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November 20, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Last-minute Thanksgiving tips from an expert

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Take it from a professional: There are ways to make Thanksgiving even better.

Chef and caterer Lisa Dupar will seat 18 people around her own dinner table on Thursday, in addition to her T-day work at Redmond’s Pomegranate Bistro, which she co-owns. She told us last week to make the bird extra-early, and now here are her last-minute tips for making the day tastier and more relaxed:

For good gravy: Make it as early in the day as you can. “This is the catering brain [saying], always give yourself an extra hour or two for emergencies.” Allowing extra time lets you reduce the gravy and concentrate the flavor if it’s too thin or bland. (A spoonful of glace de viande, available at markets like Whole Foods, also works wonders to add flavor.)

How to avoid a dry bird: “I seal it in an aluminum foil tent that is completely sealed, [keeping in] all that juice. I’d do a really hot blast–for a 12-pound turkey I do about 1.5 to 2 hours in that tent…and then I turn the oven down to 325 degrees, 350 degrees, take the foil off, and just roast it the last 1.5-2 hours with the tent off and baste it so that the skin gets nice and golden brown.”

Emergency advice: Be flexible. Dupar once dropped a pecan pie right before dessert. “It broke into bits. The part that didn’t hit the floor we scooped into coupe glasses and served with ice cream. It did look like a dessert that was planned that way, even though it wasn’t.”

Delightful decorations: Create simple, natural decorations by clipping a few red twigs and berries and pairing them with autumn leaves. Small is good. “If you have this huge centerpiece then you can’t put your platters down on the table anyway,” she said. Gourds, squashes and small pumpkins make nice centerpieces with leaves and candles. Three simple candleholders with burnt orange or brown pillars would look nice too. Oh, and set your table the night before–it’s one more thing out of the way.

Last-minute apps: Don’t look to cheese as an emergency appetizer – it’s too filling. Here are a few of Dupar’s fast favorites:

1. Throw some of your favorite store-bought olives into a Pyrex bowl with olive oil, a rosemary sprig, and a sprinkle of yellow mustard seeds. Warm them before guests come and serve with little picks and a bowl for the pits.

2. Smoked oysters or sardines on crackers.

3. Take advantage of the season’s plentiful mushrooms. Clean chanterelles, creminis, and black trumpets and saute them in butter, thyme leaves and salt. Serve warm in a bowl with crackers.

4. Arrange tender celery hearts and sliced fresh fennel together for a crunchy start to dinner. Serve them with your favorite dip.

Spice it up: Dupar whips cream Thanksgiving morning and adds a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg and powdered sugar. It’s a little extra touch, ready in the fridge to “upgrade somebody’s after-dinner coffee” or hot spiced cider or the traditional pies.

Say ‘yes’ to help: “People want to contribute to your dinner. You do not have to be Superman or -woman by putting the whole dinner together yourself,” even if it’s accepting wine, ice or flowers. And if you’re the guest, believe that even the best cooks appreciate your contributions. “Chefs are usually the least picky eaters…I just think we are really appreciative when somebody brings something, because you know what they did to make that happen.”

Photo of Lisa Dupar with Thanksgiving pies by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

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