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Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 12:01 am

Ten ways to de-stress Thanksgiving

What, you? Worry? Nah. The big meal is a piece of cake by employing a few time- and sanity-saving tricks

You can have a memorable Thanksgiving meal with delicious food, a beautiful table and appreciative guests, but with a fraction of the usual work. If you pare your to-do list to emphasize the season’s bounty and at the same time streamline food preparation, you’ll enjoy the celebration as much as your guests do.

“For Thanksgiving it’s being together that counts. Not all this other stuff,” says Patricia L. Mote, author of Great Menus: Seasonal Recipes for Entertaining (Dicmar Publishing, 2011). Here are 10 things you can do to make your Thanksgiving feast fun and effortless.

1. Accept offers (and that means all of ’em!)
Say yes when people offer to bring food, especially if they’re doing so to accommodate their own diets, says Mote, who’s based in Annapolis, Maryland.

2. Assign your serving dishes
Set out serving pieces a day in advance and label each dish with the food that goes in it. That way you’re not wondering what to serve the salad in at the last minute. A labeled bowl also will be a reminder that you left the cranberry sauce in a container in the back of the refrigerator.

3. Decorate with food
What better way to celebrate the season’s harvest then to display a fresh bounty of  fruits, vegetables and herbs? Swiss chard, pears and apples combine for a centerpiece that’s both natural and pretty, says Kerry Dunnington, a Baltimore caterer and cookbook author. “Lots of fruit going down the table looks festive, adds Mote, who suggests turning the decorations into fruit salad for the next day’s breakfast.

4. Save a step with fresh-cut veggies
Let a supermarket salad bar be your source for chopped, fresh vegetables. Stock up on chopped onions, carrots and mushrooms that will be the base of many of your holiday dishes –  stuffing and soups, to name a few.

5. Embrace the five-ingredient recipe
Your guests won’t know or care how elaborate your recipes are, so put an ingredient limit on the dishes you’re making. Seasonings don’t count.

6. Get back to flavor basics
You can do a lot with salt and pepper. “Salt is my go-to seasoning. It brings out the flavor of anything you add it to,” says Dunnington, who uses specialty salts in “grayish, reddish and blackish” hues.

7 . Contrast textures for lively dishes  
“I love to put crunchy with tender: crunchy almonds with tender green beans,” says Dunnington, author of Tasting the Seasons: Inspired In-Season Cuisine That’s Easy, Healthy, Fresh and Fun (Artichoke Publishers, 2014). And don’t forget the dried cranberries. “Cranberries and almonds represent autumn colors,” she says.

8. Let dessert come out of its shell
Have you noticed that people skip the piecrust and eat the filling? That’s because it’s the best part. So, concentrate your efforts on the filling. Replace pumpkin pie with panna cotta, a light and creamy no-crust dessert that doesn’t need baking.

9. Take a hike  
Get guests out of the house between the entrée and dessert, says Mote. “Take a walk. Don’t worry about the dishes; they’ll get done,” she says.

10. Use Chinese restaurant-style takeout boxes to distribute leftovers
“You don’t want to give people plastic containers or your dishes for leftovers, but you can get takeout boxes from craft stores,” says Mote.

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