How To Do A Virtual Thanksgiving Recipe Swap

If you're separated from loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ensure that your favorite family dishes will be part of your holiday spread by planning now.

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For many people, Thanksgiving celebrations will look different this year. While hosting a virtual Thanksgiving dinner isn’t the same as seeing family and friends in person, including their signature dish in your spread is a nice way to have part of them there with you.

Getting the secret family recipe from your relatives can also provide an opportunity for bonding, since you can get their cooking tips while also catching up and reminiscing on past Thanksgivings. Here’s where the virtual recipe swap comes in: For any dishes that are absolute staples in your Thanksgiving spread — whether it’s Grandma’s pumpkin pie, Mom’s cranberry sauce, your sister-in-law’s mashed potatoes or a nontraditional Thanksgiving dish — get the original recipe from its maker and share it with the family. Each household replicates the dish in its own kitchen and shares the tasty results with everyone. It’s a great way to enjoy a virtual Thanksgiving meal without physically being together.

Here are suggestions from experts on how to do it smoothly.

For less tech-savvy folks, swap recipes over the phone or use snail mail.

If you’re going the old-fashioned route, first you have to get your hands on the original recipe, which isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Monique Volz, founder and CEO of Ambitious Kitchen and Ambitious Home, recommends asking family members if they’ll mail you the recipe in a letter or on a recipe card.

“My grandmother does this often for me, as it’s easier for her to write and have time to mull it over than to remember over the phone on a whim,” she told HuffPost.

“Our family dishes are sacred and carry lots of history,” said Anna Francese Gass, chef and author of “Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women.” “Don’t miss the opportunity to hear the dish’s origins and who in the family tree just loved it.”
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“Our family dishes are sacred and carry lots of history,” said Anna Francese Gass, chef and author of “Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women.” “Don’t miss the opportunity to hear the dish’s origins and who in the family tree just loved it.”

Then, call the recipe’s owner to get instructional details that may not be written on the recipe card.

“Asking a lot of questions is key,” said Anna Francese Gass, chef and author of “Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women.

“You can also print off a similar recipe that you find online and see if you can alter it based on their personal preferences. If you love your grandmother’s sour cream apple pie, you can look some up and then ask her how she makes hers,” Gass told HuffPost. “Looking at similar recipes will get you familiar with the general process, and then you can personalize it based on Granny’s version.”

For family members with some tech skills, you can do a teaching session over Zoom or FaceTime.

A video call can offer insights into the cooking process that you may not be able to glean from a written recipe.

“By watching and recording the process via pen and paper, laptop or even a visual recording (Zoom has this capability), you can see the step-by-step in real time,” Gass said. “When simply rattling off a recipe on the phone, many people will forget steps or ingredients and end up unknowingly giving you an incomplete recipe. While in person is ideal, tech has come through for us in a big way, so take advantage of it.”

During the virtual demo, Gass recommends kicking things off by reading off the ingredients list before diving into the method. Once the recipe owner starts cooking or baking, ask them to go slowly and stop before each new step. If you can encourage your relative to use measuring utensils, that’s even better, as one cook’s definition of a tablespoon can be quite different from another’s.

“They should explain what they are putting in and about how much before proceeding,” Gass said. “Asking not only the how, but the why of each ingredient and step will help you understand what goes into the dish and the person’s thought process to getting to the final product. It helps when you are recreating to know the backstory. Trust me!”

Ask any clarifying questions you may have, and if the recipe owner happens to share any tips or tricks, write those down.

“You will rely on them later. Get them down so you don’t forget,” Gass said. “For example, if you must wait eight hours before flipping something out of a pan, make sure you do. He or she has made it many times — they know what works!”

Lastly, if there’s a family story attached to the dish, Gass recommends writing that down as well.

“Our family dishes are sacred and carry lots of history,” she said. “Don’t miss the opportunity to hear the dish’s origins and who in the family tree just loved it.”

If at first you don’t succeed, tweak and try again.

Whether the method you use turns out to be imperfect or the recipe you’re following is inaccurate, don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t exactly replicate the original dish.

This process of trial and error is something Bobbie Lloyd, chief baking officer at Magnolia Bakery and author of “The Magnolia Bakery Handbook: A Complete Guide for the Home Baker,” is all too familiar with, whether she’s working with a full recipe or a barebones list of ingredients and minimal directions.

I’m lucky to have family members that have baked for generations and shared those recipes with family in written form,” Lloyd said. “Some of Grandma’s recipes had notes like ‘a blob of butter the size of a walnut,’ which would be about a tablespoon. Some recipes I have are only a list of ingredients with baking temperature and time. I’ve been the one to add instructions to those recipes so that they can be shared with everyone.”

“Because I’m a baker and understand how recipes work, I can usually recreate a recipe based on the proper technique for a specific baked good,” Lloyd continued. “If it’s a cake, for example, I know that it will start by creaming the butter, adding sugar, adding eggs one at a time and then adding dry ingredients.”

“If I have a recipe card that only has ingredients and bake time, I always begin the recipe development process by envisioning the way I remember it looking and tasting,” she added. “If I know what I want the end goal to be, I can make little changes along the way to get to the right finished product. If it doesn’t turn out right the first time, I’ll continue to change ratios and bake times until it’s just right!”

Even before you start making the dish, set yourself up for success by making sure you have everything you need ahead of time.

“This includes ingredients, utensils, baking dishes, pots, pans, parchment paper, etc.” Volz said. “You want to try and be as prepared as possible, especially if you are a novice cook or baker, or haven’t made the recipe before.”

Make it interactive.

Bring your recipe swap to life beyond simply recreating a dish, and get the family involved. If they’re the competitive kind, a friendly “Great British Bake Off”-style Zoom competition is sure to provide an afternoon of laughs and entertainment.

For noncompetitive types, Gass recommends organizing a weekly “chef of the week” Zoom call, where a different family member shows how to make their signature dish each week.

“Everyone else joins with a pen and paper and the chef of the day shows how to make the family favorite,” Gass said. “By the end, you will all be pros on each other’s dishes. It’s a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen and get your loved ones doing something that they enjoy doing, even during difficult times.”

You could also do a secret recipe swap, where everyone gets to make someone else’s recipe.

“You have one person in charge and each family member or unit submits a recipe,” Volz said. “That person is in charge of delegating the surprise recipe to others. Make everything together on a Zoom call, or simply show off your creation and guess who created the recipe later!”


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