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Jon Watson: My Christmas dinner (almost) disaster

Credit: CNet

Credit: CNet

I’m hesitant to hit you guys with another “this is what I ate for Christmas dinner” recap, ESPECIALLY after Jenny’s impressive post about the ridiculous spread that she broke out for her family this year. In terms of diversity of cuisine and sheer volume, I don’t think that my meal will stack up to hers. But this story isn’t really about the food.

This is about adversity. This is about perseverance. And this is about good old-fashioned American boot-strap-pullin’-get-‘er-doneness.

During the holidays, my mom usually slaves in the kitchen, often prepping for a day or two in advance in order to get everything ready for us in time. As my family discovered my interest in food, my mother slowly handed off some of the responsibilities of cooking holiday dinners to me. This includes some of the more sacred dishes, such as the gravy, dressing, and the turkey itself. At Thanksgiving or Christmas, there are few dishes that you simply CAN’T screw up more than those. So, I’m no stranger to pressure at a big family dinner.

But this year was different. For the first time ever, as a treat for our mom, my sister Nikki and I decided to take on the entire meal by ourselves. This should have been our first indication that things were not going to go smoothly.

Though the menu was more extensive than this, including a few apps, some charcuterie, and a few desserts, the dishes relevant to this story were:

Turducken (from Findley’s)

Sweet potato casserole

Twice-baked potatoes

Cornbread dressing (My Grandmother’s recipe. Trust me, it is better than anything that any member of your family has ever made. Ever.)

Take a moment, put yourself in the shoes of the family cook, and review that list from a practical standpoint. Don’t think about the flavors, however delicious they may be. Think about what is required of a chef to cook them, the tools that you would need. What steps will you have to follow to finish this meal for 12 people in a timely manner?

Now think about the single worst thing that could go wrong on the Christmas day if you were that chef. Any guesses?

If you said, “Your oven broke!”, then you win a gold star.

Even with a functional oven, cooking multiple pans of dressing, a 10lbs turducken, and both sets of potatoes, we were looking at a combined cooking time of about 8 hours, spread out over the day. We scoured the internet for do-it-yourself fixes, thumbed through then entire owner’s manual, and even kicked around the idea of breaking into the neighbor’s house to “borrow” their oven for a few hours. Finally, we resigned ourselves to the fact that using an oven was just not an option.

So, this begged the question: What the hell are we doing to do now?

Grill-roasted turducken

Grill-roasted turducken

I’ll tell you what we did – we made it work. Thankfully, we had a propane grill at our disposal. After stacking multiple levels of baking pans and aluminum foil to diffuse the heat, I converted our gas grill into an oven. Not only did this work, it worked beautifully. With the exception of the first pan of dressing, which developed an unappetizing half-inch thick crust on the bottom, everything came out great.

Compared to some of the kitchen emergencies that some of you have endured over the years, I’m sure that this speed bump seems minor. And it got me thinking….there have to be some pretty hilarious/harrowing holiday disaster stories out there that I’d love to hear.

What is your best/worst holiday kitchen nightmare story?

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog


- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast

6 comments Add your comment

[...] more: Jon Watson: My Christmas dinner (almost) disaster | Food and More … Uncategorized christmas, family, gravy, handed-off-some, holiday-dinners, includes-some, [...]

Jason E

December 29th, 2010
3:13 pm

It was my turn to make Deviled Eggs. Even though I knew my family as traditionalists, I decided to shake things up a bit. I added a bit of Horseradish…everyone HATED it. I’m not allowed to make deviled eggs again. No matter what I make, casserole or desert, everyones 1st Q is: Does it have Horseradish in it?


December 29th, 2010
3:14 pm

I remember coming home from college one year for Thanksgiving. My parents were getting their kitchen renovated & they had “promised” my mom she would have her kitchen installed before Thanksgiving. Of course like all construction, we came home to see the wires & everything still sticking out of the wall, no oven in sight. Luckily a neighbor had left us their key for mail pickup, so we went over & used their stuff. But we were definitely getting ready to call the chinese restaurant.

Then just a month ago, my siter (who has hosted Thanksgiving the past 5 years) had her microwave break on Thanksgiving day. Not a huge deal, but coordinating what time things had to go into the single oven – not to mention reheating leftovers – was a logistical nightmare. You always make do, though!


December 29th, 2010
3:49 pm

How about…Curry Powder Men instead of Gingerbread Men?? I have one of those test tube racks and the labels are peeling off the tubes, but I’m usually good at determining what I’ve put in those tubes, until this year…Added a huge tablespoon of curry powder instead of ginger to my dough. Yeah, it’s just as disgusting as it sounds.


December 29th, 2010
11:49 pm

I have two:

My own: I have had the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner only one, thank goodness! My wife was away taking care of family in the hospital, and I was left the mission of cooking the dinner for my two kids & myself. I had it covered. I made the sides, even though calling them ‘Semi-homemade’ was a stretch. But the bird…

Butterball allowed one of their finest to be placed in my hands. BAD bad idea. I looked up options on the web and hit onto an idea that involved cooking the bird low & slow, while basting it every 30 minutes or so with white wine (half the bottle 1st, then the other half, then use a baster to recycle the wine from the bottom of the pan.) 3 1/2 hours later, I used the thermometer. It had the right temperature based on the recipe, but it looked like the Edgar Winter of turkeys. I mean it was an albino turkey.

My kids bravely took a portion, ate it quickly, and pronounced the dinner a success. And then quickly left the room with 2nds and 3rds of all the sides. Our dog pronounced it “delicioso’.
I will never live down the albino turkey.

My wife’s (kinda):
She’s too good of a cook to merit a spot here. But, she’s a frequent visitor of a site called ‘Two Peas in a Bucket’. This message board has many threads dedicated to many topics of conversation.
Look up ‘Giblet Gate’. Truly epic in it’s scope. My wife says it makes The Albino Turkey look like haute cuisine.


December 30th, 2010
10:08 am

A few years ago we had a power outage about 30 minutes before Christmas dinner, right as the rib roast was coming out of the oven. Finished everything up and even made Yorkshire Puddings on the trusty gas grill. We ate to candlelight and will always remember it as one of the most fun holiday dinners.