5 Tips When Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time

So you’ve committed yourself to hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  How cool, how scary!  Am I right?!  I mean, this is the dinner party of dinner parties.  How can you possibly pull off this monumental dinner with so many dishes, for so many people?  Ok, so if you weren’t scared before, I’m sure the opening lines of this post did it for ya!  :-)  No worries.  You will be fine.  In many ways, it is just like other dinner party you have hosted, with a few more moving pieces.

There are lots of tips that I have shared with you, to help you have a successful Thanksgiving, but these are specific to those who are hosting for the first time.

  1. Decide on whether it will be potluck style or you will make everything.

5 Tips When Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time

I prefer to serve everything out of my kitchen because through careful planning and time management, it causes me less stress than waiting for my guests to bring side dishes and wondering if they made enough.  Also, one of the things that can cause a traffic jam in the kitchen, is someone bringing something cold or that needs re-heating.  Oven space is premium real estate on Thanksgiving day and having to constantly place and remove things from the oven can cause you more stress than what you originally saved by not making the dish yourself.

Should you choose to do it potluck style, you can avoid that madness by politely asking guests to bring things already hot or in an insulated bag.  Also, who you decide to assign dishes to is really important.  Don’t assign the appetizers to your favorite aunt who is usually late – let her bring dessert.  One more tip, don’t serve too many appetizers since this is such a big and filling meal.

Which brings me to a third option and it’s usually what I opt for.  I make all the main and side dishes and I delegate the desserts.  I will usually make one or two pies and my guests bring the rest.   I only make pies because there a few that I enjoy making, otherwise I would skip making any dessert and delegate it entirely.  I usually set up my buffet table, allowing for the size serving dishes that I will use, but the dessert table isn’t as orderly, it’s just an empty table with a few decorations and some serving utensils.  As the guests arrive they can place their dessert on that table.

2.  Choose dishes that you can make ahead of time.

5 Tips When Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time

When choosing your dishes, keep in mind how much oven space you have.  Also, look at their cooking temperature, as they will have to be in the same oven.  Something that cooks at 375 deg and something that cooks at 350 deg, can usually be in the same oven if you set it somewhere in between.  However, something that has to cook at 425 deg. cannot be in an oven with something that cooks at 325 deg – keep that in mind when choosing your dishes.  Another thing to consider is avoiding too many dishes that have to be made at the last-minute.  There is always a bit of a frenzy on Thanksgiving, no matter how much you plan, so last-minute sautéing and bruleing is not going to help.

Most of the dishes that I make are completely prepped the night before and will just heat them up in the oven the following day.  Lastly, dont experiment with new recipes as there are too many variables to control on such a busy cooking day.

3. Order another rack for your oven.

This one didn’t occur to me until last year.  Considering that so many Thanksgiving dishes are casseroles that are baked in standard 9×13, you can usually fit another rack into your oven.  Admittedly, after using it for Thanksgiving and my Christmas brunch, I have not had a need for it and had to store it, but it was helpful enough during the holidays to justify buying it.  I purchased this one through my Amazon store but you will have to search for one specific to your oven dimensions.  It will allow you to place an additional 2 casseroles in the oven.  Note that adding more dishes to your oven may mean that things cook slower, as the heat distribution is altered.  I don’t actually cook 6 casseroles at once anyway but I will re-heat and keep 6 casseroles in there until it’s time to serve.

4. Don’t set up any food stations inside the kitchen.

You will thank me for this one.  The kitchen is always the hub of the action during dinner parties but it can be the eye of the storm during Thanksgiving.  If possible, avoid setting up tables right next to areas that you will need to be doing all your last-minute prep and cooking.  Setting a buffet table in another room, can make it more comfortable for you to work and for your guests to have ample room to move.  Also, after dinner, the kitchen will inevitably look pretty messy, so it is best to have the fun in another room anyway.  It’s more relaxing to be in a room separate from stacked dishes.

5.  Have a schedule.

5 Tips When Hosting Thanksgiving for the First Time

This should be number 1 and it’s my favorite tip for people hosting Thanksgiving for the first or fifteenth time.  I write down a schedule, counting backwards on when I want to serve dinner, that has a ridiculous amount of detail as to when to put things in the oven, when to remove them, when to serve water in the water glasses, when to set the coffee maker, turn on the candles, everything.  This timeline will take you a while to put together but it will keep you so calm that it will become indispensable.  Also, you can use the same timeline year after year.  No more stressing wondering if you are forgetting something important.  There are just too many things to juggle on that day and winging it won’t carve cut it.

Above all, know that are these tips are geared towards one goal – you having fun!  Yes, it’s also about your guests, but they won’t have fun if you look stressed out.  When you are the host/hostess, you set the pace.  If you are relaxed, they will be relaxed and have fun, too!

 

Fall Home Tour

Last week, I shared my Thanksgiving Table (Thanksgiving is in 4 days – Ahhh!) and I also slipped a little “fall” into the rest of our home and I promised that I would share those pictures, too.

Starting with our living room, below.  This is a no-one-sits-there-room and therefore the couch has managed to be this color for years.  It’s not that the boys aren’t allowed to sit here, it’s just that we rarely do, because all the fun is in the family room.  The only thing that I added here was the throw and the pillow, which usually resides in our master bedroom.  I also changed out the greenery in the tall gold vase for some brown and orange stems.  The gold vase was originally an inexpensive IKEA vase that I spray painted.  Remember my post about the year that I spray painted everything, except the kids?  I still love spray paint, but with a little more restraint.

 

Fall Home Tour

This is the opposite side of the room.  Only an orange lumbar pillow and a little “give thanks” pillow that I picked up last year at Target, from their dollar section.  Guess what?  I haven’t been to Target in months.  Crazy, right?!  No spray paint and no Target – who am I??

Fall Home Tour

Isn’t this the sweetest little pillow?  I vacuum pack all these holiday pillows and store them in the garage.  The solid ones I rotate from room to room.

Fall Home Tour

Here is the biggest couch in the world, our couch.  We have a love-hate relationship with it.   We love the size but would love for it to offer more support, hence all the pillows.

Fall Home Tour

 

Fall Home Tour

The pumpkin pillow was gifted to me and the others I already had.  Remember that striped throw?  I posted about it in my fall porch post, a few years ago.  It’s still just as soft and vibrant.

Fall Home Tour

Fall Home Tour

As you can see, a little goes a long way with decorating, if you sprinkle vibrant pops of color here and there.  My boys like to decorate early for Christmas (right after Thanksgiving) so I don’t like to take out too many fall decorations, that I will have to store in a few weeks.  Especially with ALL the Christmas decorations that are waiting patiently in boxes in the garage.  My back hurts thinking about it.

I will still try to squeeze in one more post with Thanksgiving tips.  I know, I have to hurry!  Either way, enjoy your Thanksgiving week!  I am super grateful for all of you!

 

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan – Part Two

Foolproof Thanksgiving Part Two

A few days ago, I shared Part One of my Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan that centered around the week prior to Thanksgiving.  Today we are talking about the week of…crunch time and soon munch time!

My first tip in Part One was making a list (of the menu) and my first tip of this post is also a list.  Being organized on a hectic holiday can make a difference between having fun and being exhausted and running around finding items on the day of your party.

Create a timeline of your dinner preparation

I write down a timeline, working backwards of when items need to go into the oven and when they need to come out.  Every detail goes into this timeline.  I write down when to turn on candles when to turn on music, when to pour water into the goblets…everything.  This list can be a little tedious to put together, but I use it every year so it was worth the work.  Also, when you have a lot of things on your mind, you start to wonder if you are forgetting something.  I am relaxed when I follow this list because I know that I am right on track to everything being made in a timely manner.  I actually enjoy the prep work before my guests arrive because I feel more confident about my time-keeping.  This is the best tip I can give you!

Use multiple timers to keep track of dishes

I have about 5 timers and I use them all on Thanksgiving day.  I place a post-it in front of the timer with the name of the dish that it pertains to, that way I know when to pull it out of the oven.  Also, when I am cooking casseroles that say “cook at 375” and another that says “cook at 325”, I usually cook them both at 350 to maximize my oven use.  I do this with dishes that I know will be fine with the slight temperature change.

Thanksgiving Timer

Use a cooler as a warmer to conserve oven space

This is the time to pull out all the stops when it comes to conserving oven space.  A good cooler can also serve as a warmer for your casseroles that need to be kept warm.  Just be sure to clean your cooler, place a folded towel in the bottom and then the casserole (covered in foil) on top of the towel.  You can cover that with another towel and make sure that you don’t peek, as the heat will quickly escape.  Of course, keeping the food warm in the oven is ideal, but this is another option.

Also, to conserve oven space, you can place the mashed potatoes over a double boiler or inside a crockpot.

Chop your onions, celery and garlic

A few days before Thanksgiving, you can chop up your onions, celery and garlic and place them inside an airtight container.

Set your table

Not sure what it is about the table setting but I am so relieved once that is done, plus I enjoy it so much!  I set the table a day or two before my dinner party.  I recently posted about setting a proper table and you can read about it here.  Although if you are having a lot of guests over for Thanksgiving, you may not want to mess with so many utensils.  Keep it pretty, simple and fun.

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan - Part Two

Make your sides the day before

I purposely choose side dishes that can be made ahead of time.  If I can make them all the day before, even better.  I love waking up on Thanksgiving day knowing that most of my meal is ready to go!

Purchase containers for left-overs

I love to send my guests home with left-overs!  It also clears out my kitchen and fridge, so it’s a win-win.  Most of my food containers are glass and I prefer not to give those out, so I purchase disposable ones to give out after big meals.  I take them out of the wrapper and have them in a corner ready to go.  I try to think of as many details as possible before the dinner.

Set-up coffeemaker 

Once dinner is over, I like to hang out with my guests.  When it’s time for coffee, I like the convenience of pressing the “on” button instead of starting to grind coffee beans.  Sometimes, I make the coffee ahead of time and place it inside an insulated thermal coffee carafe, which keeps coffee hot for hours.

You can also set aside little bowls of different sugars and a pitcher of creamer inside the fridge to serve with your coffee.

Fancy in Five 7

Keep the kitchen free of crowds

Of course my family is free to roam around our home, but placing a drink station in the kitchen can make for some real rush hour traffic.  You will need your space to move around, and it is best to set up stations elsewhere.

Place extra garbage bags inside the trash can

You will definitely have more garbage during big gatherings than usual, so place a few extra garbage bags at the bottom of your trash can, so that you don’t have to go looking for them in the middle of the party.

Empty dishwasher before the dinner

This is a great tip for any dinner party.  Chances are that you won’t be able to fit everything into the dishwasher after a huge dinner, but even clearing out half the items is a big help.  You don’t want to deal with emptying your dishwasher after working so hard during the day.  An empty dishwasher will be waiting for you.  Let’s hear it for dishwashers!

Thanksgiving Dishwasher

 

Have fun!

All the planning in the world cannot produce a glitch-free event and honestly, that shouldn’t be our goal.  I make lists and check them twice so that I can enjoy the party along with my guests.  The lists are not meant to control you, quite the opposite.  Once the guests arrive, whatever is not done – go with it and just have fun.  People will always remember how you made them feel way more than whether the pie crust got a little burnt.  Seeing that their hostess is having fun is the best gift you can give your guests.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your family and friends and know that I am thankful for all of you!

xo,

Maria

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Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan – Part One

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan

It’s around the corner and I can’t wait!  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays (trumped only by Christmas) and I start preparing for it weeks in advance.  If you have ever hosted Thanksgiving or will be doing so this year, then you know that besides being an endearing holiday, it can be stressful.  There are so many dishes that need to be prepared on this day.  Some dishes are such staples that people feel like if they didn’t have them, it didn’t feel like Thanksgiving.  All this can put pressure on the hostess to have all the favorites on the table – pumpkin pie, pecan pie, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole.  Ok, I’m now starving.

I thought I would do a 2-part post detailing the plan that I follow year-after-year that keeps me sane and my guests happy.  You know that I make lists for everything and that includes dinner parties.  But this is “the dinner party of dinner parties” and without a detailed plan, I can’t imagine it tuning out well.  It’s just too many items to rely on just memory, so get out the note pad.

After confirming the guests that are attending, I:

Set the Thanksgiving Menu

Write down which dishes you will make and the ones that your guests will bring.  I only ask my guests to bring items that are served room temperature or cold.  This will lessen the stress later on when someone shows up with cold sweet potatoes that need to heat up in an oven that is already full.

Make a Thanksgiving Binder

Once you have your list of dishes, print out or make a copy of the recipe.  Before I created a Thanksgiving binder, I used to fumble year-after-year through my recipes wondering “was this the mashed potato recipe that everyone liked last year?”.  I decided to dedicate a small binder (a folder will do) to holding all my Thanksgiving favorites.  In there I have the recipes and the timeline that I use year after year, since we always eat at the same time.  I place all the recipes inside clear plastic protectors, just in case there is a spill on the sheet.

Make a List of Grocery Items

I make a list of all the ingredients that I need and I separate them into perishable and non-perishable.  You can go ahead and purchase the non-perishables right away and leave the other items for the week of your dinner.

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan

Clean out Your Refrigerator

This is not the week to stock up on items that are not Thanksgiving related.  You will need the space to place covered casseroles that you make ahead-of-time and also for leftovers after your dinner is done.  Make sure your refrigerator is clean and only holding the essentials.

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan

Make Sure Your Oven is Clean

Any spill that is currently inside your oven can cause the oven to smoke up on Thanksgiving day.  I always clean my oven the week before and I try to place a sheet pan under items that are known to spill, such as cobblers.

Also, if you store pots inside your oven, this is a great time to move them elsewhere.  You will need all the oven space that you can get.

Iron Linens and Wash Glasses

Have you ever pulled out a glass (especially the ones that rarely get used) for a dinner party, just to find that they are dirty or murky?  Cleaning all your glassware can be time consuming and should be done the week prior to alleviate pressure and time constraints the week of your party.  I love knowing that my plates and linens are clean and ready for the big day.

Foolproof Thanksgiving Plan

This is only Part One and it’s mostly suggestions for the week prior to Thanksgiving week.  I will share Part Two in a few days and that will be full of tips for the week of Thanksgiving.  I hope you found this helpful!  I know that it can seem overwhelming to have so many items on your to-do list, but I promise that if you have a good, clear plan you will enjoy your dinner along with your guests!

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dinner tips?

 

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Organizing Thanksgiving

Yes!  Even the holidays can and should be organized.

There is definitely an art to hosting a dinner party and my goal is to share some of my tips with you so that you can avoid some of the mistakes that I have made in the past.  These are general dinner party tips but you can definitely use them for Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving table last year.  I buy items right after the holiday is over so that I can decorate the following year to my heart and wallets content!

Our Thanksgiving table last year. I buy items right after the holiday is over so that I can decorate the following year to my heart and wallets content!

Have you ever had a dinner party that 30 minutes before your guests arrive you are still running around like a chicken turkey with your head cut off?  The moment they arrive everything is done and you think to yourself…”if you only knew how crazy my day has been in order to pull this off!”  Basically, they are ready to start having fun and you are ready for a nap!

Situations like this make us want to avoid having people over.  It’s a shame to avoid dinner parties altogether considering that when we move into a home, when we buy new dishes…we think of entertaining.  We think of well orchestrated dinner parties.

In my case, I love to entertain and have dinner parties.  I have had great and not-so-great dinner parties and I can tell you that planning makes the difference!  The ones that were not so great had nothing to do with the people I invited.  I was just simply too exhausted to enjoy what I had worked hard to put together.  Nowadays, although I have small kids and I can’t entertain as often as I would like, I still have dinner parties.  And….

I plan.  I plan EVERYTHING.

I have a timeline of when things need to get done.  I even write down when to turn on the candles, when to start playing the music…those are the little things that you can easily forget to do until after the guests arrive.  Those are the things that really set the ambiance for your party.

Whether you like to be really fancy or really laid back, a list will make all your gatherings more enjoyable.  Whether its paper plates or fine china, a list will keep you on track and relaxed.

These little pumpkins were about 1.00 each on clearance.  I had to wait a whole year to use them but I loved the result!

These little ceramic pumpkins were about 1.00 each on clearance. I had to wait a whole year to use them but I loved the result!

The point of the to-do list is not to stress you out or to try to impress anyone with “the perfect dinner party”.  The point of the list is to help you relax and know that everything is on schedule and that you don’t need to be anxious about anything that you may be forgetting because everything is written down and accounted for.

The point of a dinner party is to have fun and to entertain but that is impossible if by the time that guests arrive you are so tired that you are counting the minutes until they leave and you can take off your shoes.

The truth is that even with a schedule, things happen.  Food can burn, overcook, things can spill.  However, these events are much less overwhelming when you have a schedule.

So with Thanksgiving around the corner, I wanted to share some printables with you to help make this dinner party go as smoothly as possible.

Let’s face it, Thanksgiving is the mother of all dinner parties!  There are so many dishes to keep track of that without a schedule I would not be able to pull it off AND have fun.

Even if you decide not to do a list for all your dinner parties, consider doing one for thanksgiving.

Some of the things that I suggest adding to your list are:

  • Setting the table one to two days before a dinner party.
  • Make ahead anything that can be so that you can check it off your list.
  • If a dish cannot be made ahead then perhaps do the chopping and prep-work ahead of time.
  • Take out all your servewear so that you can have all the platters handy on the day of the dinner party.
  • Print out or make copies of all the recipes you are using so that you can staple them together and have them handy on the day of the event.
  • Set up your coffee maker ahead of time so that you don’t have to fuss with it when your guests are there.  Just press a button and you can join your party once more.
  • Set up a coffee station or a platter with coffee cups, sugar, creamer and stirrers so that you can just bring the pot to the table along with all the necessities.
  • Have a couple of music playlists that you can play during parties.  A more soothing one for the dinner portion and a livelier one for later.
  • Try to wash dishes as you go to lessen the clean up later.
  • Empty your dishwasher so that you can fill it up after your dinner party is over.

The most important TIP is that you have fun.  I love lists but the list goes out the window the moment that my guests arrive.  It’s all about them at that point and about enjoying myself with them.

Your guests will feel it if you are stressed out, so relax.  If you are relaxed then they are relaxed.  If something burns, just move on…laugh about it.  No one really ever remembers what they ate or the table linen that was used…they remember how they felt.  People remember having fun, good conversation.  In the end, the list was never to assure that they had fun.  It was to assure that you could have fun with them.

Here you can find the lists that I made on JPEG format.  I hope they make your holiday a more enjoyable one!

THANKSGIVING MEAL PLANNER

THANKSGIVING MEAL PLANNER

THANKSGIVING GUEST LIST

THANKSGIVING GUEST LIST

THANKSGIVING COOKING SCHEDULE

THANKSGIVING COOKING SCHEDULE

Below you can find them in PDF Format :

THANKSGIVING MEAL PLANNER

THANKSGIVING GUEST LIST

THANKSGIVING COOKING SCHEDULE

Remember: Do as much as you can before your guests arrive but when they do (regardless of what still hasn’t been crossed off your list) throw this list away and just have fun!

With that being said, Have a Happy Thanksgiving and count all your blessings.  There are many.  You can make a list about that too!

Happy Organizing,

Maria