5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

When we first moved to Dallas, Winston and I hosted my mother, his parents and some of our friends one evening about a week into our homeownership.

Miraculously, our kitchen was clean, the cabinets were organized and most of the moving boxes were cleared out. Our furniture was in place, and since our families and friends were in town, we made fajitas for LSU’s season opener.

At some point during the evening, my mother-in-law turned to me and said, “You’re really good at keeping your cool while entertaining.”

I shrugged it off, explaining that I just rolled with the punches and liked having people at my home.

I didn’t think about this compliment until much later.

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner: Roasted Turducken // The Speckled Palate

I’ve loved entertaining since I was a college student. Something about cooking a warm, homemade meal for people I love makes me so happy that I try to welcome folks into my home whenever I can.

It all started when my friends and I formed a rotating weekly dinner club. The chosen chef would cook a homemade meal, and everyone would arrive at a specific time to eat, bringing beer, wine, bread or dessert to go with the entree prepared by the host.

This love of creating meals and welcoming friends and family into my home has continued ever since.

And because I love entertaining and cooking, I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned over the years. And since I recently hosted a Friendsgiving, I wanted to pass along Thanksgiving-inspired tips.

You ready? Let’s do this!

5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

The quickest way to stress yourself out the day of a big event is not being prepared. Know what you’re cooking. Know how long each dish takes to prepare AND cook (and cool, if it needs to do that.) Try to prep as much food a day (or two or three, depending on the dish) in advance to give yourself a break the day-of.

That being said, prepare for something to go wrong. And when it inevitably does? Have a backup plan… and if things go so wrong they can’t be salvaged? Pop on down to line item #5 and take a deep breath.

5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

2. Create a day-of-schedule… and give yourself a little wiggle room.

When we hosted Friendsgiving a few weeks back, my schedule got a little messed up.

However, I prepared myself for this — my backup plan was set into motion! — and I had built-in time to catch up. It wasn’t perfect, but I went into the day knowing I might need a little wiggle room, so I budgeted it into my day-of timeline.

Yes, I just said I had a day-of timeline.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds… promise! And it’s a life-saver to keep yourself on track.

Sit down a few days before the big day and write down how long each dish should take to prep, cook and rest. Budget extra time in case it needs to cook longer. Look at the master list of dishes and figure out the order in which they need to be made the morning of. Ask yourself: What can be done in advance, and do whatever that is.

Knowing what needs to be done the day of is helpful. It makes hosting significantly less stressful simply because you aren’t scrambling, and you have a game plan.

5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

3. Know your guests.

Aunt Susie passionately hates sweet potatoes and has changed several family members’ opinions of the traditional casserole? Skip that dish and replace it with something everyone loves.

Jimmy and Maria always arrive an hour late, forcing the group to make the awkward decision to either eat at the specified time without those guests or wait for the latecomers. If your guests wait, plan for the meal to be done a little later. However, you should have snacks for your other guests if everyone is waiting for the latecomers to arrive.

Your sister has a gluten allergy? Be sure to offer some gluten-free accompaniments to the meal that are tasty for everyone. Nothing is more unfortunate than attending a dinner and realizing you can’t eat half the dishes.

Know who your friends and family members, their likes and dislikes, allergies and habits when it comes to occasions like these. Keep them in mind as you plan your menu and prepare. They’ll be happy you did.

5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

4. Get your guests involved.

Your friend wants to bring a dish for the festivities? Awesome!

Your mother wants to decorate the table? Let her get as creative as her heart desires!

Your brother insists on bringing seasonal beer for everyone to try? Have him bring it over the day before and put it on ice so everyone can enjoy a cold one when they arrive!

Don’t be afraid to let others be involved. It gives your guests a chance to be a part of the meal and to make a unique contribution, whether it’s from the addition of a dish brought, a drink they insisted upon, the decor they helped create or something else.

5 Tips to Hosting an Awesome Thanksgiving // The Speckled Palate

5. Don’t fret! (I mean it!)

I have a hard time with this one, but throughout the years, I’ve focused on relaxing in the kitchen and not fretting over the little stuff.

As previously mentioned, when we were hosting Friendsgiving, I started cooking a little later than I originally wanted. The prep for my Bacon and Baguette Stuffing took a lot longer than expected. I ended up with a clumpy gravy that had to be fixed in the food processor. And to top it off, our guests arrived late due to a last minute work obligation that was unavoidable.

I could have gone off the deep end as various things went wrong… but I kept my cool. I asked for help — let it be known that my husband is a fabulous kitchen and life-in-general helper — and we got the meal cooked just fine. In fact, everything was done before our guests arrived, which was a nice surprise!

So when things go wrong? Take a deep breath and focus on what matters — the love that goes into the making of a Thanksgiving feast and the love for the people you’ll be hosting — and roll with the punches. It’ll be just fine, one way or another.

Those are my 5 tips to hosting an awesome Thanksgiving dinner.

What tips would you like to add?

  • Jayne | Tenacious TinkeringNovember 21, 2014 - 9:25 am

    Love that you had a dinner club in college :-) It’s one of the sweetest! Also, your tips are perfect for any type of hosting! We’re looking to have a housewarming get-together in a month or two and I can totally use these tips especially the part on involving guests. Potluck! Haha.ReplyCancel

  • CherylNovember 21, 2014 - 11:33 am

    Excellent tips! You reminded me I need to update my day-of schedule since I’m changing so many things from last year. I’m already feeling a little overwhelmed.. yeesh!ReplyCancel

  • Madison | Wetherills Say I DoNovember 21, 2014 - 2:41 pm

    Love these tips! So many great pointers. I’m so excited to use these next week! Yay Turkey Day!ReplyCancel

Baby

It’s a special day! Some fellow bloggers and I are gathering together to throw a baby shower in honor of Chelsea and her sweet baby! Hooray, Baby’s Grand Adventure Baby Shower Day!

I was tickled pink when Phi reached out to me about this little shower she was putting together for Chelsea because I’ve enjoyed following Chelsea’s blog and was thrilled to learn she was expecting her first child earlier this year. Because who doesn’t love when one of their friends is pregnant?

Chelsea, we’ve made a ton of fun things for your virtual baby shower, and we hope you enjoy this little celebration. We’re so excited for you and Chase and can’t wait to hear all about your little one when he or she arrives in January!

Baby

For the shower, I’ve made Indoor S’mores… with Andes Mints. Because, well, s’mores are pretty fabulous… and s’mores with Andes Mints are especially delicious… and because I thought s’mores indoors would be a little adventure for this celebration.

These s’mores can be made two ways: By guests at the table using a kitchen torch or candle or before the shower in the oven. I made mine in the oven, simply because when it was time to take these photographs, I realized I didn’t have a kitchen torch.

Yes, I know. Pregnancy brain at its finest.

That being said, I think these s’mores would be an exciting treat for guests to make, toasting marshmallows to their personal favorite char, and then putting the slightly messy dessert together and enjoying. However, I understand if you’d rather make these in bulk and not have an open flame on your buffet table (or wherever you’re serving the desserts) because that will require monitoring to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.

So… make the call you think is right for your guests and your own home. And if you make these in advance, try to pull them out of the oven when guests arrive, as the marshmallows get a bit stiff when they cool, and everyone loves a gooey s’more.

Baby

Here’s how I made mine:

Indoor S'mores (with Andes Mints)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Toasted s'mores... made indoors! Allow your guests to roast their own marshmallows, or bake these treats in advance for a stunning shower dessert that's delicious and unique!
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Ingredients
  • 1 bag large marshmallows
  • 1 package Andes Mints (or your favorite kind of chocolate)
  • 1 box Graham crackers
Instructions
  1. If baking in advance: Preheat the oven to 425°F, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Prepare the s'mores: Set out the Graham crackers in two rows, making sure the number is even in each. (Be sure to know how many s'mores you want to make, and double that for the Graham cracker number, as one will go on the bottom and one will go on the top of the finished dessert.) On one row of Graham crackers, place marshmallows in the center of the crackers. On the other row of Graham crackers, place one to two Andes Mints (or piece of chocolate.)
  3. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven, and bake for 7 minutes, or until the marshmallows have bubbled up and browned, but not burned.
  4. Remove from the oven, and using a spatula, turn the Graham cracker sides with chocolate on top of the marshmallow'ed sides.
  5. Serve warm, and enjoy!
  6. If allowing guests to roast their own marshmallows: Set out the ingredients to the s'mores, as well as skewers that guests can use to roast the marshmallows on.
  7. Place a kitchen torch or candle on the table (and be sure to have someone watching it while on so no one is burned and/or accidentally burns the table/ingredients/house down).
  8. Let guests prepare their own s'mores, and enjoy warm!

Baby

And when everything was said and done with this shoot… I ate all three of these s’mores. Oops?

Chelsea, I hope you enjoyed this and get a chance to try something sweet like this before your little one arrives!

And before y’all head out, be sure to check out the other bloggers participating in Chelsea’s baby shower!

What kind of foods do you like to eat at a baby shower?

  • Abby @ The Frosted VeganNovember 19, 2014 - 8:16 am

    I LOVE a good s’more, especially in the winter!!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 8:32 am

      You and me both, Abby! It’s hard to beat a good s’more!ReplyCancel

  • Lynn @ Order in the KitchenNovember 19, 2014 - 9:07 am

    I LOVE smores!! They are seriously one of my favorite things ever because they are delicious but also because they bring back fond memories of summer camp! I love these for the shower they are just perfect!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 3:31 pm

      I love s’mores, too, Lynn! Like you, they bring back fond memories of summer camp for me, both as a camper and a staffer. (One of my fellow staffers actually taught me the Andes Mint trick, and I’ve cherished it ever since!) So happy you enjoyed this post and recipe!ReplyCancel

  • Phi @ The Sweetphi BlogNovember 19, 2014 - 9:29 am

    What a cute idea! I’m so glad you got to participate in the shower :)ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 3:41 pm

      Thanks so much, Phi! I appreciate you inviting me to be a part of this shower — it was a blast!ReplyCancel

  • I WilkersonNovember 19, 2014 - 5:20 pm

    What a fun take on s’mores! The baby probably wishes he or she was here (and old enough to eat these) already!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 5:27 pm

      Thanks so much! And I bet the baby wishes that — these are wonderful and oh-so-easy that whenever the baby is ready to try s’mores, they’ll be fun to assemble!ReplyCancel

  • Trisha (Stew or a Story)November 19, 2014 - 8:37 pm

    Can I make a confession? Sometimes I make smores by melting the marshmallows in the microwave for 10 seconds. Desperate times call for desperate measures. :) Smores are one of my ALL time favorite desserts and I can’t wait to try these with the andes mints!ReplyCancel

  • Lady LilithNovember 19, 2014 - 9:06 pm

    Oh my that looks so amazing
    Giving me some great ideas. Having a camping night in the living room with my girls and making these.
    Thanks.ReplyCancel

Pregnancy Update: 25 Weeks // The Speckled Palate

This post is a little late. It was supposed to be last week, but as you all should know, last week was Friendsgiving, and our days were chock-full of delicious Thanksgiving-inspired eats!

Who’s excited about another pregnancy update?

Let’s kick this thing off right with a photo montage of the growing belly!

Pregnancy Update: 25 Weeks // The Speckled Palate

How far along? 25 weeks, 2 days.

How big is baby? The size of a cauliflower. And between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. She’s growing by leaps and bounds weekly, and it’s amazing that a few short weeks ago, she was the size of a BANANA.

Total weight gain: ~17 lbs. Yes, I’ve basically doubled my pregnancy weight gain in the last six weeks. I know. NYC and its food were good to me, and when I asked my doctor if I should be alarmed about this, she said, “No.” This happens sometimes, especially when a woman didn’t gain much pregnancy weight at the beginning of her pregnancy.

Updates? We’re slowly and surely making headway on our girl’s name. We’re beginning to plan the nursery, as well.

Symptoms? Looking and feeling pregnant. Nosebleeds. Less-than-comfortable sleep. Insomnia. View full post »

  • KatherineNovember 17, 2014 - 12:24 pm

    I love everything about this. Pregnancy suits you, Erin! Can’t wait to meet Lady Baby in the not-so-distant future!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 17, 2014 - 5:34 pm

      Aww, thanks so much, Katherine! I can’t wait for you to meet Lady Baby in the not-so-distant future! (Where is the time going?! This pregnancy is FLYING!)ReplyCancel

  • Rachel BallardNovember 18, 2014 - 2:56 pm

    You know what’s funny? Your belly is smaller at 23 weeks than it was at 20. I guess it’s more that it’s a different shape than that it’s smaller because I know you of all people can guarantee me that it’s not. You look great though–and yes–there can be a significant weight gain about this time. I gained 6 pounds in a month once. Of course it leveled out after that. Just don’t let it be a regular trend and you’ll be just fine!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 18, 2014 - 6:58 pm

      It is funny because it looks a little different each week… and certainly feels a little different each week, too! It’s interesting hearing what other people think because I was SO PROUD of the bump at week 20… and then was told by a friend that I was too small, so I looked pudgy, not pregnant.

      Thank you! Yeah… I was shocked when I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s and immediately asked about it. She laughed and told me I was fine, and she’d let me know if I wasn’t. I’m hoping that won’t be a regular trend and that most of the pregnancy weight came on in these last few weeks, so we’ll see! With the holidays coming up, I can see it going either way… ;)ReplyCancel

  • katelinNovember 18, 2014 - 7:14 pm

    eeeeee you are too cute, I love it! And man the weird dreams and insomnia, I feel you there like no other. And the nosebleeds, eck. But yay, love that you can feel lady baby move & that you’re looking quite pregnant, you’re adorable. hurray!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 8:18 am

      Thank you so much, Katelin! Glad I’m not alone in the weird dreams and insomnia. And the nosebleeds aren’t so bad… just a random side effect that I’ve noticed more recently.

      Yes! It’s so fun feeling her move. I know y’all must feel the same way about Baby B! Not too much longer until both of us get to meet our babies… and that’s absolutely CRAZY!ReplyCancel

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner AND Comfort in 1: Drunken Pecan Pie Bars // The Speckled Palate

Today is the day we end our Blogsgiving Dinner, as well as November’s Comfort in 1 date! Talk about a winning combination!

I’ve made us Drunken Pecan Pie Bars to finish off this week of Thanksgiving deliciousness. It’s a twist on a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, and I have to say, this treat is well-loved in our home because we’re major fans of pecans in anything… and when you add the bourbon, they just sing.

Since I am currently not drinking, I thought it might be fun to infuse dessert with a little booze. The bourbon cooks off as the bars bake and leaves a delicious and distinctive taste that’s hard not to love.

I have a feeling we’ll be making several more pans of these Drunken Pecan Pie Bars before the holiday season is up!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner AND Comfort in 1: Drunken Pecan Pie Bars // The Speckled Palate

Now who’s ready for today’s Blogsgiving Dinner recipe line-up?

View full post »

  • Jenna @ A Savory FeastNovember 14, 2014 - 8:26 am

    Bourbon is AMAZING with any pecan dessert. This sounds so good! I want to make is ASAP.ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 14, 2014 - 9:15 am

      Isn’t it, Jenna? We love bourbon in anything, but particularly pecan desserts. You definitely can’t go wrong with it!ReplyCancel

  • Meghan @ Cake 'n' KnifeNovember 14, 2014 - 9:15 am

    I LOVE pecan pie! These bars look SO darn good. And there’s bourbon! Sign me up!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 17, 2014 - 5:24 pm

      Pecan pie with added bourbon is a favorite in our house… and these little bars are quite delicious! If you’re a pecan pie fan and a bourbon fan, this is your kind of recipe!ReplyCancel

  • Madison | Wetherills Say I DoNovember 14, 2014 - 9:15 am

    Oh! Steven would LOVE these! I’m not a huge fan of pecans, so pecan pie and these drunken pecan pie bars are all for Steven! I’ll have to try them :)ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 17, 2014 - 5:51 pm

      If y’all give this a try, let me know what you think! I’ve always been a pecan pie fan, though I can understand you not being a huge fan of it…ReplyCancel

  • EileenNovember 14, 2014 - 3:16 pm

    I love how you bypass the pie crust (always the worst part of making pie) and go straight to all-pecan goodness! Super approachable and yet clearly delicious.ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 18, 2014 - 3:06 pm

      Seriously, girl. Me and pie crust, while good friends, get fed up with one another sometimes… and sometimes, it’s just way easier to make a bar like this. Add in the bourbon, and it’s a solid dessert!ReplyCancel

  • AlliNovember 19, 2014 - 6:31 am

    Pecan pie is the hubs favorite dessert of all time! I always have to include one at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know he’ll love your twist on a classic. Looks yummy!!ReplyCancel

    • ErinNovember 19, 2014 - 7:30 am

      Pecan Pie is one of my husband’s favorite desserts of all time, too! This twist on the classic is one of our favorite additions to the Thanksgiving table — I hope y’all enjoy it as much as we do!ReplyCancel

Friendsgiving: Bacon and Baguette Stuffing // The Speckled Palate

French Bread Stuffing has been a thing in my house for as long as I can remember.

My mother makes it every Thanksgiving.

My grandmother made it every Thanksgiving.

My aunts make it every Thanksgiving.

It’s our family’s thing, and I’ve spent many hours by these women as they showed me how to make the traditional side dish, gleaning tips each time. My grandmother taught me to tear the bread up into bite-sized pieces, insisting this way was better than slicing the bread. My mother taught me how to mix it together with her hands, explaining that massaging the ingredients together gently made the texture even more wonderful.

Friendsgiving: Bacon and Baguette Stuffing // The Speckled Palate

Now, I’m from the South, and I know a lot of people here who are all about their Cornbread Dressing.

Cornbread Dressing has never been a thing at my family’s Thanksgiving table. And this year, I changed up our traditional side to see how it would go over. Because I’m a rebel like that.

Keep in mind that I hosted Louisianans for Friendsgiving. They’re used to Rice Dressing, and there was discussion over our meal about how they hadn’t tried anything like this before leaving the state.

Every family has their own tradition when it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes, and I’m pleased to announce that this adapted version of my family’s was a hit with the crowd!

Friendsgiving: Bacon and Baguette Stuffing // The Speckled Palate

Here’s how you can make this stuffing:

Bacon and Baguette Stuffing
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A spin on traditional French Bread Stuffing using baguettes, bacon, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs, cheese and broth to make an outstanding Thanksgiving side dish!
Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 24 oz. baguette, day old, toasted and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 12 oz. sugar-cured thick cut bacon
  • 3 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 5 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3 large onions, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1½ tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 cup parmesan, shredded
  • 1½ cups chicken (or turkey or vegetable) stock
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Instructions
  1. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel, but leave the bacon grease in the pan. (When the bacon has cooled, crumble it, and set it aside as the topping for this stuffing.)
  2. Add the chopped carrots, celery, onions and garlic to the bacon grease. Add the rosemary and sage, as well, and cook until the vegetables have softened and soaked in all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  3. When softened, remove the vegetables from the heat, and set aside to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a large baking dish, and set aside.
  5. Place the bite-sized pieces of the baguette in a large bowl. Scoop the cooled vegetable mixture into the bread, and measure in the parmesan, as well as the parsley.
  6. Using your hands or a large spoon, combine the ingredients.
  7. Slowly pour in a cup of the stock, using your hands to mix everything together. (I'm sure you could do this with a spoon... but using your hands really helps.)
  8. Massage the stock into the bread and vegetables, and slowly continue to do this until the mixture is combined. If it feels a little dry, add more stock. If it feels sticky and a little squishy, you're good to go! Go by feel -- you want the ingredients to be soft and soaking in the stock, but you don't want them to be sopping wet.
  9. When the stuffing has been made, transfer to the greased baking dish. Top with the crumbled bacon bits from earlier. Cover with aluminum foil.
  10. Transfer the stuffing to the preheated oven, and bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the cover, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  12. When crisp on top, remove from the oven, and enjoy warm!

 

Friendsgiving: Bacon and Baguette Stuffing // The Speckled Palate

 

Are you a French Bread, Cornbread or Rice Dressing kind of person?

The Fine Print: I received a 4-piece set of CW by Corningware, an additional piece of bakeware and a $100 gift card to host a Friendsgiving dinner. Though CW by Corningware provided the bakeware and funds to create the recipe in this post, all opinions are my own.

  • laurasmessNovember 14, 2014 - 4:35 am

    This looks incredible Erin, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving over here but I might use this lovely stuffing for Aussie Christmas! I love that it’s become a tradition in your family. Such a beautiful thing to eat, enjoy and remember. Sending you hugs, hope that you’re going well with the ‘bun in the oven’ and that you and the family have a beautiful, warm and wonderful Festive Season xxxxReplyCancel

  • Jennifer RoeNovember 14, 2014 - 9:31 am

    So unique! I love this!ReplyCancel