23 Cooking Tips That Will Make Your Holiday Dinner So Much Better
Whip up an amazing holiday dinner with some help from your friends at Taste of Home.
Putting together a holiday meal can be stressful. Make things a little easier on yourself with helpful hints from our Taste of Home editors and Test Kitchen that will make it the best it can possibly be. Still looking for dinner ideas? We have 70 impressive and utterly holiday-worthy recipes here.
Problem: Dull Turkey
Is your turkey up to temperature but doesn’t have golden-brown skin yet? Stop basting and crank the oven up to 450°F to crisp up the skin. The bird will brown in just a few minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Cook a more flavorful turkey this holiday season with these 15 helpful hints.
Problem: Underdone Legs
Not all areas of a turkey roast evenly. If you find yourself with legs that aren’t quite done when the rest of the turkey is, there’s an easy fix. Remove the legs and thighs from the bird and place them in a roasting pan. Place the pan back into the oven (at whatever temperature it’s already set at) and let the pieces continue to cook until they reach 170°-175°F when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the leg. Not sure at what temperature (or for how long) you should roast a turkey? We have the answer.
Problem: Dry Turkey
If your turkey comes out dry or tough, slice the meat and place it in the pan forming a single even layer. Cover the meat with either turkey or chicken stock, then bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes. This will add moisture to the meat, plus some extra flavor! By the way, here are 10 turkey mistakes almost everyone makes.
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Problem: Plain-Looking Platter
Add some pizzaz to your turkey platter with some lovely roasted veggies. Simply toss a pound of small carrots and two halved lemons with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast them for 20 minutes at 475°F, stirring at the halfway mark. Then, arrange the carrots and lemon around the sliced turkey for a pretty presentation. While you’re at it, take a look at these gorgeous Thanksgiving table ideas.
Problem: Bland Gravy
Pump up the flavor of your gravy by seasoning it with a bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of white wine (or a splash of vinegar, if you want to keep it alcohol-free) and let the gravy simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and transfer the gravy into a holder to be served.
Problem: Runny Gravy
Sometimes, gravy turns out a bit too soupy. Thicken it by mixing some cornstarch with cold turkey or chicken broth. Stir the slurry into your simmering gravy, whisking until it reaches your desired consistency. Make sure your gravy comes out perfectly every time with these tips from grandmas across the country.
Problem: Gloopy Gravy
On the other hand, sometimes gravy can come out with lots of lumps. Banish them by whisking in a tablespoon of turkey or chicken broth at a time into your simmering gravy. Be sure to whisk until all the broth has mixed in before adding more to prevent the gravy from getting too runny. Here are some of the most common mistakes when making gravy (plus how to fix them!).
Problem: Lumpy Gravy
When the lumps won’t dissipate no matter how much whisking you do, transfer your gravy to a blender. Pulse the gravy until it’s nice a smooth. Then, use that gravy to cover these tasty Thanksgiving turkeys.
Problem: No Time for Homemade Gravy
Shave a few minutes off your cooking time by making the roux beforehand. It’ll give you a jump start on your dinner and ensure your gravy is nice and smooth. Get our full guide here. Don’t stop there! These recipes will let you make your entire Thanksgiving meal ahead of time.
Problem: Soggy Stuffing
Add some crunch and texture to your stuffing by spreading it on a cookie sheet and baking at 350°F for 10 minutes. If it’s still too soggy for your tastes, just stir and repeat. Here are 40 stuffing recipes that are so good, you’ll want to make a double batch.
Problem: Limp Salad
Revive an over-dressed salad by transferring it to a salad spinner or colander and shake the excess moisture off. Add the greens back to the bowl and toss with some undressed greens for crunch. Salads don’t have to be boring, and these holiday salads prove it.
Problem: Mushy Brussels Sprouts
Make the best of soft or mushy Brussels sprouts by transforming them into a mash. Just drop the Brussels into a food processor with some spreadable cheese, like ricotta or cream cheese, and pulse to your desired consistency. Season with a little salt, pepper and lemon juice then serve the spread as an appetizer with crostini, with dinner as a side dish or keep on hand to spread on leftover turkey sandwiches. Yum!
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Problem: Boring Cranberry Sauce
Add some holiday spirit to your cranberry sauce with a splash or two of orange liqueur, spiced rum, port wine or cran-raspberry juice. Just stir in the liquor or wine at the same time as the juice, sugar and cranberries of your go-to recipe. And don’t worry, cooking the sauce will burn off any harsh alcohol taste, and the alcohol itself, but leave some amazing flavor. Try this tip with one of our favorite cranberry recipes.
Problem: Bitter Cranberry Sauce
You don’t have to turn to sugar to sweeten up homemade cranberry sauce. Alternately, stir in some maple syrup, sweet wine or sweetened fruit juice (like apple or orange) and a pinch of salt. The salt will intensify the flavor so you don’t have to add too much sweetener. If cranberry sauce isn’t your jam, make these tart cranberry desserts, instead.
Problem: Not Knowing When to Defrost
Every 4 pounds of turkey needs 24 hours to thaw, so make sure you’re planning ahead of time. For example, a 14-pound turkey should be transferred to your fridge 5 days before you want to cook it. If you forgot to take your turkey out of the freezer until the day of, here are some tips for roasting a frozen bird.
Problem: Dinner’s Ready Before the Guests Are
We all have that family member who tends to show up fashionably late. Anticipate tardy arrivals by keeping your prepared dishes warm in an oven set to 200°F. This temp won’t dry your dinner but will still keep it piping hot. Throw the perfect holiday party, or a regular ol’ dinner party, with some advice from Ina Garten.
Problem: You’re Not Sure How Much to Make
For a smaller gathering, you’ll want to plan on getting a bird that serves 1 ½ pound per person. For a large dinner, however, grab a turkey that serves 1 pound per person. The extra sides and fixings will help round out the meal. Hosting a big party? We did the math on exactly how much food and drink to serve.
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Problem: Dull Turkey
Don’t lose a single sprinkle of seasonings by adding your seasoning under the turkey skin. Gently lift the skin and rub the butter or oil, spices and herbs all over the bird. That way, the flavors can get even deeper into the meat and those who don’t like skin can simply peel it off. This cranberry-orange turkey recipe will help if you’re new to this technique.
Problem: Dry Ham
Keep your ham nice and juicy with some help from a glaze. You can go with a citrus-molasses, sweet mustard, cranberry or bourbon glaze for an extra-special ham. Get the recipes for these glazes here.
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Problem: Gluey Mashed Potatoes
Though it’s much quicker to make mashed potatoes in a food processor, overworking potatoes can give them a dense, unappetizing texture. Stick with a potato masher, potato ricer or even just a fork for fluffy mashed potatoes. Here are some ideas for taking your mashed potatoes to the next level.
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Problem: Cold Mashed Potatoes
If you made your mashed potatoes ahead of time, keep them warm in a slow cooker or in a covered heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. When you’re ready to serve, stir in a little warm cream to get the potatoes extra fluffy. Here’s our step-by-step guide to perfect mashed potatoes.
Problem: Just OK Green Bean Casserole
Rather than sticking to cream of mushroom soup for your green bean casserole, switch things up by mixing and matching the condensed soup. Consider cream of chicken, cheddar, celery or broccoli for some added flavor. Once your flavorful green bean casserole is ready, serve it with these quick holiday sides.
Problem: Leftover French Fried Onions
Don’t throw those extra French fried onions away! Pull them out of your pantry and add them to a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich or pizza. Here are some more ideas for repurposing your holiday dinner leftovers.