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Thanksgiving with the Langes often feels like an experiment—but it's not the location, or even the menu that changes much. It's how many people we can fit around the table.
My father is the youngest of six children, which makes for a lot of aunts and uncles and a lot of cousins. Add, as we have recently, my cousins' spouses and children and occasionally in-laws, and suddenly there are nearly 30 Langes to feed, ranging in age from 1 to 93. I love Thanksgivings with a crowd, the Tetris-like shuffle of tables and chairs and the scramble to find enough forks and spoons and glasses to get us all through the evening.
It's a feat that might make you believe in magic—but there are ways to make a large-format Thanksgiving completely achievable: Doing it potluck-style, with each family bringing a couple of things, is one way. Starting early (dinner is served around 4:30) helps, too. But the best way to get an advantage on dinner for a crowd is to cook ahead, so that come Thanksgiving Day, all you have to do is slide the turkey into the oven, put a big pot of cider and spices on the stove, and watch it all come together.
Ready? Here's what's on the freezable, scalable, do-ahead menu, and how to get it ready in time for Thanksgiving dinner with the whole gang:
- 1 13-pound turkey
- Kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- Zest of 1 small lemon
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 10 cracks black pepper
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 green apple
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 carrot
- 1 cup apple cider
- 1 cup turkey stock (vegetable or chicken stock will also work well)
Start the turkey on Tuesday—and plan to double this recipe.
Get two 13-or-so-pound turkeys. Make sure both are completely thawed by Tuesday. On Tuesday, spatchcock both of them and prepare the herb butter. (Spatchcocking a turkey cuts the cooking time in half. Here's exactly how to do it.) On Wednesday morning, rub one turkey with half the butter; cook the buttered turkey (and butter the second turkey) Wednesday afternoon. Carve the first turkey Wednesday night, and plan to heat it up on Thursday afternoon. Roast the second turkey around noon on Thursday and let it rest about an hour before carving it ceremoniously at the table (if that's your style).
- 2 large loaves of bread (about 2 3/4 pounds before crusts are removed / 2 pounds once crust is removed)
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 8 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cups small-diced onion
- 2 cups small-diced celery
- Kosher salt
- 1 small bunch sage
- 1/2 pound brussels sprouts, stemmed, cored, and leaves separated (see notes above)
- 1/2 cup Cognac, white wine, or sherry
- 3 to 4 cups chicken or turkey stock
- Freshly cracked pepper
- 2 eggs
Start the stuffing on Thursday morning, and plan to make 1 1/2 times this recipe.
If you start cooking the stuffing around noon, it will be ready by about 2:30 P.M.—and you can reheat it in a 350° F oven about 30 minutes before sitting down.
- 3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 8 tablespoons butter, divided
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 3 1/2 ounces goat cheese
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Heavy cream or milk, as needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup chopped scallions (optional)
Start the potatoes on Wednesday, and plan to quadruple this recipe.
On Wednesday, follow the recipe up until the last step; cover the potatoes tightly and stash in the refrigerator. On Thursday, take the potatoes out of the fridge around 3 P.M. so that they can come to room temperature, then bake for 20 minutes in a 375° F oven until slightly browned and crispy on top.
- 1 small head of garlic
- olive oil
- 3/4 ounce dried mushrooms, porcini, shitake, whatever you have
- 2 cups shitake mushrooms (or wild mushrooms if you have some), caps thinly sliced
- approx 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
- pinch fennel seeds, finely ground
- 3 tablespoons fat from chicken or turkey roasting pan (you can sub butter if you want to make this ahead of time)
- 3 tablespoons wondra flour
- salt and pepper
Make the gravy up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. Plan to quadruple this recipe.
Substitute butter for turkey drippings when making the gravy, and freeze in zip-top freezer bags. Remove from the freezer to thaw on Wednesday, and reheat on the stove on Thursday, about 30 minutes before eating. You can doctor with turkey drippings then, if you like.
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut squash
- 1/2 cup chicken broth, homemade or canned low-sodium
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup light sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 unpeeled Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apple, cored and finely diced
- Cracked black pepper
Make this soup up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, and plan to make 6 times this recipe.
That's a lot of soup! But any extra will make great leftovers on Friday. Freeze in zip-top freezer bags, remove from the freezer on Wednesday to thaw, and heat on the stovetop one hour before sitting down on Thursday.
- 1/3 cup, plus 2-3 tablespoons brandy, divided
- 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
- 8 black peppercorns
- 12 ounces fresh cranberries, picked over
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 medium bartlett pears, peeled
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted and divided
Make the cranberry sauce on Wednesday, and plan to quadruple this recipe.
On Wednesday, follow the recipe exactly—but reserve the toasted walnuts. Set the walnuts aside in a jar, and add just before eating on Thursday.
For the greens:
- 1/2 pound lacinato kale (about one small bunch, or half of a larger bunch)
- 1/2 pound curly kale (about one small bunch, or half of a larger bunch)
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts
- 1 pound green cabbage (about half a medium head or a quarter of a large one)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil, optional
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for assembly
- 2 tablespoons toasted pistachios, for assembly
Begin the salad on Tuesday, and triple the recipe.
On Tuesday, chop all of the greens and make the dressing. Store them in the refrigerator in separate containers, and assemble just before eating on Thursday.
- Butter for greasing, or nonstick cooking spray
- 2 cups (9 ounces/255 g) spooned and leveled self-rising flour (preferably low-protein Southern U.S. flour like White Lily)
- 1/4 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer your biscuits less sweet)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup shortening
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup buttermilk, or enough for dough to resemble cottage cheese (if you are not using low-protein flour, it will take more than 1 cup)
- 1 cup plain all-purpose flour, for shaping
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Make the biscuits up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving dinner, and triple the recipe.
Bake the biscuits, take them out of the pan, and cool completely. Spread the biscuits out on a baking sheet and freeze them; when frozen, place them in a zip-top freezer bag. On Thursday, about 15 to 20 minutes before sitting down, place the frozen biscuits on a baking sheet and bake at 350° F until hot.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Make the cake up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, and double the recipe.
Let the baked cakes cool completely, then wrap each in tinfoil and freeze in freezer bags. Remove the cakes from the freezer Wednesday night and place them, still wrapped, on wire racks to thaw completely.
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or sour cream), to taste
Make the whipped cream on Thursday morning, and double the recipe.
Covered with plastic wrap, it'll stay perky in the refrigerator until it's time for dessert—just underwhip it slightly before chilling, and whip it back into shape while the dinner dishes are being cleared. Add a spoonful to after-dinner coffee, too.
For the topping:
- 1/2 cup (65 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (45 grams) rolled oats
- 1 cup (85 grams) coarsely chopped walnut pieces
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
- Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1/4 cup (70 grams) dried apricots, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 to 1/4 cups (50 to 100 grams) sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 medium crisp, flavorful apples with a decent balance of sweetness and acidity (I like Pippins, Sierra Beauties, Pink Ladies, and new-crop Jonathans, or a mixture)
Make the apple crisp on Thursday, and triple the recipe.
On Thursday morning, prepare the fruit and place it in the baking dishes. Measure out the dry ingredients for the topping, and set them aside in a bowl. Right before you sit down to eat on Thursday afternoon, assemble the topping, scatter it over the crisps, and bake them while you eat dinner, so you can serve them warm. (Just be sure to set a timer so you don't forget about them while you're eating.)
- 1/2 gallon apple cider (I have used unfiltered)
- 3/4 bottle of gewurztraminer (or other white wine which is not too dry, or you can use even semi sweet one like Muscat)
- 4-5 sticks of cinnamon
- 4-5 cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon nut meg
- 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
- 3-4 tablespoons honey (depends on how sweet the wine you're using)
- cup or so of fresh cranberrries (of cubes of apple if not in cranberry season)
Make the cider on Thursday, and double the recipe.
About 1 hour before your guests arrive on Thursday, begin the cider—it'll make your whole house smell cozy while you finish up the last things on your to-do list. (Your guests won't know if you "sample" a bit of it before they get there.)
- 3 medium apples, quartered (no need to seed or core)
- 1 cup cranberries
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
Make the shrub up to 2 weeks before Thanksgiving, and double the recipe.
Just store the shrub in the refrigerator until it's time for cocktails on Thursday, and don't forget to stock up on sparkling water to serve with it.
To recap, an easy schedule for reference:
2 weeks before Thanksgiving, make the Cranberry-Apple Shrub, olive oil cakes, biscuits, gravy, and soup. Make your grocery list for Thanksgiving week, and make sure you have all the serving dishes, baking dishes, and pots you'll need. Borrow some from friends if you need to!
On Tuesday, spatchcock your turkeys and butter one of them. Prepare the salad ingredients.
On Wednesday, cook and carve one turkey and prepare the second turkey. Prepare the mashed potatoes and the cranberry sauce. Remove the cakes, gravy, and soup from the freezer.
On Thursday morning, make the whipped cream and stuffing. Prepare the apple crisp ingredients.
On Thursday afternoon, roast the second turkey. Put the soup in a pot on very low heat. Put the gravy in another pot on very low heat. Keep a careful eye on both—they should be totally thawed, but only barely warm.
Half an hour before eating, bake the biscuits and mashed potatoes. Warm the stuffing. Heat up the soup and the gravy. Warm the already-carved turkey meat. Assemble the salad and cranberry sauce. Slide the crisp into the oven. Serve it all buffet-style, and exhale deeply.