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Awful Holiday Food Slam Book

As the holidays approach I'm thinking about the chowhounds who won't be commanding the kitchen when those feasts arise.
For most of my life I have gone to Wayne and Debbie's beautiful home to watch football and eat Thanksgiving dinner. A whole day affair, I truly enjoy it as one of the top days of my year. Unlike some people, I like every single person sitting at those tables. I also think Debbie makes great stuffing. Other than that dish, I don't remember truly enjoying much else. Most dishes do have positive aspects. Debbie never overcooks her vegetables. At this moment, I truly cannot recall what-else will be served even though it has been the same dishes nearly each year.

Of course it's not fair to call foul on dry turkey (I myself have only genuinely enjoyed roast turkey on five separate occasions), however her turkey ranks low on the experiences. As we're called to dinner from the TV room, I always pass by to look at the food in the kitchen on the way into the dining room. And every year, whether it be Rosh Hashana or Thanksgiving, I will see slices of white meat drowning in the juices that have inexplicably escaped from the bird . I curse the turkey inside my head, wondering what had been done to release what should be retained. I now know that cooking the turkey days ahead may have something to do with it. As far as turkey's concerned, the only time I've enjoyed it at W&D's was when it somehow tasted like ham (a Rosh Hashana miracle).

Debbie, if you read this somehow and you're feeling hurt, please come see me about brining.

So Chowhounds, please use this board to trash talk your loved ones' efforts in the kitchen. Are there dishes that you know you will have to face each time a holiday falls upon us? Have you ever tried to suggest a change in the recipe of a hallowed dish? Any advice on confronting the cook? Do you talk about how bad someone's cooking is before and after the feast?

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  1. My wife's aunt, who died several years ago at age 93, would always come to the family
    Thanksgiving dinners with a Broccoli-Cheese casserole in a 9x13 baking dish. She would always make it with large packets of Kraft powdered cheese, like the ones that come in macaroni and cheese. Of course she made sure everyone at the table had a helping of this dish and watched to make sure it was eaten. We had to suffer through this for 20-years.

    That's not the end of it. Last year, after not having the aunt's casserole for a few years, a cousin asked my wife to recreate the dish and bring it to a family dinner. We were horrified, but complied. We didn't have the recipe (why would we?). Searching the internet, we found an almost exact replica recipe. My wife made it, powdered cheese and all. It tasted exactly like wihat her aunt used to bring to Thanksgiving. Not much of the dish was consumed and we have not been asked to bring it this year. May that dish finally rest in peace.

    1. Funny story, glad you at least like the hosts, if not their food.

      This isn't exactly a cooking complaint, but my mother, who's a pretty good cook, always insists upon buying THE CHEAPEST bottle of wine for holiday dinners. None of us are very big drinkers, but please, do I really have to drink one-buck-chuck with my X-mas lamb? I'm not big wine connoisseur, but the stuff she finds is really offensively bad.

      I offer to bring wine, but to no avail...

      1. Somewhere in the past decade, my mother got the idea that a berry jello (any berry, doesn't matter) with walnuts and shredded cabbage and scallions in it was a perfectly acceptable substitute for cranberry relish. I'm glad she likes it. She always has plenty of leftovers to enjoy for the next week.

        1. Going to my in-laws' house is always painful. FIL is actually a fairly good cook normally, but the only thing I enjoy eating on his Thanksgiving table is the turkey. Green bean casserole (I don't like canned vegetables or anything that uses a can of soup as an ingredient), mashed potatoes (I just don't care for potatoes), store bought rolls, jar of gravy, store bought pie.

          Store bought pie. Isn't thanksgiving about giving thanks for pie? That's the whole reason for the holiday, as far as I'm concerned! I don't really like commercial pie fillings, and I can't even eat them if I wanted to, since I'm allergic to a common preservative in pie fillings, so I just avoid them all to be safe.

          My plate is so sad at their house. A slice of turkey. A dry, tasteless roll. Averting my eyes so I don't even have to see the jarred gravy. Bleech. It's a good thing they believe in serving wine with dinner. But since last year he served a Wal-Mart exclusive $1.98 brand, I think we'll have a good stock of bottles at the ready this year. I'm far from a wine snob, but that stuff was wretched.

          Thank goodness Thanksgiving will be at our house this year! FIL probably won't be impressed at all, but I'll be much happier.

          1. I don't have a complaint about the food per se at my brother's house the last few years. The problem is his dog also likes it.

            Whenever he is not being watched like a hawk, this very large dog (who towers over the buffet table) has his snout in the food. Last year there was actually the imprint of a dog snout of his precise dimensions in the mashed potatoes.

            I like dogs. I even like this particular dog pretty well. I just don't like dogs eating my holiday meal before I get to it.

            4 Replies
            1. re: karykat

              Ha ha, there's a few "naughty dog eating Thanksgiving dinner" stories on the Worst Thanksgiving thread also, the ham biter, the turkey snatchers and now the mashed potato snorkeler. It seems like the canines are on to us.
              Happily, my cats are a *bit* more well behaved.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                While my dogs know to remain unobtrusive during the party and away from the food areas upon pain of being sent to the garage (you'd think it was solitary confinement!). Edward the cat will seat himself at the table as if he were a guest. Sitting in the chair pretty as you please, tail flicking as in "could you people get it together!"

              2. re: karykat

                I hope you took his picture and immortalized him on dogshaming.com, *the* website for dogs who deserve mention in slam books (a preponderance of whom are pugs and dachshunds, but still).

                As for awful holiday food, I guess I'm pretty lucky. I haven't had a "worst" since 1999, the year My Friend Who Is Afraid of Getting Sued made dinner, and *insisted* we wait until the little gizmo popped on the turkey before he would let anyone eat. The gizmo took forever, well past the time the turkey was done, and it was just a miserable meal.

                1. re: karykat

                  Bleaccch! That is a deal breaker for me, I would not eat anything on the buffet after that.

                2. My mom's aunt who had married well, twice, had never learned to cook, she had a cook on staff to do it, and staff to serve it.

                  She came home after her last divorce and decided to host thanksgiving, she got a recipe for the turkey from a magazine that cooked the turkey in a paper shopping bag! Well when trying to slice the turkey the breast meat literally shredded like saw dust, and of course there was nothing to make gravy from because the paper bag absorbed most of the drippings. There was truly nothing edible on that table!

                  My partner's mother cannot cook worth a darn. She cooks the turkey early in the morning and it is cold by the time she serves it. She only serves canned or jarred gravy. the sides consist of heated canned or frozen vegetables and stove top stuffing (which my partner cannot eat on account of an MSG sensitivity, along with the gravy). The only thing that was tasty was this praline yam recipe that his dad made with canned yams. When his father took ill she tried making it, but cut down on the sugar and butter so it was basically tasteless. She also will not use salt in any of her recipes, and will serve those terrible brown and serve rolls.

                  I would always make an alternate thanksgiving meal for my partner on the saturday after, he told me that he never knew thanksgiving could taste so good. She now eats her meal at a nursing home with grandma, and we make a meal for our friends at home. At first I felt bad for blowing her off, but having a thanksgiving meal without the guilt and comments about our weight is well worth it.

                  1. This year my husband and stepdaughter&son are giving me T-day off. While I am truly grateful, appreciative and thankful (I get to play with my granddaughters!), I saw the menu. Sweet potato casserole loaded with brown sugar and marshmallow (why bother with the sweet potatoes, just add orange color to the sugar and marshmallows?) and that blechy green bean casserole (this from the DIL some of you might remember from "I won't eat that - it's got too many colors!). Noodles along with mashed potatoes and stuffing. Not a green veggie in sight. "Oh!" you say, "But there's green bean casserole!" They might have been green beans before the canned soup and canned fried onions but after it's just glop. Luckily I talked hubby into a raw veggie app plate, a relish plate and steamed greens from our garden. I also talked them into letting me do desserts: Pumpkin cheesecake, apple crisp, macaroons with blueberries and strawberries, and homemade cinnamon ice cream. Did I mention, after the initial conversation, hubby asked all wide eyed, "How do you make stuffing" and "How long do you roast a turkey?".

                    1. This happened about 15 years ago. My wife's cousin and family had recently moved into a large, two story, rental house about 30 minutes away from us here in northern California.

                      They decided to host a large Thanksgiving get together for
                      the extended family and about 20 people were invited. They
                      had just moved here from the east coast so we had not been
                      to any of their dinners in the past and didn't know what to expect.

                      It was a cold and drizzly Thanksgiving afternoon when we arrived
                      at their house. It was in the low 40's outside. Inside the house
                      it wasn't much better. They said the furnace wasn't working
                      very well and thought something was wrong with the thermostat.
                      We all sat around in our coats, shivering. I offered to have
                      a look at their thermostat, having recently replaced my own.
                      They said, no that's ok, they had adjusted it and thought it would warm up on it's own shortly. Very cold air continued to come from
                      the forced air ducts. We sat around for an hour shivering
                      and I again offered help. Finally they said ok. I checked their
                      thermostat and found that they had it set to air conditioning
                      instead of heat. We had been freezing for two hours because
                      a switch was set to Cool instead of to Heat. The cold air
                      blowing from the forced air ducts had been air conditioning.

                      That wasn't the end of trouble. They had been in the house less
                      than a week and had not tested the electric oven. Only the broiler worked. The oven heating element was not working.
                      They had been trying to cook the whole, intact, turkey and pumpkin pies under the broiler and not told anyone. We could have baked the food at our house and brought it over if we had been informed.

                      They served a turkey (yes they served it) that was overdone and dry
                      on the outside and had raw pink meat on the inside. They tried to
                      carve the bird and serve the cooked parts. The pumpkin pies were
                      not much better. The food was awful.

                      They stayed in California about a year and moved back to the
                      east coast before the next Thanksgiving. That saved us from
                      another Thanksgiving dinner invitation.

                      That was our worst Thanksgiving ever. So far.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Antilope

                        That is one of the most foul descriptions of turkey that I've seen so far. It makes my sister's sawdust bird sound like a delicacy.

                      2. Several years ago we drove from Chicago to Baltimore to have Thanksgiving with my family. I should mention before describing the meal that my husband's mother always makes enough food for 6 families, and she is quite a good cook. My family...not so much.

                        My aunt is a well meaning person, but a bit of a scatterbrain. I think there might have been a communication problem between her and aunt #2 who was driving down from New Jersey. There were 10 adults present for dinner. Aunt #1 told us that Aunt #2 was bringing the family recipe perogi with her from Jersey, so we were just going to supplement the meal with some Maryland crab and a few side dishes.

                        Flash forward to Aunt #2 showing up right before dinner. With a dinner size plate of perogi. Lukewarm. to feed 10 people. We each got one perogi. My husband nearly blew a gasket. He could NOT get over the worst.thanksgiving.dinner.ever.

                        I made the mistake of mentioning to my mother how disappointed he was. The next year, my aunt, now living back in Chicago, invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. My mother had obviously said something to her because she had a spread of about 6 meats and 15 side dishes and fretted the entire time that dh would have enough to eat!

                        1. The worst thing I ever had served for holidays: my mother in law cooked a turkey in a pressure cooker so long that the meat fell away and bones dissolved into a carcass pudding. It was a disgusting grey mass that she then put on a plater and presented as a centerpiece.

                          An unfortunate element of Texas culinary tradition is the congealed salad. There is a wide variety of them, all just awful. My grandmother made one with lemon jello and a can of Veg All that, as presented, appeared to be made of urine with odd chunks floating in it. She also made this god awful one with jello, miracle whip, orange sherbet, pineapple and carrots. Ugh.

                          Lately, on the otherside I have cousins who fancy themseves chiliheads, and it seems every traditional dish has been transformed into a opportunity to test one's manhood. I want my holiday meal to be peaceful and relaxing, not a scoville unit contest. So now one gets the diviniity with a bottle of Tabasco in it., the habnero green bean casserrole (now with fake cheese Durkee onions, the pecan pie with rooster sauce, etc...I love hot foods, but I dont need everything approaching gost chile stupidity.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Texzilla

                            Lime Jello with chunks of ham, green peas and frosted with cream cheese...Nebraska special at Grandma's. yikes

                          2. My step-mother is a horrible cook. My brother, my sister and I all lived with my mom as teenagers when my parents divorced but we would frequently go to my dad's house for weekend and holiday dinners. We always ate beforehand. Two year ago for Christmas breakfast she made- a turkey (very dry, no seasonings, cinnamon rolls (a few days old), regular rolls (store bought so these weren't so bad) and one of those cakes made from a box of white cake mix, a packet of jello and cool whip. The condiments were mustard, ketchup, and jam. She thought it was all great. Luckily my uncle knew her cooking skills and brought a quiche. The next year my dad wised up and bought a bagel tray from the local bakery. My theory is that she has a hat filled with random recipes that don't go together and she picks out three or four without looking and that's her meal plan.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Lizzard913

                              My condolences. I don't have any really shitty cooks in my family any more except for my sister, and she doesn't try, so it's all right.

                              1. re: Lizzard913

                                LOL, what a bizarre collection of things to make for Christmas breakfast! I have to admit to having a soft spot for jello poke cake, but definitely NOT for Christmas breakfast!

                              2. The only people in our family that cook are my aunt and cousin and what they do, they do well.

                                I am enjoying reading the posts. The plate of perogies made me laugh. We have been subjected to head-scratching incidents of crazy small portions for large gatherings too.

                                Years back our neighbors brought a very small (maybe 1-2 up size) crock of green beans to a block party hosted at our house. It was the size of a large coffee mug.

                                In private, Mr. CB and I joked that maybe she was allocating one bean per person. What was so funny is that she was known to be a great and generous hostess so she is the last person I expected to "drop the ball" so to speak when it came to contributing to the party.

                                ETA - back in the day my dad was known for his burned beyond consumption steak dinners. Mr. CB thought I was kidding when I warned him. He learned! Dad isn't around anymore and I miss those days on the porch but not the steaks.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: cleobeach

                                  Ohmigosh! Welcome to my Christmas. 1/2 cup of mixed nuts for 5 adults and two children. 3 sweet potatoes to make two dishes - one roasted, one candied. I had to hunt down extra cheese and crackers for appetizers.

                                  I get that they didn't have much room for storing appetizers, but no one wants to feel like they're taking someone else's green bean!

                                  1. re: cleobeach

                                    When my gentleman cousin got married, the wedding reception was in a union hall in the bride's neighborhood. The groom's family were mostly from about 40 miles away ... close enough that we weren't staying over, but far enough that our family members didn't know the area. And the hall turned out to be hard to find. So by the time the groom's people got there, the bride's people had already started to eat.

                                    You can guess the rest ... they ran out of food. The bride's mother and her sisters had done the cooking, and it was probably delicious, but they had figured on one of things for each guest. One piece of sausage, one spoon full of potatoes, one cookie.

                                    He's still married, but the families never got close.

                                  2. One thing that seems to go together and make bad cooking worse, is the person that brings the bad food also monitors it and makes sure everyone tries some and even has second helpings. Shudder.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Antilope

                                      A friend and I just discussed this. Why is it the worst cooks push the most?