cook panics over overcooked thanksgiving turkey in oven

5 Things to Make Thanksgiving Manageable

No holiday is America is more centered around food than Thanksgiving. Traditional Thanksgiving dinners are elaborate affairs which take days, if not weeks, of planning. While everyone else is enjoying the company of family and friends, you should not feel trapped in the kitchen. Here are five ways of making it easier to survive hosting a Thanksgiving dinner.

Get a Headcount Early

Send out invitations early and emphasize the importance of replies. They are vital if you want to make sure everyone is well fed without generating enough leftovers to last until next year.

Be sure to consider how many people can actually be fit around the table and whether you’re willing to relocate some to card tables or even to the living room with TV trays. Remember that tables and countertops are going to be full of food, so squeezing extra people around the table will be a nightmare.

Shop Early

Thanksgiving meal staples often sell out before the actual holiday. Buy non-perishable items early, and make sure there’s room in your freezer for a frozen turkey, which disappear from grocery shelves particularly quickly.

Cook Early

Not everything should be done Thanksgiving day. Consider what foods can be prepped or cooked ahead of time and then frozen.

Also, have a plan as to what order food will be cooked. You only have so many ovens and stove burners. Some dishes may need to be prepared and then set aside earlier in the day.

roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decoraded with pumpkins, gourds, asparagus, brussel sprouts, baked vegetables, pie, flowers, and candles.

Consider a Potluck

Potlucks are a common way of assembling Thanksgiving meals without placing all of the responsibility on the shoulders of the host. Make a list of needed items and have guests sign up for them. It’s important to know who is bringing what. Otherwise, basic things may go missing while you have more mashed potatoes than you know what to do with.

No matter how you’re assembling the meal, keep in mind what sort of table space is needed to hold it all. This is particularly important if some food is going to sit in crock pots, which require access to electrical outlets.

Consider Catering

If all of this sounds incredibly taxing, there’s no shame in having at least some of the dishes catered. Turkeys can be purchased fully cooked from a variety of sources. They’re the most taxing aspect of cooking a Thanksgiving meal: they need to be stored frozen, thawed, stuffed and then cooked for hours which can be hard to predict. Farming out that task to experts relieves a ton of holiday cooking strain.

Just remember to put your order in early. Plenty of other people have the same idea you do.

The key to making a Thanksgiving meal a success is early planning. Find out how many people you’ll be cooking for, then collect and prepare as many items as you can before the actual dinner, freezing what you can. Having an attack plan for Thanksgiving itself keeps things flowing in the kitchen. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s from your guests or from professionals.

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Friends at a nighttime party taking a selfie

Hosting a Nighttime Party

Summer is the perfect time for outdoor parties. However, the heat can put a damper on festivities, and the sun is a real threat, especially to children and fair skinned friends. But if you start your festivities at night, after the heat has died down and the sun has set, you open yourself up for a whole new kind of fun and relaxing event.

Make It a Movie Night

It’s already dark. Why not transform the backyard into a movie theater? There’s plenty of online tutorials on how to make an easy and affordable movie screen. You will also need a projector. However, the prices of basic models have drop considerably over the years. You can pick up one at Wal-Mart for $50. Finally, don’t forget speakers.

Simplify Snacks

It doesn’t get dark until after 8pm in the summer, meaning it’s easy for guests to have already had dinner by the time they arrive. Make snacks simple. After all, lighting will be dim, and you don’t want them wondering what they’re about the eat. Also, unless you have a lot of artificial lighting, grilling will be difficult to say the least.

For a movie night, the obvious answer is popcorn. Bring it out in large bowls and let guests fill paper bowls or plastic cups to take back to their seats.

outdoor string lights hanging on a line in backyard

Light it Up

A nighttime party requires lighting. It doesn’t, however, have to be boring. Glow sticks are a fun way of lighting the night, and you can do way more than just wear them around your neck. Bury a large glow stick in ice to light up the drink bucket. Place them in balloons and leave them around the area. You can even buy drinking glasses which light up either with disposable glow sticks or reusable LED lights.

Light bulb strings are another method of illumination. Their biggest drawback, however, is they need objects from which they can be draped or to be wrapped around. They also need to be plugged into an outlet.

Drive Away Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are a real problem for nighttime parties, and you absolutely have to be prepared for them. First, have a bug repellent station where people can apply bug spray. You’ll want to keep the station away from both food and areas where people are congregating.

Second, invest in citronella candles or similar products which drive bugs from the area. These products also do double duty as light sources. They come in everything from metal buckets to ceramic pots to tiki torches, so you have plenty of options to best fit the feel of your party.

Double-check Noise Ordinances

Most cities have laws limiting the noise a household can make after a certain time, usually between 10 and 11pm. Nighttime parties are not going to be raucous events. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. But curb music, shouting, shrieking kids and the like. And if you’re doing a movie night, don’t crank the speakers cranked.

Nighttime parties are a cool option to hot summer days. They also offer a variety of decorative options not available for afternoon get-togethers. Make the most of the night, and your event will be a party to remember.

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multi generation family enjoying summer outdoor party

5 Tips for a Summer Party

As the weather turns warm for the summer, people are itching to find reasons to go out and enjoy the sun. A casual outdoor get together can be just the thing, getting people out of their homes while socializing with friends and family. But, like all things, the outdoors offers its own unique challenges, so keep them in mind when planning your event.

Protect Your Food

One of the drawbacks of the outdoors is bugs. Not only are they everywhere, but they congregate exactly where you want them least: on your food. No one wants a fruit salad which has been home to flies for the last half hour. Keep food covered as much as possible when left outdoors. Any sort of large, semi-transparent container will do. Stay away from anything opaque, as those force guests to search through items to find what they’re really after.

Another answer is to leave food indoors. This might be slightly inconvenient for guests, but food will remain much more appetizing, not to mention sanitary.

Question Cutlery

While you might want to throw steaks on the grill, consider where guests can eat it. Unless there will be enough outdoor tables for everyone to eat at, steer clear of dishes which require a fork and knife. Things that can be eaten by hand such as burgers, brats, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches will be far easier for everyone to manage.

group of friends having summer outdoor party in backyard at home

Keep Hydrated

Warm weather encourages dehydration, so make sure plenty of drinks are available. The easiest method is to fill a cooler with ice and an assortment of drinks, then let guests serve themselves throughout the day.

Provide Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

Don’t presume guests will bring their own sunscreen and insect repellent. Many times, people don’t even think about them until they start to burn or the bugs start to bite, so make sure you have some on hand. Having some aloe vera for those who really gets burned is not a bad idea either.

If your party is going to continue into the night, invest in insect-repelling products such as citronella candles to help clear the area of pests.

Consider a Fire Pit

Fire pits have become a popular centerpiece for evening outdoor events, allowing people to sit around them like campfires. Despite their name, fire pits don’t have to actually be pits. They can also be raised, portable items which allow you to safely start a fire pretty much anywhere. They’re also easy to get a hold of. Home improvement stores like Home Depot carry them, as does Amazon. Several models can be acquired for less than $100.

Casual outdoor summer parties are easy to throw. Still, a bit of planning can turn an average event into a great one which friends and family will remember for a long time to come.

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appetizers to the holiday - cheeses, fruits and jams

4 Tips for Providing Food at Parties

Last week, we talked about the ins and outs of providing drinks at parties. Food of course, is just as fundamental, existing in some form at nearly every kind of event.

1. Keep Food Fork Free

Unless your party includes a formal meal, go light on the cutlery and heavy on the napkins as you provide food which can be eaten with fingers.

Party-goers like milling around, and the necessity of a fork and knife forces them to not only sit but sit at a table. Finger food allows people to nibble while they continue to socialize, keeping their attention on the conversation rather than their meal.

Dishes which need only a fork, such as cake, can be doable. But the food must be soft enough for the fork to easily cut through it.

2. Avoid Messy Foods

If you’re going to have people to eat with their fingers, give them something that isn’t going to smear across their hands and leave streaks on your furniture. The problem isn’t just the damage it can cause, but also how uncomfortable it can make guests. They don’t want to damage your carpet or your chairs, so they’re likely to be extra fussy about eating to avoid making a mess.

various dip sauces on wooden table

3. Always Get a Party Platter

Party platters are kind of the best of all worlds: they provide variety, they’re affordable and all of it is finger food. If you’re not serving dinner, party platters can keep friends going all evening. If there is a scheduled dinner, party platters make for great appetizers.

They’re also a great way of not running out of food. Not sure if you have enough? Get an extra platter. Might there be some last minute drop-ins? You don’t have to spend a lot to make sure you have a little extra, just in case you underestimated who all was likely to come.

4. Be Prepared

It’s your party. You should be socializing, not slaving away in the kitchen. Prepare as much as possible the night before or the morning of. Keep food warm in crock pots. Keep cold food in the fridge, ready to be set out without additional preparation.

Planning on grilling? Get everything organized ahead of time. If you have a mix of special seasonings for your hamburgers, put it all together the night before.

It’s no fun if the party’s host is stressing over the food. A little planning goes a long way in this department. Serve food which can be eaten by hand and aren’t overly messy. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. And don’t be afraid of using pre-made items such as party platters, which can save a ton of prep time. Create a menu great for both you and your guests, and you’re on your way to a great party.

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Woman looking sad out a window showing rain

Planning for a Rained Out Outdoor Party

Outdoor parties are a feature of summer. Outdoor kids’ parties let children burn off energy without laying waste to the house. For adults, garden parties mean barbecues, extra space and a chance to enjoy the sun. But we can’t control the weather, and if it’s seriously inclement, an outdoor party simply isn’t possible.

The trick to coping with this possibility is a little fallback planning. You can’t rescue a rained-out event without preparation, so keep this scenario in mind when planning your party.

Limiting Guests

Outdoor parties are a favorite of people who have more friends than can fit inside their house. However, the reality is you just might have to fit those people regardless. Don’t invite so many people you can’t be a proper host. They will be forgiving if things are a little cramped, but if there aren’t enough places to sit and they all have to shoulder their way through the hallways, no one is having fun.

Falling Back to a Restaurant

An alternative to this scenario is to fall back to a restaurant in case of rain. While your event will no longer be an all day affair, you can reasonably spend a couple hours together. And, of course, the weather might change in that time, letting you return to festivities after a good restaurant meal.

However, you do need to research ahead of time what places can take a party as large as yours in a reasonable amount of time.

Sheltering in the Garage

If you just have to invite all those people, and they don’t fit inside your house, the garage can take some pressure off of space limitations. Pull out the cars, as it’s not like a little rain is going to hurt them. Tuck everything you can against the walls, and move your picnic tables and lawn chairs inside. It doesn’t offer the best of views, but you can still have a great afternoon with friends and family.

The garage can also be a place for grilling. No one wants to stand in the rain flipping burgers, but grills can be pulled into the shelter of a garage to provide food for people who have retreated indoors.

Outdoor party tent in case of rain

Erecting a Gazebo

Find a company which rents temporary gazebos/canopies/tents, and inquire how far in advance you need to reserve one. Check weather forecasts as you approach that deadline. If you decide to schedule one, you might as well erect it even if the forecasts eventually turn less dour. Some need professional installation, and, if not, you don’t want to be erecting the thing as a surprise storm rolls in.

Inside the house, you’ll want to put out extra floor mats, so people moving between house and tent don’t track in mud.

Do remember that tents shelter guests from rain, but heavy winds can topple them, and they provide no protection against lightning. For really inclement weather, your guests need more substantial shelter to remain safe.

Considering Food

Providing food is a major task for any party organization, and even more so when preparing food (such as on a grill) is dependent on the weather. Be sure there’s plenty of foods which do not require outdoor cooking. Finger foods are great. On a good day, they’re appetizers, while on a bad day they can at least help tide people over. Also, consider side dishes which stand on their own merits rather than looking terribly alone without food from the grill.

Another alternative is to order pizza. Yeah, it might beak the mood, particularly if your party has a theme, but it can be provided at the last minute for any number of people. Make sure you know what the approximate wait time will be for an order large enough to feed your guests on the day in question.

If you can’t bear the thought of pizza, you can also cook casseroles ahead of time and throw them in the freezer. Come party day, thaw them out and warm them up as needed. Not needing them? Keep them in the freezer for the next party or if you need to bring a dish to someone’s potluck.

Having your party rained out is never fun, but it doesn’t have to be a complete wash (no pun intended). Let your preparations be applicable regardless of weather. Keep a backup location in mind. Consider alternative food options. And, of course, remain safe. A little rain never hurt anyone, but wind and lightning certainly can. With a little planning your party can be great no what the weather.

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Christmas dinner with turkey and drinks

5 Ways to Stay Sane While Throwing a Holiday Party

With Thanksgiving having come and gone, we are now officially into holiday party season. For many, a Christmas gathering may be the only time all year they see relatives. But holiday parties can become extravagant affairs that leave the host trying to catch his or her breath. Consider some ways to reduce stress this season when hosting a holiday party.

Delegate

Nothing says you have to put on an entire party by yourself. Ask for volunteers. Generally, people are eager to help out, whether it’s bringing a dish to share, running errands or setting up the space beforehand. The holidays are about bringing people together. There’s no need to be alone in party planning.

Decoration in Moderation

Every neighborhood has That Guy who decks out his entire house in Christmas lights. You don’t have to be him. A single, stunning door wreath, for example, will have just as much impact but will take far less of your time and money.

Indoor décor can be embellished with classic holiday ornaments arranged in a variety of ways. They can be gathered into glass bowls and set up on tables, for example. A string of Christmas lights can add twinkle.

 

Skip the Dinner

The traditional image of Christmas gatherings involves everyone sitting around a heavily laden table. However, creating that heavily laden table is a lot of work, more work than many modern people have time for. There’s nothing wrong with going out to eat and then retiring back to the house for more socializing and gift exchanges.

Consider limiting what can be offered at home to snacks and drinks. Stock up on a variety of finger foods and spruce up the presentation to create a more festive mood.

Attractive display of snacks

If you’re offering alcohol, you may wish to offer a single signature drink, particularly one which is holiday themed. That saves you from having to buy a wide variety of liquors.

Box wines are also great for large gatherings. They take up far less space than individual bottles, are highly affordable, and come in a wide variety of vintages.

The Buffet Option

If you’re going to cook, serve it buffet style. When you have a lot of people sitting around a table, it can be difficult to constantly pass dishes back and forth. Instead, give the food its own table and everyone can approach it on their own when they’re wanting seconds. Also, put the food table in the middle of the room so people can circle it and avoid traffic jams.

Play to the buffet style when planning your meal. There’s a reason hams and turkeys are so popular for the holidays: you throw one thing in the oven and then cut and serve when it’s ready. You don’t want to be cooking a bunch of individual entrees.

Gifts in Bulk

Shopping for gifts can be a nightmare, particularly if your Christmas list is a long one. Consider finding a gift that’s appropriate for many people and buy in bulk, such as getting each relative a bottle of the same wine. Spruce up gifts with nice paper or even just a decorative bow or ribbons.

The holidays are a busy time of year. They’re meant to be a time for people coming together, but they can also bring a lot of stress. You have your guests in mind, but don’t forget yourself. Find ways of reducing your own stress this season and everyone will get more enjoyment from the holidays.

 

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hors d'oeuvres at catered event

Choosing the Perfect Caterer for Any Event

Caterers aren’t just for weddings. Many serve anything from large corporate luncheons to small social events, and everything from full meals to light hors d’oeuvres. They also vary greatly in price, quality and areas of expertise. The sharing of food is an important part of human socialization, so the meal, whether good or bad, can be a very memorable part of your event.

Venue

First, understand the policies of your venue regarding food services. Hotels often require you to use their caterers, which are frequently more expensive than independent companies. On the other hand, hotels commonly provide event space for free if they’re providing the food.

Other locales might have limitations for catering services. There might be limited space in which the caterer can work, there may be restrictions on what sort of things can be brought in. Historic buildings, for example, may have rules which protect objects within it.

It’s even better if your caterer is familiar with the location. It means they’ve already worked out the kinks of operating there, limiting complications for your own event.

Recommendations, Reviews and References

If possible, get recommendations. There’s a great number of caterers out there, all of which are going to tell you they’re excellent. Hearing other people’s experiences can help you form a short list of likely candidates.

Internet reviews can also be a resource, but they are more limited in usefulness. You trust your friends and business partners, but for all you know, the reviewer is an idiot. Also, people tend to only give reviews if service was great or terrible, with little feedback for mediocre experiences. Don’t just look at stars. Read the specific reasons reviewers gave the rating they did.

The caterer should also be able to provide references which you can contact for more insight on their performance.

Catereer and client discussing a menu

Interviewing Caterers

Have an in-depth conversation with caterers you are considering. Do they seem genuinely interested in working with you, or are they more interested in simply selling a generic service? Also, get a sense of what their specialties are. If you want something elegant, don’t go with the guy known for a great barbecue.

Taste testing is an absolutely must. Some companies offer it for free. Others make you pay. In either case, take advantage of it. You can’t know the quality until you’ve sampled it, not even if the caterer comes with glowing recommendations.

Even if the first company you interview seems fantastic, be sure to meet with a few others, including performing a taste test. Other caterers may bring up issues you didn’t consider when talking to the first one. It’s important to get a complete picture of the industry and your options.

Place settings and food at catered event

Contracts

Once you’ve selected a caterer, draw up a contract. These should be precise in what the company is providing: the type of food, number of servings, delivery fees, staff fees, provision of place settings, and more. Every item should be clearly priced out. Simply giving a total price is unacceptable. Laying out line items assures that you and the caterer are on the same page about expectations. Also, it protects both you and the caterer: each side has evidence of what was agreed upon.

Organizing a catered event can be a complicated task. However, it’s important to invest time in it to ensure the best possible result. Talking to others, scrutinizing catering companies, and insisting on detailed contracts will go a long way in ensuring a successful event.

A chocolate wedding cake surrounded by rose petals and a brides bouquet of flowers. Sitting an a table with a fire in the background. There are orange roses and nice details on the cake.

Cakes for all Special Occasions

Blue and white fondant elegant tiered cake
An elegant cake which could be used at multiple types of events, including weddings.

You need a cake, and not just something you picked up in the grocery store. These are special occasion cakes. The most common kind is the wedding cake, but they can be used for anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers and other life events.

But where to start? Wedding cakes used to be textured white buttercream monstrosities decked with flowers, and some of them still are (including mine). Those are totally legitimate designs, but there’s also a host of other highly popular and creative options.

Google “wedding cakes” and check out the images. You’ll find some both creative and elegant, a wonderful presentation of your personality suitable for the event. Colors both subtle and bright are popular. Surfaces are both textured and smooth. Fondant flowers can drape them. The tiers needn’t be even. Slanted layers create a wonderful, fun illusion of imbalance.

Even if you don’t fall in love with one, they may give good ideas on where you want to go. Then, with an idea (and a printout) in hand, go to your local bakery. They should have a book of their creations. If you’re suspicious of the quality, try someplace else. There’s no reason to mess around with a shoddy bakery.

If you’re happy with the quality, see if they’ve created something similar to what you have in mind. If they haven’t, you may want to move on, but if their work truly is excellent, they can probably create your dream cake fine. Just ask if they think they can translate your idea into cake.

Cakes of Personality

The most creative cakes are generally seen outside of wedding cakes, although there’s certainly nothing to stop you from creating a wildly designed cake for your wedding. It’s your day. Have the cake of your dreams.

These cakes can be bursting with color and may be sculpted into shapes. As an example, baby showers sometimes get cakes looking like a sleeping baby. (The only problem is deciding who has to eat the head.)

Maybe all you have is a theme. The birthday boy loves steampunk or the birthday girl is crazy for football. You can come to a gourmet baker with that rough of an idea. They’ll sketch something out and you can decide if it’s what you want.

Assymetrica l blck and whitecake
An asymmetrical cake with fondant to create sharp edges and smooth surfaces

Fondant is the tool that really helps create these designs. It’s rolled out in smooth layers, cut into flat shapes, and bent into a variety of objects. Fondant can transform a cake into a work of art.

If you’re looking for something a little bit lower key, or you wish to rein in expenses, consider gourmet cupcakes. They’re made from the same delicious cake used in larger creations. Fondant, berries, chocolates and more are often used to elegantly decorate on the top of each cupcake.

Chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate nestled into a buttercream frosting wrapped in delicate cut-out paper.
Chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate heart nestled in buttercream frosting wrapped in delicate cut-out paper.

Today’s opportunities for creative special occasion cakes are immense. Bakers generally keep a record of their creations, and the internet is bursting with additional ideas. It’s important to give yourself plenty of time to decide before the event. It may take time to decide on a design, and bakers often need several weeks to get you into their schedule. With a little planning, you can have a cake worth remembering.