Consider these steps the foundation of a Thanksgiving meal - then have fun modifying the menu to suit your tastes and those of your guests, to make up your own memorable Thanksgiving traditions.
- Vary the menu all you want but remember that if your guests are traditionalists they'll expect the following dishes at Thanksgiving: turkey, turkey gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
- Leftovers also are a Thanksgiving tradition - for sandwiches that night and to send home with non-cooks - so cook for about 25 percent more guests than you'll have.
- Figure out how many guests to invite. Consider the size of your home; the number of chairs, tables and dishes you'll need; and your ability to cook for that many people.
- Plan the menu, keeping in mind your guests? tastes, ethnic backgrounds, allergies and any other factors.
- Plan to balance the many heavy, starchy Thanksgiving classics with lighter dishes, emphasizing fresh vegetables.
- Decide whether you want to ask people to help you, either by bringing parts of the meal (wine, dessert and appetizers), or by coming early to help out.
- Be realistic about what to make from scratch or what you'll try that you never have before; perhaps your efforts should go into a special cranberry sauce or an unusual stuffing, with everything else on the menu an old standby.
- Remember the classic Thanksgiving challenge: The turkey will occupy the oven most of the day - a crucial factor if you also plan to bake pies and you have just one oven. This means:
- Write out the timing and preparation of each dish - yes, a list! - so you'll know that you really can manage them all in your kitchen.
- Keep your eye on the reason you're doing this: To have a special time of togetherness with your family and friends.