by Fiona Clarke

Having lost the toss, you’re the chosen family member to host this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Stay calm… you can do this. Unless Martha Stewart and her team have volunteered to assist, the key to hosting a successful holiday meal is in the preparation. There are three weeks until the holiday, so start planning now. Here are some tips that I have found to be helpful in turning an overwhelming task into an enjoyable time spent with close friends and family. 


Once you’ve firmed up the guest list and planned the menu, you can begin to shop. Order your turkey now to avoid rushing from store-to-store to find the perfect bird last-minute. Begin to stock up on the nonperishables, ingredients and beverages that can be purchased in advance. If you wait, the staples may be difficult to find. Racing around town to find marshmallows to top your sweet potato casserole is no fun. As for perishable items, select those a few days before Thanksgiving. Trust me…if you wait until the 27th, there won’t be a Brussel sprout, yam, fresh sage leaf or green bean left in the Valley. 


A well-dressed table sets the tone for a lovely meal. Decide on your tabletop décor and place settings now. Feel free to peruse magazines and instagram for some new ideas. If you own a set of special china, crystal flatware and table linen for holiday meals, unpack, wash, polish and press them now. Check that you have the correct number of napkins and serving dishes for the occasion. If you need to purchase any additional items, you still have time. As for the centerpiece, whether you prefer something that symbolizes the rich hues of autumn like caramel, olive green and burnt orange or an elegant arrangement of whites, creams and silvery greens, stop by your favorite florist to place an order well in advance for pick up or delivery on the 27th.


The prep-in-advance principle isn’t just reserved for professional chefs. Much can be done well ahead of D-day. Soups, sauces and side dishes can be cooked several days ahead. If stored properly, these can be reheated on Thanksgiving day. To avoid dryness, the trick is to add liquid when reheating. Prepare your favorite stuffing using only two-thirds of the usual amount of liquid. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate. On Thanksgiving morning, add the remaining liquid and bake as usual. The result will be moist and delicious stuffing.

I use a similar technique for my sweet potato casserole. I bake and mash the potatoes two days before Thanksgiving, add spices, maple syrup, pineapple juice and a shot of Kentucky Bourbon (a tip I learned from my college roommate’s mother who was born and raised in Louisville), then pop in the oven. When the casserole has cooled it gets refrigerated. On Thanksgiving morning I let the dish come to room temperature, add some additional liquid and cook until it’s warmed through.


Let’s face it, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a big undertaking. If need be, it’s 100-percent acceptable to cut some corners. As long as you have taste-tested the dishes, you may want to purchase several components of your feast from reputable purveyors and restaurants. I confess to outsourcing with one or two items here and there: dinner rolls from MJ Bread; Butternut Squash Bisque from Palette (I just add a dollop of crème fraîche and lightly sprinkle fresh chopped herbs on top); desserts such as assorted macarons from Růe Cake House and a Toffee Pecan Pie topped with chocolate ganache and toffee bits from Tammy Coe; pre-dinner nibbles like the artichoke dip with baguette slices from Arcadia Farms and bite-size caramelized onion, tomato and brie tarts from True Essence are just some of my local sources.

Other purchases to enhance your culinary efforts include the Turkey Gravy Jar from Williams-Sonoma. It’s seasoned perfectly, so just add some cream, a dab of melted butter and a touch of chicken stock, then add your pan drippings…it’s heaven. And, if you find chopping onions, carrots and celery a bore, go for the pre-chopped mirepoix found in the refrigerated vegetable section of most local grocery stores. No one will know.


Most guests are thrilled to accept a Thanksgiving invitation, but the one drawback they all regret is having no leftovers. Unless you enjoy creating an endless array of dishes with the leftovers, for what seems like an eternity, why not give each guest a take-away bag. Include some turkey plus a taste of all the fixings. And yes, include dessert. Make sure to have a new roll of aluminum foil, zip-lock baggies and plastic containers to arrange the goodies for safe transport. This will earn you brownie points as well as save you the need to do double-time at the gym. 


I compare hosting Thanksgiving dinner to a marathon, so pace yourself. Compile a to-do list that’s realistic, then stick to it. Whenever you feel overwhelmed take a break to relax and be sure to get seven hours of sleep every night. Leave adequate time before your guests arrive to take a short nap, shower and dress for the occasion. After all, it’s Thanksgiving!