Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2016 Edition

According to tradition, I hosted my company for an early Thanksgiving last week. Although I enjoy hosting and cooking for friends regularly, this event is by far the most ambitious as I cook a full meal for about 20 people. Each year has been an opportunity for me to learn more about hosting, and I have a few more lessons to share from this year.

In the past, I have done various ethnic and regional cuisines, but I have run short on ideas. Of course, there are plenty more unexplored cuisines in this world, but I have only picked cuisines that I think I have an edge on and wouldn’t be offending co-workers who know that culture better than I do. This year, I ended up doing a Canadian Thanksgiving, which was some combination of stereotypical Canadian food (butter tarts) and using maple syrup in everything.

I don’t have pictures of the appetizers, drinks, or desserts, but for the most part, those and everything above turned out well enough. If you’re interested, check out my cooking plan chart.

1. Freeze your ice cream maker bowl plenty ahead of time.

The biggest disappointment for me was the ice cream. Thankfully, I didn’t hype homemade ice cream too much ahead of time because I only ended up serving delicious soup.

I started freezing the bowl about 18 hours before making the ice cream, and I also put it in the front of my freezer where I had space instead of rearranging to put it in the back. The result was that the ice cream never really froze and thickened, and with pie, I had to serve it.

2. Make dish placards.

With more guests, there’s a spectrum between a casual weeknight meal and a restaurant experience. On the right side of that spectrum is the buffet, where each dish has its own placard and dietary concerns on it. In years past, I have just called out what the dishes are, but it’s easy to forget, and it’s a bother to ask. Index cards and a sharpie were a quick, easy fix for that.

3. Enlist designers to do staging and presentation.

I usually ask a co-worker to help out for the last few hours before the meal because a second pair of hands can solve so many problems. This time, our designer Kevin and his fiancee Kerry came over, and they made this a classy event.

I wish I had taken pictures, but Kerry made the signs directing guests on where to put their shoes and coats and where to mingle. Kevin assembled the smoked salmon crostini, which might be the most beautiful food ever to be served out of my kitchen.

4. Designate someone for hosting duty.

I enjoy hosting dinner parties, but I often get stuck in the kitchen. I really enjoy it, but as a host, it’s not the best experience to provide guests.

As such, it helps to designate others to help provide that direction. In this case, my co-worker Brian was particularly helpful in having provided ideas for Canadian drinks, including a Rye & Ginger Ale and a Bloody Mary-like drink called a Caesar. Since he was mixing drinks, he naturally helped to direct some traffic, which spared me the effort of jumping in and out of the kitchen.

5. Take the dark meat off of the bones.

We usually run out of white meat before dark meat, and I always assumed this was an inexplicable taste for white over dark meat. Looking at the leftovers of this meal, however, I think the real difference is how convenient the meat is to eat. White meat is carved in nice slices, whereas dark meat is typically more ragged or on the bone. Although the presentation of the wings and drumsticks looks nice on the plate, I think more guests would go for it if they could just grab some of the meat already off the bone.

I hope all of you enjoy delicious food this holiday season. If you don’t have any big meals planned and live anywhere near by, let me know, and I would be happy to have you over!

2 replies on “Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2016 Edition”

Our family prefers dark meat, so leftovers the next day is always white meat!

Do you spatchcock your turkey (and chicken)? Long-cooking turkey dries out, so flattening out the legs leads to cooking about 2 to 2.5 hours.

Yes, I spatchcock my turkey as well. It’s great! Toughest part about it is cutting through the back: I have contemplated getting a cleaver for it, but I don’t think I wouldn’t use it otherwise.

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