TIMELINE AND TIPS TO HOSTING A STRESS-FREE THANKSGIVING DINNER

The countdown is on….And I am super hyped!!!  Thanksgiving is a BIG DEAL in my home.  I love everything about it…looking for new recipes, planning the menu and hosting for friends and family.  Last year, I hosted close to 35 people at my house and did most of the cooking.  Yes, that’s nuts.  And yes, my feet are usually on fire for the rest of the weekend…but I would not trade it for the world…at least not now.

My goal is to share some of my staple go-to recipes in the next few days…but first, I wanted to share some of my quick tips on prepping for the big day.  If you haven’t started yet – you still have time!

Recipe Search:  A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I start to look for different recipes that I may want to try out.  My menu generally stays the same with all the key staples – but every year I try to add 1-2 new side dishes or new variations of a dish just for fun.  Its best to test out the new dish BEFORE Thanksgiving…but sometimes – I just take a shot to see how it turns out and if its worthy to make it on the dinner table.  By the way – we’re 5 days away from the big day – so if you’re going to try something new – today is the day.

Saturday:  Finalize your menu and make your grocery list.  You DO NOT want to wait until the last minute to start figuring out what you need. This year, I’m relying on Instacart to get as much as I can off of my list early. Note: Instacart is great for some things – but not everything.  Save the fresh produce, herbs, and meats for your own choosing for a day or two before.

Monday:    Clean out your refrigerator to make space for things you will need to keep cold while prepping…as well as leftovers.  If you’re hosting…this is also a good time to pull out all of your serving dishes and any décor you will need to use.  Don’t wait until the last minute to search for that perfect serving dish you haven’t used in the last 364 days…or worse – realize that it’s missing.  Also, take inventory of all the tools you need to cook and have them readily available – and working!  Nothing worse than finding out the day of that your thermometer konked out.

Make sure you have plenty of glass containers on hand for any leftovers.  I also like to have these containers handy for guests who like to make a to-go plate…so they’re not walking out with my good containers – cause they will.

Tuesday:  Start food prep.  I usually use this day to buy my fresh turkey from Delaware Chicken Farm early in the morning and keep it in the fridge until its brine time.  I also use this time to start cutting up any ingredients that I’ll be using:  onions, peppers, etc…chop them up and pop them in ziplock bags so they’re ready to go when its time to cook.

Wednesday:  First thing…brine your turkey in the morning so that it will have a full 24 hours to soak.  Trust me – its a game changer.  More on that later.

Make your cranberry sauce and desserts.  I try to knock these out in the morning so that I have the rest of the day to get any last-last minute items needed. Promise…it doesn’t matter how much I prep – there’s a moment of “Damn. I forgot to get the sour cream! BOB. I NEED YOU!!!!!!”

Make any side dishes that can be refrigerated and warmed up the next day.

Wednesday night:  Before bed…set your table.  Get that out of the way so you won’t have to worry about it the next day.

Thanksgiving Day:  I am usually up and in my kitchen by 6 AM.  We usually have dinner at 4 PM so that gives me a good 10 hours to get everything done.  Having a double oven helps…and having my trusted sidekick Fifi who helps me with prep.

To alleviate the kids and adults in my kitchen on a busy morning – I’ll make something quick for breakfast…usually its coffee and blueberry muffins.  If that doesn’t work for them – there’s always cereal!

I’ll then start with the main sides that are a bit more complicated to make:  greens, mac and cheese, candied yams.  For some of those items – I’ll prep and pop them in the oven closer to the afternoon when they only need about 45min – 1hr to bake.  I also tend to wait and roast my turkey and ham about 4 hours before dinner time, depending on the weight.

EXTRA TIPS:

  • Game Plan:  If not this plan…then find a game plan that works for you!  Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for the person hosting.  So it’s best that you come into it with a plan…and reliable help.
  • Identify a cleanup crew:  After all of this cooking, you should not be the one responsible for the cleanup.  So thankfully, I can put my nieces and sister to work throughout the day, keeping the kitchen clean and dishes washed.  By the time dinner is ready – mostly everything is in disposables so it should be a somewhat easy clean-up.
  • ASK:  Don’t be afraid to ask your guest to bring something…especially those that you won’t need to lean on for the cleanup crew.  Wine, drinks, ice, cheese platters, water, are all items that you shouldn’t have to worry about – especially if you’re handling the food.
  • Enjoy the day.  Fill your house with music…Drink wine while cooking..Assign someone to take photos and most of all – be grateful for the moment.

Happy Hosting!

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS WITH A CINNAMON TWIST

For the record…I love blueberry muffins!! And they’re waaaaayyy too easy to make…to NOT make them – from scratch!!  They’re the perfect “pick up and go” breakfast item or mid-day snack. I can’t keep these babies sitting around my house long enough and they’re sure to be a hit in your home too. I used the recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook as my base – and added a twist.

Blueberry Muffins with a Cinnamon Twist
Blueberry Muffins with a Cinnamon Twist
  • DIRECTIONS:
    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prep your muffin pans. This receipe can yield up to 24 medium muffins. Line your muffin pans with cupcake liners or grease your pans for a non-stick lift.
  • In a large bowl, mix 1 1/2 sticks of butter (soften it in the microwave or leave out a stick overnight) and 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Using a handheld mixer or standing mixer, mix both items until it’s light and fluffy. Should take 2-3 minutes.
  • Add your eggs one by one. You’ll need a total of 3 eggs, and each time you add an egg, mix it well before adding the next.
  • Then add 1 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla, 1 cup of sour cream and 1/4 cup of whole milk. Mix for 1 minute.
  • In a smaller bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Once sifted, slowly pour the flour mixture into the batter and mix for a minute. Do not over mix.
  • Once the batter is fully mixed with the flour, add 1 large pint of blueberries (rinse off your berries first!). The amount of blueberries you use is up to you. I love my muffins full of berries so I use a large pint or 2 small boxes of blueberries. Your call. Mix your berries with a spatula to make sure it’s fully mixed into the batter. Do not use the mixer for this part.
  • Take an ice cream scoop and scoop the batter to fill each cup. If you want medium sized muffins, do not overfill the cups. If you like larger muffins, fill the cups just slightly over the top. However, if you go that route, make sure the top of your pan is well greased (I use PAM baking spray) otherwise your muffins will stick!

This part is optional but just takes your muffin to another level. In a small bowl, take 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and add a few dashes of both Cinnamon and Nutmeg. (About 1 tablespoon of each). Mix together. With a spoon, sprinkle your muffins with this mixture. Just a few dashes on top almost like your sprinkling cupcakes. Pop your babies in the oven for about 25 – 30 minutes or until the top is slightly brown. You’ll want to test the muffins once it’s done by sticking a toothpick in the middle to make sure it comes out clean.

Make yourself a nice cup of coffee and enjoy!!!! Happy Baking!

SUNDAY FUNDAY: BRUNCH AT YARDBIRD

As I’ve gotten older – Sunday has become one of my favorite days of the week.  Sundays just FEEL good for the soul…whether its going to church…going to the park….or going to brunch – like we did on this Sunday morning, during Art Basel in Miami. There are a ton of amazing restaurants that serve delicious brunch – and we picked Yardbird – Southern Table + Bar on this day. QuestLove from the Roots was also another perk for spending time here…good music…good food…good times! I’ll let the pictures do the talking….

Sunday Funday.  Brunch at Yardbird
Chicken n’ Watermelon n’ Waffles Yardbird’s signature ‘old school fried chicken’, honey hot sauce, chilled spiced watermelon, Cheddar cheese chow chow waffle, bourbon maple syrup
Sunday Funday.  Brunch at Yardbird
Shrimp n’Grits Florida shrimp, crisp Virginia ham, Adluh South Carolina stone ground grits

SUPER EASY CHICKEN QUESADILLAS

I know I suck when it comes to this blog…I have no excuses!!  I still have to blog my recipes for Thanksgiving and Christmas Brunch – hopefully I’ll get around to it by Easter…

Anywho – gonna make this quick…I was going thru an old Paula Deen magazine and found this super simple Chicken, Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas.  I’m always looking for easy and fast meals to make, cause – who has time nowadays.  This is so easy – I stopped what I was doing to share.

Grill/sautee 2-3 pieces of chicken breasts in olive oil until fully cooked.  (I used my grill cast iron pan cause I love grill marks on my chicken – personal preference).  I should preface this by saying you should season your meat before cooking…I used salt, pepper, Tony Cacheres.  I let the breast marinade in Mojo for a few minutes before cooking.

Grilling the chicken over high heat in my cast iron grill
Grilling the chicken over high heat in my cast iron grill