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Plan carefully, work ahead for a big Thanksgiving crowd

Thanksgiving requires some serious cooking, often for the biggest crowd you've faced all year.

Thanksgiving requires some serious cooking, often for the biggest crowd you've faced all year.

Thanksgiving requires some serious cooking, often for the biggest crowd you’ve faced all year. You’re expected to serve a huge spread packed with comforting favorites that aren’t on your list year-round.

Perfect gravy? Real cranberry sauce? A turkey big enough to feed a dozen – with enough for leftovers? Absolutely.

We are here to help you cook for a crowd with guidance and suggestions on feeding at least 12 people and tips on how to figure for more.

Cooking for a crowd

• Plan on 1 1/4 pounds of bone-in turkey per person. For generous servings and generous leftovers, the Butterball folks recommend 1 1/2 pounds. Want to go larger? Keep in mind that larger turkeys have a higher meat to bone ratio – so lean toward figuring 1 to 1 1/4 pounds per person.

• Don’t wrestle with one huge heavy turkey. Instead, buy two smaller ones. If you can fit two small turkeys in the oven, roast them at the same time and for the same amount of time. If not, use different cooking methods: Roast one in the oven and prepare the other on the grill. Or consider a turkey fryer. You can flavor each turkey in a unique way. And if the weather is nice, gather guests on the patio while you grill.

Turkey basics

• Allow five days in the refrigerator for a 15-pound turkey to thaw. For larger turkeys, use a large cooler.


• The grill promotes quicker browning as the heat radiates off the inside top of the grill. The turkey also cooks faster.

• For a charcoal grill, follow the directions for the indirect cooking method: The coals are on one side of the grill and the turkey is on the other side, or the coals are in a circle and the turkey is in the center. Place a disposable foil drip pan with about three cups of turkey or chicken broth or water in it underneath the turkey.

• For a gas grill, preheat with all the burners on high. If you have three burners, shut off the center one and turn the others to medium heat. For two burners, turn one off and turn the other to medium heat.

• For either type of grill, keep the temperature at a constant 325 to 350 degrees.

• Put the turkey on the grill to cook. After one hour, check on it and start basting it with the pan juices. A 15-pound turkey will take about three hours.


Martha Stewart’s famed recipe for roast turkey blankets the turkey breast with cheesecloth soaked in melted butter and wine, producing a rich, moist bird. Or you can rely on an under-the-skin herb butter massage.

• Soften two sticks (or more) of unsalted butter and mix in your favorite fresh chopped herbs (about 1/2 cup will do). Roll the mix into a cylinder and wrap it in plastic wrap. It can be made a week in advance, or made weeks ahead and frozen. Slice it into rounds to position under the skin.

• Brine the turkey overnight to add moisture and prevent it from drying out. A basic brine is two gallons of water to two cups kosher salt; the turkey should be almost submerged. Add herbs, garlic, sugar, beer, cider or juices to the brine if you like. They will impart mild flavor.


Giblet gravy made with pan juices or stock after the turkey has roasted is the tradition.

• Plan on 1/3 cup gravy per person.

• Enhanced stock: Place three turkey wings separated at the joint in a big stockpot. Add one large quartered onion, one bunch parsley stems, two ribs sliced celery, two large carrots cut into chunks and eight cups less-sodium, fat-free chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Strain the stock. Make it three days in advance, or several weeks ahead and freeze.

• Whisk in some herb butter to flavor and thicken the gravy. Rehydrated dried porcini mushrooms give gravy an earthy tone.

Perk up those sides

Sandra Lee, author of “Semi-Homemade Cooking” (Meredith Books, 2002, $19.95) and host of the Food Network show with the same name, has made a lucrative career out of her 70 percent store-bought, 30 percent homemade routine. You can follow her lead. Here are a few ideas.


• Figure about 1/3 pound of potatoes per person.

• Use russets for fluffy mashed potatoes and Yukon Golds for creamy mashed potatoes.

• Peel and slice the potatoes first thing in the morning and put them in water until ready to cook. Or cook and mash them hours before and reheat – just add a little more milk, cream or broth before serving.

• Use butter, buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese, half-and-half or chicken broth or combinations to add richness and flavor.

• Roast a whole head (bulb) of garlic, with the top 1/4-inch cut off, alongside the turkey. Place it on a sheet of foil, drizzle it with olive oil and sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper. Wrap it loosely in the foil and roast alongside the turkey for the first hour. Remove it and, when it is cool, squeeze out the flesh and add it to the mashed potatoes. Or add fresh chopped chives or other herbs, caramelized onions or horseradish for a kick.

Cranberry sauce

Impress your guests and make cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. The recipe is simple and right on the bag. Or doctor up the canned versions.

• Figure 1/3 cup cranberry sauce per serving.

• Add fresh ginger and apples.

• Add a citrus zip with fresh lemon or lime juice along with some added zest.

• Stir in canned mandarin oranges with some of their juices to sweeten, or add grapefruit segments.

• Add raisins and maple syrup instead of sugar.

To save room in the oven this year, you can use the grill to cook your turkey.

To save room in the oven this year, you can use the grill to cook your turkey.



Herb-butter Roasted Turkey

This recipe requires preparation at least two days in advance.

2 gallons water

2 cups kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 small bunch fresh sage

3 sprigs rosemary

4 cups apple cider or apple juice

1 15-pound turkey with giblets

Herb Butter (see note)

1 large apple, peeled, cut into wedges

salt and pepper, to taste

Morton Nature’s Season Seasoning blend, to taste

6 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth or turkey broth

Green Onion Gravy, recipes follows

To prepare the brine: In a large, deep stockpot, combine the water, kosher salt, sugar, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary and cider. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Add ice cubes to cool quickly. When cool, cover and refrigerate overnight or until ready to use.

Set the turkey giblets aside (discard the liver). Rinse the turkey and place it in the brine, breast side down. Cover almost completely with the brine. Allow the turkey to brine overnight or at least 8 hours in your refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse it well under cold water. Place the turkey in a roasting pan on a rack and pat it dry. Slide your fingers under the skin on the breast and thighs to loosen, being careful not to tear it.

Prepare Herb Butter by softening 2 sticks of butter and mixing in 1/2 cup favorite fresh chopped herbs. Roll into a cylinder and wrap in plastic wrap. Serves 12.

Slice 8 pieces (1/4-inch thick) of the herb butter. Place two of the herb butter slices under the skin on each thigh and two under the skin on each breast.

Place the apple wedges in the cavity and season the cavity and outside of the turkey with salt and pepper and seasoning blend. Place 2 cups broth in the pan.

Cover the breast with buttered foil and place the turkey in the oven. Roast for 35 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting for about 90 minutes. Baste with the pan juices. Remove the foil and continue roasting about 1 hour more, depending on the size, until the internal temperature of the breast meat is 165 degrees.

Remove from the oven; let rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Degrease the pan juices to use in Green Onion Gravy, recipe follows.

Source: Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, November 2007.

Green Onion Gravy

Reserved pan juices from roast turkey

2 to 3 cups (or more) turkey stock

2 tablespoons water

4 teaspoons cornstarch

3 green onions, white parts and green tops chopped separately

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

Scrape the juices and browned bits from the reserved roasting pan into a large glass measuring cup. Spoon off the fat, reserving 2 tablespoons. Add stock to the pan juices to measure 2 cups.

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons water and the cornstarch until smooth.

Heat 2 tablespoons reserved fat in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the white parts of the green onions. Sauté until they begin to color, about 6 minutes.

Add the degreased pan juices, 2 cups stock and the heavy whipping cream. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Simmer until reduced to desired consistency, whisking occasionally, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the herbs and green onion tops. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 12.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2007 issue.

Red and White Scalloped Potatoes

Butter for baking dish

2 cups 2 percent milk

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 pounds red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed, sliced thin

your favorite all-purpose seasoning

2 cups Italian blend shredded cheese

6 slices crispy prosciutto (see note)

1 1/2 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, sliced thin

1 cup Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 11-inch-by-7-inch baking dish. In a measuring cup, mix together the milk and flour; set aside.

Place a layer of the red-skinned potatoes in the dish. Sprinkle with seasoning and 1/3 cup of the cheese. Crumble 2 slices of prosciutto over it. Top with a layer of the Yukon Gold potatoes, sprinkle with seasoning, 1/3 cup of the cheese and 2 crumbled slices of prosciutto. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, seasoning, cheese blend and prosciutto. You will have 3 layers of each. Pour the milk mixture over the potatoes so it trickles down through the layers. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and Parmesan over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, the mixture bubbly and the top golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve.

Cook’s note: For crispy prosciutto, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place 6 thin slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Serves 12.

Source: Martha Stewart magazine, October 2007

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