Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, for family, and for gratitude.
Or that's how the story goes. In reality, we all know Thanksgiving is actually about carbo-loading, snoring through football, and giving thanks to every family's most important member: the one with the nicest spread. Well, guess what? This year we at Reviewed.com are here to help you stake a claim to familial dominance.
In this list, you'll find simple and inexpensive ways to make your Thanksgiving one your aunts will still be talking about next Easter. We're going to enhance the sights, smells, and tastes of the feast to create a day to remember.
Don't fear Thanksgiving—win it.
Greet each guest at the door with a signature cocktail, because nothing says "welcome to my home" better than immediate and thorough intoxication. Lots of high-end restaurants kick off their dining experience this way, and so should you.
For something really simple, you can mix a cheap-but-good white wine (like Asti or Prosecco) with lemon-lime soda and a splash of cranberry juice. If you're feeling a little craftier, think about creating your own cranberry syrup to mix in, or go all-out with this delicious recipe.
Scented candles have their place, but they can easily become overwhelming. There's an easier way to keep your home smelling seasonal: boil some cinnamon.
All you need to do is drop some cinnamon sticks in a pot of water, or a tea kettle without the lid, bring it to a boil, and reduce it to a steady simmer. You'll need about a cup of water per cinnamon stick. This will impart your house with a natural, sweet scent that'll put even the grumpiest cynic in a holiday mood.
Charger plates are decorative plates that you can't eat off of. To some, that probably sounds like a pointless exercise, but they're a dead simple way to add a bit of visual flair to your dining table. Here's how it works: You simply set them out at each place-setting before the meal begins, and then each diner places their actual dinner plates on them when the time comes.
What's great about charger plates is that they set the stage for your table before the meal has actually begun. You might be thinking: Why not simply set your table with the dinner plates to begin with? Because keeping them separate allows for other classy techniques like pre-warming. If you're feeling extra artsy, use two clear glass charger plates per setting, stacked atop one another, and press something in between them (like a colorful leaf or family photo).
By far the worst part of Thanksgiving is the dead air between the arrival of the guests and the completion of the cooking. There's pressure on the cooks to finish up, and this is also the time when you have to fill your distant relatives in on what's happened in your life over the past year. "Just working, Uncle Bill. Just working."
Luckily, there are many simple appetizers you can use to help distract people and fill the void. Everyone is familiar with basic options like olives, crackers and some nice cheese, hummus, and veggie platters. Those are great, and they'll get the job done, but if you're feeling a little more adventurous, you can go the extra mile with some more advanced finger foods. Check out comprehensive guides from Food & Wine, The Cooking Channel, and Serious Eats.
Raffia Napkin Ties
First of all, if you're not using cloth napkins on Thanksgiving, it's time to invest—they're like 50 cents each. Try to find earthy fall colors to really get in sync with the season.
With that out of the way, let's talk napkin rings. Many might think folding is good enough, but we've never been ones to stop at "good enough." We think napkin rings are a great step up, but sterling silver clasps are crazy expensive and plastic makes you look cheap.
For a nice middle-of-the-road approach, you can pick up some raffia rope. It's made from a fiber derived from raffia palm tree, and you can use it in place of a ring to tie off rolled napkins. It's guaranteed to add a rustic, natural element to your spread. When they're all cinched up, arrange the napkins on top of those charger plates. Et voilà! Instant class.
Don't forget the candles! If you need create a warm, homey feel in your room, candles are such a great shortcut they're practically cheating. But there are a lot of ways to get this wrong. Tall candles are distracting, and scented candles can smother the smell of all that great food.
Instead, we recommend tea lights. They're small, they're cheap, and they come in packages of 100. Arrange little groups of three tea lights evenly around your table, and you'll create a twinkling, magical effect come feast time.
You weren't really going to serve cranberry sauce from a can, were you? We're trying to class things up here, aren't we?
Minced cranberry relish is the most popular take on the classic dish, these days, and you can find a simple recipe here. This sweeter take on a Thanksgiving classic actually pairs better with turkey meat, yet it's familiar enough that your conservative uncle won't accuse you of "breaking tradition," "ruining the big day," or "splitting up the family."
Leftovers have been done to death. If you want to win Thanksgiving, you need send people home with something other than cold mashed potatoes and alcohol-blurred memories. So here's a crafty idea for a cheap Thanksgiving favor:
Buy some of those miniature pumpkins—one for each guest. Then use a sharp knife to create a small slit on the top of each one. Write each guest's name down on a small, business card-sized piece of cardboard (use colored cardboard for an extra artsy touch). Place the name tags in the slits, and arrange the pumpkins around the table according to where each guest should sit.
Now that's killing two birds with one stone: Keepsake favors for everyone, plus a seating chart that can head off chronic family arguments at the pass.
Ask any restaurant owner and they'll tell you that the presence of flowers makes for a better dining experience. Does it make the food taste better? Probably not, but Thanksgiving is about more than just what goes into your mouth. It's an experience.
Go with carnations. They're cheap, and they come in lots of colors to match your chosen theme. The flowers don't necessarily need to be near the table, but they should be at least within eyeshot. Everyone loves splashes of color, and it gives you something to look at when you're avoiding eye contact with your drunk uncle.
Garnish the Basics
Perhaps the most important way you can class up Thanksgiving—and we're speaking very generally here—is to think of flourishes for the basic, otherwise-boring elements of the meal.
For example, everyone trying to save money on Thanksgiving knows you can easily get away with some frozen items, like corn, peas, etc. But why not spruce them up with a garnish like garlic-infused butter or some chopped bacon? Do you like ice water on the table? Toss in some mint to give it a twist! Does your family do salad before the main course? You're not going to leave that Hidden Valley bottle on the table, are you? Use an extra gravy boat instead. And go ahead and decant that wine.
What about dessert? That can't be boring—pie stands on its own, right? It does, but it can be done better. This is next-level Thanksgiving we're going for, so whip up some caramel sauce, warm it, and drizzle it all over your pie of choice.
Congratulations, you've dressed up your Thanksgiving dinner like Cinderella before the ball, and done it on the cheap. Now sit back and enjoy—after all that hard work, you deserve some time with your feet up.