Advice to `Potluck' Families

COOKBOOK author and Nantucket hostess Sarah Leah Chase is planning a traditional Thanksgiving. She'll have turkey, pumpkin pie, and 14 family guests converging on Cape Cod from all over New England. But as a spokeswoman for the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (see short item on facing page), she has advice for those who wonder how to plan a nontraditional feast. ``I talk to people who say their family can't get together as mine does,'' she says. ``Some two-career families with small children cannot travel across country for a family reunion, and many singles today create a family of friends, neighbors, and co-workers,'' she says.

These ``potluck'' families tied together by a variety of circumstances want to recreate the old-fashioned Thanksgiving with the same kind of meal. For them, Ms. Chase has a battery of tips and advice, including a one-pan Thanksgiving dinner (see recipe).

Other suggestions:

Guests may be asked to bring side dishes, a favorite relish or jam or a simple holiday centerpiece that is low and has no aroma. A table laden with colorful food is usually enough decoration, though.

Don't hesitate to ask guests to help in the kitchen if they seem interested in easy chopping or cutting fruit, nuts, or cheese, or setting the table.

If the family cook works outside the home, he or she can always delegate, but do it early - do it now, Chase says. Even a simple vegetable casserole needs a bit of planning.

Roast turkey doesn't travel well, so try to have turkey cooked at the scene of the feast if possible.

Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for the abundance around us, Chase says, so try to serve regional foods. If your area is known for its apples, for example, include apple pie, a Waldorf salad, or apple cider.

Some inexperienced cooks can duplicate Grandmother's dinner by ordering side dishes from local takeout food shops. Be sure to compare and check out your supermarket delis and bakeries.

Don't plan overly rich foods. Most people like vegetables that are fairly plain in seasoning. One new dish that's slightly different is usually enough.

Creamed onions are a ``must,'' to Chase, or any of the season's root vegetables - turnip, parsnips, squash.

Always have lots and lots of cranberry relish, both the raw, crispy kind and the fresh cranberries cooked into sauce. You'll want it later with the leftovers.

Have things people can nibble on, a few sweets, and perhaps stuffed dates rolled in sugar, but also the more traditional celery sticks, carrot sticks, and olives.

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