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How to Host Your First Thanksgiving

After all these years in the kitchen, I want to share How to Host Your First Thanksgiving.

When I was growing up, it was my grandmother who always threw down in the kitchen. We would go to her house early in the morning, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was always on, the living room windows would be steamy, partially from her cooking and the rest was nicotine film because she was a heavy smoker. 

She would put out black olives and I would sneak like 5 of them because I never ate breakfast. Meanwhile I would watch her prepare this, what I thought was – elaborate spread. She always had a 20 pound turkey, mash potatoes with gravy, yams with marshmallow, canned green beans, rolls with butter, stuffing, cranberry sauce and of course, a pumpkin pie with Cool Whip!

She would extend her table, put out nice napkins, and light some long candles. It was tasty and delicious and it never dawned on me that she wouldn’t be able to do this forever. 

It was when I hit the age of about 23

I told my grandmother how I enjoyed cooking. I wasn’t enrolled in culinary school just yet but I was always experimenting with new recipes I would find in magazines. I told her I was intimidated to cook a turkey let alone host/cook such a big spread.

She ensured me it was easier than it looks, handed me a very BIG metal pan and started explaining how to cook mash potatoes, which the secret is adding lots of butter, milk little by little and a touch of corn starch. And with the turkey ,” clean out the giblets, wash it, season it, use lots of butter and get a baster.”

Ok sounds like I just set myself up to host my first Thanksgiving. I was bit nervous and more excited than anything that my grandmother passed the tradition to ME : to take care of the holiday meal.

How to Host Your First Thanksgiving

With that memory and 20+ years of now hosting holidays and other occasions, I want to share some important tips on how to host your first Thanksgiving.

These tips are meant for someone with little or no kitchen experience. 

Tip #1: Decide on a menu and list out all your ingredients to make your grocery list. See what ingredients can be double dipped. A good example is butter. You will need it for the turkey, rolls and pie. If an item is out of stock for instance like an herb, look for substitutions or use dried herbs. 

Tip #2: If you are buying a frozen turkey, make sure to put it in the fridge the Sunday before Thanksgiving. A 20 pound turkey doesn’t defrost over night so making sure its starting the process on Sunday will allow proper thawing.

Tip #3: Make your desserts the night before. Actually make whatever you can the night before. The stuffing can be prepared in the baking dish and ready to go in the oven the next day, the potatoes can be peeled and sit in water in the fridge if you want to cook them off the day of. You can have all your dishes that you need already sitting out. You can make the table. The mirepoix aka the onion, carrots and celery that your turkey will sit on while it is roasting can be cut and ready to go.

My first time cooking a Thanksgiving meal, I didn’t know about prepping the night before. Long story short, it saves sooo much time!

Tip #4: If you plan to go the super formal route, I’m talking salad fork, dinner fork, plates layered on a charger and a place mat, etc. Then maybe this advice isn’t for you. But if you plan to keep it casual, use paper plates. Ok, not just any paper plate but HEAVY duty ones with an edge to catch the sauce, gravy and what ever else has liquid. If you use a flimsy plate, it will break or the juiciness of your bird may end up on your nice clothes.

Tip #5: Make sure you have all the proper dishes, bakeware and cookware needed to prepare your feast. I’m talking proper size roasting pans, cutting boards, knives, whisks, etc. There is nothing worse than to start cooking and thinking you have the tool then come to find out you don’t… and the store is closed …..SIGH

Tip #6: Keep your table decor simple. Pretty napkins are always a nice touch, flower arrangements, a couple of lovely smelling candles and a good bottle of wine- or sparkling cider. Bottles are pretty props!

Tip #7: Have some to-go containers ready for your guests if they would like to take food home.

Tip #8: If you are planning to cook for a smaller crowd, or even just for 2 , try a sheet pan meal like for instance- a sweet potato roasted in brown sugar and spices in one corner of the pan, a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey in another corner, and a simple vegetable. 

Tip #9: Don’t feel like you have to cook everything from scratch your first time hosting. It’s totally ok to order that pie from your local bakery, or use Stove Top Stuffing, etc. Fully read your recipes all the way through and and visit You Tube if you are questioning an ingredient or there is cooking method you don’t understand. Also don’t forget to phone a friend and ask for help! *kitchen 911!*

Tip #10: Enjoy your day and make sure to eat a healthy breakfast and stay hydrated. Today you are the Chef, the sous chef, the prep cook, the host, the maid- you deserve time to yourself and time to eat a good meal so you have energy to lift that 20 pounder out of the oven. 

Over the years the pre-planning has paid off and I usually am able to hit the gym while my turkey is doing its thing. Last year I tried the sheet pan meal and let me tell you, it was delicious, Paleo and very minimal clean up. 

Holidays are always nice when the food turns out, you have extra time to relax.  Just remember, you got this!

Need help on what to bring to your holiday get together? Be sure to check out my Cumin Sweet Potatoes!

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