What are some of your biggest -- or most common -- Thanksgiving disasters? Any tips on quick fixes when something goes wrong on the big day?
Thanksgiving 2010 was one of my biggest fails! Raw turkey, dirty-tasting potatoes and exploding frying oil (which resulted in a pretty bad hand burn). But the funny thing is I still enjoyed myself and my family. Now, we look back at the meal and really appreciate that it's a humorous memory. My biggest tip is don't stress about the small stuff. It's really about being with the people you love.
My biggest problem is menu control. I love fall cooking so much that I feel compelled to add a new dish or two every year, but I fail to subtract anything. My mom and I typically spend the entire day cooking, but we often joke that we're so tired when we sit down that we're not even hungry! (Though we somehow manage to eat our fair share all the same!) This year I'm determined to keep the menu simpler -- and do as much prep in advance as possible.
My biggest problem (among many) is timing/scheduling. Every year I get a little bit better about prepping stuff Monday through Wednesday, but my timing for the day-of usually falls apart. I think one reason is the turkey always takes longer than I calculate - so adding a full hour to cooking/cooling/making gravy time might be beneficial. Another consideration is oven space and burner space. Like EmilyC we serve an excess of sides and cooking them, then keeping them warm, can be challenging. One year I borrowed a neighbor's oven since they go away every Thanksgiving. Some things can be reheated in the microwave. For extra refrigeration space I have used my car (by then it is cold here near Philadelphia) or coolers with ice.
I Second what ChefOno said; I've had potato peel debris come up into the bathtub on Thanksgiving, and there was not a plumber to be found.
Getting the Turkey legs done while keeping the breast from overcooking. Solution: braise the legs and roast the breast. Side benefit of making its own gravy.
Underestimating how much work is actually involved and, like others have said, planning far too many dishes. Also, not figuring in, as you pull together your make-ahead to-do lists for the nights leading up to T-Day, that you also have to put meals on the table those nights! The result: utter exhaustion long before you've even gotten everything out on the table. The solution of course is to map it all out, including the Sunday through Wednesday meals, figuring out how tasks can be combined for maximum efficiency, and making a detailed schedule as to what you're going to do when. (Mine plan for this year is nearly complete. It includes shopping lists and when I'll be making/freezing key components of the dinners for Sunday through Wednesday, as well as notes, by dish, on what will be done ahead, and when the dish will actually be cooked, baked or roasted.) I use my favorite organizational tool for this, which is a 2" 3-ring binder with plastic pockets for printed recipes, shopping lists, and calendar pages photocopied from my agenda a few weeks ago while still blank, into which I've laid out my schedule of tasks. This system works flawlessly. The proof? It allows me to drive an hour up to Mt. Tam on Thanksgiving morning, hike to the top, return home in the early afternoon, feed my family lunch, and then get the big meal on the table at our normal dinner time. And I'm not tired. At least not from making the meal. ;o)
I don't really like turkey but can't not make it. The last time I cooked for Thanksgiving, I made a turkey cut into parts and marinated with dried mushrooms, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and shallots. I got it from an East West Thanksgiving recipe collection, served with sticky rice, Union Square Cafe Brussels Sprouts (my husband's dish), and spicy stir fried sweet potatoes. The best part was drinking several bottles of wine with our great friends Meena and Colin and playing with their kids, Lucy and Brian. Last Thanksgiving my daughter was in the hospital. I baked four pies and brought them to the hospital for the kids but found that I couldn't share them because of concerns about liability. The hospital staff enjoyed them and it was a distraction to bake them. Made Sweet Potato Pumpkin Cazuela Pie adapted from Regan Daleys Sweet kitchen, Concord Grape Pie, Apple Cranberry, and Sour Cherry Pie (my daughter's very favorite). This year I am going to be so thankful that my family is home that I don't care what happens with the food-- not that I won't try to cook a great dinner!
Fail = Dry Turkey
Solution = Great Gravy (and lots of it)
Note: the same solution can be applied to almost any TG fail ;-)
A piece of advice based on experience: If you've just treated yourself to a brand new knife (or food processor or any other razor-sharp cooking object), don't use it for the very first time to prepare for a major holiday meal when you in a rush and feeling pressured :)