Fat, Femininity, Food

Holiday Meal Planning, Kate-Style

Shapelings, this is the first year since Al and I met that we will be spending Christmas at home instead of in Vegas. Since our families are spread all over two countries and we found out that some friends — specifically, Sweet Machine, Ottermatic, their respective partners and Ottermatic’s bestie (hereafter, OTMBFF) — would be kicking around Chicagoland with no other plans, we decided to host Christmas dinner here.

I’ve had friends over for holiday meals a few times before, and whenever I do, I am beset by an uncharacteristic urge to go full-tilt Martha — which, because I’m me and not Martha, inevitably ends in frustration, tears, and inedible gravy (see below).  I know I can handle turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, which are all I actually want to eat on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but at some point the socially ingrained Lady Neurosis kicks in, and I decide I need to produce exquisite canapes involving lots of phyllo and a standing rib roast and eleven different vegetables requiring trips to three different ethnic markets and some dessert that demands the purchase of edible flowers, a proper pastry bag and a better oven. Usually, I obsess about building the perfect menu for three or four weeks in advance, then compromise on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a few new side dish and dessert recipes, only one of which will turn out to be worth the bother.

This year, in part because I’m older and wiser, and in part because we only decided a week ago that we definitely weren’t going to Vegas, I made a conscious decision to knock that shit off and keep it simple. I achieved this by asking myself the following questions before choosing any menu item: 1) Will the taste payoff be greater than the effort expended? 2) Is there any chance at all that my homemade version of this will be better than store-bought? 3) Is the likelihood of my fucking up the recipe greater than the likelihood that we will all be momentarily transported to food heaven?

Shapelings, I can’t tell you how much that simplified my ability to answer the questions that plague me every time I do this. For example:

  • Should I brine the turkey? No. (1, 3)
  • Should I try covering the turkey with a butter-soaked cheesecloth instead of aluminum foil? Sure, why not. (1)
  • Should I make my own pies? No. (1, 2, 3)
  • Should I look for exquisite canape recipes or just put out cheese, crackers and fruit? Cheese, crackers and fruit. (1, 3)
  • Should I dry, chop and season some whole-grain artisanal bread for stuffing or use a bag of Pepperidge Farm cubes? Pepperidge Farm. (1, 2)
  • Should I attempt any recipe for the first time on Christmas and pray that the cooking gods reward my adventurous spirit? Nooooo. (3)
  • What can my guests do if they think any of the above shortcuts mean I’m a failure as a hostess and/or woman? Suck it. (1, 2, 3)

It’s a pretty terrific system, but even that doesn’t mean I’m completely free of guilt and fear of judgment. I now present to you — mostly because it’s amusing but also because it reveals the depths of my issues around food, hostessing and other people’s opinions — an e-mail exchange I have had over the last two days with Ottermatic, the other guests and Al. (The only background info you need, apart from the above, is that Al’s contribution to the Christmas meal is a huge bottle of the cheapest possible vodka, filtered with a Brita to [theoretically] make it more like expensive vodka. He and Mr. Machine recently had a conversation about someone somewhere on the internet who tried that and swore it worked, so he decided to give it a whirl.)

OTM: What shall we bring? Wine or other alcohol and what else?

Me (just to her): What I told Sweet Machine when she asked the same thing last night is below:

I went for the simplest possible menu, so it’s pretty well taken care of.

Things I could still use help with, though:

  • If one or both of you have any talent for making gravy, awesome. I have never pulled it off, so I bought a thing of turkey gravy mix just in case, but if one of you is confident that you can make real pan gravy at game time, the job is yours.
  • I can practically guarantee I’ll need someone to run to 7-11 for shit I forgot, so that is another volunteer opportunity.
  • Solly will need extra snuggles to keep him out from under my feet.

Other than that, I can’t think of anything.

OTM: I will certainly take turns snuggling Solly, but I can also make gravy! Do you have chicken broth, flour, and butter?

Me: I do have all those things! HOORAY FOR GRAVY!

I have no idea why I am incapable of getting the ratio of flour to fat right, but history has shown that I am. The first time I did a holiday meal for friends, I fucked up the gravy so bad I was on the verge of tears until a friend came along and rescued it — but A) I’d already done so much damage that the rescue effort demanded extreme measures, and B) it was a Swedish friend, so the gravy ultimately involved red wine and cranberries and I dunno, Aquavit and mid-century furniture or something, so it was far from the old reliable midwestern taste I’d envisioned when I decided that cooking a bunch of shit I’d never tried to make before for 12 people was a REALLY GOOD IDEA. So from that I learned to A) make sure I had a jar of gravy or packet of gravy mix on hand and B) ask in advance if anyone else would like to take on gravy-making from start to finish.

FYI, I just investigated the flour situation, and I do have a mostly full container of Wondra “sauces and gravies” flour (which I bought ages ago thinking perhaps all-purpose flour was my gravy downfall, but I’ve never actually used it for anything except breading chicken breasts, like, twice). It expires in about two weeks, and I just realized the top was slightly open, so air’s been getting at it for however long, but it does not appear to be buggy. That is ALL YOURS if you want it — I honestly don’t know if the air thing is a real problem. If it is, you might want to bring flour.

OTM: I don’t think that exposing flour to air is bad, as long as it’s not exposed to bugs. I find ingredients in the back of our one, small kitchen cupboard that are expired and use them anyway all the time because the alternative is to buy a new package and then let that expire. I don’t know. I’m pretty cavalier about food safety. Which isn’t to say I’m going to put raw chicken in the gravy or anything, just that I am not afraid of your flour.

Me: I am similarly cavalier about food safety (there will, in fact, be raw chicken in the mashed potatoes, which will be served in a dented can), but I never want to admit that to other people, for fear they will judge me and never accept an invitation to dine in my home again.

This is sort of similar to the conversation I had with OTMBFF, in which he asked what was missing from the menu that he might bring, and I went, “Green vegetable?” and he was like, “Uh, do people really EAT green vegetables, other than green bean casserole, at holiday meals?” At which point I had to admit that no, they do not in my family (and I was never a huge fan of green bean casserole), but I am always afraid of being judged for just serving turkey and 7 kinds of carbs held together by fat instead of ensuring that my guests get as many phytonutrients as possible. Even though there’s a reason why carbs and fat with a side of protein is the traditional holiday meal, which is that it fucking TASTES GOOD, and it’s supposed to be a FEAST of things that TASTE GOOD, and I should probably reread that book by Marianne Kirby and what’s-her-name.

OTM: You should read it! It’s very good.

Me (to group):  OTM has volunteered to make gravy. Sweet Machine, you are now in charge of Solly snuggling.

Mr. Machine: I’ll take care of the cycling of oxygen into CO2.

Al: Also, bring barf bags, because we have a lot of really cheap vodka to taste test. I’m afraid, not even sure if I can go through with it. Mr. Machine, we bought a virgin smaller bottle of Skol for comparison’s sake.

We have a whole bunch of wine and other stuff, vodka, gin, whiskey, not sure what else, so if you’re not fussy, I’m sure we are covered on the beverages.

Me: Oh, we also have rum and eggnog, because it’s one of those things I think I should have, even though people rarely end up drinking it.

Al: Let’s invent a drink that uses eggnog, rum, Skol vodka, and 3 kinds of gin. Served with an olive float.

Me: We’ll call it a “Divorcetini.”

OTM: I’ll bring two barf bags.


So, to recap: Despite all my long-term efforts to stop moralizing about food and my determination to make this particular meal as stress-free as possible, I remain neurotic about 1) my gravy-making abilities, 2) the possibility that I will realize I forgot something at the last minute, even though we’ll still have enough food and booze for 25 people, 3) a meal I borked 10 years ago, 4) the quality of my flour, 5) being judged for my willingness to use questionable flour, 6) being judged for not providing a more balanced holiday feast, and 7) disappointing a hypothetical guest who really wanted rum and eggnog on Christmas, even if there are 95 other things to drink. And sadly, this is progress.

With that, I am going to go make everything I can possibly make in advance, then sit down with a glass of wine and remind myself that the point of all this is hanging out with good friends, not getting an A+ in Traditional Feminine Duties. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, Merry Day Off to those who don’t, and Happy Day After Festivus to all — please feel free to air your grievances in comments.

153 thoughts on “Holiday Meal Planning, Kate-Style”

  1. What would the holidays be without a little food neurosis?

    Have a wonderful day! And if I’m ever at your place for a festive meal, I’ll be happy to make the gravy.

  2. If Sweet Machine snuggles the bowling pin, does that mean I get to snuggle Solly (in addition to, rather than in lieu of making gravy, of course)?

  3. Luckily I don’t have to try to *say* this since I can’t speak for laughing, but my turkey tip is to cook it upside-down right in the bottom of the tin, no sitting-above-juices trays or anything, for more than half the time, because then it’s rich and juicy and you don’t have to baste it or anything, just turn it over. Um, covered in tinfoil. If you let it swim in its own fat and juices it’s much nicer than if it, er, doesn’t.

    Green vegetable: peas, because you don’t need to cook them, you just make them hot, and when they’re left over you can make them into salad.

    I love cooking big roast dinners ever since I worked out that the *less* I do the better it works. I only make gravy if other people are making the rest of the meal because it takes too much attention.

    (Must try to include medieval furniture next time).

  4. I have bad luck with gravy too, and I’m one of the best cooks I know.

    My Christmas dinner is almost entirely make-ahead, which I’m loving.

  5. Thank God I’m not the only one who can’t make gravy. I tried a few times. Now I just deglaze the roasting tin with a splosh of wine, offer up a sad dribble of stuff in the bottom of a jug, and pretend that it’s more sophisticated to have Pan Juices instead of proper gravy.

    My standby Christmas vegetable is some sprouts briefly boiled, then thrown in a pan with fried bacon bits (and all the bacon fat from the frying) and some bashed up vac-packed chestnuts, and warmed through with melted butter and a slug of white wine. I very rarely do the kind of cooking that involves stashing stuff in the oven, though, so I’m actually comforted to have something to fiddle with on the stovetop. Others may disagree.

  6. I find the term ‘mid-century gravy’ to be especially poignant as I recently turned 50 and literally in the final month of my first half-century I at last learned to make gravy. I have a long, sordid history of wrecked gravy. My husband threw me a surprise 50th birthday party and one of the guests, by college roommate, said one of her husband’s enduring memories of me is the time I stormed out of the kitchen and locked myself in my room because of my disastrous gravy. He got to be hero because he can do that fat/flour thing. They sweetly coaxed me out of my room to eat the gravy he made with my delicious chicken fat and 25 years later we can laugh about it. I think today that Wondra may be playing a significant role in my new skill.

  7. Bah. That should say MY college roommate. Or, maybe I meant to say I committed gravy by college roommate.

  8. Delurking to wish a good day to any other Shapelings who might be working today and tomorrow. In my case, it’s the downfall of being a Jewish nurse on Christmas. I’m slightly irritated because various other staff members have brought a TON of food to the unit, of which I can eat exactly nothing (I’m vegan), but my partner is at home making something delicious for our atheist non-celebration later tonight. I’m spent my entire shift thus far reading SP archives to counterbalance the barrage of weight-loss related bullshit I’ve been involuntarily exposed to over the last few days. Thank you for providing at least one space on the internet where I can be reassured that I’m okay the way I am rather than being triggered by more diet and exercise tips.

  9. I cooked a chicken the other day with about a half-stick of butter melted and poured over it, and it was AMAZING. Like it’s some cooking secret that a huge glob of butter would make it taste better, right? But for some reason I had never really thought to combine meat and butter, and it was so good. I bet it would work with turkey, too. Just throw a whole stick in the cavity and another one on top and call it a day. :)

  10. My friends and family speak with fear of what they call Kitchen [Annepersand], the ravening beast from a hell dimension who becomes unleashed when I am let alone in a kitchen with gourmet ingredients. I, too, suffer from neuroses and have only recently come to terms with the thought that the best gift I can give my loved ones this holiday season is to make them all pasta.

  11. So this comment proves that I’m the kind of insufferable holiday priss who can’t even air a proper Festivus grievance but has to go all Hallmark on your ass… but has anyone been following the Arrow trucking story?

    Tuesday morning, Arrow trucking went broke and suspended operations, leaving something like 1500 truckdrivers stranded. Drivers couldn’t pay for fuel to get home; the repo people were seizing the trucks; their paychecks bounced; bad weather was bearing down in many parts of the country; etc. Just truly cinematic-level awfulness. (And as a bit of background information, some truck drivers live in their trucks, so in addition to finding themselves jobless and stranded they were also suddenly homeless.)

    So a truckers union started a Facebook page to coordinate efforts to help. Oh my gosh. What unfolded was simply astounding. People picking up stranded drivers and giving them rides, going hundreds of miles out of their way to do so, paying for fuel, paying for bus/plane travel home, having them over for Christmas dinner if they weren’t going to make it home… Basically someone would post something like “Help! I’m stranded!” or “Help! Someone I know is stranded!” and dozens and dozens of strangers would collaborate to help them get home. Multiply that times 1500 or so truck drivers. Really inspiring.

  12. (That previous comment assumed this was a general “happy holidays” themed thread. But if it’s off topic, Kate, go on and banninate me.)

  13. Family is coming over Saturday for Christmas and I’m not cooking. We have a large meat tray, sliced cheese, crackers, and chips. The only thing I’m making is spiced pumpkin cupcakes (spice cake mix made by following directions, add can of pumpkin, bake as cupcakes, frost with cream cheese frosting). There will be no dishes to wash after everyone has left because it’s all finger food and we’re using paper plates. I don’t care that it’s not a balanced meal, if anyone wants a balanced meal, eat before they get here.
    I learned early on in my marriage that I don’t like cooking for a crowd and then being left to clean up the mess alone (well, DH helps, but that’s still a huge mess for 2 people to clean up after 20 people and all the dishes and pots and pans). So we don’t cook for holidays anymore, and it doesn’t seem to keep any of the kids and their kids away (and they all know that no diet talk is allowed in our house, one rule I’ve put my foot down about).
    I’m just hoping that the weather is going to allow everyone to make it here, since most of them have to drive at least 2 to 3 hours to get here (I shoveled 10″ of snow from in front of our front door this morning, here in MN).

  14. I go COMPLETELY WEIRD around providing food for other people. Like, three cakes and two pies weird. I have no idea where this comes from, but if anyone comments that they didn’t get some, I will have anxiety dreams for weeks.

    I am cavalier about food safety, too. I’m super careful around raw meat or anything like that, but as for dried foods, or even prepared meals that only I will eat that might be… edging towards their end… well, what’s the worst that could happen, right? (That was a rhetorical question, please do not tell me)

  15. Gravy. It’s my nemesis.
    I made 2 thanksgiving’s worth of superhuge meals since hubby and I did 2 thanksgivingses, so we’re not doing ANYTHING fancy for christmas.

    I think you have the TOTALLY right attitude about not putting in more effort than it’s worth, but the brining thing is actually worth the effort. So, so so delicious. Try it on a chicken some time.

  16. My mother has started doing pan juices as well, which is a shame as she makes amazing gravy. Thanks to her, gravy is one of the few things I am confident of making well. Even worse, I am fairly sure she’s stopped making it because of the calories. :(

    I would so use the flour as well. I am still using
    some flour that went out of date about six months ago and it’s been fine.

    I find I get very nervous about cooking for anyone else these days. It didn’t use to bother me, but I think because my ex was a better cook than me I started to feel I wasn’t very good at it and now I’ve lost my confidence. It’s my first Christmas without him for four years and it feels very odd and sad, not going to see his family this year. Luckily I am going to my parents’ tomorrow so I will not be on my own, and even better, my mum will be cooking, so no performance anxiety!

    Happy holidays to everyone!

  17. Aw, hugs to Jerome and anyone else stuck working.

    Like it’s some cooking secret that a huge glob of butter would make it taste better, right?

    Car, I’m sure I’ve told this story here before, but now I have to tell it again… Years ago, I was up at a friend’s cottage with a bunch of girlfriends, and we took turns cooking. Prior to this experience, I thought scrambled eggs were fine but sorta meh. So Sunday morning, one woman makes scrambled eggs, and they were so unbelievably good I wanted to eat the whole pan. I’m like, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET??? And she’s like, “They’re scrambled fucking eggs, there is no secret.” And I’m like, “These are not just scrambled eggs, these are angels dancing on my tongue. WHAT DID YOU DO?” Her: “I don’t know. I cooked them in an entire stick of butter?” Me: “Ohhhhhhhhh.”

    That was my butter awakening.

    Maya, my worry about brining has more to do with 3 than 1. I looked at a bunch of recipe reviews online over the last couple of days, and most people think brined turkey is divine, but a few said theirs ended up salty. Now, I understand that done properly, it should NOT be salty, but given my talent for fucking up simple directions, I have no faith that I would do it properly. So I figured it was better to skip the brining than end up with an inedible 15-lb. bird.

  18. A Sarah – the Arrow trucking story is lovely.

    Did you guys hear about the silly campaign we had here in the UK to get a song by Rage Against The Machine to number one for Christmas instead of an X Factor song? The RATM song made it to no 1, but the best thing was that the campaign raised over £80k for Shelter, a homeless charity.

  19. but the brining thing is actually worth the effort. So, so so delicious.

    Or… you can buy a kosher chicken or turkey. Still delicious, and allows so much more lazy.

    I do sometimes brine chicken, but the last thing you need for a good holiday dinner is angst. So for big parties, I make sure the cooking is all food I find easy and relaxing. If there’s a bit I can’t do well, I don’t do it. Sometimes that means I get an offer of help. Sometimes it means we just don’t do a dish. But it’s not like people are going to starve if there is only *one* dessert and *one* meat dish and about 10lbs of mashed potatoes.

    (most of ours have 4-8 people, so it’s really easy to make far more food than anyone could eat. if I’m ruthless about skipping stuff, leftovers do not grow interesting colonies and start hunting for humans in revenge.)

  20. I had trouble with gravy for years. Then one day I didn’t, and ever since I’ve been able to make it reliably. I’ve heard shortcrust pastry is the same way, but I’m still waiting on that one.

    Meanwhile, soon my husband and I – and the dog – will go for a drive to look at lights and stars. Then we’ll have raviolis, light a fire and open presents. And I’ll probably watch the 1951 British ‘Scrooge,’ the one with Alastair Sim. Tomorrow’s for the family; tonight, just for us.

  21. Oh, I have so been there. The whole thing about being a Good Hostess brings out the crazy in us all, I think.

    For the record, Knorr brand turkey gravy mix is fan-freakin’-tastic. Sure, it’s a packet of powder, but they do some totally wild voodoo black magic alchemy to it (or maybe it’s made from turkeys raised on baby donuts) so it tastes like fer-really-real gravy. Even when we do have pan drippings or whatever to try to work with, we (and by “we” I mean Mr. Thornacious, whose many years of watching Food Network have given him some cooking neuroses all his own) generally wind up adding in some of the Knorr gravy stuff too, to make sure there’s plenty. And it’s delicious.

    We’re actually spending Christmas morning at home – our first Christmas morning where the kids are all jazzed about Santa Claus and all that – and then, because it’s silly for Mr. Thornacious and I to cook a fancy meal for the two of us (since our kids won’t eat anything fancier than mac-n-cheese or pancakes), we’re driving to my in-laws where my MIL will be cooking up a storm and it will be ZOMG-delicious.

    And now, I have to go decorate some gingerbread cookies I bought at JoAnn’s, as more evidence of easy > authentic, at least this year.

    Happy holidays all! (Whatever holiday you may or may not celebrate.)

  22. GRAVY:

    1) equal parts butter & flour in a medium hot pan, stir around for a minute or so

    2) add stock – canned broth, broth cubes inmixed in hot water, homemade stock (simmer chix legs OR use leftover bones from a roasted chicken, leave skin on, 45 min with a carrot, onion studded w/ 4-5 cloves, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, remove chicken when done, strain through colander, use w/in 3 days or freeze) whateva – in small amounts, stirring well so you don’t get lumps. You want enough liquid for it to be thinned down, but not so much that it’s like water or milk or tea, maybe something along the lines of a good cream soup

    3) cook on MEDIUM-LOW heat until it’s thickened to desirability, stirring quite often. It’ll break if you let it boil!

    Do the roux – the butter & flour thing – for making homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, using milk for the liquid, adding your grated cheese when the liquid’s thick enough (cheese will thicken it) along with a good dollop of Enlish Mustard. DO NOT ADD SALT until you’ve tasted it with the cheese n’ mustard.

    Flourless gravy: drain off most of the fat in the bottom of your roasting pan after you’ve removed your roast, add heavy cream and a bit of water, stir well and constantly to get the sticky stuff off the bottom, serve hot when thickened to desired consistency.

    Pastry: #1 tip – freeze the fat (butter, please) and grate into the flour. Much easier than using a food processor or cutting it with knives or using fingers.

  23. Just so you know, the Mythbusters totally tested that vodka myth, and while filters will make bad vodka better, they won’t take you from bottom shelf to top. However, this is no reason not to get way plastered on Christmas and snuggle bowling pins. I say, go wherever your holiday takes you.

    My holiday has taken me to spiked egg nog at my mom’s house, where we’re making asses of ourselves on the Wii and already baking everything we can think of. Personally, I can’t wait until the day after tomorrow. Even though I love the holidays, I’m always slightly relieved when things get back to normal. There’s something charming about the quiet, dark nights between Christmas and New Years. Also I’m off of school and work, so the after-Christmas break is the most relaxing time of year.

  24. I’ve heard about that vodka thing. Unfortunately, I think it was because Mythbusters totally busted it.

    I find I’m the opposite way about cooking. If a bunch of people are coming over, I’ll try out some new fancy-pants recipe and it will be AMAZING. (Chocolate brie en croute with a bourbon reduction was my last victory, and probably the high point of my cooking career.) If I’m just throwing together food for myself… meh. It’ll be edible, if I don’t end up buying a burrito instead.

  25. A friend always serves a holiday vegetable dish consisting of frozen broccoli florets mixed with frozen corn niblets in a 2:1 ratio and seasoned with a few dashes of curry powder. It’s extremely simple to make and tastes wonderful alongside the turkey/dressing/potato/cranberry offerings. Even children eat it.

    Instead of vegetables I bring an ambrosia consisting of 1 large can of pineapple tidbits and 3 11-oz cans of mandarin oranges, all drained, and mixed with about half a bag of mini marshmallows and about 8 oz sour cream, then chilled for a couple hours. It’s an excellent source of vitamin C. And sour cream.

    Since finding this recipe, this is the only way I prepare chicken anymore. It’s a simple spice rub that creates a delicious, rotisserie-style flavor. I prep the birds straight from the store and stick them in the freezer till I’m ready to use them. Cook covered to make lots of pan drippings for gravy or adding to instant stuffing mix, or uncovered for a crispy skin. Dunno if it works with turkey – I prefer chicken…


  26. Car: Along the same lines, butter on steak is unexpectedly delicious! Had it at a restaurant one time. You top a fresh-off-the-grill steak with some butter and let it melt, although you could probably do something really nice involving a frying pan, sliced steak and butter. And chives. And fresh ground pepper.

    Gingembre: Your sprouts recipe sounds outrageous. You mean Brussels sprouts, right? I must someday make this.

  27. I’ve never really stressed about gravy–just drain off pan juices and serve. I don’t think *anyone* can reliably gaurantee pan gravy at the moment–if you really want it to turn out you have to make it off chicken stock beforehand.

    Most women I know get either food or cleaning/hostessing (or both) neurotic when people come over. I keep a notebook of what I serve for holiday meals, and was kind of disturbed after Rosh Hashanah when I realised that the (milk) meal had FIFTEEN different dishes. Yea, mama went a little cookoo there.

    Gingembre: brussels sprouts ftw. I do them in a hot pan with an indecent amount of butter and oil, then roll them in salt, pepper, and parmesan.

    Also, I am now a disciple of spatchcocking the turkey. Partly because “spatchcock” is such a damn fun word to say, and partly because omg, that turkey was GOOD and done in an hour.

  28. Heh. I’m having Jewish Christmas tomorrow (Chinese food). Only the SO won’t be able to join us, because he has a cold. Not a man cold, mind you — he doesn’t get those. But I’ll bring home takeout for him.

    Meanwhile, maybe someone could tell me why Christmas makes me more susceptible to yeast infections. I got one two years ago at this time, and I have one now. Don’t tell me it’s all the pigging out on carbs, either, because I don’t work in an office or go to many parties, and aside from a few festive dishes I have made like latkes and matzoh ball soup, and the Thanksgiving turkey leg extravaganza, I don’t eat anything much different from what I have in the other winter months. Maybe it’s because I’m turning into a perimenopausal old bat, I dunno.

    Happy Festivus, Kate and everyone else!

  29. My mom brined the turkey last year and didn’t think it worth the effort. I never tried it because I couldn’t think of what to put it in – mom did it in a cooler, why didn’t I think of that? My brother-in-law injects the turkey with all manner of flavored oily concoctions and then deep-fat fries it, which is terrific but I don’t think we’re going to invest in a ginormous deep fat fryer just for turkey (brother-in-law cooks for family feasts year ’round, since most everyone on that side has stayed in town except hubby and they get together right regular).

    I can make gravy but usually use packets of gravy to extend it for holiday meals. I’m thinking about making pork chops with gravy and smashed potatoes tomorrow, because that sounds good and I’ve been so sick Christmas dinner never crossed my mind. I got the pork chops right before the latest bug laid me out. If I’m feeling good I’ll do pork chops with gravy; feeling poorly and I’ll have hubby throw them in the crock pot for me.

    I used to love candied yams for holiday dinners, but now I make yams all the time with butter and brown sugar for middle daughter as a snack before ballet so they’re not exactly a treat any more. I generally make an overnight salad for holiday dinners, where you fill a 9×13″ pan with torn lettuce and spinach, with radishes and green onions and green peas and crumbled bacon sprinkled over, covered with a good coating of ranch dressing made with sour cream and mayo. Often as not I’m the only one who eats it with the dinner, though – I think most people just want the turkey and potatoes and dressing and gravy.

    Eating a variety of foods does not have to mean eating from the four basic food types (or whatever the current count is) every meal.

  30. I’ve been meaning to try grating butter for pastry. Maybe I should make a pot pie next week.

    Tonight I made cassoulet (Mark Bittman’s quick version with canned beans, not a multi-day extravaganza) and pumpkin bread. Tomorrow is Sherlock Holmes followed by hubby making pork roast, smashed yams, and green bean casserole.

    I do know how to make gravy, but I don’t generally find it needed with smashed yams.

    Yes we are non-traditional. ;)

  31. chava:

    The Mythbusters have been known to be wrong, although it pains me to say it. And I think it did fool Kari (a former professional martini taster), so it might have some merit.

  32. Meanwhile, maybe someone could tell me why Christmas makes me more susceptible to yeast infections.

    I don’t know how it is for you/in Portland, but this is the time of year when I start wearing tights all the time…?

    Eating a variety of foods does not have to mean eating from the four basic food types (or whatever the current count is) every meal.

    Very true. It’s just the specter of being judged by company that makes me think I should be serving steamed broccoli with Christmas dinner.

    The brussels sprouts recipes sound great to me, btw, and they would be my holiday green of choice, but Al hates them like I hate olives (i.e., beyond words), so that’s out.

  33. harveypenguin:

    It didn’t fool the vodka aficionado they brought to test, who was able to line up the vodkas from most to least filtration based on taste alone. The good vodka, he said, was far and away better than even the most filtered swill–it broke my heart, too–and pointed out that after you buy ten Brita filters, you could probably just have sprung for decent stuff for the same price.

    I am a total MB geek.

  34. 1. Scrambled eggs are thousands times better when done with butter! I love scrambled eggs but always really liked them when my mother-in-law would make them. I couldn’t figure it out–I mean, like your friend said, it’s scrambled eggs for god’s sake. Then I happened to watch her prep them one day and she threw a huge dollop of butter in the pan–so much better than my usual Pam!
    2. Green Vegetable: 1. Green beans with almonds and garlic–toss it all in a pan with a little olive oil and heat. 2. Brussels sprouts, a little oil, with alredy cooked crispy bacon toasted up on a baking sheet in the oven.
    3. Start serving the vodka as soon as your guests arrive, everything will taste better :-)
    Hope you have a great day!

  35. I am fortunate enough to be both a) sorta young enough that my parents are still semi-in charge of holidays and b) out of town on vacation (thanks to said parents) for Christmas, so I do not have to plan meals, or be in charge of organizing a party.

    However, I had to delurk and chime in on this one, because if there is one thing that makes me absolutely neurotic, it is having people (as in, anyone other than myself and my boyfriend) over to my apartment.

    This is due entirely (or at least I blame her for it!) to my mom, who is one of those women who manages to keep her house clean to a very high standard, always has something planned for dinner, and works a full time job. She also is the queen of throwing a great party, complete with all the trimmings, to a level a bit lower than Martha Stewart’s, only because my mom does not hand-make her party decorations. Now, I know, because I’m her daughter, that she can do this because she never sits the hell down and relaxes, and that really, her need to always be ready for company is absolutely nuts and is really unhealthy and probably due to unresolved issues with her parents or something.

    But. I still manage to get absolutely crazy whenever I have people over.

    I can completely sympathize with trying to remind yourself that despite the supposed ideal, we don’t actually need to go crazy and do things we’d never do otherwise to throw a great party!

    I was reminded of this recently when at a party at a guy friend’s studio apartment. He threw it for his girlfriend’s return to the country from 3 months abroad, and invited a bunch of friends. He’d obviously cleaned, and made chili and cocktail wieners. People brought alcohol, and we all had a wonderful time. No one seemed to think he needed to do anything else, so why do I think I need to do anything extraordinary? People have fun at a party because of the other people there, not because of the trimmings.

  36. I read the last few comments and panicked because for some reason I thought “the vodka thing” referred to the practice of using chilled vodka in a pie crust instead of water, and that it was being debunked. Whew! *That* vodka thing does work, I promise. So, Kate, if the Brita’d vodkas suck you can throw them in the freezer and make like eighty-five pies.

    Anyone else stuck in a blizzard tonight? It’s icing and snowing bad enough here that the interstate’s closed and I’m kinda worried we’ll lose power.

  37. For the second year in a row, I am skipping the stress of being with my family for Christmas dinner. This year, my best friend is cooking everything (but at my house) and his younger brother, plus one of our other friends is coming over to eat. It’s the first time that I will host a large meal, although I think I’m going to be drinking too many mimosas to do much beyond mash the potatoes.

  38. If you have a large enough bucket or cooler, brining the turkey is hard to screw up, and I think it makes the bird enough tastier to make it worth the effort, but it does take advance planning and you can make a perfectly good turkey without it.

    I’m not a big fan of tinfoil (steams the bird, no crispy skin) or buttered cheesecloth (pain to peel off), but of the two, buttered cheesecloth is way better.

    My mom isn’t very good at gravy either and always delegates it to me when I’m on hand for a holiday feast. And I was cracking up at midcentury furniture gravy too!

    Lately my holiday contribution has become Potato-Leek Soup, no matter what else is on the menu, because it’s something that my vegetarian kid will reliably eat, and everyone else likes it enough to consider it a worthy addition.

    And the Traditional Holiday Booze always makes for an easier holiday! My grandmother favored Bloody Marys. My oldest cousin taught me to drink Mudslides at a Thanksgiving when I was 15. My mom likes fruity girly drinks like Apricot Sours that still have a solid kick to them. And a local friend who hosts holiday meals is all about the Traditional Holiday Brandy Alexanders.

    Tonight I just spent at home with my housemate (although I’ve got a batch of overnight dough in the fridge that will, with luck, be cinnamon rolls tomorrow morning) and I DID do the rum and eggnog — Gosling’s Black Seal, and Lactaid eggnog which is better than I expected, and some fresh nutmeg grated over the top. I’m feeling festive!

  39. I’m not fond of a brined turkey, because I actually prefer the more al dente texture of an unbrined turkey. However, GOBS OF BUTTER is a turkey secret too. Never goes wrong. You still get fork tender turkey without the same softness.

  40. Re: scrambled eggs, yes, butter is good. So’s a bit of cheese. My parents would always add milk or water to the eggs and were blown away when I made them with just eggs, a touch of salt and pepper, and cooking them in butter.

    OTOH I can speak well of how my dad would make over-easy eggs in bacon fat.

  41. You shouldn’t brine frozen turkey (or other frozen meats), because frozen meat is already pumped full of saline. We used a fresh Turkey, and brined it in a plastic bag in our fridge.

    I used this recipe for the turkey we cooked for Thanksgiving and the gravy:

    Note the gobs of chopped bacon, herbs and butter stuffed under the skin all over the turkey. It was awesome.

  42. Jerome: ::vegan fist bump:: I spend all winter wishing someone would bake me cookies. But they don’t, so I make them myself. I would totally bring you some.

    I’ve only cooked for people a few times and it was unbearably stressful. Now if I think I have to cook for people, I freak out and come up with some reason why I can’t. (And, yeah, it makes me feel like I fail at femininity.) I might create a policy of making people bring their own dinners or PB&J for everyone.

  43. My grievance is that it is apparently fucking impossible to get photos off my phone other than emailing them to myself one. by. one. What the fuck, Verizon.

    (I have a new phone. I was supposed to get it in October, but because organizing my family is like herding cats, I got it yesterday. Trying to salvage the information from my old phone is irritating the living shit out of me.)

  44. I used the Pioneer Woman turkey brine and roasting recipe when I made turkey this week (brother’s family visited early), and it was really, really good. I got a clean bucket from Home Depot and kept it in the garage to brine the turkey in – plenty cold enough, but I stuck it in a bigger bin and put some ice around it to feed my own spoiled-food neurosis. The gravy wasn’t too salty, either, but I know how to make a roux.

    Kate, you could check out the Pioneer Woman directions on making gravy and see if any light bulbs go off. I leave out the giblets (and other organs), but otherwise make it the same way.

  45. Yeah…I tend to gravitate towards people who do that cooking thing on holidays. The bff loves baking and her mom does the rest of the cooking (really well I might add). If I were alone on the holidays I’d be having pizza or something.

  46. I completely back you up on not trying new stuff just before a big get-together Kate. However, I made my first attempt at tempering chocolate just this past Tuesday and totally kicked ass. I only did it because I’ve been wanting to try for a long time and have two weeks off from work, so I was well rested and had the time. It was a just a bonus that my success enabled me to gift delicious chocolate treats to family. Otherwise I would have stuck to sugar cookies and the like.

    I also feel that urge to be Super Hostess, and I have no idea why. My family was very introverted when I was growing up. My parents didn’t have friends, and they only hosted a few family gatherings. I didn’t learn how to be a host until I met my husband and saw his mom in action.

    I’m also wondering how many people in general can’t make gravy and don’t cook with butter. Because my family’s all over that. Is it a Southern thing? When I got my first apartment, my mom thought I was prissy for buying canola oil to use in cooking. Why not use real fat, you know, the stuff that tastes good? (I still used butter, just not with every. single. thing.) Oil was just not really around or affordable to my parents and grandparents living in rural Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi in the 30’s and 40’s. That was for rich folk.

  47. we also have rum and eggnog, because it’s one of those things I think I should have, even though people rarely end up drinking it.

    Hmm. May I come over and sit in the corner drinking the rum and eggnog? I’ll amuse your guests by telling anybody who bothers me something about Lord Nelson. Increasingly weird things about Lord Nelson as the evening wears on.

  48. My parents fried EVERYTHING in bacon fat. We poured it from the skillet into a coffee can, then used it for frying. When the coffee can got full or the coffee ran out, we chucked it and started It was miles better than Pam or margarine (“oleo” back then) but not nearly as tasty as butter. And it cost nothing, unlike butter, which was and is expensive. One of the things that reminds me I’m not really poor despite financial troubles is that I can afford butter. :)

    I HAD conquered my guest neurosis, but my degenerative muscle disease has gotten to the point that I just can’t cook a meal myself. Now, 8 year old twins who need to start learning to cook and relatives who all love to cook helps this situation a lot. At Thanksgiving, though, I felt devastated and ashamed that my dad did most of the cooking after I did the stuffing (with Katie’s help for the butter boiled veggies part cuz I can’t stand for over 4 minutes usually) and herbed the turkey with olive oil. I was too tired to do much after that. :(

    I make good gravy, with a couple of secrets: I use equal amount of broth and milk/half & half/cream, and keep the heat low (medium to melt the roux, then medium-low or low the rest of the time). The roux fat:flour ratio is 1:1. The learning curve IS steep on gravy. I can make it so easily because I started making cream sauce from roux and milk when I was about seven. So I had over a decade of practice by the time I was an adult and cooked for people. I usually had roomies who were fun to cook with. As a wee girlie I liked helping with cream sauce and gravy because I could read a book while I cooked them! I just learned to check for boiling and get the kinesthetic feel for thickness. I still find that singing or reading a book help me be patient with the longer time low heat requires.

    To all who celebrate it, Merry Christmas. To all who don’t, merry day off. Unless you have to work, in which case I’ve got nothin’ for ya. :)

  49. To the briners: I’ve had just as good results with a dry “brine” (can’t be a brine without water, but that’s what the kids are calling it, so who am I to argue?). Just rub your turkey in lots of salt and leave it for as long as you would a brine, then rinse and go.

    Totally as delicious.

  50. Wow, flour has a “use by” date in the US? Ok, it may do here, but I’ve never looked for one. Anyway, it would hardly be a health issue, although maybe a quality one – does the gluten protein in high-gluten bread flour “get tired”? If I open the packet and nothing moves, it’s good enough for me.

    Similarly with things like Worcestershire or soy sauce, or pretty much anything that isn’t full of fats that can go rancid, proteins that can go off, or sugary liquids that can ferment. Keeping grain-type staples lying around in the cupboard forever won’t be great quality-wise, but I feel pretty certain it won’t kill anyone.

    Regarding gravy, I am the gravy queen – I use about 1/4 cup of pan juices (there should be a few tbl of fat in there, but not all of it – if not enough, butter helps), a few teaspoons of flour, and away from the heat, make a roux. Then on a medium-low heat, cook the roux till it begins to bubble, add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, salt and white pepper, then gradually add water from the peas you’ve just boiled unto make up a couple of cups. Simmer while stirring till it thickens and bubbles, check seasoning, nom.

    I don’t know how you can’t have at least peas with the xmas feast. Also, the poms are big on brussels sprouts (those are roasted too), but you can keep those devil veges away from me.

  51. Even I, the egg hater, will eat scrambled eggs if you add enough cheese to them. Though at that point you may as well call them melted-cheese-with-a-vague-hint-of-eggs.

    Like Rikibeth, I had a Mom who entertained in a way that would have made Martha Stewart feel inadequate, as a result of which I don’t like giving dinner parties at all, even though I love to cook. Too much pressure. Dinner for a couple of people, fine, but dinner parties seem like a great way to get really stressed out and still feel like you’re not doing enough.

    This year I’ll be spending Xmas watching Avatar at the IMAX and eating out with a friend. Yeah, I know it’s a silly movie with no plot, but at this point mindless eye candy sounds ideal. I did however buy Diestel turkey sandwich meats and will be eating turkey sandwiches as my concession to the season.

    Hey, I’m making black eyed peas for New Year, that’s enough seasonal food for me.

  52. We (me, boyfriend and girlfriend – polyamorous triad) are currently at a motorway service station on the way to the girlfriend’s parents for Christmas. I hand made mince pies as my girlfriend is allergic to oranges, and yesterday she got to eat the first mince pie in about 15 years. I was unable to find a vegetarian Christmas roast at the local supermarket and had just picked up some tofu. When my boyfriend got home from work yesterday he had been and bought a Linda McCartney vegetarian roast complete with stuffing!

  53. Delurking to wish everyone Happy Festivus!

    I’m a gravy queen, too, although I’ve spent years working on it. I’m a huge fan of half pan drippings/half butter with flour for the roux then I use milk instead of broth. It’s milky, buttery goodness over hand-mashed potatoes with the skins left on.

    For a yummy turkey, especially with a crispy skin, I rub the bird with olive oil, then salt and stuff and roast uncovered, basting every 30 minutes.

    I’m sad because for the first time in my life I’m going to miss Christmas with my family. I’m currently contagious with a nasty cold and we’ve vowed not to expose my mom to any viruses since she keeps ending up in the hospital with pneumonia. So I will be napping with the furry kids and a box of kleenex. Make up holiday will occur when I’m better.

  54. You should have plenty of wine while cooking, and then everything will taste brilliant even if it’s burnt to buggery. And if it doesnt, you can pick a brawl with the first rude sod that judges you. This is my fail safe plan, and it guarantees festive cheer. Enjoy!

  55. “Divorcetini”. Heh.

    You know, after I read this last night I thought about the big meal we’d eaten at my cousin’s party earlier in the evening. I don’t think there was a green vegetable or fruit anywhere in the spread, unless you count what was in the salsa. We had tamales, baked ziti, potato-cheese casserole, meatballs, and way too many appetizers and desserts. I don’t want to eat that way every day, but it was delicious last night.

    And bumerry, word on the bacon grease. My parents had a coffee can of it, too. And my uncle always refried his pinto beans in it. SO good.

  56. My mom is the gravy mistress. She’s in China this year though, so I bought gravy in a jar, ’cause it worked just fine at Thanksgiving. Must remember when mom gets back that next year she is required to teach me the secrets of gravy.

    I’m hosting a small dinner at our home here this year, just me, the husband, the baby and his brother and my sister. Everyone else left town for Christmas. We’re keeping it fairly simple too – turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, a bagged salad ala Dole, corn from a can, and a Jell-O instant cheese cake for dessert. No stuffing, none of us eat it.

  57. Butter is totally my cooking fat of choice, unless I’m cooking so hot that it would burn. I don’t think I’ve ever done eggs in any other fat, actually. I usually rely on the foaming stage of the butter to tell me when the pan is hot enough for my omelette.

    Today’s chicken is getting seriously buttered. It makes everything better. Although there will be a certain amount of goose fat hanging around for roasting the potatoes, so I will probably use that too. Basically, fat just rules.

  58. My folks had a coffee can of
    bacon grease also. I can’t say I ever saw them using it to cook though. Maybe it was a habit my mom picked up from her parents.

  59. We had a special tin for bacon grease – it had a top removable strainer that would catch the bacon bits, and the fat would drip through. I don’t remember noticing what all my mom used it for, but it was always on the stove.
    I’m just coming off of a couple-of-week carb and fat kick, and am craving vegetables. So yesterday I tried sauteeing turnip greens and mixed them in with some ravioli – fantastic.

  60. There are 30 goddamn people at our family holidays, and there was a revolt of epic proportions years ago when it became clear that basically 3-4 women were responsible for feeding the horde, and they finally said FUCK YOU GUYS. The solution? Take out. I shit you not. On Thanksgiving, the turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pies are provided by a Luby’s cafeteria, and then everyone brings a single side dish or dessert prepared ahead of time.

    For Christmas, we order up three trays of enchiladas from a local Mexican food restaurant, but everyone has usually gorged themselves on queso and guac before we can even think about the enchiladas. It. Is. Awesome. (And provides totally amazing leftovers for days afterwards). And I am, right now, almost drooling as I think about it. All it requires effort-wise, is someone remembering to call ahead, since a take out order for 30 apparently takes a few hours. No one has ever complained about this change of arrangements, and the moms get to watch football and sit around getting drunk like everyone else.

  61. It was Mythbusters who did the vodka and Britta thing. They put it through 6 brand new filters and it taste as good as the top shelf stuff. But the filters were so expensive that the expensive vodka was cheaper. Since I assume you don’t have 6 Brita filters standing by, maybe you can put it through the same filter 6 times with good results.

    My holiday meal stress is all over except for the aches and pains. For Christmas Eve, I make 2 lasagnas (one meat, once cheese), plus salad and garlic bread at my mom’s house because I live too far away from the rest of my family for us to do it at my place. Unfamiliar kitchen, the cheap cheese that my dad bought, 3 hours on my feet. Feh. Fortunately, I’m moving closer next year, so I’ll be doing it at home from now on.

    I complain that my family is too picky (especially the adults) for me to be able to try new recipes, but it does make meal planning easy.

  62. I love to cook and bake, but I have an awful habit of testing out new recipes on company–most of whom are not as adventurous eaters as my own family. This year for xmas eve? I made a persimmon cheesecake that no one outside of my family even *tried* (I did have “safe” desserts, too). It was FABULOUS.

    Some are misses, like the carmelized pumpkin trifle I made for thanksgiving. Gross. Or the cranberry trifle I made the year before that. SO sour.

    So, basically, holidays are not the time for testing recipes.

    Also, I can’t have a meal with out some kind of vegetable. It just doesn’t feel right. (This years vegetable? ceasar salad. Yes, it counts.)

    Oh, and food safety? If it doesn’t smell bad, look moldy, buggy, or rotten, it’s edible. The end. (of course, I also participated in the salmonella/tomato outbreak last year, so mine is perhaps not the best advice.)

  63. I’m about to host my second-ever New Years Eve party so it’s been way helpful to read all the good advice. I’ve thrown other parties that were quite successful that I really didn’t enjoy much because of that very host anxiety y’all describe. I’m having this one (with help from friends) because of a greater anxiety: worrying about what to do on NYE-I always feel so frantic about trying to have a good time that I seldom do. Found that others feel the same way so we’ll be doing that together this year at my place. I saved out a few fireworks from July 4th and have lots of firewood for indoors and out. A little food and a lot of drink will dispel those nagging leetle holiday demons…

  64. The inevitable crisis is upon us! Turkey that’s been in the fridge since Monday is not completely thawed. It’s in the sink now, but we will apparently be eating late.

  65. Mom’s doing the dinner, so all I have to do is bring mashed potatoes, and I’ve already supplied her with baked goods. Everything is low sodium this year for my brother. Nonetheless, I received a gift basket full of high sodium stuff that the rest of us can snack on.
    I get very Martha Stewarty for my Christmas baking. I had to make a conscious attempt to scale back on the obsessiveness this year. I notice the difference but no one else does, I think.
    I am pleased to report that the no-knead stollen is pretty tasty. It’s much easier than the more traditional recipe that I’ve been using.
    I don’t get too wound up about holiday meals with family, and usually just make old-standby stuff that doesn’t need a recipe. My ex was a total foodie, so I’d get more obsessive if I was cooking a special occasion meal for him or taking a dish over for one of his dinner parties.

  66. I know we Shapelings don’t generally dig on Alton Brown for his fatty-hating ways, but teh spouse and I have been using the Good Eats turkey recipe for years now and haven’t had a miss yet. It involves brine, then cooking at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes to brown and crisp the skin, then slow cooking to temperature. It makes turkey breast that is fork-tender and doesn’t need gravy.

    Having said that, I do okay with gravy. (Actually am having leftover mashed potatoes with my homemade gravy right this minute!) Equal parts drippings and flour, toast as roux, water to slightly more runny than desired, heat to appropriate consistency. I use milk instead of water if I’m doing fried chicken or breakfast sausage gravy. But then again I’ve been making gravy for my family for a few decades now.

    Totally with you on the freaking out hostess thingy. I make too much food and waste too much energy on whether the house is clean or not. If I could afford it I’d probably be getting Martha Stewart on everyone’s asses. Fortunately, our guests this year were teh spouse’s friends, so I wasn’t as pressured to prove my domestic goddesshood, or something.

  67. I’d signed up for a weight loss newsletter ages ago that I keep forgetting to unsubscribe to and/or move to the trash. Today’s tip is to “remember your goals” when reaching for that pecan pie.

    For fuck’s sake, it’s Christmas.

  68. Kate – same! I put it in the fridge on monday. Good grief, what stays frozen for 4 days in a refrigerator? (yes, yes, a 16 lb turkey evidently…)

  69. Kate:
    So long as you can pry the giblets out, it’s thawed enough. Just don’t cook it at over 350 degrees, and be good about basting it once in a while (no need if you bag it, and “once in a while” means hourly, not every six minutes.) It will be fine. Just believe your meat thermometer/little popup thingie.

    Also, if part of it is insufficiently cooked, you will know, and there will be plenty to feed your crowd while you put the rest back in for fifteen or twenty minutes.

  70. Our family always eats greens on Thanksgiving and Christmas, because we season them properly with bacon fat, and damn straight they’re part of the feast. I don’t understand why you northerners don’t do that more.

  71. For Christmas, my mother puts out a potato-and-cheese casserole (premade by me on Saturday and frozen until popped in the oven a few hours ago), a ham (unheated) and a smoked turkey (same.) There’s bread and deli cheese on the table, and huge amounts of chocolate and clementines. Also, paper plates and cups.

    This menu or variations were set the year my mom planned a huge ole Christmas dinner (turkey and trimmings) and ended up delivering my brother Seth instead. The family ate turkey. The hospital cafeteria was closed, so she ate baloney sandwiches. From that time forth, it’s been undemanding foodstuffs and leftover stocking booty.

  72. The young’uns of our family are now old enough to do bits of the cooking. So my mother wrangled the turkey and potatoes and provided the gingerbread, my brother ran the read through the blender for the stuffing, I did a cake and sliced up the sprouts and broccoli (green vegetables are also improved with butter), and my sister did pies, glazed carrots and parsnips (oil, honey, thyme and pepper, mmm) and generally bossed the rest of us about.

  73. @Em: My partner actually baked fabulous vegan chocolate chip cookies for us last night (along with cornbread and gingerbread). I wish I could bring you some! My cooking ability is limited to spreading PB on a bagel and removing Pop-Tarts from the toaster (hello, male privilege), so it’s good that he knows how to cook! Anyway, our vegan atheist non-celebration will continue tonight after work with more baked goods…

  74. My solution to gravy is to use the pan juices instead of water (sans the fat) when making the dry turkey gravy mix. It ends up tasting yummy and is super easy. Also when we can find the turkey breasts in the stores we throw ’em in the slow cooker with a stick of butter mmmmmm.

  75. I was all prepped to make casserole and stuffing and sweet potatoes tonight (for just me, as a late Solstice), but don’t feel like cooking or eating those things.

    Amy’s frozen green-chile-and-bean burritos for the win.

    Now I feel like a total slacker, so I’m breaking out the booze. After three glasses of wine, I think I’ll be pretty pleased with myself.

  76. I’ve always been a super well-trained, domestic goddess-in-training kind of gal. I really enjoy cooking and hosting people. I even embrace cooking for tens of people.

    But when I was younger this was definitely tinged with a kind of neurotic, people-pleasing, martyrdom complex that ensured that I would spend all my time for days before and during stressing about everyone else’s needs apart from my own. Home-made filo pastry being a perfect example of that kind of thinking…! What on earth was I thinking? Who does that?!

    Now I tend to plan menus that suit me (and people’s dietary needs of course) and free me up to actually enjoy the parties I host, rather than be stuck in the kitchen or stressing about really nitpicky specifics. It means prepping loads in advance so the actual cooking is minimised. It means cooking daubes and casseroles that can simmer happily for an extra half hour or so, not steaks that must be done to order. It means titivating pre-prepared roast parsnips by adding honey, mustard and thyme to them (45 mins in total roasting) and not doing from scratch (45 mins roasting plus another 45 mins peeling, parboiling and etc). Ultimately, it means just going easy on myself!

    Don’t get me wrong, I can still spend days, even weeks, planning meals for special occasions, but always with my own enjoyment and needs in mind now from the shopping to the prep to the cooking on the day. I’m a good cook and I love doing it. But the feeling I have now with it means if I wasn’t and didn’t, I would buy it all pretty much done and ready-made at some of our great quality supermarkets (Marks and Spencer and Waitrose) and think nothing of it. Because nice friends and family would and should still appreciate the effort I’d made to host them*. And if they didn’t, they would be off my guest list pronto!

    *caveat: particularly in the case of copious booze being provided :-)

  77. WestEndGirl–
    I’m kinda domestic-goddess-like myself (she says modestly) but, like you, my big secret has always been to cook only things that require no actual thought to speak of. Fancy food is for experimenting when there’s time and no pressure. Sometimes it turns into dinner-party food, sometimes it doesn’t, but if it’s a pain or a disappointment, it’s just dinner. I can always make quesadillas instead.

    There’s nothing less sensible than hostessing yourself into the ground, then spending the party alternating between panic in the kitchen and glassy-eyed exhaustion at the dinner table. I’ve got a duh lasagna, a couple of cheap-ish roasts, an easy salad, some rockin’ saffron rice and a cold poached salmon dish that do rotation at my table when guests are invited. People go nuts over any/all of them, and they’re pressure-proof. Last-minute prep is only okay if it’s family I’m feeding, and I can make my brother get the salad together, my father barbecue or my mother whip the cream.

    Okay, the family has finished the stupid action movie du jour and I can venture back into public. Happy day, all!

  78. Kate,

    I hope you’ve gotten to eat by now. Why is it that meat cannot thaw on command?

    We did a pot roast today for us and my parents, and this morning I sat bolt upright in bed at 6:45 AM- I’d been woken from a sound sleep with the thought that the damn roast wasn’t going to thaw in time since it was just sitting in the fridge. I was up at 6:45 filling up a kettle with cold water for the damn roast. It ended up being totally worth it, though. The husband worked some culinary magic (including browning the whole thing in butter before sticking it in the oven), I roasted some veggies to go with it (because we love roasted veggies) and my parents cleaned their plates. My dad declared it “awesome”.

  79. Turkey crisis was not so bad! 30 minutes in the sink got it thawed enough that I could get the neck and giblets (and remaining ice crystals) out, and it actually roasted faster than expected, so we ate just when I had planned to.

    BUT. Because I was stressing about being 30 minutes behind, I decided to fuck the cheesecloth and all other Martha instructions, and just go with the recipe from The Basic Gourmet, which is by far the best cookbook investment I ever made. Every recipe is dead simple, foolproof and GOOD. (At first, I resisted using it, because the recipes all sounded a bit boring to me, but it’s just that they don’t fuck around with bells and whistles. It’s all about the bare minimum required to make something really yummy.) I did go off-script a bit in prepping the bird — rubbed butter instead of olive oil all over it, added a bit of poultry seasoning, and threw onion, fresh sage, and half a stick of butter in the cavity — but I followed the roasting instructions (don’t truss it, don’t put anything on top of it, just calm down and stick the fucking thing in the oven at 350), and it worked beautifully.

  80. I read through this whole thing and didn’t see anyone mentioning that you can get turkey or chicken gravy in a can. How easy is that?

    I make a glaze by nuking a whole stick of butter and stirring in a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar and squeezing the juice out of a few tangerines (or one orange). Baste the turkey with that the first two times, and then there’s enough drippings to baste every half hour after that. Cover the breast with foil about halfway through. I use the damn thermometer…I was too proud to use one for years, and I was stupid.

    For gravy, I use ALL the pan drippings and only a single tablespoon of flour, whisked in well over medium heat. Simmer for a while, add a little milk, simmer, add a little milk, keep scraping the bottom. That’s it.

    When the original gravy is 75% eaten, I stir in a can of gravy and it still tastes great. And when that is 75% gone, I stir in another can, and it still tastes great.

  81. We had a lovely Christmas dinner at a friend’s house: they bought a honeybaked ham and made mashed potatoes and crescent rolls out of a can, I brought a spinach/toasted pecan/craisin/feta salad with bottled dressing and a plate of homemade cookies and we sat around and drank wine and mead and had a wonderful time.

    My secret to gravy: a good glug of sherry. A good dry sherry, not cream sherry, and never cooking sherry which is just nasty. It’s also my secret to beef stew, beef barley soup, deglazing pans after roasting pork, etc.

    As for scrambled eggs: butter is good, but to my taste buds, bacon fat rules. I made a late supper after we got home of scrambled eggs cooked in bacon fat and oh, they were so good. So was the bacon. Nom.

  82. I don’t remember exactly when it was that I finally realised that there are no CCTV cameras in my house broadcasting a live feed to any of the following people’s houses: Martha Stewart, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsey, The Arbiters Of Taste And Cool Whomsoever The Fuck They May Be, my mother’s superego (not my actual mother, she’s groovy). Since then, I don’t avoid making roast dinners any more.

    If I can apply the same reasoning to my professional and work life neuroses, I’ll be golden.

  83. I don’t remember exactly when it was that I finally realised that there are no CCTV cameras in my house broadcasting a live feed to any of the following people’s houses: Martha Stewart, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsey, The Arbiters Of Taste And Cool Whomsoever The Fuck They May Be, my mother’s superego (not my actual mother, she’s groovy). Since then, I don’t avoid making roast dinners any more.

    “Arbiters of Taste and Cool”. Heh. I know exactly what you mean, and IMO they can go suck it.

  84. Kate, I think that may be what I embroider on dish towels from here on out: Just calm down and stick the fucking thing in the oven at 350.

    Those might make good kitchen shower/housewarming gifts, too.

  85. Ahh, turkey brining, I am never tackling you ever again. I’ve done it with success in the past, but the last time I tried, two Thanksgivings ago, I was brining it in a bin in the laundry sink (because it’s the only out-of-the-way place big enough) and my genius roommate decided to do laundry. The sink flooded, raw turkey juice and dirty laundry water and brine everywhere, and my other roommate’s parents who were visiting became convinced I was an awful cook. YAY. RoommateDad is a huge misogynist, too, so RoommateMom has lots of guilt issues about traditional femininity and ugh ugh ugh. Just a bad, bad holiday experience all round.

    I am slowly learning to make gravy that doesn’t blow. It seems to involve a lot of whisking, and low heat, as far as I can tell. And occasionally a strainer. Fortunately, my husband and I are the only ones in our house that like gravy, so it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t turn out.

    Kate, your 1, 2, 3 criteria are amazing! I will definitely be using them to determine big meals in the future, since I also get neurotic about Fancy Dinner Occasions. You are a lifesaver Brita > decent vodka does indeed work. You have to filter it like ten or fifteen times, so I’m not sure it’s worth the effort, but you do get some very clean, smooth vodka out of it. Of course, you also get very clean, smooth vodka by going to the store and buying a bottle of Stolichnaya, so, y’know. But yeah. There’s no reason it wouldn’t work, charcoal filtering is a huge part of the vodka-making process x.x

  86. Ooookay, my comment got a little screwy there. After ‘you are a lifesaver’ there should be a paragraph break, then “Oh, and regardless of what Mythbusters says, bad vodka through Brita filter to decent vodka…”

  87. I’m the official gravy maker for all family dinners. My gravy rules. It is the best evar.

    We used to host family events and really enjoyed it but since my fall and subsequent chronic pain and also since our basement cat decided she wanted to live upstairs and pee under the piano all the time, we don’t do much company. Nope, nobody can come over, the house smells like cat pee and I can’t clean as good as I used to clean.

    One of the big tricks to making good, non-powdery tasting gravy, is to cook the roux for a while before adding the liquids. Here’s my method for turkey gravy.

    Use the turkey baster to siphon off turkey fat from the roaster. Put the fat and a roughly equivalent amount of flour in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook until the flour is the color you want your gravy to be. Now, you can go one of two ways here. You can add the roux to the roasting pan, or you can tip the pan drippings into the roux. I usually add the roux to the pan because we use a big electric roaster and the gravy can continue cooking there. If you’re oven roasting, you want to tip the drippings.

    Add the drippings and as much turkey stock, chicken stock, or vegetable stock as you need for volume to the pan and bring to a boil, whisking continually. Turn the heat down to a high simmer and taste. Season if needed. (often, it’s not needed.) I have generally boiled the turkey neck with some salt, pepper, and sage and use that for stock. Some people use giblets at this point, they gross me out so I don’t.

    If the gravy still isn’t thick enough, add flour to equivalent amounts of olive oil and pour in slowly, whisking like mad.

    If you want, you can finish by adding a quarter cup or so of heavy cream, half and half, or just plain milk for an extra silky texture.

  88. Faore, that turkey-brining disaster is of epic proportions. Hopefully you’ll be able to laugh about it in time, despite the horrible roommate parents.

  89. Kate, when you wrote that the turkey hadn’t thawed in the fridge I thought “oh no!” That happened to me once and I thought that you had to thaw the bird all the way before you could cook it. So I thought of everything I could do to thaw that bird and did it all. One thing after another, all day long, putting the bird in warm water, in the microwave, blasting a hair dryer on it inside and out, and answering my father’s increasing piteous question: “When are we going to eat?” with “I don’t know.” I think we finally ate at about 9:30 that night. (If you could see my little freeze-frame memories of that day you would be laughing with me — the hair-dryer part was particularly ludicrous — but it wasn’t funny at the time. But my memories of getting madder and madder as the day wore on actually make it funnier for me now.)

    And to think that all I needed to do was put it in a 350 degree oven (once it had thawed enough to get the bag of giblets out).

    I make gravy like this and it always tastes just wonderful, but there is only a cup of it and sometimes it is thin and sometimes it is thick:

    Brown together 1 tablespoon of fat and 1 tablespoon of flour in a small saucepan. (I use pan drippings for the fat and add canola oil if I need to make up the tablespoon because there aren’t enough drippings.) Add one cup of liquid — I use broth if I’ve boiled up giblets or I add pan juices if I’ve got any. Then I heat it slowly, and stir it with a small wisk to get any lumps out. I’m never sure when it’s going to thicken, but it does take at least a few minutes — sometimes it feels like 10 minutes. I keep a pretty close eye on it because I don’t want it to boil over or burn. (It should just quietly simmer.) I’m not any good at multitasking and I don’t try to be doing anything else while I’m making gravy. It will thicken and the color will get less transparent. Then you pour it into your gravy boat or measuring-cup-that-you-use-as-a-gravy-boat or whatever. I don’t let it sit in the pan on the stove once it turns into gravy and I don’t know if further cooking would do something to it or not.

    This gravy is so good that I recommend that you try making it sometime when you are under no pressure to get a dinner party together. Besides, it’s fun to see it when it transforms itself into gravy.

    Bumerry: Oh, do I feel for you! Your girls are very lucky that you can direct their efforts, and assure them that the gravy is coming along fine (instead of their having to guess “Is it supposed to take this long? Is it supposed to look like this?
    Okay,this is ridiculous, I’m cranking up the heat — OH NO did I just wreck it?”) Do what you can, accept and return their love, and you will have given them a great treasure, much greater than the example of a good dinner well made and well timed.

  90. I have no grievances. Yay.

    We had 22 different kinds of cookies here for Christmas. Down from our all-time high of 26, but still respectable. :)


  91. I used to go all Martha Stewart during the holidays, too – or any occasion that required me to prepare food for lots of people. Looking back, I really don’t know why I bothered. I went to Culinary school, for God’s sake. Everybody who knows me knows I’m a great cook – dunno why I was forever trying to prove it. I finally got smart a couple of years ago and decided I’d enjoy Christmas more if I could actually take the time and, you know, enjoy Christmas (as opposed to being stuck in the kitchen all day). So now my Christmas dinner is almost entirely “heat n’ eat”. Spiral-sliced ham that needs to only be warmed in oven. Pre-made rolls, pre-made pie. Microwavable steam-bags of buttered corn and broccoli-carrot-cauliflower blend (the latter I dress up at the table with plenty of butter, garlic salt & Mrs. Dash). The only thing I make from “scratch” is au gratin potatoes, and since I start with refrigerated bags of pre-sliced, pre-cooked potatoes, those are ready to go in the oven in under 10 minutes. And you know what? Everybody still raves about what a great cook I am, and what a fabulous dinner we had, but I got to lie around on the couch watching DVDs with everybody else for most of the day.

  92. Almost effortless au gratin potatoes for a crowd:

    2 bags Simply Potatoes Homestyle Slices (sold with refrigerated hash browns)
    1 pint heavy cream
    Shredded swiss and cheddar cheese (1 8 oz. bag of each)
    Garlic salt, pepper, nutmeg, dry mustard

    Layer the following in a deep casserole dish: 1/2 bag of potato slices, sprinkle over garlic salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg and dry mustard. Cover with cheese – about 1 handful each of swiss and cheddar. Repeat, making 4 layers total. Pour heavy cream all over. Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350. Remove cover and bake 20 minutes more.

    Bask in the glow of admiration from your guests.

    (Note: I halve this recipe for family dinners, using 1 bag potato slices, smaller casserole dish, and 1/2 pint cream. I still make 4 layers, but I cook it for about 30 minutes covered and 15 uncovered. Still rocks.)

  93. 1. How does flour expire? I put mine in a ziplock to keep the beasties out and refrigerate the high-fat stuff (well, I did when I lived in a decent, warm climate before I was tricked by love and marriage into moving to the frozen nort’), but expire? Pffft, I say. Pfft.

    2. Butter. Yes, butter. If not butter, bacon fat. What? You are throwing your bacon grease away? Heresy! Toss not that bacon grease, you bacon-grease waster! Pour it into a jar, keep it in the fridge, and then use it for making your eggs, sauteing your green beans, making the roux for your gumbo, flavoring your collards, etc.

  94. Our Christmas dinner was ham, au gratin potatoes from a box, corn pudding, salad and coconut cream pie from Marie Callendar’s. It was one of the best holiday meals I’ve ever had.

    I can make gravy, but there are some really good ones in cans and jars, so that’s what I usually do.

    I found that my cooking skills improved drastically once I stopped stressing about making things “perfect”.

  95. It’s suddenly occured to me, having read multiple amazing posts about gravy nervousness, hints, tips and downright thrills, that I am an absolute gravy-making virgin.

    Thanks to being Jewish in a country where Sunday roast lunch rules absolutely, I just never have made gravy from scratch. Partly because traditional roast dinners never featured much in our house on Sundays (bagels and smoked salmon instead on the menu) and partly because of the weird irrational residual kosher issues where I’ll happily eat milk and meat mixed meals and love love love the pig stuff, but rarely cook them myself except in an a roundabout way. So any gravy has always been titivated packet/powder stuff with the (non-kosher!) meat juices added in, but G-d forbid I should add butter and make a roux, then that *really* would be non-kosher. :-)

    So I vow to thee oh Shapelings, I shall take your hints and tips and make gravy. Oh yes, I will make gravy. And it will be good! And when a suitable open thread arises, I shall report back. Oh yes, I will report back!

  96. “I’d signed up for a weight loss newsletter ages ago that I keep forgetting to unsubscribe to and/or move to the trash. Today’s tip is to “remember your goals” when reaching for that pecan pie.

    For fuck’s sake, it’s Christmas.”

    Personally my goal is to not be wierd and obsessive about food and to have a healthy, happy relationship with what I eat. So hey, I’d eat the damn pie if I wanted it.

    (If I liked pecan pie, which I don’t, but the principle remains.)

  97. I had no idea making gravy was A Thing. I was always in charge of it for big dinners, even as an irresponsible teen. We always had it right from the roast pan – add a generous spoonful of flour to the pan drippings and stir into a smooth roux on the stovetop, add hot broth a bit at a time, simmer and stir constantly until it reaches desired thickness, strain and serve. It’s probably wrong to put the roastpan right on the stove, but we always did it.

  98. No wonder people keep looking at me funny at holiday meals. We serve two kinds of greens, yellow, and red vegetables, in addition to several starches for those who like them, meats, and pie.

    I did not know that was wrong.

  99. I can’t do flour gravy for toffee, but I’m a corn-starch-making queen. I can’t promise no lumps, and I can’t always predict how thick the gravy will be, but I can get the job done. My mom taught me how while I was in grade school, because I liked hanging around in the kitchen while she worked, asking questions and observing, and getting stuck peeling and slicing. I can’t adequately describe how I do it, but I’ll be happy to make gravy for anyone I’m near, out of their pan juices, and let ’em watch me do it.

    For big family gatherings, we end up at my boyfriend’s sister’s home. She’s a professional cook, and makes a large feast. Last time we made it, I volunteered to bring veggies, on the grounds that I *like* veggies and also they make a nifty palate-cleanser. I brought a couple bags of frozen asparagus stir-fry mix veggies, that we steamed in the microwave, and it got eaten all up.

    This Christmas, we didn’t plan a big thing, or to go anywhere. I was scheduled to work, so would not have been part of it anyway. I lucked out, and did not have to go in. So there we were, just the two of us. No turkey, no ham. Himself slept in, then stretched out on the sofa with my cat, and slept for another five hours. So I ate breakfast and lunch by myself (lunch was macaroni and cheese with bratwurst sliced up into it). Then I took a nap. Then when I woke up and called my mom to wish her a happy Christmas, he opened his pressies with me not even in the room. Thbbbpt.

    So I dumped supper-making in his lap. He came up with very spicy baked chicken leg quarters, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and asparagus stir-fry. My contribution was some sweet potato pie I’d made a few days ago.

  100. The first time I made Christmas dinner for my husband and a friend, I went all crazy with the preparation – nice tablecloth, napkin rings, a fresh free-range turkey, expensive wine, etc. My husband did much of the work but I was the one who was freaking out that nothing would come out right. Everything was fine but our friend couldn’t have cared less about the preparation – I could have served him food on paper plates and Maddog 20/20 in Flintstone jelly glasses & he wouldn’t have noticed.

    NOW, we cook a turkey breast in our rotisserie, nuke some green beans in the microwave, open a jar or two of gravy and forgo with the tablecloth & schmancy stuff. I do make my own pies, pecan & pumpkin cream, but I use the refrigerated Pillsbury crust. I’m also really fortunate to have a husband who loves to cook and who can manage to juggle all the food so that it is ready at the same time, which is a minor miracle in my book.

  101. My uncle married a lovely Chinese woman, and her parents are out in Australia visiting, and they decided to cook Christmas lunch for our big extended family as a thank-you to us. So, for Christmas lunch, we had pork belly, egg yolk pork dumplings, garlic and chili prawns,deep fried eggplant, cold spicy beef, red bean dumplings and a sort-of terrine with cold rice and pork in red bean sauce that was to die for. I have forgotten some of the dishes, but there were at least 15. Incredibly exotic Christmas eats for what until now has been a very whitebread Anglo family!

    We also had the more tradish Aussie things like ham and prawns and green salad plus pavlova for dessert, in case anyone felt they missed out!

    Dinner with Mum’s family was the more traditional sort, with lots of cold ham and turkey and prawns and crab and my mother’s famously fabulous watermelon, mint and red onion salad. In a nod to our English heritage we did have a traditional Christmas pudding boiled for hours and served with brandy custard. Yum scrum.

    Thanks heavens most of the country rebelled against the English tradition of roast bird and veges somewhere in the 70s-80s – I can imagine it would have been intolerable in 35 degree heat.

    Plus, this year noone policed anyone’s portions and we had two lovely family get-togethers. Probably the nicest Christmas we have had for awhile even though it was the first without either of my grandmothers.

  102. Best gravy I’ve ever been lucky enough to make: after making a turkey breast and leg (a whole turkey would be just too much food for my partner and me!) thusly: brining for 6 hours, and then putting bacon underneath AND on top of the skin, take the drippings, put ’em in a sauce pan, and add enough flour to thicken.

    Brined-turkey bacon gravy. Magnificent.

  103. Hmmm… I dunno if you’ll like it, but this is my gravy recipe… really basic. It’s basically just a way for me to use up all the unwanted bits. It also doesn’t take much work since you’re just working in the gravy as you cook everything else.

    Assume general roast ingredients are: some meat (if eating meat), sprouts, chestnuts, potatoes, leek, carrots or other veg, stuffing.

    So! Gravy is made as follows:

    Finely chop one onion, add to a large, deep pan with enough water for the desired gravy quantity. When peeling the potatoes, reserve a handful of the skin and chuck in the pot with the onion. When removing excess leaves from the sprouts and top/tailing them, reserve a cup full of the discarded leaves and chuck in the pot. Anyskin, giblets, fatty bits or unwanted parts of the meat, reserve and chuck a cupfull in the gravy pot. The dark part of the leeks, chop up a cupfull and add to the pot. For any other veg (carrots, turnip, brocolli whatever) take the peel or other bits you don’t want to eat (but not carrot leaves), chop up a cupfull and add to the gravy pot. When the stuffing is made but not yet cooked, toss a few spoonfuls in the gravy pot. Take a few of the chestnuts, if you’re having them, split them and deshell, smash with the flat of a knife and chuck in the gravy pot.

    Put the pot on a low-medium heat to cook while the main roast cooks. As the meat cooks and the juices flow out into the dish, spoon these into the gravy pot while still cooking. When draining any boiled veg, add someof the leftover water to the gravy pot.

    If the gravy reduces too low (unlikely with all the extra juices) top up with a little water. When the food from the roast is all done, strain the gravy through a sieve into a clean pan. If it is too thin for your tastes, just beat in a little flour.

    If you want to go really fancy, add some chopped fat bacon to the gravy while cooking and, when it is done, chop a fresh onion, brown off in a pan, and add to the finished gravy for texture.


  104. Ok, I’m way late to this and perhaps someone up thread has posted something similar (if so, I sincerely apologize, I’m on a plane and it’s tough to read my tiny iphone screen), but here’s Cassi’s Fake Out Homemade Gravy.

    Take the turkey out of the oven and move it out of the pan you cooked it in. Pour a little water or broth (if you have it, I never do, but if you do, go for it) into the pan. Not a huge amount, maybe 2 cups. Just enough to scrape all the brown fatty bits off the bottom of the pan. Stir that around for a while. If I’m feeling really wild I will have put a quartered onion in the pan when I started cooking the turkey and it will be blackened at this point. When the water turns to brown sludge, strain it into a sauce pan and simmer it for 5 minutes to reduce (don’t add any flour), then mix in two jars of Heinz Roast Turkey Gravy.

    Commercial gravy is always bland and pale. Home made gravy is dark and rich. The black sludge water is basically very fatty turkey flavored food coloring which I add to any decent jarred gravy (I like Heinz best, but others are good too) and it looks and tastes like home made. The jarred gravy thickens the pan drippings without me having to make roux or even own a wire whisk (though I do have one… somewhere). It’s delish and could not be easier.

  105. “I am going to go make everything I can possibly make in advance, then sit down with a glass of wine and remind myself that the point of all this is hanging out with good friends, not getting an A+ in Traditional Feminine Duties.”

    i love you.

    not in the creepy-stalker internet way, i just love you. your thought process and mine should go have drinks together and skip our therapy appointments. HA!

  106. Am I the only person in the world that hates gravy? Whether lovingly made from pan drippings or from a mix or whatever. I just think it’s nasty. I do not judge those who like it. But gravy. ick.

    Not that I’m eating any turkey these days, not since going vegetarian w/ strong vegan leanings. Oddly enough, this shift has also curtailed some of my Martha tendencies. Though I did end up making twelve different kinds of vegan christmas cookies/candies, which I put in decorative tins to hand out to friends. But really, that’s nothing compared to the usual panic and feelings of inadequacy.

  107. Gravy really can be easy! I remove the bird from the pan, pick out the celery, onion, and garlic and place the roasting pan right on the stove over two burners on medium heat. In a two cup measuring cup, I put 1 to 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup of milk and about a cup of water and whisk it all together to get out all the lumps. Then, I slowly add the liquid in small amounts while whisking the roasting pan with a wire whisk. Heat everything up to a low boil stirring constantly. Add more of the liquid until you reach the desired thickness. Salt to taste.

    Cooking the gravy helps to cook off some of the flour taste and reduce lumps. Never let the gravy cook without whisking it or you can burn the flour and scorch the gravy. It should take 10 minutes, tops. The result is yummy gravy full of all the flavors from the roasting pan and your seasonings.

  108. I learned to cook mainly from my mother, who learned from her mother, who learned to cook as one of the daughters in a family of approximately twelve people (herself, nine siblings, her father and stepmother). The family joke is that we count dinner guests in troll – one, two, many, lots – and cater correspondingly. Other fun catering rules from my family:

    * The plate isn’t full if you can get your thumbs onto the edge of it.
    * Assume everyone is going to want to fill up on every dish, and missing out on something is a cardinal sin.
    * If you can still see the table, there’s still room for another dish on it.

    This year, myself and Himself weren’t hosting Chrimble. Instead, we got two Festivus meals – lunch (turkey, salad, roast spuds & hot food) with Himself’s parents, and dinner (seafood, cold meat, salad, sushi) with mine. Plus nibbles from both families, and I didn’t need to eat a proper meal again until last night (beef diane casserole with pasta). Tonight is going to be spag bol (because I have the mince thawing in the fridge, and if I make up a big batch, that’s dinner for about three days once it’s all frozen) with the leftover sauce available for turning into a base for chilli con carne or lasagne or whatever.

    Food safety for me is something I’m not so much cavalier as historically accurate about. I figure things like jams, jellies, marmalades, chutneys, sauces and other preserves were designed to ensure the long-term edibility of food despite a lack of refrigeration, so I don’t store most of them in the fridge, and I ignore the “best before” dates on them. So long as it isn’t “off”, it’s fine. Same with dried fruit and similar. As for flour, if I paid attention to the “best by” dates on the flour packets (and the sugar, and the breadcrumbs and every other type of dry goods) I’d never be able to keep anything in the pantry at all.

  109. Tea and dried spices are two other things that last a hell of a lot longer than their manufacturers want you to believe, as long as you don’t expose them to a lot of air. Celestial Seasonings wants you to toss your Red Zinger after two years, what a larf! There’s nothing in that stuff to go bad. Pass it on. (With all of those things, I’d say, if you can’t smell it any more, or it smells funny, toss it out. Otherwise it’s fine. Oh, and break the cinnamon stick in half before you smell it.)

  110. My dad comes from a farming famiy and hates foods containing (but not limited to) onion, garlic, herbs, spices, sauces or basically flavour of any kind. I wish I were kidding. If he sees a herb on a food he will not eat it. So for my entire childhood we literally ate a meat (sauceless, flavourless and overcooked), potatoes (made with skim milk and no butter bc my mum was on WW and consequently flavourless also) and one or two vegetables (boiled, with NO FAT ANYWHERE NEAR THEM) for our evening meals.

    We have just recently, as my mother’s adult children, persuaded her to introduce to Christmas dinner stuffing (bought) and gravy (from granules). I am still working on getting her to buy in a frigging packet of bread sauce because I love it and I will make it myself for chrissake!

    This whole thread is completely foreign to me. How do people make food like that? I do not understand.

  111. Oh, gravy. Gravy is a beautiful-but-evil substance, and it bested me ’till my mom divulged the secrets of Awesome Gravy to me. (My mom makes the best gravy on the planet. No, really. I’m serious.) Have you got a roaster pan full of drippings? Slam that down on the biggest burner you have! Possibly two, if said roaster is large enough. Did you steam up carrots to go with the bird? Great! Throw the carroty water into the pan. Not enough liquid? Eh, toss in broth if you’ve got it. Or water and an OXO pouch if you don’t. Make a slurry of flour and water, crank the heat, and add slurry bit by bit (a tablespoon or so at a time. Small amounts!) and stir like hell ’till things start to get thick and bubbly. Taste it! Season it if it needs it! I like to add a dash of soy sauce. Then pour the whole mess into a gravy boat… or just turn off the heat and leave it on the stove and let people spoon it out themselves. Whatever. My family’s gravy is unpretentious and lazy like that.

    Gravy is like magic. Any time I’ve tried to follow those nice directions the fancy chef-people lay out for me, it’s a disaster. I’ve no time for measuring things or straining out bits or making a perfect pristine clear sauce! The best gravy has STUFF in it, darnit. STUFF ADDS FLAVOR. Yum.

    This was a wonderful Christmas, even if my mom didn’t do the cooking. We learned of the wonders of broccoli casserole, which I am SO going to try and reproduce sometime. Broccoli, cheese (of the Cheez Whiz variety), bready bits, cream of mushroom soup… oh goodness, green vegetables DO have a place at the table! Aaaah…

    …I’ve never had much chance to manifest Kitchen Madness around the holiday season. I love to cook, but my apartment is tiny and I’m never in the position to be a host. I make desserts or appetizers, bring those to other people’s houses, and quiz people on their cooking techniques. I’m sure that someday I’ll have me some good old fashioned Kitchen Madness. It almost feels like it’ll be some sort of rite of passage.

  112. I had no idea making gravy was A Thing. I was always in charge of it for big dinners, even as an irresponsible teen. We always had it right from the roast pan – add a generous spoonful of flour to the pan drippings and stir into a smooth roux on the stovetop, add hot broth a bit at a time, simmer and stir constantly until it reaches desired thickness, strain and serve. It’s probably wrong to put the roastpan right on the stove, but we always did it.

    Sniper, ME TOO. We just put the roast pan across a couple of the burners, and alternate tossing in some flour with tossing in some broth. My favorite part about this method is that there is no measuring required: throw in some flour, whisk like crazy. Add some broth, whisk like crazy. Too thin? Another spoonful of flour! Too thick? Another splash of broth! Not enough gravy yet? MORE OF EVERYTHING!!

    The only thing I DID learn the hard way is that gravy will continue to thicken as it sits. Since our turkey is never carved on time, I always make the gravy just a LITTLE thinner than I want it to be. And while it’s true that this method doesn’t produce quite the same result as an actual, roux-based gravy, it’s still damn tasty. Like, eat-it-with-a-spoon tasty.

    Damn. Now I want gravy.

  113. Cayce – My goal, if I am reaching for the pecan pie, is to have some PECAN PIE, ffs! So maybe not such a bad diet tip, after all.

    Orodemniades: I must try this. Piecrusts are the BANE of my cooking existance. I have mastered most of my previous baking issues – mostly by reconciling myself to the fact that baking=chemisty and therefore I CANNOT eyebally it or wing it, I have to follow directions. However piecrust has eluded me. I had just about given up. You give me hope!

    I make a confession. Though I may seem like a foodie, in my heart of hearts, food is really a means to and end. Ulitmately, food is merely the most pleasant way to convey the salt and butter to my mouth.

  114. Proper easy gravy.

    At least 1 day before:
    Buy duck legs (other poultry would probably work, but duck has lots of fat). Put in slow cooker, or big pot on low heat, for some hours. Pour the liquid (which is almost pure fat) off the top into tupperware and put in the fridge. Eat the legs, as practice for Christmas.

    On the day:
    Make a pint of stock from cubes.
    Fry onions in a big roasting dish on a lowish heat. Scatter flour over, scrape into onion juice, fry more, repeat several times.
    Get duck fat out of fridge (it will now be solidish).
    Pour in stock and duck fat until it looks like gravy. Scoop out onions (or leave in, ‘s all good).


  115. Caitlin, I didn’t realize eating like that was farm-related, but my dad also grew up on a farm, and you have just described every meal we ever had when I was a kid. Everything was as bland as possible, and overcooked to boot. The only spices available in our house were salt and pepper, not that anyone used them.

    It wasn’t until I moved out on my own that I discovered that lasagna was not a disgusting creation that tasted suspiciously like stewed tomatoes and overcooked noodles! Steak could exist in a form other than inedibly well done and spiceless! Green veggies and butter were meant to be together! OH THE HUMANITY!!!

    I have (happily) gone completely in the opposite direction from the food of my childhood, and wield a mean spice rack. When I make food for my parents it’s generally eyed suspiciously, but ultimately eaten with a begrudging, “Hmm, not bad.” Not that they ever ask for the recipe. Baby steps.

  116. Totally off topic, can we get some kind of open thread as an escape from all the people whining about starting diets on New Year’s Day? I’m SURROUNDED!

  117. I hope everyone had a good holiday. Kate, this piece was hilarious. I’ve been off-line for a week and just want to chime in at this late date to say, in reference to the bacon-fat-saving subplot that’s been going on in this thread, my mother had one, too, and we called it Mommy’s Fat Can. This is funny because in our family we (1) didn’t use the word “can” to mean posterior, (2) didn’t disrespect our mom (we do now that we’re grown up, and she likes it because it’s funny), and (3) don’t make fun of each other’s bodies. Also, we don’t call her Mommy. Hence, Mommy’s Fat Can = hilarity.

  118. Piecrusts are the BANE of my cooking existance. I have mastered most of my previous baking issues – mostly by reconciling myself to the fact that baking=chemisty

    Cut 1 cup of butter (be bold and use lard and you’ll get a stiffer, crisper crust. Vegetable shortening is inferior to either) into 3 cups of flour until it looks like you’ve got a bowl of sand.

    Crack 1 egg into your measuring cup and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Beat that up and then add water until the total mixture measures 3/4 cup.

    Mix the two. Add flour to roll.

    The magic bit:

    When you’re rolling it, imagine that you’re doing it in a film by David Fincher. The camera zooms down shockingly to give a CGI-animated view of the microscopic goings on in your pie crust. There are these tiny sand-grain balls of flour and fat floating densely together in the egg-vinegar-water mixture. When you roll you flatten them into discs, but you want them to still float separately — the water in between them will turn to steam in the oven and push them apart, making the crust flakey. If you over-roll, you’ll mash the tiny discs into one big sheet and force the liquid to the surface, and it’ll be all hard and brittle and nasty if you bake it.

    This makes enough for, weirdly, three crusts. Meaning you can make one pie that has a top crust and one open-topped pie, or three open-topped pies. The extra freezes fine, it’s good for both sweet and savoury pies, and it seems to come out about the same even if the pie recipe you’re using calls for different temperatures than the last one you did.

    I usually make one topped pie and then use the extra for little jam-tarts made in the muffin-tin, or ‘hot-pocket’ things with the crust folded over whatever a bit of spaghetti sauce and some shredded cheese, or shreds of leftover meat and a few spinach leaves and cheese, or whatever’s around. Also good for a small roast — envelope the meat and herbs in crust.

  119. When you’re rolling it, imagine that you’re doing it in a film by David Fincher.

    OK, I have no idea if this will actually help me make a decent pie crust — and it could be years before I find out — but thank you for explaining that! I fucking hate recipes that are all “Roll it, but not too hard” or “Knead it, but not too much,” because I never know A) how much is too hard/much or B) WHY. Now, at least for pie crust, I know why.

  120. You’re welcome. I like why.

    My previous post true of any simple pastry and only slightly different for the ones that you fold over and over again.

    The ‘knead it but not too hard’ — when you knead it ‘activates the gluten.’ This meaningless phrase really means that when you knead you make the protein in the flour bond into long strands with crossy-over bits. Fats that are solid at room temperature inhibit this process, which is why they’re called ‘shortening’ in baking. Anyway. Imagine the dough as a bunch of socks and your kneading the action of the dryer. The more it tumbles, the more static builds up in the socks. Knead just a little, one good whack and the static charge is removed. That’s a dough that’s just stuck together enough to feel like dough, and it’ll make a tender, crumbly bread. Knead it a lot and it’s a big staticy mass and if you pull a couple of socks away they’ll zip back into the pile if you don’t separate them completely. Stretchy, elasticy dough, chewy bread that tears instead of crumbling. You need to work it enough that the little protein-molecule socks stick together enough to capture some gas from the levening so your bread can rise, but not so much that you make a chewy bread when you want a tender one.

    I hope you wanted me to tell you that.

  121. Grafton–Nice explanation! I’ve got some pie tips, too.

    For beginners, I’d recommend you use Crisco or other vegetable shortening, because it’s easier to maneuver into the pie shell. It’s less likely to break and leave you with crumbly bits in your hands. There is a taste difference, but it’s still yummy homemade pie crust, and you can do the butter thing after you feel more confident. In my family, it’s four cups flour and 1 2/3 c shortening, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar (if not making savory pies) for two top-and-bottom pie shells. The liquid is about the same–1 egg, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1/2 cup very cold water.

    With Crisco, you shouldn’t freeze it in lump form, or it will be difficult to handle. But you can roll out a pie crust, put it in a pan, and freeze it unbaked for a pumpkin or pecan pie, or baked for a cream or fresh-fruit pie. I only use butter for savory pies, because it’s finicky and I think the slightly richer taste is better with meats than with delicate sweet fillings. And I am not yet brave enough to try lard.

    The reason for the cold water, and the reason that many chefs use marble rolling pins and pastry counters, is that it prevents the fat from getting warmed up and soft and mushing into the liquid mixture. (Not that marble is necessary–just don’t store the rolling pin above the oven.)

    My mom always describes the shortening-flour mixture as being in pea-sized grains when it’s properly cut together. In fact, it’s mixed right when the pieces of fatty flour adhere to each other in ever-larger lumps when you run a fork through it. When you put in the watery egg (eggy water, whatev), mix with a fork until barely combined, then get a big handful (about 1/4 of the mixture) as if you were making a snowball out of pie crust. Put it on a well-floured surface and dust flour on top and on your rolling pin. Only roll it out once–twice makes a tough crust, and if I have to try three times, I’ll throw it out and start over, unless it’s Thanksgiving and I have no time flex. Pies, muffins and biscuits all take as little handling as possible in dough or batter form to get the best possible outcome.

    When you try to put the crust in the pie pan, use a well-floured spatula, flip it into a half- and then a quarter-circle, and move slowly. The outside bits can be folded back to make a thicker decorative edge, and breaks can be mended by pressing them back together with your finger. Don’t put the leftover bits into your next roll-out, though–just throw them away and start with the fresh stuff from your mixing bowl.

    [I’m going to follow that piece of unsolicited advice by saying that I made the Worst Sunday Dinner Ever this week, featuring a roast so raw it was bloody, a quarter-size burn on my right arm, a sponge cake that had to be scrapped when I accidently dropped two cups of salt and a bunch of broken glass in the batter, and a pair of dogs who decided to attempt to eat one of the guests’ shoes, for reasons unknown. The roast was originally put into the oven with plastic wrap still on it (my brother’s mistake, that) and the afternoon culminated in an hour and a half of having sixteen crabby people sitting around the dining room table eating cooling mashed potatoes while waiting for the roast to finally cook. When we had finally eaten, it was discovered that the emergency dessert–a berry cobbler–had been put into the oven, but the oven had been turned off instead of on. Add four children under the age of ten, and it was a zoo.

    [I think I will probably remember it with fondness. Maybe. Eventually. After the burn heals. But the gravy was good–thanks, everyone, for your advice!]

  122. Strange. Such similar recipes, but I can roll mine more than once, and do use the leftover bits.

    I roll it up onto the rolling pin* and use that to move it onto the pie-pan and unroll it over the pan. It is definately too fragile if it’s too warm so I might chill it a bit before rolling if I’ve been working in hot.

    *I don’t actually own a rolling pin, even though I make pies a lot. I use an old wine bottle. It is cheaper than a pin, especially a marble one. And it’s how my mother did it, so it makes me think happy things about her.

  123. Grafton–I think it’s the butter. It’s really a better fat base, but it is frustrating for newbies, while the Crisco is more prone to getting tough but much less likely to start fragmenting and freaking out a novice. And it’s the way my mom and my grandmother always did it, which adds something, like the wine-bottle rolling pin.

  124. Grafton – I’m loving your explanations. Why is using lard bold? My family has always made pie crust that way. I didn’t even know it was possible to make it using butter until a year or two ago.

  125. Grafton – thank you for the recipe & tip! I will add that to the grated butter tip and see how it works. Loved your explainations, too! I do understand the why’s of piecrusts, but the execution has been the issue.

    I think I am also challenged by living on the ocean. Seriously, the Atlantic is maybe 100yds off my front porch, and the next body of land is Portugal, I think. Anyway, the air in my house is always super-humid (and we have a wood stove going this time of year), and I always have to muck around with the water content when I make bread/pasta/pastry doughs. If I add whatever amount of water a recipe calls for, it’s inevitably too much, and any amount of time outside of a fridge gives said dough ample opportunity to suck up more water.

    At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    Becky, I think it’s because lard is pigfat. As we all know, ANIMAL FATZ=ZOMGDEATHFATZ followed by DEATH! Pig fat has somehow become the zomgdeathfattiests of deathfatz. My mom always made her piecrusts with lard, and she is one super-duper confectioner, I must say. Her lattice cherry pie renders me one giant pile of gustatory joy!

  126. Ah! That makes sense, Starling. I haven’t tried using vegetable shortening for years, and the last time it was because I asked my wife to buy lard and she came home with Crisco, having been misinformed by a store worker, and that time I used half butter for better flavour.

    I agree, ’bout doing it the way mother did. Sometimes one must follow tradition and damn the torpedoes, by funder.

    Becky — I think IrishUp’s got it. Lard is pig fat, and if you tell people something is cooked with lard a large percentage of them will say, “OH MY FUCKING GAAAAAWWWWD! GROSS! DEATH!” At least, in my experience.

  127. Grafton – back in the day, Crisco was lard or had a lard version. My mom’s people are from Appalachia, and I grew up hearing Crisco for lard, the way people say Vaseline for petroleum jelly or Kleenex for facial tissues.

  128. IrishUp, I like that humidity explanation. Making pie crust in Boston was more difficult than usual, and usual for me is the arid mountain west. (I don’t cook in NYC.) So there’s another data point for you.

    Grafton, I want to try the butter version when I make a savory pie next week, using your proportions for the butter to flour. No wine bottle, though–I’m visiting the parents, who are teetotal.

  129. My family is of a Very Traditonal sort, so holiday dinners have the typical formula of bird (turkey or duck or whatnot), meat of the four-legged variety (ham or beef), brussels sprouts, root vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings for Christmas. Imagine my delight and curiosity when visiting with my husband’s family for Christmas and being served a homemade deep-dish lasagna! The pan is 6-8″ deep and filled with cheesy tomatoey bacon-y meaty pasta-y goodness. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that holiday meals come in all different varieties.

    I once tried to make a sausage gravy to go over biscuits. It turned out quite horrid. Of course, I was also winging out a recipe, knowing that gravies consist of roux + flavoring + other things. I’ll find a recipe to stick to next time!

    Pies have always been daunting to me, especially since my mother made a Legendary Peach Pie for my father that she was never able to replicate despite many valiant attempts. He would mock her attempts, then wonder why she never made him any pie. :-\ I’ve read a bajillion books about pie crusts and this way to make pie crust and that way to make pie crust, and I’ve determined the only way to conquer this phobia is to finally make one of the dratted things and get over it.

    Also, I’m very sad to learn that bacon grease does have its culinary uses, since my parents kept oodles and oodles of cans and jars filled with the stuff (because they couldn’t pour it down the sink else it’d clog), but never did anything else with it except take up counter space.

  130. Why do I keep getting behind reading SP? This is awesome. I hope you had a fab day in the end.

    The reasons I love our strong Christmas food traditions is that a) I don’t have to plan the menu, b) I know I can cook all of it successfully, even if it includes instant gravy and c) lots of people who come can cook all of it successfully, so I can almost cede control of the kitchen to others if I try really hard.

  131. Starling — I hear that somebody’s grandmother used, not a wine-bottle, but a wide-mouthed shorter-necked bottle filled with ice-water. I am eying a certain glass milk-bottle thoughtfully.

  132. Why brine the turkey when you can just rub it all over with half a fresh orange? I schmear the orange half all over the turkey skin, then sprinkle poultry seasoning, tarragon, onion powder (anything that smells good, basically) onto the orange half, and stuff it inside the turkey cavity. The orange juice will help the skin brown w/out making it greasy, and the herby orange will help keep it moist without imparting little green bits into your gravy. Roast the turkey in a covered roaster, with an inch or water in the bottom, at a really high heat (400 F) for the first hour. After the first hour, remove the cover, turn the heat down to 375, and baste every 15 minutes till it’s done. If it get brown before the meat thermometer sez it’s done, put the cover back on.

    I came to this party a little late, but I know how to make really good, really easy gravy using the blender – yell if yuz want instructions. Happy New Year, everybody!

  133. Gotta love how the holidays bring out the neuroses in even the best of us. As for gravy, the best way I’ve found is to heat your broth in a pan, and in a separate bowl, stir a 2-3 tablespoons of flour into half a cup of water until it’s dissolved, add it to your broth, and stir the mixture while heating (it just don’t boil it!) until it’s thick enough for your liking. I love a good roux, but I’d rather not bother with one.

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