Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a plea for thanksgiving help

Confession: this is my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Ever.

I usually contribute a dish (or three) to family Thanksgivings and I've made my share of pumpkin pie. But I've never been responsible for the entire shebang. Cooking the whole bird? Nope.

Am I nervous? A little. I'll be cooking for Dan and his parents (visiting from Florida) at our house in Brooklyn. They are great people, and lovely in-laws, but I have a bit of an entertaining sore spot with them otherwise known as The Saga of the Lamb Chops.

The last time I made a proper sit-down dinner for them was over three years ago, and let's just say I was a little green. Long story short, dinner involved $100 worth of tiny lamb chops foolishly purchased from the neighborhood butcher. Extreme sticker shock. I had never spent $100 on ONE ITEM OF UNCOOKED FOOD in my life and probably never will again. "Don't overcook these," the butcher warned me in his thick Brooklyn accent. I nodded seriously and took home the little chops worth their weight in gold.

Back at home, I made a rosemary-white bean soup as a starter, and served the meat with salad and roasted onions. And we all cut into our lamb chops, which were, shall we say...pink. Blood started to pool on our plates. I felt a little faint.

Now, I don't mind a rare piece of meat. But someone (I won't name names) sent their dinner back to be recooked. Sent. It. Back. Trying to play it cool, I shakily collected everyone's chops, put them on a plate, and returned to the kitchen to stick them under the broiler, fretting about whose lamb chop was whose and whether anyone would be offended if they got a different one. It was horrible. Although funny in retrospect. And the soup wasn't half-bad.

I have made successful dinners for my in-laws since this disaster, but something about it still lingers in the back of my mind. Thanksgiving seems like the MOST important meal of the year to me and I dread screwing anything up. Like, God forbid, undercooking the turkey. Judy, Dan's mom, is a very good cook. The bar is high, people.

Did I mention that my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day this year? It is!

And so, dear readers, please give me your best advice as to how to tackle this beast of a holiday. What are your tricks, your secrets, your strategies to pulling it off? Mom, are you out there? Halp!

[Note to Judy and Larry: I'm totally joking about being freaked out! Well, sort of.]

21 comments:

Julie said...

We hosted Thanksgiving for the first time last year. I totally get your nervousness!

The scariest part for me was the turkey, because I felt pretty confident with all the sides/desserts/soups. But I'd never made a whole turkey before!

We did this apple cider brine: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Cider-Brined-and-Glazed-Turkey-233148. So good. The only hard part is finding a pot (and fridge space) large enough to hold your bird for a few days.

Best of luck! I'm sure it will be wonderful.

Joseph D'Antoni said...

We were discussing this on twitter last week. This turkey recipe seems really good, and only takes 30 min on the day.

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/119252-has-anyone-tried-poached-roasted-turkey/

Outside of that--keep the menu simple, and layout your cooking times well ahead.

Laura said...

I'm helping my brother in law with a turkey for a 2nd thanksgiving on the Friday after.
My dad told me last week that:
"Cooking turkey is just like roasting a chicken, don't be afraid."
He also recommended purchasing a turkey that has the plastic popper things in it. They pop out? when the turkey is done.

Judy said...

You were so cool about those lamb chops. I never would have guessed you were frazzled in the least.

Turkey advice: Allow for way more time than you think it needs. You can always keep it warm if it's done early. You certainly don't want to serve it undercooked (bloody turkey worse than bloody lamb chops).

Lisa said...

Julie: Thanks for the encouragement! I feel the same way--I'm fine with all of the side dishes and dessert, it's that big, scary bird that's staring me down.

Joseph D'Antoni: Have you actually tried cooking a turkey that way? I've never heard of poaching a bird before you roast it. It sounds simultaneously complicated and easier. I do like the idea of turkey stock, though.

Laura: Dads always know exactly what to say, don't they? I also need to invest in a meat thermometer. Thanks for the reminder.

Judy: Really?? I thought I seemed totally flustered. Thanks for the good advice. We can nosh on foie gras while the bird is cooking/resting.

Anonymous said...

1. We will send you a meat thermometer as a birthday present :) 2. Buy a small turkey and pretend it's a large chicken. 3. Nanny always puts a tea towel over the cooked turkey while it waits to be carved. I don't know why. Maybe tradition?!
You can cook anything in that clam shell of a kitchen so don't worry. Ask dad about the semi-frozen fried chicken sometime....

Daniel said...

Sound advice, mom. Bloody turkey definitely worse than bloody lambchops!

Larry said...

Oh no! Now I'm feeling like chief lamb chop jerk. It was me, wasn't it, who "returned" them. Please accept my humble apology. I'm feeling so sheepish.

Lisa said...

Anony (Mom): Thanks for the sound advice. You always make such a good turkey!

Daniel: Oh god, I can't even think about bloody turkey.

Larry: No, no! Don't feel sheepish. It was I who served everyone undercooked meat. Bad hostess! Bad! Bad!

Kelly said...

No, but I really want to. There's a video of Grant A doing one pseudo sous vide on you tube. Logically it would work really well.

Turkey's are cheap, try it this weekend ;) (I'm here as my wife)

Lesley said...

I'm sorry about your poor lamb chops. (Although it's a great story -- reminds me of the time I served wet, soggy lettuce leaves to friends because I had no idea *you had to somehow dry them* after washing them.) In regards to Thanksgiving, I think the key is getting started early. I have a friend who puts together a Thanksgiving Cooking schedule, detailing which dishes he'll make first and how far in advance, and which dishes will go in the oven, in what order, on the actual day. (He writes his down to the minute, which is kinda weird... but he also cooks for like 15 people each year, so maybe the minute-thing works.) Preparing as much as you can in advance is the way to go. That way on the actual day you can just work on turkey, setting the table, etc. And if you have people to help, definitely delegate! Buena suerte!

Mme Paulita said...

Good luck Lisa! And Happy Birthday my love....

now give me some side recipes!

Lisa said...

Kelly/JD'A: It does make sense, logically. And you can't run the risk of undercooking the meat. I am seriously thinking about doing this!

Lesley: So funny about your lettuce. I totally agree--a cooking schedule is really smart. I also will be at home the day before Thanksgiving and will make some things in advance.

Mme P: Side dishes are coming next week--don't worry!

Colin P. Delaney said...

What you should do is get (preemptively) hysterical. That way, after all the crying and heaving and being talked-off-the-ledge, no one will dare say one bad work about the food for fear of your histrionics.

Also, a plus -- you can say "It's my birthday and I'll cry if I want to!"

This is a great plan. You're welcome.

Lisa said...

CPD: Well, it works for you when Anne wants you to make dinner, right?

E. Tyler Lindvall said...

I find drinking helps in these type situations...all situations really. Start early and keep it keeping on until the old in-laws leave. You really won't be all that concerned about what they think about your cooking after you crack that third bottle of wine.

You heard it here first.

You're welcome.

Daniel said...

Colin...

"Heaving"?

Lisa said...

E: Gosh, you guys are just SO smart! Throwing temper tantrums, getting drunk...I'm sure it's super fun around the holiday at your houses.

Daniel: Heaves!

E. Tyler Lindvall said...

Hysterics and alcohol, a holiday do make. At least at the Lindvalls. I can't wait.

BTW: What time should I come over for dinner?

Jenny said...

My roommate and cooked our first turkey last year for 13 people. It was nerve wracking, but ultimately much easier than we'd thought it would be, and delicious. I owe it all to the meat thermometer. And LOTS of basting. And butter...

Lisa said...

Jenny: Yes, totally, I am buying a new thermometer this weekend! Cooking for four people is way less intimidating than 13, I'm hoping I have the same experience as you.

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