Embracing Thanksgiving chaos and making excellent dairy-free mashed potatoes
November 1st, 2011
03:15 PM ET
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Something is going to go amiss this Thanksgiving. A side dish will burn, you'll be short a chair for an unannounced guest, your aunt will question all of your life choices in front of an assembly of your loved ones; it could be one of a million little (or large) mishaps. The world will not screech to a to a gravy-spattering halt. We promise.

Over the next few weeks, we'll help you prepare and gird your loins as best we can, with our own time-tested hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

It would be the apex of understatement to say that Thanksgiving menus are subjective. While one diner cannot fathom a holiday meal without mushroom soup-drenched green bean casserole, another quails at the thought of a dressing (or stuffing) minus a hearty helping of oysters. Regional, familial expectations are in full effect - and by the way, you're never going to cook it as well as someone's grandmother did (at least in their memory).

This is not your fault, and the best thing you can possibly do is plan ahead and manage expectations - both your own and those of your guests. Start today by issuing your Thanksgiving invitations and asking your potential guests (and their guests, because strays are a lovely inevitable) to finish this sentence: "It's not Thanksgiving without ________." Then scheme with them about how to get it on the table.

You can attempt to make it yourself, but it would not be out of place, or make you a bad host, to see if they'd care to bring it themselves. Thanksgiving is a highly collaborative holiday and people, for the most part, like to be of use. This takes the onus of at least one dish off your metaphorical plate, ensures that guests' appetites for nostalgia are sufficiently sated, and gives them a chance to share their own history.

And if they can't or won't - so be it. Your best effort is good enough, and if goes spectacularly awry, you've all got an excellent story for next year's dinner.

Today's Burning Question

Q: How do you make mashed potatoes without animal products? I should rephrase that. I meant GOOD mashed potatoes. - Josh

A: This one's a cinch: olive oil. There are so few ingredients in this dish, there's nothing to hide behind, so it's worth a couple of extra bucks to splurge on a full-bodied, dressing-quality oil, which you'll end up using on everything.

Wash two large pounds of Yukon Gold or russet potatoes and, depending on your preferences, leave the skin on or peel it. Halve the potatoes, or quarter them if they're large, place them in a large pot, cover with cold water by one inch, add one tablespoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook until the potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain the water, saving about 1/2 cup of it.

Then place the potatoes in a large bowl, pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil and either whip with an electric mixer, or mash with a potato masher. Add enough of the reserved water to achieve the consistency you like. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you'd like to amp up the flavor even more, stir in chopped chives, minced tarragon or parsley, ribbons of basil or any of your favorite herbs.

Serve, sit back, and wait for the compliments to roll in.

But wait - there's more!

We've got plenty of fun surprises planned over these next few weeks, but in the meantime, consider printing out these mantras and cross-stitching them on throw pillows or possibly taking them to the tattoo parlor:

1. Don't be a martyr, be a host.
2. You can never, ever have too much ice.
3. If they're your guests, they're very likely rooting for you.
4. Accepting offers of Thanksgiving help is a sign of sanity & inclusion not weakness.
5. There is no such thing as too much stock or too many containers for leftovers.

And a word to the wise - the sooner you get a beverage or appetizer into your guests' hands, or assign them the task of doing so, the more quickly they'll ease into the swing of things.

Un-buckle up, follow our ongoing Thanksgiving advice, and get set to have an absolutely delicious day.

– Guzzle wine advice from Terroir and Food & Wine
– Consider brining or smoking that bird
– Protect your pumpkin pie from TSA travel policies
– Craft a chess pie
– Get prep work out of the way
– Make some serious gravy
– Serve up some easy appetizers
– Keep it gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly
Thaw that bird, even if it seems too late in the game
Distract a guest who's being a pain in the pope's nose
– Serve up cold-weather drinks or chilled-out celebration cocktails
– After that, get a tipsy guest safely home

Got a Thanksgiving query or dilemma? Need techniques for roasting turkey or just looking for recipes to bust up your holiday rut? Wanna know what one of our anchors eats for T-Day? We're here to help. Post your question in the comments below and we'll do our best to assist.

soundoff (34 Responses)
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    January 30, 2014 at 7:12 am |
  2. cali girl

    Bring on the Turkey, mashed taters, gravy and green bean casserole.

    November 6, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  3. Maggi

    Do you have any tips for making a dairy, egg, and say free pie. I made an apple that turned out ok last year, but would like to up my game this year....

    November 5, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Sure! Give me a pie genre. Fruit, cream, chocolate, nuts?

      November 5, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  4. RC

    The wife and I are actually thinking of going out for Thanksgiving this year. It'll just be the two of us, so it might be kinda fun. I do feel a little guilty for contributing to folks having to work on a holiday though.....

    November 5, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  5. RC@Kat

    Ooooh-I do so love having my loins girded!

    November 5, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  6. JBJingles@Kat

    Slight typo here...and what a sad looking pumpkin pie, all cracked up and all... :(

    The world will not screech "to a to a" gravy

    November 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  7. Weeds

    Where are the Thanksgiving cakes? :)

    November 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  8. Jon

    Amend this classic with celery root, parsnips or apples. Don't be shy. Also you can then make some killer GNOCCHI!

    November 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  9. Disappointed

    I would expect CNN to use proper grammer.

    November 7, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Gozer the Gozerian

      You are saying "grammer" and intending irony by it, right?

      November 25, 2011 at 4:07 am |
  10. Hank

    Here is an excellent idea for helping others during the holidays...

    November 3, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  11. Sarah

    Nice! I like any holiday survival tips.

    November 3, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  12. Jorge

    Ever since I came back to the 'states, I haven't but felt dumbfounded at how primadonna-like and indolent folks here have become. Last year I loaded family and suitcases in the car the morning my Thanksgiving vacation started and drove from Augusta, GA to Dallas-Fort worth to spend it with my oldest daughter, grandson and son-in-law, stopping only for gas, bathroom breaks and two small meals. When we got there the very next morning I took my daughter to a bodega to buy all the ingredients for a family recipe Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people, helped them move a recently purchased bedroom set into their upstairs master and prepared/seasoned a large turkey, sides and family recipe stuffing for the oven late into the night. That day, and the following three, I suffered the pain of passing a kidney stone, but a whole lot of beer and the loving company of 12 friends and family got me through it. I also drove back myself, 13 hours with only 1 stop, to work the next day. How is it that big ole' people here whine and quiver over a little cooking?

    November 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • jj

      That's Eatocracy for you.

      November 6, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  13. bristoltwit palin...America's favorite dancing cow

    Mmmmmmm... cowpies

    November 2, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Mikey

      LMA O!

      November 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  14. The Man That Ate Everything

    "How do you make mashed potatoes without animal products?"

    You can't, now grow a pair and go buy butter, buttermilk and sour cream.

    November 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • AleeD


      November 2, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • idoofus

      You can't, so why bother?

      November 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Alicia

      You win at life.

      November 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  15. Brian

    http://amzn.to/aV2dQa Funny, touching, memorable short Thanksgiving stories about holiday disasters, family & friends. Enter the sweepstakes http://apps.facebook.com/sweepstakeshq/contests/158067/entries/new?referral_feed_id=47364908 for a chance to win a free copy of *the* Thanksgiving book! Perfect gift for your Thanksgiving Host(ess)

    November 2, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  16. The easy way

    Score the potatoes from side-to-side and top-to-bottom then pressure cook for 13 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 8 minutes. Instant cool if necessary. Use a dish-washing glove to handle the hot potatoes. Hold the potatoes under a drizzle of cold water. The skins slip right off.

    November 2, 2011 at 8:05 am |
    • Nutrition Brat

      But I like the skins in my mashed potatoes! There's nutrients & fiber in them that's just being thrown away.
      Now I'm sad for the loss of the skins.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:22 am |
  17. OrionStyles

    Embrace the cult of Chaos....

    Ultimately you can only free your essence from the universe by becoming pure chaos, thus preventing all awareness.

    Join this cult now!

    PS: Send Money

    November 1, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  18. Steve Makalow

    But I thought the old, traditional, "conservative" traditions were becoming taboo. Why even celebrate Thanksgiving let alone worry about it?

    November 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Sound Like My Sister

      Where did you get that idea? FTR, our family is doing the traditional t-day dinner with all the trimmings including cranberry-jelly-not-the-sauce please and thank you very much.

      November 2, 2011 at 7:16 am |
  19. Paula Deen

    Butter,Butter,Butter...Where's the Love Y'all ?

    November 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Surya

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      December 25, 2012 at 5:20 am |
  20. Dave

    This had one of the most bizarre front page headlines – "Embrace chaos to be a great host".
    After reading about crazy Amish cults, it felt oddly religious and parasitic.

    November 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  21. jyee

    1. Buy yourself a ricer if you like smooth, creamy mash. Mashers and mixers will work the potato too much in an effort to eliminate lumps and your mash will end up gluey. A ricer will produce a finer and much lighter texture.
    2. After ricing the potato, spread the potato on a sheet tray and let some of the moisture evaporate. This will let it absorb more fat, whether that's olive oil (meh) or cream and butter (yay) or cream with duck fat/bone marrow/foie gras (HOORAY!)

    November 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
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