Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, Mac and cheese…
November 19, 2023 8:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my thanksgiving table (and plate) look less beige/bleh?

I love thanksgiving, and the “traditional” sides that go with it, stuffing, mashed potatoes, Mac and cheese, green bean casserole, etc but the problem is that everything just looks beige /brown. What can I do to make it look less beige? Certain spices to use? Heavy use of parsley garnish? Other ideas?
posted by raccoon409 to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Mash up purple potatoes! IME they turn a delightful lavender color.

Paprika garnish on casseroles.
posted by humbug at 8:19 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Mash sweet potatoes in place of potatoes: yum! and a nice rich orange colour.

Do up some brussels sprouts as a side dish: nice and green, and also yum!

Green beans are normally green; what are you doing to yours that makes them beige/brown? Can you prepare them in a different way?
posted by heatherlogan at 8:22 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Cranberry sauce (deep red) on top of various things.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:23 AM on November 19 [4 favorites]

Sugared cranberries? Little balls of red looking like they have snow all over them. I always liked the looks of em and tasty, too.

We often make this dish with sweet potatoes, apples, shallots, and kale. Still have the orange and tans in there, unfortunately, but the green is nice.

As a counterpoint to the purple potatoes, mine always end up looking a little gray. Not sure if I'm doing something wrong there.
posted by AbelMelveny at 8:25 AM on November 19

The traditional Thanksgiving menu is my least-favorite holiday meal because of that bland color palette, as well as how everything seems to get cold by the time everyone sits down to eat, so I get it. Brighten things up with greens. You could skip the casserole part and just sautee some actual green beans. Have a salad. Brussels sprouts. Asparagus. Peas.
posted by emelenjr at 8:26 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

A bit of turmeric would brighten mac and cheese right up.
posted by teremala at 8:35 AM on November 19

Response by poster: (Just to jump in, every likes the “traditional” foods so not looking to change the menu, just spruce up what we’ve got. I think we’re also having rolls, Brussel sprouts, corn pudding, canned cranberry sauce and southern greens. Not opposed to adding a small something extra to the table. Green beans look beige once we involved the cream of mushroom soup and onion crunchy topping)
posted by raccoon409 at 8:37 AM on November 19

Roasted brussels sprouts
Roasted cubed sweet potatoes
Grilled asparagus
posted by Thorzdad at 8:38 AM on November 19

Green beans look beige once we involved the cream of mushroom soup and onion crunchy topping.

Then don’t prepare them that way. Steam them, then toss with bacon.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:41 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If you're not interested in swapping out any of the actual foods, maybe try using a tablecloth in a contrasting colour.

(Or you could dye things with food colouring like processed-food manufacturers do, but that's probably not the direction you're looking to go in.)
posted by heatherlogan at 8:44 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

My colour and flavour holiday dinner reliables:
green: green beans steamed and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
gold: chunked sweet potatoes roasted with butter, honey and ginger
red: cranberries stewed with sugar and whiskey
posted by Rhedyn at 8:52 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Roasted tender delicata squash have a lovely caramelized brown edge, bright orange flesh, and striped dark green and light yellow skin that is fully edible and honestly really tasty.

I like peas with thyme and mushrooms sautéed with a little butter, it’s bright green and adds a much needed vegetable component without deviating far from the carb bomb theme, and mixes fantastically with mashed potatoes or Mac and cheese.

More recently people dig a roasted Brussels sprout, which I get theoretically but I never quite seem to vibe with on a holiday plate. On the other hand, braised red cabbage is another brassica based classic, and it’s a beautiful rich purple burgundy.

When I’ve done lighter and fresher Thanksgivings, one thing that seemed enjoyed by all was a shaved carrot and fennel salad. You can do super thin celery slices too, on a mandolin. Toss in a bright citrus dressing and include the fronds from the fennel and leaves from the celery for your herbs. Crunchy and colorful, and you make it ahead of time and set aside to marinate so it doesn’t get in the way of your other cooking, and it’s good at room temperature. I never did this but if I were to make it again I’d totally do this with rainbow carrots, since it doesn’t involve heat so the more fun carrots would not lose their colors.

My mom does a mix roasted root veggie thing, with golden and red beets, parsnips, red skinned potatoes, lots of garlic and rosemary. It does end up pretty brown because she roasts the heck out of them, but because the pieces end up looking similar it’s like a little surprise for what taste your next bite of it will have.

Collard greens are a staple where I grew up, and even slow cooked collards have a deep rich green color that nicely offsets a plate of beige. They classically go wonderfully with Mac and cheese, too. I like to cook mine with sweet red peppers, which keep their color throughout the long cook and really contrast visually. Their sweetness brings out the flavors of the collards and makes the pot liquor wonderful, and you can mix in a few hot peppers if you want to do the same culinary thing from a different angle.

I love cranberry sauce but a lot of people don’t. Try offering a dish of pomegranate arils instead or as well. You can sprinkle them on mashed potatoes, scoop them up with a bite of turkey, or top any kind of salad with them. They are crunchy and tart and such a beautiful color, and feel so fancy, like fruit caviar. Other great fruits to have out on the table with all your other dishes include persimmons, late ripening pears, and red table grapes. All of these are tasty to have alongside your savory dishes, or for leisurely transitioning from dinner to copious pies.
posted by Mizu at 8:58 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Colorful plates, drinkware, and napkins.
Colorful centerpieces, tablecloths, or table runners.
Colorful serving/cooking dishes. Or use covered casserole dishes.
Serve the rolls in a bowl wrapped/covered with a festive towel.
Open plates of cranberry sauce, olives, radishes, etc.
Sprinkle chopped chives or green onions on the mashed potatoes.
Use lettuce leaves as garnish or to cover the serving plate under the food, or garnish with sprigs of herbs like dill or rosemary.
Any spice you add may change the flavor, but paprika is also a common potato garnish.
posted by rakaidan at 8:58 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Paprika for a pop of bright red (flavor goes with most of the things you list and looks especially cute on Mac n cheese.)

People who like the beige version might freak out, and I realize you’re not looking for menu changes, but colcannon has pops of bright healthy kale alongside the tatoes and fat.

Garnish with the herb you used in the dish. So if there’s sage in the stuffing, frizzle some sage leaves for the top.

You can garnish with pretty fresh fruits and veg (make sure they’re clean and edible because people will eat them): pomegranate arils, julienned fresh carrot and/or red bell pepper, mandarin orange supremes. Lemon slices and parsley are classics for a reason!
posted by kapers at 9:12 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Oh and pickled veg! The traditional meal begs for acid.
posted by kapers at 9:13 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]

add a salad of chopped celery, green apples, purple grapes, nuts and goat cheese in a sharp vinaigrette. Looks great and the crunch and acid make wonderful counterpoint to the starchy fatty stuff. You can sprinkle pomegranate seeds over for even more visual, flavor and texture punch.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:14 AM on November 19 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Garnishes that can go on the same plate/dish as the food: Green or purple kale leaves, green or purple leaves from bagged spring mix lettuce (although these will shrivel with heat), carrot curls, orange slices, rosemary sprigs, cranberries, whole parsley, radish roses, black or green olives, red or green bell pepper rings or slices, crabapples or very tiny red apples that are sometimes available seasonally.

Garnishes that can be scattered on top of dishes: chopped parsley, paprika, black pepper, chopped tomatoes, chopped chives, chopped green onions.

My mom used to add color to the Thanksgiving table with a relish tray: olives, pickles, radishes, celery sticks, and if we were feeling especially festive, a jar of red spiced apple rings.
posted by corey flood at 9:17 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

this carrot recipe is not only delicious but really pretty, a pop of orange with some green herbs garnishing them.
posted by supermedusa at 9:21 AM on November 19

I blend fresh parsley & chives into my vegan mac sauce, which makes it look light green instead of beige. Mustard and paprika can also make the sauce colour pop a little more.
posted by terretu at 9:28 AM on November 19

We made cornbread with blue masa on a lark, but it turned out pretty good.
posted by credulous at 10:18 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Brightly colored napkins and table runner, stark white plates and serve ware, pop of color as the decor.

Marigold flowers as garnish, pomegranate seeds as garnish.
posted by vunder at 10:23 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Scalloped corn (creamed corn with eggs baked into a souffle) for some yellow.

Green beans without the mushroom soup and onions.
posted by Windopaene at 10:29 AM on November 19

Vases/glasses of flowers or actual pieces of fruit down the center of the table/buffet.

My grandma added orange slices and green curly parsley to the turkey platter.

Pomegranate seeds, Radicchio (red)

Sugared cranberries for the dessert plates

Alison Roman Thanksgiving photos

I always add a lemon and olive oil celery salad with parsley for the color and crunch but may be the only one who eats it.
posted by RoadScholar at 10:48 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Inspired by what heatherlogan said...I think I would accept the beigeness of the food and add color to the table in other ways. You don't need more than one color. I might even add a few elements that I don't normally use, like place cards, candles/candles, inexpensive or handmade napkin rings. A couple of my friends set their tables and buffets carefully with accents and it does add to a festive atmosphere.
posted by wryly at 10:53 AM on November 19 [5 favorites]

For a bright side dish (bright in color and also a contrasting flavor to all the starchiness) I serve a salad of baby arugula, avocado, sliced oranges, and quick-pickled red onions (just marinate thinly sliced red onions in a little vinegar and salt for half an hour, then rinse before adding to the salad).
posted by Daily Alice at 11:09 AM on November 19

I’m in Canada. Where I’m from, we also have mashed yams, mashed carrots & turnip (together), brussel sprouts, corn, salad, a pickle tray (with beets and cheeses) and often Christmas crackers. (Christmas crackers are these things you pull and get a colourful paper crown and other goodies — and they are colourful on the table too.)
posted by shockpoppet at 11:16 AM on November 19

Best answer: Parsley is one of the world’s worst garnishes, especially when overused. Try chives or green onions, especially on potatoes.
posted by shock muppet at 12:15 PM on November 19

Pickled beets
Pickles, selected for their pretty colours (dill, bread and butter, mustard, gerkin, etc.)
Parsley, chives or dill
Sliced raw coloured sweet peppers: red, orange, yellow
Celery and carrot sticks. Make sure to pick celery that is not blanched by growing without light but which is a robust green.
Roasted root vegetables, cooked to a golden brown (just enough for a small spoonful each, not a whole other dish) It they are candied they will gleam.

If you are doing a turkey and making gravy make sure you brown the pan nicely, possibly after the turkey has been removed to a platter, and darken your gravy to a shade more brown than beige.

Put something in the corn pudding that shows up as coloured speckles. Red pepper would work. Go for red speckles or get some blue corn to add some blue purple speckles to save the green for speckles for the stuffing.

A little yellow food colour in the butter to make it a deeper yellow, put little squares of it on top of individual servings of mash or use paprika on the mashed potatoes, and let people stir it in themselves. Also consider crumbled bacon to sprinkle on the potatoes.

Start with a really dark orange block of cheese when making the mac and cheese and add a dash of red food colouring to make it more orange than beige - test first to make sure you like the effect and can't taste it.

Make your stuffing with white bread and don't include crusts to make it paler. That way the very dark chives or green onions you add before you serve will make noticeable green speckles through out. The heat from the stuffing will cook the finely snipped onion if you time it right.

Sprinkle the deep fried onion on the green bean casserole after it goes into the serving tureen or sprinkle a little extra on each portion as it gets served.

Raw fruit: Mandarin orange slices, red, purple and green grapes, kiwi fruit
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:29 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Nthing the pomegranate seed recommendations, but I'd specifically use those to sprinkle on top of the Brussels sprouts after they come out of the oven, maybe with some walnuts or similar. It's a lovely contrast from both taste and visual perspectives.
posted by eponym at 1:45 PM on November 19

Best answer: I add jalapeno slices to corn pudding. Parsley is bright green; garnish the mac-n-cheese.
I make cranberry ice and serve it in either wine glasses or punch cups.
Put a bowl of lemons, limes and orange on the table. It will also smell lovely.
Candles on the table. They can be a pretty color.
Esp. if you use cloth napkins, which I prefer by quite a bit, tie the napkins in a piece of ribbon.
posted by theora55 at 3:32 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

2nding paprika or smoked paprika on mashed potatoes. It will add a touch of flavor and a lot of pizazz.
posted by hydra77 at 4:55 PM on November 19

Red cabbage, either pickled or cooked with apple.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 6:22 PM on November 19

One of my contributions to the holiday table is normally a carrot casserole - boiled sliced carrots, longhorn colby cheese, sauteed onions and enough brown sugar to make it slightly on the sweeter side of savory. This year I was considering whether it would work with rainbow carrots or if the coloration would go from "aww, rainbow!" to "ew, that looks like someone's been sick".

I think I'll try it for myself once before I spring it on the extended family. But maybe? Rainbow carrots aren't that much more expensive than traditional ones.
posted by Kyol at 6:31 PM on November 19

Bake your favorite dressing casserole.
Cut thin bell pepper rings, then slice in half.
Cut slices into the dressing and push in the half-rings to make colorful lines for a Christmas tree.
Add toothpick balls of very dry grapes, cherry tomatoes, etc.
Top the tree with a toothpick of lemon curls.
posted by TrishaU at 8:14 PM on November 19

It doesn't take much bright color to make the beige foods pop. There are some handy reds, greens, yellows, and whites that fit with the holiday colors and don't seem seasonally out of place.

Can you find angel hair chiles? They're just chiles that have been very thinly sliced and then dried, so they end up as bright red threads. They're great in wet dishes (they'll rehydrate nicely) or leave them dried. They aren't hot, per se, but will lend warmth (because you're using so little mass you're not going to torch anyones palate).

It's too late for you to make your own but fresh sprouts make a bright garnish. Fenugreek sprotus are fragrant and flavorful in a way that complements Thanksgiving senses really nicely, but any substantial sprout will do: you'll get some spring green but also the bright glistening white of the parts of the sprouts that don't have chlorophyll. That kind of pure white helps make the potato-y beiges look more appealing and creamy by comparison.

Why not make a colorful drizzle? Temper a bit of turmeric in a small amount of olive or sesame oil with some cracked black pepper. That'll leave you with a fluorescent marigold splash that will shine on top of anything pale, and the pepper will add a mottled look to help break up the uniformity of the great expanse of beige casseroles. I do this with mashed potatoes and roasted cauliflower. If you want more visual appeal, add a few whole bay leaves to the tempering oil.

Achiote paste can achieve the same effect. It also makes a lovely bright red sauce when mixed with citrus juice (especially orange). It's traditionally used as a marinade, but I like making a small batch just to have as a drizzling sauce on the table. It goes great with rich, fatty dishes in that it helps cut the grease with acid. Frankly, Thanksgiving meals are usually lacking a bright sour pop of flavor as an option, so having this out on the table can be a surprise hit.

A few wedges of bright, happy lemon are well at home with any cooked greens. Toss them into your brussels sprouts before serving, or atop your green bean casserole.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:45 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions! I was only able to implement some this year but others I’ve made a mental note to include in years to come. I might have had some hyperbole with everything being “beige” but the white/cream/tan/brown/orange colors all blend together for me.

Things that were great additions- adding chives to the mashed potatoes from both an esthique and taste perspective, forgot to add paprika to the Mac and cheese but broiling it did add some extra color, served the turkey on a plate with kale (and some parchment paper for ease of serving) , I cut circle of jalapeño for the corn pudding which again was nice visually and for taste.

I had some table decor which I was glad for, in the future I’d also try to find a tablecloth that wasn’t white. I happened to have a tan color set of candles but I’d look for something more colorful in the future.

Thanks all and happy holidays!
posted by raccoon409 at 7:21 PM on November 23

Late to the party but, I love pomegranate seeds sprinkled around, on salads or roasted veggies, as a garnish on the turkey platter. Doesn't have to be a great quantity to add a nice touch of color.
posted by starfish at 3:11 PM on November 24 [1 favorite]

« Older Metroidvania exploration without the Metroidvania?   |   How can I stop procrastinating for an exam in 2... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments