Thanksgiving Day Tips

By: Ashley Bode

This time last year I was in the midst of planning an annual Friends' Thanksgiving for twenty of my favorite people. I spent my days sifting through editions of Bon Apetite and Gourmet, old and new, to find recipes that were unique, delicious, and relatively time-efficient. I budgeted out every expense so as not to overspend.  I was making place-cards, sending invites, learning fancy napkin folds, polishing wine glasses, buffing china and rearranging furniture.

This year my holiday will be much more low key. I will be in my new home, not nearly large enough to host five people, let alone twenty. We will probably go out to eat, taking advantage of the best Thanksgiving meal New York has to offer or stay in and have sweet potato pie and a turkey sandwich. Since I can't partake in the planning of my own feast, I am offering up the eight things I've learned in hosting Thanksgiving that can be tricky if you're not prepared.

1. Don't wait until the last minute I admit, I procrastinate at nearly everything, but paying bills, buying new music, and planning parties do not fall into this category. Plan every detail in advance. Configure your table space, choose your guest list, set your menu in stone, and grocery shop in advance. It will make the rest of the party effortless.

2. Serve only what you feel comfortable serving My first Friends' Thanksgiving I decided to cook everything, because I couldn't insure that my guests would bring something appropriate or plentiful enough for everyone. Taking the cooking into my own hands was a huge task, but I knew exactly what we would be eating and didn't have to worry about two people bringing mashed potatoes or someone forgetting the pie. It was my first turkey experience so I chose the easiest recipe so that I could guarantee success. This is not the holiday to cook outside your comfort zone.  If you do host a pot-luck, assign dishes.

3. Make sure there is a wide variety It is definitely important to have the Thanksgiving essentials, but don't be scared to step out of that box. The past two years I have hosted vegetarians which can be difficult for such a meat-centric meal. Offer vegetable mains like gratins, lasagna, or pasta. These are just as pleasing as side dishes and also make perfect alternatives to those with dietary restrictions or just don't like turkey.

4. Always have a back-up plan Hosting a holiday party seems to be the perfect occasion in which Murphy's Law can be proven. Avoid these instances with a back-up plan. Often times people will bring a bottle of wine or a case of spiked cider for the host, intended to be shared, but don't count on it. Have your own stash available because nobody is going to want to run out to the liquor or grocery store once the drinks are tapped. Have extra chairs should an unexpected guest show. Give yourself ample time between when guests arrive and dinner starts because anything is possible and you don't want to be caught off guard with hungry guests.

5. Time it out! Carefully study your menu and work out the best system for cooking. Many dishes can be made or prepared ahead and finished just before serving. Blanche your veggies! Make your pies in advance! Double check the thawing time on the turkey! A lot of dishes on Thanksgiving also require using the oven, which has limited space since it will be housing The Bird, so make a list of what needs to be cooked, when, and where so you can adjust everything accordingly. I suggest finding unique or alternative cooking methods. Look for recipes that are stove top or in a slow cooker to alleviate that oven space. Do you know someone who owns a Dutch oven? Borrow it.

6. The littlest touches impress the most Many people are familiar with the hodge-podge feasts of their childhood, but now is the perfect time to elevate your holiday by making your guests feel special. Handmade touches throughout your party will impress your guests and have them thinking about being invited again next year. Send out invites, personalized and elegant. Make name cards, set the table and decorate appropriately. Include favorite dishes of your guests so they know you're thinking about them. Create a signature, one of a kind punch. Homemade pie crust and gravy---enough said.

7. The turkey will be the easiest part of your day If this is your first experience cooking a turkey, I promise you will be surprised at how simple the turkey will be. Don't sweat it, seriously. There are about a hundred other things to focus on. Let the turkey be; it practically cooks itself. If this isn't your first rodeo, kick that turkey up a notch. Try a new recipe and center your menu around the flavors of that turkey. My favorite? Sage seasoned turkey with Apple Jack Brandy and Cider Gravy.

8. Pick the right guests Great food and drinks are key, but having the right guest list is equally important. Naturally, invite those closest to you, friends or family. This year it may be time to include new faces; people who that need to be introduced, guests that might otherwise be celebrating alone, or someone you're just getting to know. Truly sharing is the spirit of this holiday.

What are some of your Thanksgiving tips?

Photo: Lindsay Drecoll Brown and Ashley Bode

For more of Ashley's tips and recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)