I need some help y'all. Thanksgiving dinner help. It needs to be amazing, but not day-of time intensive. Two vegetarians, two paleo, one diab

I'm running a half-marathon in the morning, and hosting Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon-to my boyfriend's parents, mine, my children, and some friends and neighbors. I am the only cook at my house, though everyone is bringing something. I need make-ahead ideas, what to tell people to bring, and whatever else you can think of to help me stop freaking out (already). Thank

Meghann Cantey


creamtea October 26, 2013
Meghann, I entertain large meals very frequently and have found that it helps to set the table in advance if you can; maybe the night before if the table is not needed for breakfast. Have your serving platters selected and in the kitchen. My mother used to cut and arrange the dessert platters and pour the milk or cream into the pitcher ahead also. The coffee cups could be out on a buffet. Do whatever you can do ahead. Sometimes I even have a printed list taped up on the cabinet above the counter so I don't forget anything, and I try to run through the instructions ahead of time to anyone helping me.
Meghann C. October 27, 2013
Great suggestions! Thank you!
ellenl October 25, 2013
My opinion? If it's not a genuine allergy people need to suck it up and behave re: food with good manners the way it used to be. You eat what is served, if don't like something be quiet and just don't eat it, and remember that you are not in a restaurant.
ZombieCupcake October 25, 2013
Sounds good I am doing a half- trail marathon let me know how you do!
lloreen October 25, 2013
Sound like a feast! Run well and enjoy!
Meghann C. October 25, 2013
All right! After much nail-biting and hair twisting, I have decided how to do this dinner. My boyfriend is doing the wine (you may have heard me say I'm not particularly discerning when it comes to wine. Beer on the other hand...) and a fancy local cheese tray for which I am making mostarda. I'll also serve some pickled veggies I made this year and some baguette. Then we'll have a roasted pumpkin soup that I will make and freeze well in advance. My mom and dad are bringing a ham and a turkey, cornbread that just needs baking, and sweet potato casserole. I will make brussel sprouts (without bacon fat this time), the crispy delicate squash that Merrill recommended, dressing, and the obligatory mashed potatoes. I have the diabetic veggie guests bringing a dessert and my rotten brother is bringing one also.
So day-of is almost NO cooking, just warming up mostly and setting out. I'll have all my serving dishes labeled, linens pressed and folded, dishes washed, and all that jazz well in advance too.
My paleo and veggie guests are cool to cheat since it's a holiday. Thank you all so much for your help!
Amanda H. October 25, 2013
This sounds like a wonderful plan -- thanks so much for letting us know! And have fun running the half-marathon!
Meghann C. October 27, 2013
I feel like a jerk... Amanda, not Merrill. Please forgive me. Thank you for your help. I think it's going to be a great day.
Kate October 15, 2013
PS - Good luck with the half! After that, you'll deserve to make something totally buttery and sugary just for yourself.
Kate October 15, 2013
I second Amanda's recommendation of the delicata squash! This might also be an easy and people-pleasing side: http://food52.com/blog/2823-finding-the-sweet-spot-carrot-puree
Pegeen October 15, 2013
People have made a lot of great suggestions for Meghann (and all the rest of us). Food awareness and preferences are much more complex than in years past. It's an interesting question for a host - dealing with food constraints - because you would of course feel badly if someone at your table seemed to be going hungry. On the other hand, guests also need to be respectful of the host's workload (so maybe, if you're worried about foods that fit into your diet, bring your own container of something you can eat, explain a reason to your host quietly on the side, and be as low-key about it as you can).

I was talking with a sibling who is a superb cook and entertains often about this as a hosting issue. Just to add another solution, he reminded me that as kids, we were expert at camouflaging whatever we didn't like under the potato skins or mashed potatoes. :-)
ATL October 15, 2013
OK, there's no need to squabble over this and it's unproductive to tell someone to grow up. Obviously some of reacted to this question differently than others. So what? There are plenty of specific suggestions. Now , calm down and please don't lecture me or pierino for a difference from your pen viewpoint.

Voted the Best Reply!

Pegeen October 14, 2013
One option, if you have objections to other people's food choices, is not to comment on them at all. It's not unlike letting people choose religions without commenting on them.
pierino October 15, 2013
Pegeen, you and I agree on most things but having guests come in with infantile demands---maybe because they read the book "Wheat Belly" is an insult to the host or hostess. I've found that my friends who have religious observances that they adhere to will tell me that up front, and diabetics as well. Less than 1% of the world's population is celiac. Great, here's a glass of gluten free water for you.
But the context here is people who are arriving at your own domicile with silly demands. What they eat or not eat at home I could hardly care less about. Am I being judgemental? Yes, in a way I am, but not based on religion or legitimate health issues. Those people are ALWAYS welcome in my house. But shoving a fad in my face is too much.
sexyLAMBCHOPx October 15, 2013
Pierno, I think you're missing the point. Meghaan is open to this challenge and bet she will have a great, delicious meal with family/friends on Turkey Day. You're not cooking, so what's it you? It's not up to you decide a person's eating habits and/or restrictions. Offer recipes and helpful suggestions - not your personal opinion, frankly who gives a rats ass what you think? Start a new question on the hotline and quit hijacking this question. I would think a professional cook and a "trusted source" could bring useful strategies, like Droplet and a great recipe suggestion by ZombieCupcake. When I host a holiday or party, there's always something like this that comes up (diabetic, gluten-free, etc.) - it's fine, because I care about them and love them dearly, otherwise they wouldn't be at my home! Grow up.
LucyS October 14, 2013
I always do creamed onions at Thanksgiving, which are delicious and should work for vegetarians and diabetics. You can make them the day ahead, too. Soup is perfect! Also, when I do stuffing/dressing I often do two batches - one with bacon fat and the turkey liver that goes inside the turkey, and one vegitarian that goes in muffin tins outside.
sexyLAMBCHOPx October 25, 2013
LucyS - Would mind sharing your creamed onion recipe?
ZombieCupcake October 14, 2013
http://food52.com/recipes/19408-vegan-lentil-shepherd-s-pie-with-parsnip-and-and-potato-mash here is a recipe that should meet everyone's needs
Meghann C. October 14, 2013
Thanks ZombieCupcake! That looks delicious!
Droplet October 13, 2013
What a wonderful host :). One other way to make things easier would be to perhaps consider deconstructed dishes of sorts. That would be an elegant way to let people eat what they wish, without having to tailor to them specifically. Perhaps do pumpkin pots de creme instead of a pie, and garnish each cup with a shortbread square (or octagon )on top. Most vegetarians are happy enough with the sides ( aren't they the best part of the day anyway ). And I'd do at least one thing right, sticking to tradition and let everyone decide whether they want to eat it or not, and thus be thankful that they have the priviledge of choice and the grace of knowing how to share one day of the year with the others.
Meghann C. October 13, 2013
Thanks Droplet. Great advice. Deconstructed certainly looks and sounds prettier than putting bread crumbs on one half and not the other!
klrcon October 15, 2013
I think deconstructed is a really clever answer to this problem and I can't believe I never thought of it before. If you think about it, there are so many dishes (salads, grains, veggies) that could be made vegan (or whatever) by simply serving cheese, nuts, sauces, etc on the side and it's a simple way of accommodating lots of different diets without having to make all manner of extra dishes. My typical approach has been to do at least one substantial vegan option for every course since vegan diets are the most restrictive and will often cover a lot of other bases. I might do a bean dip for an appetizer, a grain salad for a main, and make sure to offer fruit, nuts, and maybe good vegan chocolate with dessert. If you combined that approach with the deconstruction idea where it works, I think everyone would have plenty of choices without driving yourself crazy. Good luck!
Meghann C. October 13, 2013
I'm overwhelmed with such wonderful responses! I knew you all would have great advice for me.
None of my restricted-diet (or restrictive, as the case may be) are all that strict, and the diabetic is one of the veggies. No one is self-righteous about their dietary choices, I just know these things about them and want to try to accommodate them in some small way.
I am not going to kill myself over pleasing everyone (I'm saving that for the race), but I do want my guests to feel welcome at my table, for them to know that my thoughts included them them when I planned our feast and that my heart went into making a family holiday away from their own families special for them.
My family farms, and I am a baker; we eat whole nutritious foods prepared deliciously. Our food, our fuel, should excite us, not just to want to eat more, but to want to eat more of what makes us feel good and strong.
So though I love cooking with bacon grease, I will use butter and olive oil instead for one day. And I will make a nut flour pie crust, even though it'll probably fall apart, and use my most beautiful pumpkin for the filling. I bet it will taste great. And if most goes according to plan, at the end of the day, everyone will feel full, well-fed, and glad they came.
sexyLAMBCHOPx October 15, 2013
I think it's wonderful hosting and trying to accommodate others. Please share you're menu as you go along. No doubt everything will work out - it always does! : )
paseo October 13, 2013
Two people after my own heart. It's the self righteousness that so annoying.
ATL October 13, 2013
I'm with you, pierino. While I realize there are people who have celiac, it isn't that common despite inflated statistics. I get tired of running what feels like a cafeteria for all sorts of diets, and the vegans are particularly self-righteous. The vegans I know, however, usually bring something they can eat. I do provide for their needs up to a point, but also for the preferences of others. Those on very restrictive diets can "eat around the edges" if there are options. Sounds like you have guests who are not on restrictive diets. I doubt they would enjoy a vegan, gluten-free Thanksgiving. I do realize this is an unpopular viewpoint.
pierino October 13, 2013
Thanks for your comment ATL. I live in community where I have cooking duties and some of my neighbors spout of about "ancestors". And what I tell them is this, your ancestors lived to be forty or fifty years old if they were lucky. And this was before the discovery of vodka. They also inflict raw milk on their offspring---kind of a hippy thing. There's a reason why milk should be pasteurized and that would be listeria. The kids don't have a choice in this but they could die because their parents are fadists.
lloreen October 13, 2013
Oh, and ask your paleos if they eat any dairy at all. Some people are fanatical about trying to mimic the diet of our ancestors and others are just trying to eat low-carb and will sometimes have a little butter or cream. It will make life easier if they can flex for this one meal and eat something that has a little dairy.
pierino October 13, 2013
I have to say that the paleo people drive me nuts as do the vegans. And gluten free? Hey, it's a fad. Diabetic of course I understand and I cooperate with those who have religious observances that they must adhere to. But for paleos what am I supposed to do? Go out and kill a turkey with a baseball bat? I spent some time working as the cook for a B&B and I would get some last minute requests from some vegan and I would have to say "sure, we can do that if you don't mind waiting until noon for your breakfast." Should have told the innkeeper when you checked in. I guess my point is that if people are coming as your guests they need to respect the limits of what your kitchen can handle. And to hit you with narcissistic demands is unreasonable and frankly, rude. Again if you are orthodox, diabetic or celiac I get it. Otherwise...
lloreen October 13, 2013
Wow....a lot of people post-marathon! It sounds like everyone has slightly different dietary needs. The Paleo diet and the (ideal) diabetic diet are really similar (low carb, no potatoes, no flour, no rice, no grains, no sugar). Paleo people don't eat dairy, which is fine for diabetics and vegetarians, however. For simplicity's sake, I would make everything other than the turkey vegetarian and make as many of those dishes vegan as you can.
- Vegan Pumpkin or squash soup. This can be made the day before or even several days and frozen. You can do a lovely soup that uses coconut milk instead of cream: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/001525.html
- Sweet potatoes are also paleo and diabetic approved, so long as the recipe includes no sugar or dairy. There are lots of great vegan sweet potato recipes that use almond milk or coconut milk in place of dairy. (can be made the day before)

Add a big salad and one additional vegetable (even simple green beans with toasted almond slices) and your paleo-diabetics are all set. If I were you, I'd make the paleo folk bring their own dessert rather than going to the trouble to figure out how to accommodate them.
For the diabetic, dessert depends on how strict he or she is. My mother is a diabetic but will eat a small slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. I find that if a recipe has lots of spices, I can cut the sugar by almost half with no complaints: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/spicekissed-pumpkin-pie-recipe.html
If that doesn't work, try looking for "low carb pumpkin flan"
After you figure out your paleo menu, you can add on a few grain dishes for the vegetarians and everyone else....maybe one pot kale and quinoa pilaf http://food52.com/recipes/2434-one-pot-kale-and-quinoa-pilaf,
and a rich, vegetarian stuffing: http://food52.com/recipes/1452-what-we-call-stuffing-challah-mushroom-and-celery

If I were you, I'd plan to make the turkey, the soup, the mashed sweet potatoes, maybe a pie or two because everything except the turkey can be prepared in advance. Then you can assign people to bring salads, vegetarian side dishes, and additional desserts according to whatever your tradition is.
Amanda H. October 13, 2013
This is a great turkey recipe: http://food52.com/recipes/15069-russ-parsons-dry-brined-turkey-a-k-a-the-judy-bird
Amanda H. October 13, 2013
We will help! But first I want to admire your can-do attitude and admirable bravery running a half marathon AND hosting Thanksgiving! Here's a side dish that can be made ahead and reheated and it should work for vegetarians. http://food52.com/recipes/7840-crispy-delicata-rings-with-currant-fennel-apple-relish
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