Known for the famed—and now much missed—food shop Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, New York, Ina Garten has written four cookbooks (her newest, Barefoot in Paris, is out this month) and become an authority on casual but elegant entertaining. Here, her best ideas for parties and Thanksgiving feasts.
What do you like to serve for Thanksgiving? I serve turkey with spinach gratin and smashed sweet potatoes with orange. You don't need stuffing. People have more fun if they don't eat so much they have to be taken home in an ambulance. And no hors d'oeuvres—I learned this from the French. Just cashews and Veuve Clicquot or Kirs Royales; I mix one teaspoon of cassis per glass of Champagne and serve them in my "Provence" glasses from Baccarat ($105; 800-777-0100).
What china do you use? I love faience pottery from France, especially the green- and cream-colored plates by the late Provençal potter Jean Faucon, and anything else in the same style. You can get similar plates at Le Fanion in Manhattan (from $42; 212-463-8760). I like solid colors. Patterns don't make food look as good.
What else is on your table? Hotel silver from a woman named Ginger Kilbane, who restores old pieces from hotels. She also sells great gravy boats ($285 from Bergdorf Goodman; 800-558-1855). I serve vinaigrette in them. After all, how often do you need gravy? To make vinaigrette, I whisk together 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
How do you decorate in the fall? I light a fire in the fireplace and put a bowl of dates and clementines on the table.
Any tips for avoiding pre-party anxiety? After I create a menu, I write down a schedule with everything on it. People are surprised when they walk into my kitchen and see the detailed timeline: "5 p.m. Start on apple crisp and turn on oven. 5:30 Put apple crisp in oven" and so on. I know my carrots take 30 minutes, and I want them ready when I sit down to eat, so I write down that they'll go in the oven a half hour before dinner. I'll even write down "4 p.m. Slice carrots." And I set a timer. Then I'm more relaxed.
Do you like to involve family or friends in cooking Thanksgiving dinner? It always sounds like fun, having everyone cook together. But they have to really want to cook. I don't ask them to bring ingredients; that doesn't seem generous. Instead people get assigned recipes to make at my house, like roasted butternut squash or brussels sprouts. I do the turkey. But one year, when I left the room for a bit, I came back to find everyone gone. They all went to watch the football game, and I was left with an hour to do Thanksgiving dinner by myself.
Any tips for designing a menu for a casual dinner party? Never make more than two or three things. If I have to cook more than two or three dishes, I'll do an easy dessert, like blue cheese, pears and a glass of port. Make things you can cook the day before, like beef bourguignon. It sits in its own juices and gets better.
What are your favorite tableware sources? I like H Groome in Southampton, which sells great handblown glass votives and table runners made from matchstick bamboo ($75 for votive and candle, $35 for runner; 631-204-0491). For linens, I go to Doucement on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris. You pick your linens at the store, and they embroider them. I have two sets of "Petit Carré"—a pattern of square dots—by Vis-à-Vis, Doucement's in-house line. I had them embroidered in orange and green, which is funny because those colors are so popular right now, but I've always had these sets ($300 for napkin and place mat; 18 ave. Montaigne; 011-33-1-43-12-55-40).
What's the best hostess gift? I like to give something that can be enjoyed for breakfast the next morning, like homemade granola or raspberry jam, or maybe a lemon loaf. At my company, Barefoot Contessa, we're launching three new coffees to add to my cinnamon-flavored Contessa Blend: Ina's All-Day, which has a nice round, full body; Breakfast, which has a hit of strong French roast to get you going; and Dinner Party, which is a little richer, just what you want after dinner ($12.50 a pound; 800-844-7002).
What's one of your entertaining pet peeves? I don't like sitting at a table that's too large, where everyone is too far apart. That's a party killer.
What's your favorite outfit to cook in? My uniform is a denim shirt. I have about six of them. I just throw them in the wash.