Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is such a special holiday. I love that it is a final autumnal celebration before the Christmas season hits in force. Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but Thanksgiving embodies what I believe all holidays should - quality time with loved ones, warmth and comfort, traditions, and of course, delicious food.  

While we've hosted plenty of meals and celebrations, this will be our first time hosting family for Thanksgiving. While I'm slightly nervous about making sure we get the turkey just right, I'm excited to welcome loved ones into our home for the holiday. While I tend to be Type-A about making sure every detail is perfectly executed, I'm finally at the point in my hosting journey that I tend to be composed and cheerful while entertaining guests. For me, the key to enjoying the day is to plan copiously and do the prep-work early, so I'm not rushing around right before or during the time we have company. 

While it is inevitable that we'll have a snafu somewhere along the way, here are the steps I'm taking to make sure the day at least appears effortless.

1. Determine the vibe and plan accordingly 

Most of our family will be driving a couple of hours that morning, so I want everyone to be comfortable while traveling and once they arrive. I hate dressing up, driving a few hours in the car, and then feeling wrinkled and constricted in my outfit all day, so the vibe I'm going for is "festive casual." Is that a thing? I'm planning to wear this burgundy sweater with cream cords and these leopard flats.

Accordingly, I don't want the tablescape and decor to be too formal. Channeling Ina Garden's understated elegance, I'm planning to use a simple table runner with white tealights, white flowers, greenery, and if I can find them, white pumpkins. I'm adding these round water hyacinth placemats and muted blue and greige ikat napkins with my everyday white dishes to finish out the table. 

2. Create a detailed menu a couple weeks in advance and make a master grocery list

Making a menu for Thanksgiving isn't too challenging because it tends to consist of the classic dishes. However, I circulated my menu to a few family members to make sure I wasn't leaving off someone's favorite dish or missing anything. I then spent about an hour earlier this week pulling out family recipes and cookbooks to create a huge grocery list. Even though I normally keep plenty of staples like flour, spices, and chicken broth on hand, preparing a large meal can easily clean you out of those. I can think of nothing worse than making mashed potatoes 15 minutes before the meal and running out of butter and salt, so I took stock of my pantry and added a lot of basic items to the list. 

3. Grocery shop early

While I'm planning to make a run to the store next week to purchase perishable items, I like to make a big trip to the grocery about a week in advance. Lots of grocery shopping will happen over the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I want to make sure I have the turkey and non-perishable items before the shelves are depleted. If the grocery is already out of something or doesn't have great options, I still have plenty of time to find what I'm looking for.

4. If people offer to bring a dish, let them!

I used to frequently respond that I had it covered when people offered to bring items because I didn't want to burden them. Now, I happily oblige! I always ask what they'd like to bring instead of telling them something because they may have a recipe that is meaningful to them or want to make sure what they bring travels well. Either way, we either have an additional dish at the table, or I can cross something off of my list.

5. Think of all of the tiny details and create a timeline

After planning the menu, tablescape, and knowing what others are bringing, it is time to make a timeline. I generally plan a week out, and have specific tasks listed for the weekend, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night. My timeline for Thursday is very detailed, and I have tasks listed for every half hour until the meal. Not only do I list chores like food preparation and when to put various items in the oven, but I plan when I'll run the vacuum a final time, walk the dog before guests arrive, and take a shower that morning. 

What are your Thanksgiving plans this year? Do you have any hosting tips?

 
 

Delicious Fall Tailgate Recipe

 
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Football season in the Bluegrass means a sea of UK blue, bourbon-fueled tailgates, and lousy football. That's okay with me because my favorite parts of football games are hanging out with friends and watching the band perform at halftime, ha! Does anyone else go just for the atmosphere?

One of my favorite things to take to morning football or Keeneland tailgates in the fall is pumpkin bread. It still tastes very fresh the second day, so you can make it ahead of time and just slice and go that morning. The recipe I use most for pumpkin break came from Cooking Light, and I've adapted it slightly over the years. I like it because it is a little bit lighter and just sweet enough. The recipe also makes two loaves, so you can take one loaf to a tailgate and keep the other one for yourself. ;) I've also frozen the extra loaf, and it saves well for a couple of months.

Pumpkin Bread

  • 3 1/3 cups flour (white or whole wheat works well)
  • 1 T baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t nutmeg
  • 1 t allspice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk 
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Combine flour and next 6 ingredients in a bowl.
  • Place sugar, eggs, oil, and buttermilk in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add 2/3 cup water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until well blended. Add flour mixture slowly, beating at low speed until just combined. 
  • Spoon batter into two 9x5 loaf pans coated with cooking spray. 
  • Bake at 350 for one hour. 
  • Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. 

Enjoy, and GO CATS!

 
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Have You Heard of Vegetable Cobbler?

 
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Fresh vegetables in the summer is simply the best, and while the temperatures are dropping a bit, there are still plenty of summer favorites, like tomatoes and peppers, at the farmers' market. Approximately 99% of the meals we make in the summer consist of fresh vegetables either roasted or grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and garlic (if we're gettin' fancy). While I could eat them prepared like this everyday, I changed things up recently and tried something new with our fresh vegetables and herbs. 

 
Do you store your tomatoes in the windowsill? They should really be kept out of direct sunlight, but I have a bad habit of putting them there to keep them from getting squished by other produce. Another tip - keep them stem-side down to allow them to conintue to ripen.

Do you store your tomatoes in the windowsill? They should really be kept out of direct sunlight, but I have a bad habit of putting them there to keep them from getting squished by other produce. Another tip - keep them stem-side down to allow them to conintue to ripen.

 

This savory summer cobbler was served at a cooking class I attended last month, and it was divine! However, I like my weeknight meals to require minimal time and effort because after working all day, I'd rather take a leisurely stroll with my dog or catch up on the latest episode of The Bold Type.  (If you haven't seen it yet and have a 17-year-old girl's taste in bad TV like myself, check it out.)

Channelling my inner-Sandra Lee (does anyone remember her from the Food Network?), I decided to take the recipe down a notch in time and effort and was pleased with the result. You can find the original recipe here, but this is my quick version. 

Base Ingredients 

  • 3 medium zucchini or summer squash
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 1-2 bell peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Topping Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups Bisquick mix
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Mix of chopped fresh herbs from your garden - I used basil, garlic chives, rosemary, and thyme
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Directions

  • Lightly oil an 8″x10′ baking dish (or any baking dish that will accommodate the mixture) and pile in the vegetables and garlic. Toss with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bake the vegetables for 20-25 minutes.
  • While the vegetables are baking, mix Bisquick and milk in a medium mixing bowl. Continue stirring and add spices, herbs, and cheese. 
  • Once the vegetables are roasted, top them with clumps of the biscuit topping mixture. It is okay if vegetables are visible in some areas. 
  • Bake for 10-15 more minutes. The biscuit topping should be slightly golden browned when done.

Enjoy! This dish was great reheated as leftovers. 

 
 

Never Fear the Okra

 
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Back when I was a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I did Teach For America. One of the most defining experiences of the two year program was the Summer Institute, which is essentially a five-week boot camp that is designed to get new TFAers ready to teach in their own classrooms. While there are several TFA Institutes catering to different regions around the country, my colleagues from Charlotte and I ended up at Institute in the Mississippi Delta. We stayed at Delta State University in Cleveland. You know, the OTHER Cleveland - the one in Mississippi. I have so many stories about the Mississippi Delta from these five weeks, but that is a different post for another day.

I share all of this because Delta State has best college mascot in the United States. They are the Fighting Okra.#feartheokra I'm not joking, that's their hashtag. I ate more okra that summer than in my entire life, mostly fried because we were in Mississippi. However, they pickled okra as well. I'm pretty sure pickled okra tops 100% of the salads in Cleveland, Mississippi, and conveniently, their local watering hole, The Pickled Okra, is named after it. 

 
Scary, huh?!

Scary, huh?!

 

Okay, I'll finally get onto sharing a new-to-me way to prepare okra!

I talk way too much about our CSA, but it’s changed my life. It pushes me out of my comfort zone, and it’s saved dinnertime more than once. I could go on… You can read more here.

A couple of weeks ago, we received okra in our CSA. I was terrified.#feartheokra I put it in the fridge and hoped Jay wouldn’t notice it. I didn’t speak of it until we were running a low on produce, AND it was the only green thing left in our fridge, AND we needed a healthy side for dinner.

While I like okra, I'm mostly accustomed to the fried variety. I’ve never fried anything, so I figured that wasn’t the best bet. I’ve recently attended a series of cooking classes, and the instructor always says to roast vegetables on 425 with olive oil, salt, and pepper if you don’t know what to do with them. Alrighty then, the plan was to roast it.

One evening last week, I headed out to play a tennis match and left Jay with instructors for making dinner in my absence. Roast the okra, I said. I came home to find that the crazy man put it in a cast iron skillet on the GRILL. I was either really hungry, or it was the best okra I’ve ever had.

 
Anyone else think I should quit my day job and become a food photographer?

Anyone else think I should quit my day job and become a food photographer?

 

There's not really a recipe. All you need to do is cut it into bite-sized pieces, and toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Throw it into a cast iron skillet and place on the grill for about 20-25 minutes. Super easy, and I don't have to heat up my oven! We’ve made it a few times since then, and it may be my new favorite vegetable. Thanks, Jay!

Can you spot Annabelle?

Can you spot Annabelle?

 
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The State of Things

Y’all, this is the state of my kitchen right now. If you know me well IRL, then you know walking into this room shoots my anxiety levels through the roof. This is also a pretty accurate depiction of my brain right now; there’s a lot going on and a whole lot of mess.

Side note (because I always have one): We’re hoping to start a kitchen “face lift” soon, so this will make one heck of a before picture. Literally, anything we do can only make this disaster look better.

Side note (because I always have one): We’re hoping to start a kitchen “face lift” soon, so this will make one heck of a before picture. Literally, anything we do can only make this disaster look better.

This summer has been good. We’ve spent hours on the lake with friends and family, had long and lazy summer dinners from the grill (my favorite kind of dinner), and wandered through the Canadian Rockies for a blissful week.

This summer has brought some challenges as well. Two friends lost children, both in tragic accidents. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. The prevalence of hatred in our country seems to be growing. Additional responsibilities have been added to my plate, and I’m struggling to handle them with grace.

We’ve unintentionally stepped away from the blog to deal with life. We’ll call it a summer break. However, I’ve got a backlog of posts from June, and I’m planning to share a couple of more recent posts too.

Thanks for checking in with us. Let us know what we missed with you the past couple of months! I’m off to clean my kitchen.

 
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