I'm hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year and slightly freaking out. By the way, I cook dinner at least 5 nights a week, prep and pack my lunches for work every day, and host parties fairly often. If I'm this nervous, I can't even imagine how my other first-time hosts (who don't cook quite that often) are feeling. The struggle is real, friends. Very real. Oh, and to add to that, my nephew who's only 16-months-old has a nut allergy, so absolutely zero nuts in this Thanksgiving meal. I have been scanning and double scanning recipes for any possible trace of nuts thinking, I cannot cause a family trip to the ER on Thanksgiving, I must not cause a family trip to the ER on Thanksgiving.
So, anxiety aside, what's my strategy? Just like everything else in life, I decided to step back, assess this situation, and start planning. Mainly because I have a largely type-A brain, and a having solid plan in place does my soul wonders. No stress (at least, not yet),--just questions answered, a meal plan, and a game day plan (A.K.A. Figuring out how the hell I'm going to have everything ready to serve on time).
And the place to start in building such a master turkey day plan is by first identifying what the big questions and roadblocks of uncertainty are, and seeking out valid answers that will lead you in the right direction. For my fellow first time hosts, I have outlined the top 10 questions I've encountered when really diving in to make my Thanksgiving day menu and schedule, along with the answers I found that will (or already have) help me to move forward. I salute your bravery and wish you all the best--you got this.
The 10 First-Time Thanksgiving Host's Questions--Answered!
1. Where and when should I buy my turkey?
A: We've learned that the best turkeys that aren't frozen are available 5 to 7 days before Thanksgiving, but if you want to go ahead and pre-order yours, Whole Foods started taking orders on November 1 online, in store, and by phone through their Holiday Table.
2. What is the easiest way to cook my turkey, that will also taste the best?
A: According to Kenji López-Alt, Spatchcocking is the ultimate way to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving. After researching all the ways to cook turkey, this technique caught my attention, mainly because it cooks in less than an hour and a half—amazing. But if spatchcocking doesn't sound like the method for you, check out even more turkey tips.
3. Is there a dish that I can make in the slow cooker to save some space in my oven and on the stovetop?
A: Huffington Post says that I can cook my entire Thanksgiving in a Crock Pot. No Thanks. While that sure sounds interesting, I think I'll just stick to one or two to save some space, and keep a couple items more hands off. After reading all of my several options, mashed potatoes seem to make the most sense to me. But really, these Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes with Bacon sound like the best option for my slow-cooker Thanksgiving contribution.
4. I want to make a salad that doesn't feel like everything else on my menu. How can I bring a fresh pop of flavor to the table?
A: In order to make a salad feel necessary to my menu, I needed it to really pop with vibrancy. This Grapefruit, Endive, and Arugula Salad brings crunch, flavor, and bright acidity to my spread with tangy grapefruit, crisp and pleasantly bitter endive, peppery arugula, and pungent Gorgonzola cheese. And, since I'll need to nix the nuts, I'll replace with crispy chickpeas for crunch.
5. Stuffing or dressing? Is there a difference? Do I need to make both or...?
A: Apparently, this all just depends on where you live. There really is no difference. While some argue that stuffing refers to the literal stuffing you place inside the bird, and dressing is what is made in a casserole dish, they're essentially the same thing. According to my mother, I do need to make it, regardless of what I call it. And not just any stuffing (that's what we call it), but cornbread stuffing, to be exact.
6. What are the three best appetizers that I should make that day? I don't want people getting too full, but I know they need a pre-meal nosh.
A: After thinking about this one for a minute, I know my family and what they like. So, I'm going to serve our favorite snacks—cheese, olives, and wine. I'm not going to stress about this one. I'm going to put out a fabulous cheese board, bake some brie, serve with apples, grapes, and crackers, and put out a couple of bottles of red wine. I'll also stock the bar with gin, vodka, and whiskey, and the fridge with tonic water, light lagers, and hoppy IPAs (my fam likes booze, it counts as an appetizer). For some other ideas, check out our collection of must-try Thanksgiving apps, or some of the snacks I recommended for an hor d’oeuvres-themed Friendsgiving.
7. Should I prepare breakfast for my family that morning? If so, what?
A: According to The Kitchn's rules for Thanksgiving breakfast, I need to keep it light, simple, and flexible. To stick within those parameters, I'm going to set out some coffee, fruit, yogurt, and pumpkin bread and let everyone fend for themselves. Easy peasy.
8. Never have I ever carved a turkey. Where in the world do I even start?
A: Thanks to Real Simple, I have this handy video and step-by-step guide to help me out on the big day. Remove in this order: string, legs, thighs, drumsticks, wishbone (apparently this makes it easier to carve off the breast meat), breast, and wings. After everything has been removed in order, you can then slice the breast and thigh meat like a pro.
9. I know that I'm supposed to include cranberry sauce, but that jiggly stuff in a can really freaks me out. Is there an easy fresh version I can make?
A: Thankfully, Time Inc. Food Studios Test Kitchen Director Katie Barreira has a gorgeous and foolproof Roasted Cranberry Sauce that only takes 10 minutes to make. It also incorporates rosemary, which is a huge win in our family. Boom.
10. I need a nut-free dessert that's not pumpkin pie (my husband hates it), what feels right for Thanksgiving?
A: I went to our resident pie queen and Editor of MyRecipes, Darcy Lenz for this one. Pie is serious business. And everyone remembers dessert. She knows that I'm no baker (like seriously), so homemade pie dough is kind of out the question. She offered to make me a few crusts-worth of pie dough in advance to pop in the freezer, which is amazing. But if you don't happen to have a Darcy in your life, you can use refrigerator pie dough instead. I'm going to use her crust and make this easy Rustic Apple Tart. It's nut-free, an elegant dish I'm sure everyone will enjoy, and looks relatively easy. Another option: this gorgeous Caramel-Apple Cheesecake. It does have nuts, but Darcy pointed out that I could eliminate those and add 1/2 cup more graham cracker crumbs instead. Sold!
To get even more Thanksgiving guidance, be sure to tune in to our Facebook Friendsgiving Day on Tuesday, November 22 at 10 AM (EST), where our sister brands will join us to answer more questions and show you how to master the art of Thanksgiving.