Browsing Cooking Disasters

Extra Helpings: Making Thanksgiving A Tribute Not A Trial


Have you started freaking out yet?

Yup, Thanksgiving is exactly two weeks away and if you haven’t started planning on what (or how) you’re going to feed the crowd, don’t worry… too much. Mama’s here to help you make it through unscathed… and I’ve brought in reinforcements.

Tribute's Chef Jared Case

Chef Jared Case of Chicago’s acclaimed Tribute Restaurant is used to cooking delicious comfort food for hundreds of people every night, so he could probably whip up a Thanksgiving dinner for 25 with his eyes shut… and one hand tied behind his back (he needs the other one for chopping!).

But he’s such a great guy (great chef, great guy… what a combo) he’s offering up some basic tips every cook should know before launching into holiday meal-mode.

Besides friends and family, food is the star of the holiday, so Chef Jared says make sure you have enough of it for everyone to enjoy that day… and a little more for the day after, too. Also, consider who’ll be at your table. Teenagers? Increase the amount of protein (a lot). Vegetarians? Up the vegetables. You get the picture.

• Turkey – A 30 lb. turkey will be enough for 25 guests if everyone gets an average 6 to 8 oz. portion. If your crowd has big eaters, you might consider making a smaller turkey the day before, slicing it and putting it in the fridge. On Thanksgiving Day while the Mega-Turkey is being sliced, your guests can start filling their plates with the re-heated “early bird.”

• Starches (like potatoes and stuffing)—You’re going to need a lot of them… like almost 20 to 30 cups of each if everyone takes a 6 oz. to 8 oz. portion (that’s about a cup per person). But does anyone really measure out what they’re heaping on their plate? No. They just take a huge spoonful. And another. So again, consider who you’re feeding and scale up or down.

• Veggies—Chef Jared says about half a cup (4 oz.) per person, so about 7 lbs. of your favorite fresh vegetable. Double that if you want to serve more than one.

• Gravy— Besides the turkey, this is the one thing you don’t want to run out of. Some guests like it on everything… turkey… vegetables… pumpkin pie. If a portion size is half a cup, you’re going to want to make at least a gallon of gravy for 25 people. I’d make more (you can always freeze it).

And Chef Jared offers up one more bit of advice: Do what you know and don’t try something you’ve never done before. Make your new dish for the family first and see what you like… and don’t like… and make it again.

“Food is undeniable,” says Chef Jared. “Either it tastes good or it doesn’t… just hope your family tells you the truth!”

I’ll have more tips, recipes and words of advice from Chef Jared throughout the holiday season. If you’re in Chicago, check out Tribute Restaurant, on Michigan Avenue. Order “The Big Nasty.”

Trust me on this one.

Tribute Restaurant
800 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois



Extra Helpings: Pie-Eyed


I have been trying to make a lot of baked goods with whole wheat flour and the balance and tenderness is off. Have you ever used just whole wheat flour in pie dough?

Hooray for you for making homemade baked goods and for trying to get more fiber into your diet. Double hooray that you want to carry this even further into your desserts. I wish I was that disciplined.

Because Mama always gives you too much information, let me tell you what’s been going on with your whole wheat crusts. You obviously know by now that whole wheat flour doesn’t always play well with others. Let me tell you why.

Whole wheat flour has been milled with some, or all, of the wheat bran and germ which really ups the protein content. This makes the flour heavy and dense so your pie ends up tasting like cardboard, despite your delicious filling.

Many recipes tell you to supplement the whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour… but that kinda defeats the purpose of making a whole wheat pie crust, doesn’t it? The answer: whole wheat pastry flour.

Whole wheat pastry flour is more finely ground, and has less protein and gluten than regular whole wheat flour—so you’ll get a lighter, tenderer crust.

The other key to a flaky whole wheat crust is the fat content. Whether you use butter, vegetable shortening or lard (mmm…. animal fat), you need to increase the fat (and keep it cold while preparing the crust) in order to ensure a whisper-light crust.

Finally, don’t overwork the dough. In culinary school, my pastry chef instructor urged us to “make love to the dough, don’t be rough.” I’m sure you understand what he was talking about…  especially when dealing with a tough character like whole wheat dough!

Shock Your Vegetables


My fresh vegetables always turn out soft after I cook them, even if I cook them for less time than I am supposed to. It doesn’t matter if I boil or steam them … they are always limp!

Limpness can be a drag… even when it comes to vegetables. But fortunately, there’s an easy solution, and one that will also bring more color to your plate, too.

What you add to the water will really affect the final appearance of the vegetables. Look at the chart below. For colors that really pop on the plate, try adding either an acid (like vinegar, citrus juice or milk) or salt to the water before boiling or steaming.


Add a little of this to the cooking water:

To keep them:

Cauliflower, Celery Root, Kohlrabi, Parsley Root, Potatoes, Turnips, Onions, White Asparagus

Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Milk.

Add a little salt for seasoning

Bright White

Red or Purple Beets (with the skin on), Red Cabbage, Radishes

Vinegar, Lemon or Orange Juice

Add a little salt for seasoning 

Bright red or purple

Green Beans, Broccoli, Spinach, Peas, Lima Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Green Asparagus 

Salt (do NOT use baking soda)

Vivid Green 

You’ve fixed the water, now it’s time to blanch the vegetables to get them perfectly al dente (tender, but firm with no hard core). Blanching means that you stop cooking the vegetables (either boiling or steaming) a few minutes before they are completely done.

Immediately after blanching, shock your vegetables by putting them into a bowl filled with ice and cold water. You can either drain the vegetables in a colander and then plunge them into the icy water… or remove the vegetables with tongs and drop them in the cold water. Shocking stops the cooking and keeps the colors bright.

After a few shocking minutes, drain the vegetables thoroughly (you don’t want soggy vegetables, remember?) and set aside until you are ready to finish them. Finishing means you reheat and season them by sautéing, glazing or adding a sauce. I like to keep it simple and drop them in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds and then finish them with a few squeezes of lemon juice and a little bit of salt.

What you wind up with are beautiful, colorful vegetables that don’t droop when you pick them up… slightly crisp and delicious.

Extra Helpings: Green eggs and…


My hard-cooked egg yolks always turn green… why?

Very simple! You’re overcooking the eggs, causing the sulfur in the white to react with the iron in the yolk. Here’s how to cook the eggs to avoid that issue:

What you need:
Eggs, saucepan, water, ice water (optional)
How to do it:
Put eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with cool water by about an inch. On high heat, bring to a rolling boil (this means it is bubbling all over the top of the eggs). Immediately remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let it stand 15 minutes. Drain into a colander and run cold water over the eggs… OR… remove eggs with a slotted spoon into a bowl of ice water. Cool for about 20 minutes.

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I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: