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entertaining U
by Siobhan Flaherty Haber and Jane Miller Rennert

It's gravy baby!

10 Tips for easy Thanksgiving Entertainment

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner-especially for the first time-can be very intimidating. After all, the last thing you want is to ruin the most congenial (and food-oriented) holiday of the year for your family and friends. Treat Thanksgiving like a big, fall-themed dinner party and make sure it reflects your taste and entertaining style and you're bound succeed. One word of caution, however, once you throw a great Thanksgiving your friends and family will expect you to do so every year until they ship you off to a nursing home.

Pre-planning is essential for a successful turkey day whether you have 5 or 25 guests. Plan your menu at least a week ahead of time; in addition to turkey you'll want at least 4 sides-stuffing, starchy vegetable, green vegetable and cranberry sauce-plus gravy, bread, and possibly a salad or appetizer and dessert. Once you've decided what to make go through your recipes and make a shopping list with quantities (always buy extra butter, chicken stock and onions-you'll need them) and do as much shopping ahead of time a possible. It is essential at this stage that you do not change your mind or you will inevitably wake up in a cold sweat on Thursday morning when you realize you forgot to buy those special Lebanese pistachios for the stuffing. Order a free range turkey from a reputable butcher a couple of weeks in advance (at least a pound per person) and arrange to have it delivered on Wednesday, if possible-you will, of course, already have taken that day off from work to cook, clean, and spruce up your place. Next, clean out your fridge of all three-week old leftover Chinese food, and other miscellaneous junk that takes up valuable refrigerator real estate and you are good to go!

The following tips will go a long way in making you feel in control and prepared once your guests arrive.

  1. Go through all your bowls and platters ahead of time and plan what dish goes in what. If guests have offered to bring things ask then to bring them in an appropriate serving dish so you don't have to scramble at the last minute looking for something to put it in. If you are having more than 10 people it's a good idea to send around two platters of each item so it doesn't take so long for things to get around the table. Also make sure you have enough plates, napkins, wine glasses and silverware for all of your guests.

  2. For small apartment dwellers—you can set your table or tables in the morning and move them into the bedroom so that when guests arrive there's room to mingle. Recruit a couple of strong friends to bring them out at dinner time.

  3. Bourbon is a great Thanksgiving drink—it's American and it makes you feel warm inside. Serve bourbon and ginger ale with a squirt of lemon or Manhattans before dinner and a premium bourbon, neat, with dessert (it tastes GREAT with pumpkin pie). Have sparkling wine and cider as alternative aperitifs.

  4. Buy enough booze. It's great to linger over dinner with wonderful wine and people will often drink more than you think is humanly possible. Buy a bottle per person and you'll be fine. Zinfandel is an American varietal that goes well with turkey.

  5. Don't serve too many pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres because you want your guests to enjoy the meal. Choose finger foods that whet the appetite such as spiced nuts, homemade pickled vegetables or cheese straws.

  6. Mini pumpkins and gourds from a local farmers market make cute decorations or place markers-write the guests name on them with a permanent, metallic marker.

  7. Make as much in advance as possible. Make sure a couple of dishes can be heated on top of the stove or you'll run out of oven space.

  8. Stock up on tin foil for wrapping leftovers. Also, it's nice to give your guests the all the fixings for turkey-stuffing sandwiches to take with them.

  9. Invite someone who knows how to carve a turkey. Or learn yourself—roast a big chicken for dinner the week before and practice on that.

  10. Enlist close friends, relatives, and/or people who owe you money to help you clean up. Or, better yet, hire someone to come clean on Friday morning and enjoy your post-Thanksgiving stupor at the movies.