Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks: Party Like A Pro

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sam’s Club. The opinions and text are all mine.

Ahhh… turkey day is nearly upon us and, if you’re like me, you’re about to lose your mind due to the long list of things you need to get done before the big day. Not to mention Christmas right around the corner! Well, in an effort to ease my mind and give myself a bit of time to prep I decided to head out to Sam’s Club® and search for great tips and tricks for planning the perfect Thanksgiving party.

Holiday entertaining can be the ultimate challenge.  But with affordable, gourmet selections from Sam’s Club®, you’ll be party planning like a pro for the best holiday season ever.  Get started at FoodNetwork.com/party, your one-stop source for great tips, recipes and behind the-scenes videos with Sam’s Club® Members.

You can also get tips directly from the pros! Check out Chef Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible Ambush as he ambushes an unsuspecting Sam’s Club member to help solve problems and party plan like a pro.  In this video, Robert provides his ideas for the perfect center plate protein to make sure your next dinner party is a smash!

In addition to great food from Sam’s Club, I’ve also asked bloggers what their favorite ways to help save them time (and sometimes money!) when hosting or attending a Thanksgiving party. If you’re like me and need a game plan to keep your mind at ease, read along to find out all of the great tips I discovered.

Thanksgiving Checklist
1. Create a checklist

One of the easiest ways for me to stay on track with big meals or events is to have a checklist. A place I can put everything I need to do and have the satisfaction of checking off each little box as I go along. Luckily, Tonya Staab wrote a Thanksgiving checklist featured on Blissfully Domestic that should help each of us prep and plan for this Thanksgiving.

2. Prep ahead

One of the easiest things to do when prepping for Thanksgiving is to do things in advance. Rachael Nash Wunderlich of Adventures in Wunderland suggests to make pies and put together casseroles the day before, then on thanksgiving day you just rotate the casseroles in to bake and all you really have to worry about is the turkey and potatoes.

Need help on those potatoes? Check out these mashed potato tips from Dish over Dinner. Or do what I do and make a twice baked potato casserole (recipe coming soon!) that you can prep in advance.

Prepping doesn’t stop with food. Consider setting up the buffet with dishes and decor while placing post its and labels to indicate where dishes should go on the big day. Put out anything you can in advance so you aren’t rushing to put things together on the day of the party. We also set the table a few days before too.

chocolate espresso pecan pie3. Keep drinks and dessert simple

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to keep it simple. Delegate some items so that you aren’t burdened with many different dishes. One tip Joann Wooley of Sign4Baby thinks helps a lot is to have your guests be in charge of dessert and beverages.

Now if you really love to bake and that’s your thing then consider delegating out some side dishes instead. Consider this chocolate espresso pecan pie from Baby Birds Farm for your main dessert and then have guests bring other pies to add to the mix. That way you can spend more time on other aspects of the meal.

And drinks can be kept super easy. Ask guests to bring their favorite bottle of wine and then for the kids make this easy crock pot apple caramel cider featured on Catching Up With Kate.

4. Remember food allergies

Its important to remember that not all guests can eat everything on the table. Try to accommodate guests food allergies says Melonie Gallegos. It may be a small change you make to  a recipe or simply preparing a dish without one ingredient but your guests will sure appreciate it!

Know of a guest who’s gluten or dairy free? Try this delicious pumpkin pie I made with coconut milk. Cook it up in a dairy-free, gluten-free crust and you have an allergy friendly dessert!

green bean casserole

5. Make sure to think of the leftovers

No one wants to miss out on the delicious left overs so consider buying 2 turkeys if you are hosting a big family gathering suggests Joann Wooley. Or plan to make a double batch of that favorite casserole everyone loves. And make sure to pick up plenty of goodie bags and dishes from Sam’s Club so you can send leftovers home with your guest. The one thing I always regret each year is not taking enough leftovers home!

7. Don’t Overcook the Bird!

Now I’ve only cooked two turkeys in my life. One with a brine, the other without. And the only thing I was concerned about was dry turkey. So I did a bit of research and found that cooking the turkey with it’s breast down for half of the cooking time allows the bird to cook evenly without overcooking the white meat. By flipping it back over 1/2 way through I can still get that gorgeous golden brown crisp skin everyone loves.

8. Keep it Simple

I had to laugh when a fellow blogger suggested to simply purchase everything already made. Heather Delaney Reese of It’s A Lovely Life mentioned that her best Thanksgiving ever was the year they bought everything at Sam’s Club (and split the cost with friends). Sam’s Club has a truly impressive array of holiday foods from the entire meal-in-a-frozen-box to just the sides (fresh or frozen) to just the ingredients for a homemade feast. Now I’m all about home cooking 99% of the time but when it comes to these giant meals for parties keeping it simple just makes it easier on everyone.

9. Entertain your Guests

There really can be too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to prepping Thanksgiving parties. So make sure you have something for your guests to do (or eat) while you’re finishing up.

Make sure there’s a ball game on for the guys and the black Friday ads out for those who shop early. Some bloggers may have mentioned getting into arguments with their mother-in-law. Jillian Warner of Mommy Testers tip is one we should keep at heart – keep your mother-in-law out of the kitchen! Or simply give her all of the salad fixings and set her at the table to get to work.

Thanksgiving Kiddie Table

10. Enjoy yourself!

With all of the prep and work that goes into a Thanksgiving meal, remember to enjoy yourself and the time you have with your family. Don’t sweat it if something goes wrong. Because you’re with people who you care about and just want to have a good time. Plus… if dinner is a huge disaster there’s always dessert!

How do you keep Thanksgiving stress-free?

Don’t forget to enter the “Holiday Party Planning” sweepstakes running from 10/22 – 12/31/15 and make the holidays just a little brighter! The Grand Prize winner will receive a $500 gift card and 1 year Plus membership ($100 value). 5 1st Place winners will receive a 1 year Prime membership ($100 value). 5 2nd Place winners will receive a Wolfgang Puck 10 piece Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set ($29.99 value). And 10 3rd Place winners will receive a Kitchen Aid 3pc Chef Knife Set ($15.98 value). 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Open to legal residents of the 50 United States and D.C., 21 years or older.  Ends 12/31/15.  To enter and for complete details and odds, visitwww.foodnetwork.com/party. 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sam’s Club. The opinions and text are all mine.

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape

Tracking Pixel

Today we’re sharing our tips on creating the perfect Thanksgiving tablescape. Insight for this post was provided by GE Café™ Series.

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape

With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m starting to plan out our Thanksgiving table. I love being able to create a festive tablescape for the holidays even if we don’t host Thanksgiving at our home. It keeps things fun for dinnertime. Why leave all the fun to my mother-in-law, right? And why not keep the house festive all month long? Plus if we get unexpected guests we can entertain easily without worrying about decor.

I haven’t talked much about our new home but one of the things that frustrates me is the fact that we don’t have enough room in our home, nor do we have an adequate kitchen, to host a holiday meal… yet. Luckily we have plans to remodel our kitchen and dining room so that we have the space, and appliances, to accomodate entertaining along with our every day meals.

So for now I focus on what I can control – the decor and festive tablescapes!

Last year we went with a simple centerpiece to decorate the table so this year we’ve continued with the simple approach. By using pumpkins and squash we picked up at the pumpkin patch right before Halloween, I was able to repurpose a few of our fall decor into a nice tablescape that was festive and coordinated with everything else I had.

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape - fall foliage and squash

Keep The Center Simple

Since we typically keep a buffet of food in the kitchen, the center of the table is for decorative pieces to keep things festive. By utilizing some gourds and squash and placing them along with some leaves on top of a burlap runner, I can create the look of Fall without too many pieces.  I was able to utilize the orange leaf print table cloth that I use for Halloween again for our Thanksgiving tablescape. I’ve also used a cinderella pumpkin here to serve not only as a centerpiece, but as a place to put the pie for dessert at the end of the meal.

When you want to keep conversation flowing, keep the centerpiece low. That allows guests to converse across the table. If there are a few taller pieces, make sure they’re seperated out so there are spaces between to make eye contact. Also, if you’re using candles, make sure they’re unscented. There’s nothing that’ll ruin a dinner more than a scented candle when you’re trying to eat food. 

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape - place settings

Have Fun With Place Settings

I love creating fun place settings for my guests to enjoy. This year we found some party poppers from our most recent trip to one of our favorite cooking sho that had a festive turkey theme. These are great conversation starters when guests sit down because they want to open them and discuss what they got inside. Sure they’re normally at the kiddy table but why can’t the adults have fun too? I’ve also created fun place cards and napkin rings to keep the table fun and entertaining for everyone.

While I do keep our plates and silverware near the food at the buffet, I leave a bowl for the guests to take to the buffet with them for their salads so they have room on their plate for other foods. Don’t you hate when you put the salad on your place first and it takes up a ton of room? No? Just me? I also like to leave a napkin at each place setting. I’m always that person who gets to the table after getting her food, sits down, and has to get back up to grab a napkin because I forgot it or didn’t have any hands free.

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape - centerpiece

Keep Versatile Pieces

It’s a great idea to have some key pieces from your tablescape to utilize from one holiday to the next. Consider investing in some timeless colors or colors that work with various seasons. Green can work for the fall and winter seasons depending on what you pair it with. Orange works for Halloween and Thanksgiving. And red can work from Christmas to Valentines Day to patriotic hoidays. I also keep a few basic colors of place mats as well on hand to switch it up. Cream, green, and blue are in my current rotation. 

Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving Tablescape - a simple, easy idea for Thanksgiving dinner

Now that I’ve taken care of our tablescape, I can focus on testing out a few of our favorite recipes to contribute to our holiday meals. And next year I’m hoping that I’ll be preparing a holiday meal in our new kitchen. With the research I’ve done on appliances, I’m starting to narrow down exactly what I want. And first things first, out with the electric stove and in with a gas stove!

Since I love to cook, I am aiming to purchase appliances that will last a while and keep up with my passion in the kitchen. I also have to keep in mind my husband’s love of baking. Luckily I can “Take Food Further” through the power of GE Café™ appliances. These appliances bring the expertise of the restaurant, home, during holiday timing.

With the GE Café™ Series I’ll be able to get the details designed to help the meals I make become masterpieces. From slow roasts to quick sears, from soups to sauces, the advanced cooking technology and intuitive design of our ranges can take every meal further. And boy do I need that! With each burner specialized for precise boiling, simmering and searing I won’t have to put up with the frustration that I feel with our current kitchen.

How do you simplify the holidays?

Disclosure: Insight for this post was provided by GE Café™ Series.

Party On A Ritz: Carnitas Street Taco Bites + Mini Pecan Pie Bites

We love to travel. And we love to entertain. So we’re sharing a little of both with these two recipes featuring our sponsor, Ritz. Read ahead to find out how to marry your favorite destinations all on one tablescape! 

I’m planning a fall harvest party for my family and cannot wait to share a few of the recipes I’ll be serving at the party. With the help of Ritz, I’ve created two delicious destination dishes that include one inspired by local foods here in San Diego, and another dish inspired by a Southwest Airlines destination I’m dying to travel to.

One thing these recipes have in common are that they’re both very simple to put together and the dessert can be made ahead for easy serving at the party. I love make ahead dishes! Not only do they make planning easier, timing is also easier with a few make ahead dishes at the party.

I’ve also submitted both of these recipes to be featured on LuvRitz.com in a contest they’re hosting with Southwest Airlines. I have a chance to win a $500 Southwest Airlines voucher if I receive the most votes on my recipes! How awesome is that? Read ahead to check out my recipes and don’t forget to vote for me:

Carnitas Street Taco Bites

I’ve lived in San Diego all my life. Born and raised with deep roots in this city. I’m 3rd generation San Diegan and my husband is 4th generation. It’s pretty rare to find one of us around town and we’re pretty proud of the city we live in. One thing I absolutely love about this city is the copious amounts of good mexican food available around town. From our favorite taco shops, to our go-to mexican sit down restaurants, whenever I have a craving for the food I love, I am always close by.

I don’t just head out for mexican food either. Being raised by a dad who’s half mexican and half english rubs off on you, even if that means eating tortillas and drinking tea for breakfast. And some of my relatives make the best carne asada and mexican rice out there. I remember my dad’s stories of his father making fresh tortillas for him and his siblings and how he wished he had a chance to learn how to make them too.

Needless to say, I enjoy preparing mexican inspired dishes in my own home today. And that includes street tacos! But when I’m serving food at a party I love making things bite size. So for our upcoming fall harvest party I decided to miniaturize our favorite street tacos and put all of our favorite flavors on a Ritz. All of the deliciousness in one bite!

Carnitas Street Taco Bites with guacamole

Carnitas Street Taco Bites

  • Ritz crackers
  • Carnitas, shredded
  • Guacamole
  • Onions/cilantro
Grab a Ritz, top with shredded carnitas, guacamole, and onion/cilantro mixture. Place in mouth, chew, and enjoy!
Vote for this recipe here: http://wshe.es/jDtdNsXi

Mini Pecan Pie Bites

While I love where I’m from, I also love traveling. The best part about living where I am is that it’s really easy to travel. Whether it’s by car, train, or plane. However there’s one destination I’ve never been. And that’s the southern US. I’ve dreamt of visiting but have never pulled the trigger and planned a vacation down south. But that doesn’t mean its not on our list in the near future.

And when I’m ready, I know Southwest flies to multiple destinations in the south. That means I get to keep track of Southwest sales that hit my inbox to keep an eye on flight prices. If a good price comes up I may just snag it even for a long weekend trip.

One thing I look forward to when I visit the south is the various foods I’ve heard so much about. I have a little confession to make. I never tried pecan pie until about two-three years ago when it was brought to Thanksgiving by one of the relatives. Pumpkin was usually the only option growing up so that’s what I ate. So when I had the chance ot try it, I jumped on it. And fell in love with it.

Since pecans are grown in the south, my easy no-bake party dessert was inspired by this destination. Yeah, that’s right, no-bake dessert! And bite size so it’s perfect for parties.

Mini Pecan Pie Bites with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

Mini Pecan Pie Bites

  • 2 sleeves Ritz crackers
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate morsels
  • 1/8 cup heavy whipping cream
Grab 2 baking sheets and line each with wax paper. Lay out 1 Ritz sleeve of crackers on each baking sheet.
In a food processor, chop up the pecans finely. Pour pecans into a small bowl. Add brown sugar, butter, corn syrup, and vanilla extract to the pecans and mix well until combined.
Using a teaspoon, take a spoonful of the pecan filling and place on top of a Ritz. Press down flat with the back of the teaspoon. Repeat with the rest of the crackers.
Take the dark chocolate morsels and heavy whipping cream and place in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir well to incorporate morsels and cream. Add chocolate to a sandwich bag. Cut off a small piece of the corner of the sandwich bag.
Drizzle chocolate over each mini pecan pie bite. Serve and enjoy!
Vote for this recipe here: http://wshe.es/ZgX5gTDI
Party On A Ritz
Stay tuned to see more of my fall harvest party next week! In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the tablescape I’m planning.
 
I’m not the only one who can enter for a chance to win! 

Ritz and Southwest Airlines want to know where you want to go and how you enjoy Ritz Crackers. One lucky winner will win $5,000 in Southwest gift cards! Just Tweet or Instagram your response along with #LuvRitzSweepstakes to be entered. (Example: “I want to go to #Dallas for the holidays and enjoy Ritz Mint Thins #LuvRitzSweepstakes”)

Simple Holiday Bento Box Ideas

Simple Holiday Bento Box Ideas

My kids have fallen in love with bento boxes (affiliate link). I started making them when I started packing my lunch (even though I work from home) and they look forward to seeing what I’m going to pack them next. Gone are the days of wanting the same thing for lunch every.single.day like before.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t do elaborate bento boxes for my kids lunches. Instead, I choose one thing to make special or cut up and then the rest just goes with the theme of the bento I’m doing. And I always include foods my kids will actually eat. Because even if the baby eats seaweed, the big kids refuse it.

Luckily coming up with simple holiday bento box ideas isn’t difficult. And when you really get down to basics like I do, you can turn just about any classic lunch into a cute bento idea. Just grab a protein, a snack, some fruit and a few veggies and you’re on your way to an awesome bento lunch for your kids.

You can find these simple ideas featured today on Bentgo’s blog.

How do you add a little holiday cheer to your bento box?

Pinterest Inspiration

Thanksgiving Turkey Hand Craft

Thanksgiving Turkey Hand Craft

I absolutely love the simple crafts that I can do with the kids to prepare them for the holidays, like this turkey hand craft.

This past week we’ve been working on what we’re thankful for. We’re so thankful for how much we’ve all grown over the past year. My son is thankful that he’s taller and can ride more rides at Disneyland and my daughter must be thankful for the fact that she’s found her voice because she does not want to stop talking!

And I’m thankful for the milestones and memories we’ve made over this past year. In an effort to spruce up our mantel for this month of thanks giving, I’ve returned the turkey hand craft we made last year to remind me of how much my kids have grown this past year.

Here’s how you make it: [Read more…]

13 Thanksgiving Crafts and Decoration Ideas

Turkey Day Ideas - crafts and decor projects for Thanksgiving

Yes, I know Halloween is right around the corner and I haven’t even finished my son’s Minecraft Spider costume, but my mind is skipping over to Thanksgiving already and I’m planning out our Thanksgiving meal. In addition to planning out the meal, I also want to include a few handmade crafts and decor ideas to the table and home to create a festive time for everyone! I’m already eyeing those rice krispy treat corns and our pinecone turkeys for the kiddy table dessert.

Turkey Napkin Rings - the perfect adornment to your holiday table

A few years ago we also had great response to our turkey napkin rings as well. They aren’t just for the kiddy table either! The adults enjoyed them as well.

We’re also going to help set up a fun Thanksgiving meal for my son’s school so we’ll be using a few of these crafts as things the kids can do after their party. Keeping things simple and creative will make them even more excited about what we have in store. Plus their parents will have a cute momento from that year’s holiday.

Pinecone Turkey Placecards play kids table

13 Thanksgiving Crafts and Decoration Ideas

Yellow Inspired Thanksgiving Table from Made with Happy

Disguise a Turkey from Create-Celebrate-Explore

Easy Thanksgiving-Themed Rice Krispies Treats from Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care

Thanksgiving Treat Boxes from Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care

Pine Cone Turkey Craft Place Cards from The Simple Parent

Grateful Turkey Box with Printable Note Cards from About A Mom

DIY Hanging Turkey Hands from JadeLouise Designs

Fun Ways to Eat Healthy For Kids During the Holidays from Simmworks Family

Turkey Craft for Little Kids from Family Food and Travel

Handprint Thankful Trees from Adventures in Wunderland

DIY Thanksgiving Hot Wheels from Desert Chica

Thanksgiving Place Cards – Free Printable from Home Cooking Memories

Thanksgiving Humor: Turkey as it was never meant to be from Still Blonde After All These Years

Do you decorate the home for Thanksgiving?

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Burger

This post featuring the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey burger is brought to you by Butterball Every Day. All opinions are 100% mine.

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Turkey Burger - a quick and easy way to enjoy a delicious thansgiving inspired meal in less than 30 minutes

With school in full swing, the weather cooling, and sunset coming a lot sooner in the evenings, I’ve started to crave a few of my favorite holiday meals. And what says the holidays more than Thanksgiving dinner?

Since we definitely don’t have enough time in the evenings to make a full Thanksgiving meal I decided to take an easier approach and made the ultimate Thanksgiving turkey burger for dinner this weekend.  [Read more…]

Happy Thanksgiving from Disney’s Frozen

disney's frozen thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

One of my favorite parts about Thanksgiving, besides the giving thanks and being with friends and family, are the leftovers. The delicious, tasty, easy to heat up and eat whenever you please leftovers. I love Thanksgiving leftovers so much that when I started writing up this post I realized that I had no Thanksgiving leftover recipes of my own. Because I just eat the leftovers as is! Or in a huge, Dagwood style sandwich.

So I reached out and asked my blogging friends what they do with leftovers. And I’m so glad I did. Some of these dishes may sound a little weird, and others sound absolutely amazing. But they all have one thing in common. They’re delicious! [Read more…]

Getting Ready for the Holidays with Tetra Pac

This post brought to you by Carton Smart. All opinions are 100% mine.

Tetra Pac Pacific Foods holiday items As I sit here making lists of the things we have to do for the holidays I start to panic. Is there really only two weeks until Thanksgiving? Gah! The things I have to do! Luckily my pantry is stocked with the basics. Including many items that are packaged in Tetra Pak cartons like the Pacific Foods brand items pictured above.

Now I’ve always been a big proponent of a well stocked pantry mostly in part because that’s where I go for 15-20 minute meals on weekdays, but did you realize how many amazing food products for your holiday meals you can get in a carton? Quite a few! [Read more…]



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