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It sounded like a good idea at the time...

So I did a hostile takeover of Thanksgiving about 8 years back. Really, it was for the common good. And over the years I vary a lot of the recipes, try new stuff, and sometimes fall on my face. Mom, puts up with it, almost gracefully.

This year as I looked through my collection of glossies for menu assembling, I couldn't help snorting at some of the concepts. Anyone else do this?

One example: popovers. I do a pretty decent popover, but on those occaisions my meals will revolve around the temperamental suckers. On Thanksgiving as I'm doing last-minute sauteing of green beans, getting the turkey carved and all the other details, everyone should be instantly corraled in their seats the moment the popover divas declare themselves done? I don't think so!

No soups that can break or suffer from long simmering, so that lets seafood off the roster, cream soups too.

Then there was the Thanksgiving that I sauteed all the veggies at the last minute and had sauces on everything. There was no place to let the palate rest and recouperate.

What other treats do you find impractical on T-day? Save some over-ambitious fool (like me)

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  1. Back when Mom was doing most of the cooking, my contribution was usually braised chestnuts. I'd buy them fresh and sit in front of the TV all morning, watching the Macy's parade and peeling chestnuts. But the first time I insisted on making them when I was doing the rest of the meal, I realized how insane it was to spend that much time prepping one dish!

    1. I really want to make personal trifles for a chocolate dessert, but can I really justify the time involved when it would be so easy to layer into one dish and be done with it. I was really wanting to make a "pretty" presentation, but will anyone but me really appreciate it. Kids don't appreciate it, but they love to eat it. Adults always eat it even though they think it's to indulgent and "oh it must be 6500 calories in each one." Don't you just wish people would leave that line at home and not mention the word "calorie" on holidays? Anyway, Happy Holiday to all.

      6 Replies
      1. re: othervoice

        And this is exactly why I am a teeny bit sad at going to Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law's house. She's a teeny, healthy little thing and is into a lot of low-fat/no-fat type cooking. The food is more than edible, but just not the kind of incredible you get when you cut loose and use cream, butter and the like. I know I would be better off cooking that way, but hey, on THANKSGIVING? Nope. My revenge is when I am the one (fairly often) who does dessert. No low-fat/no-fat desserts from my kitchen!

        1. re: Shayna Madel

          I know how you feel. I think I've posted this before, but I'm still tramatized by the time my oh-so-healthy dad stripped all the skin off the turkey while it was still in the kitchen.

          1. re: Glencora

            Oh no, oh no, oh no.....my sister tries that stunt and I can say something to her, but I dare not say anything to the in-law. So it's a couple of sleepless nights for me, I guess, until I see what gets on the table. I may just have to take my nephew for something really fattening on Wednesday night after we go see the Macy's balloons being blown up before the parade. (I'm very excited about this, as the weather the night before Thanksgiving is often too cold or nasty.)

            Not to change the subject, but is it a bit too wacky to make homemade turkey-shaped dog biscuits for my brother's new puppy? Do you think his 4-year old will try to eat them? Will my family try to have me committed? And does anyone have a recipe they've tried--there seem to be so many on the internet.

            1. re: Shayna Madel

              I've made Maida Heatter's recipe (I think they're called Bone Appetit), and they are people-friendly too. (One of her testers ate them himself rather than giving them to the dog & liked them.) I leave out the bonemeal. (And I don't think it would be wacky at all.)

              1. re: foiegras

                Oooh, that sounded dangerously close to daring me to check all of my Maida books for the recipe. And so I did and found the recipe in "Maida Heattter's Brand-New Book of Great Cookies." So I look at this recipe and ask myself if there is any difference between "nutritional" yeast and regular Fleischman's yeast, what is "unprocessed" bran, what is "raw" wheat germ, that I can probably get all of this stuff at the organic store I pass on the way home from work after I go to the regular supermarket to pick up Land o' Lakes butter on sale for $2/pound, and what the heck am I thinking here? It's usually at this point that I am told to get a hobby, but baking is my hobby...

                1. re: Shayna Madel

                  Sorry, I'm bad with titles or I'd have told you which book :) Nutritional yeast is definitely different from Fleischman's, veggies sprinkle it liberally on many things & say it tastes good. You can get it at Whole Foods in the bulk section ... I think raw wheat germ means untoasted. I think there were one or two things I didn't find & the recipe was none the worse for leaving them out ...

      2. I find making my own pie crust impractical on T-day. Esp. since I suck at it :) The whole family is happier with the store bought crust. Last year my 94 year old grandmother was like, "You need to stop trying to make your own pie crust. You are just NOT good at it". The queen has spoken. I will buy it from now on.

        7 Replies
        1. re: diablo

          get a good recipe and keep practicing. Make galettes instead of pies. Roll chilled dough to a rough 15" circle. Slide onto baking sheet. Place fuit filling in center, then lap up egdes of dough towards the center. Casually pinch the dough together in a few places, brush with milk, and bake as usual.

          Once you are satisfied with the crust, move to lining a pie pan and creating a more tradtional classic pie look.

          I'm sure your Gram would be proud.

          1. re: diablo

            ouch! wisdom, though, diablo? ;-)

            1. re: alkapal

              Heck, yeah! I'm tempted to try toodie's method, though...I'd love to be able to present a "decent" pie crust. If there are other dessert items available, a bad pie crust is less likely to make an impression, although there's little you can get by this lady, believe me, I've tried :)

            2. re: diablo

              Well, you could buy the crust in the aluminum pan, while frozen transfer it to a lightly floured surface, let it thaw, then gently flaten in, and move it into a 'real' pie pan, and attempt to (yes, attempt, don't succeed at) crimp the edge of the pie.
              Then present the cooked pie.
              And see if it's the crust or just that the crust isn't what they expect.
              (And don't tell, just smile.)

                1. re: shallots

                  Though I am one of those who makes her own (read struggles through) pie crusts, I figure to each his/her own. But you do not have to buy crusts in tins. I think Pillsbury makes crusts somehow folded up and all you need to do is defrost, then unfold right in your in your baking pan. It saves the aluminum pan, rolling the crust out and worst of all, transferring the dough into the pan. Unless the crust is really bad, I (sadly) bet that most people won't be able to tell the difference.

                  1. re: Shayna Madel

                    I agree - I think those Pillsbury ones that you unfold etc. are better than the ones in the tins.

              1. Anything fried is off my list, since it has to be eaten immediately (turkey's one exception, I guess).

                Same with risotto.

                I'd skip stuff like homemade pasta, homemade cheese, and anything that requires a pastry bag.

                Oh, and no marrons glac├ęs.

                1 Reply
                1. re: piccola

                  Thank you for the fried comment. I absolutely agree. No croquettes, for example.

                2. I love pearl onions, and every year in the store, i think "thanksgiving just won't be complete without some balsamic glazed onions" After all, it seems so easy, in principle-- just dunk in boiling water a couple mins, peel, and let them sautee/braise while other stuff is happening. Yet somehow when I'm standing there peeling all those little guys, it's never quite that simple-- either the skins aren't quite ready to slip off, or I boil 30 secs *too* long and they're soft and need delicate handling, or.. I dunno.
                  I'm sure it wouldn't be such a hassle if my technique was more exactig, but somehow a recipe that requires individual attention for each of a zillion little pearl onions seems bound to cause second thoughts.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: another_adam

                    I actually just bought some frozen ones - have not tried them before, but have been told that they are quite good. Peeling the fresh ones is one of the few things in the kitchen that lead me to want to flee the kitchen mid-task.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      would love to hear what you think of the frozen! I also was told how good they are, tried them once and had ho-hum impressions. BUT, it could have been a number of factors...they seemed strangly strong in flavor. Maybe try blanching before sauteeing/carmelizing, etc???

                  2. My life got immeasurably easier when I cried "Uncle" and began serving pretty much the same menu that my grandmother had served in the 50s and 60s. My family was thrilled - each and every Thanksgiving. But it's like rolling off a log.

                    I came to accept that my dear Aunt actually LIKED Ocean Spray cranberry sauce presented with the ridges from the can visible as if to prove that it was the genuine thing. If there was turkey on the menu, it had to be there, even if it was a smoked turkey in July. She didn't like my perfect renditions of fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving even though she would rave about them at other meals.
                    What did this matter to me? Cost $1, open a can, make her happy. Funny thing was how many others at the table said, "Aaawww, my grandmother loved this stuff, We always had it at Thanksgiving." as they helped themselves too. Go figure.
                    My aunt died three years ago at 93 and I miss her every time I see that red ridged stuff.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: MakingSense

                      bless you, MS! save your creativity for when folks will appreciate it.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        I second alkapal! Hate to admit it, but I actually miss this when it's gone from the T-day table.

                        1. re: diablo

                          The cranberry jelly from the can is a family tradition for me. Every single year, after the table is covered in food and the sound of chewing and forks scraping fills the room, somebody always pipes up the thank the cook for the amazing job...and it usually goes something like this:
                          "Mom/Granny/Aunt Jeanne everything is so good, thanks for working so hard. But I have to say the absolute best part is this cranberry sauce. How did you manage to carve all those little ridges into it? It's amazing."

                          this backfired on me terribly last year on my first T-day with my future in-laws...I jokingly told my future MIL about our little tradition, but somehow I still was clueless when she called me into the kitchen for a favor and asked me to open the cranberry sauce on put it on the plate for serving. Then, about 10 minutes into dinner...one of her sisters (of which there are 6!) stood up to tell everybody that she thought the best part of dinner was the cranberry sauce and to ask me how long it took me to carve all those pretty little ridges. My face pretty much matched the cranberry sauce after that...

                          This year I am making a supplemental cranberry sauce...from actual cranberries. I was looking at the many red wine related recipes...does anybody think it would be terrible if I used a Zin instead of a cabernet? I happen to have a half bottle of zin that we didn't really care for to drink that I planned to use for cooking.

                          1. re: wawajb

                            I'm sure the Zin would be just lovely. I started making a Cranberry Wine jelly yesterday - though it calls for white wine.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              I wonder if you could mold the yummy Cranberry Wine Jelly in a can with ridges? It might satisfy the OS Ridge-o-philes and it would taste better for the rest of us?

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                Ha ha! Actually just plan to make it in some ramekins - no ridges!

                            2. re: wawajb

                              imo, zin would be better. shiraz sounds good, too..... hmmmm....

                              1. re: alkapal

                                reporting back...made cranberry sauce last night with the zin and threw in some cloves for the heck of it. Came out quite tasty, with a hint of spice. Sitting in a jar in the fridge waiting to get transported to Philadelphia.

                                Despite the specific wine instructions in many recipes, I frequently suspect that any normal red wine could sub for any other normal red wine in a thoroughly cooked recipe.

                                1. re: wawajb

                                  thanks for the report. last time i did cranberry chutney, i added jalapenos. tasty.

                        2. I'm extremely tempted to make sweet potato latkes for Thanksgiving this year, but I'm not so sure it's a good idea. The "latkes for a crowd" thread gave me a little hope, but I'm still considering just roasting them and calling it good. Nothing makes me grouchier than cooking disasters.

                          (The thread is here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/459817 )

                          1. The only way I survived last year's sweet potato souffle episode was that I and my sister cooked together at her house. This was a really good recipe, in that it looked and tasted terriffic. Traditional with a twist, safe for old-style T-day diehards. But it has what seems like 8 million steps, only a part of which can be done the day before or early the day the dish is to be served. It wasn't hard, just complicated. Good thing it tasted good and my sister and I work well together in the kitchen, so everything got on the table almost on time...

                            Worse than Thanksgiving dishes is when I decide to do the Good Housekeeping gingerbread house recipes. I have done 3 or 4 of them and though they do not look quite like the picture, they look pretty good. I have learned to start several days early, but it always seems like the night before giving the thing to my sister-in-law (she married into our non-Christmas family and so now I get to do a bunch of things I didn't do growing up), I am up half the night. But it won't stop me. I must be into self-torture.

                            1. Ok, I'm really almost done here...

                              But in terms of impractical T-day, my brother, his wife and I teamed up to cook 2 years ago and clearly had lost our little minds. In a tiny galley style kitchen with one oven, 4 burners, a counter top rotisserie and a turkey deep-fryer...We made 2 kinds of potatoes, plus sweet potatoes, 2 kinds of stuffing, ham, turkey & a duck, mac & cheese, collard greens, green bean casserole, creamed peas & pearl onions, balsamic glazed carrots, coleslaw, cranberry sauce from scratch with orange zest as well as the stuff from a can (see earlier post), apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie and cheesecake. We were combining our family and his inlaws, and every single one of those things was something we were sure we couldn't do without because somebody liked that thing in particular, or it was traditional with one of the two families.

                              Amazingly the three of us pulled it off, with dinner only running 1 hour late and the duck being the only casualty (burned to a crisp), and since we had a giant cheese & crudite tray, as well as 2 kinds of chips & dip (which were also made from scratch) nobody minded too much. But we were beat and could barely enjoy the meal from sheer exhaustion.

                              Lesson learned? Trying to please everybody will, at the very least, just end up with some VERY tired cooks. At the worst, it will be a ruined meal as you lose track of something while trying to cook 3 other things. If it sounds like way too much food, thats because it probably is. Just suck it up and cut something off the list, it may be missed, but you'll all live and dinner will still be great. Or... and this one didn't occur to us for some reason...DELEGATE! The pies, the coleslaw, the carrots, etc etc could all have been brought by one of our 15 guests.

                              Hopefully this helps someone...don't be crazy like us.

                              1. I also wanted to add "individualized desserts" to the list. All our crowd goes for a sampling of everything, so they want to feel like they're having less of everything. You know, if you have 1/2 slice of each of the 5 pies, it only counts as 1 piece.

                                1 Reply
                                1. Just about anything that has to be made at the last minute is your enemy on Thanksgiving.

                                  Desserts, in particular, must be made ahead of time. Making individual chocolate lava cakes or creme brulees on Thanksgiving is, in my view, an act of masochism that should not even be attempted. There are really exceptional and impressive desserts that can be made days ahead, and it's such a relief to know your desserts are done when you sit down to eat.

                                  Cranberry sauce can also be made very early (I made mine last weekend). It keeps.

                                  Also, I always avoid making any side dishes that require the oven (when the oven's just big enough for the turkey). You never know if the turkey will need extra time. The mushroom ragout, mashed potatoes, braised green beans, etc. can all be cooked in pots after the turkey's in the oven. Mashed potatoes keep really well, by the way. You can make them early, get them out of the way, and re-warm them later if you have to.

                                  Elegant pureed soups can be made the day before.

                                  In the final analysis, people will be happy with just about anything you make on Thanksgiving (unless you're a horrible cook), so just reduce the stress as much as possible. Save the really nitpicky stuff and the experimenting for smaller dinners.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Kagey

                                    Great advice, Kagey!!! I would add that anything that needs last minute attention is your enemy.
                                    The turkey needs to rest for 1/2 hour after it comes out of the oven for the juices to settle down before you can carve it and that's when you need to pull everything together. The last thing you need is to be running around doing fancy last minute stuff. This is crunch time!
                                    The oven is free so you can put things in there that are already in oven-proof dishes ready to be baked, finished and browned on top. Toss the salad, get everything on the table, make the gravy if you haven't done it ahead.
                                    I avoid making anything that has to be "watched" like roasted veggies. As delicious as they are, I've got other things to do. Prep ahead, bake and serve. No separate sauces. Nobody in my kitchen unless they are really helping.

                                    By making as much as possible ahead of time, I usually start off with an empty dishwasher, a clear sink and few dirty pots cluttering up the kitchen. I probably have made most Thanksgiving mistakes in the past 40 years, and I'm not doing it again!

                                    1. re: Kagey

                                      Great advice. I do very little cooking once guests show up.

                                      I do potatoes in the rice cooker. They turn out perfect and are kept warm. Once the turkey comes out of the oven, I mash them w/ roasted garlic, warmed buttermilk/milk/cream, salt, pepper, whatever else I feel like adding, and some turkey drippings.

                                      I like making desserts the day before, ones that taste better after sitting overnight. This year I'm making a caramel macchiato cheesecake for one dessert. It's all a balacing act when you only have one oven.

                                      1. re: Kagey

                                        I agree on most of your points, but I don't agree about creme brulee... at least as far as last minute work goes. I still don't want individual desserts for other reasons. When I waited tables I saw that brulees were just kept in the walk-in. I think they made them every 3 days or so. Flaming them with a torch last minute took no time and created the illusion that they had been slaved over. Cool them down to harden the crust and you are good to go.