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'Easy' Thanksgiving With The Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten, known as the "Barefoot Contessa," is an accomplished cook and entertainer — but she's also known for helping novices in the kitchen.

Her mantra — "How easy is that?" — is also the title of her new cookbook, a collection of classic recipes that feature low-stress ingredients and techniques.

Garten's make-it-simple strategy can help smooth out your Thanksgiving celebration. Take, for example, appetizers — which Garten is simply not planning to cook.

"I'm going to take a big white platter and go to a specialty store," she tells NPR's Neal Conan, "and buy little thin slices of salamis, and caperberries, and different kinds of cheeses." These "special tastes of things" require no cooking, and when served with champagne, she says, "you've got a fabulous appetizer."

And for the holiday's pivotal dish, the turkey, Garten suggests you think small. "If you think about a Thanksgiving dinner, it's really like making a large chicken."

Her recipe for turkey is about as simple as it gets, and comes from a trusted source: A friend of Garten's who worked at the Butterball hotline told her about the turkey that won their annual contest "year, after year, after year."

Garten explains, "you salt and pepper the inside, you put butter on the outside, you throw it in an oven and you roast it without opening the door." Garten deviates from that easy, tested method with only one embellishment: "I put a little truffle butter under the skin to give it a little extra flavor," she says.

Organize and make some things in advance, she advises, and "you can really make Thanksgiving fun for the cook, as well."

Of course, tradition sometimes requires a special dish be prepared — Grandma's creamed onions, for example, made just the way she always makes them. But Garten's even got a way to simplify that stress. "I think it's an even more fun party if everybody contributes to it," she reasons. "So how about having Grandma bring her famous dish? And then it's exactly the way Grandma made it!"

Inviting guests to bring dishes not only makes life easier for the cook, but makes everyone feel invested in the event.

Doing things simply and being organized, says Garten, is the key to easy food. "It doesn't necessarily mean it's three ingredients thrown together — it means that there are processes that are easy to do, with ingredients that you can find at a grocery store."

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