Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks From Chef Jenn

Monday, November 8, 2021

A Message from Chef Jennifer Denlinger, Professor, Culinary Management

Thanksgiving — the most traditional of all family holidays. Thanksgiving has a different meaning for every family, and every family has different traditions. Since food is the center of tradition, here are some tips and tricks to make the day easier.

1. Make a plan. Homemade is always best, but compromise always works too! Determine who can help you with bringing dishes or showing up early to clean or decorate.

2. Start early. Casseroles can be made a week or two in advance and frozen. Pull from the freezer the day before and defrost at least 50% before baking at 400°F until the internal temperature reaches 165°F as registered on a cook’s thermometer.

Here are some great casseroles featuring fresh from Florida ingredients:

3. Make a cooking schedule. Plan what temperatures are needed and for how long. Vegetables and starches and casseroles’ cooking temperatures can usually be compromised 25 degrees in either direction. Proteins and pastries/ desserts usually cannot. Determine what foods can be served warm or at room temperature.

4. Line your sheet pans with parchment paper or foil for easy cleanup. If possible, share pans.

5. Pie dough can be made weeks in advance and frozen. Wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap and put it into a freezer bag sealed tightly. If you are making a one-crust pie, you can roll out the pie dough and freeze flat on a cookie sheet or put it on a pie plate and freeze it. Make sure it is properly wrapped, so there is no chance of the dough picking up odors. Two crust fruit pies (such as apple pie) can be made entirely and frozen unbaked.

6. Debone your turkey before roasting it. Yes, before. Order a deboned turkey from your butcher. Cooking a boneless turkey is beneficial in several ways:

  • First, it gives you bones to make turkey stock. Turkey stock is useful for dressing, gravy and leftover turkey soup.
  • Boneless turkeys take less room in the refrigerator.
  • Boneless turkeys cook in half the time.
  • You can now safely stuff the turkey.
  • Carving a turkey at the table is now a breeze. If you want to bone out a turkey, look for instructions here or ask your butcher to do it for you. Make sure you order this in advance and ask for a boneless, skin-on turkey breast, ballotine legs and thighs (boneless, skin-on leg/thigh quarters), all bones, giblets and wings.
  • Brine your turkey for extra flavor and to help retain the moisture the day beforehand.
  • Do not baste the turkey. The continual opening of the oven door does more harm than good. Instead, add butter. Adding a flavored compound butter under the skin will keep the turkey moist, the skin crispy.

7. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will help with the traditional carb overload. Get them at your local market.

8. Don’t worry when things do not go as planned. By next year, no one will remember the maladies!

For more Thanksgiving tips and tricks, visit The Florida Chef.

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