I am sure many of you are thinking, “Sweet heaven, the holiday season is here and I am not prepared!” We here at Life’s a Feast are no different. The struggles and challenges of daily life leave many of us feeling tremendously overwhelmed at the prospect of having to piece together Thanksgiving dinner or even plan a holiday party. Often, we have relatives and friends that come in to celebrate the holiday and that means having food on hand for additional people when you barely have time to handle the chaos of daily life. So this month, we thought we would write about how to de-stress the holiday’s a bit with simple tricks and a guide to “how much?” for those who may be hosting a party or Thanksgiving for the first time. We often wonder just how much food we need for a cocktail party of 30, or what size turkey feeds 16 people? So let’s break it down and ease that holiday stress.

Let’s Talk Parties
When planning a cocktail party, the first thing you need to think about is cocktails. For anyone who doesn’t have a fully stocked bar to begin with, going out and purchasing everything to create a well stocked bar is no cheap feat. Creating a signature cocktail is a great way to streamline your bar purchases. Then you can supplement with beer and wine.

Remember, you are hosting a party not breaking the bank to assure each guest has everything they want. You can let your friends know what you will be providing and if they want to enjoy something else, they can certainly bring it themselves.

When making the signature cocktail, consider your crowd and your time frame. You will already have a pretty good idea of who will drink the cocktail and who will only drink beer. For those drinking the signature cocktail, anticipate two to three drinks per person, on average. Streamline your bar ever further, by making a large batch of your signature cocktail and put it in a large serving container so people can help themselves. We like the two-gallon Mason Ball jars with the spigot. Just be cautious of adding fresh fruit to those jars, as they often clog the spigot. Cranberries are a good fruit to use, as they float on the top.

As for the beer and wine, choose one light beer and one micro-brew or import. Light beer drinkers will typically go through four to five beers. With micro-brews, anticipate three to four. For the wine, we suggest having a chardonnay and Riesling to cover white wine drinkers. This gives you a sweeter wine and a dryer wine. For red, keep it simple and choose a nice middle of the road merlot or pinot noir. Wine drinkers usually will have two to three glasses of wine. A bottle of wine has four and a half glasses of wine (that is a six ounce pour). Depending on the number of people at your party, buying by the case may be your best option.

These rules of thumb are the same for your Thanksgiving dinner, as well. You know your crowd best, so make adjustments as needed, but the guidelines are the same. Except maybe for the family members who drink Busch Light… double the numbers.

Signature Cocktail Ideas:

Red Apple Crisp
For 20 servings
20 oz. of apple whiskey
10 oz. of spiced rum
10 oz. of Southern Comfort
6 oz. cranberry juice
20 oz. club soda

In large pitcher or container with spigot, pour first four ingredients together, stir well. Pour club soda in and stir again. If using a container with a spigot, add fresh apple slices and cranberries to container for decoration and flavor. If using a pitcher, keep fruit on the side, to avoid fruit bombs spilling out when pouring.

Pomegranate Cosmopolitan
For 24 servings
8 cups of vodka (Smirnoff is my go to for mixed cocktails)
4 cups orange liquor
4 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups lime juice (preferably fresh squeezed, about 12 limes)
Lime peel strip to garnish

In a large pitcher or container with a spigot, combine all ingredients and stir well. Refrigerate if possible, until service. Serve in a martini glass. Have lime twists on the side for service.

Apple Brandy Cordial
For 12 servings
2 1/4 cups brandy
1 1/2 cups apple juice
1 cup Cointreau
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters
Apple slices for garnish

In a large pitcher, combine all ingredients and stir. Serve over ice with apple slices

Cocktail Party Food
How much food do I need for my event? There are a few things to think about when planning a cocktail party with food: First, what time is my party? Will it be held during dinnertime hours? And who is my crowd? Is it a group of your girlfriends, or is it with co-workers and their significant others?

The time of the event and who will be invited will help you determine how much to prepare. If the party is outside of typical dinnertime, five or six hors d’oeuvres will do, planning on each guest eating one or two of each one. If the party is during dinner hours, you want to have enough food that it constitutes as a meal. We suggest eight hors d’oeuvres, three hearty, three lighter/dips, and two sweet/dessert. If you have a lot of men at the party, they tend to eat more and will appreciate more substantial foods, whereas women tend to eat less and lighter foods.

There are quick and easy ways to create a beautiful spread for your guests while barely messing up your kitchen. Think simple, but elegant. Easy, but delicious. Meatballs in grape jelly is not only a hit, but they are tasty and super easy to prepare. Throw it all in a crock pot and walk away. Puff Pastry cups from Pepperidge Farms – these are a gift to all entertainers. Bake them and fill them with savory or sweet goodness and your guests will be thrilled. Don’t be afraid to mix it up and challenge people’s thoughts of party food. Make a batch of your favorite soup, like butternut squash, and serve it in shot glasses topped with cream. Bring back classics like green goddess dip with vegetables or warm artichoke spinach dip served in a sourdough bowl. And easiest of all, take the classic meat and cheese tray and give it a modern spin.

Our local HyVee on Locust has recently opened a charcuterie (shar-coo-ter-ee) department, and for those of us whose world revolves around all things food, we all did a united happy dance. Charcuterie is a branch of cooking that is devoted to prepared meats, such as sausages, hams, bacon, pâtés, and other goodies with a strong prominence on pork. The options are plentiful and equally diverse in flavors and characteristics.

For many who are not familiar with charcuterie, the fancy name and strange sounding meats may seem intimidating, but just look at it as you did when you stepped away from the cubed cheddar and put out a round of warm Brie instead. Neither is bad, but the Brie just takes it up a notch and the fine people at the charcuterie department are there to help you pick just the right meats for your party. They will even let you try it first.

HyVee keeps the charcuterie meat geared to our community; you have ample choices, but nothing too crazy. They offer six types of prosciutto (pro-shoo-toe), an Italian style dry cured ham. Many of you have had prosciutto, most likely wrapped around a piece of melon. Prosciutto has a sweet and salty taste that pairs well with fruit and bread. The great part is, there is a local Iowa company, called La Quercia, that focuses on artisan salumi (Italian cold cuts) and dry cured meats from humanely raised, heritage bred meats – great quality meats that are locally raised and processed.

Speck is in the prosciutto family, but it is cold smoked versus being dry cured. The Speck Americano they carry is cold smoked over Applewood, which adds a depth of sweetness and a touch of that open fire taste. They have a variety of salami, including Italian dry salami and Genoa salami, two of my favorites. Soppressata (so-pray-sah-tah) has a whisper of chile de arbol, fennel, and sherry wine, giving it a bit of a kick with a sweet finish. Placed on a piece of crusty bread with a smear of stone ground mustard, the party has begun.

For the more adventurous, try coppa, a dry cured pork collar with pimenton-based spices. There are many things to check out at the charcuterie counter, so go and check them out and tell them the ladies at Life’s a Feast sent you.

So what do we do with all this meat? Create a beautiful charcuterie platter and cheese platter to not only dazzle your guest, but keep them satiated. For your charcuterie platter, you want to think two ounces of meat per person, served with crackers, rustic country bread, or a baguette. You want to do a variety of meats, such as a prosciutto or two, one or two types of salami, and a ham/pork meat. For example, a charcuterie platter with Prosciutto Americano, Speck Americano, soppressata, and coppa gives you a nice variety.

Now, to add to your meats, you will want a nice spicy stone ground mustard, an Italian olive blend, mixed nuts, and fresh fruit such as grapes and sliced pears. If you have a large enough platter, you can mix your cheese onto the same platter, or create a separate one, incorporating the same sides of mustards, nuts, and fruit.

When picking cheeses, you want to cover all bases: mild hard, semi-soft, creamy, and pungent. Some suggestions are Manchego for the mild hard, Triple Creme Brie, sharp aged white cheddar, and Stilton or Huntsman for a pungent cheese. You will stick with the two ounce per person guidelines for the cheese as well. You can create little signs to stick in the cheese so guests know what they are eating.

For more recipes and ideas, visit our website LifesAFeastLLC.com

Serving Thanksgiving Dinner
How much turkey do you need for your Thanksgiving dinner? The rule of thumb is a pound per person. If you are really big on leftovers, or need to make a batch of turkey and dressing sandwiches for the weekend, figure a pound and a half. If you have 14 people coming for Thanksgiving, you will want to get at least a 14 pound bird, up to a 21 pound bird for plenty of leftovers and late night snacking. Keep in mind, any bird under 12 pounds will have a smaller meat to bone ratio and you will want to plan on two pounds per person.

Now, unless you are lucky enough to buy a fresh turkey, you will need to thaw this bad boy and plan accordingly. There are two safe methods: the best is to let it slowly thaw in the refrigerator; the second best is to let it slowly thaw in cold water. Refrigerators can vary based on the temperature and fullness of the fridge. The basic rule in the fridge is to allow 24 hours for every four to five pounds of bird, and 30 minutes per pound in cold water. So, for a 14 pound bird, three to four days in the fridge or six to eight hours in cold water.

For cooking the turkey, the basic rule is 20 minutes per pound. But, things change when you stuff your bird. On average, for a 14-18 pound turkey, you are looking at 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 hours for an unstuffed turkey and 4 to 4 1/2 hours for a stuffed turkey. We strongly suggest you get a meat thermometer and cook the bird until it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees. If it is stuffed, that is the temperature you want on the deepest part of the stuffing. For unstuffed, you want the temperature of the innermost part of the turkey’s thigh to be 165-185 degrees.

How much do you need for side dishes? Again, you know your family best, but on average, here are some good guidelines, increase accordingly for leftover desires:

Stuffing: 1 ounce of dry stuffing per person

Potatoes: Err on the side of more. We suggest a 1/2 lb. per person (8 lbs. for 16 people)

Sweet potatoes: 6 lbs. of sweet potatoes for 16 people

Green Beans: 5 lbs. of beans for 16 people

Pie: 2-3 pies should do you well, as each pie is cut into 6-8 pieces

These tips and ideas should help you throw a great party/dinner. Happy Holidays and Happy Thanksgiving. We will see you next month with some great December trea

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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