This post was sponsored by Ocean Spray. All opinions expressed in my post are my own. You can read my full disclosure policy here.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year. The food, the family, the FOOD. Somehow, I took over hosting for both sides of the family over the last few years, so we always have a crowd at my house. After several rounds, it’s gotten easier, but I was a bit stressed our first year hosting. I mean, that’s a huge meal to time right, get your house prepped, set your table. It’s a lot of work, there’s no doubt. But there are some things you can do to pull off Thanksgiving without too much stress.
Ocean Spray invited me to their awesome Ask CranMa boot camp event in Rockefeller Center® recently where I learned that according to their survey, 20 million of you will be hosting your first Thanksgiving this year. Wow! High five to my fellow hosts! We’ve totally got this.
Below I’m sharing some pics of my experience in the Ocean Spray cranberry bog, because it’s just a sight to see. AMAZINGLY cool! And then I’ve got all the tips you need (straight from the experts!) on how to pull off the best Thanksgiving dinner on the block!
The Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog Experience
Imagine a cranberry bog in the middle of New York City. Because it happened! This was truly one of the coolest experiences I’ve had and not only was it just fun (and made for great photo opps!) but I learned a lot that I’m excited to share with you below.
Ocean Spray set up the most beautiful Thanksgiving table I’ve ever seen (I’ve got some aspirations this year, fam!) right in the middle of the bog, and once we all put on our waders, we jumped (ahem, carefully stepped) into the bog to dine.
It’s pretty fun to eat Thanksgiving dinner with your feet floating beneath you!
Need Thanksgiving Help? Ask CranMa!
Before dining at the event, I met the Thanksgiving experts: The CranMas! Ocean Spray is a farmer-owned cooperative with over 700 cranberry farmers, and they brought in three CranMas, or grandmas that are farmers, to give us the low down on being the Thanksgiving hostess with the mostess without totally losing your mind. I’m going to share their top tips below.
Have other questions? Ask away! You can get tips on the Ocean Spray website on how to #WinThanksgiving AND use Facebook Messenger on the Ocean Spray Facebook page to #AskCranMa your pressing Thanksgiving questions. She’s there to help you nail this!
15 Tips to Host A Stress-Free First Thanksgiving
Now let’s get to their tips and get you started on being the winningest Thanksgiving host your family ever did see!
Let Guests Bring a Dish
I give this one my support, 100%. We always ask our guests to help. People like to feel needed and want to be included in the meal, so let them! It takes the pressure off of you as the host and allows everyone to contribute. Plus, it’s just fun to see what everyone comes up with. New recipes make for new traditions.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something for the First Time
You’re in the company of your close friends and family, so don’t fear a flop. If it happens, no one will judge. But realistically we don’t all have time to test recipes in advance so if you see something online or in a magazine that you’re dying to make for Thanksgiving, go for it!
Start About Three Days Early
This is my favorite tip from the CranMas. I have usually made sure we have all ingredients by this time, but I never really started cooking at this point. They pointed out that you can make your casseroles, mashed potatoes, and stuffing up to 3 days in advance and keep them refrigerated. Then all you need to do is heat them up when the turkey comes out of the oven to rest before carving. So easy and much less stressful. Prepare sauces, chop veggies, and do all that general prep work in advance.
Setting the Scene
Mix and Match Dishes and Glassware
Don’t stress about having enough matching place settings for your guests. It turns out that mixing and matching is in style, and it can look so much more fun! And it takes the pressure off of you to have a perfect Thanksgiving table.
Glassware can be mixed and matched, too. Cranberry is a great color for the holidays (and you can totally reuse that for Christmas!). Rose gold is trendy right now so if you have some of that, include it on your table.
Use Fresh Cranberries in Your Decor
I love this idea because it’s so festive and fresh, and most importantly the cranberry decor is really simple and a fun way to get your kids involved. You can make a cranberry napkin ring with wire and berries, use cranberries to create a candle centerpiece.
My favorite: the cranberry topiary. This is so simple and beautiful. You need a styrofoam ball, cranberry-colored paint, toothpicks, fresh cranberries, and polyurethane spray. First, paint the ball with the cranberry-colored paint just to make sure there’s no white color poking out through your cranberries. Then stick one end of the toothpicks into the ball and top it with the cranberries, all the way around. Finish with a coating of polyurethane spray. This will last about a week, so time it to last through your Thanksgiving dinner.
Set the Table the Weekend Before
Take inventory of what you have, what you need, and get your table ready the weekend before. Thanksgiving Day is going to be about the turkey and enjoying your company. This is something you cross off your list in advance. And if you’re like me and don’t have a formal dining room, you can maybe set your table a few days in advance instead of a full week. The kids love having the opportunity to eat in the living room for a couple of nights!
Incorporate Fruit into Your Centerpiece
The centerpieces at the Ocean Spray event were just WOW. The designer said they aren’t too difficult to make. Use a floral foam ball (this is that green foam that holds water) and stick flowers into it. Then, add fresh fruit to make it really special! You can use a wooden skewer to spear small apples, clementines, and artichokes and add them to your arrangement. Obviously these were huge and gorgeous, but I think you could easily scale it down for your dining room table as well.
Allow Time to Defrost
A frozen turkey needs a good three days to defrost so be sure to give it enough time in the fridge before the big day. I’ve found that my refrigerator must run cold because I need at least 4 days to defrost. If you have a bigger bird, allow yourself an extra day.
Flavor That Bird
You can make sure you have a moist, flavorful bird by stuffing the cavity with lemon, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Be sure to go up underneath of the skin, too. Push your fingers between the skin and the turkey to create a pocket for herbed butter, thinly sliced lemons, and thyme. This helps the skin get soooo flavorful and nicely crusty!
The Right Timing
Speaking of a crusty skin, if your bird starts to brown too quickly, create a foil tent with aluminum foil to place over the top and shield it from some of the heat. You want to cook your turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 16-18 minutes per pound. Baste the turkey about every 30 minutes.
Truss It Tight
The turkey expert told us that YouTube is your best friend to learn how to truss a turkey. He showed us but I seriously think I’d need to watch a few times before I could repeat it. This video on YouTube is really close to what was demonstrated. The important thing to remember is that you don’t want your turkey flopping open, legs splayed wide. You want it all tightly pulled together to keep it moist and cooking evenly.
The Right Turkey Temperature
How do you know when the turkey is cooked? You’ll want to use a meat thermometer. Stick it into the leg joint, right where the leg meets the body, but don’t hit the bone. Let it sit there a minute to come up to temperature. You’re looking for a temp of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and then your turkey is cooked! Bring it out of the oven and let it sit for 30 minutes before carving. This is a good time to heat up those sides you made in advance.
Welcoming Your Guests
Greet Guests with A Cocktail (or Mocktail for Kids)
Set up an appetizer and drink station in another area of the house to minimize congestion in the living room. Ocean Spray® Cranberry Juices are perfect for Thanksgiving and they have some delicious varieties that are great for the kids to enjoy.
For the adults, have a signature cocktail available for pre-dinner sipping. I have a bunch of cranberry cocktails you might like to choose from here.
Have Finger Foods Available
Finger foods are perfect for nibble before the big meal is ready. These delicious cinnamon sugar cranberries are so easy to make and so yummy. That tart cranberry bite is delicious with a sweet sugary coating. Cheese, crackers, and veggies are all good options and so easy for one of your guests to be in charge of, too!
Relax and Enjoy Your Guests
Above all, enjoy your day. Thanksgiving is about family and friends and being thankful for what you have. Don’t freak out over the meal or the mess. Remember everyone is happy to pitch in if you need a hand in the kitchen. Make time to visit with your guests. That’s what it’s all about.
Get More Tips
Still have questions about how to pull this off? Visit the Ocean Spray website for tips and recipes, and the best resource is Ocean Spray’s new chatbot, where you can #AskCranMa for Thanksgiving help.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Ocean Spray®. The opinions and text are all mine.