A quarantined Thanksgiving: What first-time turkey day cooks need to know

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — In Kiki Aranita’s family, Thanksgiving is like an extreme sport. Her family prepares for it year-round.

The Philly-based chef is a native of Hawaii, but she won’t be able to go back to visit her family this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the one hand, she won’t have to fight them for leftovers.

“I have aunts and uncles that have just been saving up yogurt containers and to-go containers” to pack leftovers, she said, “because Hawaii has banned single-use plastics.”

Aranita is not alone. As COVID-19 restrictions ramp up again, many aren’t going to visit far-away family members this year, or they have canceled big family gatherings for Thanksgiving altogether.

So if you’re staying home or isolated this year and you’re not used to doing the cooking, Aranita has some advice.

“Substitute things,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to experiment, and if there’s only a few of you, make a small bird. Make a duck. I roasted a chicken in the air fryer — I recommend it.”

And, don’t get too consumed by the need to cook your first turkey.

“To me, the bird is like a tablescape. It’s festive, but the other stuff is more important. There is no Thanksgiving without stuffing, gravy — and ahi poke, of course.”

Aranita permanently closed her Hawaiian-style restaurant in Rittenhouse, Poi Dog, over the summer because of the pandemic. She knows firsthand what it’s like to battle the difficulties COVID-19 presented. But just because the holidays will inevitably look different this year, she said that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

“In that sense, we have an abundance of memory, and something good will come out of this,” she said.

As for those who really are not destined for the kitchen, Aranita said local restaurants still need the public’s help.

“If you are not a chef or if you are not quarantined with a chef, there are restaurants that definitely need your business right now.”

For more details, listen to the KYW Newsradio original podcast What’s Cooking on the RADIO.COM app.