Take Charge of Thanksgiving Dinner

Of course … Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and celebrating family, friends and food. But frequently, it’s also about being overwhelmed while deciding what to serve.

Here are a few tips to help you plan your menu for the big day, and bring the stress levels down to a low purr.

Little Bites: People usually show up early for Thanksgiving dinner so soothe anxious appetites with a little snack or passed hors-d’oeuvres. Stick with something kind of light bite or two like marinated olives, a Pineapple Fruit Platter, or simple crudité, and save the heavy appetizers for other holiday events. Don’t want to spoil their supper on T-day!

Cocktails & Wine: Start the holiday season with a festive tone and pour guests a signature cocktail or something bubbly. My Pear Tree Cocktail is a deliciously perfect concoction for the season. Choose your wines to serve with the main meal — as a general rule, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will complement all your traditional dishes. When shopping, think 1 bottle for every 2 guests, plus a few extras so you won’t run out.

Appetizer Course: You don’t have to start your meal off with an appetizer, but why not take the opportunity to set a gorgeous table with multi-course place settings? May I suggest my Roasted Pear Salad with Gorgonzola and Maple-Balsamic Dressing or Butternut Squash Bisque w Ginger. Whichever way you go, choose an easy make-ahead option so you can focus on getting the rest of the menu on the table.

Sort out Your Sides: There are so many different sides you could serve with your meal … how will you ever narrow them down? Obviously, must-haves include mashed potatoes, a stuffing, gravy, and cranberries. The rest? That’s your chance to unleash your culinary creativity or take guests up on their offers to help bring a dish. Be sure you include one or two “green” veggies such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or green beans, and one or two “orange” ones like sweet potatoes, carrots, or winter squash for a well-balanced menu. You could also serve additional starches such as cornbread or corn pudding to really round it out. Don’t forget: Thanksgiving is all about abundance so be sure to offer for a broad variety of sides with at least 4-5 options.

The Main Event:  Now, holiday tradition is to present a really big bird, but it’s a good idea to consider your crowd before you commit to carving one at the table. If you’re hosting over 12-14 guests, roasting several turkey breasts can optimize oven space and simplify serving. If you’ve got a smaller group, or want to try a twist on tradition, serve each guest his or her own bird to carve! My Lemon-Herb Cornish Game Hens make a uniquely delicious option. Check with guests ahead of time to find out whether you’ll be hosting vegetarians. If so, it’s a great idea to offer another main dish option such as veggie lasagna.

The Sweet Finale: Pumpkin pie is classic when it comes to Thanksgiving dessert, and most tables have an apple pie, too. If you’ve got a small guest list, you can stick to just one dessert, but again, abundance is the name of the game so the more options the better. Maybe include a batch or two of my Personal Pumpkin Pie Cheesecakes for a cute, seasonal addition to the mix. Be sure to offer coffee or tea with dessert so guests can linger at the table and perk up before they head home from their decadent meal.

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