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Thanksgiving 101
Tips and recipes for the perfect dinner to fit any taste or size crowd

The Associated Press
Modified: November 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm •  Published: November 13, 2012

Offering a house cocktail is another easy way to score big with little effort. Artisan hard cider with a cinnamon-stick stirrer has the fizz of Champagne but the taste of the season. Spiked punch, a cranberry kir, or a drink made with bourbon — an American spirit — can all set the mood.

"Something like that is a nice touch," Forgione says. "Whenever you start the day or evening with a nice cocktail it lets you know this is going to be a party."

And opulent treats don't have to be complicated. A cocktail of colossal shrimp makes a gorgeous appetizer, Rodgers says, and a dish of caviar adds class. For the green bean salad, Forgione says, go the extra mile and boil some fresh beans.

"Always think of things you know people don't have a lot of," Rodgers says. "Wild mushrooms. Truffle oil. Anything that says 'I've taken extra care for you.'"

Of course, if you're a food geek like Heimendinger, you'll want to carry the show through the end of the meal, maybe preparing a dessert in the style of the restaurant Alinea, Chicago's mecca of modernist cuisine, where the course is plated directly on the silicon table cloth, and finished with a dramatic shattering of edible vases filled with cotton candy and other treasures.

"If you really wanted to do drama that's what you could do," Heimendinger says. "But even the idea of eating dessert without plates would be very cool."

Others believe the most impressive element of the meal is something far more mundane.

"This is going to sound like such a simple thing, but don't overcook your turkey," Forgione says. "The turkey roulade and stuffing under the skin, we do that at the restaurant because people are coming and they're spending a lot of money. We like to fancy it up. But if I'm at home and there are 12 or 15 people at the table, if you cook a perfectly roasted turkey, there's something very satisfying about that."