Holiday Cooking Guide for Feeding a Crowd

By Charleen - December 31, 2019

Beginning with Thanksgiving, and extending through the winter holidays, this is a special time to gather together for many cultures around the world. However, it can also be stressful hosting and cooking for a larger number of people than usual. These time tested tips and recipes originate from my experiences hosting a 3-day Thanksgiving for over 30 people multiple times since 2002. I hope that other members of our family can add to these notes as the next generation in our family starts to enter the rotation...

Turkey, ham, goose, root vegetables, green beans, stuffing, gravy, leftovers, desserts. Not to mention breakfast and other meals for guests staying overnight. What a bewildering array of cooking activities to keep track of!

This year I became an "empty-nester" and started the Love2Chow blog to share my interests, recipes and experiences. It was my turn again to host a 70-year tradition in my husband's family of siblings and cousins getting together to feast and play games. The following blog posts summarize key steps for advance preparation, pulling it together for the main event, efficient use of leftovers for several post-event dishes, and breakfast for a crowd.

Post 1. Recipe for Mama's Chinese-Spiced Turkey

Before making a huge turkey for a big crowd, it can be helpful to try roasting a smaller preview turkey. Looking back through my Thanksgiving notebook, I realized that I have tried many techniques through the years for maintaining a tender breast while allowing the dark meat to fully cook. There is nothing worse than seeing red juices after slicing into your beautifully browned turkey. As described in the post, I think I finally figured it out. The technique is simple and has worked for a 13 pound turkey, a 22 pound turkey and an 8 pound goose so far. 

My mother used to slow cook a much smaller 10-12 pound turkey for our family, following the method of Adele Davis in Let's Cook It Right. My previous turkeys used a modified version of that method. Using a probe, I found that the first 30 minutes at 350°F rapidly elevates the surface of the turkey to safe temperatures, and like sous vide, the bird can be held at its final temperature, turning up the oven to brown the skin for 1 h before serving. Although the roasting temperature is similar as that used for smoking meats, there are a lot of opinions concerning whether or not this style of cooking is safe.  It does result in a fully cooked turkey with moist tender meat, with adequate time to render the fat from the skin so that it becomes wonderfully crispy during the final hour of roasting at 350°F. 

However, slow roasting ties up the oven for extended periods of time. Moreover, modern turkey processing often involves injecting saline or broth into the meat, potentially introducing bacteria deeper than the surface. For these reasons, I experimented with methods to accelerate thigh/back cooking and keep breast temperatures lower while roasting in a 325°-350°F oven. This year, I discovered a surprisingly easy technique.

•My family recipe for roast turkey dry-brined in a toasted salt, black peppercorn and szechuan peppercorn blend.
•My recipe for a smooth, silky pan gravy. By separating fat from juices and deglazed browned bits, you can calculate the minimum amount of fat and flour needed to properly thicken the gravy.
•The method for keeping breast temperatures lower than thigh during roasting, and temperature graphs from the 13 pound turkey. 
•Making and storing turkey stock for future gravies or soups.
See Post 5 below for the Wild Rice Stuffing Recipe 

Post 2. Oven-efficient make-ahead side dish preparations

One or two days before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to prepare for side dishes that are either reheated or finished shortly before serving. Cookies and desserts are also ideally made in advance, and many of these can be frozen for longer storage. Each of these dishes also works well as potluck dishes due to their make-ahead nature.
Click here for directions and links to recipes for:
•Brown Butter Bourbon Spice Cookies - a tender pillowy cookie balancing soothing caramel and vanilla notes with sweet, warm spices.
Maple-Cinnamon glazed butternut squash - great on its own, or blended with roasted brussels sprouts, pecans and dried cranberries for a colorful warm or cold salad.
•Cider baked mashed sweet potatoes - a simple and satisfying Jeffersonian dish in which the sweet potatoes are cooked and mashed in apple cider.
•Blistered green beans to scale up the popular dry-fried Szechuan green beans - black vinegar, sesame oil and a unique sweet-salty pickled vegetable make these very popular. See the full recipe and updated method at this link. Expect a good number of beans to disappear early from snitching fingers...
•Remember to cook rice the day before if making rice stuffing! 

See Post 5 below for the Wild Rice Stuffing Recipe.

Post 3. Pulling it all together after the Turkey is done (and maximizing efficient future yield from leftovers)

It can be hectic once the turkey comes out of the oven to get everything ready to serve. This post gives a step by step guide for getting the other casseroles reheated, finishing the stuffing, preserving the crispiness of perfectly roasted skin, making gravy (while someone else carves the turkey), and creating two batches of rich turkey stock to serve as the base for many future dishes. 

•The temperature chart for the 22 pound turkey cooked using the technique of Post 1, and the supplementary breast cooked in a convection microwave (in convection oven mode).
•Sequence of events to reheat casseroles, carve turkey, make gravy and finish rice stuffing. See Post 1 above for the gravy recipe and Post 5 below for the Wild Rice Stuffing Recipe.
•Procedure to make Grade A and Grade B turkey stock, which begins with carving the turkey.
•Day after Turkey Noodle Soup
•Mennonite Turkey and Noodles over Mashed Potatoes
•Turkey Pot Pie
•Turkey Enchiladas
•Why you should keep all the drippings fat separated from the juices in the freezer for future dips, breakfasts and pastry crusts.

Post 4. Two ingredient split pea soup using the leftover ham bone

The Friday after Thanksgiving, our family traditionally supplements the leftovers with a spiral-sliced Honey Baked ham. Any time you encounter a bone-in ham, make sure to grab the bone and pop it into the freezer. This particular Thanksgiving, I used the bone to make two dishes, a pre-Christmas version of the split pea soup with spinach and carrots, keeping 4 ounces of meat aside to make my rice stuffing for a Christmas goose.

Click here for the ham bone soup recipe

Post 5. Wild Rice stuffing with dry-cured ham, winter mushrooms and peas

This dressing is inspired by classic Chinese ingredients such as the famous Jinhua ham 金华火腿 (which I have never tasted, but understand is similar to Smithfield hams), green peas and the rich, earthy flavor and texture of rehydrated dried winter mushrooms (shiitakes). The dressing complements perfectly the spices on the roast turkey. This year I added roasted hazelnuts to high acclaim at Thanksgiving and pecans/cranberries for the Christmas goose.

Click here for the recipe, and a variation used with my first Christmas goose! The free range goose was tasty, and we used leftovers to make tasty barbecue chicken goose pizzas.  However, the recipe still needs some work as the skin was not as crispy as I had hoped. 

Post 6. Baked Challah French Toast with stone fruit jams

When you need to feed a crowd at breakfast time, this french toast casserole is not only extremely easy, but also looks impressive and tastes divine. The slices are warm and custardy on the bottom with crispy edges on top and go great with a variety of fresh berries.

Click here for the french toast recipe. 

Post 7. Gluten-free breakfasts for a crowd: bacon, potatoes, coddled eggs and egg casseroles.

While there are a lot of gluten-free or low-carb breakfast casseroles starring eggs, varying amounts of milk products and often bacon or sausage, one of my favorite flavors is salsa with eggs. Click here for how-to guides for cooking brown sugar-glazed bacon and breakfast potatoes on a sheet pan, and baking cheesy coddled eggs with salsa in a muffin tin at the same time!


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