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10 Thanksgiving Dinner Tips for Beginners

Ambitious amateurs unite! Read these 10 tips on how to produce a successful T-Day meal.

I love cooking. I find it soothing. Comparable to yoga, even. So, when others stress about the nature of cooking a dinner that includes more than one course and, specifically, the details of Thanksgiving, I wonder what the dealio is because I relish the moment. 

But I can understand if cooking or hosting Thanksgiving dinner—arguably one of the biggest feasts of the year for Americans—can produce a bit of anxiety.

So, being a good public servant/journalist, here are my 10 tips to consider before the Day of Thanks rolls around:

1. Dare to be different: Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be traditional. Maybe you'd rather have fried potatoes than mashed. Maybe there's a specific restaurant that already has the most amazing cranberry sauce—better than anything you could ever produce and you'd rather purchase it there. It's OK to have an atypical Thanksgiving dinner.

2. Plan ahead: Have your list of courses done before the day prior to Thanksgiving. Look up recipes, ask others for advice (even feel free to holler at your favorite reporter!), and plan out the meal accordingly and early. This will give you plenty of time to decide whether you can produce a certain meal or not. Best of all, it will give you plenty of time to return to the grocery store if needed.

3. Treat it like a production if needed: I'm big on managing and delegating where necessary (just ask the Poway Patch team). I know that I cannot be the best at everything and others may produce better results—it's reality. So don't be shy about delegating assignments to your hubby, relatives and friends—whoever is coming to your Thanksgiving dinner and even if just means scooping up a case of pumpkin ale (and if you've never had this, please let me know so I can look at you with my sympathetic face). 

4. Schedule everything: There's a lot to put on that dinner table on Thanksgiving dinner so be your own T-Day scheduler and write down the exact times for everything with padding in between. If it takes you 30 minutes to prep a sweet potato casserole, plan for 45 minutes instead. Any extra time will give you the minutes you need to breathe. 

5. Know that you're not Martha Stewart: Be reasonable with the expectations you have on yourself and don't think you can do everything. I've never made a pie crust before and I can say I'll likely never try. I am OK with purchasing the $2 crust at the store because I know I'll still have an awesome pie. Setting realistic expectations, especially when cooking for the first time, is the way to go. After all, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is more than enough and it's not cheating to simplify one dish.

6. Use the 24 hours before Thanksgiving Day: Think about what you can do to prepare yourself for the next day. Maybe you make your dessert the day before—especially if it's something as simple as a cheesecake or pie. Take advantage of that freezer! Even just organizing all the items appropriately in your refrigerator or on your kitchen counter can go a long way. 

7. Practice: If you're completely new to this whole Thanksgiving deal, try out a few of the side dish recipes beforehand to make it completely foolproof. If you've made the dish before, things will come easier on Game Day. 

8. Appetizers, aka time savers: Be prepared to serve light appetizers to your guests. This is especially important if you find yourself needed in the kitchen when your guests arrive. The appetizers will hold them over as you make your way toward completing the main courses and sides. 

9. A turkey is no joke: A turkey is a huge undertaking and if this is your first time doing more with a turkey than just eating one, you need to study up. Think about how many people you're feeding to choose the size of your turkey. Then, be sure to study up on how long it will take to thaw and cook the birdie. It is no easy take, so the more you study the better. And don't forget to get a meat thermometer—I promise it's like God's helper. 

10. Find inspiration in the people you're cooking for. I'm often asked why I love my kitchen and the answer is simple: I love cooking for people I love. I love seeing how happy a person is when he or she tries my good eats and the knowledge that I invested time into a meal because I love them so darn much. And if there were ever a time to cook for people you love, it would be Thanksgiving—a time when we can give our thanks that they are in our lives. 

... And if the meal is delicious, which it will be, it's a guarantee they'll be in our lives forever. 

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