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When Thanksgiving dinner takes a wrong turn

Thursday, November 27, 2008 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Switching the vinegar and ammonia in cole slaw. Serving cornish hens and finding them raw inside. Purchasing a chicken by accident.

If ever an ill-timed kitchen disaster is going to strike, it's around Thanksgiving. But while cooking mishaps can be horrifying when they happen, they can turn into great memories.

Here are some Thanksgiving cooking disaster tales, edited from first-person accounts:

NAME: Colleen Dougherty Bronstein, 55, artist, Yardley, Pa.

HER DISASTER: I was making the cole slaw, which is a family recipe, and the cabbage and celery is chopped by hand, which takes around three hours. It's quite an ordeal. It's a recipe that was handed down from my father and his family. He was fanatical about chopping it.

When I finally finished, I reached into the cabinet for the vinegar and poured in two capfuls. As soon as I put the cap back on, I realized something awful: I had switched the ammonia and the vinegar around in the kitchen cabinets for whatever reason. I now had ammonia in my cole slaw.

The question was, "Do I forget about the cole slaw?" but that would be like saying, "Let's forget about the turkey." So I sent my husband out for more cabbage and celery and started from scratch.

I now keep the ammonia out of the kitchen.

NAME: Judi Moran, 63, Newberg, Ore., retired elementary school teacher

HER DISASTER: Early in my marriage, I entertained my in-laws for the first time on Thanksgiving: my mother-in-law and my husband's aunt, along with subsidiary husbands and children.

Let me preface my account by saying these two women were Southern ladies who believed in putting on the "bird" and cooking for an entire army when folks came for holidays. I was a bit petrified at their expectations.

So, I decided to cook the turkey in a paper sack! It was a novel idea I'd read in a women's magazine somewhere.

I can't say whether this turkey cooking trick has worked for others. But in my case the meat turned out so tough, it wasn't clear whether I was serving the turkey or the sack.

My husband, in an initial taste test, nixed the bird and volunteered to run out to KFC for buckets of a different breed of fowl.

NAME: Jack Mott, 27, media sales, Chicago

HIS DISASTER: My roommate and I decided to stay in Chicago to save money on traveling and try to make our first Thanksgiving dinner. My roommate was on stuffing, yams and mashed potatoes. I had the turkey.

We wanted to get the smallest turkey we could find, and I was happy to discover an 8-lb. bird while my roommate gathered up the rest of the ingredients for the holiday feast and $50 worth of booze.

When it came time to cook, I peeled off the turkey's wrapper, took out the innards, stuffed and salted the bird before putting it in the oven. A good hour and a half had gone by, when my roommate started to clean and prep for the other fixings.

That's when he noticed that nowhere on the "turkey" wrapper did it say "turkey." Upon further inspection I found a delightful recipe for Perdue Chicken Salad on the back of the wrapper. As it turns out, I had bought an 8-lb chicken, stuffed it, and cooked it for nearly two hours.

My roommate, livid, made me go out to the nearest store to find a de-thawed turkey. I came back with a 25-pound turkey for two people. I removed the stuffing, put it in the turkey and cooked it.

We now had a lot of meat.

That's when our landlord, a single mother of two, knocked on our door to deliver a holiday gift. We invited her and her visiting parents to share the feast.

NAME: Hope N. Kirsch, 53, attorney, Scottsdale, Ariz.

HER DISASTER: I had invited all kinds of friends to Thanksgiving dinner at my house in Montville, N.J. I thought how nice it would be for everyone to have their own hen. That's nicer and classier than a bird.

The hens looked great on the outside.

But when everyone cut into it — at the same time it seemed — it was raw.

I guess because the oven was small; I had shoved the 12 hens in there. The guests were telling me that it would take another six hours for the hens to cook. I threw them away and we ate the side dishes. My sister now does the cooking.

NAME: Kelly Hayes-Raitt, 47, of Santa Monica, Calif., political activist, writer

HER DISASTER: I was in my early 20s, going to one of those "orphan potlucks," and I foolishly offered to bring the mashed potatoes. Naturally, I waited too late to get started.

In my rush after peeling 10 pounds of potatoes, I naively turned on the garbage disposal, immediately exploding 10 pounds of potato peels all over the kitchen.

I didn't have time to clean it up, and, being inexperienced and unknowledgeable about the potato's true nature, I waited until the next day to clean.

By then, the peels had hardened; I literally had to scrape the dead, shriveled, peeling skins from the ceiling and walls — and repaint!

Of course, being that it was Thanksgiving weekend, I got to live with the overflowing, clogged sink until the following Monday.

The next year, I volunteered to do the turkey, and I now leave the skins on when I make mashed potatoes.

NAME: Susan Daffron, 43, publisher, Sandpoint, Idaho

HER DISASTER: My husband and I are vegan and every year we make a stuffing and potato casserole for Thanksgiving. The first year we moved up here to the wilds of Northern Idaho, we were invited to our neighbors for a holiday potluck dinner.

That winter of 1996 was the worst one in at least a decade. By the end of November we already had about 5 feet of snow on the ground and as usual, on Thanksgiving Day, it was snowing. Our casserole was in the electric oven baking when the power went out.

We took the half-baked casserole up to the neighbor's house and they reheated it on their wood stove. We all sat around in candlelight and ate slightly weird food all the folks in the neighborhood had managed to cobble together. The snow kept falling and falling and the electricity was out for 4 days.

The first thing we did after the holiday weekend was buy a back-up generator.

NAME: Eileen Trager, 65, caterer, Boynton Beach, Fla.

HER DISASTER: This happened 25 years ago before I was a caterer. I was a single mom and decided that I owed favors to friends and invited them and their children for Thanksgiving Dinner. I was a fledgling baker. I knew how to make the standard stuff — baked potato, green bean casserole, easy canned yams and marshmallows.

I had never made a turkey, but I wanted to be impressive, so I took out a gourmet cookbook and found an interesting African recipe. I set my oven timer for the appropriate hours and went about doing other things. The wonderful aromas emanating from my kitchen were enticing my neighbors in our high-rise apartment building.

After taking the turkey out of the oven, I asked one of our guests to carve it. It is a very difficult task to carve a raw turkey. We all looked at each other.

It was then that I realized the pilot light had gone out on the gas oven.

Out came the peanut butter and jelly and tuna fish, the salami and the bread. We enjoyed our yams with unmelted marshmallows.

One of my guests took the turkey home with her, cooked it in her reliable oven and we all enjoyed a wonderful, giggly time the next day.

NAME: Jessica Setnick, 36, registered dietitian, McKinney, Texas

HER DISASTER: Last Thanksgiving, I woke up with my eyes swollen shut and my husband drove me to the emergency room, where I was told I might have lupus.

When we got home, I looked up lupus on the Internet and scared myself half to death. I got in bed and pulled the covers over my head and told Greg, my husband, and our two kids to have Thanksgiving without me.

Greg decided to try to be a hero and bake the pecan pie. He confused the canisters and switched the salt and sugar without knowing it. When he brought it in to me, something looked very wrong. When I brought a piece to my lips, it made my eyes water. It was impossible to even take a bite.

Determined to try again, Greg fixed another pie, using the correct amount of ingredients, and baked it. Somehow the sugar caramelized and became brittle. Greg took one bite and cracked a tooth.

It fell out in his hand. At this point he announced that he was not going into the kitchen again, and we ended up ordering pizza. The good news came on Monday that I didn't have lupus.

And I'll be in charge of cooking this year.

NAME: Carlo Powe-Crawford, 42, caterer, Auburn Hills, Mich.

HER DISASTER: For my first Thanksgiving I invited four of my male friends for dinner. I made dressing (in a side dish), candied sweet potatoes, grilled root vegetables, mashed potatoes, green beans, a baby field greens salad with a hearty, crusty bread.

The guys arrived on time and for about the first 30 to 45 minutes we had cocktails with nosh-y type things such as the miniature hors d'oeuvres that one of the guys brought along with a lot of beers.

As we sat around noshing and chatting, one of them eventually said, "Gee, you must be planning to re-heat the turkey because I don't smell anything."

All of a sudden it occurred to me ... I forgot to turn on the oven!

We all had a good laugh. Sure I had made all of the "sides," but we were hungry and no one wanted to wait. So, we figured out that we could probably buy a cooked turkey from a local grocery store, and that's what we did.

Needless to say, they tell me, jokingly, all the time now — "I can't believe that YOU'RE a caterer!"

 


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