Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Hosting a Stress-Free and Fabulous Thanksgiving! Recipes, tips, and the perfect timeline.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday - the parade on TV in the morning (the local Philly parade), food in the oven and on the stove all day (house smells great), friends and family, comfortable clothes (no fancy holiday dresses here), football in the afternoon, and of course, way too much food (and wine). Since we had our daughter Christmas is has become my new favorite holiday for different reasons, but Thanksgiving will always be my favorite food holiday.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to host my parents, aunt, uncle, 2 cousins, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their 2 boys. There were 13 of us in total and I had SO much fun setting up, planning, decorating, cooking, and hosting. My house felt so warm and happy and was full of laughter and the sound of children playing and running all day. . I loved every minute of it.

But I can't lie, the thought of hosting did stress me out a bit. So what do I do? Make lists, of course. I LIVE by lists and always have one on my phone and update it daily. For last year's Thanksgiving I had lists for my guest list, menu, food shopping, "stuff" shopping (new tablecloth, décor, etc), prep sorted by the type and day, and a day-of timeline. Having these things all written out in front of me gets them out of my head and on paper so I no longer need to obsess over every little thing but instead can just look at my lists.

Our day and the days leading up to the big day went so smoothly that I thought I'd share my timeline and some other things that worked for me. I know hosting, especially for the first time, can be stressful so I hope I can help!

Being prepared and organized will mean you can enjoy your day with your guests, and isn't that what it's all about?

My Timeline
I'm listing the times I used, but to make your own timeline, start backwards. First put down the time you want to eat and go back from there. And it may seem silly to list every little thing like I did, but when you have a menu of 12 things while a bunch of people are hanging out in your kitchen it's easy to get frazzled and forget the little things.

     3:00 PM 

     2:55 PM 
          Rolls out of oven and into a serving dish or basket
          Gravy into serving dishes

     By 2:45 
          Carve turkey and turkey breast; put on platters
          Put "in-the-bird" stuffing in a serving dish
          Take green bean casserole and "out-of-the-bird" stuffing out of the oven
          Put rolls in the oven
          Pull cranberry sauce, cucumber salad and coleslaw out of fridge (already in serving dishes)
          Light candles in dining room
          Put all hot items in serving dishes (refer to your menu to make sure you don't miss anything)

     2:40 PM
          Open wine
          Put rolls on baking sheet

     2:35 PM
          Make gravy; keep warm on stove.

     2:30 PM
          Make corn and peas
          Put green bean casserole in upper/main oven

          Turkey out of oven
          Mash the potatoes
     1:45 PM  
          Boil potatoes
          Put the "out-of-the-bird" stuffing in the lower/second oven
          Take butter out of the fridge

     1:20 PM
          Heat lower/second oven
          Start to prep green bean casserole

     1:00 PM
          Prep and put out appetizers
          Fill ice bucket
     12:00 PM
          Put turkey breast in oven

     10:30 AM - 11:00 AM
          Stuff bird, prep/season bird, tie legs, put turkey in oven* (See my note below about brining)

     10:20 AM
           Pre-heat main oven

     9:00 AM
          Make stuffing

About the Turkey - to brine or not to brine? I never did until this year - I brined a whole chicken and I will never, ever make another roast chicken or turkey without brining so my answer is YES, BRINE!!! Why? The meat is juicier and so tender, the brine adds flavor, and the skin gets crispier.

Click here to read more about brining and for a recipe.

Just look at this brined chicken!

Here is my brining timeline:

 - Tuesday morning: make your brine and put it in the fridge to chill completely.
 - Tuesday night: place your bird in the cold brine and return to the fridge (or a cooler stocked with ice - keep that bird cold!!)
 - Wednesday night: take the bird out of the brine and pat it dry. Place it on a large tray and return it to the fridge, uncovered, to dry.
 - Thursday morning: continue with your turkey prep as noted in the timeline above. You'll still want to stuff and season it even after being in the brine.

Some of My Other Tips
Just a few tips for things to do early, some helpful advice, and some Type-A things I do to make the week less stressful!

  • The amount of shopping you will need to do may seem overwhelming, so when making your shopping list, make one master list with absolutely everything you will need. Then, break it up into things you can buy a few days or a week early (dry goods, frozen things, soda, beer, wine) vs things you will need to buy fresh (veggies, fresh flowers, bread, etc.). I also break my list up by store - supermarket, produce store, wine store, beer store (PA is weird like that) and miscellaneous stores. Even better - make your list in Excel so you can easily sort and move things around.
  • Get all of your serving dishes out the night before and figure out what will go in each one. Doing this early will save you from digging through cabinets at the last minute and will help you make sure you have enough dishes, bowls, and platters. 

  • While you are at it, get out all of your serving spoons and forks, too.

  • If you are making a buffet, lay out your dishes the night before (if possible and if it won't be in the way of your prep space). At one party I even put post it notes in the dishes on my buffet so if anyone offered to help they would know what went where, and so I would remember how I laid out my buffet.

  • Ask people to help, especially in that last hour as there is a lot happening. My husband loves to cook and he's in charge of the main things on Thanksgiving - the turkey, stuffing, and gravy. My dad makes the best mashed potatoes so he did the mashing. My nephew did a great job at stirring the mushroom sauce for the green beans and he was thrilled to help. My mom and dad bake the desserts. People will be happy to chip in and do things like lighting the candles, taking dishes to the table, or staying out of the way and in front of the TV if that is what you want them to do!

  • Set a self serve bar in an area away from where all the cooking and prep will take place - ice bucket and tongs, wine glasses, other glasses, corkscrew, mixers, cocktail napkins. If you need limes or other garnishes for your bar, cut them the day before and have them ready in a serving dish. Make sure your soda and beer are cold, either in a second fridge or cooler (and don't forget the ice for the cooler!).

  • Set your table a day or two in advance - move any furniture needed, iron your tablecloth, set the dishes, make the centerpiece, etc. This is one task you won't want hanging over you on the day of your gathering or while your guests are there.

  • Prep as much food as you can ahead of time. Wash your veggies, peel and quarter your potatoes and store them in water in the fridge for a day or two, blanch your beans, put butter on/in a serving dish, set out all of the dry goods you will need (flour, broth, salt, pepper, etc), get all of your pots and pans and cooking utensils out and ready.

  • Put your cold items in serving dishes so you can go from fridge to table (the cranberry sauce, salad, etc.)

  • Take people up on their offer to bring something. If you like having control over the menu, ask them to bring an appetizer, dessert, or drinks.

  • Make sure your salt and pepper shakers are full and on the table.

  • Buy a bunch of extra plastic/to-go containers or Ziploc bags so you are ready to send everyone home with leftovers.

  • If you are having a few or more kids (younger kids, especially), pick up some crafty turkey day things they can do. I picked up these paper cup turkeys from Michael's and the kids, and even a few adults, had so much fun putting them together and then decorating with them.

  • If it is cold where you live, turn down the heat an hour before people get there. It's going to get hot fast especially with the kitchen on overload.

And Finally, My Thanksgiving Day Menu
My menu is pretty simple and traditional -

     Appetizer: Endive with Pears, Gorgonzola and Crushed Pecans; Cheese/meat/fruit/cracker platter


     Turkey stuffed with my husband's stuffing (his mom and grandmom's recipe)

     Turkey breast because you can never have too much and leftovers are awesome


     Stuffing for those who like it out-of-the-bird

     Mashed potatoes

     Green bean casserole with fried onions



     Cole slaw

     Dinner rolls

     Spiked cranberry sauce


     Cranberry sauce - canned. Some of us like that kind :)

     Dessert: Dad's Apple Pie and Mom's pumpkin pie

I didn't have room for anything else on the menu, but here are some of my other favorites that sometimes make an appearance on a holiday menu -

     Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bacon

     Autumn Salad

     Cauliflower-Broccoli Gratin with Mustard-Sage Cornbread Crumbs

     Creamed Onions

     And for those leftovers, here is something different - Bubble and Squeak or Mini Chicken (Turkey) Biscuit Dinner

I'd love to hear from all of you - what are some of your favorite entertaining or holiday hosting tips? What have you learned along the way?

Happy Thanksgiving!! Wishing all of you a warm day with those you love and most importantly, full bellies :)

Timeline, Tips and Recipes for hosting a stress-free and fabulous Thanksgiving. First time hosting? We can help!!!

Timeline, Tips and Recipes for hosting a stress-free and fabulous Thanksgiving. First time hosting? We can help!!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Green Bean Casserole

Confession: I never had the wildly popular cream-of-something-soup based green bean casserole traditionally made at Thanksgiving, and I never thought I was missing anything with all of the other amazing food on the table. But now after having a homemade version, I never want another Thanksgiving dinner without this dish.

Making the creamy sauce is SO easy that there is NO need for the canned soup. And even though I never had the canned version, I can guarantee that there is no comparison - this one will blow you away. Heck, the sauce was so good that I couldn't stop tasting it as I was making it. I considered forgetting the beans once the sauce was done and just eating it as a soup.

I did take one shortcut just because I had so much cooking going on that day. I used the canned fried onions instead of following the recipe to make my own. The next time I make this I will make my own, but if you need a shortcut this would be the one I recommend.

So if you are still trying to finalize your turkey day menu, try this one. I can't wait until next week so I can make it again!!

Green Bean Casserole
Adapted From: Smitten Kitchen

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped
  • Few gratings fresh nutmeg (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed and halved
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Prepare the beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and boil greens for 5 minutes. Drain beans, then plunge them into ice water to full stop them from cooking. Drain again, and set aside. You can do this ahead of time, up to one day.
  • Make the mushroom sauce: Over medium-high heat, melt butter in the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and saute them until they start releasing their liquid, anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how they were chopped. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the flour and stir it until it fully coats the mushrooms. Add the broth, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring the whole time. Simmer mixture for 1 minute, then add cream and bring back to a simmer, cooking until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Assemble and bake: Add cooked greens beans to sauce and stir until they are coated. Sprinkle crispy onions over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and onions are a shade darker. Eat at once.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Potato and Corn Chowder with Bacon

Creamy potato corn chowder with bacon. Hearty and comforting, easy recipe. #cornchowder #soup #chowder

"Soup's not a meal!!"

Anyone remember that debate on a Seinfeld episode? Jerry is given a suit by his "friend" Bania and in  return owes him a meal. However when they go out Bania orders soup saying that he'll save his meal for another time. It goes on and on with Jerry insisting that this is the meal and there won't be another chance while Bania demands that soup is not a meal. Hysterical!!! Aah Seinfeld, the best show about nothing!!

Anyway, I have to agree with Jerry - soup IS a meal, especially when it is a hearty soup like this Potato Corn Chowder. I have made several chowders so I took my favorite things about them and created this chowder. Bacon is a must for me when starting a good chowder, and I love saving it to use as a topping for serving.

Potato and Corn Chowder (yes, it's a meal)
Original Recipe

  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Russet potatoes, diced or cubed (equal sized pieces)
  • 8 oz creamed corn
  • 1/2 c frozen corn
  • 3-4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 c light cream
  • Cheddar cheese for topping (optional)

  • Heat your stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove from the pan (crumble and keep for topping) and leave 1 Tbsp bacon grease in the pan, discarding the rest.
  • Add the butter to the pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and carrot. Saute 2-3 minutes until the onion is soft
  • Add the garlic and potatoes; sauté 3 minutes
  • Add the creamed corn, frozen corn, touch of salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne. Stir everything and then add the broth slowly - you may not use all of the broth. You want your veggies covered but not lost in the broth. You can always add more if you need it. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes have cooked through.
  • Lower the heat and add the cream; let simmer for several minutes.
  • Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Serve topped with crumbled bacon and shredded cheddar cheese.  

  • Creamy potato corn chowder with bacon. Hearty and comforting, easy recipe. #cornchowder #soup #chowder