Food and the City: Tips On Hosting Thanksgiving For The First Time Yum

November 15, 2017

Tips On Hosting Thanksgiving For The First Time

K, so --

I have a serious bone to pick with society.

I'd like to know when and where we collectively decided that it was perfectly *okay* to let Thanksgiving pass us by without getting the recognition that it deserves. When, and more importantly -- WHY, did we ever allow for the "let's forget about Thanksgiving" movement to ~*happen*~?

I get it, we're all excited for Christmas and the holiday season -- I'm right there with ya. However, Thanksgiving is seriously an ALL STAR holiday, yet it easily gets forgotten about between everyone worrying about their Halloween costume and what they're going to do for New Year's Eve. It's almost as if we just expect it to always be great because our older (still flawless) relatives usually take care of it. We just show up, eat, pass out, and therefore we never worry about it.

Well, what happens when the day comes that it's our time to host? It's our time to figure out a menu for 12 on a budget for 2? Or try to figure out where you're going to put everything in addition to Aunt Susie's pumpkin pie that she insisted on bringing?

What happens when it's it all on you, and the panic starts to set in because you've n e v e r d o n e t h i s b e f o r e?

Did you know that this year nearly 20 million Americans will host Thanksgiving for the first time? That's 20 million Americans silently freaking out over where they can buy a turkey thermometer. That's 20 million Americans standing in the aisles of grocery stores alike trying to pick out one of the 4,000 different types of stuffing mixes to choose from, or whether or not they should make an apple pie or a pecan pie because Josie likes apple but Karen is allergic and omg what am I going to do??

Enter: Ocean Spray's CranMa bootcamp, an event I recently attended on behalf of Ocean Spray to learn alllllll the secrets from some dear grandmas that were willing to give em' up! We're talking family-owned traditions that these ladies were more than happy to share with our group of 25+ people, and luckily for you, I was given the green light to pass these tips along to ya'll.

First thangs first -- the bird.

I mean, it obviously goes without saying that the bird is the focal point of every Thanksgiving table. It sits in the middle, is usually carved by the eldest of relative (tradition, ya'll), and is taken very seriously by grandmas all across the nation. Now, granted, of course not everyone is enjoying a grandmother-made bird on Thanksgiving, but keeping within the practices of what our grandmothers taught us helps it to feel like we still are.

We learned that frozen turkeys must start the defrosting process at least 3 days before the big day (or 1 day per 4lbs), while fresh turkeys are to be picked up and kept in the fridge for just 1 day prior -- no sooner. But -- how do you know just how much turkey to have? Our turkey expert explained that it's always good to plan for 1 pound of cooked turkey per person!

Cooking time varies greatly depending on the size of your bird and whether or not you've decided to stuff it. A good rule of thumb is 15-18 minutes per pound for unstuffed turkeys, and 18-24 minutes per pound for stuffed. For example, an un-stuffed 16-pound bird will need about 4 hours to cook, while the same 16-pound bird that's now been stuffed will need about 5-6 hours.

Deciding whether you want to take the frozen or unfrozen route is the first step in your Thanksgiving prep. Once you've figured that out, it's time to plan your other dishes, as well as your decor, your cocktails, and just how the heck you're going to fit all of this stuff in your fridge.
One tip from our prep CranMa: set the table a few nights before. Chances are you eat dinner on the couch more nights than you'd like to admit anyway, and I'm going to take a shot and assume you're not eating your Seamless takeout on your finest of china. That being said, save yourself some time the day of by setting your table 1-2 days ahead of time.
Other useful prep tips for the day before:
  • Double, triple, quadruple check your lists to ensure that you have everything you need.
  • Buy last-minute perishable items like fresh produce, cold desserts, etc.
  • Pick up food ordered ahead of time, including your turkey if you ordered it fresh.
  • Go over your food preparation schedule and begin preparing sides & appetizers that can be reheated. Be sure you have enough refrigerator space to store everything you prepare in advance!
  • If brining the turkey, prepare brine and soak turkey in refrigerator overnight.
  • Bake pies or other desserts.

If your guests will be arriving while you're still preparing the meal, consider having a cocktail station equipped with the ingredients to make a signature drink of your choosing. This can be as simple as a pre-made sangria, or as elaborate as a moscow mule. Our cocktail CranMa kept it simple, yet festive, with this vodka-cranberry martini that was garnished with sugar coated Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries! It was delicious. (especially at 11AM on a Wednesday.)

My favorite part of the event was when we spoke about setting the scene. If you follow me on social media, it's no secret that I have a passion for home decor! There are so many creative ways to decorate your Thanksgiving Day table, and our decor CranMa had some awesome ideas using fresh cranberries to jazz up your space. These cranberry wraps to use as napkin rings or to place around candles are absolutely adorable, but my personal favorite was the flower arrangement filled with surprising elements that you wouldn't normally see in a bouquet. Consider adding fresh fruits and vegetables to not only add color, but to become a conversation starter for your guest to chat about while you're powering through those last 20 minutes of cook time!

Ocean Spray has some really great ideas up on their website, and you can view all of those here!

After learning all of these amazing tips from our CranMa's, we sat down for a Thanksgiving feast set up in a cranberry bog located in the middle of Rockefeller Center. If you recall, I also did this two years ago with Chef Curtis Stone, so being able to soak my feet in the bog again was so fun!

Plus, look how GORGEOUS the scene was!!! (not to mention how delicious the food was)

Are you hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year? If so -- Ocean Spray has set up an awesome #AskCranMa feature on their Facebook page, where you're able to chat with the Cranbot and have all your Thanksgiving Day questions answered!! How freaking cool is that?

Technology ya'll, technology.

So, whether you're hosting for the first time, or you've done this before, there's no better advice than the advice from our grandmothers. I learned so much from this event, and it helped to remind me of all the other tips and tricks I learned from my own grandmother. While I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year, I can't wait until the day comes that I do.

I'll be ready.

*thank you for sponsoring this blog post, Ocean Spray! All opinions are my own.