Welcome back to Off the Menu, where we bring you the best and strangest food stories from my email inbox. This week, we finally have the long-awaited edition of home-cooking stories. As always, these are real emails from real readers, though names have been changed.
How do turkey work?
"My great aunt was unmarried and had a group of friends who rotated hosting holidays as an alternative to feeling like a fifth wheel at the homes of married relatives. They always had a nice get-together and enjoyed each other's company, but she had one story about the early days of their gatherings.
"Several years into the tradition, one of the women who hadn't hosted before insisted it was her turn and she would handle the whole meal -- nobody needed to bring anything. They were a bit worried because nobody had ever seen her cook anything, but everyone agreed, and come Thanksgiving Day they all showed up at her house for dinner. Everyone gathered and chatted in the living room as they showed up. My aunt said that something seemed off, but she couldn't place what it was… until the host stood and said, 'Goodness, everyone is here, I expect I'd better start cooking the turkey!' and wandered toward the kitchen.
"Over dinner at a thankfully open Chinese place, the group explained to the erstwhile host that 25lb turkeys don't cook in an hour." -- Jack Roloson
"What's the worst that can happen?"
"When we bought our house, it had an old, cool '40s-vintage gas range. The stovetop pilot lights were the kind that always had little flames burning, and they were prone to being blown out. But the real hazard was the oven, which didn't have a pilot: Every time you used it, you had to light the burner with a long kitchen match.
"This is the kind of oven you could stick your head in when you wanted to commit suicide. One day, we had a bunch of family visiting from out of town and a relative was helping me in the kitchen. She did what any modern-day American would do: She turned on the oven to preheat. At some point I noticed that she had done this; naturally she didn't know to light the burner. So it was just pumping gas into the oven compartment. How long had it been on? One minute? Five minutes? Who knows? The smart thing to do would be to open the oven and all the windows and let it air out. But I was trying to impress or something, so I'm like, 'Let me just light the burner right away. What's the worst that can happen?'
"One second, I'm leaning down to light the burner, and the next I'm about 10ft away, because let me tell you, you can really move (apparently by leaping backwards) when you see a bright-orange fireball aimed at your head. In the end, I singed my eyebrows and a little hair, and the oven was fine. Not my best moment." -- Rachel Bielema
The Grinch's turkey
"My wife and I were having my family over for Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, she got stuck having to work, so she left me to cook the turkey. Her instructions were simple enough: Get a cloth napkin from the cupboard, soak it in the melted butter, cover the turkey with the napkin, put the turkey in the oven, and check it in 90 minutes.
"What she failed to specify was that I should use a plain, un-dyed napkin rather than the pine-green napkin that was on top of the stack. When I took out the turkey and lifted off the napkin, the turkey was brilliant green and and the bottom of the roasting pan looked like it had a quart of NyQuil added to the drippings. I rinsed the turkey in the sink and most of the green dye washed off. I cleaned the pan, put the turkey back in covered with a plain napkin, and finished cooking the bird.
"Everyone thought the turkey was delicious. When my wife got home later, I told her of the green turkey and she nearly peed herself laughing. Then she worried that my entire family would end up sick. Unfortunately, they didn't." -- Kyle Peterson
These are some hot nachos
"My boyfriend and I are avid home chefs (I use that word loosely), and one of our favorite quick-'n'-easy meals is nachos. Pretty simple. We've made these dozens of times, and I like to finish them off under the broiler (I feel it's just a bit quicker).
"Now, the top rack in our oven is barely low enough for me to slide the nachos in, but I get them in without touching the broiler… or so I think. It takes all of about three minutes for smoke to start rising from one of our burners. I think the burner is broken, but my boyfriend has the smarts to realize that it's the oven.
"He looks through the glass and yells, 'The nachos are burning!' then proceeds to run around grabbing the oven mitts, turning the broiler off, etc. I take a look through the glass and see flames. Our nachos have literally caught fire, and the smoke is coming through the burners on the range. There may not have been enough room between the nachos and broiler. Oops.
"I start yelling, 'They're ON fire, the nachos are ON fire!' which makes my boyfriend panic even more. Neither of us knows what to do. I start yelling that I'm going to call my Pop (what I call my step-dad) because he used to be a fireman and then head of safety in a refinery unit. My boyfriend hears COP.
"So he's screaming at me not to call the cops, I'm yelling at him that of course I'm going to call my Pop. My Pop is on the phone by this time, very confused and shouting whatever instructions he knows based on what little he's getting through the phone. It's chaotic. Finally, my boyfriend grabs the nachos (bare-handed, because he's a hero) and throws them into the shower and runs the water.
"Through all of this, the smoke alarm never goes off, not once. We trashed the soggy nachos and decided to go to Whataburger instead." -- Kerry Myers
"I have a friend named Jay who believes to the bottom of his poor, stupid soul that he can cook. I'll never forget the time he made 'lasagna.'
"He invited me over and raved about how awesome this lasagna was going to be and how easy it was to make. As soon as he set it in front of me I knew something was wrong, because it was all waxy and weirdly yellow on top. He spooned out a piece and just as I was asking about the weird yellow top, I saw a bunch of elbow macaroni fall out as it settled on the plate.
"I looked him dead in the eye and demanded to know what he had done to this poor lasagna. After much argument, he finally said he had to make some substitutions because he didn't want to go to the store.
"They were as follows:
"Pasta sauce = ketchup and honey.
"Lasagna noodles = elbow macaroni.
"The various cheeses found within a lasagna = Kraft Singles.
"As a bonus, baking it in the oven turned into 15 minutes in the microwave." -- Hal Makers
Do you have a restaurant, home-cooking, or any other food-adjacent story you’d like to see appear in Off the Menu (on ANY subject, not just this one)? Please email WilyUbertrout@gmail.com with "Off the Menu" in the subject line (or you can find me on Twitter @EyePatchGuy). Submissions are always welcome!
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