Hosting the Holidays in your Home

By: Jillian Klein

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Thanksgiving is known as the holiday in which we take the time to be thankful for everything we have. However, many home-owners associate Thanksgiving as a time to feel stressed about cooking, cleaning, and hosting friends and family from near and far. This year, why not put the "thanks" back into Thanksgiving and give yourself more time to enjoy the holidays by following these helpful hosting tips:

Tip #1: Start with something fun
Win Thanksgiving (and keep family occupied while you're in the kitchen) by setting up board games, cards, music, and trivia questions for friends and family to entertain themselves while snacking on simple hors d'oeuvres. My parents always tell their guests to come to dinner prepared with 3 trivia questions written on index cards - they can be family trivia about our memories or real quirky facts - but we always have a great laugh and it takes our minds off of our stomachs.

Tip #2: Plan your menu

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and you need a plan of attack. The first step? Figuring out which dishes to make this year. With social media, it is easy to become distracted from your usually recipes and overwhelm yourself with the challenge of introducing new dishes. Don't get me wrong - I am all about trying new things, but the day before Thanksgiving may not be the best time to start testing out a new recipe. Here are three no-fail classics to get you started:

Tip #3: Preparation is Key

Sides are especially easy to prep before the big day. My mom and I always team up the day before Thanksgiving in order to prepare as much as we can ahead of time. We precook dishes that can easily be reheated, we partially cook, season, and/or marinade other items, place food in its proper cookware - we even set the table the night before. The following morning, all we have to do is let things cook. It makes everything so much easier and much less stressful. 

Tip #4: Do a gravy practice run
Everybody loves gravy - the warm, rich,  silky,  goodness just makes all of those sides pop. However, it is easy to make your gravy too thick, too thin - even lumpy. Want guaranteed lump-free gravy? Test out your recipe on an earlier turkey or chicken dinner - or, take a cue from Chicagoland Chef du Jour: "Buy a good jar of gravy just in case. Even the best cooks can screw up. I add a little wine to it, a diced shallot and presto." 

Winning gravy recipes to try:

Tip #5: Prep your dough ahead of time
Making pie dough on Thanksgiving morning is asking for trouble when more urgent matters will be at hand. Make it early and pop the plastic-wrapped dough discs in the freezer until you're ready to thaw and roll them out. In a jam? Purchase a store-bought frozen pie dough, when you add it to your pie, use your fork to crimp your pie crust and an egg wash to make it shine - it will disguise your crust to look homemade.. shhhhh.

Set yourself up for success with:

Tip #6: Serve what you really love
Turkey and mashed potatoes are classic Thanksgiving dishes, but why not start your own tasty tradition? After about 18 years of Thanksgivings with my family, we all looked at each other and said "I'm sick of turkey." We had a laugh and realized - there are no set rules for Thanksgiving. Since that day, my mother prepares a smaller turkey and my father makes a giant prime rib. Other families prefer pasta dishes like lasagna on Thanksgiving. Not only is it easy to prepare, but it is also a recipe that can be easily multiplied for the number of guests you expect at your table.

Tip #7: Jazz up boxed stuffing

Stuffing is a classic staple. I have tried all different variations; adding cranberries and pine nuts for a sweeter touch, introducing sausage and sage for a heartier flavor, sourdough, cornbread, rye - you name it. However, I have found that if you simply add the right ingredients to your favorite store-bought stuffing mix, not only does it cut your work in half but your guests will never know the difference. I personally love Stove Top Turkey stuffing. I saute finely diced mushrooms, red and green peppers, onions, and celery in butter and add it to the stuffing. I also substitute chicken broth instead of water which brings out the richness of the dish.

Tip #8: Offer drinks for all ages
Festive thirst quenchers like Sparkling Cranberry Punch will make all your guests happy regardless of age or preference. Non-alcoholic options are always a good idea, just because your guest doesn’t want a glass of wine doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel special too! Here are some great beverage options for everyone to enjoy:

Tip #9: Keep the kids busy

  • For children, it seems like Thanksgiving dinner takes foreveeeer to land on the table. Keep them occupied with cute and crafty desserts they can assemble with a favorite relative. Decorating cookies or cupcakes is always easy. You can also give them a fun and easy job to do such as making place settings for each member of the family.

Tip #10: Lose the Load

Drowning in leftovers? Send your guests home with goodies they can savor after the holiday meal is over. This will not only make your guests happy but it will also make some room in yourfridge and help to eliminate the massive amounts of leftovers we are more often than not left with!

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Click the link below to view tips for shopping on Black Friday this year:

Is this your first Thanksgiving Dinner? Watch the video below for some helpful tips:

Claire Collins