Thanksgiving is traditionally known as a time to gather with friends and family--usually over a big meal--to give thanks for all that you have. But whether you're hosting a Thanksgiving celebration for two people or 22, it can be a lot of work if you don't have a plan in place. Here are some tips on how to throw a great Thanksgiving celebration:
- Starters. Because the Thanksgiving meal is usually a big one, you don't need to go overboard with the snacks and appetizers beforehand. Still, it's always nice to offer guests a little something to nibble on while they're waiting for the main meal to be served. Consider serving a fruit and cheese platter with some crackers or bread sticks. Fruits like strawberries and pears, paired with gourmet cheeses, are always a hit. An antipasto platter, with sliced meats, cheeses, olives and roasted peppers is another good appetizer idea--and best of all, it can be assembled ahead of time.
- Special Drinks. It's always a good idea to have a few bottles of wine on hand if you are hosting a large Thanksgiving celebration--pick a good assortment of red and white wines to offer to your guests.
If you're in the mood for a cocktail, try concocting a Fall-inspired drink like a cranberry martini. A cranberry martini can be made by combining equal parts of vodka and cranberry juice in an ice-filled martini shaker. If the combination tastes too strong, just add more cranberry juice. You can also add a spritz of lemon or lime juice.
You can also try making an apple martini by combining vodka, sour apple schnapps and apple juice. Once again, make it to taste and add more juice as needed. If making drinks from scratch isn't your thing, check the liquor store for a pre-made apple martini mix.
- Main Course. Does the thought of cooking a turkey intimidate you? Well, it's not nearly a difficult as it seems. Most supermarket turkeys even come with a built-in timer that will pop up when the turkey is thoroughly cooked. Still, it's wise to invest in a meat thermometer so that you can check the turkey's internal temperature as it cooks. If you have purchased a frozen turkey, it will take several days to thaw out before you can cook it--allow 24 hours of thawing time for every five pounds of turkey. Once it's time to cook the turkey, make sure you take out the giblets and the other goodies that are packed inside of it, then rinse the turkey with cool water and pat it dry. If you plan to stuff your turkey, do so right before cooking it (a stuffed bird that sits too long can harbor bacteria). Keep in mind that a stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than an un-stuffed turkey, so allow extra time if you're planning to fill your turkey with Grandma's cornbread stuffing recipe. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and cook the turkey for as many hours as it needs, based on its weight (usually anywhere from three to seven hours, depending on the weight and whether or not it's stuffed). Use a turkey baster to baste the turkey with its pan drippings about every half hour. Once the internal temperature of the turkey is at 185 degrees, it's done. You can take the turkey out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil--let it sit for a while before carving it to allow the juices to drain through and to keep the turkey from drying out.
- Side dishes. Thanksgiving side dishes run the gamut from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole. Combine those traditional family recipes with a few new recipes. Some popular Thanksgiving side dishes include scalloped or mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, corn pudding, homemade cranberry sauce, green beans almondine and, of course, stuffing. If making homemade stuffing seems like too much work for you, use a boxed mix and jazz it up by adding dried cranberries, chopped dapples or raisins.
- Dessert. The all-important dessert completes a Thanksgiving celebration. Traditionally, people dine on apple, pumpkin or pecan pie after their Thanksgiving meal. Give your dessert tray a modern twist by serving a pumpkin cheesecake or a chocolate pecan pie. Have whipped topping and vanilla ice cream available to serve on the side--and don't forget to start brewing a pot of coffee.
- Setting the table. If dining room table space is at a premium, set up card tables and chairs in other rooms for extra seating. Young children love having their own table, so set up kid-size tables if you have them. Don't have enough matching plates for everyone? Set each table with its own individual color scheme. Make simple centerpieces with miniature pumpkins and fall leaves, or just put out some votive candles.
- Serving the meal. For a large crowd, it is wise to serve the meal buffet-style. Set the food out on the kitchen countertop and let your guests serve themselves. Passing the various dishes around the table is a nice idea for small groups.
- Make your celebration kid-friendly. Kids love games and crafts, so give your celebration a kid-friendly edge by having some activities for the kids to do either before or after the meal. A Thanksgiving craft, like making a construction paper turkey or a cornucopia, will keep the kids busy while the adults mingle. Thanksgiving trivia games or a bingo game are also fun ideas for the kids. Get the children in the spirit by reading them Thanksgiving themed stories--Alice Dalgliesh's "The Thanksgiving Story" and Eve Bunting's "A Turkey for Thanksgiving" are two favorites.
- Some final tips. Putting together a Thanksgiving celebration is a big undertaking, so don't try to do it all by yourself. Delegate responsibilities to other family members--even young children can help out with such chores as setting the table. Prepare ahead-of-time as much food as you can and take guests up on their offers to make or bring something. With proper planning, coordination and a little help, your Thanksgiving celebration will be a memorable one for you and your entire family.