Are you ready for the big day yet? Perhaps you're getting a final head count, fine-tuning your grocery list, planning the table decorations and/or navigating the intricate politics of the seating chart. But have you thought about how your Thanksgiving spread will look? You took all that effort roasting the turkey perfectly, so don't you want it to look its best? Here are some tips I've found during my years of both entertaining at home and styling professionally for photo shoots that will make your holiday table pop.
Think about color when planning the menu. The Thanksgiving meal may be built on an assortment of traditional dishes, but that doesn't mean your table has to be a sea of beige. Make a mental picture of the recipes you're planning, and consider where you can add a little color, whether it be a bright garnish on a casserole or a vibrant fall salad to offset the gratins and dressings. Even your turkey will pop a little more on the table surrounded by an assortment of colorful roasted root vegetables on the platter.
The table should be colorful but not the plates. From burnt orange to vibrant green, yellow and red, fall is a season saturated in color. Showcase it in the linens and decorations, but try to keep the plates white, or at least plain. Colors and designs on a plate will compete with the food itself, but a white background is a neutral canvas for the food, allowing each dish to shine.
Keep the centerpieces low. You want your guests to be able to actually see and talk with one another across the table. Consider tea lights instead of tapers, a strategic scattering of fall leaves and squash instead of tall displays.
Practice your carving. It's probably been a year since you've carved a turkey. If you're nervous, or just feeling a bit rusty, grab a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store this weekend for practice.
Parade the bird early. No matter how beautiful your turkey looks when it comes out of the oven, it only takes a few minutes before the taut skin begins to wrinkle and your proud bird begins to look like a large raisin with legs. Proudly parade your bird to the guests right out of the oven, when it's at its most spectacular. Then keep it in the kitchen until you're ready to serve, and carve the turkey before presenting it again at the table.
Arrange the platter carefully. Along the same lines, after you've carved the turkey, arrange it on the platter so that plenty of browned skin is showing, not just gray and beige meat. And if your turkey is a bit dry (this has happened to all of us), baste the slices with broth or thinned gravy to moisten before serving.
Avoid harsh lighting. Natural lighting and soft lights are calmer and not as confrontational as harsh overhead fixtures. After all, you want to put the food, and your guests, in the best possible light.
Garnish sensibly. Decorate a dish with something edible that is complementary flavor-wise. Skip the sprig of rosemary; consider adding chopped fresh herbs for color, or perhaps toasted nuts or seeds for texture and flavor. For plated soups, consider a dollop of sour cream, plain yogurt or even pesto or harissa.
Crimp your crust. If you've gone to the trouble of baking a homemade pie, show it off. Decorate the crust border before baking to make your pie stand out from the store-bought desserts.