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