On Nov. 1, Ocean Spray hosted its annual Thanksgiving Cranberry Bog at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, headlined by special guest Chef Curtis Stone. At the festive event, the celebrity chef chatted exclusively with Fox News Lifestyle about go-to recipes, Thanksgiving disasters, and secrets to take the stress out of hosting for the first time.
A new study shows that this year nearly 20 million Americans will be hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Do you have any “golden rules” you’d recommend for them to follow in the kitchen? As hosts?
"So the first thing you do as a new host, right, someone who’s doing Thanksgiving for the first time – you say, “I’m going to call my mum” or “I’m going to call my granny” or “I’m going to call my aunt” and try to get those family tips and tricks. And that’s really clever, so clever, actually, that Ocean Spray put together, what they’re calling the “CranMas.” You can actually call them live, and speak to them, and get sort of to get tips and tricks, and you can actually do that on Ocean Spray’s Facebook."
"The golden rule for me is to get organized, write yourself some lists, write yourself some notes, and give people jobs. So, call people that are coming, because you know, when you’re the guest, you arrive and you think, “Should I sit, should I stand, should I stay in this room, or that room?” you know, it takes a minute to feel comfortable, even if it’s family. So I think if you give them a job, like, “You’re in charge of the wine”, so if they bring the wine, and open it, make sure everyone’s got something they can do, your wheels are turning and it starts to work."
Through your years as a chef, have you ever found yourself in the middle of any funny or terrible Thanksgiving disasters?
"It wasn’t Thanksgiving but it was Christmas, it was when I lived in London, and me and my mates, we didn’t have family there, so it was a group of guys who lived together. We’d put the duck in the oven, get things cooking, and then we’d walk down to the pub and have a pint and we watch the Queens speech, it’s an English tradition. And one year we locked ourselves out. We had a second floor apartment. It took us 45 minutes to figure out how to get in, but we were starting to get very worried, because the duck was in the oven. But we managed to borrow slash steal our neighbor’s ladder, and climb up to the second floor and get in before it turned into a total disaster. The duck was a bit dry that year (laughs)."
Any trendy new cranberry recipes we should try out this Thanksgiving?
"One interesting way to use it is brine the turkey in cranberry juice. Brine is just a liquid or water that’s been salted or sweetened with whatever flavors you like. If you think about cranberry juice, it’s tart, but it’s also sweet, you add some salt, and some other flavors, and you’ve created this delicious cranberry brine. I did a chocolate cranberry bread and butter pudding, which was delicious."
"Cranberry sauce can be as simple as three ingredients – sugar, cranberries and water – but you can put in orange zest, cinnamon, spice it up – there’s a thousand different ways to use cranberries."
Any go-to recipes that a Thanksgiving table is incomplete without?
"It’s a personal thing, and I think family tradition is really important, so you should ask around, “What are the must haves on Thanksgiving?” I always think, stick with the soul of winter, fall into winter. And that’s root veggies, like carrots, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, kale, stuff like that. Stay in that season. Don’t do snow peas, that doesn’t make sense."
Any other advice or wisdom you’d like to share with our readers on how to throw a lovely, stress-free Thanksgiving? How to be a great guest?
"Get all of your “do-aheads” figured out ahead of time. Go through your list, and if you don’t have enough of these, change it. So a pie, for instance, can totally be made the day before and just baked day of. Cranberry sauce can be totally made the day before."
"If you work through it and you’re like “God, I’ve got to do everything last minute,” then you should change the plan. Being a good guest, you should bring wine, that’s what a good guest does."
Anything else you’d like to share?
"Family is everything, and the more organized you are, the more time you have with them. A little tip I like to do, I go through my recipes or even what I’m going to serve, the menu, and I write post it notes for everything I’m going to do. I pull out all the dishes, I set the table the day before, and I literally put the post it note “roast turkey” in the dish that I’m going to serve the turkey. Then I’m like “Ah! I need a knife and fork” and I get that out as well."
"Then, the day of, you don’t have to think, you just go, “Oh, boom – that happens there, there,” and it’s easy."