Holiday Hosting Recipes and Tips

We recently threw our 5th (should have been 7th) Annual Fakesgiving. The tradition started back in 2009 when I was faced with hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. I decided that having a friend version would be a fun way to do a test-run of recipes and practice hosting a large group for a sit-down dinner.


After that first year (or maybe it was after the second?), we switched it up and made it more of a cocktail party, with Thanksgiving-themed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. We have missed two years along the way, once because Nolan had a stomach bug and once because Will was born. Kids…

I quickly learned that anything you can make ahead, or at the very least prep ahead, is key to enjoying yourself during a party. The catch is, the hours and days leading up to the party are totally consumed by preparation. For this year’s Fakesgiving I did everything ahead of time, and with the exception of making cocktails and taking a few things out of the oven, I ate and drank and chatted the whole party. But…not including the grocery shopping, I spent two ENTIRE days, cooking and prepping. I didn’t take any shortcuts in most cases, so I’ll indicate below where you could save time by doing that.

Here are a few recipes I used. They would be great year-round but they’re especially good for fall and winter parties.

Baguette with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey – adapted from Epicurious

1 baguette, sliced into half-inch slices (about 36)

6-8 ounces of goat cheese, (remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before using)

1/2 cup of chopped walnuts

honey, for drizzling

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. Spread goat cheese on each bread slice and line up on baking sheet. (NOTE: Don’t be skimpy with the goat cheese here.When these cook in the oven, the cheese loses some of its strong flavor and it melts into the bread a bit.)   Sprinkle the walnuts and a little salt and pepper over all the slices and then bake for about five minute until everything is warmed and the walnuts have started to toast.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the honey over each piece. Serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: Cut the baguette the day before and store the bread in a ziploc bag, Chop the walnuts and store in a tightly closed bag or container. This dish was probably the only one I made that required any right-before-the-party steps.

Spinach, Bacon, and Onion Dip – Martha Stewart

Over the years, I’ve made a few different hot and cold spinach dips.  I think this might be my new favorite. It was gone very quickly, so I think in the future I would double the recipe and just use a larger dish. I followed the recipe exactly and wouldn’t change a thing! I served it with pita chips, which I made the mistake of making myself. While they’re tasty, it’s a step I would probably skip next time.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I prepared the dip early in the day (up to the oven step) and stored it in the fridge. I removed it from the fridge about an hour before I cooked it so it could come to room temperature and then followed the cooking instructions.Because it was probably still a little cold, I baked it for a few extra minutes before turning on the broiler.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms – Barefoot Contessa

Let me preface this recipe by saying I don’t like mushrooms and I’m not crazy about sausage. That being said, I think these are ridiculously good. The recipe calls for 16 extra-large white mushrooms and I purchased 24. Apparently they weren’t as large as they should have been, because I increased the amounts by 1.5x and I had so much filling left over. A  party guest took the rest home to enjoy. With the exception of leaving out the marsala wine (I think it’s disgusting) and lining the pan with foil (easy clean up!), I follow the recipe exactly.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I made the filling the day before and stuffed the mushrooms a few hours before baking them. Again, remove everything from the fridge around an hour before cooking so it can warm up a bit.

Apple Thyme Martini – Adapted from The Stripe

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Makes 2 cocktails

4 ounces vodka

4 ounces apple juice or apple cider

2 Tablespoons thyme simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 20-30 seconds and serve.

*Simple syrup is the best way to sweeten up a drink. It can be flavored in so many ways! This thyme simple syrup is perfect for a fall drink. Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and boil for two minutes. Add a few sprigs of thyme and boil an additional 2-3 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

I hope you can use some of these recipes at your holiday gatherings this year. I have a few more up my sleeve that I’ll try to share before Thanksgiving!





Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Need some last-minute inspiration for Thanksgiving menu ideas? Here is what I’m making:

Roast Turkey – Barefoot Contessa’s hands-off approach to turkey hasn’t failed  me yet. No brining. No basting. Moist and delicious. Her recipe is for a 12 lb. turkey; I adjust accordingly for my 20 lb. bird. I make this gravy (minus the business with the giblets) and it’s easy breezy.

Mashed Potatoes – Again, love Barefoot Contessa’s. I don’t bother with putting them through a food mill, however. I gently mash them by hand and then use a stand mixer. The thing with mashed potatoes is that they have to be made last-minute. Last year I attempted a baked version from The Pioneer Woman and I have to say, it just wasn’t the same. To give yourself a little extra time, you can keep mashed potatoes warm for a while in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

Carrots – I’m trying these for the first time this year because they look easy and I’m interested to see how the chili powder and the pumpkin pie spice come together.

Cranberry Sauce – Pioneer Woman’s is sweet and a touch tart. I’ve tried other ones that are too citrusy or too lumpy but this is just right. I like mine a little smoother so I put half the cooked batch in the food processor and pulse two or three times to break up the cranberries.

String Beans – I don’t really know what I’m doing here. Probably blanching them, and then sauteeing with butter and shallots.

Sweet Potato Casserole – I’ve made a half-dozen different versions and loved and them all but I think I’m sticking with the copycat recipe for the Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole. It’s dessert on the dinner table.

For appetizers I’m doing the basics, cheese and crackers, hummus and veggies, and spinach dip in a bread bowl.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s a holiday that everyone celebrates. It’s food and it’s family and it’s the intro to Christmas and the holiday season. What I DON’T love is that tons of stores are opening on Thanksgiving. I have plenty to say about the hypocrisy of people cutting time short with their families to go buy gifts for…their families. And what about all the poor people who have to work these stores?? Ugh, that’s a post for another day.


Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas Part II

As if turkey and potatoes weren’t enough?? Here are the other veggies I’ll be making this year:

Asparagus – So easy to prep, so easy to jazz up, so delicious to eat, so smelly to pee. Oops, did I just say that? I did. Because it’s the truth. Just hold your breath.  It’s good practice for diving and getting rid of the hiccups.

Back to the asparagus. Wash the stalks, break off the bottoms (they’ll naturally snap off where they should), spread them out on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, jazz up. I’ll be sprinkling the asparagus with chopped up pancetta before cooking (or prosciutto? I never remember the difference) and adding grated parmesan for the last minute. Because I’m using the pancetta, I won’t add salt but normally you would salt them before roasting. 400 degrees for fifteen minutes. Yum.

Carrots – Wash them, peel them, cut them into similar sized wedges, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, roast for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Sprinkle with chopped up dill before serving. Hell to the yeah.

String Beans – I’m steaming them because I know I won’t have room in my oven or on my stove top. I was tempted to make this amazing sounding green bean casserole from Pioneer Woman, but between the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other fattening goodies … well, I just had to draw the line somewhere.

Cranberry Sauce – Last year I made Barefoot Contessa’s; it was ok but a little too citrusy for me. This year I’m making this one I found on Epicurious. Have you been to Epicurious? It’s amazing! Go now!

Stuffing (Dressing) – I’m not one to make actual stuffing (that means it’s cooked inside the bird) because it takes longer to cook and then your bird gets dry. Nobody likes a dry bird. Just like nobody puts Baby in the corner. It’s just not done! Stuffing that’s cooked on its own is actually called dressing. I wasn’t going to make it but yesterday I said to Matt, “It’s ok that I’m not making stuffing, right?” And he said, “I really love stuffing.” So… I’m making stuffing. Dressing. Whatever. This cornbread stuffing from Tyler Florence looks great so I’m giving it a try!

I’ll take pictures and get reviews from friends on Saturday. Happy Fakesgiving!

Thanksgiving Menu Ideas Part I

Hey there, November. When did you get here? Oh! A week ago? Hmmmm…that means Thanksgiving is only eighteen days away. This year I am (thankfully) not hosting Thanksgiving. Once Matt and I were married we decided to start alternating where we go and this year it’s my family’s turn so we’re headed to my aunt and uncle’s house. (Sidenote: Marrying someone of a different religion is awesome because I never have to share my holidays and Matt never has to share his. We only have to split Thanksgiving – not bad!)

Although we’re not hosting this year, we are having Fakesgiving for the second time. Fakesgiving is our pre-Thanksgiving friend celebration.  If you’re hosting and need some ideas, or even if you’re just bringing a dish somewhere, here is what I’m making:

Turkey – Forget everything you’ve ever heard about getting up pre-dawn to put your turkey in the oven for a million hours. It’s completely unnecessary and it dries out the bird. Follow Ina Garten’s instructions and you won’t be disappointed. I sort of combine two of her turkey recipes but it’s best to follow this one.  Instead of using truffle butter I use regular softened butter because I’m poor. I also put one or two halved lemons in the turkey cavity.

Here’s my turkey from last year!

Can you tell how deliriously tired I was here?  Note to self: you need to take off the day before Thanksgiving if you’re hosting.

Gravy – I made Ina Garten’s gravy last year for Fakesgiving and it was horrible. I rectified that for Thanksgiving and followed The Pioneer Woman’s recipe from here. I ignore everything that has to do with the giblets (she boils them and uses the water and then cuts them up for gravy – no thank you).

Mashed Potatoes – Last year I made Ina Garten’s because they are rich and creamy beyond belief (that could have something to do with the butter, sour cream and whole milk – just a guess). Mashed potatoes need to be made right before you serve dinner and there is just too much going on with turkey carving and veggie roasting to bother. Also, they require the mixer and they didn’t all fit in the bowl so I had to do two batches and it was a headache and a half. They’re absolutely worth making for a regular dinner but forget making them for twenty people for Thanksgiving.

This year I’m using The Pioneer Woman’s recipe because they can be made ahead of time and baked to heat them up. We’ll see how it goes. They sure look good!


Sweet Potatoes – AKA dessert that I pass off as a vegetable. There are plenty of healthy sweet potato dishes you can make, but that’s not what Thanksgiving is about! Isn’t it the time to give thanks for the important things in life, like butter, brown sugar, eggs, and cinnamon?

There are a few options here and they’re all delicious. In the past I’ve made Ina Garten’s smashed sweet potatoes with apples and it’s great. For some reason it’s not on Food Network’s website but the recipe can be found in Ina’s Parties book. Once I made a copycat recipe of the sweet potato casserole from Ruth’s Chris. Wowee Zowee.

This year I’m making Pioneer Woman’s Soul Sweet Taters which seem very similar to the Ruth’s Chris dish. Get your stretchy pants out!

That’s it for now! In another day or two I’ll post the non-potato veggie side dishes.

Anyone else really hungry now?