7 Common Holiday Dinner Disasters: How to Fix Them So No One Knows

cooking problem

If you've hosted a holiday dinner, we're betting you tell at least one story -- maybe more -- of a meal that did NOT go off without a hitch.


Maybe your turkey had the texture of a pretzel. Your green beans were overcooked to a lemon-lime color or your mashed potatoes were the consistency of Elmer's glue.

A reality TV show could be made about holiday dinners gone wrong. (And it could be on the air for ETERNITY.) But since we'd like you to NOT star in that show, we've put together some solutions to the most common holiday cooking probs.

Hint: Don't wait until the last minute to read this!

Gummy mashed potatoes

If your potatoes have taken on a gluey texture, "it's usually because you've overmixed them," explains Sabrina Sexton, culinary arts program director at the Institute of Culinary Education.

Add more butter or milk to loosen them up, but if that doesn't help, you may need to turn your potatoes into something else. Sexton's recommendation: "Put them into a baking dish, add grated cheddar or Parmesan, and bake until it's melted nicely on top." Tell your guests it's mashed potato gratin!

Dry turkey

If your bird ends up too dry, have a lot of gravy on hand, suggests Sexton. "It goes a long way," she says. Make sure your gravy's not super-thick so it will moisten the meat rather than congeal on top of it. Always reserve a little extra stock or broth to adjust the consistency right before you serve the gravy. If you run out of stock, even some water can help to thin it out.

You can also slice your turkey, then baste it with chicken stock or melted butter to add extra flavor and moisture.

More from CafeMom: 11 No-Cook Thanksgiving Dinner Cheats

Tasteless gravy

"Flavorless gravy is a result of poorly flavored stock," explains Rollie Wesen, M.Ed., assistant professor, College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. Since you won't have time to go back and start from scratch, chicken bouillon is your best last-minute fix.

"Add just a touch. Less is more," Wesen says. She recommends just a half cube of bouillon or less for 24 ounces of gravy. "Otherwise, it will become industrial tasting."

Limp veggies

Be careful and don't cook green vegetables too long before dinner. If yours are truly past the point of saving, "make a puree out of them," Sexton suggests. Throw the veggies into a food processor, then add a little olive oil, chopped garlic, and milk or cream or butter. "You can make a puree out of most any vegetable," she assures, and it can stand alone as a side dish.

Overdressed salad

"This is a tough one," admits Sexton. "There's not much you can do to revive limp greens." You can try to throw in extra greens or a crisp vegetable, like carrot. But the best strategy is a preventative one. "Put your dressing at the bottom of the bowl, then your salad on the top, and wait to toss it until you sit down at the table," Sexton suggests.

Soggy stuffing

Too-wet stuffing can be scooped out of the turkey, put in an uncovered dish, and baked at 350 degrees, says Sexton. "The wider the dish, the better it will help it dry out and get a nice crust on it." Depending on how wet your stuffing is, you'll bake it for 10 to 20 minutes.

Overdone pie crust

Pumpkin pie left in the oven a wee bit too long? "To prevent this problem, I exclusively use transparent glass pie plates," says Wesen. "Also, start the pie at 350 degrees, then after 20 to 30 minutes or when browning begins, turn the heat down to 300. The glass plate will allow you to see whether the crust is cooked on the bottom as well as the sides."

But if you're taking your overdone pie out of the oven just as your guests are arriving, "serve it with delicious vanilla ice cream," Wesen advises. "No one will think twice."

Of course, the best-case scenario is when your cooking goes smoothly. To increase the odds of that happening, make a plan, says Sexton. "Don't expect to get everything done the same day. A lot of dishes you can do a day ahead and just warm up."

And do what you can to take the pressure off yourself. Have your groceries delivered, for instance. Ask guests to bring side dishes. "Don't say no to help," says Sexton. "See it as a group experience and it will make the holiday less stressful."

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