Recently, I was speaking with someone about the fear they feel during Thanksgiving… actually whenever she prepares a meal for folks. She shared a story about a crying fit from last Thanksgiving, when the sweet potatoes came out of the oven with a burnt layer of marshmallows on top, all black and crispy. She started for-real-ugly-crying in the kitchen, until her husband helped her slice off and replace the marshmallows with a new batch.
That story made me sad (and crazy) for her. First off, burnt marshmallows are delicious — to me anyway. But more importantly, fear is the very last thing I feel in the kitchen, and I wished I could mind-meld with her to share some of that spirit. Since we live in a world where that’s unfortunately impossible, I told her why I have no fear in the kitchen and why she (and you) should have no fear too.
1) First, you’re already brave because you’re hosting a dinner party.
Every time you host a dinner party, you must remind yourself that the gift of a dinner party is the fact that you’re hosting a dinner party. I repeat: YOU’RE HOSTING A DINNER PARTY. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a warrior, a hero, a champion. You took the time to pause the madness of your life to cook something — whether a roast chicken or grilled cheese sandwiches — for someone else, and that is a gift. Achieving the perfect flavor or pretty presentation for your dishes is also its own sort of gift — but you won points the moment you sent invitations, I promise.
Now, if something goes wrong during your dinner party, like say the turkey overcooks or the pizza dough burns a bit (I’ve had my fair share of well-done pies, trust me), please don’t cry. It’s very likely that you focused your attention on your guests and, oh my goodness, that’s the perfect reason to make a mistake. The sort of people I invite to my home forgive a cold soup or an under-seasoned casserole or even a burnt sweet potato dish, especially if it means I was having a laugh and an extra sip of wine with them. So invite those sort of people over and be brave.
2) Cooking — especially holiday-style cooking — takes practice and lots of ingredients.
Cooking is the sort of skill that is developed with time, training and repetition. Whether little old me, the average home cook, or some food television star, everyone needs to go through a bit of trial and error. Your everyday cooking improves when you cook your daily meals, but you really only have the opportunity to practice big-batch holiday cooking when company comes. It’s okay to use this moment to add a new recipe to the mix because this is the time to practice. If it makes you feel better, keep 90% of your holiday menu as-is and add in 10% of something new to practice.
Except for when I was writing my cookbook, I don’t love to practice with lots of ingredients before the big event. First, it wastes food because I can’t eat a big casserole of stuffing on my own. Also, if I cook something I love like twelve muffins when no one is around, I’ll eat at least six or seven of those muffins and, people, I do not need to eat six or seven muffins in one sitting, ever. Group dinners, especially holiday dinners, bring together just the right sort of people (friends! family!) who will taste and offer sweet and constructive criticism. They will also save me from eating all the muffins.
3) Your kitchen is your happy place.
If you’re anything like me or other folks reading food blogs, you enjoy spending time in the kitchen. You may even find peace, joy, and relaxation after a few minutes or hours whisking, stirring, or baking. That feeling of joy is powerful; it will push you to cook more (a.k.a. practice) and cook better (a.k.a. cry less). Don’t let anyone take that power away from you. If a dish doesn’t turn out as expected, you still got to spend time in your happy place and if that’s exactly where you want to be, then it was time well spent. Do I need to type that again for emphasis? Your happy place.
The more comfortable you get with cooking for big groups, the more often you’ll cook for big groups and that’s the only way you’ll get better — so just do it — be brave and practice. If you’d like to practice now or simply spend some time in your happy place, I’m sharing my favorite recipe for Cranberry Crumb Muffins below. They were so good that I gave them all away because it made my friends happy and saved me from eating all of them.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you want to eat all the muffins, but you may want to consider saving a few for Thanksgiving morning — it will be that something delicious to nibble on while you’re being brave, practicing, in your happy place.
Cranberry Crumb Muffins
Makes: 12 muffins
Ingredients:For the topping
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 1/2 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly butter and line a 12-muffin tin with wrappers.
- Whisk the oats, flour, both sugars, baking powder and sea salt together in a bowl. Slice the butter into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the dry ingredients. With your fingers, mash the butter into the dry ingredients for 2 minutes or until the mixture resembles small peas. Set aside.
- Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, egg, and butter together until blended. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until no flour streaks remain.
- In a small bowl, gently toss the cranberries with the maple syrup until each cranberry is well coasted. Fold the syrupy cranberries into the muffin batter until well-distributed. Spoon the batter evenly into the muffin wrappers. Divide the crumb topping evenly between the 12 muffins, gently pressing it into the batter.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin to cool completely.
Eat Boutique is the go-to resource for all things food gifts, including one-of-a-kind, small-batch products and inspirational articles. We’ve got food gifts in our award-winning shop and story-driven recipes for everyday cravings, special occasions, and for anyone who needs a little food gift love—and, really, who doesn’t?!