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How to not mess up Thanksgiving

  • Eatocracy's Kat Kinsman serves up tips on what to cook, how to cook it and how to make guests feel at home
Turkey Day is almost here, and there are steps you can take to make sure you don't screw up.

Thanksgiving! It's almost here! For all of your preparations and best-laid plans, there will probably always be a little kernel of panic in your psyche, that little voice that's all "You are gonna ruin something and your family and all of the ghosts of the pilgrims will hate you forever."

We chatted with Kat Kinsman, culinary expert and managing editor of CNN Eatocracy, and she has good news: You can't screw up Thanksgiving. There's virtually no way to do it. But, of course, there are certain steps you can take to be sure...

HLN: What, in your opinion is the most foolproof, can't-mess-it-up-if-you-tried meat to cook?
Kat Kinsman: Whichever one is the one you're most comfortable cooking. Don’t try anything new. Do the one that is totally time-tested for you. And if you're going through the trouble of making an amazing dinner for all these people, nobody will complain. But it is always better to serve the most awesome version of the meat you know you can totally nail, than to do something that you're a little bit nervous about.

HLN: What side or common fancy dish should people avoid?
KK: I've had Thanksgiving with people who announce the menu beforehand. Don’t do that! Oh my goodness. You never know what’s going to happen in the last second. That way, there are no expectations and everyone is happy with what comes out.

HLN: What is the easiest way to impress people with the smallest amount of effort?
KK: I really like whipping out something sort of unexpected, something maybe a little bit low-brow that you can pull of at a high level. Something from a community cookbook or a recipe that has a back story, that has that emotional connection to it, that can make up for any flaws in the dish. People will have this immediate reaction,  like "Oh, I use to have that as a kid!” or “I always wanted to try that!”

Another thing, if you whip out a whole cut of meat like a whole turkey, a crown roast, or a whole ham, that really makes an impression coming into the room.

Oh, and if you deep-fry anything, people are going to love it.

HLN: As far as alcohol is concerned, do you have a favorite drink for the holidays?
KK: Prosecco. That’s really pretty much what you need. It’s cheaper than champagne, but you can get fantastic stuff for about $11 a bottle. It packs the same ooh ahh and holiday magic that champagne does, and you can jazz it up with fruit or mix it with other alcohol. It instantly makes any drink a royale. And if you really want to mix it up, you can do sparkling red. I’m a huge fan. You might think of those horrible sickly sweet ones from the '80s, but it’s a totally different ball game now.

The other thing to do is make pitcher drinks, maybe ahead of time and store them in the fridge.

Read more: Bubbles, bubbles solve your Thanksgiving troubles

HLN: The big question: What do you do if you accidentally don’t defrost your turkey or you just have some sort of un-fixable disaster?
KK: Have a back-up plan! I always keep a pork shoulder in my freezer, or something that can stay frozen for a long time. Throw some beer over it, stick it in a crock pot and no one will complain about that. If you are faced with disaster, what you can do right now in the moment is delegate, delegate, delegate. The best thing you can do for the comfort of your guests is be a host, not a martyr. Don’t be afraid to have your guests participate. On a holiday like this, people actively want to help. Do not be afraid to sound the alarm, to reach out to your friends. Share the glory of having hosted with them.  

HLN: What is the best compliment that someone can give the cook, truthful or otherwise, the one thing that people who have slaved over the food would love to hear?
KK: “You make me feel so at home. It’s one of those weird emotional holidays, where people have a specific idea of what should be at that meal, and what the traditions are. I am a huge supporter of having someone at the table who has never been there before, and letting them contribute something from their particular upbringing. If it makes them feel at home, it makes them feel in the mix. If you tell somebody that it makes you feel at home, it just warms the cockles.

Read more: Even more Thanksgiving advice, from cooks, experts, and everyone in between

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