Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Hosting Thanksgiving

 A reader question for the community:

Dear Muffy,

I am a new-ish reader (and this is the first question I have submitted!) I am looking for advice on hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner. My husband and I have been married three years and we will be hosting 10 friends in our modest apartment. It will be pretty casual but I would be grateful for any tips from this crowd! I just invested in a large All-Clad roasting pan for a Turkey and I am excited. 

Thank you!

36 comments:

  1. I have been making Thanksgiving dinners for ages. Here, for what they are worth, are the results of many years of refinement. First and foremost, the days of gorging with heavy, bland food are over. As to the turkey, the scent wafting through the house might be more important than the turkey itself. Martha Stewart's turkey, covered with cheese cloth and basted with melted butter and wine, is easy and delicious. Making everything else vegetarian will not only thrill your vegetarian guests, it can thrill you. Gravy: butter and flour roux, vegetable broth, Sherry, oyster mushrooms (substituting for giblets), and seasoning. Blanched haricots vert tossed in olive oil, Parmigiana, finely minced garlic, and torn up baguette. Martha's plain bread dressing with pecans and loads of fresh sage. Roasted root vegetables tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs you love.

    The rest is whatever you want, but this menu is easy, not too heavy, and savory.

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    1. I would have to disagree

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    2. Save me a seat at your table - sounds great !

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    3. A) I would definitely accept an invitation to your dinner
      B) I would definitely not describe that menu as "easy". There's half a dozen words in there that I do not even understand.

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  2. Roast turkey, fresh or frozen (follow the thawing and roasting directions on the wrapper), yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, jellied cranberry sauce, parker house dinner rolls, butter, white semi sweet wine, ice tea for those who don't imbibe. Pumpkin pie for dessert with whipped cream and coffee. The meal is important, but so is the guests and the meaning of the meal: Thanksgiving.

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  3. Our Family only uses turkey breast. Buy a few.(don't have to worry about a big clean up)Martha Stewart mashed potatoes (with cream cheese). Cranberry sauce with lemon zest. Roast all veggies. Dinner rolls with butter. Of course Gravy. All manner of cakes and pies and cookies. Wine,beer,bottled water, soda. Then to top it off some ice cream and coffee/tea(ty-Phoo) Politics and Religion will not be discussed ensuring a great Thanksgiving!

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  4. Please. Eat leftover, from the night before, pizza for Thanksgiving breakfast.
    Then go to the local high school football game. After the traditional meal, play a little touch football in the backyard. (Seems like a lot of football, maybe. But it’s the only day we pay any attention to the sport whatsoever). The touch football will help build the appetite for a round of turkey and stuffing sandwiches, and more pie. Enjoy.

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    1. Pizza ! For breakfast ! Thanksgiving Day ?! Sounds like a New Haven thing.

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  5. I used to drive myself crazy hosting. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep lists, what to prep ahead (set table, squash can be done ahead, stuffing prep, desserts(don’t be afraid to order), prep of nibbles, set up drinks station, etc…)and that people want to contribute and you should let them. It’s nice to have takeaway containers to send leftovers home with guests. And, the #1 hint…have a trusted wingman in the kitchen. My mother and I were the two “responsible parties.” We secretly would start spiked eggnog season early Thanksgiving morning. It was our fun secret and definitely helped.

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  6. Other ways to observe: https://www.bustle.com/life/what-to-celebrate-instead-of-thanksgiving-if-youre-uncomfortable-with-the-holidays-history

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  7. Would it be inappropriate to suggest potluck? You provide the bird and a vegetarian option (if required), guests bring sides and/or dessert, which one you decide on otherwise you run the risk all or nothing ie: all sides or all desserts. I've done a few Thanksgivings that way and it makes for good fun and a lot less work for the host and hostess. Here in England you can get what's called a turkey crown which is the two breasts only and is popular and quicker to roast than a full bird. Keep the pre dinner drinks to a minimum. Alcohol spoils appetites and don't worry about setting a fancy table. Nothing worse than wanting to see the guests out the door asap after dinner because you are tired and stressed from trying to make everything perfect.

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  8. I've been doing this for a very long time and I think it is a day for history and tradition and being mindful of our good fortune to live in this beautiful land. No matter the size of your apartment or your means, hosting is always, first and foremost, making your guests feel welcome, comfortable and appreciated. It helps to have a relaxed host. If you have family traditions and you stick to them, there will likely be help just a phone call away should you have questions. I grew up in Massachusetts with a classic family Thanksgiving, as it seemed did everyone else who lived in my country town, and that is my preference. Certainly it was a more formal meal than everyday, yet still relaxed, noisy and fun, with family from near and far. We are omnivores, cook from scratch, and buy organic food for the most part. However, my one tip breaks all those practices. After trying every kind of turkey there is - wild, organic, fresh, frozen, prepared by a market - I have found that a frozen (remember to thaw it a couple of days before), brined and injected, Butterball Turkey give perfect results year after year. The packaging has tips and instructions that are easy to follow, as I recall. It is only once a year and the turkey is always flavorful and juicy. Also, greet your guests at the door with glasses of champagne or sparkling wine and my preference with game, including turkey, is a good Zinfandel. Full on with desserts and cheese - fresh pears and a good English Stilton would not go amiss - as well as copious amounts of coffee with pies.

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    1. Sounds exactly like Thanksgiving at mt Massachusetts home.

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    2. Sounds like my Thanksgiving dinner! Butterball turkeys never fail.

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  9. Assuming modest apartment comes with a modest kitchen? My advice - plan your menu around resources. How much oven space, how many burners? Can you reheat your "make-aheads"? Will you have refrigerator space for everything + beverages? And most of all - enjoy!

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    1. Yes! Study that stove; think about the size of the oven and the temperature for the turkey. What if any dishes can cook in there alongside it. Then, work from there...you may have to use every burner on the top for the remainder. A lot of thought goes into an occasion like this. Also, make sure you have plenty of potholders and places cleared off to set things taken from the oven. If you can think up your menu and post it here I can run through things you might need to address; I'll be watching.

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    2. Great advice Patsy as always. I always take out my serving dishes in advance and put a little post-it note on each to say what they should hold. That way I can be sure to have enough for each dish and not fill the large dish with something and wonder where I will put the potatoes. Set the table a few days before and add or subtract. If you have a modest table, set out everything in the kitchen so guests can serve themselves. Adapt as much as possible for the space you are in, rather than the wonderful tablescapes we see in glossy magazines. Plenty of candles on the perimeter of the room, but nothing scented. Fresh greenery somewhere - even a potted plant - adds a lovely element. Keep the playlist as low as possible so people can hear each other. On no account let anyone help with the dishes. These remain in the kitchen until all the guests have gone. I have done this for years, even when hosting as a single woman. It allows me to decompress and revisit the happiness, and means all my attention is focused on my guests. Oh, and wear an apron!

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    3. Yes - definitely wear an apron 😂😂😂Scotmiss

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  10. It is an awkward fact that at Thanksgiving the refrigerator and the counters get crowded quickly. Someone arriving with something that displaces your limited working space or demands that you drop what you are doing to help them load something into the refrigerator can be challenging. Figuring out how to ask guests politely either not to bring anything or at least to let you know in advance what it would be so that you could work it into the menu would be terrific. I have tried to no avail. For years we always had late arriving guests who wanted us to make room for them to make their special dressing while we made them Bloody Marys and watched their kindergarten aged child who had been raised without learning about boundaries. It made me extra thankful for wine and prodded me to simplify my own menu! Fortunately, I had already been softened up by their father arriving with a stack of rich desserts, mainly chocolate, some of them refrigerated, and no place to put them.

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    1. Oh yes...my friends said they would bring the vegetables. I had the oven filled with 3 big Corning dishes cooking the chicken casserole and here came one friend with a massive roasting pan full of vegetables to roast. She took the chicken out and set it on top of the stove! Turned the heat up and put in her dish. Now I had to get creative with my dish and adjust the cooking time; in the end it turned out way overcooked and dry. I saw another friend take a large serving fork and stick it in a big chicken breast to see if it was done....which let out a lot of the moisture. My method was to use the cake tester and wait to see what color liquid came to the surface. Well, what can you do? You bite your tongue and act like it doesn't matter. They were so certain they were helping!

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  11. Food, do what works best for you and your friends. Turkey, our current go-to is using a roasting pan with a rack in it to let juices drip out (your All-Clad may have been sold that way), tented with foil, basted. Pick sides and pies you love. Recently popular: shot glasses of pumpkin or squash soup, thin-sliced brussels sprouts with sweet balsamic glaze, in addition to old standards. Homemade gravy with mushrooms and homemade cranberry orange sauce are staples for us.

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  12. What a great post and question. Thank you!

    At one of the best dinner parties I ever attended, someone accidentally put a glass baking dish on a stove that was still hot. It exploded and sent food all over the very fancy kitchen along with razor-sharp slivers of glass into all the other food. Complete disaster. After catching her breath, the amazing hostess said, "Does everybody like Chinese?" We ordered take-out, and while it was being delivered, we (hosts and guests) put on gloves and cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom. When the food arrived, we opened some wine and had the most fun and meaningful night of friendship and conversation. The lesson I learned about hosting is always to focus on genuine community, connection, and communication. The rest will take care of itself.

    Beyond that, I think you should do whatever will help you to feel good, to feel relaxed, gracious, warm, and glad to be hosting. For example, the food can just be simple things that you love and are comfortable making. Every guest would rather have simple, tasty dishes in a relaxed and convivial environment than some elaborate, fussy thing surrounded by stress and hurry. I (personally) think it's nutty that people serve things for Thanksgiving or Christmas that they only make once a year. It just creates stress. In that vein, I suggest planning how all the pieces will fit together, that is, what and when each thing will cook/reheat in the available space you have. Also, there is nothing wrong with buying some things (like pies and bread) from professionals. I love the feeling of having everything done and warming in the oven or cooling in the fridge, with the table set, candles lit, counters clean, dishes done, and music on well before guests arrive. Then the attention can be where it should be, on friendship, community, human connection, and gratitude. I hope you have a wonderful and memorable Thanksgiving!

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    1. Yours is my favorite response of all of these. The people and the connecting hearts are the important part.

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    2. Yours is my favorite response of all of these. The people and the connecting and memories are the important parts.

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  13. While this might be considered non-traditional, we have grown accustomed to frying our Turkey. Several years ago, we purchased an electric Turkey fryer - not to be confused with the unsafe, open flame variety - and haven’t looked back. We prefer this simply because it saves space in the oven, and only takes about an hour. It can be plugged in anywhere, and on more mild Thanksgivings, can even be done in a garage or outside. In the summertime we use the fryer for seafood boils. We still have all of the standard sides, with a few Virginia-specific additions - ham biscuits, of course. It is the true home of the first Thanksgiving, after all ;). We’ve been asked to prepare a secondary turkey this way at numerous parties, and it is always unquestionably preferred to its roast cousin. The flavor is better, and the meat is tender. As hosts, we’re able to be much more attentive, and wildly less stressed about timing with the oven and guests arriving. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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    1. I’ve never tried frying a turkey electrically, but I’ve gotten good at the open flame fryer and found it’s great work on a cold Maine afternoon. A glass of wine and good conversation makes it get done quickly. Keep the kids away and there’s no issue. To me the turkey definitely tastes better than roasted as long as it’s not overcooked.

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  14. The Whole Foods precooked turkeys are delicious when reheated. I am a very good cook, but am delighted to outsource that one. Smitten Kitchen’s recipes for cabbage date salad and roasted savoy cabbage with walnuts and lemon generally appear in my table.

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  15. Not a lot to add to what has been offered, but here's one. I cook my turkey in the crock pot. It doesn't take up oven space. Make whatever you can in the day or two ahead of Thanksgiving. Cranberry sauce is easy and can be done Monday or Tuesday--the flavors enhance too.

    I will also suggest using good china, crystal, linens, and flatware. Go all out! People will remember the touch elegance long after they have forgotten to food.

    Most importantly, enjoy the day. As Martha once said, never apologize for the way something tastes. Your guests don't know it wasn't supposed to taste that way. (Oh and skip the bread--more room for pie!!)

    Prost!

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  16. We always cook our turkey breast side down so that the meat comes out more tender and less dry.

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  17. If you and yours drink have PLENTY of alcohol. My first turkey took ages longer than I had planned but thankfully with plenty of alcohol all were happy. The juices need to run clear as well with the turkey. I agree that roasting upside down is beneficial to a more succulent turkey experience. Look to "Damn Delicious" for a great slowcooker ham. We're also using her recipe this year as well! Try something different. Many people suggested turkey breasts; take it further. For our Thanksgiving 2023 we're putting together Ina Garten's "Roast Turkey Roulade." It's amazing and I never regret not doing a whole turkey! Good luck! May our combined suggestions help you with an amazing holiday! - hrplo

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  18. The tried and true classic's always win! Thanks once again, and above all, enjoy!

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  19. My italian mom is 90 and so finally (we are late bloomers) dinner is shifting to my sister who promptly set up the organization of who will bring what using the "bringit" app. That may or may not work for you but it was easy for us all to sign up. I would consider in a lighthearted way, asking all to bring one dish or perhaps the wine or soda or appetizer. Most are happy to help. Also in my recent experience, a lot of people no longer eat white mashed potatoes, just a thought. Have fun! Nice background music, some wine, flowers, candles and a pretty table go far.

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  20. Ina Garten's make ahead gravy base is worth the effort! And sauteed Brussel sprouts! Cut in half, pop in boiling water for about 3 minutes, remove and shock in an ice bath. Then sautee with salt and pepper until golden brown. Serve with chopped candied pecans!

    https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/make-ahead-turkey-gravy-with-onions-and-sage-5486134

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  21. The turkey obsession seems to drive many crazy around Thanksgiving. IMHO, turkey is boring and a few years ago we made a complete 'turn-around' and switched to another New England staple... Lobster (steamed and ready to eat right from the store)... Please spare any snarky comments, Thank you.

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  22. ---Count on 2 pounds of turkey per guest so you will need a big bird. Make sure your oven is big enough and make sure your pan is big enough.
    ---If your cooking skill level is "beginner": KISS: Keep It Simple Sally. This isn't a time to play Martha Stewart. If you haven't cooked each dish recipe before, you may want to practice beforehand.
    ---Ask your guests ahead of time if they are allergic to anything. The last thing you need is Aunt Tiffy going into Anaphylactic shock because you've added nuts to the cheesecake crust.
    ---You WILL get the Gluten-Free people asking about your menu. This isn't 1954, someone will ask if you can make a gluten free pumpkin pie---seat these people at the kiddie table.
    ---Don't go crazy with forty side dishes, again, keep it simple and cook things that are easy for you.
    ---Consider doing a buffet. It truly makes the dinner go much smoother. Passing dishes around the table can be a nightmare.
    ----PLease, consider food safety. This seems like a no brainer but you want to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Leaving a frozen turkey out to thaw the night beforehand should never happen.
    ---Do make a dish that has been around in your family for generations: Granny's Stuffing; Uncle Tod's Sweet Potato casserole etc.
    ---Signature Cocktail: I do a warm cider cocktail that I keep warm on the woodstove, very boozey and it's all ready to go. Just have guests ladle their own drinks into mugs(cinnamon sticks and orange slices for garnish).
    ----if you can afford it, hire someone to help out in the kitchen on that day: dishes, replenishing the buffet, prep cooking.
    Good luck! Remember, people are really there to enjoy the company of others, have a cocktail, socialise and to just enjoy the day. If you're rested and at ease, they will be too.
    ---Prepare as much as you can ahead so you can enjoy your guests; peel and cut the potatoes a day in advance and place them in water in the refrigerator; trim up the brussel sprouts ahead, the same for any squash etc.

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  23. If you can borrow a crock pot and / or Instant Pot for mashed white and sweet potatoes, it will save you burner space. You can also have these on a heat protected surface in another room to spare counter space if your kitchen is small. Although I have not had them, foodie friends rave about some make ahead mashed potato recipes. Happy Thanksgiving!

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