Thanksgiving is coming and the web is flooding from the side to side with tricks and tips on how to make thanksgiving dinner easier, better, less stressful, cheaper and everything else that will make your life easier. Among them I stumble upon the Buzzfeed post that describes 17 tricks to make Thanksgiving better. Everything from just making the mashed potatoes fluffier to cost saving tips. However, many of these tricks are not really justified and they might not even work well. I will go over these tricks and evaluate them. I will give you my verdict and you can judge if you want to follow them or not. So let’s get started.
1. Add a little baking powder to make mashed potatoes extra fluffy.
Explanation: Apparently, the heat of the potatoes triggers the baking powder’s chemical reaction, and the CO2 produced = extra fluffiness. Try this simple recipe from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.
Verdict: The baking powders of the modern era are in their majority what is called double-acting. This means that there is a secondary reaction that happens at higher temperature. This reaction is timed to happen right before the egg protein and the gluten start setting. The protein network that is being created captures the CO2 bubbles and that creates the fluffy cake we all love. However, adding this directly to the mashed potatoes has to issues: The temperature required for that is 120 F (or 50 C) and the inability of the mashed potatoes to capture the fluffiness. The temperature triggered reaction is due to the Sodium Aluminum Sulfate that reacted at higher temperature than baking soda. The aluminum leaves a bitter after tastes. In cookies, cakes etc, the spices and the sugar can mask it. This cannot happen in mashed potatoes. I addition there is no protein network to hold the bubbles. So overall this is not a good tip. Use a riser or another mashing method that makes the potatoes fluffy. Add lot’s of butter and cream to make the soft and delicious.
2. DIY a last-minute roasting rack with tinfoil.
Explanation: Self explanatory. Get the detailed instructions from Saveur.
Verdict: Straight forward trick that will lift the turkey from the bottom of the pan. However, considering the amount required for a large turkey maybe it is cheaper to just get a cookie cooling rack instead. I also like to add some veggies like celery, onion and peppers underneath to give extra flavor. Definitely approved and required tip.
3. Print or write out recipes and tape them to your cabinets for easy access.
Explanation: Losing that piece of paper 17 times (or spilling pie filling all over it) is NOT going to help you get into a zen cooking space. You can also cut out pages from magazines or make photocopies if you want to do this with a recipe from a cookbook. This also makes it a lot easier to recruit cooking helpers, since you can just point them towards the recipe and tell them to figure out the rest.
Verdict: If you are not already using it, start. Not for Thanksgiving only. For every cooking.
4. Bake stuffing in muffin tins to maximize crispy surface area and make easy single servings.
Explanation: Just use your favorite stuffing recipe or try these Pancetta & Sage Stuffing Muffins.
Verdict: This is an awesome trick. You create portion control, crisp corners and because the are in small portions they cook faster.
5. Freeze rolled-out pie crusts so they hold their shape in the oven.
Explanation: Just pop them in the freezer for 20 minutes to an hour while you make the fillings, then bake (without thawing). This will let the gluten in the dough relax and minimize shrinkage during baking. This is mainly for single-crust pies like pumpkin and pecan; if you’re adding a top crust you don’t really have to worry as much about shrinking.
Verdict: This is confusing. The shrinkage depends on the gluten and the water evaporation. The water evaporation is not addressable since when you cook something the evaporation of the water is inevitable. The gluten is a ghost that haunts every bakers dreams. Gluten forms when water cross-links the flour proteins. Then while you cook the proteins denatures and contract resulting in the noticable shrinkage. However, I cannot see why freezing will reduce that. If you want to reduce the shrinkage avoid gluten formation from the beginning. This is done by reducing the time you work the dough, the addition of butter and substituting part of the water with an alcohol like brandy, cognac or my favorite Apple Jack.
6. Microwave potatoes instead of boiling to save time.
Explanation: You’re going to mash ‘em anyway, so there’s no real reason not to do it this way.
Verdict: As everything else microwaved, cooking time is faster. In addition you are not using water that can wash off the nutrients and flavor. Another tip that was given to me by Nidhi is to put the potatoes in a plastic bag and microwave them in the bag. See it here Down Home with the Dagas.
7. Slow-roast your turkey overnight to free up oven space the day of.
Explanation: Sounds crazy, but apparently it works like a charm: Put the turkey in before you go to bed, turn the heat down, and wake up to a falling-off-the-bone tender bird in the morning. Here’s the recipe.
Verdict: This is very similar to BBQ. The key here is that the low heat, will slowly cook the meat and dissolve the connective tissue. However, all meats cooked low and slow have a lot of fat and connective tissue. These two elements make the succulent and finger licking goodness we love about BBQ. In turkey, with the exception of the legs, the meat is very lean and has small ration of connective tissue to meat. Cooking it for that long will dry it. The recipe calls for an aluminum tent that will fully conceal the moisture inside. That will make a floppy skin and give the texture of boiled turkey. On the contrary, I always start the turkey at high to crisp up the skin and then move to the low and slow.
8. Use a wine glass to cut out biscuits.
Image source southbyse.com
Explanation: Maybe you’re a true biscuit believer who keeps a metal cutter around, but if not this will do just fine. Make sure to dip the glass in flour after every few to keep the dough from sticking, and push straight down without twisting to make sure the biscuits can rise.
Verdict: Although it sounds as a great idea, it is not working that well. I tried actually the same for the shortcakes I made to commemorate the 100 recipes, but I found it impractical. The air that is trapped in the glass makes it hard to push through. Instead use a can that you cut of both sides so there is no trapped air.
9. Make gravy instantly great by adding soy sauce.
Image source bonappetit.com
Explanation: Your best bet is always basing a gravy off yummy turkey pan drippings. But if a) you didn’t save them b) you’re vegetarian or c) your gravy’s just a little bland, a splash of umami is the easiest way to bring out flavor (science says!). Try adding a spoonful of regular soy sauce, Liquid Aminos, or Maggi seasoning. Try this basic recipe.
Verdict: Yes. Adding soy sauce adds glutamine that makes everything taste better. Glutamines are are amino acids, found in meat and mushrooms and are responsible for the meaty nature of this products. It is also called Unami and for some people it is considered the “fifth flavor”.
10. Ice down the turkey’s breast before roasting to keep it from drying out.
Image source blog.kj.com
Explanation: This actually works! By starting the breast at a slightly lower temperature, you solve the problem of white meat cooking faster than dark.
Verdict: NO! This is the worst thing you can do. I actually, read this and gave me the motivation for this entire post. When you bake something there are two parts to the equation. The temperature and the volume. Yes the dark meat cooks at 171 F which is much higher than the 161 F that is usually recommended for white meat. But a modern-day turkey in the mega-mart has a lot more white meat that dark. Also, the dark meat is closer to the heat since a turkey is usually put in the lower position of the oven, bringing it closer to the heating elements. Every time I cook a turkey I use a small shield of tinfoil to cover the breast halfway through the cooking. My thermometer shows that by the time the breast hits the 161 F the dark meat at the thighs is cruising at a 170-sh F. Cooling the meat, will make the cook time longer, dry the meat even further and might even overcook the dark meat.
11. Grate frozen butter straight into pie or biscuit dough.
Explanation: You can use any normal cheese grater. This way the butter stays cold, which you want to keep everything tender and flaky, but you don’t have to give yourself an elbow injury cutting it into the flour.
Verdict: I cannot tell if it is going to work just by thinking, but it is definitely towards the right direction. In the perfect pie crust the butter has to be in big chunks so it can melt in the oven and give the flaky crust we all love.
12. Prep all your vegetables a day or two ahead and keep them in the fridge.
Explanation: You can peel potatoes and carrots, chop onions, wash greens, and do basically any other prep steps called for in the recipes you’re using. This is the kind of thing that will feel crazy when you’re doing it, and AWESOME the next day when you realize you already did.
Verdict: Some of the veggies are ideal for that, onion, carrots but not the potatoes or any other vegetable that can oxidize and have black spots.
13. Rice is an easy, non-wasteful way to weigh down pie crust for pre-baking.
Image from summerofpie.com
Explanation: Most people don’t have actual pie weights around, and using beans is annoying because they get funny-smelling after baking, and you probably won’t want to eat them. With rice, you can just make pilaf the next day.
Verdict: It should work. And in addition the white color of the rice, will give a lower heating rate that will not burn the crust. Not sure about the pilaf though. Just keep the rice for next time.
14. Cook white and dark turkey meat separately to make sure both are perfect.
Image source bonappetit.com
Explanation: Never, never let dry breast meat happen to you. Check out this helpful video that shows exactly how to break down a turkey into parts, then cook separately with recipes like Butter-Roasted Turkey Breast and Braised Turkey Thighs.
15. If you boil potatoes whole, you don’t need to peel them.
Explanation: Just shock them in ice water when they’re done and then slip the skin off with your hands.
Verdict: Yes, but why you don’t like the peel of the potato? I like it in the mashed potatoes. It is a nice touch. Also unless you are cooking for an army you will not spend more than 10 minutes to peel the potatoes. Unless of course you have a bad peeler. Thumbs up but just because it works.
16. Use a beaded necklace to make a cool, easy pie crust design.
Explanation: Check out this video for more crimping ideas.
Verdict: STUPID. But watch the video it has some other brilliant decorations way better than this. Most of them involve your fingers!
17. Instead of scrubbing lots of potatoes, put them through the dishwasher.
Explanation: When you’re mashing in bulk, there’s no time for scrubbing by hand, like a chump. Just put the potatoes through a quick rinse cycle (WITHOUT soap, please) and cook away. You could pop sweet potatoes and other sturdy root vegetables in there, too.
Verdict: Yes but do you really want to cook that many potatoes? Who are you cooking for?