Troubleshooting Thanksgiving dinner mishaps

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I'm a pretty good cook. I'm not a chef-in-training by any means. I'm a family dinner cook so; I must admit that I have personally experienced probably every one of these mishaps at one time or another. As we approach another holiday season of cooking for family and friends, I wanted to research the most common last minute dinner stresses and how to correct them.

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It's morning and my turkey is still frozen The defrosting of my turkey for a holiday meal really stresses me out. Is it really going to defrost in time? Well, even if you allowed the typical 3 or 4 days there could come a time when you get up in the morning to get it going and it's still frozen a bit.

Here's the solution. Unwrap the bird and fill your sink with cool water. Place the turkey in the water and let it set for 30 minutes. Now, switch out the water every 30 minutes to defrost it and keep it at a safe temperature. Usually 1 or 2 half-hour intervals are enough to do the trick.

Oops I left the giblet bag in the bird This cracked me up that it was so common. But, I guess a lot of first-time turkey roasters leave that little packet of giblets in the cavity of the bird. And, a lot of people who do it wonder if cooking that plastic bag could have somehow ruined the turkey. No worries. The bag is made out of a non-toxic material that even when heated, it's still safe to eat the turkey.

Everything's done except the turkey! This has happened to me more times than I'd like to admit. But the fix is pretty easy and few folks will even notice. You can do one of two things. You can cut the turkey into parts, legs, thighs, half-breasts, etc. and then spread out in a roasting pan and put it back into the oven for about another half hour. Or, just carve the turkey, place the pieces in a roasting pan, top with some chicken broth to keep it moist and pop it into the oven again or even the microwave with plenty of liquid.

The chicken broth method works to solve the problem if your turkey comes out very dry also. Another tip here, if it's dry. Just top with some of your gravy on the platter and they'll barely notice.

I know nothing about wine and I have very little budget left! Here are some suggestions if you are looking for very affordable wines that go wonderfully with turkey and typical holiday foods.

If you like red - you can't go wrong with a Pinot Noir - try Black Mountain Pinot Noir at Trader Joe's or have fun with a trendy Chilean wine, Vino Maipo at Sam's Club. Plus, this one's in a big bottle for a crowd. If you want to serve up a wine that is surprisingly good and surprisingly cheap try Talus Pinot Noir. I just found it at Fry's for $4.99. Trust me no one will guess the price.

Each holiday at the end of November, that year's vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau comes to market from France. It hit on November 20 this year at about $12 at Safeway or Costco. It's very trendy to serve or gift this one.

For a nice white with turkey try a Sauvignon Blanc. I love Kim Crawford, Marlborough at about $10.

Also, remember it's very chic to serve your wine from a decanter these days. So, no one has to know your secrets.

I have one pumpkin pie and suddenly more people have come by. This trick works for many desserts if you find you are running short. Just transform it into what is called a Trifle. In a straight sided bowl or even individual serving dishes, simply cut the dessert into chunks and layer with whipped cream - alternating dessert, whipped cream, dessert, cream, etc. This works with pies, cobblers, bread pudding, cakes, brownies and more. It stretches a dessert a long way, tastes yummy and appears that you intended it all along.

A few odds and ends

I burned the rolls! I do this so often it's not funny - I just forget about them. I found this trick that really works. Simply take a small grater or micro-plane grater and grate off the burned edges. This looks much better than cutting it off.

The mashed potatoes came out gummy or way too thin Plop the potatoes into a baking dish, add a little more butter, a little milk (if gummy was the problem) and top with plenty of grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes and you'll have a potato casserole. If the potatoes were too thin, the cheese acts as a tasty thickener.

The gravy is too salty. Many people say plopping in a potato chunk and cooking for about 15 minutes will help. Other's disagree. Better idea - add more chicken broth and key ingredients without any more salt to balance it all out.

The gravy is bland. Add a little soy sauce, or a dash of Port wine, salt and pepper. It'll spice it up a little.

Plus Keep mashed potatoes warm in a crock-pot with some pats of butter put on the bottom first or even about a 1/2 cup of milk. Mix in right before serving.

Keep gravy hot by putting in a thermos as you get everything else ready to go.

And finally, do you find you're always rushed to set the table the day of your dinner. Why not set it days ahead then cover loosely with a clean sheet to keep dust off. AZ's Mom Gail swears by this great trick! Why didn't I ever think of it?

So, see most everything can be fixed. Time to relax, concentrate on the holiday good times and know that whatever happens is part of the story. Nobody really notices and just going with the flow is the greatest secret of all. Enjoy! And Happy Holidays!

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