5 common Thanksgiving mistakes

It seems that few holidays inspire equal measures of excitement and dread like Thanksgiving.

When many a cook feels like he or she is starring in "Iron Chef," dealing with time constraints, less-than-perfect equipment and teams, and rarely used ingredients; and it all ends with a final judging from a panel of so-called experts, ie: Aunt Marge.

From the years of fielding Thanksgiving freakouts on our Facebook and Twitter channels, and doing countless television segments of how to get the turkey on the table whilst maintaining a semi-Zen attitude, I know which are the most common Thanksgiving mistakes, and how to fix them.

1. Your turkey is still frozen.


You've dutifully preheated the oven and taken the turkey from the fridge to stuff and truss it but it's a frozen bowling ball. Don't panic. Just keep it wrapped in its plastic, and fill a basin or large bin with cool water (40 degrees or below), enough to cover the bird. Change the water every 30 minutes; a 12-pound bird will take about 4 hours to defrost this way.

Don't have four hours? Use this method for two hours, then carefully carve up the thawing bird, place in plastic bags, and cover with water. It will speed up the process dramatically.

2. The stuffing is drier than matzoh.


Most pro cooks do not stuff the bird, as that can result in a dried-up turkey and undercooked stuffing (the latter needs to reach 165 degrees to be safe to consume). If you take out the stuffing from the oven and it's super dry, add 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth to it, drizzle with a little melted butter or olive oil, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 20 more minutes.

3. The gravy is too thin.

A spoonful of gravy being poured over mashed potatoes. Turkey and dressing in the background.

A spoonful of gravy being poured over mashed potatoes. Turkey and dressing in the background. (iStock)

While some make lumpy gravy (just strain the lumps out before serving) and some make gravy as thick as cake batter (simply add broth and whisk to thin), many complain that their gravy is watery and not rich tasting. The answer? Add a thickener like a cornstarch-water slurry or make more roux, and whisk it in slowly; boil it down to thicken slightly more just before serving.

4. I forgot to buy a pie shell.


For those who aren't confident bakers or lack the time, premade pie shells are a boon, that is, if you've remembered to buy one. No pie shell? No problem. Crush cookies, add a little melted butter, and form a pie crust in the pan. Or make a fruit filling and create a crumble topping (flour, sugar, and butter together), or cook the pumpkin pie filling in the pan and serve it topped with whipped cream, Greek yogurt or ice cream.

5. I didn't make enough food.


Besides getting all the hot food on the table at the same time, not having enough is the other most common nightmare for a host. If you have a slew of uninvited guests or a pack of hungry teenagers demolish everything in sight, your freezer and pantry will be your savior.

Have frozen veggies or edamame ? Add then to some instant rice, couscous, or quinoa and season with soy sauce, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce, olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Got some extra bread? Cut into logs or use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, butter each or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and then pop in the oven for 10 minutes. Got half a dozen eggs? Whisk them with 1 1/2 cups of milk, pour into a pie pan, sprinkle with some cheese and bake for 30 minutes in a 425 oven for a fast quiche.

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