Thanksgiving tips and tricks

thanksgiving-keep-calmThanksgiving is upon us, and if you’re the one hosting this year you might already be in a panic. Step one for anything successful holiday feast is simple: stop panicking.

A good place to start for a successful Thanksgiving dinner is set the tone. Always start with some great music in the background. You might want to start the Christmas music early, because let’s face it, Christmas music is the best ANY time of year, or go for some festive oldies the grandparents will love. If you have a vinyl record player, you can even make those oldies authentic! Who knows, maybe your guests will even dress in theme for added fun.

There are a number of ways to sweeten the smell of your home as soon as your guests step in the door. Warm some vanilla in a pan, or get creative with orange rind and cinnamon. Anything to get those stomachs growling.

One word: Plasticware. Stock up on as much as you can from the dollar store and send your guests home with leftovers in dishes they never need to worry about returning.

turkey-apron-webWhen I host family meals, I love a cute apron. I know, I know, it’s 2015. But come on, they’re adorable, and nothing says “I’ve been slaving in the kitchen all day AND look adorable” more than an amazing apron.

Try a fun craft for the kids while they wait for dinner to be served. I love the idea of a sugar cookie bar. Let the kids (and adults) frost sugar cookies with a variety of colors and sprinkles; plus, it’s extra incentive for them to clean their dinner plates.

One overlooked crockpot use is beverages. Homemade hot chocolate or some simmering apple cider will definitely warm those tummies and bring out the holiday spirit in everyone.

And of course, prepare everything you can ahead of time. Use your freezer to store prepared food until you’re ready to complete it. Then after Thanksgiving, stock up the freezer again with leftover turkey and other ingredients that you can turn into a delicious soup on a cold day.

The Food Network asked 50 famous chefs for their best Thanksgiving tips, here are a few gems:

“Incorporate some games into the day! Whether it’s a backyard touch football game or a beanbag toss, have a few things going on so people aren’t crowding the kitchen.” Richard Blais, The Spence, Atlanta

“As my Thanksgiving crowd grew, I started doing the meal as a buffet. I put the food out in the kitchen and people walk through and take what they want. They gather in different areas to eat and mingle, and it’s so much fun.” Marc Vetri, Vetri, Philidelphia

“Serve cranberry sauce in hollowed-out apples to add some color to your dinner table” Wolfgang Puck, Spago, Beverly Hills

Above all, once those bellies are full is the perfect time for everyone to remember exactly what they are thankful for. Your meal will be amazing, but they will be grateful for so much more.

9 tips to stay safe while shopping online

MP900390556If you have holiday shopping to do, you may be considering doing some of it online. Browsing the Internet and shopping online comes with some risks that you need to know how to navigate. A large percentage of viruses, Trojans, malware and adware are created by fraudsters trying to trick you into revealing your credit/debit card or banking information. They often rely on a computer user having unsafe browsing habits. Here are some security best practices to help you safely shop online:

  1. Only conduct business with reputable vendors.
  2. Use a credit card for transactions rather than a debit card, and check your statements for fraudulent transactions.
  3. Keep your software and your Web browser up to date.
  4. Use anti-virus software, and keep it updated.
  5. Don’t click on advertisements – they may have nasty backdoors, adware, trackers and cookies that will eventually cause problems on your computer.
  6. Be wary of emails that advertise sales or bargains – consider browsing to the main site without clicking a link in an email.
  7. While making purchases, make sure there is a padlock in the browser window or https://at the beginning of the Web address to signify that it is a secure site. If there isn’t, do not enter personal information.
  8. Avoid using applications for your phone or computer that offer to store sensitive information, even if they appear to be secure.
  9. Avoid shopping while using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
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