Thanksgiving Tips, Tricks and Recipes from a Caterer

Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned of hosts and hostesses. There's just so much to think about from the bird to the decor. Who better to ask than a pro caterer for tips and recipes to make this Thanksgiving picture-and palatte- perfect? I teamed up with Nicole Chapman of Simply Catering for this Thanksgiving shoot, featuring all kinds of good stuff from Pottery Barn and La Crema. Nicole's company is in high demand all around the Atlanta area for weddings and all other catered events. She was kind enough to offer her best Turkey-Day Tips, and even spilled the beans on two incredible recipes! Here's what she had to say.

One of the easiest, and most overlooked, steps to prepping a turkey is doing an akimbo tuck, known as tucking the wings under the shoulders of the bird, so that the breast area is exposed. This makes it much easier to carve once it is done. Start by carving the bottom of the breast and then slicing inwards. The most common turkey cooking blunder is over cooking. Once the internal temperature hits between 160-175 degrees, it is done! Make sure to let the bird rest for at least 30 minutes once it comes out of the oven. It will slice much faster!

I always feel like setting the table can be an afterthought or done after you’ve spent the last 24 hours cooking your heart out and with very little enthusiasm or inspiration. Often times, the table can be the first impression your guests have when they arrive and if you’re trying to create a certain ambiance, it is important to make sure you’re not stressing at the last minute to set the table. Do it the night before! Why not? You can set everything up at your own pace and have more opportunities to get creative (all while enjoying a glass of wine). Plus, you’ll discover if you’re missing anything with enough time the next day to make any last minute trips to the store. 

It is far easier to cook multiple dishes at the same time, if you have an idea of what needs to be started first, second, third, etc. A lot of your prepping, like chopping and dicing, can be done the day before, as well as baked goods and casseroles. Sometimes it helps to create a timeline, like a list, and scratch them off as you go. 

Nicole's Oyster Dressing Recipe:


1 ½ Loaves of Bread (your choice! Nicole recommends whole wheat)
6 oz Oysters, rinsed and chopped
12 oz Chicken Broth
½ White Onion, peeled and diced
6-8 Celery Stalks, washed and diced
2 Tablespoons of Butter
12 Leaves of Sage, fresh and chopped
2 Eggs
1/8 Teaspoon of Salt and Pepper

1. Lay out the bread to dry on sheet pans the day before preparing dressing.

2. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Next, bring chicken broth to a boil, add chopped celery, onion, and butter to broth. Reduce heat to low.

4. Break up the dried bread into bite size pieces. After the celery and onion in the broth are tender, pour over dried bread pieces in a bowl.

5. Add chopped oysters, sage, eggs, salt and pepper to the bread mix. Mix all together until completely moist. Pour into non-stick casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake for approximately 45 minutes. When dressing is cooked through, remove foil, and broil for 5 minutes to let the top brown up nicely.

Easy, Three-Step Cranberry Apple Chutney Recipe:
Sidebar- At one point during this shoot I actually sat down at my island with a spoon and an entire quart sized jar of this stuff. No shame. I mean, it's just ridic. Tart, delicious, fall perfection. Here's how Nicole makes it:
2 Cups Fresh Cranberries
2 Cups Sugar
1 Celery Stalk, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Grated Orange Zest
1 Tablespoon of Local Honey
½ Cup Fresh Orange Juice
1 Cup Golden Raisins
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1 Pinch Salt, or to taste

3 Tablespoons Water or More as Needed
1 Large Granny Smith Apple – peeled, cored and chopped

1. Place the cranberries, sugar, and water in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook until all the cranberries have popped, 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the apple, celery, orange zest, orange juice, raisins, honey, cloves, and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the celery is tender and the sauce is reduced, about 35 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and let the chutney stand to thicken, about 15 minutes. Best served warm.

Thanks so much to Nicole from Simply Catering for the delicious food and fantastic tips, to Haley Sheffield for the beautiful images and to Juli Vaughn for the picture-perfect petals. Also, because I've been asked a million times, the blue ombre wine glasses are from Pier One and my capiz chandelier is from Ballard Designs. I hope you enjoyed this post as much as we enjoyed creating it!

How do you make your Thanksgiving as tasty and stress-free as possible? Do you secretly hire a caterer or have some magic tricks we didn't touch on here? Please share with us on Facebook!