HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
What's your latest food project? Get great advice
TELL US

I think I'm Hosting Thanksgiving! Help! :)

l
lovessushi Nov 6, 2011 08:03 PM

So I think I'm hosting...We actually aren't sure yet. Long story

My question is I will get all the sides from Whole Foods - has anyone had experience with this?

Making the turkey myself. Would a breast do? How many could a breast feed?

What about dessert? How many things should I have?

Never done this before!!! Eeek! lol

Thank you

  1. e
    ErnieD Nov 6, 2011 08:25 PM

    I've only hosted small (4-6 ppl) Thanksgiving so you will probably get much better advice from others, but-I don't know how many people you are having, but t-day is not the time to run out of meat. A turkey breast is pretty small. On the other hand, are you willing to consider a turkey breast and a small ham? I know turkey is traditional but my experience has been that the ham goes much quicker, and it's so easy. At least it would stretch the meat with little extra work. As full disclosure, I've done ham only or ham and turkey breast for the past 4-5 years and it has worked out really well for us.

    Mt experience has been that you have a fair amount of wiggle room for dessert. Pumpkin pie is a given-even if no one likes it everyone wants it there. Fortunately I love it and am not above eating it for breakfast so I'm fine with the leftovers if they come to pass. In my (current, married) house we do an apple pie, but it's fine for this to be doctored up store pie. I grew up with only pumpkin. Can you ask if anything is important to any of your guests?

    And actually that last thing I think is huge-the first time I had Thanksgiving at the house of someone not related to me by blood, the hostess asked me if there was anything that was crucial to Thanksgiving to me, and indicated that she would be willing to either make it or help me in any way to make or incorporate it myself. I didn't really have anything life or death myself, but I thought it was so gracious of her. As I said, I've always only had a few extra guests for T-day, but I've always made it a point to make the same offer. I've only been taken up on it once, and that was my one and only experience with green bean/condensed soup/onion casserole, which is not something I actually grew up with.

    1. a
      acgold7 Nov 6, 2011 08:28 PM

      A breast will do fine if you're sure everyone likes white meat and no one like legs or wings, but it will be a very expensive way to go. May not be an issue if you are shopping at Whole Foods or will be buying Organic, Heritage, etc.

      As I point out in another thread, with the sale prices on whole birds during the Thanksgiving week, you can buy a whole bird and throw away the bottom half for less than half the price of just buying the breast alone. But these economics are for regular supermarket birds, not the expensive Organics or Heritage birds, as I said above.

      With a whole bird, plan on a pound per person. With just a breast, a half pound per person will do.

      1. s
        sayrob Nov 6, 2011 08:54 PM

        First, take a deep breath. I love hosting TG and am sad I have to travel this year. I have ordered the fresh, free range, organic, whatever turkeys and always get negative comments asking what I have done different that year. Amazingly, my best turkeys are the frozen Butterballs from the grocery store (no I don't represent Butterball). I follow cooking instructions from their website, rubbing olive oil, garlic and rosemary under the skin on the breast, stuffing with garlic, apples and onions that I later discard. Moist, easy and yummy. Do the whole turkey. After you get over removing the "insides" it's not that bad. Just don't forget to defrost for the few days it takes.

        I also enjoy reading all of the November cooking magazines for a fun new side, but stick with my own recipes for the rest. My extended familty expects the same boring thing. I did a pumpkin risotto one year that was yummy, but I thought my dad would have a fit.

        Dessert is always pumpkin pie, apple pie and chocolate frosted brownies (at my request as I don't do pie). Keep dessert simple. My friennds/relatives often ask to take it "to go."

        1. o
          oooYUM Nov 7, 2011 05:25 AM

          Sayrob has it right, and actually I find the Butterball turkeys almost foolproof.
          I have to say, if you cook it that way, it WILL be perfect.
          What I do is roast mine in an aluminum roasting pan
          (found in the grocery store usually stacked next to the turkey aisle :-)
          I COVER MY TURKEY WITH THE HEAVIEST ALUMINUM FOIL YOU CAN FIND
          This is my "secret"
          about an hour before it's done, I remove the foil and it cook it for the remaining time
          it develops the most delicious brown skin...
          you will have to scoop out the juice at this point, because in my experience there will
          be about 4 or more cups of juice in the pan, and you will have to be careful because it's HOT.

          The butterball instructions come with a gravy mix that works just fine, as well.

          I think in my experience, if I didn't make all the usual "trimmings" my family would rebel at this point.
          Actually, I have trained them all to cook the sides over the years, so now they look forward to doing their favorites.... I make the pies.
          and the gravy.

          I have 4 grown sons and a DH, been doing Thanksgiving for at LEAST 35 years and always get it right.
          Do not be afraid.
          It's the easiest meal ever.
          Just bring it down to it's simplest parts....

          1 Reply
          1. re: oooYUM
            s
            sueatmo Nov 7, 2011 06:48 AM

            Agree with everything oooYum has posted. This is the easiest meal ever, particularly if others bring sides and bread, which is often done when many people are involved. I like Butterballs, but Honeysuckles have worked well for me too.

            You do need to make sure the turkey in its pan or roaster will fit into your oven. I use old enamel roasters which are terribly old fashioned, but like OooYum, I remove the lid in the last hour or so to make sure I get that golden color.

            If the others you are hosting bring sides, and you provide the turkey, stuffing (if used) and dessert, the meal should go together pretty easily. The non-cooks in your friends' circle can be assigned bread or wine.

            While the meal itself is simple to put together, it does require planning. So invest some time in thinking the logistics through.

            If I can cook a turkey dinner, you can too.

          2. o
            oooYUM Nov 7, 2011 05:28 AM

            sorry, I meant the Butterball insert has a gravy RECIPE....

            don't mean to confuse you.

            Most people look for turkey, dressing, mashed potato, gravy, cranberries, rolls.
            Pumpkin, Apple, Pecan pies in my house.

            and because of all the grown men I feed, I have to buy a spiral ham to serve the following day.
            Good Times !!!!
            Can't wait !!!

            Oh and the aluminum pan that you buy to cook the turkey in (if that's the route you choose)
            should be the one reinforced with wire on the outside, or if not, then it needs to sit on a large baking sheet before you stick it in the oven. if the turkey is too tall to fit, take out one of the oven racks and just lower the remaining one.... sorry please don't think I am talking "down" to you, it's just that you asked....

            4 Replies
            1. re: oooYUM
              l
              lovessushi Nov 7, 2011 08:09 PM

              Thank you all! Very helpful suggestions!!!

              I'm very particular about meat, so the turkey must be humanely raised, etc - which means I'll either get it from the local place here that raises them, or I'll get one from WF. If I get one from WF i seem to have the option of already cooked, and then I have to heat it, or raw...not sure which.

              Perhaps I should do a whole bird if it will be cheaper though...

              Yes, if we were having others besides family, I would be happy to make something they might really like for Thanksgiving (or at least to buy it ;)

              Pumpkin and apple pie sound good - I think maybe something extra - but 3 desserts seems like more than enough for 6-7 people. It's too much actually, but I know a few of the people will want to take leftovers home.

              oooYUM I would NEVER think you're talking down to me!! I really appreciate it, because I'm still really new to much of this, and I always feel stupid asking the "simple" questions, so thank you for answering them! :)

              1. re: lovessushi
                s
                sandylc Nov 7, 2011 08:20 PM

                Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for a brined, butterflied, high-temp turkey that is very good. It also does not tie up the oven for as long as a traditionally-roasted bird. Just be sure to follow the directions closely, including putting the unsalted dressing on the rack below the turkey.

                1. re: sandylc
                  l
                  lovessushi Nov 7, 2011 08:25 PM

                  That sounds very good - and I like that it doesn't tie up the oven as long. I'll look it up - Thanks!

                2. re: lovessushi
                  b
                  berkleybabe Nov 7, 2011 09:21 PM

                  We've used Amish turkeys for years, and also grocery ones - (I do understand your thoughts about humanely raised, do you know if that' actually those turkeys @ Wf?) Best way we cook is covered with a cheese cloth soaked in a combo of wine and butter (1stick of butter to 1 bottle wine.) Helps keep the bird moist, and adds to the combined elements at the bottom of the pan for a great gravy base. While this isn't that hard a meal on technique, it's tricky on timing. And you'll use every pot and pan you have so keep the dishwashing going.

                  My advice is get some help on the sides but cook the bird yourself. Not so hard to cook some green beans...a guest can make oven stuffing, someone else witha pie. And make the mashed potatoes at home. Good luck...check in before and after.

              2. mlou72 Nov 7, 2011 10:47 PM

                It sounds like you're not used to cooking turkey, so what I'm going to suggest is something successful, tasty, easy, and foolproof rather than picture perfect.... I heard about this on a local TV show and it was from a woman who was a personal chef for an old and very wealthy man who wanted Thanksgiving dinner once a week. This personal chef started the job and was told this, only to find that whole turkeys out of season are frozen and struggled to figure out how to defrost and cook a bird by dinnertime.

                Thanks to google I found the clip of this show!
                http://www.foodfanaticsunwashed.com/2009/11/thanksgiving-on-view-from-bay.html

                In case it disappears, here are the instructions from Denise Vivaldo:

                This is for a 14 lb bird. Under 14 lbs, allow 2 lbs of meat per person, larger turkeys you can allow about 1 lb per person because they have a higher meat to bone ratio. If you're feeding more than 8 people I'd just make two pans of this using 14 lb birds so you get extra stuffing.

                1. Have the butcher cut the turkey into 8 pieces
                2. Keep the giblets, use them to make the gravy (google a recipe, it's easy
                )3. Mix your stuffing and put it in a 9x13 baking dish (2-3 boxes)
                4. Lay the turkey pieces on top of the stuffing (rub with oil and any seasonings you want)
                5. Bake at 350 for about 1 hr 15 min

                You don't have to worry about the safety of the stuffing like you would if it was inside the bird yet you get all the flavor of the turkey drippings in the stuffing. The turkey stays moist unless you really overcook it. Carving is much easier since you're dealing with pieces. Storage of leftovers is easy, you don't have to have a huge roasting pan, you don't have to wrestle with a raw large bird, and it's virtually mess free. And actually, the brilliant thing is, if your crowd loves dark meat you can get some extra legs or thighs and throw them in a second pan over stuffing, or an extra full or half breast. I've done just a half breast and a leg when it's just been 3-4 of us, which makes having traditional turkey and stuffing super easy.

                *Golly, I found the tale she wrote about this turkey! It's a bit crazy, but there is a fantastic photo of the turkey. She adds that if the breast is done early, you simply take it out while the rest of the bird finishes cooking.
                http://www.huffingtonpost.com/denise-...

                6 Replies
                1. re: mlou72
                  KarenDW Nov 7, 2011 11:10 PM

                  I've often prepared turkey dinners by similar methods. The flexibility of having everything in one 9x13 pan is awesome; leaves room in the oven for baked sweet potatoes, or a vegetable side dish, or a pie :)
                  For 6-8 people, one breast plus two whole legs would be lots of meat.

                  1. re: mlou72
                    o
                    oooYUM Nov 8, 2011 04:26 AM

                    Well, that's amazing mlou72 !!!!
                    I think I will have to try it !!!!
                    Maybe for a different Holiday, my family would freak if they didn't see
                    the dinner they have become accustomed to all these years !!!!

                    Ugh, I forgot to add that they HAVE TO HAVE my Butterscotch Yams
                    green bean casserole and orange salad......
                    I made my Thanksgiving dinner sound like a meat and potato fest previously ..... :-)

                    1. re: oooYUM
                      mlou72 Nov 8, 2011 02:15 PM

                      I've also come across the use of turkey wings laid over the stuffing just to flavor it. Quite a nice alternative to stuffing the bird, and a cheap way to amp up store bought stuffing mix.

                      http://www.thebittenword.com/thebittenword/2010/11/thanksgiving-2010-rustic-bread-stuffing-with-sausage-cherries-and-pecans.html

                      http://carolbentley.wordpress.com/201...

                      1. re: mlou72
                        l
                        lovessushi Nov 8, 2011 02:21 PM

                        mlou72 this is so cool!! I would definitely consider this!!!
                        Berkelybabe - whole foods is using a 5 step rating system now for how the animal was raised/treated/etc. so I can only hope it's honest and the poultry and meat I buy from there was raised the way they say it was on the label. We do have a local place by me - not amish but reportedly free range - very expensive though.

                      2. re: oooYUM
                        m
                        mom22tots Nov 8, 2011 04:04 PM

                        Butterscotch yams sound delicious!! Care to share the recipe?

                      3. re: mlou72
                        mlou72 Nov 8, 2011 02:20 PM

                        Here's a fancier variation that involves brining and cooking the breast separately in a roasting pan in the traditional manner, while the dark meat goes over the pan of stuffing.

                        http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20101117/LIVING/711179967/0/OPINION03

                        And here's another with just the whole breast laid over a mound of stuffing.

                        http://cher-homespun.blogspot.com/201...

                      4. Kajikit Nov 8, 2011 05:37 AM

                        I hope you're aware of how horrendously expensive bought side dishes are for holiday meals. You can't get anything easier to make than sweet potato casserole and smashed potatoes, and Whole Food will charge you through the nose for the convenience factor! How many people are you hosting? If you don't have any idea yet, we can't really advise you on quantities.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Kajikit
                          l
                          lovessushi Nov 8, 2011 07:33 PM

                          Because of a variety of factors, that are not necessarily perfect to write about on Chowhound, it's just easier this year to get the sides ready made. I will definitely be making the turkey though. Planning to have 6 people. But I do appreciate your thoughts on it!

                        2. drongo Nov 8, 2011 04:00 PM

                          I have found that people expect the traditional whole turkey (as in the Normal Rockwell painting)... so I don't get creative with the centerpiece of the meal.

                          This year I am planning to try the "dry-brined" (OK, salt-rubbed) turkey: http://www.latimes.com/la-fo-saltedtu...

                          For dessert... I find my guests insist on bringing pies. So I make Red Velvet Cake (which my daughter loves) and that's it.

                          1. mattstolz Nov 8, 2011 04:10 PM

                            I know in my familly of four a breast (even a breast roast) wouldnt even come close to covering everyone on T-day. In my experience, its always better to err on the side of having too much, and then you can have leftovers (and if people are coming over and you dont want leftovers around, you can always send it home with guests!)

                            1. Will Owen Nov 8, 2011 05:27 PM

                              Whole Foods is where I almost always get my turkey, doubly important now since Mrs. O has declared that no factory-farmed meat shall pass her lips ever again. Here in SoCal we get a choice between Mary's and Diestel.

                              My turkeys have been spatchcocked and roasted the last few years, though the bed-of-stuffing idea is appealing. As far as this family is concerned, the breast meat is for sandwiches, period, and when the whole crowd was in attendance I had to get the extra parts to cook a "four-legged" turkey! This year we will be just five, and Ma-in-law eats hardly anything these days, so my approximately eight-pounder (I ordered 6-10, so I'm just guessing) ought to be adequate, especially with a broad range of side dishes.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Will Owen
                                l
                                lovessushi Nov 8, 2011 07:32 PM

                                Will yes, that's where I am - no factory farmed meat! Your turkey sounds delicious. We are a small crowd, but as someone said above, the breast is definitely not going to work, now that I'm taking a minute to think about all this. Definitely a whole turkey!

                              2. Emme Nov 8, 2011 08:07 PM

                                not knowing the potential size of your affair, i can't suggest too much, but...

                                as mentioned above, the traditional (read: expected) sides are not head-scratchers, and can in part, be prepped ahead. not mashed potatoes, but i have steamed/baked these ahead. i think stuffing is the greatest challenge depending upon what people's expectations are... and gravy. have *lots* of it.

                                if roasting a big bird seems daunting, you could always do what i've moved to doing... roast 2-3 chickens (or how many ever you need). my family would rather have this than turkey. don't know if that's heresy in your parts, but for me, it's much more manageable and less variable.

                                re dessert, sure pumpkin and apple pies. just in case chocolate is on the minds, maybe have a few truffles or chocolate petit fours around... without fail, one of my grandmothers always brings an iced lemon bundt ring. no clue why. she purchases it, but the way she presents it, you'd think she'd made it. funny.

                                good luck, and if you supply more details when you have them, we can help you more!

                                1. w
                                  walker Nov 8, 2011 08:51 PM

                                  I have always had good luck with Butterballs, too and last year did a Kosher bird from Trader Joe. I loved it but someone else on CH said theirs tasted gamy.

                                  I guess you're getting one from WF -- already cooked? Anyway, I strongly suggest that you use a real roasting pan for the turkey. One year I used one of those (sturdy) foil pans and when I was removing it from the oven, it folded and started pouring out my priceless, delicious drippings onto the hardwood floor and my feet. Luckily, hardwood was not damaged and my feet were okay -- good thing I was wearing Tevas and just had to wash them.

                                  Live and learn -- the more you do this the better you'll get. If you decide to make a side, mashed potatoes are not hard and are so good -- love to use Yukon Gold.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: walker
                                    o
                                    oooYUM Nov 9, 2011 03:57 AM

                                    OH NO, Walker !!!!!!!
                                    I hate that that happened to you !!!!! OMG !!!!!!
                                    I usually pull out the oven rack, then peep open the foil and start scooping out the juice.....
                                    If you use a bulb baster it's tricky ~ be careful !!!!!!!!
                                    Like I said, there can be cupfuls and cupfuls....... and it's SO HOT !!!!
                                    I can't believe you weren't burned !!!!!

                                    I've never had this happen to me, but you've got me thinking !

                                    1. re: walker
                                      s
                                      sandylc Nov 9, 2011 08:36 AM

                                      You could double up or even use three nested foil pans, maybe....

                                    2. s
                                      sayrob Nov 8, 2011 08:56 PM

                                      One more thought to consider...carving. As I said in my original post, I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner and actually find it relaxing. But, carving the finished turkey leaves me clueless. I always recruit someone to do it and make sure you have a nice, sharp knife or you will have ragged unappetizing pieces. Enjoy! Hope this begins a long tradition of hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

                                      1. t
                                        tazochai Nov 9, 2011 06:18 AM

                                        lovessushi, I think I understand where you're coming from. Sounds like you have about 7 guests, haven't done this before, and you care about where the meat comes from.

                                        It's easy to be overwhelmed when hosting a dinner like this, and the day is about family and friends right? Try not to stick yourself in the kitchen all day, and keep it nice and easy.

                                        Buy a turkey from whole foods, not just a breast. I always buy one of the large heavy-duty disposable roasting pans, to save me cleaning hassle. I tend to make my own gravy, so I use a metal trivet to raise the turkey off the bottom of the pan so it doesn't get so soggy under there. Doesn't sound like you've prepared a turkey before, so I'll state something important. You have to clean out the turkey from both ends, pulling out any packages of giblets or necks or whatever, from both ends, the neck end and the ass end. You need to rinse it thoroughly under cool water, inside and out. Then before you prepare it with butter or seasonings, pat it dry inside and out with lots of paper towels.

                                        Have lots of gravy. It seems everytime I go to someone else's house for Thanksgiving, there's not enough gravy. If you don't want to make it yourself, that's fine, don't stress about it. Just buy envelope turkey gravy mix, or the ones in jars. Even when I make my own gravy, I buy a few jars of it so we don't run out. (Plus, some of my guests get grossed out by giblet gravy)

                                        I buy rolls from the store to make it easy, and I buy the Ocean Spray cranberry sauce in the can ( I love that stuff more than all the times I've made homemade cranberry sauce).

                                        Make your mashed potatoes, and have at least one veggie side.

                                        Have a couple pies for dessert.

                                        Have drinks, and don't forget about guests that don't drink anything with sugar or caffeine or alcohol. Usually an iced tea makes them happy.

                                        Some of my guests will be here a lot earlier than dinner, so I'm having appetizers on hand.

                                        Done. I also thought one of the other poster's suggestions about, asking your guests if there's any food item they consider key to Thanksgiving Day. That is very thoughtful, and I'm about to email my guests and ask them the same question, I think that's lovely. If any of my hostesses had ever asked me that, I would have simply said, "please have a quart of gravy." LOL

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: tazochai
                                          k
                                          kyoules Nov 9, 2011 08:04 AM

                                          "I also thought one of the other poster's suggestions about, asking your guests if there's any food item they consider key to Thanksgiving Day."

                                          I would second (or third, I suppose) this suggestion! I am cooking for 14 this year, and it is my 2nd time hosting Thanksgiving. I emailed everyone a couple weeks ago and asked them to email me the 3 foods they most look forward to on Thanksgiving. My goal was to include at least one of everybody's favorites, but I am actually able to include all 3 for everyone. It was fun and sometimes surprising finding out each person's favorites. I was planning on ditching the green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows, but they showed up on several of my guests' favorites list, so I will be making them.

                                          1. re: tazochai
                                            w
                                            walker Nov 9, 2011 10:49 AM

                                            Re: rack for the turkey to sit on -- if poster does not want to invest in one, Butterball hotline people suggest making a ring out of (lots) of heavy duty foil for the turkey to sit on top of -- easy to toss out at the end of cooking.

                                            1. re: walker
                                              l
                                              lovessushi Nov 11, 2011 09:41 PM

                                              Thank you for the foil idea - I may just buy a rack. It would be good to have one anyway I suppose - but the foil is definitely good in a pinch!

                                            2. re: tazochai
                                              l
                                              lovessushi Nov 11, 2011 09:35 PM

                                              tazochai you hit the nail on the head! Exactly!!!
                                              Thank you for all the suggestions - this is beyond helpful, and I really appreciate it!!
                                              You get me! lol - Thank you so much :)

                                            3. s
                                              sandylc Nov 9, 2011 08:38 AM

                                              I've only had/made turkey at Thanksgiving once. Our family stuffs ducks instead...really yummy. Not decided for this year yet. We think we may do stuffing rolled in pork. I don't really like turkey very much...it doesn't have much taste.

                                              1. r
                                                Ritcheyd Nov 14, 2011 04:03 PM

                                                I once had to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 9 with very short notice. And while I like to cook, there was no way I was going to make the whole meal from scratch. So here's what I did : I ordered a frozen but pre-cooked turkey. I just had to thaw it and "cook" on very low heat for a couple hours. Made the mashed potatoes from scratch - I'm sorry but there is no acceptable substitute! For the dressing I used cornbread Stove-Top. (Please don't flame me.) But I added sauteed fresh celery and onions and drippings from the turkey and golden raisins which really brought it to life. A couple packages of frozen green beans in the microwave. A jar of Lingonberries instead of cranberry sauce. (We're Swedish) Leftover potatis-korv (Swedish potato sausage) from the night before. I bought the dinner rolls and the pumpkin pie but made fresh whipped cream to top. And then I asked my aunt to help me with the gravy which she was glad to do. I didn't hear one complaint and everyone seemed to have a good time.

                                                My point is that you really don't have to make the whole meal from scratch but a few easy homemade items can really make a big difference. I think many old people will scoff at the thought of store bought items. For example we've all heard the expression "My grandmother would roll over in her grave ..." But I think if pies and rolls were available then, they would have bought them too. (OK, I think pies and rolls were available at bakeries at the turn of the century but they were much more expensive for the hard working class people and most women didn't work outside the home then. So I supposed it was just assumed that everything be made from scratch).

                                                As an aside, last year I tried making fresh cranberry sauce from the recipe on the side of the bag of fresh cranberries. It was super easy and the flavor was so bright and fresh compared to the canned. I'll never go back!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Ritcheyd
                                                  l
                                                  lovessushi Nov 26, 2011 07:41 PM

                                                  Sounds like it turned out to be a great meal! I love how you added fresh touches to store bought things, etc.
                                                  In the end there was too much family conflict, and no-one wanted to have it hear, so we wound up going out to eat, which I found quite depressing. The hightlight of the entire thanksgiving was coming back home and making meatloaf with my bf to eat at midnight since we hadn't really eaten dinner!
                                                  Thanks everyone - I hope to finally get to use all your great tips next year!

                                                Show Hidden Posts