Real World Cooking isn’t Always Pretty

News flash: we all screw up when we are cooking. Sometimes it is the slightly too brown grilled cheese sandwich or the slightly too rare steak. Other times it means breaking out the mop to clean up a spectacular spill, or smoke alarms and mandatory oven cleaning. Saturday was the latter. I’m talking clouds of greasy steam, billows of smoke and a blackened oven.

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I was cooking a small second Thanksgiving dinner to share with my parents. We had all celebrated at my cousin’s house this year, which was wonderful, but it left us with no leftovers. That situation couldn’t go on, hence, the second dinner.

At the very end of its cooking time, we checked on the turkey to see if it was done early. It was, but my parents were still on the road, so I pushed the turkey back into the oven so it would stay hot until they arrived. Or, rather, I tipped the turkey off the back of the pulled-out rack and poured turkey drippings and broth all over the bottom of the oven. Chaos ensued. And my parents walked in at that very inopportune moment.

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After much mopping in the hot oven, with wads of paper towels held in tongs, the billowing smoke and steam stopped. I washed the greasy splatters off my glasses and got on with cooking the rest of dinner, which turned out to be quite tasty. We even had enough turkey broth left to make a killer gravy. And I now have a beautifully clean oven.

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A Day Made for Soup

I haven’t looked at the weather forecast in a few days, so rainy, cold dreariness was a shock. A shock, I tell you. I was expecting sun and 50s, like we had yesterday and the day before. Instead we have cold, cold rain and 40s. And the day started out so nicely sunny. That lasted about an hour.

DSC_0021All I want to do today is curl up with a blanket, a book and a cup of tea. Not exactly in my plans for the day, but it is that kind of afternoon. If I didn’t already have a plan for dinner, I would make roasted red pepper and tomato soup with some of my freezer stash of peppers.

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Or maybe lentil soup.

DSC_0023Or maybe turkey chili.

What do you do to warm up on a cold, rainy November day?

Thanksgiving Dinner Hints

I can’t believe it is almost Thanksgiving. I know we have been moving through fall, but somehow I still think it is August. I spent all summer wishing for cooler fall weather, and now that it is here, I can’t seem to fully accept it.

We are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I sat down to write a few thoughts about my preparations. I ended up with a long treatise full of tips I have figured out over the years. I am sharing a few today, and I will post the rest later in the week. I could go on and on about hosting a big meal, but I’ll try to restrain myself.

We hosted our first Thanksgiving the first year we were in our house, which is almost fifteen years ago now. Hard to believe it has been that long. We have hosted about half the time since then, some years we had almost twenty for dinner, and other years we had less than ten. The year we had twenty people I stopped up the kitchen sink with potato peels about an hour before we were going to eat. We managed to have a lovely dinner, off of paper plates, but the cleanup process was greatly complicated by the sink clog. And we still had to fix the clog after the party was over. Lesson 1 for Turkey Day: compost or throw away your potato peels. Don’t put them down the disposal. Really, just don’t. You will thank yourself later.

I got lots of advice from my mom that first year on cooking the turkey, and it turned out beautifully. I realized then that the turkey is almost the easiest part of the whole meal, as long as you leave the oven door closed. Opening the oven to baste the turkey lets out all the heat and lengthens the cooking time. Skip the basting and use the roasting time to work on the rest of the meal. Lesson 2: Leave the turkey alone – let the oven do its work.

Among our extended family, we share the cooking duties for holiday meals. I love to cook and bake, and I probably do more than I have to for holiday meals, but I do know when to ask for help. When someone asks what they can bring, I tell them. Unless they have something already in mind, I look at my meal plan and give them an assignment. Lesson 3: Let others share the cooking chores – you don’t have to do it all.

What are your top tips to ease the stress of hosting a big dinner party?