10 Thanksgiving Time-Savers
1. Stop Skimming the Fat
SAVINGS: 15 MINUTES
Ditch the shallow spoon, turkey baster, or whatever you've used to get that layer of fat off turkey drippings. Put them instead in a measuring cup that's designed to let you easily pour off the good stuff while the fat stays behind. (OXO 4-Cup Fat Separator, $15, bedbathandbeyond.com)
2. Take the Edge off Pie Making
SAVINGS: 30 MINUTES
Don't waste time fumbling with crimping, fluting, or braiding: Use a mold instead. Press in dough to set the look; then attach to the pie. (Wilton Decorative Pie Crust Impression Mat, $10, wilton.com)
3. Easily Peel Squash and Pumpkin
SAVINGS: 5 MINUTES
Pumpkin and other winter squash are especially popular at Thanksgiving, but they're a royal pain to peel. The microwave can help: Pierce the squash with the tines of a fork, and microwave for two to three minutes. This will soften the skin, making it infinitely easier to remove.
4. Unstick a Stuck Cake or Quick Bread
SAVINGS: THE WHOLE DESSERT
Forgot to line the cake pan with parchment paper? Or the cake has cooled too long in the pan and the parchment isn't releasing? Briefly warm the bottom of the pan over low heat on the stovetop, or carefully dip the bottom into a pan of hot water. The heat will gently warm the oils and sugars in the cake and help it to release.
5. Pack a Perfect Crumb Crust
SAVINGS: 8 MINUTES
Use the bottom of a wide, flat-bottomed glass to quickly compact graham cracker or cookie crumbs evenly and firmly into a pie plate. Then use your fingers to finesse the sides and edges.
6. Keep Recipes in Plain Sight
SAVINGS: YOUR SANITY
Take a tip from professional food stylists, who make six to eight recipes a day and must follow them to a T. Tape printed copies of each recipe to the cabinets, open shelving, or wall at eye level. This small step will save you from shuffling papers, flipping through cookbooks, or stopping to wash and dry hands before using a touch screen or computer keyboard—a real help, especially when you're in Thanksgiving multitask mode. Keep a pen handy to note times or what's left to do on each page.
7. Sub In Pearl Onions
SAVINGS: 20 MINUTES
Instead of classic caramelized onions, go for frozen pearl onions. They don't require peeling or slicing, and caramelizing is quicker. Sauté frozen pearl onions (no need to thaw) in a little oil and butter with a sprinkling of sugar for 10 minutes.
8. Shorten Cool-Off Time
SAVINGS: 10 MINUTES
Ice baths cool down foods like ice-cream custards, blanched vegetables, and stocks or soups that you plan to store in the fridge. Make them effective by using water and ice, rather than ice alone. Go even colder by adding a small amount of salt.
9. Rapidly Reduce Liquids
SAVINGS: 10 TO 15 MINUTES
Use a wide, shallow saucepan (rather than a smaller, deeper one) to evaporate liquid from stock or pan sauce. The larger surface area means more liquid comes in contact with the heat, so it will reach a boil faster and reduce much more quickly. Keep an eye on viscosity—remember that the mixture will thicken as it cools. Caveat: Skip this trick for cream-based sauces that can "break," or curdle, if cooked too vigorously or at too high a temperature.
10. Freeze Pie Shells For Later
SAVINGS: 2 HOURS
Roll out dough up to two months ahead, and fit it into the pie plates you'll use on Thanksgiving. For pies with chilled fillings, prebake shell, cool, and store frozen in a zip-top freezer bag; thaw before filling. For pies you'll bake, freeze raw dough (in pie plate) in freezer bag. You can go straight from freezer to oven.