When I was growing up and my parents were in charge of the Holiday table, specifically Thanksgiving, It wasn’t treated like a giant fancy dinner party. It was treated as a family affair, as we generally rented out the local Latter-Day Saint chapel as is typical in the LDS (The Mormon’s) we had very large families. So, my extended family had to focus on the sheer quantity of food rather that the ability to put on a giant fancy dinner party. There were just way too many kids. It was a more practical Thanksgiving as you might have imagined.
I am married now, and the above affair still holds true for both sides of my family. My wife’s side holds their dinners at the same LDS church house to ensure they have enough space to sit the entire clan. My wife’s side chooses to hold their Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night, the night before Thanksgiving to allow no rotating families if you are living locally. My families side is on the day, and we hold it either in My mothers’ house or now my house. Logistically that can be a little bit of a nightmare as you can imagine it can be cramped based on if everyone can attend. However, that cozy nature is what makes the two versions of Thanksgiving different, and special at the same time. However, this still forces practicality amongst our sibling groups since we are now preparing two dishes for two different groups and I don’t want to eat bland food on Thanksgiving. My motto is that holiday meals don’t have to be any more complicated than a meal you would make on a weekday; you just have to have a strategy and increase the scale while still delivering on flavor.
I have found that when you are cooking for a smaller crowd, life four people, you can play around with different techniques. However, when your mission is to feed a bunch of guests, it’s best to stick to the tried-and-true methods, and you can bump up the flavor by using seasonings that pack a punch like herbs, spices, mustard, chilies, pickles and lemon.
For many families, the turkey is the most daunting part of the Thanksgiving meal. I like to think of it as just a chicken, just built like an NFL lineman, and the process gets a whole lot easier to process in your mind. When you roast the turkey in its individual parts, it really cut’s down the time it takes to cook. Another advantage is, the turkey only really occupies one rack in your oven, and you can then take advantage of spacing slower cooking items like squash, and sweet potatoes on rimmed sheet pans on the racks below.
1. Roast the turkey in pieces
The different sections of turkey cook at different times. Why are you stressing about overcooking the breast? Who the heck cares if they are cooked at different times and cooked in pieces? You are just going to slice them up anyway to put them on the family buffet, right? Practical is the key!
2. Focus on make-ahead items
When you are focused on your weeknight dinner, you can do everything at the last minute. However, when you have a hoard of hungry people waiting, make-ahead dishes rule the day! Make dishes like casseroles that can be made ahead of time and transported to the dinner without a lot of fuss.
3. Go for home runs
At the Thanksgiving table, you can’t get too wild with unfamiliar flavors. You risk having a boatload of un-eaten balsamic glazed Brussels sprouts on your hand. Delicious to you the chef, but you also get tired of eating them for a month straight. You need recipes that everyone is going to love. Pumpkin pie? You may want to make two or three depending on your hungry hoard!