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
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?
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