Volunteers make gravy at the Dorothy Day soup kitchen in Bangor for the 2018 Christmas dinner. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday for gathering with friends and family. It is also a time where frenzied, crowded kitchens can lead to meals that look less-than Norman Rockwell perfect.

Common cooking mistakes can lead to big mealtime blunders, which are extra disappointing when everyone is waiting around the table to eat. Luckily, there are a few easy fixes you can make to save your Thanksgiving dinner, just in the nick of time.

One of the most common mistakes is forgetting to thaw the turkey.

“The turkey not being thawed is more common than people realize,” said Jay Demers, culinary arts instructor at Eastern Maine Community College. “It stems from a sizable bird taking a week or more to thaw. Few people are planning that far in advance or have the space to thaw it in the refrigerator for the time warranted.”

The safest way to handle a slightly frozen turkey is to run cool water into the cavity of the bird until it is thawed, according to Rob Dumas, food science innovation coordinator at the University of Maine. Depending on the size of the bird, this could take 25 to 30 minutes, or longer.

If he forgot to thaw his turkey, Demers said he would ditch the picture-perfect whole bird and cut the bird into its primary pieces — thighs, breasts, wings and legs.

“Once this is done the bird will finish thawing rather quickly as we’ve reduced the density,” Demers said. “Cooking this way will actually yield more even doneness as well, as the different parts of the bird cook at varying rates.” 

Side dishes can cause problems, too. If your mashed potatoes are too runny, toss some instant potatoes into the mix, Demers said.

“If this isn’t in your pantry you could use dry milk solids, arrowroot, cornstarch or even flour,” Demers said. “Another way would be to heat them to evaporate the excess liquid. This could be done on the stovetop, in the oven, or even in the microwave. Just don’t stir things too much as this will make mashed potatoes like wall paper paste.”

Gravy is another tricky Thanksgiving accoutrement. The ideal gravy has a base made with equal parts flour and fat (whether that’s drippings from the pan or a substitute like butter or vegetable oil), Dumas said.

“If your gravy has too much fat in it, like if you dumped all the fat out of the bird, your gravy might separate,” Dumas said. “If that happens you can strain that fat off or you can start a new roux, add that broken gravy back to it along with an additional quart or so of broth to re-emulsify that gravy and bring it together.”

Once you have the roux, adding broth slowly to the mixture will yield the best gravy consistency.

“Where things go wrong is people add everything too fast and you have lumpy gravy,” Dumas said. “You can pass it through a mesh sieve or use a blender and blend it up.”

If the gravy is too thin, Dumas said that cornstarch will help bring it together in a pinch. Combine two tablespoons of cornstarch and two tablespoons of cold water and stir together until viscous.

“Add that cornstarch mixture into your gravy while it is at a simmer and whisk vigorously,” Dumas said. “If you don’t stir it you’ll end up with a thick disk of gravy on the bottom.”

And we can’t forget dessert. If your pie doesn’t set, Demers said one of the best things you can do is keep it in the oven for a little longer, but with tin foil tented around the crust in order to prevent it from burning.

“If we are out of time and it just won’t thicken we can turn it into a mousse [or] parfait by folding the filling into beaten egg whites, whipped cream — freshly made or canned — or even cool whip,” Demers said. “Layer it in a wine glass with more layers of said cream and top it with a cookie or crispy pieces of the crust that you could salvage.”