thanksgiving entertaining: tips, wine & more

Obviously, you’ve caught on that I like to go out to eat. But for as much as we enjoy going out (and writing about it), I absolutely love to entertain. Whether it’s a couple of friends for a last-minute weekend dinner, or as it’s often the case with us given the size of my family, hosting a larger gathering like a holiday. There’s just something about spending the day cooking and prepping then sit back and watch guests eat, mingle and drink. I’m always on the lookout for cool ideas to help with my gatherings. Whether it’s for inspiration, ways to simplify the work or to add to the decor, I have a drawer full of thought starters and ideas I’ve tore out of magazines or have learned from friends’ parties. With Thanksgiving next week, here are a couple simple ones in case you’re playing host. And if you have a favorite entertaining tip, please share!

And speaking of the holidays, perhaps you’d like to improve your cooking skills or learn a new dish. If so, leave a comment, any comment, between now and Friday for a chance to win a class for two to Viking Cooking School, courtesy of Heinen’s (valued at $200). There are no restrictions; you can pick any class you’d like.

  • When planning the menu, I always look for dishes that can be made/prepped ahead of time, then  finished right before the party. And for anything that I have to fry, like potato pancakes (I make these a lot for parties), I fry the night before then heat day of so the house doesn’t smell.
  • Speaking of smells, if I do have to fry something, or using a strong spice that I don’t want to overpower the house (like curry), I leave out small dishes of vinegar to soak up the odors while cooking.
  • I have a lot of random, mismatched wine and champagne glasses. For an easy centerpiece, I flip about 5 over, different sizes and shapes, and use as candle holders. Another easy option is to take a shoe box, wrap in white paper (or cool fabric) and fill with seasonal fruit, twigs and/or leaves.
  • I like using pears as place cards because of how it looks on the table. Just put the guest’s name around the stem.
  • Another last-minute centerpiece idea is to take a mirror (preferable one with an ornate border) and place on the table. Place simple glass votives on top. If no votives then cupcake foils can be used as disposable ones.
  • Carving pumpkins isn’t just for Halloween. Instead of faces, carve a bunch of circles, straight lines, etc. The result will be a cool design when lit for the porch, fireplace, etc.


This post was sponsored by Heinen’s. Here are some additional ideas courtesy of the team at Heinen’s, as well as their Thanksgiving wine guide:

  • Heinen’s offers a lot of pre-chopped items, including celery and onions, to helpHeinen's Logo PMS 350 & 209 speed holiday prep.
  • Want a unique first course to your Thanksgiving dinner?  Try Heinen’s new Fresh Pumpkin Bisque.  Creamy and sweet pumpkin puree that is gently blended with light cream, sweet potatoes and a delicate medley of herbs and spices.
  • Heinen’s Pumpkin Pies – be sure to order your pies early, fresh baked in the stores daily.
  • Heinen’s Pumpkin Rolls – made from scratch in our own Heinen’s kitchen, our Pumpkin Rolls are moist cake with just the right combination of pumpkin and spices. The filling is a blend of our own butter cream and cream cheese icing.
  • Two Brothers Brownies – decadent and delicious, they will give your guests something to be thankful for.
  • Heinen’s Artisan Breads – Baked throughout the day so no matter what time of day you shop; you have fresh, out-of-the-oven bread.  Heinen’s is committed to the craft of quality artisan bread that contains only natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives.  Enjoy our variety of over 15 offerings.
  • Heinen’s Homemade Hors d’oeuvres – Do you want in on the one of our best kept secrets?  Three words – Heinen’s Homemade Hors d’oeuvres.   You will love these, they’re elegant and delicious.  We offer an extensive array of flavors and selections that make entertaining easy and add festivity to any occasion.  All of our hors d’oeuvres are prepared fresh in our own kitchen.  So, even if you’re an accomplished host, why not let Heinen’s be your chef.  Start something delicious at your next get together with Heinen’s hors d’oeuvres.
  • Heinen’s Shrimp – We by far offer the best shrimp on the local market. It’s pond raised in Ecuador and cooked right in our stores several times a daily to ensure freshness—a direct contrast to previously cooked and then frozen cocktail shrimp.  Serve it with our famous family-recipe Heinen’s Cocktail Sauce that we make right in the stores too.
  • Heinen’s Party Platters – For a quick no-fuss party.  Heinen’s Party Platters offer delicious options for any occasion including holiday parties or family get togethers.  Ask a Heinen’s Prepared Foods or Deli Associate for assistance in ordering a Heinen’s Party Platter.

Thanksgiving Wine Guide

  • 2007 Vin Hunter Pinot Noir // The hunt to find a truly great Pinot Noir to put my name on is finally over, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait!  The grapes for this silky and sexy wine were grown in one of the best regions in Cali for producing Pinot Noir, the Sonoma Coast appellation (wines from the neighbors here start the meter running at 40 bucks a bottle).  Instead of telling the tale of exactly what was involved to procure such a wine at such a tremendous price, I’d rather expound simply on one point – you will not find a Pinot Noir with this pedigree and deliciousness at this price ever again.  It ain’t bragging if you can do it, and such a statement is more truthful than it is bold.  Complex flavors of dried cherry, earth and spice are packed on a juicy and lingering frame that begs for food (insert gobble, gobble here).  I really can’t wait for you to taste this utterly delicious wine! 
  • 2008 Vin Hunter Chardonnay // Wine, like real estate is all about location, location, location.  Simply put, the more specific a growing area a wine is grown in, the more expensive and unique the wine will be.  You can search long and far to find a Chardonnay that hails from such a prestigious location (Sonoma’s Alexander Valley) that sells for such a great price – in fact, don’t waste your time, there’s really nothing else that can compare to this one!  What’s most impressive about this vibrant white is that while there was fermentation and aging of a portion of the wine in oak, the wine still retains zippy acidity that preserves a mouthwatering freshness.  The oak contributes flavor, not heaviness, and marries perfectly with ripe apple and tropical notes.  This wine has everything except a hefty price tag.  Get ready to look like a rock star when you serve this to your guests on Thanksgiving.
  • 2005 OVZ Zinfandel // While powerfully flavorful, still manages to not dominate food flavors.  In fact, this one is so food-friendly that we marked it long ago as a ‘great Thanksgiving wine.’  Ripe berry flavors and hints of black pepper are supported by chewy yet smooth tannins on this classically-styled Lodi Zin.
  • 2008 Genesis Viognier // The Heinen’s Wine Consultants discovered this ripe and delicious white during a visit to the Hogue Cellars in Washington State a few months ago.  The wine had been only available at the Hogue tasting room, but after some serious arm-twisting we were able to latch onto a few precious cases.  We are excited that our ‘bargaining skills’ will allow us to share this hugely aromatic, complex and fun wine with our customers.  We hope you enjoy our discovery. 
  • Wild Rush Pinotage // After years of searching (and a lot of tasting) we are please to introduce the wines from Wild Rush that you’ll find exclusively in BIN 75.  This South Africa winery produces some of the most extraordinary wine values imaginable – so good in fact that we have added our BIN 75 logo to the bottles to acknowledge that they truly are among the best wines money can buy!  Wild Rush Pinotage can be found in the Light Bodied Red category, and is a densely-colored treat is loaded with red fruit flavors on a smooth frame. 
  • Perfect to bring as a host gift // Vin Hunter Exclusive Buy – 2003 etoilé Rosé by Chandon  has scored 90+ point scores from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, is made by one of this country’s most famous Sparkling Wine producers and is the best Sparkling Wine value in America that’s available only to Heinen’s customers.
  • Fact is, this magnificent bottle of Bubbles is one of the best values Vin Hunter has ever had the pleasure to sell. He doesn’t have nearly enough to meet the demand once the word gets out. So don’t miss your opportunity to grab this unprecedented value on a great Sparkler while supplies last. ($19.99 Vin Hunter Exclusive Price – save $26)


  1. Posted November 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I’d love to win a cooking or grilling class for me and my Dad!

  2. Joe
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Cooking School would be rocking!


  3. Carrie
    Posted November 19, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I love to entertain as well! I try to prep ahead and make things in stages.

    For more casual gatherings, I serve a bunch of appetizers so that there’s plenty of food, but I don’t really cook. Antipasto, pickled things, olives, meats, cheeses, spreads, fruits, veggies, nuts, loafs of bread – nicely arranged and thoughtfully paired. I also get plenty of chocolates, truffles, and pastries (from a decent grocer or bakery) – Trader Joe’s is great for inexpensive and elegant sweets. Plenty of beautiful and tasty things to eat but very little work for me : )

  4. Posted November 19, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    I love Viking Cooking School. And for the record, my dessert of choice is the Mustard Seed’s pumpkin bread pudding. It is amazingly addictive.

  5. Posted November 20, 2009 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    I am not going to pretend I am leaving a comment here for any reason other than being entered in this drawing. The End.

  6. Cindy
    Posted November 20, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for the Thanksgiving tips! I am so glad I discovered your excellent blog!

  7. Michelle V
    Posted November 21, 2009 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for entering and sharing additonal ideas. A winner was randomly chosen and it’s Beth, #41. Congrats and enjoy the class!