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Picture this: You've got a house full of hungry people and a bird in the oven. The smell? Heavenly. The anticipation? High.
And then you pull out the turkey, carve it, take a bite — and need to wash it down with a big glass of something. Because despite your basting, it's bone dry.
Don't despair, home cook! We consulted three top chefs to help solve a few major Thanksgiving culinary conundrums.
1. What can you do with your turkey if it ends up too dry or you overcook it?
"Although there’s no real going back from an overcooked or dry turkey, you can do this to help: Cut the turkey thick!" advises chef Geoffrey Zakarian, a Food Network star and author.
Pro tip: Cover it in turkey stock that has been mounted with butter (1 tablespoon per 1 cup), and make sure the stock is very warm, but not super-hot. When ready to serve, remove from the stock, plate your dish and top with gravy.
To avoid overcooking in the first place, use a thermometer and cook the turkey to an internal temperature of 150 to 155°F, then to tent the turkey and let it rest for 30 minutes. It should then reach 165 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh.
2. How can I make a quick and simple gravy using canned gravy?
"You can doctor up canned gravy and make it taste homemade by adding the turkey drippings," says food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark.
"Just put the turkey roasting pan on the heat, scrape up the browned bits — you can add a little water, wine or broth if they are really sticking — and bring to a simmer. Then pour [the mixture] into the prepared gravy. It really adds to the flavor."
3. When you prepare several warm dishes, it's difficult to serve them all warm. Any tips?
"I use my slow cookers to keep dishes warm," says Damaris Phillips, from the Food Network.
Pro tip: Use a deep casserole dish, but only fill it 3/4 of the way. That allows you to set a cookie sheet on top and create another rack in the oven.
You can also use your microwave to reheat dishes. Just make the food ahead and warm them up when the turkey comes out.
Coolers don't just keep things cold: they're insulated which means they can also keep dishes warm. Fill your cooler with hot water, place finished dishes in stackable storage containers in a larger cooler, cover with a towel and keep that lid closed. When it's time to eat, make sure to put the food in serving dishes to make it look extra festive.
4. How do you jazz up a store-bought stuffing?
It's easy, says Phillips, by adding a few simple ingredients, like onion, celery and dried fruit.
5. How do you save mashed potatoes from being too watery?
Normally, says Zakarian, you would drain the spuds and mash them and add your fats and flavors. But let's say you went overboard with the cream and the potatoes are too runny.
Pro tip: To give your taters some heft, put the potatoes in an uncovered dry pot and let them cook, while stirring them, until they reach the desired consistency.
6. How do you jazz up a store-bought pie?
"All you need is some melted bittersweet chocolate and a fork. Drizzle melted chocolate all over pie, then let it set. It's pretty, plus, you get to add chocolate to the meal and it's super-easy," says Clark.
Pro tip: Bittersweet chocolate is good — or you use a combination of bittersweet, milk, and white chocolate, which adds more colors: just use different forks, one for each type of chocolate. If you don't want to use forks, the melted chocolate can be poured into Ziploc bags. Then just cut off a corner and use the bag as a makeshift pastry bag. It works, trust us, plus, it's less mess since you can just toss the bag when you're done.
You can melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a pan over low heat. Chocolate chips work well because they melt quickly and you can just use a handful if you need a small amount. Get creative by drizzling abstractly or create a pattern. If you use the plastic bags it's easy to write things, too! Try a "Happy Turkey Day" or "Yummy Pie!" Of course, there's always room for pie.