Your very-last-minute guide to Thanksgiving

November 21, 2012 


Forget the turkey. Gravy is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. (Rick E. Martin/San Jose Mercury News/MCT)


  • Turkey and Potato Soup You need a smart use for leftovers at the same time you’re ready for something simple to eat. We found this clever idea in the “Canal House Cooks Every Day,” by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton (2012, Andrews McMeel). You can skip cooking potatoes and use about 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes. 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 cup whole milk (or mix nonfat milk and half-and-half) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 to 4 cups turkey stock Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (or green onion tops) PUT the potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain off almost all the water, then mash the potatoes with a potato masher until very smooth, adding the milk and butter as you go. (Skip this step and reheat mashed potatoes if you have them.) STIR in enough of the hot turkey stock to make a smooth, velvety soup. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a sprinkling of chives or green onion tops. YIELD: 4 servings.
  • Basic Turkey Gravy Adapted from "Thanksgiving 101," by Rick Rodgers (Broadway, 1998). Pan drippings from turkey 1/4 cup cognac, brandy, stock or water About 3 1/2 cups hot turkey stock or canned chicken broth (see note) 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour Salt and freshly ground black pepper ROAST turkey according to your chosen recipe or label directions. Remove from roasting pan and let stand 20 minutes. POUR off drippings while turkey stands. Add cognac, brandy, hot water or a little stock to the hot roasting pan to deglaze, scrapping up the browned bits. Add to the drippings. Use a spoon or bulb baster to remove the clear yellow fat and set aside. Measure the darker juices and add enough stock or broth to make 4 cups. MEASURE the fat into a saucepan; if it isn’t 6 tablespoons, add enough butter or oil to make up the difference. Place saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Stir the flour into the fat with a whisk or fork, and keep stirring to make a paste. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, just until light brown, but don’t let it burn. WHISK in the stock and juices. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring, until gravy thickens. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, add minced fresh or dried herbs, or chopped cooked giblets. NOTE: Our first step on Thanksgiving morning is to make turkey stock: Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey. Set aside the liver or discard it; it can make stock bitter if it cooks too long. Place the neck and remaining giblets in a pan and cover with canned chicken broth (preferably low-sodium) or water. Add a bay leaf and about 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns if desired. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain, discarding solids, and refrigerate until ready to use. YIELD: About 4 cups.

What do to?

• Turkey not thawed: If it still feels frozen, put the wrapped or bagged turkey in a sink of cold water for 1 hour per pound. (If it’s mostly thawed but still too frozen to get out the neck and giblets from the cavity, run cold water into the center until you can pull them loose.) If you run out of time, you can roast a still-frozen turkey, although it will take longer.

• Giblet bag left in: Don’t freak out. It’s food-grade plastic. When you discover the mistake, remove the turkey from the oven and remove the bag from the turkey with tongs.

• How to place the instant-read or meat thermometer: Facing the turkey with the legs pointed toward you, push the probe of the thermometer into the thickest part of the inner thigh, pointing toward the body. Wiggle the tip a little to make sure it’s not touching bone.

• Disposing of turkey-fryer oil: Never pour it down a sink or storm drain. Pour the oil back in the original container or another nonflammable container and take it to a recycling center. Find recycling centers in Mecklenburg County at For other counties, go to and search by ZIP code.

How much do you need?

Carrots: A 1-pound bag makes 4 to 5 servings.

Cranberry sauce: A 12-ounce package of fresh cranberries makes about 2 1/4 cups of sauce. A 16-ounce can has 6 servings.

Gravy: 1/3 cup per person.

Green beans: 1 1/2 pounds makes 6 to 8 servings.

Mashed potatoes: a 5-pound bag of potatoes makes 10 to 12 servings.

Stuffing or dressing mix: A 14-ounce bag makes about 11 servings.

Keep safe

• Never place the turkey directly on the counter; keep it on a platter or in a roaster. Clean and sanitize the counter and utensils after handling raw turkey.

• Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, using hot water and soap.

• Plastic pop-up indicators usually are inaccurate. Use a meat thermometer (see above for how to place one). Or check the thigh, breast and center of the stuffing with an instant-read thermometer; they all should reach 165 degrees.

• Wait to stuff the turkey until right before putting it in the oven. If you prepare stuffing or dressing ahead, keep the dry and wet ingredients (particularly eggs) separate and refrigerate them until just before stuffing or cooking. Let chilled stuffing come to room temperature before putting it in a turkey or it will reach a safe temperature too slowly.

• To chill leftover turkey efficiently, cut the turkey off the bone, separate it into sections and refrigerate or freeze it. Refrigerated turkey will keep up to four days; stuffing and gravy for one to two days; other dishes keep three to four days. Kathleen Purvis

Who you gonna call?

U.S. Department of Agriculture Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-674-6854, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Or or post questions at

Butterball Turkey Talk-Line: 800-BUTTERBALL (800-288-8372), 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, 5 a.m.-4:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving, or

Reynolds Turkey Tips Hotline: Recorded advice, 800-745-4000, or

Crisco Pie Hotline: 877-367-7438 or Extended hours available from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 18-22.

King Arthur Flour Co.’s Bakers Hotline: 802-649-3717, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. weekends, closed on Thanksgiving. Or email questions to

Purvis: 704-358-5236

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