5 Last Minute Tips for Holiday Cooks

20 Nov

For 21st century meal mavens juggling a full plate of activities—jobs and multigenerational family tasks, the countdown to Thanksgiving is swift and can lead to menu mayhem or turkey trauma. No worries, take a deep breath and use the following  guidelines to help avoid holiday cooking drama.

1. Turkey Still Frozen?  “Yes, they do take longer than we think to thaw.” As a turkey expert on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, this is one of the questions that comes up most frequently challenging Thanksgiving cooks.

Charla is one of the experts sharing cooking tips with Thanksgiving cooks.

I respond calmly to  cooks hovering on the edge of panic  “For the quickest thaw, place the turkey breast side down in its original packaging in a sink or cooler of cold water.  Allow about 30 minutes per lb. for the turkey to thaw—a 12 lb. turkey will thaw in about 6  hours in cold water.”

2. Forgot to Thaw the Frozen Turkey?  You can cook the turkey from frozen, but the cooking time is longer. Preheat the oven to 325oF. Remove the turkey from the bag. Place the turkey breast up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan. Spray the turkey skin with oven cooking spray or brush the skin lightly with vegetable oil. Place in preheated oven. After about 3 hours, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the turkey thigh. When skin is light brown, loosely cover the breast and top of drumsticks with aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning. Check for doneness–the thermometer should register 180 oF when turkey is done.  Remove turkey from oven and let stand 15 minutes before carving.

3. Sides Keep It Simple

Supermarkets have plenty of products at every budget level to aid the cook.  From ready-to-eat at the take-out counter, semi-homemade or from scratch. Mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, carrots, or Brussels sprouts are options for sides that are readily available and easy to cook.

Brussels Sprouts With Lemon Zest

2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Cut stem from each Brussels sprout and remove outer leaves; slice sprout in half.  Rinse sprouts in cold water; drain.  Combine chives, butter, and lemon zest in medium bowl, mixing to blend.  Bring approx. 6 cups water to a boil in 4-qt. Dutch oven, stir in sprouts; reduce heat to simmer and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until sprouts are bright green and tender.  Drain well.  Return sprouts to Dutch oven and toss gently with butter mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. YIELD: 8 servings

Make-Ahead Tip:  After cooking 8 to 10 minutes, drain sprouts and immediately place fresh sprouts in bowl of ice water.  Drain well.  Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.  Heat sprouts over medium low heat.  Stir in butter mixture and season to taste.  NOTE:  For best results use fresh sprouts if planning to make ahead.

4. Congealed Salad on the Menu?

Select a recipe that is made and served from the bowl it is chilled in—so much easier. And the salad can be made ahead of time.

Holiday Waldorf Salad

2 3-oz. pkgs. raspberry flavored gelatin

2 cups boiling water

1/2 cup cold water

1/3 cup cassis liqueur

1 16-oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 cup chopped unpeeled apple

1/4 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Whipped cream (optional)

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water; stir in cold water and cassis liqueur.  Chill until partially set; fold in cranberry sauce, apple, celery and walnuts.  Pour into 6-to-8 cup glass serving bowl; chill until firm. To serve garnish with additional apple slices and whipped cream, if desired. YIELD:  6 to 8 servings  VARIATION:  Substitute 1/3 cup black-cherry soft drink for cassis liqueur.

5. Dessert

People do love cakes and pound cakes are good choices for busy folks.  They can be purchased or made in advance, and served dusted with powdered sugar, topped with vanilla glaze or frosting.  A bowl of assorted fruit goes well as a topper for pound cake or a dessert option for waist-watchers at the table.

Chocolate Pound Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (8 ozs.) lowfat plain yogurt
2 1/4 sticks (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs
3 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
2 tablespoons butter

Do not preheat oven. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan, knocking out any excess flour.

Into a small bowl sift together flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt. In another small bowl stir together baking soda and yogurt.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer (preferably a standing electric mixer) beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Beat in extract and add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, add flour mixture and yogurt mixture alternately in batches, beating until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and put in middle of cold oven. Set oven to 3500F and bake cake 1 hour and 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes and turn out onto rack to cool completely.   Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, if desired.  YIELD: 16 servings

Don’t let a turkey tie you up—these stress-free tips will help holiday cooks enjoy the meal with time to spare.

Editorial note: In addition to stirring a few pots as a former food editor of Ebony and Southern Living magazines and editor of Special Fork, I‘m also an expert on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line®, 1-800-Butterball.

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