I’m always nervous when it’s time to cook a big holiday meal, or even to contribute toward a group effort at one. I spent many years not cooking for big events, and I still happily go to my sister’s house or a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or any other big foodie holiday.
I have finally learned to cook that turkey and bake that ham. But I’m scarred by previous experiences. The first time I roasted a turkey, for a Christmas party some years ago, I used a cooking bag (highly recommended). I did not stuff it, because my family believes in dressing, baked outside the turkey, instead of stuffing, baked inside the turkey, so that’s what I do. The turkey came out beautifully golden brown, with a moist breast and nicely done drumsticks. Then I went to carve it, and found the plastic bag in the cavity with the giblets and neck in it. Woops! I didn’t say a word, just carved away.
Hams are capable of error as well, even pre-cooked ones that you just have to warm in the oven for a few hours. I discovered that when I baked a ham–years ago, I swear–for the residents’ dinner at my local YMCA. I had peeled off the layer of thin cellophane or plastic the meat packer encases the ham with before I put it in the oven. How was I to know there was a second coat, a red one to match the skin? Fortunately I figured this out when the ham began to get warm and emit an unusual odor.
Then there was the year I dropped a giant pot of sweet potatoes (already sweetened and spiced, of course) in the sink. That one broke my heart. All that work down the drain! And I burned my hand, which is what made me drop it in the first place.
Fortunately, making mistakes is a great, if painful, way to learn. I can bake a lovely ham now, or roast a fine turkey. Holidays are safe at my house, I promise. And thank goodness someone else is cooking this year!