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What did you learn about cooking or food from this Thanksgiving?

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I supplied the desserts this year for dinner at my SILs. Late Wednesday night, I baked a pie, it didn't turn out, and I needed to make something pie-like to replace it. I didn't have a big enough supply of any one suitable fresh fruit to do a whole pie; it couldn't be a milk-based or custard pie, due to guests' dietary issues; and this group doesn't like pumpkin pie, although I have puree in the freezer. Sooooooo...I took a sheet of frozen puff pastry, a jar of apricot preserves, an apple, a can of mandarin oranges, a handful of chopped fresh cranberries, a splash of brandy, and baked sort of a rustic (very rustic, LOL) mixed fruit puff-pastry galette. It actually turned out well enough so that my BIL wouldn't let me bring the left-over piece home with hubby, so I guess that was an endorsement. :-)

The point is...I've never been one for keeping "emergency" ingredients or supplies on hand. I'm just not that organized. I got lucky this time. I had bought the puff pastry to make breakfast turnovers for hubby last weekend. I had the mandarin oranges only because I had gotten a good deal on a case to donate to our local food bank and had decided to keep one can because I like them for a snack.

So what I learned this year is that, yes, all of you who keep some "just in case" ingredients--just in case company drops in, just in case a dish fails, etc.--in inventory are right. From now on, I'm going to keep that in mind while shopping and make sure I always have a few versatile pantry and freezer ingredients here for such situations.

What did you learn?

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  1. Unfortunately I make the same mistake I have for the last 28 years I have been making Tgiving - I MAKE WAY TOO MUCH FOOD. I had 3 desserts planned this year - sweet potato pie, apple crumb pie, and a dulce di leche cake roll. None got touched. I have not much turkey left over but 1/2 pan of stuffing & gravy (that will go quickly), almost a whole 9X13 acorn squash/apple casserole (planning to freeze that), 2 bottles of wine, had to throw out a whole relish tray someone left out overnight.

    I am not that old, but I seem to have this Depression era mentality that more is better. When will I ever learn?

    Irony is that I am hosting a whole Shabbat dinner tonight from chicken soup with matzo balls, 7 lb. standing rib roast, asparagus and mashed potatoes. Planning to re-cycle cake roll from last night. I will have enough leftovers for an army!

    3 Replies
    1. re: Diane in Bexley

      That's really frustrating, Diane, but I vow--if you had decided before to make less, on purpose, you would have run out. ;-) Good thing the casserole will freeze.

      I can never judge what will happen at SILs house at Thanksgiving, when I plan the desserts. Last year, too much was left over. I cut it back a little this year, and it was nearly all eaten. How much to make for special occasions is one of those mysteries beyond my human comprehension.

      1. re: Diane in Bexley

        If it's any consolation Diane, I always make too much as well. The one time I scaled back, my guests ate everything in sight and were looking for more! Needless to say, I'm happy to have leftovers as long as everyone is happy and full. I've starting sending home the bulk of Thanksgiving and Christmas leftovers with family, which my non-cook MIL greatly appreciates.

        1. re: ms. clicquot

          We wouldn't feel it was a successful Thanksgiving without enough leftovers to last through the long weekend. In fact, as much as we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner we think of it as the preliminary and I have no doubt at all if you asked anyone in my family if they'd give up the dinner or the leftovers which they'd choose.

      2. I learned that 'au-natural' turkeys aren't the nicest-tasting critters in the world. I usually just do a breast and it comes out wonderfully moist and juicy just by putting a cup of water in the roasting dish with it and leaving it alone - I cooked a 11lb turkey in exactly the same way as the breast, and it looked magnificent, but it was very dry by the time it was done! It's back to the breast alone next year... the amount of money you save on buying a whole bird isn't worth the extra hassle of cooking it.

        On the more positive side, I learned that custard/cream pies are much easier to make than I thought they would be. I've never made one before (I usually stick to pumpkin or apple) but DH wanted something different this year. So I was experimented with pie fillings on Wednesday night and I made a coconut cream/pineapple pie, and a cranberry custard pie and they're both delicious!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kajikit

          It took me a while (a few years back) to sign onto "just the breast", Kajikit, because my mother drilled into me the un-economy of buying poultry pieces (whether boneless or bone-in). I make turkey throughout the year, but my family really only likes turkey light meat. So, to buy the whole creature really wasn't a savings for me. If you like cooking the breast better and everyone enjoys the white meat...why not?

          Glad for you, re the pies. Your fillings sounds absolutely yummy, and I know of one other husband who would have enjoyed them! ;-) One of the perennial favorites around here is an apple-custard pie whose recipe I got...somewhere. I don't have too much experience with cream pies, but, yes, custard pies are pretty much hassle free, I've found; they're not bank-breakers, depending on the variation; and most of us usually have on hand the ingredients to make at least a simple one.

        2. I learned that being invited for 2pm is not necessarily the time you will eat (we finally ate at 5.30) and that other people do things differently!! I should have eaten something at home first. I also made 2 huge trifles and could have made just one because there must have been 15 desserts yesterday.

          1. Like Diane, I make way too much food and I never seem to learn that lesson. I either need to scale back on the hors d'oevres or scale back on the dinner. I had eighteen for dinner this year and I was prepared with containers for everyone to take home leftovers. I also make and keep a spreadsheet from year to year and I will make notes so I can prepare less next year. I'm going to freeze what won't be eaten in the next day or two.

            FYI - For eighteen people (includes 5 children with almost adult-sized appetites), a 23 pound turkey is a pretty good size. 5 pies and a cake are too many desserts. 7 pounds of mashed potatoes is more than enough but, yippee! latkes this weekend! Double recipes are not required for anything.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Ima Wurdibitsch

              Ima, chuckling at your post. Even with mashed potatoes Thurs & Fri, we have no more. Will make latkes Sun to freeze for Chanukah. Love to use Yukon Gold, they turn out very well.

            2. I've got a lot of Thanksgivings under my belt so my learning curve was a lot steeper a decade or two ago. But this Thanksgiving I did learn that a spreadsheet can also be a culinary tool.

              I made a spreadsheet of my menu with the oven temps, oven cooking times and finished time targets . I was able to use it to sort by those fields in planning what could share an oven. I do 4 veggies, 3 desserts and half a dozen appetizers as well as the standard turkey/stuffing/gravy/mashed potato deal so not having to keep that stuff in my head, track it's progress or do any impromptu math was liberating.

              1. I learned that I have GOT to take my aunt up on the offer of leftovers next year. I'm trying to keep my diet on the straight and narrow since I'm going home to the land of sweet tea and biscuits next month, but today would have been dramatically improved by the presence of a turkey and stuffing sandwich.

                1. I had good success doing turkeys on my grill. I did have clay tiles on the grate and used a roasting pan. Two of the three were done like this, and were total winners. I seasoned the skin with a medium heavy dusting of granulated garlic (haters save your breath...) and a light dusting of cayenne. The temp in my grill was 425 to 450. Each bird was about 15 lbs. The first hour the bird was breast down, then I flipped and redusted the top, then about another hour. But to be precise I pulled the bird out when the breast read 160. Then a 20 minute rest or more. No stuffing, no brining, just the cheap Safeway frozen bird from the supermarket. The breast meat was very moist and the skin was crisp and delicious. On my last bird I got smarter and foiled the wings part way through. But I usually consider the outer part of the wings a small casualty to pay anyway. On my last bird I got even smarter and roasted some garlic bulbs in foil to puree into the gravy.

                  Another semi success was the use of Star Anise in the gravy. A little something special.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: scuzzo

                    I learned to skip the nibbles. People come for the main attraction and aren't interested in ruining their appetite beforehand. I also learned I still don't have turkey figured out. I bought a frozen butterball, dry brined it for 4 hours or so, realized I should not have done that and rinsed it off. During cooking, checked it at 2 1/2 hours and it was about 185 degrees!!! Let it sit for 1 1/2 hours before carving and it was super moist. Did the brine counteract the overcooking? Did the long rest do it? Who knows...

                  2. My Thanksgiving day fate was undetermined up until the last minute, so I wasn't responsible for bringing any food to what became our destination. Ended up at my in-laws, as I have been for Thanksgiving many times before. It is always a very large gathering of assorted family members. I come from a much smaller family and my parents choose to vacation with friends over the holiday rather than host or participate in traditional-style festivities. So after 2.5 hours with 33 other in-laws....here's what I learned:

                    1. No matter how I may feel prior to going, I am always happy to have been.
                    2. If we were ever to be late - they probably would not wait to eat.
                    3. There is comfort to knowing exactly what will be served...year after year after year. But...
                    4. It's okay if I want to be different or creative.

                    And finally....

                    5. I learned that no matter who I'm with or where I am, food brings us all together. And THAT is something to be thankful for.

                    1. I learned that I have reached my lifetime limit of whole turkey roasting. Hardly anyone even bothers to look at the whole bird (we carve in the kitchen). It's a pain to shlep it home, rinse it, brine it, rinse it again, dry it, haul it into the pan, and then I need to recruit my son to lift the pan in and out of the oven (I'm a weakling). From now on it's turkey parts. Cooking will be faster, I'll be able to remove each part from the pan as it's done, with no risk of anything being dry or undercooked, carving will be a breeze, and I can add a third breast for extra white meat. Some traditions aren't worth the trouble, and since the food police scared me off putting stuffing in the bird some time ago, I no longer see the advantage of a cooking a whole turkey.

                      1. Have posted this rec several times, but it bears repeating. The key to a delicious whole turkey is buying a kosher bird. The selection of a kosher turkey ensures it is clean & healthy, minimal processing. The requirenment of koshering it is soaking it in a salt water solution (ta-da brining it). Much, much easier than having to mess up coolers and deal with ice packs. Not much more expensive than a regular fresh turkey (I paid $2.29/lb). So very easy to prepare. After washing and drying it, stuff a couple medium or 1 large onion, couple pieces celery and a cut up apple or orange. Make a paste with rosemary, sage, salt, pepper & garlic and some butter/margarine/olive oil, whatever lubriant you prefer. With your fingers, separate skin. Rub 1/2 paste between skin & meat all over. Rub remaining on top of skin. Preheat oven to 425F. Place turkey breast side down in greased roasting pan. Roast for 30-45 min. Turn down heat to 325F. Roast another 60-75 min. Carefully flip turkey breast side up. Baste every 20 min for another 60-75 min. Total time for 12-14 lb bird should be 2.5 - 3 hours. C'mon, this is not puff pastry - pretty easy.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Diane in Bexley

                          We had a kosher bird this year. I dry-brined it but only for a day. It was tasty and moist. BUT they didn't include the giblets with this kosher turkey and, if I can remember correctly, they've been missing from kosher chickens I've had too. I really missed them in my stuffing! And they seem to mangle the skin in their process and miss a really lot of the feather plucking. That I *definitely* remember from this year's turkey and all the kosher chickens I've prepared.

                        2. 1. Bacon really DOES make everything better. I made my first turkey ever using Tyler Florence's recipe for maple-roasted turkey wrapped with bacon and just LOVED it.
                          2. My meat thermometer is my friend. We now have the kind where you can leave the readout on the counter and it beeps to tell you when you have reached your desired temperature.
                          3. It is hard to screw up my old-school, holiday-family-classic crinkle cut carrots, boiled in broth...even when I forgot to turn to the burner and all the broth had boiled away, the carrots were still tasty and not even overcooked. A Thanksgiving miracle!
                          4. There is nothing really difficult about preparing a turkey. I had never cooked my own till this year. When I was growing up, more often than not, my uncle cooked the turkey...and it seemed like it must be complicated. I guess just because I was young and never did it myself (and he had a restaurant), I thought making a turkey was a big deal. But it really isn't! And there are so many tasty variations to be found, there is no reason to have a boring bird!

                          1. Hope that you all enjoyed your holiday...I'm giving Thanks for my own lessons learned:
                            1) Heritage breed birds are sun-tanned and oh-so sexy out of the oven! Sorry...but that "chick" deserved a whistle.
                            2) Even this unqualified cook can donate food and time to a worthy cause and his holiday will be made.
                            3) Don't argue with me already: Pumpkin-Ricotta Pie is THE undisputed pre and post Thanksgiving 'Breakfast of Champions'.
                            4) Home-made cranberry sauce is that simple to make? Will definitely get more creative next year...yes, that is Grand Marnier AND I'm happy to see you. Cordon Rouge grade for the sauce, Cuvée du Centenaire for yours truly...the "sauced" :)
                            5) Unprepared, overwhelmed, and crazed Thanksgiving food shoppers make the Black-Friday folks seem civilized.

                            1. That cooking a turkey really isn't that hard...this was my first year and it's one of those things that looks scarier then it is, I found the hardest part was carving that darn thing....

                              I learned that you can make gravy ahead of time, and for a first time person cooking a turkey, it was helpful to already have this part done...

                              I sucomed to the pressure to have mashed potatoes at dinner (at my parent's house it was always rice pilaf) and I really missed the rice, next year it is rice...

                              overall, If you are organized, have a good list, do some basic prep work in advance and enjoy being in the kitchen, this is cake, and thank god for dish washers...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: geminigirl

                                You're so right! There's a *reason* a turkey feast has become locked into our culture -- it's do-able and there's such a lot of non-prep time involved with a turkey that it's possible to give attention to other dishes.

                                And, as you say, a well-organized plan and items that are prepped in advance or partially prepped in advance make it stress-free.

                                A good turkey feast is not only delicious for all concerned but highly satisfying for the cook, I think.