Monday, November 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

In my fanatical quest for a fabulous Turkey Day, I've been scouring the internet for all things Thanksgiving.  During my hunt through the world wide web, I've found a plethora of tips and tricks for a successful (and, dare I say, stress-free) Thanksgiving.  The list below is my attempt to gather all of these ideas into one place.  Did I miss something?  Feel free to share your own favorite tips in the comment section.

Staying Organized:
  • Start early.  Nothing will lower your anxiety levels like having a plan in place.  This will also allow you to save a couple bucks by shopping the sales, clipping a couple coupons, and avoiding last-minute desperation purchases. 
  • Once you know how many people you'll be hosting, count your plates, flatware, and glasses to make sure you have enough.  My knives seem to disappear in the dishwasher, so I usually need to pick up a few replacements around the holidays.  Also, it never hurts to have an extra place setting available in case you have a last-minute dinner addition.  
  • After you have your menu planned, sort through your serving dishes and serving spoons to ensure you have an appropriate platter and utensil for each item.  Scooping mashed potatoes out of tupperware takes the class out of a dinner party real quick.  Also, have a few extra serving utensils on hand for guests who are bringing dishes.
  • A few days before Thanksgiving, use post-it notes to label your serving bowls with what they will contain.  Then set them out on the table or buffet.  This will confirm that you have an appropriate dish for every item and also that there is enough room for everything.  I know this tip sounds psycho, but it really helps.  You don't want make your husband create a "buffet table" out of luggage covered with table cloths 30 minutes before dinner.  That will make everyone testy.
  • Buy an oven thermometer to make sure your oven's temperature gauge is accurate.  This will help you avoid the 12-hour turkey.  "I didn't realize the oven was only at 200 degrees!  No wonder this took so long!" 
  • Set the table the day, or several days, before Thanksgiving.  You don't want to deal with this right before the main event.  And if you're worried that your kids/animals/spouse will mess up your beautiful table, cover it with a clean bedsheet or extra tablecloth.  (While I've never tried this myself, it sounds pretty doggone clever.)
  • If you'll have candles on the dinner table, use unscented candles.  Scented candles can confuse your taste buds when you're eating.
Making Dinner:
  • Plan your menu early.  And don't feel guilty if your menu doesn't include 12 different jello salads.  No one needs that much jello, anyway.
  • Are you making any new recipes this year?  To keep your stress level at minimum, give new dishes a try in the weeks leading up to the big day.  Once you know it tastes delicious, you'll be much less nervous.  And if it tastes like crap, you can try something different.
  • Whenever possible, make dishes the day before Thanksgiving.  That way, you can enjoy the holiday with your family and friends.  And many of the Turkey Day classics reheat well. That's a darn good reason to give thanks, if you ask me.
  • Speaking of reheating, the following items taste just as good (or even better!) when reheated:
    • Green Bean Casserole (Wait to add the onion ring topping until Thanksgiving day.)
    • Mashed Potatoes (Just add extra milk/cream and butter before reheating.)
    • Candied Yams (If you're in the marshmallow camp, wait until Thanksgiving day to top with marshmallows.) 
    • Cranberry Sauce (You don't even need to reheat this one!)
    • Applesauce (Again, no reheating needed.)
    • Dessert items (pie, cake, whatever)
  • Prep the day before.  Chop vegetables for the stuffing, brine your turkey, wash fruit and vegetables. 
If You Are Not Hosting:
  • Ask your host what you can bring.  And if you have a family specialty that you'd like to share, suggest that dish to the host.  Likewise, if you can't cook/hate to cook/don't have time to cook, offer to bring booze.  This will save your host moolah and will be much appreciated.  
  • If you are in charge of bringing a dish for dinner, but you might be late due to another commitment, drop off your dish earlier in the day.  Then your host can warm it up for you and serve dinner on schedule.  My friend, Kelly, always does this, and I love her (more) for it!
  • Try to remember your own serving utensils in case your host didn't read our handy holiday tip guide and doesn't have extras. 
  • If your dish needs to be reheated, use a post-it to label the dish with reheating instructions.  Things get crazy in the kitchen at the last minute, and that way anyone can prep your dish.  And there might be a cute guy/girl watching the football game who demands your attention more than your dinner contribution.


  1. Great suggestions, Erin! I would add three thoughts for guests: 1) Be sensitive to your hosts desire for help! Some hosts LOVE help in the kitchen. Others want guests OUT OF THE WAY>>>"THIS IS MY SHOW!" (not MY particular style, but it is out there.) 2) If you are contributing a dish needing to be assembled at the last minute, BRING ALL THE INGREDIENTS READY TO BE ASSEMBLED. I remember years ago a friend who swooped into a dinner party late with the salad ingredients, unwash, uncut as I was 2 mins. from seating the group. And then he/she asked if I had a very esoteric vinegar! 3) Be sensitive to the oven space. One year a person brought 5 different types of dinner rolls, each needed to be heated/baked at a different temp. for a different time and instructed me that all types were to be served. Thought I was going to have a meltdown!

  2. Excellent additions, anonymous! If anyone else has tips to share, please do!