10 No-Fail Tips for the Perfect Thanksgiving

Make your holiday a celebration to remember with these easy steps from expert chefs and party planners!
- The Betty Editors, BettyConfidential.com
It's an honor to host Thanksgiving at your house - it means your guests are comfortable in your home and enjoy your cooking. But whether it's your first time or your tenth, the preparation can leave you frazzled on this coziest of holidays. If you're ready to be less stressed, these strategies will help you give your guests the best Thanksgiving yet.

1. Brine your turkey
The best turkey must be moist. David Burke, an award-winning chef, restaurateur and author, has done quite a bit of experimenting (he's tried deep frying one and even steamed one in his dishwasher!), but he says the best way to cook a turkey is to brine it beforehand.

To brine a fresh turkey, submerge it in heavily salted water for two days in your refrigerator (or one hour per one pound of turkey). "It sounds like a long time, but it's completely worth it," says Burke. "It's a great way to make the turkey as moist as possible." Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, agrees with Burke. "Everybody makes a big deal out of it, but there's nothing easier," she says. "Once I learned about brining, all the problems ended - the turkey is always moist and delicious." For more detailed instructions on how to brine a turkey, see this Whole Roast Stuffed Turkey Recipe.

Read: Thanksgiving Without Turkey?

2. Get creative with side dishes
Francine Segan, BettyConfidential's Food+Home editor, learned the hard way that messing with the traditional Thanksgiving bird won't make anybody happy: "Years ago, I served shrimp paella! Just paella. Everyone was so disappointed that the next day my mom had to invite us over for a proper Thanksgiving. The only experimenting I do now is with the side dishes."

To dazzle guests with your culinary skills without making a Thanksgiving faux-pas, David Burke suggests making two of his favorite dishes ahead of time: Sweet Potato Vanilla Puree and Turnip Flan.

Or try 4-star chef and award-winning restaurant owner Jean-Georges Vongerichten's favorite Turkey Day side dish: a quick stir-fry of water chestnuts, sugar snap peas, and shiitake mushrooms (pictured above). Since oven space is at such a premium for Thanksgiving dinner, stir-fry is a great way to quickly prepare side veggies on the stovetop.

3. Make homemade pie dough the night before
Food icon Jacques Pepin, who serves both pumpkin pie and apple tart (pictured) for Thanksgiving, never takes short cuts on pie crust. "Whether it's made by hand or in a food processor, the secret to great pie dough is to make it quickly and roll it immediately," he instructs. Pie dough has only four ingredients - flour, butter, salt and water - and is "one of the things that is really much, much better homemade," says Pepin.

To have a superb pie, make the dough the night before, store it rolled out and covered in the refrigerator, and add the filling just before baking. Then, the only thing you'll have left to decide is when to bake: bright and early Thanksgiving morning like Ruth Reichl, or after the turkey comes out, like Pepin. "I like my pie warm," he says. "The pie bakes while we enjoy dinner."

4. Use canned puree for pumpkin pie
Shocking! But Jacques Pepin says there is nothing wrong with using canned pumpkin puree for your pie instead of grating out a pumpkin.

"I always use canned pumpkin puree," Pepin admits. "Mixed with lovely cream, eggs, and imported cinnamon, you cannot taste the difference between fresh pumpkins and canned." How wonderfully liberating! Thanks to Pepin, you've just saved hours of precious preparation time! Check out this great Pumpkin Pie recipe.

5. Choose the right wine
Jean-Georges Vongerichten says that many wines can be enjoyed with your turkey dinner, including red, white, or sparkling. Here are a few of his favorites:

White Wine:
-Grenache Blanc 2005 Esperanza Vineyard (Winery: Spencer Roloson, CA)
-Riesling Dry Reserve 2006 (Winery: Hermann J. Wiemer, NY Finger Lakes)

Red Wine:
-Pinot Noir 2005 La Boheme (Winery: Elk Cove, Oregon)
- Zinfandel 2004 Rattlesnake Ridge, Howell Mtn (Winery: Turley Cellars, CA)

Sparkling Wine:
-Grand Rosé NV, Methode Champenoise (Winery: Gruet, New Mexico)

6. Set up all other rooms (besides the kitchen) the day before
On Thanksgiving day, most of your time will be spent in the kitchen preparing the food, so it's best to have everything ready in all the other rooms. Debi Lilly of A Perfect Event in Chicago says the best way to set up for a dinner party is to cover all the bases and make sure you are prepared for each step of the night. "Where will you put the coats? Where will you serve drinks? Set the dinner table, and set the dessert bar (see tip number 10). Everything placed in advance means a relaxed and happy hostess!"

7. Decorate with flowers…
"Florals create the perfect mood and transport scent throughout your home as guests enter," says Lilly. To get the most out of your flowers, place them in strategic spots- by your front door, where your guests will be sitting before and after dinner, in the bathroom, and at the center of your dining room table.

Lilly suggests arranging gardenia or white calla lilies in crystal bowls filled with cranberries for a festive and fresh-smelling arrangement. If you'd like to be more dramatic, "establish a color palette for your dinner," says Lilly. "I always love combining three colors together for a chic combination, but a single color can also be dramatic and glamorous. Buy dozens of roses that work with your color palette - they can be from the grocery store - and scatter them on your tabletops, mantles, and outside on either side of your front door."

8. …and candles
"Candlelight creates a soft and warm ambience, even during the daytime," says Lilly. "It immediately relaxes the setting and the guests." With this in mind, you should go overboard with candles for your Thanksgiving dinner (this may be the first time friends and family have seen each other in awhile, so keeping the mood calm is always a good idea!).

Place candles near your flower arrangements, and feel free to create arrangements in other areas by grouping candles of all different heights on a silver platter or decorative dish. The key, says Lilly, "is always to use more candles than you think you need for maximum affect. I mean like twice as many!"

9. Create lasting memories during dinner
Once the decorating and the cooking are finished, it's finally time to enjoy the company of family and friends over the delicious meal you've prepared. To create memories you won't soon forget, try this fun Thanksgiving game Debi Lilly shared with BettyConfidential: "Have guests write what they are most thankful for on their napkin during dinner. Fabric pens work perfectly for this. During the entrée, have everyone share what he or she has written. After dinner, keep these napkins so that next year, you can pull them out. It really helps guests focus on the reason for Thanksgiving!"

10. Make guests work for their dessert
After eating your delicious turkey and side dishes, guests won't want to move - but for a delicious dessert, they might reconsider. To avoid the post-dinner coma (and to get the kiddies excited), Lilly likes to make dessert time fun and interactive by having a "dessert bar," a table or counter away from the dinner table where the desserts are served.

"Decorate your dessert bar by adding a linen to cover the table, and cluster pillar or votive candles around the table," says Lilly. "Place pies or cake onto glass or porcelain cake stands on the table. If you don't have cake stands, place a matching bowl upside down underneath a matching plate to create a 'foot' for your cake stand. Personally, I like serving mini pies in different flavors and filling bowls with different toppings for guests to add to their pie, like whipped cream, ice cream, and chocolate shavings."

Happy Thanksgiving!

To read more from BettyConfidential | Thanksgiving Cocktail: The Celementina

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