A roasted Thanksgiving turkey is shown prepared in Concord, New Hampshire. Hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner away from home is a rite of passage, as Stephanie Veniez found out with a punctured roasting pan and some duct tape. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matthew Mead

Hosting your first Thanksgiving dinner away from home is a rite of passage

Stephanie Veniez knew her Thanksgiving dinner debut was a disaster when she saw the smoke.

She already had some doubts about the pot luck meal she was throwing at the apartment she shared with her brother William during her second year at McGill University when a friend arrived with a raw turkey only two hours before dinner. Her pal insisted it would cook quickly if the oven was hot enough, which seemed logical at the time.

But things went from bad to worse when a knife punctured the bottom of the bird’s foil roasting pan and repairs were made with duct tape. Before Veniez and her friends knew it, “a cloud of smoke (was) rolling out of the bottom of the oven, rolling over the floor.”

Turns out, duct tape doesn’t stand up to high heat.

Veniez, now 26, didn’t host Thanksgiving again the next year.

Making a holiday meal for the first time is an intimidating prospect, but it can feel like a rite of passage, says Evelyn Raab, author of “Clueless in the Kitchen: Cooking for Beginners.”

Being away from home over a holiday, whether it’s by choice or necessity, is something many people experience for the first time in their twenties. Cooking an elaborate, multi-course meal can be a way for young people to recreate home comforts, or to establish their own traditions, says Raab.

The biggest mistake inexperienced cooks make preparing Thanksgiving dinner is not giving themselves enough time, Raab says.

“If you’re in this mad hysterical rush it becomes quite frantic,” she says.

She recommends making things in advance when possible, and budgeting several hours just for the turkey.

It’s advice that may have helped Veniez avoid her disaster as a rookie host a few years ago.

“We’re all high-achieving students, and no one thinks, maybe we shouldn’t do this,” recalls Veniez. “We just crank the oven up and stick it in there and walk away with our wine.”

Roasting a turkey isn’t as scary as it seems, says Raab.

“It is not difficult, it’s just a little intimidating because of its size,” she says.

A meat thermometer is “an important investment,” Raab says, adding that overcooked turkey is among the most common Thanksgiving kitchen mistakes.

She even has a tip for people who don’t own a roasting pan, like Veniez: putting a disposable foil pan on top of a cookie sheet gives it more stability, which can be crucial.

“Once you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine before dinner, and you’re dealing with a hot turkey in a wobbly pan, that sounds to me like a very dangerous moment,” she says.

While turkey is a Thanksgiving tradition, inexperienced hosts can avoid the stress by mixing up the menu.

This weekend, 27-year-old Zoe Fregoli and her sister are hosting a mostly vegetarian Italian Thanksgiving at their Toronto apartment for their parents and a group of about 10 friends. Fregoli’s mom lives in New York and her dad in Morocco, so she only sees them on holidays. Hosting them along with her friends has become a tradition.

Everyone contributes, but she and her dad are the cooks in the family.

“It’s kind of how we spend time together, cooking and prepping and doing those things,” she says. “That’s just our version of family time.”

At their last holiday meal, they made two pasta dishes: one with rapini, the other with zucchini and shrimp. She and her dad were still working out this year’s menu a few days before the big event.

“They like to tease me about being the new head of the household,” she says of her parents.

She says this meal is more fun for her family than sticking to a traditional Thanksgiving menu.

Raab says that’s the most important part of any holiday celebration, no matter what you’re serving or how it turns out.

“Get the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving picture out of your head,” she says. “Just make sure that it’s fun.”

So how did Veniez’s dinner end?

“The sides were fine,” she says. “And we ended up just having shawarma with the rest of the wine.”

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