Eleanor: Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday simply because it centers around a meal.

Ever since I can remember, my family went all out for the day. I come from a food-centric family, so Thanksgiving is of the utmost importance.

I now have my own apartment with roommates and cook independently. It's a task that presents certain challenges. You see, my kitchen is 10-square-feet. My love of cooking is sometimes diminished when my oven won't broil and when my roommates and I share three total kitchen knives between all of us.

I got to thinking what a Thanksgiving dinner would look like (more worrying, taste like) if I cooked it in my shoddy rental kitchen. So I enlisted the help of a fellow reporter and foodie, Taylor Maerz, and we got to work.

Taylor: When Eleanor asked me to help her prepare a Thanksgiving meal, I had never been more excited. I love to cook, and Thanksgiving just so happens to be my favorite holiday. However, I knew we would be in for a challenge when Eleanor told me that her kitchen was on the smaller side. If my mom struggled to make a Thanksgiving dinner in a full-sized kitchen, how were two girls going to do the same in a kitchen a fourth of the size?

Eleanor: We planned out some meals and gathered our closest friends to taste test, knowing that if we gave them food poisoning, they would still love us.

So join us in our challenge to cook a beautiful and edible Thanksgiving dinner in a college girl's 10-square-foot kitchen.

The Mashed Potatoes

Eleanor: Carbs are my love language, so this was important to me. Taylor and I were pretty confident that mashed potatoes would be the easiest thing we cooked that day. How hard could it be? All you need are potatoes, butter and maybe a little sour cream. Oh, how naive we were.

First off, we did not have a potato peeler. After making phone calls and desperate attempts to find one in my kitchen, we resorted to using paring knives.

WARNING: Do not try this at home.

We most definitely overestimated the time it would take to make the mashed potatoes. After they were mashed, we realized that we had at least another 40 minutes until the whole meal was ready. So we improvised. We threw those potatoes in some pans, and Taylor got to stirring, just to keep them warm. Long story short, the potatoes were a big stressor, and I'm pretty sure we made about 15 servings.

Taylor: I feel like you can never have too many mashed potatoes. However, Eleanor and I managed to disprove my stance on this matter: we honestly made way too many. Although they were perfectly seasoned and fluffy, the mashed potatoes just took up way too much kitchen and table space.

Were they ultimately worth the struggle of peeling with a paring knife? Duh. Were they worth constantly stirring to prevent charred mashed potatoes? Absolutely. Worth all of the stress? Uh, yes! They were delicious.

If I were to change one thing about the potato process, it would be to have them be the last thing prepared- they took up a lot of valuable counter space and got cold pretty quickly.

Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of potatoes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons of salted butter
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Wash and peel potatoes. Once all of the potatoes are completely peeled, cut them into fourths with a kitchen knife.
  3. Put the potatoes in the boiling water and let boil for about 15 minutes or until soft to touch.
  4. Strain the potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to mash the potatoes to a fluffy consistency.
  5. Add sour cream and butter. Mash more.
  6. Serve with salt and pepper.

*This recipe makes LOTS of mashed potatoes.*

The Green Bean Casserole

Taylor: I love a good green bean casserole. I can't count the number of times I have made one in the middle of summer because I was craving it. This was the first dish I suggested we should make for our feast; Thanksgiving isn't real without a green bean casserole!

We struggled to find a recipe that didn't have weird ingredients in it- apparently, soy sauce is common in green bean casserole? Eventually, we found one that would work, and it ended up being the lowest effort dish. No real chef skills were required for this one.

The green bean casserole was a crowd favorite which was shocking based on the fact it was really only three ingredients. Game-changing pro tip: substitute milk with half-and-half! It makes the casserole way more creamy.

Eleanor: I'm not green bean casserole's biggest fan, but I will say our casserole was killer. It was also the least stressful dish we made. It was just dumping cans, stirring them up and throwing the dish into the oven. It was a hit among our friends, and there are no leftovers to speak of.

Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of green beans
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 4 tablespoons of salted butter
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 bag of French-fried onions
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Strain green beans completely and dump them into a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  3. Mix the can of cream of mushroom soup into the green beans. Add heavy cream and seasonings to taste.
  4. Cut butter into tablespoon chunks and place them on the top of the mix.
  5. Bake the dish for 25 minutes.
  6. Stir the dish and add the French-fried onions to the top. Cooked for 5-10 more minutes.

The Brussels Sprouts

Eleanor: The Brussels sprouts were my favorite part of the meal. We really threw them together too. We chopped them up and spread them out on a simple baking sheet (grease your pan!). Then we drizzled some olive oil and seasonings like garlic, paprika, salt and pepper on top of the sprouts.

The sprouts did cause a little bit of a scene, though. I put the oven on broil for just a little bit while I was ordering our friends to set the table. The oven understood the assignment a little too much, and it set off the fire alarm. I must add that Taylor abandoned the ship at this point, and I was alone in the kitchen. My friends were rushing to open the windows and fan the smoke while I rescued our (not ruined) sprouts from the scorching oven.

This was my moment of Thanksgiving terror. I was alone in the kitchen, and the fire alarm was blaring. I felt the holiday stress that my mom always warned me about, and I must admit, I almost cried. It was just so much. I was trying to accomplish the perfect Thanksgiving, and the pressure was definitely getting to me.

Aside from the smoke they created, the Brussels sprouts were stellar, and I will definitely remake the recipe.

Taylor: When I came back into the apartment after getting one of our valuable guests from the parking lot, I thought I smelled something funny. Eleanor greeted me in a panic, telling me the fire alarms went off. I didn't know which I should do first: laugh or ask what one of our dishes caught on fire.

I think the slight char added a nice texture to our Brussels sprouts, though! They were crispy and bursting with the perfect blend of savory spice flavor. I would definitely recommend this as an easy dish to bring to your family's Thanksgiving. Just make sure to keep an eye on them when they are broiling.

Thank goodness it was only the Brussels sprouts that tripped the fire alarm and not the pie. I think if that was the case, I would have been the one crying instead of Eleanor.

Thanksgiving Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of Brussels
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 red onion
  • Garlic salt
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350.
  2. Cut off the tough/brown ends of the Brussels sprouts. Then cut the Brussels sprouts in half.
  3. Dice red onion.
  4. Add Brussels sprouts and onion to a greased baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and add generous amounts of each seasoning. Toss well.
  5. Bake the Brussels sprouts for 30 minutes.
  6. Put the oven on broil and bake for additional 10 minutes.

The Pumpkin Pie

Taylor: Pumpkin pie always reminds me of the video of those old people trying to say "buttery, flakey crust," for a commercial. And let me tell you, this crust was definitely butterfly and flakey, and pst... it was store-bought. If I have one bit of advice for you, it would be to never make a homemade crust. It takes too long, and ultimately all crusts taste the same. If anyone asks, you can just say it's homemade. No one will ever know.

The whole timeline of our day was worked around this pie. It was our baby. We wanted to make sure it had its own space to develop all of its flavors, so we refrained from baking it in the oven along with other dishes. This did cause some kitchen setbacks, but I would say it was worth it. It turned out better than expected based on the fact that only half of the pie was being cooked at a time. Gotta love a college apartment rental oven!

Eleanor: I have to give props to Taylor for the pie. She handled it with so much love and care; I was worried that if it didn't turn out well, she would be distraught. But it was perfect. It was fluffy, golden brown and sickly sweet.

I also learned that pumpkin pie is super easy to make. Getting the oven to cooperate is the most difficult part, and that was amplified in our case because my oven is historically annoying.

Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 frozen pie crust
  • 1 can of pumpkin
  • 1 can of evaporated milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bake frozen crust in a pie pan for 10 minutes or until slightly browned.
  3. Mix wet ingredients until smooth and creamy.
  4. Take out the crust and add the liquid mixture. Put back in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until the knife comes out clean.
  5. Serve with whipped cream.

The…" Turkey"

Taylor: Well, I must say, rotisserie chicken is the new turkey. I think one of them cost $5.00, already cooked and ready to eat. When you're ballin' on a budget, this may be the way to go. They had an amazing smoky flavor and were so juicy, especially with a little gravy on top.

I might be showing bias to the chicken, oops, I mean "turkey," though because I wasn't the one that was ripping (carving?) them apart. Poor Eleanor got stuck with this daunting task that is usually pinned to either a dad or grandpa at a typical Thanksgiving.

Honestly, queen. Gender norms, who? Thank goodness she did this part, though, or else I don't think I could ever eat chicken ever again, but I'll let her tell you more about that.

Eleanor: OK, I want to be clear that we did not cook our own Thanksgiving turkey. I was not getting up at the crack of dawn to get elbow-deep in poultry. I'm not that into Thanksgiving. 

But as we started cooking, I started thinking that we should have some sort of protein option. So last minute, I had a couple of friends stop by and get some rotisserie chickens at the grocery store. These chickens still needed to be "carved," if you will. I was tempted to make one of my friends pull apart the chickens, but I strapped on my big-girl boots and got to town.

I should have made someone else do it. It was a little traumatic. I was stressed, and since the chickens were an afterthought, there wasn't really a good time to carve the chickens. I like to think I have a strong stomach, but this was rough. It was gross, and it was violent. Chicken grease was all over me as I pulled it apart with two trusty forks. This was when I ended up crying a few tears.

The chickens, ahem, "turkey," was a good addition, and I'm glad we ended up adding them to the menu. But I will add some words of wisdom: Don't carve a chicken when you're already to your Thanksgiving breaking point. It's gory, and it will definitely ruin your cute white tank top. 

Thanksgiving "Turkey"

Ingredients:

  • 2 rotisserie chickens
  • 8 friends who are willing to go along with it and pretend that the chickens are turkey for the sake of Thanksgiving.
  1. Pull apart the chicken with two forks.
  2. Serve!

*Thanks for the last-minute chicken, guys!!!*

Final Thoughts

Eleanor: It can be done. Thanksgiving in a 10-square-foot kitchen can be done. It was emotional, it was scary, but it was also really fun. Despite all of the chaos and fret, it was a blast. Taylor and I cooked our little hearts out, and I'm pretty sure our dishes turned out well enough. My biggest tips are to…

  1. Get a potato peeler.
  2. Use a frozen, pre-made pie crust.
  3. Maybe don't let your oven broil for too long.

It was a day I won't forget and a challenge I'm so proud to say that I conquered. I also want to say thank you to my patient roommates, my friends who risked food poisoning for this experiment, Ed Sheeran for his music that got me through the day and my co-chef Taylor Maerz who kept me sane while I cried over a rotisserie chicken.

Taylor: Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner is a - don't hate me for saying this - girl boss moment. This will definitely be one of my favorite college memories, and I will never forget how good that green bean casserole was. Not to get cheesy, but this made me super excited to make a Thanksgiving meal for my own family someday. When that day comes, I will remember to:

  1. Make the mashed potatoes last.
  2. Use heavy cream instead of milk in the green bean casserole.
  3. Make everyone who didn't cook CLEAN UP!

Eleanor was the perfect co-chef. Maybe someday you will see a restaurant with chefs Eleanor and Taylor where the only menu items are pumpkin pie and green bean casserole.

Special thanks to Lauren Rogers, Kate Ryan, Isaac Plambeck, Spencer Schultz, Sam Petri, Joseph Dicklin and the Iowa State Daily Professional Staff for their contributions to this massive undertaking.

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