Thanksgiving Food Fails: 10 Quick Fixes for the Worst Dinner Mess-Ups

Don't give up on your holiday dinner yet! Here, the chef-approved tricks to save anything-from dry turkey to pasty mashed potatoes.

Crisis : Bone-Dry Turkey

Quick Fix : Heat 3 cups of turkey, chicken, or vegetable broth in the microwave. Carve the turkey and soak each piece in the warm broth for 3 seconds. Remove, shake off excess, and serve with savory gravy.

Crisis : Gluey Mashed Potatoes

Quick Fix : Mixed potatoes into a sticky paste? Turn them into a casserole. Spread the mashed potatoes in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish, drizzle with 2 tablespoons melted butter, sprinkle with ⅓ cup grated cheese (such as Parmesan), and top generously with ⅔ cup bread crumbs. Bake at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Crisis : Scorched Asparagus

Quick Fix : Scoop the most salvageable pieces into a separate dish. Offset the bitter, burned flavor by drizzling veggies with an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, orange juice, or vinegar. Toss to mix. Another option: Highlight the burned flavor by sprinkling with Cajun or Creole seasoning.

Crisis : Soggy Stuffing

Quick Fix : Fold in a few pieces of corn bread. Mix until you reach the desired dryness. If it becomes too dry, add 1 cup of chicken broth for every 4 cups of stuffing; allow to soak for 1 minute before adding more.

Crisis : Flavorless Gravy

Quick Fix : Season with bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of fruity white wine (such as Chardonnay) for a bright, floral flavor. Bring to a simmer for 3 minutes or until fragrant.

Crisis : Limp Salad

Quick Fix : If the salad is soggy, there could be too much dressing. Place only the leaves in a salad spinner or shake in a colander to draw out excess moisture. Mix back into the salad bowl with fresh, undressed greens for extra crunch.

Crisis : Salty Ham

Quick Fix : If the first piece you slice is overbearingly salty, glaze the rest of the ham with sweet flavor. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup honey with 3 to 4 tablespoons orange juice, apple juice, or pineapple juice. Vigorously whisk, then baste the ham with the glaze before serving (don't return it to the oven-the heat will draw out moisture and make the meat saltier). Slice thinly to serve.

Crisis : Mushy Brussels Sprouts

Quick Fix : For veggies that are more mush than masterpiece, puree in a food processor. Raid your fridge for spreadable cheese-such as ricotta or cream cheese-and fold into the puree to taste for texture. Add a squeeze of lemon juice for brightness. Use as an appetizer dip for crudités, or spread on leftover turkey sandwiches.

Crisis : Bitter Cranberry Sauce

Quick Fix : Resist adding granulated sugar-you won't get the full effect unless you reheat the sauce and the sugar dissolves. Instead, start by stirring in 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1 teaspoon of a sweet drink like apple juice, orange juice, or fruity white or red wine. Add more to taste. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt (in small amounts, it intensifies sweetness).

Crisis : Soupy Apple Pie

Quick Fix : Runny pie is the result of too little thickener or too-juicy apples. Make apple-pie sundaes instead: Puree the filling in a blender. Lightly pour over vanilla ice cream, and top with whipped cream, cherries, nuts, and other tasty garnishes.

  •   Brian Adornetto, chef and owner of Love at First Bite, a private chef business in North Carolina; Derrick Davenport, executive chef for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Beth Vlasich Pav, personal chef and founder of Beth Pav’s Cooking by Design, a culinary website

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