Rachael | Set the Table


Welcome to Set the Table! My name is Rachael and I'm here to help you set your table with beautiful, healthy, delicious food your family and friends will love. More importantly, I'm here to encourage you to welcome everyone to your table. Talk. Listen. Laugh. Eat. Be kind. 

Planning the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

Planning the Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner

When I started this blog, I wanted to bring a little of the holiday magic that seems to surround us at the table amidst clinking glasses and forkfuls of delicious food. I realize that can be difficult to achieve in the midst of everyday life. Between errands, work, shuttling kids, and general exhaustion, finding the time to set the table and enjoy a real meal can be a challenge. Guess what? Those challenges (and perhaps more) are around during the holidays as well. And yet somehow, it all comes together and that magic makes itself known. I may not be able to take care of all the challenges you're facing around this time of year, but I can offer some tips for planning the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

Since I know we are all crunched for time, I'll get right to it! Let's start with putting together a prep schedule.

5 days before:

  • Finalize your menu
    • Decide exactly what you'll be making and what others will bring.
    • Write your shopping list
    • Plan time for work and relaxation
      • A successful Thanksgiving begins and ends with a happy host. Take care of you!
      • Determine the wines/cocktails you'll serve
        • A favorite this time of year is Beaujolais Nouveau. I am a fan of a clean, un-oaked chardonnay and a nice pinot noir.
        • If you will have beer lovers around, go for something local, if you can, featuring autumn flavors.
        • An easy and festive bourbon apple cider is perfect for a crowd!

4 days before:

  • Do your grocery shopping
    • Get as much of your grocery shopping done as possible. You'll save yourself from battling heavy crowds and avoid running into product shortages at the store.
    • Be sure to have kid-friendly beverages and snacks if you will have little ones at your Thanksgiving dinner
    • Purchase wine & beer
    • Start getting your dishes ready
      • make sure you have plenty of dishes, serving vessels, and flatware for your guests
      • polish wine glasses with a soft, lint-free cloth

3 days before:

  • Clean out the fridge! You're gonna need plenty of space as you prepare for the big day!
  • Begin preparing your mis en place
    • I always try to get the heavy-duty chopping and mincing done a couple of days in advance. Things like onions that will be used in dressing/stuffing, gravy, etc, are great for chopping in advance. I also chop up my celery and carrots. (Garlic I save for just before I need to use it.)
    • If you're chopping in advance, store the chopped veggies in gallon sized ziploc bags lined with a couple slightly damp paper towels. This will help keep your vegetables from turning brown or drying out.

2 days before:

  • Tidy up the house
    • There are four main areas that I think have to be clean before guests come over, and giving them a good scrubbing a couple days in advance means that the day of consists of simply picking up any clutter and doing a quick wipe-down before guests arrive. The four main areas to pay attention to are:
      • bathrooms
      • living area/wherever guests will be lounging and spending the most time
      • kitchen (this is mostly for you but also for guests who come wandering in wanting to help out)
      • entryway (make sure there is enough space for shoes if you have guests remove them, and places to hang coats)
      • Plan a kids' table if necessary
        • An easy way to keep kids entertained is to line a table with big sheets of white paper. Set jars filled with crayons and sheets of stickers on the table and let kids get creative while the adults enjoy themselves!
          • I also like to make plate-sized circles on the paper with the kiddos' names written in the center so everyone knows where to sit. They can also decorate their "place mats".

1 day before:

  • OK, now it is time to do the lion's share of the cooking. Here are the items I prepare the day before Thanksgiving:
    • pies (prepare up to the point of baking
    • bread for dressing/stuffing (cut it into cubes and store in a ziploc bag)
    • Sweet potato casserole (or twice baked sweet potatoes- yum!)
    • thaw/brine the turkey (VERY important to do in advance!)
    • Have take-out for dinner. We always have take-out Chinese food (this tradition goes way back to when I was a kid) so that we don't produce a bunch of extra dishes.

Thanksgiving Day:

  • Eat a good breakfast
  • Drink coffee + make a to-do list
  • Take a shower
  • Begin cooking the turkey
  • Finish preparing your dishes before guests arrive (if they can be baked ahead, go for it and just warm them up before serving)
  • Do as many dishes as possible before guests arrive
  • Get yourself gussied up and have a glass of wine!
  • Turn on some festive music like this playlist from Food52

And there you have it! This is my no-fail list to making sure you have everything done without feeling rushed. Overall, no matter when you do these tasks, don't overdo it on any particular day. You want to enjoy Thanksgiving, not resent it! Take lots of deep breaths and know that your guests are happy to be with those they love and in a welcoming home. Beyond that, don't sweat it. Everything will work out.

I've got 3 delicious Thanksgiving recipes coming your way this week that will help you plan your menu, so stay tuned!

Acorn Squash Polenta + Coconut & Spiced Brown Butter

Acorn Squash Polenta + Coconut & Spiced Brown Butter

Thanksgiving Stuffing with Miso Vegetables

Thanksgiving Stuffing with Miso Vegetables