I LOVE Thanksgiving. I feel like I know too many people who moan incessantly about the holiday, but it is absolutely my favorite day of the year. Family, friends, food, and thankfulness (I need a synonym that starts with f) -- what could be better??
I adopted Thanksgiving as "my" holiday some years ago. Everyone in our family knows that they have a standing invitation; we've had as few as eight (the number we'll have tomorrow) and as many as sixteen people in our little kitchen. (I will admit: it's the one day a year when I really, REALLY wish I had a separate dining room. A dishwasher wouldn't hurt, either.) It's not a holiday where I tend to experiment with the food (except for, sometimes, when my sister-in-law is here: she's a vegetarian, so I try fun vegetarian entrees when she joins us) -- some years I try out a new side dish, but generally, it's all about the old standbys.
I get a little bit of help with the cooking, but for the most part I do most of it myself. I make a bunch of things from scratch, but I am not ashamed to take shortcuts with things. I have learned through trial and error that I really do prefer the bagged stuffing mixes to drying out my own bread cubes. My favorite is Pepperidge Farm Herb-Seasoned crumbles, although the Trader Joe's cornbread stuffing is also pretty good. I doctor it up, certainly, but it's not worth the added hassle of dealing with my own bread. One year, I bought a sugar pumpkin and roasted it myself rather than buying a can of pumpkin puree for pie, but no one noticed a difference in taste, so I'm back to the canned stuff now. I also generally buy pie crusts -- my favorite is from Trader Joe's. Again, I don't feel that the difference in taste is worth the added hassle. (I'll make a pie crust for a single pie, but since I make my crusts with a handheld pastry blender rather than a food processor, when I'm making a lot at one time I definitely prefer the shortcut!)
I try to get as much done the night before as I can. Tonight, for example, I chopped up the celery and onions for the stuffing (I'll make the stuffing itself after the turkey goes in to roast); made the pies; mashed the sweet potatoes (tomorrow they'll get warmed in the oven, and then topped with bacon and brown sugar); and did a few little other preparatory things. Tomorrow I'll get up and put the turkey in, and while that's roasting I'll chop up carrots and parsnips to roast; put the stuffing together; make the regular mashed potatoes; assemble the green bean casserole (one of those old standbys I am just not willing to give up); and then, at the end, heat up some vegetables and make the gravy (or, more likely, my mom will do it). We have a few things to go into the oven once the turkey comes out; hopefully we'll manage to only need the stovetop for the potatoes and gravy.
A few years back, after an unexpectedly short roasting time for an egregiously large turkey, Jim devised an equation to estimate the cook time of a bird. We've tried it out every year since, and it has been spot on. His theory is that a larger bird has a larger cavity, and since we don't stuff our turkey, it sort of cooks from the inside out as well as the outside in, since there is room for hot air in the cavity. Therefore, the larger the turkey, the fewer minutes per pound it should take to roast. He determined that the cube root of the weight of the bird (in pounds) will give you the approximate roasting time (in hours). And I'm telling you, it's worked for us. If you try it, let me know!
Edited to add: Sandi pointed out that the cooking temperature and other details would be good to know. Yes! I was tired when I wrote this and didn't even think about that. Duh. We follow Alton Brown's method of roasting: Prep your bird in whatever way you do it, then roast at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Then tent the breast with foil so it won't overcook, knock the temperature back to 325, and roast until a probe thermometer in the thickest part of the breast measures 161 degrees. Remove the turkey from the oven, tent the whole thing with foil, and let rest.