Thanksgiving Food Fails: 10 Quick Fixes for the Worst Dinner Screw-Ups
Don't give up on your holiday dinner yet! Here, the chef-approved tricks to save anything—from dry turkey to pasty mashed potatoes.
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Crisis: Bone-dry turkey
Quick Fix: Heat 3 cups of turkey, chicken, or vegetable broth in the microwave. Carve the turkey and soak each piece in the warm broth for 3 seconds. Remove, shake off excess, and serve with savory gravy.
Crisis: Gluey mashed potatoes
Quick Fix: Mixed potatoes into a sticky paste? Turn them into a casserole. Spread the mashed potatoes in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter, sprinkle with ⅓ cup grated cheese (such as Parmesan), and top generously with ⅔ cup bread crumbs. Bake at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Crisis: Scorched asparagus
Quick Fix: Scoop the most salvageable pieces into a separate dish. Offset the bitter, burned flavor by drizzling veggies with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, orange juice, or vinegar. Toss to mix. Another option: Highlight the burned flavor by sprinkling with Cajun or Creole seasoning.
Crisis: Soggy stuffing
Quick Fix: Fold in a few pieces of corn bread. Mix until you reach the desired dryness. If it becomes too dry, add 1 cup of chicken broth for every 4 cups of stuffing; allow to soak for 1 minute before adding more.
Crisis: Flavorless gravy
Quick Fix: Season with bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of fruity white wine (such as Chardonnay) for a bright, floral flavor. Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes or until fragrant.
Crisis: Limp salad
Quick Fix: If the salad is soggy, there could be too much dressing. Place only the leaves in a salad spinner or shake in a colander to draw out excess moisture. Mix back into the salad bowl with fresh, undressed greens for extra crunch. Bored while cooking? These funny “Thanksgiving helpline” calls will make you laugh.
Crisis: Salty ham
Quick Fix: If the first piece you slice is overbearingly salty, glaze the rest of the ham with sweet flavor. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup honey with 3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice, apple juice, or pineapple juice. Vigorously whisk, then baste the ham with the glaze before serving (don’t return it to the oven—the heat will draw out moisture and make the meat saltier). Slice thinly to serve.
Crisis: Mushy Brussels sprouts
Quick Fix: For veggies that are more mush than masterpiece, puree in a food processor. Raid your fridge for spreadable cheese—such as ricotta or cream cheese—and fold into the puree to taste for texture. Add a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness. Use as an appetizer dip for crudités, or spread on leftover turkey sandwiches.
Crisis: Bitter cranberry sauce
Quick Fix: Resist adding granulated sugar—you won’t get the full effect unless you reheat the sauce and the sugar dissolves. Instead, start by stirring in 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1 teaspoon of a sweet drink like apple juice, orange juice, or fruity white or red wine. Add more to taste. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt (in small amounts, it intensifies sweetness).
Crisis: Soupy apple pie
Quick Fix: Runny pie is the result of too little thickener or too-juicy apples. Make apple-pie sundaes instead: Puree the filling in a blender. Lightly pour over vanilla ice cream, and top with whipped cream, cherries, nuts, and other tasty garnishes.
Sources: Brian Adornetto, chef and owner of Love at First Bite, a private chef business in North Carolina; Derrick Davenport, executive chef for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Beth Vlasich Pav, personal chef and founder of Beth Pav’s Cooking by Design, a culinary website; foodreference.about.com; realsimple.com; finecooking.com; allrecipes.com; eatingwell.com