Thanksgiving Cooking for a Crowd

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Thanksgiving means three things in our family: the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, plenty of home-cooked food, and a big crowd — the more, the merrier.

The first time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, I was a young bride trying to impress my in-laws with my cooking prowess. I had everything under control — turkey, stuffing, veggies, mashed potatoes, bread, and everyone's favorite type of pie. As mealtime approached, though, I realized there was one essential dish I didn't know how to make — the gravy.

That's when I discovered the big secret about cooking Thanksgiving dinner: any knucklehead can cook a turkey; it's the gravy that's complicated. Flour or cornstarch? Warm water or cold? Shaker or whisk? Madly thumbing through a cookbook that afternoon, I wondered, What on earth is a "roux"?

Thankfully, Aunt Judy came into the kitchen and asked if she could do anything to pitch in. I was embarrassed to be in need of help, especially with such an essential part of the meal. However, I was also deeply relieved. I handed her an apron and said, "Sure! You can make the gravy."

I vowed that year — and, to be honest, for several years after that — to learn to make gravy before the next Thanksgiving feast. But the year would come and go without me getting around to it. Each year, someone would wander into the kitchen right around gravy-making time and ask if they could help, and each year I would say, "Yes! You can make the gravy."

Finally, I stopped vowing to learn to make gravy. I now make a general announcement to all of our guests that I'm going to need help with the gravy, and someone always steps up. And I've learned that my guests seem to relax a little and feel more at home when they're given something to do. And after all, isn't that what holidays like Thanksgiving are all about?

Other pointers for managing a big group for Thanksgiving dinner:

  • Sprinkle paprika on the turkey after it's been in the oven for a couple of hours. When brushed with basting juices, it gives the bird a reddish golden color that will give guests something to rave about while you're cooking.
  • To save yourself from having to track down Tupperware later, stock up on disposable plastic containers and/or plastic freezer bags for sending leftovers home with guests.
  • Set the coffee pot up early in the day, and hit the "brew" button just before you sit down to dinner. The fresh coffee will be ready when it's time to serve the pumpkin pie.
  • If stovetop space is at a premium, buy cook-in-the-bag frozen vegetables (such as Green Giant). I usually cook three or four different types of veggies in one large spaghetti pan. (The veggies cook in their own sealed bags, so the flavors don't mix.)
  • If someone offers to do the dishes, let them!

  • Most of all, remember to enjoy yourself. If the hosts are having a good time, the guests will, too!

    What's your secret to a happy Thanksgiving? Click the comments link below to find and share solutions.

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