If you're hosting a Thanksgiving feast for family and friends, there's a lot that goes into making it the perfect affair: Ensure the turkey doesn't dry out. Keep the rolls from burning. Offer enough cranberry sauce to satisfy everyone. Michael Moore, executive chef at North Carolina's High Hampton Inn, and Roberto Guzman, executive chef of Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, share tips for making your Thanksgiving get-together one to remember, for all the right reasons.
Don't overdo it. "Keep it simple with two-[to]-three veggie or protein options, including dessert," Moore advises. "Everything will turn out better and run more smoothly if you keep it simple." From his experience, Guzman says holidays are not the time to try out a new menu. He recommends knowing -- and preparing -- your family's most sentimental dishes as part of the menu.
Ask your guests to help. Days before the holiday, Guzman urges hosts to contact their guests to ask whether they will bring dishes. This may prompt guests who hadn't thought to contribute to do so to ease your workload.
Write everything down on paper. Moore recommends making a list of everything you will need, including beverages. Based on your guest list, he suggests planning on 4 ounces of each food item per person.
Time out how long each item takes to prep and cook. Moore suggests making some dishes ahead of time such as dressing, sweet potato souffle and squash soup. "Mistakes are made with scheduling – when to cook and when it will be complete," Moore says. "Fewer items on your menu can eliminate this problem."
Coordinate kitchen space. Guzman says hosts should be realistic about their oven and stovetop space. "If you ask someone to bring a casserole, instruct them to bring it cooked if you have one oven," he says. "It can always be put back in the oven for a few minutes while the turkey rests, but you might not have oven space to dedicate to two or three unexpected dishes for an hour before dinner."
Don't overlook the total time it takes to pull off a turkey. Don't just add "turkey" to your list of foods to prepare. "Figure out how you plan to cook, season and serve the turkey," Moore says. "Planning those details in advance helps you not to miss small but important details." If the turkey needs brined, make the time to do that in addition to thawing.
Buy some items instead of making them. Moore recommends purchasing frozen cranberries, then cooking and mixing them with canned cranberry sauce. Guzman suggests buying items to complement the main course. "Dessert is a great place to take advantage of a favorite bakery, pies from the farmers markets or orchards," he says.
Source local ingredients. Both chefs recommend shopping at farmers markets throughout the year, including the holiday season. Guzman says in addition to fresh produce, look for meal add-ons at the farmers market. "As I visit festivals and farmers markets in the fall," he says, "I will also pick up apple butters, spice blends and other finds I might come across there to complement my menu."
Add something new to your table to make it more festive. Guzman suggests exploring the region's arts and crafts festivals, "which might be the perfect place to pick up a new serving platter, bowl or pitcher."
For more ideas about gifts, decorating, where to eat and what to do, check out our complete Atlanta Holiday Guide.