe calls for, most gravies are thickened with flour or corn starch, and can cause uncooked lumps when not thoroughly incorporated.

If you have lumps in your gravy, never fear. A fairly easy fix will have you back on track in a few minutes. If your gravy is perfect save a few lumps, Epicurious magazine recommends simply pulling out a mesh strainer and running the gravy through.

To prevent lumpy gravy from the start, Epicurious recommends sifting the flour to prevent clumping, or making a slurry of equal parts flour and liquid and stir in slowly.

Cold sides

If your sides have been done for a few days, hours or even minutes, they’re going to be cold by the time you get the bird on the table. If you’re 30 minutes away from serving time, keeping sides covered in a warm over (150 degrees) covered in tin foil will do the trick.

If it’s longer than that, though, Bon Appetit magazine recommends another method – transferring them to a crock pot. The crock will keep moisture in, preventing starchy veggies like potatoes, yams and carrots from drying out. According to the magazine, set the crockpot to warm for up to four hours, stirring once every hour.

Dry dressing

Whether it’s made from cornbread or traditional white bread, dressing (stuffing is actually cooked inside the bird, which is not recommended by the USDA) is one of the most-prepared sides on a Thanksgiving table.

It can also become dry quickly, especially in arid climates like Arizona.

Fortunately, the Food Network has an easy fix: simply mix together a little melted butter and turkey or chicken stock and pour it over the dressing. Cover with tin foil and return to a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. The moisture and steam created by the broth will have dry dressing back to form in no time.

Soggy dressing

It goes without saying that soggy dressing is no better than dried-out dressing. If your dressing is completely baked but still a bit soggy, or really soggy, Food Network recommends spreading the dressing as thin as possible on a baking sheet and baking uncovered at 350 degrees to dry it out.

Burnt pie crust

You were all set to make dessert the star of the Thanksgiving show – but the pie crust is a little darker (or a lot darker) than you planned.

First, damage assessment: how burnt is it? If it’s just a tad too dark around the edges, you can use a fine grater or rasp to gently scrape off the burnt layer. If the entire top crust is burnt beyond repair, carefully remove it and either serve the pie open-faced or make a quick crumble topping by combining sugar, cold butter and a little cinnamon. Sprinkle topping over pie filling and return to the oven for a few minutes to crisp the topping.

If it’s the filling that’s burned, such as pumpkin, carefully scrape off the top layer and either sprinkle on a dusting of powdered sugar or a thin layer of whipped cream.

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