For those planning to have family and friends over for a tasty meal, good conversation, football on TV and catching up on what's new, its time to start organizing for the big day.

Thanksgiving is on its way.

For those planning to have family and friends over for a tasty meal, good conversation, football on TV and catching up on what's new, its time to start organizing for the big day.

Loretta Paganini, instructor at the cooking school in Fishers Foods in North Canton, said getting organized is the first step to a successful Thanksgiving dinner. Paganini is the owner of The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking in Chesterland, Ohio and appears regularly on Cleveland morning television talk shows such as "Good Company" on NBC channel 3.

Paganini came to the U.S. in 1975 from Italy. She said her mother in-law taught her how to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

"My mother in-law said that it was her holiday," Paganini said. "When she passed away, my husband and I started going to my family in Italy and preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for them. I used to pack a frozen turkey in my suitcase before I knew I wasn't allowed to do that. Now we buy a fresh turkey in Italy."

Their family gathering in Italy started more than 12 years ago with 10 or 12 people. It grown to include more than 45 friends and family.

"When our neighbors started hearing about our Thanksgiving dinner, they started stopping by to see if they if could come over too," Paganini said. "One neighbor has a vineyard and always brings us some wine to go with the meal. We sit down at the table around 11 a.m. and finish around 4 p.m. There is plenty of good food, conversation and fun," she said.

For Paganini, a Thanksgiving feast must include at least one pasta dish .


One of the suggestions Paganini offers to others for making Thanksgiving dinner is to find ways to make the day fun for family and friends. One way to do that is to have everything prepared on time.

"My family always has an appetizer such as pumpkin ravioli with a butter sage sauce or squash soup," Paganini said. "Then we do everything traditional from that point with a turkey, prosciutto and chestnut dressing, gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes and salad to 'cleanse the pallet.'"

For dessert, Paganini likes to use fruit as one of the main ingredients and makes something such as an apple cake or pear tart.

"It's important to remember that people eat with their eyes first so presentation is important," Paganini said. "Today's family chefs should take advantage of all of the prepared items available in the grocery stores and then add their own personal touches for a nicer presentation. I use canned cranberry sauce and put oranges in it to spruce it up. I also recommend the puff pastry products found in stores."

Another way to make the meal fun is to try something different every year. Make a different sauce, use different colored pasta, shape the bread like a pumpkin or offer a different type of bread. Offering something different keeps the guests wondering and keeps the event dynamic.

"One year," Paganini said, "I did a turducken where I had a duck inside the turkey and a Cornish hen inside the duck."

Other tips from Paganini include:

• Portion sizes.

For small family gatherings, Paganini suggests preparing a turkey breast versus an entire turkey. Setting a full table is important whether it is a big guest list or small.

• Plan ahead.

Many tasks such as setting the table can be done a day or more ahead of time.

Other things that can be done ahead of time include preparing the salad, much of the baking and preparing the desserts in advance.

"Being organized is really important and it helps prevent the exhaustion that comes with making such a meal. Make a checklist and do something off that list every day for at least a week in advance," Paganini said.

•Cooking the turkey.

There are many ways to prepare a turkey. For Paganini, she brines her turkey 3 days before roasting it which helps keep it moist and tasteful. She uses a half-cup of salt in 2 gallons of water. There are many recipes for brining a turkey available on the Internet.

• Think beyond stuffing.

Paganini puts herbs in the cavity of the turkey. She rinses the turkey thoroughly after having it in the brine and then she puts thyme, sage, garlic, onion and rosemary inside. Next, she puts butter under the wings and inside the cavity and covers the turkey in aluminum foil before putting it in the oven.

• Get some advice.

For those wishing to take a few cooking or baking lessons before or during the holiday season, Paganini has several classes at two locations in northeast Ohio.

There are a several cooking classes available throughout November and December at the location in Fishers Foods including one called "First-Time Thanksgiving."

Paganini also offers a full menu of classes at her cooking school in Chesterland including Thanksgiving Leftovers, Cranberry Craze and Thanksgiving Made in Italy. For more information, visit the website,