Cooking tips for the holidays by Alice Gaines

People who try to do the holidays “just right” often find themselves stressed out by all the work.  That’s such a shame for a time of the year that’s supposed to be merry.  Because so much of holiday cheer revolves around food, it’s helpful to have tips to deal with common problems.  Let me share a few that I’ve gleaned from my cooking over the years.

 The holiday turkey.  Thanksgiving dinner revolves around this difficult bird.  Why difficult?  Because it’s basically two kinds of meat that cook at different speeds.  The white meat gets done before the dark meat, and when turkey breast gets overdone, you might as well be eating sawdust.  The only way to choke it down is to douse it in gravy.  But if you don’t cook the turkey long enough, the dark meat isn’t safe to eat.  What to do?

Cooks Country has come up with a marvelous way around this problem.  Cut the turkey into three parts:  two legs and one huge breast portion.  You can roast them separated in the same pan, but now, the leg pieces are so much smaller than the breast piece, they cook at relatively the same amount of time.  You could also pull one out of the oven and keep it covered with foil while the other pieces continue to cook.  You can check out the recipe here.  (You can get a free trial subscription if you’re not a member.)  I tested this recipe for them, and the house smelled wonderful!

Pie crust.  Pie crust is the bane of a cook’s existence!  To make it flaky and tender, you’re told Thou Must Not use more water than whatever the recipe states.  When I used to try to stick with this commandment, I invariably ended up with something that broke apart when I rolled it out, and the best I could do was make a patchwork of dough on the pie plate.  Finally, I gave up and only made pies with crumb crusts.

The problem is you need enough liquid to keep the crust together for rolling, but adding more water develops the gluten in the four, and that keeps the finished product from being tender.  (Gluten is the protein in wheat that develops strands as you work it.  Great for bread, bad for pie crust.)  Again the folks at Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks Country have come up with a solution.  Instead of water, use a 1 to 1 ratio of vodka to water.  Vodka is only partly water, with the rest being alcohol.  Alcohol doesn’t develop gluten, so you can use more liquid in your crust.  The alcohol burns off during cooking.  Now, sprinkle that on your crust until you have something you can work with.

Hollandaise.  Hollandaise isn’t traditional at the holidays, but it’s very elegant and delicious.  Besides, it sounds like holiday, doesn’t it?  The problem is getting the egg yolks to thicken the sauce without scrambling them.  You do this by whisking in the melted butter in a slow stream.  There are a few tricks you can us to make sure the yolks don’t get too hot and curdle the sauce.  I used to use a double boiler, but it’s hard to get the whisk into the corners.  Instead, I read somewhere (I think The Joy of Cooking) that you can set a bowl over boiling water in a pan.  Now not only do you have the water as insulation from the heat of the burner, but you have no corners to try to get into.  Another tip, from the wonderful Julia Child—cut a tablespoon of butter into tiny pieces and put it into the egg yolks at the beginning of the cooking.  This evens out the temperature as the butter melts.

I don’t have any tips on keeping hollandaise once you’ve made it, though.  Serve it immediately, and enjoy the holidays!


DSCN0488By the way, I’m raffling off this scarf to someone on my newsletter mailing list to celebrate my birthday on November 15.  If you’d like to enter to win, sign up for my newsletter at my blog:

Categories: Alice Gaines, cooking, holiday, raffle | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: