BY TOMMY MARMOLEJO
The holiday feast is nearly here. The smell of browning turkey will soon be in the air; potatoes will be boiling on the stove; the pumpkin pie will be cooling on the counter, and the sound of pots and pans banging, relatives fighting and stressed-out holiday hosts crying will be spilling out of the kitchen.
Don’t let the tension get in the way this Thanksgiving. Everything is going to be okay if you take the time to get prepared, take a breath and follow some of these tips from well-known cooking and baking experts in the area.
Whether you are a professional baker or someone who is trying a complicated recipe in the kitchen for the first time, don’t be afraid. Food can smell fear, according to Christa Razvillas, who operated Christa Lynn’s Bakery in Pittston.
“Everything we do in the kitchen requires confidence and a strong hand,” Razvillas said. “Don’t panic. You’ve got this. Just do it.”
One of the top things that causes stress in the kitchen is trying to do too much. Local chefs and bakers advise it’s best to ask for help in the kitchen. Delegate easy tasks like peeling potatoes or scooping cookie dough. As the host, providing most of the food and planning for the big day is a daunting task. Staying on top of the ingredients can help organize recipes better and keep things moving smoohtly.
Preparing side dishes the night before also can help relieve some stress on the big day, but only focus on a few favorites.
“Make stuff ahead of time that’s good, that they can get ready, maybe warm-up, or finish off before they bring it to the table,” said Jan Cwikla, co-owner of Cwikla’s Quality Bakery in Avoca.
A common reason why chefs and bakers fail on Thanksgiving is because they see a recipe in a magazine and try it the day of the holiday.
According to Michael Augello Jr., of the Gramercy Ballroom and Restaurant in Pittston, chefs and bakers like to experiment with new recipes they see, but since they don’t have experience with the recipe, they do not know if it is coming out wrong until it is too late.
“Stick to what you are familiar with. If you make a good pumpkin pie, make a pumpkin pie. Don’t try something else,” said Augello. “Don’t fool around. Don’t make yourself nervous.”
For the last-minute chefs and bakers, do not fret, as there are lots of easy side dishes that can be made, such as vegetables, turkey soup, and even desserts that are as easy as basic pudding or Jell-O.
“There are a lot of instant puddings you can put it in a gram cracker crust that you can buy at Walmart, and you’re done,” said Cwikla.
While pumpkin pie is a staple at Thanksgiving dinner, don’t be afraid to try some different flavors, especially some of the vegetables that are being harvested right now.
“You can even go with sweet potato pie. All the squashes can be made into a dessert, you can get zucchini bread,” said Cwikla. “There is a lot of things available.”
For anyone who is looking for a last-minute dessert idea, Razvillas has provided this cheesecake recipe:
- 2 packs of cinnamon graham crackers, ground fine
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Mix and press into a 9-inch springform pan with a shot glass. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes and let cool before filling.
- 32 oz. softened cream cheese
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons good vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup flour
- Place the pan into a water bath and pour in the filling. Heat the oven to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. After the initial 10 minutes, without opening the door, lower the temperature in the oven to 325 degrees and leave the cheesecake in for 30 more minutes.
- After the 30 minutes, top with an optional sour cream and sugar mixture, if desired, and bake for another 15-20 minutes.
- When done, the cake may still jiggle slightly but not too much. The top should only brown around the edges, and the cake should not crack. Cool completely to set before serving. Razvillas recommends leaving it overnight.
Note: If desired, other ingredients like Oreos, Fruity Pebbles, mini chocolate chips and other sweets can be mixed into the filling, as well. Or, swirl in some peanut butter or pumpkin for a delicious Thanksgiving treat.