The Holidays are upon us, T-2 days until Thanksgiving!
Our turkey has been ordered from the local butcher (they're not popular here in France, but we have a fresh one coming!) I snuck a couple cans of pumpkin in my suitcase from our last trip to the US for pie, and I've saved up plenty of old and stale French bread that is just waiting to become stuffing! This year for Thanksgiving we're hosting a small group - but I'm no stranger to 20+ gatherings. Hosting a large number of people is no easy task, so I enlisted the help of some hosting veterans for advice on the big day.
My Aunt Maryann is the quintessential hostess. She's held our family's Christmas at her home for the majority of my life, and my family is BIG. I'm talking 60+ people at dinner big. Learning to be a thoughtful and organized host takes time and (in my experience) the advice of others, so I couldn't think of anyone better to ask for some tips.
First things first - Make a list
"Sit down and making a plan of what the menu is so that you can form a shopping list. Split the list into three sections; who is bringing what, which groceries you need to buy and a detailed plan of what you want to accomplish each day prior as well as on the day."
How to Plan the Perfect Menu for your Group
Make sure you think about who will be eating, not just the number coming. Men in their teens and 20s will usually feast on much more meat and potatoes than others, so add that in. Will there be vegetarians? Make sure to include a larger selection of vegetable offerings and meat free sides. Think of plate appeal. If you are having turkey or chicken or pork, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, the plate will be unappealingly "white". Switch to a green veggie, or a roasted red potato with skins on, etc.
I am not always great at this, but try not to over complicate the meal by serving too many dishes and trying to make the dinner 'impressive'. You'll end up with too much food left over and you'll be too busy to spend time with your guests. Plus, Thanksgiving is all about tradition, stick to the basics. Thanksgiving is not the day to go exotic. People want roast turkey with the trimmings, not turkey curry. Save that for a different get together.
Tips on Hosting
Let people help. They really do want to, and you'll be crazed trying to do everything. Let someone else get people their first drink, set the table, mash the potatoes, carve the meat, etc.
Don't over serve the alcohol pre-dinner. Guests who are on their way to being drunk won't enjoy the dinner you prepared and can make the dinner less enjoyable for others.
And most importantly, be realistic about what you can truly do! There is nothing wrong with the bakery making the rolls or the pies, with cranberry out of the can, please, skip the canned gravy though! Relax and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
My good friend Lisa is one of those impossibly accomplished chefs who makes everything look so easy. She's my very own Ina Garden (and her Italian husband is her Jeffery!) and I love swapping baking stories with her. As a busy working dog mom, she has plenty of advice to share on simplifying and improving your baking as well as when and what to make ahead.
Organizing Your Time
Thanksgiving is not the time to be over ambitious. Stick to the basics and don't over do it on the sides. The more you make, the more you'll need to do at the last minute! It's important to plan your last hour wisely in order to keep everything warm and not overdone. While the turkey is cooking with about an hour left, boil your potatoes (leave the skins on, it's easier and the flavor is excellent). Once the turkey is done, take it out and let it rest for around 20 minutes, during this time make your potatoes. Potatoes are best warm and fresh, rather than reheated. Immediately after removing the turkey from the oven, reduce the temperature of your oven, and use it as a warming station for all dishes which have been made before. By the time the 20 minutes is up, everything is warm and you're ready to eat!
Baking the crust prior then adding filling, then doing lattice work on top is very easy and makes you look like a pro baker (when in fact it might be your first time with lattice work). Pies are generally better the day after due to the filling having time to firm up. I always make a few extra so that if one is screwed up, I still have a few more options if needed. And who doesn't like extra pie??
Apple Pie: "Buy a slicer/corer from Amazon, don’t try peeling and slicing 5 lbs of apples, that is just crazy. Use lemon juice and sugar to keep apple slices from turning brown and to allow juices to release from apples. EXPERT TIP: use the extra juice released it will collect in the bottom of the bowl) and caramelize it in a saucepan. Add some apple juice or apple cider to intensify the flavor. To caramelize use a half stick of butter with brown sugar and apple juice and reduce down to a syrup. See this link for more detailed information. Apple cider vinegar is also a great additive to just for extra depth of flavor, just a splash!"
Whipped Cream: "I am not going to lie, I do use frozen whip cream from time to time. Making your own is always more impressive, especially when you add a drop of almond extract (for apple pies) and cinnamon/sugar or whatever floats your boat. It is also SO easy to make ahead of time and just dollop on!"
Are you hosting a fest this year? If you're still looking for inspiration on what to make, here is my list from last year including all of my favorite recipes. Our friends are taking care of the wine (or course, it's France), bringing cheese from the mountains and a very French vegetable galette.
Thank you to Maryann and Lisa for the help - I aspire to be half the host and chefs each of you are!!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!