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Tips, tools & advice from the pros on how to serve an elegant Thanksgiving meal

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Picture this: it’s Thanksgiving Day and your 15 guests are due to arrive in several hours. You’re hunched over your gourmet cookbook and your turkey. The day speeds effortlessly along, and then, boom!

Disaster strikes.

Your recipe reads, “Put one plastic brining bag inside the other to create double thickness. Fold back the top one-third of the bag to form a collar.”

You panic. What bags? A collar?

It is then that you realize that making the perfect Thanksgiving turkey requires more preparation than simply buying the 14-pound bird, but now, all the stores are closed.

This year, don’t get stuck in a turkey rut without your metaphorical brining bags. With suggestions and hints from several local merchants, this holiday guide is all you’ll need to prevent your next turkey tragedy. These Brooklyn entrepreneurs have given us tips on where to save and where to splurge and suggestions for setting an elegant table.

Jennifer Baron, owner of A Cook’s Companion in Brooklyn Heights, and Joanne Tarzian, owner of Tarzian West in Park Slope, both agree that the number one essential splurge item for Thanksgiving is a high quality roasting pan.

Baron and Tarzian both suggest the All-Clad heavy gauge roasting pan for $199.

“[The All-Clad roasting pan] is an investment,” says Meghan Dunn, a Tarzian West employee. “It will last forever.”

Evelyn Luciano, a sales associate at A Cook’s Companion, explains this pricey pan’s charms: “The heavier the gauge [of the roasting pan], the browner and more even the cooking.”

And, Dunn suggests, as a substitute, the less expensive Chicago Metallic roasting pan for $28 will get you through the lean years.

“It’s a good pan. You’ll just need to replace it every few years,” she says.

Also high on the splurge list is a first-rate carving knife. Baron says that as long as you invest in a top-notch carving knife, you can use any old carving fork because, she opines, “A fork really is just a fork.”

Baron highly recommends a hollow ground Wusthof carving knife, specifically the 9-inch slicer for $90.

Of the knife’s quality, Luciano says, “The blade is ridged with grantons [scalloped edges], which create air pockets as you slice, and the food falls right off the knife.”

Tarzian also recommends the Mercer carving set for $65.99 for those who desire the aesthetic value of a knife-and-fork set.
“An electric knife can work really well, too,” says Tarzian, and suggests the Cuisinart electric knife for $49.99.

Baron’s next pick for the splurge list is a grooved cutting board; she sells a large array of them in her store, but personally recommends the Epicurean 18-by-13 grooved cutting board for $60 and Totally Bamboo’s Kona Groove Board for $45, as it is “lovely, handcrafted, and made of sustainable grass.”

Tarzian agrees with Baron about the Epicurean board and loves it because “It’s easy to clean and doesn’t absorb food odors.”

And on the splurge list for serious bakers, Tarzian loves the KitchenAid stand mixer, which starts at $269 and comes in a dozen colors.

“It’s great for baking, because you don’t have to hold the mixer the whole time like you do with a handheld,” she says.

And for a pie crust that keeps your guests satisfied, Baron recommends a simple Pyrex pie dish for $5.50, which she says, “makes a wonderful crust.”

Baron and her staff also have a couple fun items they love. One of them is The Food Loop, a silicone trussing tool that is reusable, dishwasher safe, and only $14.95 for six loops.

“It’s better than string or twine, because it’s reusable, easier to use, and better for the environment,” says Luciano.

While the roasting pan and high-end knife are certainly Thanksgiving tools you can’t do without, there are some smaller items that can be easily forgotten. A Cook’s Companion and Tarzian West both publish Thanksgiving checklists, which they are happy to share with customers. Among the smaller items on the checklists are a gravy separator, turkey lacers, potato ricer, meat thermometer, turkey baster, and last, but not least, brining bags.

Baron and Tarzian both carry inexpensive models of these must-haves. A popular money-saving brand is OXO Good Grips, which Baron advises for many of the smaller fundamentals. For the turkey baster, Baron mentions a $2 model as well as a more high-end model by Harold’s Kitchen for $20.

Of the difference, Baron says, “You can certainly reinvent the mousetrap, but this $2 baster does the job.”

Setting the table

As for the decorative side of Thanksgiving, we take you to A Brooklyn Table, in Cobble Hill. The store features several sample table settings in gorgeous patterns and motifs for fall, and co-owner Carolyn Humphrey tells us which ones are best.

Humphrey, who co-owns the store with Nathalie Roy, loves the Gien cookware from France, which transfers from freezer to oven to table for the most hassle-free meal. The cookware features animal motifs; a Gien oval baking dish is $60.

For the purist, there is the Juliskah cookware, which also multi-tasks, and is in the same price range as Gien. Humphrey loves the Juliskah, because “it comes in a thousand shapes and sizes and it’s white, so it mixes with anything.”

As for her own decorative preferences, Humphrey recommends inexpensive garlands, which she says look great interspersed with votives for an understated, elegant table. She also sells more high-end real dry flower arrangements, which start at $24.

Humphrey gushes over the Vagabond acorn sauceboat in pewter, and also from Vagabond, a set of bird-shaped salt and pepper shakers for their design and function.

Linens from A Brooklyn Table range from inexpensive ($24 for tablecloth and $4 per napkin) to opulent ($300 for a tablecloth and $32 per napkin).

Wine and dine

If you have no idea which wine to pair with your meal, stop by Red, White & Bubbly in Park Slope, where the unpretentious wine experts will gladly send you home with the perfect grape for your feast.

Wine sommelier and Red, White & Bubbly owner Darrin Siegfried cites his personal favorite for Thanksgiving as a Pinot Noir, and recommends Gruet, NV Brut as his “favorite bubbly.” And for those who “just have to have red,” Siegfried loves Prejean winery’s Marechal Foch.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010

Five guaranteed-to-be-a-hit hostess gifts

1. Stonewall Kitchen spreads, such as caramel apple
butter, ($8.95 from Classic Impressions) and Tag cheese spreaders in fun patterns and colors ($12.99 from Tarzian West)

2. Extra-virgin olive oil in decorative bottles ($10-$20 from Tarzian West or Classic Impressions) and the Cocktail Food Deck, a set of recipes for “50 finger foods with attitude” ($14.95 at Tarzian West)

3. Tea Forte porcelain teacup ($20) and Hannah’s Delights pumpkin spice tea biscuits ($7.99, both from Classic Impressions)

4. Apron with Brooklyn Bridge design ($20 from Classic Impressions)

5. Silicone oven mitts ($19.99 from Tarzian West)

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