Your First Time… Cooking a Holiday Dinner!

Image Credit: Rob Marquardt

Image Credit: Rob Marquardt

When I was growing up, my family didn’t really celebrate holidays. Still, my dad’s company provided all their employees with free turkeys around Thanksgiving, so it’s not like I never knew what it was like to have turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. In fact, my mom’s recipe for pumpkin pie is absolutely the best – she just didn’t need it to be Thanksgiving to make it.

Image Credit: julesstonesoup

Image Credit: julesstonesoup

My fiance’s family is more “normal” when it comes to celebrating holidays, so since we’ve been together we usually visit his family’s house for Thanksgiving and his mom treats us to a huge meal. This year plans changed, so we decided to do our own Thanksgiving for the first time. My mom was game to help out, so we agreed to split the food preparation workload. My mom would make the turkey, pie, and mashed potatoes, and I would be responsible for stuffing, corn casserole, and pumpkin cheesecake. Because you can never have too much dessert.

Pumpkin cheesecake is the only thing I’d actually made before, and cheesecake tends to taste better after it’s been sitting a while, so I tackled that first. I used this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats. The first time I made this recipe I struggled with getting the gingersnaps crushed enough to make a solid crust, since I don’t have a food processor. This year I attempted crushing them by sticking them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and banging on them with a rolling pin. Not hugely successful, but good for getting out aggression! I ended up punching holes in the bag and getting crumbs all over the counter. But eventually I gave up and tossed the gingernsap remains in the blender, which ended up working out wonderfully. It wasn’t the prettiest cheesecake in the world, but it came out surprisingly quickly and easily, and it tasted delicious!

Image Credit: Flickr User adinaplus

Image Credit: Flickr User adinaplus

For the corn casserole I used a recipe my mom suggested that is floating all over the internet in different variations, like this one on Cooks.com. It was super easy to throw together and surprisingly good when it was done. One great thing about this recipe is it gives you some room to play around – you could easily toss in some cheese or seasoning or whatever strikes your fancy.

The biggest challenge for me was stuffing. I wanted to make it in our crockpot for easy transport and reheating, but I couldn’t really find a recipe that looked right. I was looking for something fairly traditional, so I ended up using a slightly modified version of this Food.com recipe. I didn’t bother with the apple, and I didn’t have majoram or savory on hand. I also substituted dried parsley for fresh.

The process of putting together the stuffing recipe just felt wrong. Never at any point did it look like I imagined it should look. The ratio of bread to sauce seemed totally off when I was mixing it up. It looked really disgusting – like canned cat food or something – but I trusted the recipe would work out in the end. And it did, sort of. The stuffing never really got to the right consistency – it seemed too dry, so I added some chicken stock and it seemed too soupy. I refrigerated it overnight and when I went to heat it up for Thankgiving it seemed dried out again. Vicious, unwinnable cycle!

The worst part, though, was that it wasn’t actually very good. At all. At first it tasted normal…then 2 seconds after you swallowed your mouth would fill with an overpowering spicy taste. I honestly have no idea what it was – I followed the spice amounts in the recipe exactly, so I still can’t wrap my mind around what caused that crazy aftertaste. But despite the stuffing mini-disaster, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad for my first attempt at Thanksgiving!

Image Credit: Flickr User the bitten word

Image Credit: Flickr User the bitten word

My mom’s pies turned out fantastic, as usual, and she even got adventurous with her turkey and tried a new technique: spatchcocking. It sounds like cruel and unusual turkey punishment – and honestly, when I walked in on my mom wrestling with the raw turkey, it kind of looked like cruel and unusual turkey punishment. She screwed up a couple of the steps, but it still turned out fantastically. Not only was the turkey ready to eat incredibly fast – about 90 minutes after we put it in the oven – but it was also super moist and held up really well as leftovers.

Next year my fiance and I will likely be family-less in Texas for Thanksgiving, so I don’t know what we’ll do. It seems like an awful lot of time and effort to put into a meal for two. Maybe I can find some shortcuts – pre-roasted turkey, perhaps? And, most importantly, StoveTop stuffing. It might sound blasphemous, but it’s a guaranteed upgrade from overly-spiced cat food stuffing, right?

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