Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are when home cooks shine, making delicious food and gorgeous treats for friends and family. But when holiday cooking mistakes occur, they create a lot of stress and sap the joy from the fun tradition of holiday cooking and baking. I asked Taste of Home Food Editor James Schend to share some of the most common holiday cooking mistakes and tips on how to fix and prevent them.
Mistake #1: Your Baked Goods Aren’t Turning Out
Schend says he often hears from home cooks at holiday time about baked goods that do not have the right texture: dry and crumbly, or too liquidy to bake up properly. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the problem is the amount of flour,” he says. “It can vary dramatically between each cup.” He recommends purchasing an inexpensive kitchen scale to weigh out flour, rather than measuring by volume. One cup of flour is 4.4 ounces or 125 grams: Using a scale will always have the correct amount. If a scale is not an option for you, check out these steps on how to measure flour perfectly every time.
Mistake #2: You Chose a New or Tricky Recipe
During the holidays people feel adventurous and try recipes or techniques that are outside their comfort zones. Fortunately, Schend says, Taste of Home recipes are written clearly and are easy to understand. “People can do a great job with them even if they haven’t tried them before.” He also reminds that, to get the best results, read the entire recipe well in advance of when planning to cook. This will allow you to understand all the steps involved and plan your time accordingly. You won’t be caught off-guard by holiday cookie doughs that need refrigeration before baking or meats needing hours of marinating!
Mistake #3: You Started Cooking with a Crowd in the House
You’ll be doing your baking or cooking with a lot of holiday guests around, Schend says. “It’s a good idea to get things measured out ahead of time when it’s quiet.” Doing this ensure no mistakes in your cooking when things are crowded and noisy. Have the recipe and equipment on hand, and all the ingredients portioned out.
Mistake #4: The Gravy Is Lumpy
Don’t panic and throw it out. Lumpy gravy can be fixed quickly by pouring it through a mesh strainer. Putting gravy into a food processor also breaks up the lumps.
Mistake #5: The Brussels Sprouts Are a Stinky Mess
During the holidays, Schend finds that “Brussels sprouts seem to be the vegetable people have difficulty with, mainly from overcooking.” To prevent this, whether the cooking is done on the stove top or in the oven, cook the Brussels sprouts at high heat for a short amount of time. And never, ever boil them.
Mistake #6: The Mashed Potatoes Look Like Paste
When mashed potatoes come out a gummy, gluey mess, it is usually due to overprocessing the potatoes or using the wrong variety. Choose a high-starch variety of potato such as Russet or Yukon Gold. Avoid using a food processor or blender for the mashing because these appliances ruin the consistency. If gluey potatoes need to be salvaged, turn them into a gratin by spreading them in a thin layer in a baking dish. Top them with butter, breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake them in the oven until the top is crispy. For perfect mashed potatoes every time, check out this article.
Mistake #7: You Burned a Sauce, Stew or Soup
It happens to even the best cooks. When it’s your turn, quickly find another similar-size saucepan or pot. Carefully transfer the portion of the dish that isn’t burned into the new pot, leaving the burnt layer behind in the first pot. Continue cooking and check the taste: If it has a bit of smoky flavor it may just work with your sauce or soup. If not, lessen the smoky flavor by adding more stock and seasoning, tasting and adjusting as you go.
Mistake #8: You’re Intimidated by the Roast
Large cuts of meat yield amazing holiday roasts, like a savory glazed pork loin or decadent prime rib. They also can be intimidating to cook, but Schend says fear not. “They’re actually quite easy to do, and we have a number of recipes that will walk you through the process.” Follow these guidelines to choose the right size cut of meat for your guests. The How To Cook tab gives detailed instructions for preparing pork shoulder, turkey and more.
Armed with these tips and best practices, the sanity and the fun in holiday cooking and baking will be preserved.