the great pretender

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Veggies and Sides, Sauces and Such, Dinner Party, Sources, Fête Fact, Posted on November 21, 2015 by Sandy Bergsten

This time of year almost everyone wants to know what I’m going to make for Thanksgiving. If truth be told I would reply, “reservations”. 

While I cherish spending time with my family, I am not a huge turkey-day fan. First off there are way too many pots and pans. Everything needs to be simmered and whipped and baked and roasted. There’s the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, the green beans, the cranberry chutney, the rolls, the pecan pie, pumpkin pie, silk pie, and then that gravy from the sautéed giblets from the little paper bag you better not forget to take out of the turkey when you put the bird in the oven. And speaking of ovens- I have ONE oven. It would be easier to divide a Cabo San Lucas time-share among sorority sisters than to parcel out that precious piece of hot real estate.

Well before I whip myself into a festive frenzy I’m going to take a deep breath, remember that this holiday is all about being with those I love, and chant my entertaining mantra: 

- Guests only have as much fun as their host or hostess do 

- The amount of time you put into planning and prepping ahead of time equals the ease with which your party comes off

-People think when they entertain that they need to make everything themselves and from scratch- not true!

- Maximize what you do best, outsource where you fall short

With that in mind I am going to compose my list, circle what actually gives me joy to make, then figure out some sneaky shortcuts so that I can get this entire spread out in a vacation-home kitchen with none of my offspring being the wiser.

Please don’t underestimate the power of planning and prepping ahead. Absolutely anything and everything that can be prepared or partially made in advance should be, then stowed in that second most coveted piece of property- your refrigerator. Can someone please bring a cooler and ice for all that beer?!

My kids and their significant others arrive on Wednesday. That means before I get that night’s dinner on the table I will have Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning to make as much ahead as possible.

So here’s what brings ME joy. I make a wonderful cranberry chutney. Everyone adores my grandmother’s sausage stuffing. My Brussels sprouts with bacon are pretty incredible. And people do herald me as the queen of canapés. Joy all around.

OK that leaves the turkey. Jensen’s Grocery, oh wonderful Jensen’s will clean, brine, bag and place an oven-ready turkey in a portable roasting pan. All I need to do is run down to the store and pick it up Thursday morning, let it get to room temperature (no frig needed) and roast away. I love Jensen’s!

Now for that buffet of sides. All those potatoes can be a real pain in the… Seriously after a couple glasses of wine can anyone really taste the difference between one yam and another? And what about that starchy stockpot of peeled Idaho potatoes. And please don’t get me started on the gravy!

So this year I’m doing something slightly revolutionary. On my last trip to Whole Foods I picked up a copy of Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Thanksgiving Recipes. Then like a light from above right next to it was Whole Foods’ Holiday Menu. Wait- a holiday “menu”!? Maybe holiday wishes do come true.

I flipped through the pages of both and crafted a plan. While I knew that I didn’t need to make it all by scratch all by myself my children still think I do.

The key to trying to pass off someone else’s cooking as your own is to augment the seasoning and most importantly to place the forgery in your own serving dishes. And you must make it look a little messy or lopsided for people to think it is truly homemade. Spill some over the side, break off a corner of the crust, you get the idea.

First the mashed potatoes. Now I’m loving Whole Foods. Their mashed potatoes have actual lumps!

Find a soufflé dish.

Taste the spuds for seasoning- kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, maybe a little garlic salt or truffle salt and spoon into the soufflé dish. You can also whip in a half cup of room temperature cream cheese to make it puff slightly when you bake it.

Next the sweet potatoes. I thought they we were delicious right out of the container with their savory sweet maple taste.

For these I’ll use a decorative pie or quiche dish.

Spoon into the pie plate and top with organic mini marshmallows. When people compliment the dish you can say, “oh I use those organic little marshmallows.”

In a perfect world perfectly homemade gravy is ideal. In reality it can fall very short of that mark. Why not pick up a quart or two of some one else’s?

Just place it in your own saucepan to heat up later.

Most importantly rinse out all of the take-out containers and be sure to bury them deep in your recycling bin.

So when everyone congregates for dinner you can greet them with a genuine smile and a plate of hot canapés. And when they offer to help, you can ask them to pull the potato soufflé, sweet potato tart, and wild mushroom gravy out of the refrigerator. (Parting tip- giving your borrowed dishes fancy names really seals the deal!)

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