It arrived Thursday. It officially marks the beginning of the EATING SEASON – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. “It” is Trader Joe’s Thanksgiving Fearless Flyer. This year’s Thanksgiving Edition of the Fearless Flyer features a sentence at the top left hand corner: Sharing the very best of food, so you can focus on friends and family. Seriously. Click here if you missed it!
Talking in a circle of women this weekend, we all laughed and agreed – this flyer draws us to Trader Joe’s like no other grocery or department store flyer! Everything from fresh flowers (20 long-stemmed roses for $9.99) to cranberry chevre log (sound amazing for $3.99) to Pecan Pie Filling In A Jar ($6.99), it’s all in there. Please skip this last item and go directly to my blog on making Pecan Pie from scratch! You won’t regret it.
This time of the year, many people shout, “But I can’t cook! I don’t have a clue what to do”. I find this statement confusing. If you can read (a recipe!) and move your hands back and forth (to chop, stir, put a pan in the oven!), you can cook! You can find any recipe by Googling it. Start off by using Allrecipes.com. You can jump around from there.
I am old school and like having the cookbook to spill ingredients in as I cook (or so it appears when I look through them later)! One of my kitchen mentors is Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. I own four of her cookbooks, including Back To Basics. Online, her latest blog is all about Thanksgiving dinner.
This season I also want to master a couple of new recipe’s from Sean Brock’s cookbook, Heritage. His Charleston restaurant, Husk, was named the Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant in 2011. Chef Brock was recently featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, Parts Unknown.
Whether you use the Trader Joe’s flyer to make the entire meal or use a number of different recipes from your own cookbooks, one thing is for sure – you need a game plan. Don’t try to do it without scouting your opponent: the ingredients. Here are a few of my own tips to get ready for a dinner party.
- Flip through a cookbook (or click online) and find your recipes.
- Figure out what you can do the week before, night before, the morning of, and prior to your guests arriving. Calculate how much time your recipes will need in the oven, on the stove, or on the grill. If your pot roast needs 4 hours in the oven, consider making a vegetable on the stove instead of baking or roasting it.
- Make a grocery list. Shop for pantry items a few days before and fresh ingredients no more than 24 hours in advance. I learned to make lists from my Mom. She is known as the Jedi Master List Maker.
If you think you can go to the grocery store and not bring a list, you will need extra time to run back to the store once or twice throughout the meal prep and cooking to get those things you forgot!
- Take a picture of the recipe and bring your smartphone to the store. This will help you if you need further clarification of how you will use the ingredient!
- Set the table the night before! That way it’s all ready to go! I love a pretty table with fresh flowers or candles.
- Pick out your serving pieces a day ahead of time. Chill the white wine 24 hours in advance. Pull it out 15 minutes prior to serving. Chill the red wine for 15 minutes before you decant it.
- Try to stay on top of the dishes as you cook! I hate turning around and seeing a sink full of dishes before we sit down for the meal, knowing we will have another sink full in a couple of hours.
- Have the starters ready to go first! Guests don’t mind watching you chop or stir if they are nibbling on snacks.
- My friends love my guacamole (click here for the recipe) so I serve it quite often as a starter. But around that guac, I like to have a number of healthy fresh fruits and veggies to nash on before the meal.
- Always have a bottle of chilled champagne in the refrigerator! With everyone busy these days getting friends together is a reason to celebrate! This is the best time of the year to have some extra wine on hand as well.
- But remember — not everyone drinks. Have some Pellegrino or flavored sparkling water on hand as well! Trader Joe’s Blood Orange sparkling water is tasty. Fre Wines make a really flavorful alcohol-free sparkling wine. My neighbor, Lindsey Mansfield, is with child and she has given it a big thumbs up!
- Don’t be afraid to use salt. Get on board! Look at NapaStyle.com for some suggestions on what to salt and how! We have a salt box that also holds spices. Read this article on the science of salt and how it brings out the hidden flavors of your dishes.
- New in the kitchen? Start small. Don’t try to make a bunch of course. For some reason I hate to make salad so when my guests offer to bring something, I always let them bring the salad.
- More than anything – have fun! Let the dishes sit on the table after dinner as you continue to socialize. Clearing the table right after dinner is a sure sign the party is over.
- Add your own tips for cooking prep in the comments section as well!
Why Travel, Cooking and DIY? A creative type, I have always loved painting and decorating as a hobby. Upcycling is a real passion. My mom was a Home Ec teacher when we were growing up. I learned a lot from her and because I love hosting get-togethers, I had to step up my game in the kitchen as well. And lastly, my love of travel comes from my Grandma Schmitt.
An Illinois native, I worked in the White House Communications Agency early in my career (President Reagan), prior to returning to Illinois State University to finish my undergraduate and Master's. After a couple of post-graduate internships (minor league baseball and Big Ten Conference), I then worked in college athletics full-time for more than 22 years -- first at the University of South Carolina for 15 years and then at Santa Clara University for the last seven years. We moved to Tampa, Florida in Dec., 2016 after spending 8.5 years in Northern California.