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10 Tips for Simplifying Thanksgiving Dinner with Marguerite Henderson

By October 27, 2021November 3rd, 2021Living Along The Wasatch Front

Marguerite Henderson likes to laugh about her first Thanksgiving in Utah—that is now, nearly fifty years later. The year was 1970, and her in-laws from Idaho unwittingly showed up with potato chips, store bought onion dip and canned yams for her first Thanksgiving table. A native Brooklynite raised on fresh produce, pasta and seafood in her mother’s Italian kitchen, it was, to say the least, a cultural shock.

Luckily for Marguerite, and all Salt Lakers, our city has come a long way in its culinary offerings. We can thank Marguerite for her own pioneering influence on Utah’s food scene: one of the first in the city to offer Italian cooking classes, decades running a successful catering company, and founder of the Avenues’ beloved Cucina restaurant. Needless to say, she has learned a trick or two over the past decades. Here are her 10 tips for simplifying a flawless Thanksgiving dinner. 

Tip 1: Figure Out What You Care Most About

Identifying what is most important to you is the first step. Are you about ambiance and decor or is it about the food? Do you want an intimate gathering, or are you ready to feed the masses? 

Make your goal, and stick to it when making time and purchasing decisions. You can’t be all things to all people. Set yourself up for success with a plan that will leave you pleased with what you’ve accomplished.

Tip 2: Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Every well-mannered guest will most likely offer to bring something to your dinner. If you want to control the look, or taste of your meal, Marguerite recommends just saying “no.”

Remember, “You are the host, and it is your meal.” 

If your guests do bring something, be clear about your expectations. Do you care about plating or have a specific dish or recipe in mind? Clear is kind. Marguerite’s guests know the only thing to bring to her Thanksgiving table is a good bottle of wine.

Tip 3: Be Organized

Make a grocery and other supply lists as soon as possible. Marguerite recommends writing everything down. It’s all in the details: what you are serving, how many you are serving, when you need to have things prepared and in the oven. Recipes, lists and cooking and warming schedules can be organized far in advance.

Tip 4: Prepare Early

Marguerite advocates for having a solid plan by the first week of November. If not by then, then at least not a day or two before! Shop and make orders early to avoid shortages and disappointment. This is especially true with supply chains still impacted by Covid disruptions. 

Word to the wise from Marguerite, “Nobody should be setting a table, or making a pie or mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving!”

Here’s a quick list of everything to do before Thanksgiving:

  • Set the table.
  • Layout serving pieces and dishes.
  • Prepare your side dishes.
  • Know how long it takes to cook your turkey, including resting times.
  • Prepare and cook your desserts.
  • Prepare your charcuterie board.

Tip 5: Focus on Your Most Important Dishes

Turkey. Stuffing. Gravy. For Marguerite, these are the trifecta of Thanksgiving. If you have other favorites, figure out what they are, and give all your attention to them.

In Marguerite’s experience, too much stress revolves around roasting a turkey. “It is essentially like cooking a roasted chicken.”

It doesn’t need much: butter, s&p, fresh herbs tucked in to taste. Marguerite likes to stuff her bird with ½ of her stuffing mix and make a casserole out of the rest. 

Photo credit Marguerite Henderson

Tip 6: Make Your Sides Easy

After you’ve figured out what you are focusing on, make everything else easy. 

“Trader Joe’s and Costco have the best easy and delicious options.”

 Trader Joe’s mashed potato and mashed sweet potato pods found in the frozen foods section can be warmed up with a bit of cream, sour cream, s&p and a pinch of nutmeg in a flash. Costco has unparalleled french haricot vert that can be steamed and tossed with butter, s&p, and parmesan cheese. You can also buy mashed potatoes at Costco, plate them elegantly and top them with parsley for a finished look.

You can also opt to cater or buy your sides. Marguerite recommends Cucina. Just make sure to order well in advance. But no matter how you get them, all your sides should be either cooked or prepped the night before.

Photo credit Marguerite Henderson

Tip 7: Don’t Stress Over Dessert

Dessert is the perfect course to pare down or outsource. Any pie can be made with a store-bought crust. Or consider using Trader Joe’s all-butter puff pastry (available between October and December only). Ice cream is always a favourite and elegant way to end a meal.

We also have remarkable bakeries in Salt Lake City with elegant and delicious options. Some of Marguerite’s favorite are:

Les Madeleines for pies, cakes or pastries.

Tulie for cakes or pies.

Fillings & Emulsions for fall-colored macarons or an assortment of gorgeous small-plate pies and pastries. 

Or ask a neighbor or friend who loves to bake if you could pay them for a Thanksgiving pie! 

Photo credit Marguerite Henderson

Tip 8: Prepare A Charcuterie Board Ahead of Time

“There is nothing better than a charcuterie board before a heavy carb-laden Thanksgiving meal.”

The board can be prepared a day ahead and stored in a cool place. Marguerite prefers Trader Joe’s for nearly everything on the board and likes to include:

Hard cheese like asiago with rosemary and olive oil

Blue cheese

Soft cheese like goat cheese

Exotic cheese like Le Délice de Bourgogne

Pate

Mixed olives

Meats: salame, prosciutto 

Figs, grapes 

Sliced apples and pears

(Liberty Heights Fresh also has spectacular figs and other charcuterie finds.)

Marguerite has a charcuterie business and is taking limited orders over the holidays. Send order requests to @mangiabene801

Photo credit Marguerite Henderson

Tip 9: Don’t Over-Complicate or Over-Carb Your Meal

Uncomplicate Thanksgiving dinner and serve dishes that are unique to the holiday.

Take Marguerite’s advice, “Don’t serve salad or anything else you can eat on a Tuesday!”

Her recommendations: seasonal roasted vegetables or soup. She also suggests passing on rolls or bread. It’s already in the stuffing! 

Tip 10: Other Miscellaneous Tips

Order your turkey fresh. Harmon’s, The Store, or a high-quality local grocer will take orders weeks to a few days in advance. Don’t be stuck dethawing a sub-rate turkey.

Warm your turkey on the grill. Don’t have enough ovens? Foil and a grill at 200 degrees for up to two hours will keep the turkey warm.

Your car trunk is an excellent refrigerator. In Utah, things are usually cold enough around Thanksgiving to keep side dishes cool in your trunk. Ideal for oversized dishes that don’t easily fit in the refrigerator. 

Don’t get caught up in an overly-complicated turkey recipe. And always save the drippings for the gravy.

Marguerite Henderson is a prominent Salt Lake City chef, caterer and restaurateur as well as a local TV personality. Follow her simple and delicious recipes and lifestyle features on Instagram.

Photo credit Utah Style & Design

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