This is the year. You’ve decided that your table will be where the gracious gather for the annual feast. But what does that really require besides your grandmother’s recipes and the perennial poultry? We’ve done the guess work for you. Here’s all you need from decor to dishes, in handy checklist form.
The first thing to check is to make sure you’ve got the basics for a Thanksgiving meal. If you’re going classic bird and sides, your menu probably looks something like this:
CHAPTER I: THE MENU
- Turkey — brine it, dry-roast it, or deep fry it.
- Stuffing or starch — go classic with celery, sage and sausage or Southern with a cornbread base.
- Gravy —always best when you make it yourself.
- Side — an old-fashioned green bean casserole, creamed spinach or brussel sprouts.
- Side — mashed, sweet or au gratin potatoes.
- Side — cranberry jelly or sauce.
- Salad or other veggie — for the herbivores.
- Booze — start with an autumn cocktail and continue with wine and champagne.
- Bread — Parker House rolls, cornbread, or biscuits.
- Dessert — pumpkin, apple or pecan pie.
CHAPTER II: THE MENU MADE EASY (OR EASIER)
How the above comes together depends on your stamina and chef skills. If you’re tackling the whole thing from scratch we commend you, but there are plenty of ways to avoid shouldering that burden (even the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared duties!).
Tip 1: Assign a dish to each guest, or purchase pre-made sides and focus on the bird. Relent control on easier items and pick up a pie or buy bread to save yourself some trouble.
Tip 2: Focus on running an efficient kitchen. Plan on multiple shopping trips—one about a week out to get anything you can prepare in advance, and one closer to the date for items that need to be fresh (and anything you forgot the first time).
Tip 3: Map out your cooking time. Determine what needs to cook first (desserts), what needs to come out last (a souffle or gratin), and what needs to rest (the turkey). Look at your recipes for things that can cook at the same temperature. For dishes that need to be made in advance, refer back to Tip #1.
Tip 4: Make like a chef and do your mise en place in advance so the big day is just about combining things.
"Assign a dish to each guest ... pick up a pie or buy bread to save yourself some trouble."
If your menu looks like the above you’ll need corresponding serveware. So your list would be:
CHAPTER III: THE ESSENTIALS TO SERVE
- For the turkey — 1 large serving platter.
- For carving — 1 carving knife.
- For the sides — 5 serving bowls or platters.
- For the gravy — 1 gravy boat or small bowl, plus a ladle (A spoon just won’t cut it).
- For the salad — 1 low serving bowl.
- For the full-bodied red wine — 1 wine decanter to let it breathe (Even when you can’t).
- For the water — 1 to 2 carafes, so they always have a way to wash down those carbs.
- For the bread — 1 basket or low serving bowl.
- For the pie — 1 platter and pastry server.
- For serving — 6 or more serving utensils (You shouldn't have to work so hard to shovel out those mashed potatoes).
- For your guests — 1 place setting for each person (including flatware, glassware, and plates).
- For you — 1 apron, so you don’t have to change two seconds before everyone arrives.
- For tomorrow’s leftovers — Storage containers and tin foil for post meal clean up.
CHAPTER IV: WHAT TO DO IF YOU DON'T HAVE ALL THE ESSENTIALS
If that all seems daunting don’t fret, you can make substitutes.
Tip 1: Any bowl becomes a gravy boat with the addition of a ladle.
Tip 2: Some of your cooking vessels can make it to the table too, so when you’re loading up the oven make a mental note -- is that something you’d be willing to serve out of? Consider your casserole pans or cast iron pots before you load them up.
Tip 3: Short on serveware? Add some oomph to what you do have. Flip over bowls or mugs and stack on plates to create a faux pedestal. Note, be careful with this tip if you’ve got tots taking cookies at will. Missing a pretty pie plate? Wrap your less attractive pieces in an attractive kitchen towel to disguise it on the display.
Tip 4: Most importantly do yourself a favor and put all your dishes out the night before (at least). We find it’s helpful to pull your plates out and a pop on a post-it with what’s destined to go in each, so you know you’re all set before you’re setting the table.
Tip 5: Serve yourself. Make sure that you aren’t so consumed with pre-dinner preparations that you don’t have a chance to enjoy it all. A flute of champs is enough to start the celebrations off right.
"A flute of champs is enough to start the celebrations off right."
When it comes to decor, it’s up to you how much you want to do. You don’t have to turn your table into the Macy’s Day parade, but touches like a strong centerpiece or individual place cards will help get guests in the grateful mood. (Consider using seasonal flowers or integrating fall produce like persimmons, pomegranates, pumpkins or kumquats. A selection of white votives always looks simple and elegant if you prefer to eat later.) Regardless of what you go with, leave the large paper turkey for the kids table.
Either way you should be feeling pretty thankful—since you managed to pull this day off without a hitch.