HOW TO: Prepare a Thanksgiving Feast With Help From the Web

Client: Mashable.com.

It’s almost time for Thanksgiving, and that means family traditions.

But what if your family doesn’t really have any, or you simply want to start your own new ones? This might be the year where it’s your turn to up the heat and put together a Thanksgiving feast.

With social media and the web, we’re lucky to have everything we need at our fingertips, through videos, online invitations, and online recipe collections. Shoot, if you want to throw a proper Thanksgiving dinner and want to avoid squabble over the wishbone, you can even order Plastic Wishbones online!

Here are all the resources — recipes, videos, menus, and tools — you’ll need to put together your own traditional Thanksgiving dinner.


Inviting Your Guests


You could always go with the traditional standby means of inviting the family via telephone, but if your family is technically savvy you’ll want to utilize the newer tradition of creating a Facebook Event or sending Thanksgiving-themed eVites.

someecardsI’m a big fan of the clever electronic cards from SomeeCards.com, and they’ve recently added the ability to use them as invitations. If you want to get more into it, MyPunchbowl.com lets you do a full-course of Party Planning and have even recently integrated Facebook and Twitter (Twitter) into their product to offer new ways to send your invites.

Got a family full of iPhone addicts? Check out the iHost Thanksgiving app, which lets you send invites, as well as plan your menu, create a shopping list, make a budget and even helps you organize your recipes.


Decorations and Drinks


I recently threw a party without any tables or chairs, but if you’re more concerned about the comfort of your guests than I am, then you might be just as interested in the decor for your Thanksgiving festivities.

Etsy.com has a Thanksgiving section which has some cute, handmade decorations, like this 5-piece Thanksgiving Pom Set or this Felt Turkey for the kids. If you’re into a more standard look, though, check out the centerpieces offered at flower retailers like 1800Flowers.com. And if you want to get really fancy, both Country Living and Better Homes & Gardens have photo collections of creative table settings and decorations. Like arts and crafts? Then do-it-yourself with Thanksgiving decor guides from HGTV which has everything from centerpiece ideas to printable place cards.

tofurkey-sodaAs for drinks, Jones Soda will personalize bottles of soda for you and your guests for $16.99 per 6-pack or $29.99 for a 12-pack. For the brave they also offer special “Tofurkey and Gravy” flavored soda. More grown-up guests may appreciate PersonalWine.com, where you can get your own private label wine — you can choose the type of wine and design your own label. What says “Happy Thanksgiving” better than your own personal vintage?

Of course, if personalized wine is a bit too much, my Internet celebrity crush, Gary Vaynerchuk, host of WineLibrary.tv, has a section called GaryVee’s 2009 Thanksgiving Wine Picks to help you figure out which wine to serve with your meal.


What to Make and How to Make It


In families like mine, we never had family recipes passed down from generation to generation. As a kid, I didn’t watch anyone cook a turkey, because for all I knew, the turkey’s name was Butterball and it was delivered by a magical Thanksgiving stork into our oven, fully dressed and stuffed.

The first time I tried to cook a turkey, it required heavy-duty dishwashing gloves and a few grown-up tears. Now that the web is chock-full of turkey video tutorials, well, my gloves haven’t yet come off, but at least the turkey preparation doesn’t require group therapy afterwards.

allrecipesOne thing that the Internet is not lacking is an abundance of “Thanksgiving Guides,” with recipes, tips and videos for all of your holiday cooking and entertaining needs. Martha Stewart’s Everything Thanksgiving guide has in-depth videos and instructions on everything from how to make a turkey (good for the first-timers) to desserts, how to lay your table, and what do do with leftovers. AllRecipes.com has a Thanksgiving Traditions guide that offers tons of recipe and menu ideas as well as a Q&A section.

Epicurious.com offers a Thanksgiving Guide, as well, with recipes and videos on how to cook everything from turkey to pies. I’d call this the most helpful of all the guides, simply because they have everything for the 101 cook. If you’ve been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 30 years, you’re probably not going to need a website for moral support anyway.

foodnetworkThe Food Network also has a Thanksgiving 2009 Guide that includes menus and recipes from all of your favorite chefs. They also have a section to submit your questions via video (or email if you’re camera-shy). Rachael Ray offers a collection of her favorite holiday recipes from the traditional — like mashed potatoes — to the original — like a spicy fajita nacho appetizer. Real Simple pitches in with a great selection of Thanksgiving lists, how-tos, and checklists. Don’t miss their how to guide on fixing common holiday problems.

If you’re a collaboration junkie, SpringPad (springpad) has put together a Springsgiving page that unites food bloggers all in one place to share their favorite Thanksgiving dishes.


Videos That Will Help You Survive the Holiday


If you’re not home to watch the Food Network during the day, don’t fret, because Epicurious has an invaluable set of videos that teach you all sorts of cooking basics. The Food Network’s guide is also stuffed full of helpful videos. Another video gem is Food2.com’s How2 Holidays collection.

martha-videoIf you’re really committed to blowing tradition out of the water, then how about deep-frying your turkey? eHow.com has an entire series for that (as well as basting, cooking, and other topics). I’ve never deep-fried a turkey before, but after watching these videos, it seems a whole lot more gratifying than waiting six hours for an oven turkey.


iPhone Apps and Portion Calculators


Maybe way back in 2002 you had to be defeated in your independence and call Mom for pointers on how to pick out the right-sized bird — but not this time!

butterballIf by some kind of miracle of common courtesy, all of your guests have RSVP’d and you know the exact amount of people that you’ll be serving on Thanksgiving, then Butterball has you covered with their portion calculator (found right on the home page). You can tell it how many adults and kids you’ll be feeding, plus your preference on leftovers and whether you’re heavy or light eaters and the calculator will come back at you with how many pounds of turkey to cook, and how much stuffing it’ll take to fill the bird.

Now consider that everyone has RSVP’d and you have a mix of vegetarian eaters, traditionalists, and dieters all at one table. Disaster, right? Not when you have the web in your arsenal. Either of the interactive menu planners put together by Epicurious or Bon Appetit will help you figure out what to make.

plannerAnd of course, if you have an iPhone, and it’s Thanksgiving — there’s an app for that. Don’t have a stove, microwave or standalone kitchen timer? No worries, the Chef’s Timer iPhone app lets you set up to four different timers at one time for all of your side dishes and turkey cooking needs.

Don’t want to waste countertop space with a laptop or your printed recipes? The Turkey Recipes iPhone app gives you a collection of recipes as well as the ability to submit your own and create a shopping list. Still trying to save counter space, but desperately need those video tutorials? Expert Video: Holiday Cooking offers video tutorials for recipes right on your iPhone.

And for all of those who couldn’t make it to your (totally tech savvy) Thanksgiving feast, you can just go ahead and tweet a few good TwitPics, or upload a new Flickr (Flickr) set and over-tagged Facebook (Facebook) album showing them all the fun they missed!

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