Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving - The "Wow" Factor

I'm one of those people who truly enjoys entertaining. As such, I often take the time to do the little extras and make things from scratch. However, there are some extras that are so easy to do that anyone can do them and you'll end-up looking like Martha Stewart. Here are a few:

Whipped Honey Butter
This is great dotted on rolls fresh out of the oven or even on veggies. Serve in place of regular butter at the table.

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 stick of softened unsalted butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of honey.
2) Using a stand or handheld mixer, whip the butter on high until light and fluffy.
3) If you're handy with a piping bag (I'm not), pipe butter with a large star tip into custard cups. Otherwise, mound into custard cups using a small cookie scoup or whatever you have handy.

Extra Salt & Pepper Shakers
I dunno about yo, but there's always someone in the family who hogs the salt shaker. When you're seated at a long table, this can be problematic. Consider purchasing extra inexpensive salt and pepper shakers at a discount store. Make sure there's a pair for every 4 to 6 people. If you really want to be fancy, they sell individual mini shakers so that each guest can have his or her own.

Linen Napkins
Linen napkins are a big part of what makes an elegant affair elegant. Most discount clubs (Sam's, BJ's, Costco, etc.) sell plain white linen napkins in 6-packs for a very reasonable price (about a dollar per napkin). These are a great buy not only for the price but because they're all white. White goes with anything, they can all go into a single laundry batch, and you can bleach them if you have stubborn stains. It's a small investment that will last a long time.

Homemade Chips & Dip
Homemade chips are easy when you have pita pockets around. Combine with your favorite dip recipe (typically with a base of sour cream or mayo), and you have a fancy treat that took no effort.

1) Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
2) Open a package of pita pockets. Slice each around the edge so that you have two discs. Cut each into 6 or 8 wedges, about the size of a potato chip.
3) Place pita wedges on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Spread into a single layer.
4) Bake at 350, checking and turning them every 3-5 minutes. Chips are done when all are crispy and starting to brown along the edges.

Extra Serving Spoons
We all have a set of flatware, but did you ever notice that it comes with only one serving spoon? That just won't cut it for a big family-style dinner like Thanksgiving. Purchase additional serving spoons from a kitchen store or restaurant supply warehouse and store them with your china. It beats trying to serve with tablespoons.

Use the Good China for Dessert
A lot of people drag-out the good dishware for dinner but default to paper or plastic for dessert. Dessert will seem so much more elegant if you serve it on real plates, even if you're serving buffet style. You've already committed to the dishes for dinner, you might as well go the extra step with dessert.

Mixed Drink Pitchers
Bottles of soda, wine, and beer are a must, of course, but it's always nice to serve something homemade. Purchase an inexpensive glass pitcher from a discount box store (Target, Walmart, etc.) and do some sort of mixed drink, be it alcoholic or non-alcoholic. Some ideas:
  • Red or White Sangria (A delicious cross between wine and fruit punch)
  • Lemon Iced Tea (Kool-Aid packets add great lemon flavor to freshly brewed iced tea)
  • A Mixed Alcoholic Beverage - Many mixed drinks can be made by the gallon. It saves you from playing bartender all evening.
  • Hot Cocoa - Believe it or not, this one is always popular. Instead of using a glass pitcher, use a thermos-style coffee carafe or pump pot. Want to go fancy? Add a tablespoon or two of mint extract, available near the vanilla extract in the grocery store.
  • Shirley Temples - Lots of kids coming? Mix-up a batch of Shirley Temples (grenadine syrup and ginger ale). Provide inexpensive wine glasses and sliced orange halves so they can feel like a grown-up.

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