T minus 23: A laid-back guide to Thanksgiving
November 2nd, 2010
09:30 AM ET
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Over the next 24 days – including yes, the very day of – we'll be sharing our time-tested hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities (that's always fun, right?), hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

Previously: T minus 24 - Don't be a martyr, be a host.

And a little bit about that. Reader "I State Your Name" wrote:

"I completely disagree that, as a host, you should allow someone who offers, to bring one of the same dishes you're making. If they can't stand the thought of a Thanksgiving dinner without THEIR sweet potato casserole, stuffing, or whatever, then they can stay home and eat it. Hosts probably should take guests up on their offers to help or to bring something in order to make everyone feel that they're contributing to the event, but guests should also be respectful of what the host is making. Why are we becoming so accepting of rudeness?"

We'd agree with you on that for a regular dinner party, but when it comes to Thanksgiving, tradition trumps the host's ego. So many people come along as "strays" to other people's Thanksgiving meals. It's nice for them to have some sort of continuity with their own traditions – and even share them with a new bunch of people. Where's the harm?

Today's lesson:

Pitcher drinks and Prosecco are a host's best friend.

'Round about this time of year, the airwaves, internet and printed pages are filled to the brim with advice on pairing wines with Thanksgiving dishes. That's dandy, of course, but if it's not something you or your family generally put much effort into, don't make this the day you start. You've got enough on your plate.

If that is indeed the direction the day takes you, cut yourself some slack and stick with one red (a Châteauneuf du Pape is our T-Day standard, but a South African Cabernet Sauvignon can be delightfully cost-effective for a crowd) and one white (a Sauvignon Blanc on the dry side should fit the bill) rather than trying to get all matchy-matchy with the courses.

Our across-the-board solution: Prosecco. It's fun, it's fizzy, it's festive - everything you love about Champagne, but at a fraction of the cost. This sparkling wine is Italy's answer to Champagne, and options on the drier side (like our house favorite Villa Jolanda) work and play well with turkey, sides and dessert - as well as your wallet. Plenty of 'em retail for less than $12 a bottle, so spring for a case (there's usually a discount) and save any unopened bottles for your New Year's Eve toast.

But, if you'd like to save yourself any day-of beverage fret and nix the hassle of constantly popping up to uncork bottles, pitcher drinks are a host's best friend. Whether it's just iced tea, lemonade or something with a little kick to it, pitcher drinks are a make-ahead, self-serve, crowd-pleasing dream. So long as you've got lidded containers, they can even be tucked into a safe spot in a chilly back yard or a cooler to save precious fridge and counter space.

Our strategy – set up a station with clearly-marked pitchers (spiked and alcohol-free), glasses and ice and let your guests serve themselves. Alternately, set up a single pitcher of fruited limeade or lemonade (we'll explain in a second), with an optional bottle of vodka or whiskey nearby for...enhancement. Cut fruit, like orange slices and pineapple wedges, classes up the joint.

Fruity Limeade

Ingredients: 12-24 limes, sugar, water, your favorite in-season or frozen fruit

Bring 4 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil, then a simmer until it thickens. Let it cool, then pour it into a clean jar with a tight lid. This is simple syrup. Any that you don't use can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months.

Squeeze 12-24 limes (or lemons) into a pitcher. Citrus varies wildly in juice content, but the goal is around 2 cups of liquid.

Stir in simple syrup, tasting as you go, but don't over-sweeten. The fruit you add will balance sourness. Add water to taste.

At the bottom of a pitcher, place slices of your favorite fresh fruit or frozen berries. Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and cherries add visual appeal as well as fabulous taste. Muddle the fruit into a semi-pulp with a wooden spoon and pour the limeade (or lemonade) over it. Stir lightly to mix.

Pour into glasses over ice, making sure to spoon in a little of the fruit. Top with seltzer for a little extra dazzle if desired.

(And yes, you can use pre-made lemonade or limeade from a carton or concentrate. We won't rat you out.)

Tipsy Sweet Tea

Ingredients: 12-24 lemons, simple syrup (see above), sweet tea vodka (we like Firefly), triple sec, orange slices (for garnish)

Squeeze 12-24 lemons into a large pitcher. Stir in simple syrup, tasting as you go. Add water to taste, but make it a little on the strong side. Pour in sweet tea vodka until it tastes right, and if you're feeling fancy, buy cheap Triple Sec and add a cup or two. Serve over plenty of ice and garnish with orange slices.

Bourbon Slush

Ingredients: 12 ounces of lemonade, frozen concentrate; 6 oz of orange juice, frozen concentrate; 2 cups sugar; 2 cups hot strong tea; 2 cups bourbon; 7 cups water; ginger ale or lemon-lime soda to taste.

In a lidded, freezer-proof container or two (Tupperware and Rubbermaid pitchers work well), stir together all ingredients except ginger ale until thoroughly blended. The concentrate should not be prediluted with water, and plain tea like Lipton or Red Rose works well.

Place the container(s) in the freezer overnight or for at least 4-6 hours depending on the make and model of your appliance. It should be firm all the way through, but it will not freeze completely solid.

Scoop around half to three quarters of a cup of the slush into a tumbler, top with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda to taste and serve.

Note: Don't splurge on the good stuff for this. Save your Woodford and Booker's for sipping and juleps (and hand your Van Winkle on over this way). Evan Williams is cheap, respectable and gets the job done.

Got a Thanksgiving query or dilemma? Need techniques for roasting turkey or just looking for recipes to bust up your holiday rut? Wanna know what one of our anchors eats for T-Day? We're here to help. Post your question in the comments below and we'll do our best to assist.

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soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Dimitrios

    Imagine a Thanksgiving with so much food that nobody noticed the turkey was never served. Or, trying to host Thanksgiving in China where holiday staples like turkey and dinner rolls are almost impossible to find. Not every Thanksgiving in America is a folk-art painting. They are as varied as Americans themselves, and run the spectrum of emotion and experience – from as rural as watching Grandma slaughter the holiday bird by the barn, to the traditional with family football games in the yard, and to the modern with multicultural meals complete with eggrolls.

    It is a holiday for everyone – regardless of whether arrival to the United States was via the Mayflower, Ellis Island, international airport, or any other way. It is a holiday steeped in traditions (which are either faithfully followed, radically ignored, or adapted to individual circumstances), memories and images.

    In Thanksgiving Tales: True Stories of the Holiday in America, 48 writers from across the United States share their individual stories and memories of Thanksgiving and provide insight into the variety of ways the holiday is experienced, celebrated, viewed and cherished by Americans. But, whether held in a country farmhouse, amid the frantic pace of New York City, or in a restaurant, there are a number of common elements. These stories reveal how seemingly simple things- like the passing of a tradition to the next generation, sitting next to Grandpa, favorite foods and recipes, or certain sounds, sights, and smells – can have special meaning and leave warm and indelible memories.

    Some of the stories describe the chaos and mishaps of meal preparation, family arguments and first-time hosts – all crises then, but now looked upon with laughter. Other stories recount family traditions, meaningful moments, memorable guests and hosts, remembering those no longer with us, being alone or out-and-out hating the holiday. Thanksgiving Tales is a reflection of Americans, as much as it is a look at the holiday.

    It is a testament to the importance of the holiday that Americans will go to great lengths for Thanksgiving – spending money to travel long distances or taking days to prepare meals, sometimes only to find themselves seated next to the weird cousin or sick all night from bacteria-laden food. Yet, it's done all over again the next year.


    November 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  2. David

    I recommend bourbon with eggnog and a dash of cinnamon on top. May be better as more of a dessert drink, but there's really no bad time to serve it.

    November 3, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  3. Hosting 18 this T-Giving

    These drink ideas (at least the non-wine or champagne types) seem a bit on the summer side to me.. are there more spicy options available?

    November 3, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Hosting 18 this T-Giving

      To clarify – I served mulled wine last year (which I love), but found it wasn't everyone's favorite. Would love something along these lines, but different than the traditonal mulled wine recipe.

      November 3, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  4. Lilbit1153

    Delicious champagne punch: 1 bottle dry champagne, 4 cups Cranberry Pomegranate Juice, 1/4 cup Roses grenadine. Simple, easy and delicious!

    November 3, 2010 at 7:09 am |
  5. M


    November 3, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  6. Jerry

    Just Gimme a beer and im happy.

    November 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  7. Nicole

    Châteauneuf du Pape is a very bad general recommendation. Wines from this particular region tend to be drinkable a couple years after bottling, and then go into sort of a sleeper state. Then, many years down they line they evolve and display their true essence, flavor, nose, etc. I would not suggest anyone just pick up a random bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape unless they knew a bit more about it.

    November 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  8. mmm... Thanksgiving....

    I had an amazing drink the other day at a restaurant.(non alcoholic, but you can certainly add it if you want!) I called to get the recipe and here it is:
    6 dashes Aztec bitters
    1 oz coconut cream
    2 oz blood orange puree
    Soda water to top it off
    Shake and pour over ice
    My only issue is, where does one aquire blood orange puree (since its not in season)? I live in Manhattan, so it must be somewhere! (i found it online but its $70 shipping!) I'm determined to find it.
    Anyway, its a great drink and friendly for all.

    November 2, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  9. Val

    My mom's drinking is limited to one glass of wine, maybe two, and she really needs to relax and let loose for once, especially on Thanksgiving. I desperately need a recipe for a tasty drink that she won't know has alcohol in it. Any suggestions? (Reading this over, I fear you must be thinking, "What kind of daughter tries to get her mother drunk?" But if you knew my mother, you'd think she needs to get drunk too.)

    November 2, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • tastesgreat

      1 c. OJ
      1/2 c. pom juice
      pom vodka

      November 10, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  10. Shante's mom

    The bar which consists of vodka, scotch and gin with the small bottles of tonic water and soda is what I provide while they are waiting for dinner. They have to make their own drink. Glasses, ice and cocktail napkins are provided. Wine, white or red is served at dinner to those who want it. Usually the people who drink it as thier cocktail bring a bottle of thier choice. I am alone and cannot worry about serving cocktails, dinner is enough already! Happy Day! It is still my favorite holiday, but I'm a foodie!!

    November 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Erin

    Mmm that bourbon drink sounds excellent. We usually just have a few carafes of red wine at our family get togethers.

    November 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  12. TX_Jessica

    Great ideas! I can't wait to read the section on "Politely escorting the drunk guest home"... :)

    November 2, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  13. Bridget

    Source for those gorgeouse glasses and pitcher at the top of the story? Love to add them to my holiday table!

    November 2, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • Terry

      did you ever find out about the glasses?

      January 14, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  14. Truth, working at the polls

    These sound like great drink choices as long as your guest list includes the cast from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"...

    November 2, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • RichardHead

      Ummm-You did notice that they refrained from using Pink Lemonade in any of these drinks?

      November 2, 2010 at 10:45 am |
    • Nice View11

      Sounds like a good idea to me. Drink a pitcher a day of these concoctions and you won't worry in the least about the Thanksgiving dinner or anything else for that matter!! :)

      November 2, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Nicole


      November 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Chef Mike

      I start my Thanksgiving by drinking 1/3 of each can of Foster's Beer for each Beer Can Turkey I make. Last year was 8 in all! Hell of a start to the Holiday!!!

      November 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
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