Whether you're hosting your first Thanksgiving or are an old [chef's] hat, entertaining on T-Day is often fraught with fires, both literal and figurative. What should you prepare? Which wine should you serve? How should you get the word out? What are some good conversation topics? Which games can you play to de-stress, and how can you keep tabs on the big games during the big feast?
OK, we sense your anxiety. But before you grab another Xanax and call your mother or mother-in-law for cooking advice, try out these 10 lightweight, highly rated apps, guaranteed to keep you in the game and feeling free as a bird (OK, bad analogy!).
Why send an Evite for your Thanksgiving event when you can invite guests with a JustWink card? After loading the app, you must first confirm that you're over 17, as there is some "age-restricted material," which I never noticed. You can select categories such as Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, Reminders (where you sync with your Facebook friends), and More (where you can locate a store, check your Facebook settings, or review your order history). Under Facebook, you'll get a list of your Facebook friends in cute print and can select them to send cards on the day of, or seven days in advance of, their birthdays. Under featured cards, I picked a Thanksgiving card and personalized it by tapping in the designated areas to insert a photo, add a message, and sign. You can then preview, and if you're satisfied, just hit Send -- after a quick registration. You can ship your card over e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or snail mail. If you want to send via snail mail, it'll cost you $3.49, which -- to be fair -- is no more than the average card from your neighborhood drugstore. Since Thanksgiving happens to fall on Hanukkah this year, I also clicked on Categories for a Hanukkah-themed card. I tried to send my invitation via Twitter and Facebook, but it went through only on the latter service. My recipents informed me that they received their cards instantly, but I already knew that, because JustWink was nice enough to inform me that the invite was opened.
Presented by "Fine Cooking," one of our leading national magazines, Thanksgiving Menu Maker is one of the coolest cooking apps I've seen for the holiday. Load the app and discover tabs for Starters, Main Dish, Sides, and Dessert. I selected blood orange and radicchio salad with hazelnuts and shaved Parmigiano to start; butternut squash lasagna with goat cheese, sage, and bread crumbs as a main course; and Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnut butter as a sensational side. For dessert, I had to try the pecan rum tart. Accompanying symbols tell you whether your dish is vegetarian (orange carrot), can be made ahead (green fridge), or takes under 30 minutes to prepare (blue clock). The Menu tab organizes it all for you on one page, and then the Shopping List tab tells you what you'll need in categories like meat, eggs, dairy, and pantry staples -- and you can easily check items off the list. Then there's the cool schedule feature that tells you when to do what -- from days before to just before dinner. Under Tips, you get access to recipe fixes, how-to videos, and even what to do with leftovers. You'll also get fabulous drink ideas from the "Fine Cooking" site. How does a Drambuie Caramel Apple Cider grab ya? That's what I'm talking about.
Register with an e-mail address or sign in with your Facebook or Google+ log-in information, and Thanksgiving Recipe Collections presents three categories: Collections, Food, and Drinks. I discovered 30 options for turkey alone, such as roast turkey with pears and sage and bacon-wrapped turkey roulade from various acclaimed food bloggers. You can also search for sweet sides such as stuffed kabocha squash or mashed potatoes, or drinks like the coconut-lychee daiquiri or pumpkin pie martini (pictured above). You can also search by category: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Vegetarian, Soup, Salad, Dessert. When you click on any item, you get a bare-bones ingredient list (no measurements or directions), which is great if you only want to prepare dishes that you already have most of the ingredients for, or you can go ahead and click on Full Recipe if you're ready to cook. Once you test your new favorite recipes, share the love with your friends and family over Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or e-mail.
If you ever feel overwhelmed by all the recipes out there, Chow Thanksgiving Dinner Coach keeps things uncomplicated with one fabulous menu that you and your guests are sure to love. After you start the app, you see three choices: Choose Recipes, Go Shopping, and Start Cooking. Starting with the first, I found nine options, including roasted turkey, all the seasonal sides, pumpkin pie, and brandy-apple punch. I clicked on Roasted Turkey and was presented with a summary (a quick sentence about how it's the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner), the required ingredients and equipment, and the eight steps that take you from thawing to carving. Once you decide on your menu, just click Done and Go Shopping, and you'll receive an ingredient and equipment shopping list divided by category for your convenience. Click on each item once you've grabbed it. The cooking schedule is divided by three days, starting with defrosting the turkey on Monday, prepping and light cooking on Wednesday, and doing the heavy lifting on Thursday. The instructions are easy, and Chow even offers words of encouragement like "Be confident and carry on." Once you increase your confidence quotient, you can brave the More section for access to even more holiday recipes.
You're in the middle of making pumpking soufflés, and they're falling...who you gonna call? Food52 Hotline. Just enter a cook name, e-mail, and password, or log in via Facebook. Once you're in, search for keywords or hotline questions, browse recent or popular questions such as "How much minced garlic equals one clove?" with swipes, or, most helpfully, just click "Ask a question." Then enter your question, upload an image if that would be helpful, mark it as urgent, and (if you want) post it to Facebook or Twitter. You're admonished not to get too trigger-happy with the urgent feature, or you'll get "7 years of burnt cookies." My question, "How do you blanch vegetables?", got dozens of views within the first minute, and I got three answers within five minutes. Even better, the answers also came via e-mail.
Nothing says sophistication like wine knowledge. So, if you don't know how to pair your menu with the appropriate wine, you'll need Vintage Chart+. Once you confirm you're over 21, you're greeted by an option for Free Content or a $2.99-a-month fee, which offers subscribers all of "Wine Spectator" magazine's searches and picks. I selected Free Content and received vintage charts from 12 different countries notable for wine production, from the U.S. to France, Italy, and more. Under U.S., there are four selections, including California, which I picked, yielding seven more selections, including popular Sonoma and Napa. I chose Napa and was given five popular varietals, of which I chose Zinfandel, resulting in a list of Zins from 1994-2010, with ratings ranging from an 81 for 2000's wine, due to a "cool year; many green, under ripe efforts," to a 94 for 1994's wine, described as "dark, rich, and concentrated." Click the Learn button to find informative videos like "How to Serve Wine," "How to Pull a Cork," and "How to Match Food and Wine." In the WS360 section is news from around the world, including a Thanksgiving recipe article with great wine pairings. But if you want to get more current picks and be able to search, you have to cough up the cash.
If you want to take a break from cooking or to occupy your hungry guests, then Match-3 game Turkey Trot is for you. Loading the game, you're presented with three options: How to Play, Play Until No More Moves, and Play Until Time Runs Out, while the familiar "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" instrumental plays in the background. I clicked on How to Play and was told that the goal is to keep arranging Thanksgiving pieces so that there are three in a row. I moved on to Play Until No More Moves and quickly got the hang of it. You move pumpkins, leaves, Pilgrim hats, and sunflowers over one another vertically or horizontally until you match three of a kind. Each match earns 30 points, and you can get even more points for matching more squares at one time. With each level, the difficulty goes up a little bit, but not too much. Of course, as a free game, Turkey Trot has occasional, easily dismissed ads between level progressions. As expected, playing by time was harder, and I only made it to Level 2 before petering out. After each game, you can save your scores to show off to your friends.
iShoot Turkey is just a lot of fun. You'll need a GameCenter account to use it, but once you're set up, you're in for hours of addictive fun. When you load a new game, you get instructions on how to shoot the flying turkeys, how to swipe for a panoramic view, and how to tilt your device back to reload your rifle. You'll see High Scores and Options, from which you can raise the volume on background music and effects. Shooting flying turkeys might not sound like the most politically correct way to spend an afternoon, but it truly blew me away!
Was that last joke so funny that you forgot to laugh? If you think I should leave the humor to the true comedians, then check out Thanksgiving Jokes: Gobble Gobble. Annoying pop-up ads and that distracting Candy Crush Saga aside, it offers some of the silliest seasonal jokes I've found so far. "What did the turkey say before it was roasted? Boy! I'm stuffed!" or "What kind of music did the Pilgrims like? Plymouth Rock." For an extra 99 cents, you can purchase 57 more jokes, 48 one-liners, 23 knock-knock jokes, or the ability to remove ads. A center button cycles through the jokes, and there's also a button to favorite, Facebook post, tweet, or e-mail your personal favorites.
Some people think it's rude to have your phone out during dinner, but you think it's rude that your game-watching has been interrupted by dinner. With multiple NFL games going on, you'll want to stay informed on T-Day, even while you're sitting around connecting with friends and family. With the CBS Sports app, you can select teams to track as soon as you open the app. Then you'll get a wonderfully helpful calendar of current and upcoming games, including scores for the former. You can also click News to get the most up-to-date stories from CBS, both videos and editorial. If you're interested in a specific game -- i.e., Boston Bruins at Carolina Hurricanes -- just click on the game, and you'll get tweets, a preview, key player information, and more. In the left-hand navigation, you can switch to Live Games or sort by NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, Golf, Tennis, and even College Football and Basketball. But the choices don't end there; under More, you'll find NASCAR, High School, and European leagues, under which you'll see games, scores, and news. This app is so handy, it will probably never leave your hands -- all Thanksgiving long and beyond.