So, you've decided to host your very first Thanksgiving. Congratulations on this life milestone! The main thing to remember here is that while a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is time-consuming and often involves many dishes, the cooking itself is not actually that hard. Just think: lots of people manage to do it every single year, and somehow they survive. You're going to be great.
Still, there are things you should know before you begin; things that will streamline your process and delight your guests, if only someone would tell you what they are. I will be that person.
Here are five things to know before you dive in.
1. Serve bubbles.
People love bubbles! Serve before dinner to feel festive, or with dinner, thus solving your white or red dilemma. It doesn't have to be expensive, either. You can get a totally decent bottle of sparkling wine for under $15, and it will put everyone in a celebratory sort of mood. Chill a lot of it; it will be popular.
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2. Plan (and cook) ahead!
Unless you live in a very fancy house, or a professional kitchen, it is likely you are limited to four burners, one oven set at one temperature, a limited collection of pots and pans, and perhaps a toaster. That is all.
And that is enough!
But you must think through your order of operations: You can bake a pie, and you can roast a turkey, but it is unlikely you can do both at the same time. Luckily, a little planning goes a long way. Also luckily, the vast majority of traditional Thanksgiving dishes can be made ahead. They may even be better for it!
Also, never forget that a turkey can stand, tented, for quite some time and, in fact, it is easier to carve if it does.
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3. You don't have to cater to every conceivable dietary restriction.
And I say this as a person with dietary restrictions. The great thing about Thanksgiving is that there is so much food, an abundance of food, food of all kinds: starches! Vegetables! Meats! Rolls! Pies! Cakes! Dishes that are naturally vegan, like roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts! Dishes that are naturally gluten-free, like roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts!
There is nothing wrong with a meal of side dishes — side dishes are the best part, anyway. And, if you're truly worried that a particular guest will have nothing to eat, invite them to bring a dish that meets their needs to share with the group. It will be like a cultural exchange, but with allergies.
(Obviously, this doesn't apply to life-threatening allergies. At the bare minimum, your goal for Thanksgiving should be not to kill your guests.)
4. Tell people exactly what to bring.
When you issue your invitations, be very, very specific when people ask about "bringing something." People love being told what to do! It makes us feel in control of our lives. Also, if you don't specify, you are going to end up with a lot of wine, which is, sadly, not a food.
That said, it is nice to ask your guests if they have a specialty, but you are the host, which gives you power — if you've already got the green beans covered, it is fine to say so.
5. However many serving utensils you think you need, you will need more.
This is especially true for sharp knives and cutting boards. Also, serving spoons. Are they all clean? Make sure they are all clean. Make sure they are polished, if you are into that kind of thing. Borrow some, or buy plastic, if you must. Just remember: teaspoons are not serving spoons.
Have you hosted Thanksgiving before? What's your best advice for first-timers?