6 Mistakes Even the Best Thanksgiving Hosts Make
It can be tricky to know how many bottles to buy for Thanksgiving—people may drink less than they would at a cocktail party, but then again, it is a holiday, and guests are usually in a festive mood. Alexandra Shytsman, author of Friendsgiving, offers a handy guide for hosts, so you're not over or understocked. At holiday meals, she says, guests usually drink about two glasses of wine per hour. A 750 ml bottle of wine yields six four-ounce glasses, so if you have eight guests and your dinner lasts about two hours, you'll need 32 glasses of wine—about five bottles.
If you want to buy a fresh turkey, the safest bet is to wait until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, since the uncooked bird shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator for more than two days (some grocery stores will even let you reserve one ahead of time). If you bought yours farther in advance and froze it, that's fine, too—but the important thing is to remember which day to transfer it to your fridge (which should be set at 40 degrees or cooler) to thaw. The USDA says to allow one day per five pounds of weight to thaw the turkey, plus an extra day or two. So, a 20-pound turkey will take about four days to thaw. After it has thawed, it's safe in the fridge for another two days.
Whether it's pumpkin spice, rosemary or vanilla, a scented candle can be a lovely autumnal touch—only trouble is, its smell can interfere with the aromas from the delicious meal you've prepared. Instead, Shytsman suggests using unscented candles on or around the dining table together with small winter squashes or bowls of citrus fruits, apples or pears, which are beautiful, affordable—and don't have a strong scent. (If you're really set on lighting scented candles, consider placing them in the bathroom, as long as they're a safe distance from anything that could catch fire.)
Photo: Alexandra Shytsman
Pregame snacks are expected, but the mistake many of us make is not thinking through how people will eat them. Shytsman likes to set up a "choose-your-own-adventure" crostini bar, and says it's a great Thanksgiving warm-up for several smart reasons. First, it keeps your visitors busy and out of the kitchen, allowing you to put final touches on things without distractions. Second, it's a good icebreaker if you have guests who are meeting each other for the first time. Have plenty of sliced, toasted bread; and, for toppings, think in terms of categories: something spreadable, such as sun-dried tomato tapenade or hummus; sliced fresh vegetables and fruits (radishes, cucumbers, pears, apples); a few cheeses and cured meats; and, a "wild card," which could be a flavor booster such as honey, caramelized onions or minced fresh herbs (e.g., rosemary or thyme).
Get the recipes: Caramelized Onions and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
It's not difficult to make mashed potatoes, but the key to a truly delicious dish may surprise you. Chef and cookbook author Sara Foster says the important thing to do is to mix it up in the produce aisle. She finds that when she uses a couple of different varieties of potatoes, the finished dish is fluffier and better looking than if she'd stuck with just one. Foster suggests a combination of waxy Yukon Golds, which have a wonderful flavor and a beautiful yellow color, and starchy Russets, which are sturdier and help achieve a fluffy texture (they also do a nice job of soaking up butter and milk).
No matter how you cook your bird—traditionally, deep-fried, buttermilk-marinated or brined—you should resist the temptation to carry it to the table in all its golden glory. Carve the turkey in the kitchen and then bring it out for your guests to ooh and ahh over. Here's why: First, you'll be calmer (if you're nervous, the last thing you need is an audience); second, to do the best job (here are some helpful tips), you need a big cutting board and plenty of elbow room to get the meat off the bones. A dining-room table crammed with side dishes isn't going to give you enough space. Have a big platter nearby and arrange the cut turkey on it; carry it to the table and take a bow.