As you entertain this holiday season, something is bound to go wrong. It has happened to us, and it will happen again. Here’s a celebration of our mistakes, and what we learned from them.

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It’s the holidays. You’re organizing a big meal with multiple dishes and many moving parts. You’re in charge of the turkey and stuffing. Aunt Jessie will make the pie. Uncle Stu will bring his “world-famous” marshmallow casserole that nobody actually likes. Your in-laws are coming this year. You want everything to be perfect.

It won’t be.

And that’s OK.

To make you feel better when something inevitably goes wrong, we’ve compiled our favorite stories of holiday-cooking disasters, from The Seattle Times food team and from chefs around town. Maybe you’ll learn from our mistakes — or not.

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(Jackie Donnelly / Special to The Seattle Times)
(Jackie Donnelly / Special to The Seattle Times)

 

Sometimes it’s best to stick to tradition

I was trying to impress the in-laws for Christmas dinner. I went all out and did a French theme — served frog legs, rabbit rillette and duck a l’orange. It turns out, introducing new family to nontraditional foods they haven’t tried before, on a very traditional holiday, is not a good idea.

— Maria Hines, chef/owner of Tilth and more

 

Beware providing instructions to the literal-minded

As your average, minimally supervised, Gen-X kid, I was 9 when asked to play a key role in Thanksgiving dinner. Mom prepped the turkey, preheated the oven and told me all I had to do was put the bird into the oven at a certain time — she and dad were off to pick up family at the airport.

“All I have to do is put it in?” I asked. She confirmed: open the oven door, slide the pan in, shut the door. I’d been cooking since I was 5; this was brainless. She didn’t mention removing the sheet of plastic wrap she’d put on the turkey.

If you’ve not been lucky enough to experience it, it takes about five minutes at 375 degrees for plastic wrap to melt into a reeking, sticky, charcoal substitute and set off the smoke alarm. At least the pie was still great, once we aired out the house.

— Jill Lightner, freelance food writer

 

Garbage disposals can’t eat everything

Prepping a big Thanksgiving dinner involves a lot of peeling. Potatoes, yams, onions, carrots, you name it. One year (before composting was cool), my mom and I peeled a whole bunch of potatoes into the sink because we had a magical garbage disposal. It eats everything, right? Wrong. We fed it too much at once, and it choked, leaving us with an overflowing, gross kitchen sink, on a holiday when finding a plumber is no easy feat. Determined to fix it, my tiny mother (5-feet-1¾, as she likes to say) stood on the kitchen counter and used a plunger to pry all the gunk loose, laughing with me all the while. Oh, how I wish I’d had an iPhone at the time.

— Paige Collins, assistant features editor

 

Keep an eye on “helpful” furry family members

One time growing up, our sweet, mild-mannered Labrador retriever gently removed the enormous turkey from the counter it was resting on, right as our 20-plus guests began to arrive. The turkey was still served — sliced that year, no bird presentation!

— Holly Smith, chef/owner Cafe Juanita

 

Get to know new equipment before the big day

One Thanksgiving, my family had just gotten a brand-new oven. It came with temperature-probe attachments, which my mom and I were excited to try out on the turkey. About halfway through the cooking time, we were doing some basting and decided to play with the new toy and take the bird’s temperature, before setting the timer for another hour. When we returned, the oven was cold. As we futzed with the probes and pressed all the new buttons, we had managed to turn the oven off. Dinner was later than planned that year.

— Paige Collins, assistant features editor

 

Try any new recipe early

One November when I was living in San Francisco, a bunch of us with families far away decided to have a Friendsgiving. In some sort of Martha-Stewart paroxysm, I became fixated on making butternut squash soup, served out of a carved-out pumpkin.

Finding a whole pumpkin toward the end of November only took driving around to a million different grocery stores. Then, day-of, when we were all cooking together at my college roommate’s rundown rental in the Sunset, I discovered that contact with butternut squash flesh makes the flesh of my own fingertips puff up with a slight swelling. (This is why you’re supposed to try out new recipes before the party.)

I soldiered on, slicing squash increasingly clumsily, until I stabbed myself in the hand. The knife went right into that nice plump pad below the thumb, and as I stared at the wound, blood pulsed out in time with my heartbeat. I’m not squeamish, but I fainted. I came to on the couch with someone forcing a Diet Pepsi upon me, apparently to set me to rights. I hate diet pop, but I drank it, ascertained the ER wasn’t necessary, got bandaged up and finished the soup, very carefully. It came out really well, and the pumpkin was very cute on the table, if I do say so myself.

— Bethany Jean Clement, Seattle Times food writer

 

The work isn’t over until the food hits the table

It was my first holiday with my future wife’s family on their farm. I wanted to impress so I made some Dungeness crab cakes. I seared them all in a large pan (about 14 of them), then placed the pan in the oven. I helped set the table with all the other food and as everyone sat down to eat, I grabbed the cakes out of the oven. They were cooked perfectly and smelled amazing. I dramatically walked them out to the table as the last dish to be served. I was maybe 4 feet from the table when the apparently old pan snapped at the handle and perfectly flipped upside down onto the fancy rug right by the dining-room table. In front of everyone, everyone being my girlfriend’s family that I had just met. Woof.

— Maximillian Petty, chef/owner Eden Hill

 

Just because they’re cute, doesn’t mean they’re worth it

I am an onion-aholic, have been since I was a child. And I love tiny things. So, naturally, when I learned of cipollini onions, the adorable, silver-dollar-sized sweet onions, I needed to cook with them for Thanksgiving. My mother and I bought a ton, probably 30 in all, and we were going to put them in the bottom of the roasting pan with the turkey. Well, cute things can be evil, ladies and gentlemen. Peeling each and every one of those little jerks, with their delicate, hard-to-grab skins, took about 45 minutes we did not have. They were delicious, yes, but worth that frustration? No.

— Paige Collins, assistant features editor

 

No matter what, just laugh it off

Four of us were wedged into the small kitchen of a yellow farmhouse on Vashon. Our plan was to finish cooking the feast while drinking prosecco and catching up on each other’s lives. In practice, this meant we downed a bottle-and-a-half amid much laughter in the 20 minutes it takes to cook potatoes. The head chef grabbed butter and a quart-sized, green-and-white carton from the fridge and added both to the pot. Suddenly a soprano foghorn squawk, as only a cheerfully tipsy Australian can squawk, rang out over the conversation. It turns out that both buttermilk and eggnog are sold in green-and-white, quart-sized cartons. It turns out adding eggnog to potatoes is the funniest thing that has ever happened on Earth; our whoops brought two more people into the kitchen to make sure we hadn’t hurt ourselves. And it turns out that eggnog mashed potatoes are delicious.

— Jill Lightner, freelance food writer