Cooking / DIY / Holidays / Hostessing / How To / Kitchen / Thanksgiving

The College Girl’s Guide to Hosting Thanksgiving

Isn’t this the greatest time of year? Halloween just passed and it’s time for Thanksgiving. With December holidays around the corner and the weather getting crisper, there are so many things to enjoy. One of my favorite parts of the season? The oh-so-perfect Thanksgiving supper. It is my favorite meal of the year.

Last weekend I hosted my sixth Thanksgiving dinner. After a rocky start the year I moved to Collinsville (there may or may not have been potatoes on my ceiling), I’ve gotten the system down to a science– don’t get me wrong, I’m no Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart, but I’ve gotten pretty good. With the additional help of Lance and, thank you kitchen gods, a dishwasher, this year’s dinner was scrumptious and drama-free.

The invitations.

After four years of using the Facebook events + text message reminders system– and always having people say last minute “Oh, I never saw it!”– I decided to send out paper invitations.

Everyone likes getting mail, and having something to pin on your fridge is a nice reminder of your weekend plans.

To save money, I decided to make and print my own These were made using the textbox feature (insert → texbox → simple text box → drag it around → change text → change outline color to “no outline” and fill color to “no fill”) on MS Word, “HP PSG” font and clipcart from the  Microsoft website. For the small stars next to the text areas I used the Windows 7 snipping tool and cut out stars from the clip art, then put them in textboxes and added them as needed.To send, I printed the invitations out two to a page on cardstock and filled them in with festively-colored R.S.V.P. pens.

The table.

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In years past, I have opted for letting people mingle around the house and sit on arm chairs, the couch, etc., which gave the dinner more of a party-vibe. While this was really fun, it was only successful when everyone literally knew everyone else. If there is no table to sit at, people feel more uncomfortable.

I knew that I wanted enough seating for everyone at the table this year, so I bought a folding table (that was almost exactly the same width/height as our current table) and ran both the new and our normal kitchen tables side-by-side to make one long, skinny table. Since we have cement floors (i.e., easy to move things on) I used a few old leather belts to secure the legs together to keep the tables from moving.

Note: Looking for a table? I bought one like this from Target, but it was significantly cheaper (as in under $40) in-store, yet the same length.

Living in a small space? Try moving your couch or putting some furniture in another room. We moved a keyboard, some backless chairs and the dog crate into the bedroom to allow plenty of space for the table and people moving from the table. We also had the table weirdly close the the couch because, well, we live in an apartment and that’s just what you have to do. People understand. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect . Everyone can tell you’re dealing with X amount of square feet and, trust me, they are focused on the food. And cocktails.

I don’t have a table cloth big enough to properly cover our normal table, let alone an 10+ foot banquet table, so– as always– I improvised. I took a few curtain panels (and one petite vintage table cloth) I was no longer using, steam cleaned them and layered them down the table. While any sheet of fabric could work perfectly, using the leftover curtains from our last apartment meant the edges were already finished. And seriously, what else am I going to do with curtains made to fit in the weirdly-shaped window of a place I no longer live?

To keep the fabric in place I used heavier, shorter centerpieces (i.e., the short, fat candles and wide-mouthed vases) near the overlapping layers and kept the heaviest fabric on top.

I set the table using mix-matched Fiestaware and drinking cups. Honestly, this was mainly done because we don’t have 10 of any drinking glass, but it also served a key purpose that Lance pointed out: No one picked up the wrong cup. With alternating glasses, the people to your left and right had a different colored cup, and the “Oh, is that yours?” dinner table awkwardness vanished.

We used actual plates instead of paper ones because we have a dishwasher and therefore clean-up isn’t awful. I did, however, opt for paper napkins instead of cloth because I’ve realized people tend to avoid using cloth napkins to keep them from getting them dirty, which (I think, at least) makes people uncomfortable. I folded an orange paper napkin in half and placed it between the dinner and salad plate, with a little bit popping out at the top.

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I decorated the table with three main components: flowers, candles and felt leaves. Lance brought me home a $7.99 mixed bouquet to use for the table, and I organized by color. Using random jars and old glasses– all clear and roughly the same height– I ran the flowers down the table with autumn-colored candles in-between. I then took the leftover felt leaves I had from my wreath project and scattered them along the center of the table to act as a makeshift runner.

The food.

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Our evening’s menu was as follows…

Appetizers- Garlic and onion soaked olives, pepper stuffed mushrooms and cocktails
Entree- Turkey, classic bread stuffing, salad, garlic red skin chunky mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon, cranberry sauce and freshly-baked wheat bread
Dessert- Sailor Jerry rum-raisin and walnut pumpkin spice cake cupcakes with cinnamon sugar butter cream frosting and spiked iced pumpkin spice lattes

A few of the guests were nice enough to bring whatever was missing; in this case, it was gravy, Biscoff Spread pumpkin pie with Biscoff cookie crust and glazed pumpkin cookies. Om nom.

The biggest concern people always have for cooking this meal is the turkey, and that doesn’t really make sense to me. If you’re buying a turkey, look for two things: one, a pop-up timer, and two, the little bits you don’t want to eat (neck, giblets, whatever) tucked easily in a bag that can be removed swiftly. Thaw it, which is seriously the worst part in my opinion, open it, follow the directions on the package (which are pretty much just wash it), follow the directions on the Renyold’s Bag box and put the bird inside the bag.

Did I lose you? Okay, I get it. People seem to think using a Reynold’s Bag is cheating, trashy or downright weird, but they are amazing. I’m all for doing things the way your grandmother did, but only until something else makes more sense.

When you cook a turkey in a Renyold’s Bag, you pour a little flour in, shake it around, place bird, rub oil on bird (or as Lance calls it, the sexiest part of cooking Thanksgiving), throw in some chopped up veggies, tie the bag, ventilate the bag, put it in the oven and go about your day. You don’t have to tent it or check all the time. You don’t have to baste it. The turkey hangs out in a bag full of its own juice, so you know it’s going to be moist. Logically, it has to be moist. And dryness is what makes people hate turkey, right?

Since I don’t have to worry about the turkey drying out, I spend each year worrying about the cooking schedule. As soon as people arrive I get a little lost (possibly because we live in a loft and I physically can’t hide out in the kitchen) and tend to start losing track of time. This can be awful if you, say, forget to make stuffing and not notice until everything else is done– a mistake I made in 2010. If you know what has to be done when, cooking Thanksgiving is easy, easy, easy.

11 a.m. Clean turkey and put in oven.
Noon. Finish cleaning apartment.
1 p.m. Frost cupcakes (which were made the night before). Double check supplies for rest of day and cocktails. Ask neighbor to pick up tonic water when she goes to the store if needed.
2 p.m. Make appetizers and place, ready to cook, in fridge.
3 p.m. Put bread ingredients in and start machine. Turn off oven if turkey is done.
4 p.m. Shower. Get dressed. Set table. Remove, if done, turkey from oven and wrap with a layer of foil and several layers of towels to keep warm. 
5 p.m. Boil potatoes and start mashing process (or ask Lance to do so). Do hair and make-up. 
5:45 p.m. Put appetizers in oven.
6 p.m. Remove and serve appetizers. Make bread stuffing and cook. 
6:45 p.m. Make green beans and cook. Serve cranberry sauce and salad. Light candles on table.
7 p.m. Remove stuffing, green beans and bread. Unwrap turkey. 

As always, I followed a family recipe for the bread stuffing. Lance made the potatoes (great job, handsome!) and the cranberry sauce came from a can and was served looking like a can, as it rightfully should.

The green beans are an easy side dish I make quite often. Throw some chopped, pre-cooked bacon pieces into a med-high skillet with dried onion and a can of green beans, then push around until cooked throughout. Seriously, they are delicious, and so inexpensive.

The bread was made using a bread machine, which is a new item of mine and possibly one of my favorite things ever. Did you know you don’t even have to stir the ingredients? It’s all part of the bread machine magic: pour stuff in, walk away, wait 4 hours, amazing delicious bread. I followed a multigrain recipe, and it tasted like the bread I grew up with… And was delicious we didn’t even have a piece of crust left when the last people left at 2 a.m.

For the cupcakes, I used a box of basic spice cake mix and swapped 1/4 of the water with Sailor Jerry spiced rum. I then added a handful of raisins, a handful of walnut pieces and two tablespoons of pumpkin coffee syrup to the mix before baking. The butter cream frosting, after being applied, was sprinkled with cinnamon mixed with decorating sugar. The cupcakes were wrapped in Target Dollar Section sleeves, which may or may not have inspired having cupcakes at all. We had a few of these left, which I promptly ate for breakfast the next morning.

The outfit.

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There is nothing too unique to say about this outfit, except that I had been waiting to wear this dress forever. It was a gift, and it is a vintage piece with a light green lining and black lace overlay. Also, a shift is a great option for overeating in because, obviously, it’s loose around the waist.

Also, wear an apron. Do it. Don’t argue, just get one.

The clean-up.

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Obviously I have nothing to say that you couldn’t figure out about this, either, but it’s a hilarious picture of Yogurt attempting to continue the party the next morning.

Happy Thanksgiving! Are you making anything this year?

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