With the Holidays right around the corner I thought I would take time to share a few hosting tips that have worked for me over the years with links to a few of our favorite recipes. After many years of hosting Thanksgiving Dinners I’m inclined to say Cater Everything! And you could easily do that. Heinen’s has a wonderful spread available for the price it’s a steal. BUT I can’t do that. If cooking isn’t your thing, I say go for it, but I have been cooking for years and if I try to pretend now that I can’t or simply choose not to do it there will be some big retaliation.
The kitchen has long been my place to connect with my family especially my kids so a holiday is just an extension of that with all hands on deck, serving the best ingredients and favorite dishes. It starts early. Well, actually it starts days ahead of time, but on Thanksgiving Dat for instance we wake early to take the turkey out of the brine and get it onto the grill. We start the day with a good breakfast. Its important to feed your help. Keeping them hydrated is also a must. Pear Mimosas and Cranberry Margaritas usually do the trick
Pie making is done the day before. Who want’s this mess when guests are on their way.
The great debate over fresh cranberry sauce or the canned jellied version still rages on in our house. Just to keep peace we serve both. I’m on team homemade. It’s delicious and so easy to make.
When a crowd is filling your house it’s always good to start with a simple cheese board. I like to add a wreath of rosemary as a bed for olives, cheese and peppers. It fills the room with fragrance and adds a hint of rosemary flavor to what ever sits on it.
There is always so much food tempting you to fill up before you even sit at the table. Maybe Thanksgiving should be a three day event so you can have one whole day just for the starters and another for the desserts. Just writing this makes me pause to be thankful for our abundant blessings. We share as best we can but still I know there are those who don’t have the same full table or full house experience. My favorite Thanksgiving dates way back to our first as a married couple. We lived in a small apartment in the city, new to Chicago with no family or even close friends yet in the area. We made a huge traditional feast, cooking the largest turkey we could find with all the sides. Then we portioned it all out into pie plates covered them with with foil and with plastic forks in hand we walked our usual route up Maddison St. handing out our dinners to all the homeless folks who manned their usual spots like it were any other day. That was a great day.
In our house mushrooms are always part of the feast. They are in the dressing, served with herbed cream on crostini or mashed potatoes or baked into a mushroom cheese tart.
Turkey is always the Thanksgiving star of the show. I’m not the biggest fan of turkey, I can’t lie, but there is a beauty in the tradition of reliving the simplicity and abundance of the first Thanksgiving gathering. I know there was other game and shellfish that made it to the table and over the years we have added various dishes to our feast but the turkey remains. Let’s be honest, left over turkey sandwiches with mayo and cranberries, stuffing stacked high on country white bread is why we make the extra large bird.
Here are a few tried and tested Holiday tips from our house:
Plan early and shop ahead of time: Holidays are a great time to splurge on the best ingredients. Start slowly stocking your pantry now with quality staples. Don’t forget to order your Turkey. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Try adding quince paste to your cheese board. This year we are going to roast chestnuts. Can you believe I’ve never done it.
Set the table ahead of time: Plan your table scape and map out your dishes. I put post it notes on the table where the serving dishes belong. Wash and polish china and silver days before. stack everything on the table and cover with an extra table cloth so it doesn’t get dusty. On the day of the celebration you can easily put everything in place.
Be creative and industrious with decorations: Use items that are already on your shopping list. Use seasonal foods such as fruits and squashes that you can easily cook in the days after your celebration. Add fresh herbs to your holiday bouquets to add a fresh savory scent to your table. You can freeze or dry them later or use them in your left over preparations. Nothing should be wasted.
Make a great play list: Let the kids help. Yes, football is usually on in the living room and all the parades are on t.v. all day but having a good playlist in the kitchen, not too loud to drown out the scores of the game, will make the work all the more fun. Have a second seated dinner play list for background music while you eat. Keep it low and instrumental so it doesn’t interfere with conversation but just elevates to festivities.
Cook in advance as much as possible:
5-7 days prior, Clean out the fridge and freezer, making sure that you have enough room for what you will purchase.
2-3 days prior, make side dishes that can be reheated the day of and take anything out of the freezer that will need to thaw out.
The day before is a great time to bake your pies, many of which can be left at room temperature when they are done. You can also prep your salad and vegetables, so that on Thanksgiving Day you can just assemble everything.
Prepping everything so far in advance mean all you have to focus on is the star of the show, the turkey. We roast our turkey on the grill out side freeing up the oven space for heating up sides.
Let guests bring dishes: If your guests offer, allow them to bring a dish. Just be specific about what you need—you don’t want three apple pies. OR, maybe you do!
Allow guests to help clean up: This might depend on what type of party you are hosting. If your house if full of close family and friends they will most likely be happy to at least clear the food from the table. Even if you scrape and rinse the plates to stack them aside to wash later it will at least clear the clutter leaving room for after dinner cocktails, coffee and dessert. Turn the music up and make the process part of the party.
If you have tips from your holiday celebrations please share them in the comments. Be a part of the conversation!
About the Author
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. Her Blog, Table and Dish is a website devoted to celebrating and curating the many ways that food binds us. Sally hopes that her recipes and images will inspire you to gather your friends and family in the kitchen to make memories, use the time to connect with busy kids, chat over mixing bowls, get messy, laugh, sing, set the table, clear the table, pass the salt, debate the days topics and pray. You can follow her here as a weekly contributor to 365Barrington and Heinen’s as well as via Table and Dish on Instagram and on her website at TableAndDish.com