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A more thankful, less stressful holiday

In a year that’s already proven “interesting,” Thanksgiving will be no exception. Lots of folks are hosting smaller gatherings, meaning fewer people to bring dishes or help in the kitchen. Some may be making their very first Thanksgiving dinner. To assist in making this a low-stress, enjoyable holiday for all, I offer a few tips.

First, keep as much tradition as possible. Swap family recipes in advance so everyone can enjoy them. Arrange a phone or video chat with loved ones who can’t be with you.

Secondly, whether it’s your first or your fortieth Thanksgiving dinner, be kind to yourself and let this year be as low stress as possible.

Here are few items you might want to pick up. Think of them as an insurance policy in case of emergency. You’ll want a meat thermometer, lots of chicken broth, a packet of instant turkey gravy mix, a can of dairy whipped topping, and a frozen pizza. There are few kitchen disasters that can’t be fixed. But if everything goes to heck in a cornucopia, relax. You can always serve the pizza.

Now, I’ll anticipate and answer your calls for help.

Help! My turkey is –

Frozen – It takes 24 hours of defrosting in the fridge for every four pounds of turkey. Thus a 20-pound turkey requires five days to defrost. You forgot to take it out of the freezer? No big deal! Cook it frozen.

Here’s how: Remove plastic wrapping and place turkey on a rack in a baking pan. Cook frozen turkey at 325°F degrees for 23 minutes per pound. For example, an 18-pound turkey would take approximately 7 hours from frozen. After two hours, remove the partially cooked turkey from the oven. You should be able to remove the bag of giblets. Now, brush the turkey with butter, season with salt and pepper and return to the oven. Using your meat thermometer, check for a temperature of 175°F degrees at the thigh and 165°F degrees at the breast. Let it rest, covered, for 30 minutes before slicing.

Raw – You begin to carve and it’s still pink inside. Well, stick it back in the oven and use that thermometer! If you’ve already started serving sides, you’re running out of wine and the biggest issue is time, cut the bird into pieces (whole breasts, legs and thighs) and pop them on a sheet pan and stick ‘em back in the oven to quickly continue cooking.

Dry – Thickly slice the dry turkey and place into a baking dish. Pour enough chicken broth to almost cover and stick it in the oven for about 10 minutes. And make extra gravy.

Cooking so slow – Turkeys take time. If people are gnawing on their arms to keep from starving, bust out that frozen pizza in your emergency kit.

Help! My potatoes are –

Lumpy – They’re probably undercooked. Stop mashing and find a lump and smoosh it, if it feels solid, put the pan back on low heat, cook until softened and mash again.

Gluey – Oh no! Potatoes release starch when you mash them. The more you mash the more starch is released resulting in potatoes textured like wallpaper paste. So, never use your food processor or mixer to mash potatoes.

The best tool is a ricer, but a good old-fashioned potato masher is classic. If it’s too late and you’ve got gluey potatoes, mix in a bunch of cheese, butter, and season liberally. Put the potato mixture in a shallow casserole dish and top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake until your “potato casserole” is lightly browned on top. And make extra gravy.

Help! My gravy is –

Lumpy – Easy fix. Pour your gravy through a fine mesh strainer and reheat.

Thin – Mix 3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch with a small amount of cold water to make a smooth paste. Whisk this into the gravy a bit at a time, letting the gravy gently boil between additions, until thickened to your liking. Or add some of that instant gravy packet from your insurance policy.

Bland – Most likely, it needs more salt. If it’s really lacking in flavor, add some chicken or vegetable bouillon. Or add that emergency gravy packet.

Help! My stuffing is –

Dry – Melt a tablespoon butter into a cup of warm chicken stock. Add to the stuffing and mix well. Cover and put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes to reheat. Make more gravy.

Wet – Spread your soggy stuffing out on a rimmed baking sheet and put it in the oven to dry out a bit.

Help! My dessert has –

Burnt crust – Carefully remove the crust and either add a crumb topping (mix flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon. Sprinkle it over the filling and bake until golden) or use the whipped topping in your emergency kit to pipe a pretty border.

Cracked – If your cheesecake or pumpkin pie has a cracked top, use the whipped topping to make a pretty design over the top.

Thanksgiving may look different this year but look on the bright side, you don’t have to talk politics with Uncle Bob. And if you haven’t noticed, I believe the secret to a happy life is extra gravy.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com

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