The first Thanksgiving dinner I ever cooked was an unprecedented disaster. The turkey was black and crispy on top and decidedly pink in the middle, the stuffing was soggy and tasteless, and the adventurous pumpkin soup came out so thick you practically had to chew it.
Thankfully, my friends cracked open a bottle of bubbly and we gorged on roast potatoes and store-bought pumpkin pie. And, most of all, we laughed about it. (In fact, we still laugh about it and I am eternally grateful for that.)
According to Butterball, the most common callers on their Turkey Talk-Line are 50-60-year-old women cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.
I imagine that typical caller to be someone who’s recently taken over the matriarchal position in her family and is suddenly facing a dozen demanding relatives, each of whom is all too ready to point out how Grandma used to do it better.
So, do yourself a favor, host a holiday dinner now, while you still stand a chance of it being fun. Gather some good friends or easy-going relatives, pour yourself a (small) glass of wine, take a deep breath, and go for it.
Here are a couple of tips to keep the whole thing under control.
- Don’t try to do it all yourself. I’m sure Martha Stewart is a very nice lady, but she is not of this world, and she undoubtedly has a LOT of help. Tackle the main course and maybe a side dish yourself, then assign appetizers, dessert, and additional sides to other guests. If your kitchen is big enough, it can be fun to cook as a group, but for your debut dinner, it might be wiser to create without an audience.
- Study your recipe or instructions. Seriously. Make a list of ALL the ingredients AND their quantities before you shop. Read through the directions ahead of time, so you won’t get surprised by hidden prep steps or post-cooking “rest” times.
- Gather and prep all your ingredients ahead of time. This advice was given to me by an elderly Italian man who makes wicked risotto. I never follow it and so I always end up racing around the kitchen looking for an ingredient that should have been chopped an hour earlier. Do as I say, not as I do!
- Consider a test run. Personally, I prefer to use my friends as guinea pigs for my experimental cooking, but that can sometimes mean they leave hungry. If you’re nervous, do a test run. Obviously, you probably don’t want to double up on a turkey, but maybe try roasting a chicken one weekend or making a mini portion of your side dish. The alternative is to stand proud and just go for it. True friends won’t hold it against you if it’s not perfect.
If you don’t have Grandma’s recipes available, here are a couple of my tried and tested YouTube favorites:
Scott Rea does a wicked turkey and also has instructions for a full British Christmas dinner. I can highly recommend his roast potatoes.
Kerryann is our go-to gal for roasting a chicken. The recipe is utterly foolproof and her gravy is well worth the extra effort.
And finally, if it all goes to hell in a handbasket, don’t forget to laugh about it. The holidays are supposed to be fun, after all!