Nigella Lawson: Catering to Picky Eaters
It is always better to try and accommodate people's needs by incorporating foodstuffs into the main menu rather than creating special dishes for a select few. A gorgeous vegetarian recipe can be enjoyed by the whole company, but that doesn't mean to say that those on special diets need to be catered to slavishly. If only one or two people don't want to eat wheat, for example, you need only have one dish that is wheat-free and they can just skip those dishes that contain it. Otherwise, everything will just get out of control, and so long as you don't get offended if someone chooses not to eat dessert, for example, the party will go well with no feelings hurt.
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Amy Atlas: Dessert Variety
I suggest having three servings per person so there is a nice variety. For example, a pumpkin cheesecake, a chocolate pecan pie and an apple cranberry tart.
Donatella Arpaia: Pacing the Meal
You can’t prevent your guests from overeating. It is Thanksgiving, after all! However, I do like to stage a meal: I don’t like to overwhelm guests with heavily-laden hors d'oeuvres. Keep them light and bite-sized, as they are supposed to whet the appetite. Make sure the turkey is the star, and have a well-planned, balanced menu.
The Family Table
Food and wine: in the history of dining, alcohol has always been a part of enjoying a meal. When you serve alcohol with food, it’s not about the drinks. Rather, it’s about enhancing the celebration of joining together to enjoy the food, festivities and each other. Drinking in moderation and serving food with the libation demonstrates clearly that alcohol is a way to make eating more enjoyable, not to distract from it.
I believe it’s fine to serve alcohol at a gathering when children are present. In fact, setting a good example about how to enjoy alcohol in a safe, responsible way with a meal is a wonderful way to teach about moderation and alcohol in social environments. Children absorb and observe everything. What better place to teach children than the home?
Nigella: Too Many Cooks In Kitchen
It can be great to have a friend or two to help in the kitchen and to provide companionship, but on the whole it is better to outsource. If an aunt or a friend wants to help, give them a dish or a course to make at home and bring to your house rather than turn your kitchen into Grand Central Terminal.
Amy Atlas: Easy Dessert Shortcuts
There are many great ways to dress up store-bought food for Thanksgiving. For example: 1. Make a pumpkin trifle: Crumble store-bought pumpkin bread or cake and layer with whipped cream. 2. Make Pilgrims' hats: Place mini Reese's peanut butter cups on top of chocolate wafer cookies (affix with frosting). 3. Make turkey cookies by using two striped cookies, plus candy corn for a beak. Stand up cookie in back so it looks like turkey feathers and affix to a flat cookie using royal icing. Place a round piece of chocolate on top of the flat cookie for the head, and then attach the candy corn to the chocolate head for the candy corn beak.
Donatella Arpaia: Wine Selections
The good news is that both red and white go well with turkey. For a white, I suggest a California chardonnay or a French burgundy. Each has more structure and body, and will hold up to the turkey. If you're a red wine drinker, I recommend a pinot noir. It has little tannins, so it doesn’t overwhelm the turkey.
Rosanna Bowles: The Kids Table
Having a separate table for children for Thanksgiving is totally fine as long as the family fits this in as part of their tradition. There are some gatherings when there simply isn't enough room to seat the whole family at one table. There were times when I was growing up that my grandmother didn’t have room to seat the children at the main table, so she would prepare a charming table for the children, decorated with Thanksgiving figurines of Pilgrims and Native Americans. She also scattered small bowls of candy corn, nuts and decorative fall leaves across the table. We never felt left out because she made the children’s table a special place for us. It was a place where we could connect with our cousins and create our own magical memories of childhood. In fact, we loved it.
Nigella Lawson: Stress-Free Cooking
I think you do have to accept that you will need to spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen, but the trick is to make it a pleasurable escape rather than resentment-festering drudgery. I am a firm believer in list-making, and I think that having everything you need to do written out simply and straightforward is the way to go; you don't have to overthink — or, indeed, think at all — and get flustered, and you have the quiet satisfaction of ticking off tasks as you accomplish them. But most important, you should first write a list with everything you want to do, then walk away and have a cup of tea calmly, and then come back to your list and strike about half the things out. You will inevitably have overreached yourself and given yourself an unwieldy burden and just imagined you need to do more than is necessary. It is much better for everyone, not least yourself, to make sure you have large quantities of a smaller amount of dishes than lots of smaller ones. Too much choice flummoxes and overwhelms the guests just as much as it does you.
Amy Atlas: Timing Dessert
In my home, Thanksgiving is an all-day affair, and we start eating at about 3 p.m. We often have seconds, and then we need a little time to digest before diving into dessert. We usually bring out dessert two and a half hours later. By then, we’ve slowly built up a little room for some delicious pumpkin or pecan pie. However, dessert doesn’t need to be a separate affair. You can just as easily put out a lovely dessert buffet for guests to delve into right after their meal. Either approach can work depending on the style of your entertaining.
Donatella Arpaia: Playlist
For Thanksgiving, the best kind of music is timeless that will appeal to all the generations. At the table I love Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald. It’s calming and puts everyone in a great mood.
Rosanna Bowles: Contribution Etiquette
Thanksgiving dinner is a huge undertaking. If you are inviting guests to your home for the holiday, it’s perfectly fine to ask them to contribute something. Asking each guest to bring their signature dish will make everyone feel like part of the effort and get into the spirit of giving.
Some people are great bakers. Others have wonderful side dishes. Simply say, "We’re having a communal Thanksgiving this year and are asking everyone to bring their favorite Thanksgiving dishes. What would you like to bring that’s your specialty?
Nigella Lawson: Quick Cleanup Strategy
I am quite convinced of the wisdom of using throwaway foil trays. I used to defend this decision on the grounds that if you have to choose between saving your sanity or the environment, it would make sense at this time of year to plump for sanity salvaging. However, a green activist friend of mine now tells me that foil recycling is simple and desirable, and thus laziness gains environmental credentials, so it's cool all ways round. I think also clearing up can be greatly enlivened by having a select few friends and fellow travelers helping to wash the dishes — and to provide the dish on guests who left in time to live on as victims of the party postmortem.
Amy Atlas: Etiquette for Dessert Requests
If you know that one of your guests makes a specialty Thanksgiving dish (Great Aunt Helen’s apple tartin), then it is acceptable to ask that guest to make that. However, short of that, it is best not to ask guests to bring specific dishes. Have a few desserts on hand. If there is extra of the same dessert, guests can bring desserts home (not the one they made) and share it with their neighbors. You can also encourage guests to bring recipes of the dessert they made so guests can share different versions of pumpkin pie, etc.
Donatella Arpaia: Elegant Decor
Setting the table can be a great way to elevate and make Thanksgiving glamorous. I would stay away from tablecloths with turkeys; go with colors for the fall season for inspiration, like burgundy, gold and deep orange. Tapered candles always add glamour, and glass cylinder vases of varying heights create drama: fill them with pinecones or apples to bring in the season in an elegant way.
Rosanna Bowles: A Memorable Feast
Make a Thanksgiving meal stand out by adding a new dish to your traditional menu. Look to your family's history and heritage for new and meaningful ideas. We are a nation made up of many cultures. By adding something other than the items you see every year to your Thanksgiving table, you add something new and exciting to your tradition. Another way to make a Thanksgiving meal memorable is to include a guest who doesn’t have a family to share the holiday with. An even more interesting idea is to invite a foreign guest who is visiting our country. Relating the story and concepts of Thanksgiving is also a wonderful way to reacquaint your family with our country's history. Thanksgiving is all about sharing. Share your table with a guest and share the bounty of the season. It will make for a rewarding and fulfilling holiday.
Nigella Lawson: Dealing with Disasters
A couple of holidays back, my oven broke, so I calmly phoned round all my guests and told them to arrive two hours later than I'd originally asked them. And still the dinner wasn't cooked. So I made another few pitchers of my holiday "poinsettia" cocktail — sparkling wine, Grand Marnier and cranberry juice — and eventually, dinner was served! Frankly, they were so relieved actually to get fed that the lateness of the meal only highlighted their pleasure and gratitude!
Amy Atlas: Cake Stand Alternatives for Dessert Tables
There are a lot of easy and inexpensive ways to create height for your table, but some of my favorite tricks are: 1. Cover Styrofoam cake dummies (look for them at your local cake supply or bakery) with fabric. 2. Place a plate on top of a thick candlestick (affix it with a glue gun so it won’t fall). 3. Wrap books or sturdy gift boxes with pretty wrapping paper.
Donatella Arpaia: Dressing the Part
You are the hostess, so you want to look pretty — be sure to lay out your clothes ahead of time so you can be a quick-change artist. I think dresses are best because they make a complete look, but get something in stretch or jersey. I love DVF wrap dresses. And stay away from black — you are the host and need to stand out!
Rosanna Bowles: Table Settings from Nature
Fall is a perfect time to incorporate nature’s beauty into home decor. At this time of year, nature’s bounty is in abundance. You can incorporate apples, ornamental and edible squash, all kinds of nuts in the shell and, of course, fall foliage. If you have your own garden, cut branches of fall leaves that have turned colors. Smash the ends of the branches to ensure water intake. Shake the leaves vigorously to rid them of insects, and then place them in a hearty earthenware pitcher. Nothing sets the mood for a cozy fall dinner like a little added natural beauty.
Meet the Experts
Nigella Lawson is a bestselling British author of several books, including her newest, Nigella Kitchen, and the host of Nigella Kitchen. Amy Atlas is a coveted entertaining expert and baking and crafting stylist, and is internationally recognized for creating the stylized dessert bar trend. Donatella Arpaia is a successful restaurateur, food expert and entertainment authority. Rosanna Bowles is president and owner of Rosanna Inc., a fashion tableware brand based out of Seattle.
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