Frozen bird, gravy lumps, no problem

It's Thanksgiving Day, and from your kitchen you can hear the wail of a siren getting louder and louder. Is it a firetruck responding to the smoke rising from your burned dinner rolls? Or maybe it's an ambulance coming for your mother-in-law, who's been clutching her chest ever since you admitted you forgot to turn on the oven for the turkey.

Having a little Thanksgiving emergency? No need to dial 911 — or even to call out for pizza. You can handle this Thanksgiving dinner disaster on your own, with some first-aid guidelines.

Emergency

It's the night before Thanksgiving, and you forgot to take the turkey out of the freezer.

Solution

It takes several days to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, as you are supposed to do, but you can speed up the thawing process by placing the turkey, in its plastic wrapper, in cold water. Refill the sink with fresh water every 30 minutes. The big bird will thaw in cold water at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound, the editors of Fine Cooking magazine say in their new Thanksgiving book, "How To Cook a Turkey" (Taunton Press, $19.95).

Emergency

The guests are arriving in an hour, and the turkey's raw.

Solution

Forgetting to cook the bird isn't as big a disaster as you might think, says Sarah Kagan, food editor of epicurious.com. There's a fix that will put perfectly cooked turkey on the table in about an hour.

"The most drastic thing you can do, if you forgot to turn on the oven, is you can cut it in pieces, like you would a whole chicken. Two thighs, two drumsticks, but one big breast, so the white meat doesn't dry out," says Kagan.

Rub the pieces with oil, as you would a whole turkey, and sprinkle on herbs. Then pan-fry it for a minute or two to give it a nice, crisp skin. Bake the pieces in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 degrees, roasting it to an internal temperature of 170 degrees, which should take about an hour.

If you've got your whole turkey in the oven, but it's not cooking as quickly as you'd like, don't be afraid to turn up the oven temperature, though no higher than 450 degrees, Kagan says. To prevent the turkey from getting too brown on the outside, tent it with foil, but remove the foil for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Emergency

You overcooked the turkey, and it's as dry as a Kelsey Grammer joke.

Solution

Dry turkey is a tradition in most families, but if you've overcooked the turkey again, and you'd like to break that tradition, there's an easy fix, according to epicurious.com.

Pour the turkey drippings into a saucepan with two cans of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slice the turkey and place it in a casserole dish. Pour the broth over the turkey, cover the dish with foil and heat in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Then remove turkey slices from the casserole dish and arrange on a platter (and don't tell anyone what you did).

This works for perking up leftover turkey on Friday as well.

Emergency

The gravy has funny bumps in it.

Solution

Avoid the lumpy-gravy disaster by starting with a roux (melted butter and flour that's heated in a saucepan till it's lightly brown), Kagan says. Then, slowly whisk in heated pan drippings. It's almost impossible to have lumps if you make your gravy this way, she says.

If it somehow turns out lumpy anyway, simply strain it through a colander or a sieve.

For gravy that's too thin, dissolve 1 teaspoon of cornstarch in a couple of tablespoons of cold water, then whisk, a little at a time, into the simmering gravy. Be sure to let it simmer for a minute to cook off the raw starch flavor, advises "How To Cook a Turkey."

Emergency

Your niece came home from college a vegetarian.

Solution

The traditional Thanksgiving meal includes so many side dishes, there should be plenty to keep the vegetarians at the table happy, Kagan says. She suggests making slight alterations to two dishes.

Turkey stuffing is easily turned into vegetarian-friendly dressing by making it with vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth most cooks use and then cooking it in a separate pan instead of inside the turkey. If you usually make dressing with sausage, consider dividing the dressing in half and making one half without sausage.

If you serve mashed potatoes and gravy, you might want to make a mushroom gravy instead of — or in addition to — the giblet gravy. Slice a pound of mushrooms and saute them in butter till they're golden brown. Add a teaspoon of soy sauce or a teaspoon of Kitchen Bouquet and saute for 30 seconds more. Then make gravy as you would normally, substituting vegetable broth for the turkey drippings; the sauteed mushrooms will stand in for the chopped giblets. For a more sophisticated recipe for mushroom gravy, go to www.epicurious.com.

Emergency

You meant to serve the green beans slightly crisp, but you got distracted and they're going soft, like your brain.

Solution

Vegetables like green beans and Brussels sprouts can go from just right to too soft in less than two minutes. You can't undo the cooking that has taken place, but you can prevent further softening (food continues to cook even after it's removed from the heat source) by placing the pan in a bath of cold water, say the people at epicurious.com. And don't worry about serving mushy veggies — most people grew up eating overcooked vegetables. They'll have that "just like Grandma's" thing going for them.

Emergency

Your hypochondriac cousin isn't coming because she has a scratchy throat. Neither is the apple pie she was supposed to bring.

Solution

Got 10 dinner guests and one lonely little pumpkin pie? Easy fix. Spoon scoops of pie, including hunks of crust, into pretty stemware such as martini glasses. Top with plenty of whipped cream and a light sprinkle of nutmeg. Your guests will be impressed by your special dessert.

Emergency

You burned the dinner rolls.

Solution

Toss 'em out. Some things can't be fixed. And what with stuffing, sweet potatoes, peas and pie, nobody will miss them anyway.

A troubling finish?

Pie problems?

Here's a guide from Crisco that will help you diagnose what's ailing your pies and correct it the next time.

For one-on-one troubleshooting, Crisco is offering live help for pie problems from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Dec. 22, except for Thanksgiving Day.

Problem: Crust is too crumbly.

Cause: Too little gluten formation.

Solutions: Chill shortening.

Cut shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal..

Add more water.

Problem: Crust is tough.

Cause: Too much gluten formation.

Solutions: Cut shortening in more thoroughly.

Use shortening that's room temperature.

Use 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar in liquid.

Problem: Crust isn't flaky.

Cause: Shortening or butter cut too finely.

Solutions: Use shortening in place of butter.

Chill crust before baking.

Keep ingredients and dough cold.

Cut shortening into larger pieces.

Problem: Crust shrinks too much.

Cause: Dough being stretched too much when being placed in pie pan.

Solutions: Ease dough onto pie plate.

Prick crust before baking.

Problem: Bottom crust is soggy.

Cause: Undercooking.

Solution: Increase oven temperature or baking time.