A renowned cookbook author visited Lawrence recently, offering holiday cooking tips to save your sanity.
Shirley Corriher's not only a good cook and respected cookbook author, she's also a food scientist.
She can explain to you -- in great scientific detail -- the reasons why some dishes you attempt in the kitchen turn out beautifully, while others fail miserably.
"If you want to know why -- and it concerns food -- Shirley Corriher, Atlanta cooking teacher and food consultant, is the person to figure it out," according to Food and Wine magazine (November 1988).
Corriher's book, "CookWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking," sold more than 100,000 copies in one year. The book won the 1998 James Beard Award for Food Reference & Technique.
Corriher, 64, visited Lawrence recently on a cross-country tour to promote the new Maytag Gemini range, which features two ovens in the space of one traditional, single-oven range.
The Gemini lets you cook different menu items, requiring different times and temperatures, all at once.
It's one of the very few products Corriher has allowed her name and reputation to be associated with. She served as a consultant to Maytag during the range's development.
"Having the two temperatures (in the Gemini's ovens) is fabulous. You can have the turkey in one and something else in the other. And you can get everything out hot at once," she said.
That's the main challenge facing cooks during the holiday season: timing.
How do you get all those dishes on the table at the same time, piping hot?
Corriher, who writes regular food columns for Fine Cooking magazine and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, shared some tips for holiday cooking.
"Somebody in the family always has to have mashed potatoes," she said, speaking in a rich, Southern accent. "And you always wait until the last moment to make them, and they're not hot."
"Do them three hours ahead (of serving time), and put them in a casserole dish. Cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator.
"Then, 40 minutes before the meal, peel off the plastic wrap and put the casserole in a 325Â° oven. Take it out when you're ready to serve.
"The potatoes will stay hot the entire meal. They'll be steamy," Corriher said, smiling.
Gravy and cranberries
She offered a tip for gravy preparation, too.
"I didn't learn until a few years ago how to make mine like my mother's. She saves one cup of uncooked dressing and uses it as part of the thickening for the gravy.
"The bread in it just dissolves, and the stuffing flavors enhance the gravy."
Corriher's mother, Clide Ogletree, is now 93 and lives in Atlanta.
Corriher suggested a recipe for a "nice, quick relish" that's perfect for the holidays.
"Take a navel orange, quarter it, and use a food processor to chop it coarsely. Throw in one pound of raw cranberries, one cup sugar and three tablespoons Grand Marnier (an orange-flavored liqueur).
"This keeps for several weeks in the refrigerator, and it's great with any meat," she said.
The recipe should make about six cups.
Spread the workload
Corriher gave some tips for Thanksgiving meal preparation.
"I think it's dangerous to cook the stuffing in the turkey. It just doesn't get cooked enough. Don't cremate the bird to get the stuffing done. Do it separately," she said.
"It's very difficult to cook birds. The breast meat starts drying out at temperatures over 155Â°, yet the legs still taste raw at 165Â°. So I cover the turkey breast with foil to slow the cooking.
"Push the turkey to the back of the oven, so one leg and thigh get a lot of heat. Then turn it around later so the other leg gets heat."
To cut down on the frustration of having to juggle several dishes in and out of the oven as the meal approaches, prepare foods in advance.
"The big thing is to do any and everything ahead that you possibly can. You can do your gravy ahead. I make it with some canned chicken stock, and I take some turkey drippings and add it to the gravy the night before (serving time).
"I do the stuffing the day before, put it in the dish I'm going to cook it in, and put it in the fridge. Then all I have to do is shove it in the oven to bake," she explained.
"I cook the green veggies ahead, too. I pick baby brussels sprouts. They stay real sweet if you cook them for under five minutes in boiling, salted water, then plunge them into cold water. I add butter and Italian bread crumbs to them. It's delicious.
"Never cook green veggies over seven minutes, or they lose their green color. Then on Thursday (Thanksgiving), just reheat them with a little butter in a skillet."
Corriher won't be making Thanksgiving dinner this year. She has to travel constantly across the United States, giving presentations to top chefs and beginning cooks alike.
Her datebook is so jammed with events, she's not sure who's going to do the family's holiday meal this year. Or where it'll be held.
Corriher's made presentations to groups such as the Smithsonian Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
What's the hardest aspect of holiday cooking for Corriher?
"The most time-consuming thing is homemade pies. You should make the crust a week ahead and have it in the refrigerator. If I'm going to do some elaborate desserts, I want to do that way, way ahead," she said.
Holiday stress in the kitchen "drives people crazy trying to get all the food to the table while it's hot."
Do whatever you can so that you'll be able to enjoy yourself during the meal, Corriher instructed.
"The main thing is, don't try to make everything from scratch. If you need to use a store-bought item, use it.
"It's much more important to relax and enjoy your family than to kill yourself doing something. Try hard to do as many dishes ahead of time as you can. Spare yourself," she said.
-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.