Last Thanksgiving marked a momentous occasion here at home. Momentous because Jeff and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for thirteen people. It was the biggest one I’ve ever done and I wanted to do it right. Right–by my definition–does not include paper plates or Stove-Top stuffing. I mean right right. I pulled out all the stops in an effort to treat my people to not only a delicious meal, but a great time as well. A friend of mine recently learned that she will have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving this year and asked me for my top ten tips. I’m sharing them today.
1. Get a head start
I plan my Thanksgiving menu–from appetizers and drinks all the way to dessert–one month out. Doing so gives me time to test out cocktail recipes (which is such a chore, mind you) and make substitutions if I find that I don’t care for a particular recipe. It also allows me to stock up on nonperishable ingredients that might be scarce as the holiday approaches. Last year, for instance, we served a cheese plate as an appetizer. It included these super tasty pumpkin cranberry crisps I found at Trader Joe’s and–wisely–decided to stock up on. Come Thanksgiving, those particular crackers had been sold out for weeks.
2. Serve simple appetizers
Come the big day, you’ll be more concerned about internal turkey temperature and how many touchdowns the Cowboys have scored than appetizers, so it’s best to keep them simple. Last year, we served appetizers that were prepared ahead of time–a holiday cheese platter, deviled eggs and spiced nuts–and I can most assuredly tell you that the appetizer course was a big hit. In years past, we attempted far more complicated recipes (fried raviolis, anyone?) that not only made a huge mess but took a lot of time to prepare. I don’t recommend taking that route.
3. Serve a seasonal cocktail
We love to serve creative cocktails any and every time we host a meal. Wine, of course, is always a welcome accompaniment to dinner, but creative cocktails contribute to a fun and festive gathering. My seasonal favorites include the caramel apple cocktail, a Kinky champagne cocktail or a pumpkin margarita.
4. Take stock of dinnerware, flatware and servware
There’s nothing worse than going to set the table and realizing that you’re short a plate or two. When I’m preparing to host a meal, I take out all of the dinnerware and flatware that I will be using and give it a once over to check for chips, etc. Once I’ve counted and inspected everything I wash it, dry it and set it aside in a convenient spot so that when it comes time to set the table I don’t have to lug out the stepstool and dig through the nether regions of my kitchen to find my lesser used items.
5. Don’t be afraid to mix and match
If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see that my table is set with mismatched dinnerware. I simply didn’t have enough of the dinnerware set I normally used. That particular set is no longer available and so I decided to buy a couple of additional pieces that coordinated with what I already had on hand. I was actually really happy with the way the table looked when it was set, mismatched pieces and all.
6. Present a favor
This is something my mom did and though I’ve always loved the idea, I’ve not put it into practice…yet. She used to give each guest a little something extra: a truffle in a tiny box or a single lottery ticket. Fun, right? You could place each favor near the guest’s seat at the dinner table or put them in a basket and hand your favors out at the end of the night as the guests say their goodbyes.
7. Spice it up
There are certain things that absolutely, positively must make it to the table each year. In my house, sweet potato casserole is one of those things. But I like to keep my menu interesting by subbing in a new dish each year. Maybe you could replace the green bean casserole with balsamic roasted brussel sprouts. Or try a butterscotch pudding for dessert in place of pumpkin pie.
8. Mash ahead
I’m a firm believer in prepping and/or preparing as many meal components ahead of time as is possible. I have to tell you, though, that if you do nothing else beforehand, mash. your. potatoes. And don’t stop there; go ahead and prepare your mashed potatoes just as you would if you were serving them immediately. Once you’ve got them all fluffed up to potatoe-y perfection, scoop them into a ceramic baking dish, cover and refrigerate for up to 48 hrs. On meal day, cut a stick of butter into 1 tablespoon slices and put them on your mashed potatoes. Bake with foil and bake at 375° until heated through. I’m telling you, make ahead mashed potatoes is a game changer, folks.
9. Answer the door in your pajamas
Okay, that might be a bit much for you, but you could at least answer the door in your slippers. I read one time that guests will instantly feel more comfortable if you answer the door in your pajamas. You’ll contribute to a more relaxed, comfy and cozy ambiance. Ever since I read that, I’ve made a it a point to answer the door wearing something silly: fuzzy slippers, pajama pants or an apron. Once everyone is settled in with a drink and appetizer I ditch the silly accessory, but by then conversation is flowing and people are mingling. My pajama pants do the trick every time.
10. Prepare a toast
I’m a bit of a sentimental sap and I happen to love a good toast. But since I’m not always good at coming up with the right words on the fly, I start thinking about the toast ahead of time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I write it out word for word, but if I’m going to offer it, I give some thought as to what I want to say. Alternatively, I might ask someone else to do it, but I like to give him or her a heads up ahead of time so that nobody is caught off guard.
These are my personal tricks of the trade. What is the one tip you would add to help someone who has never hosted a holiday meal before?