for 5 people (some of which are kids) a 12-15 pounder should be more than enough - you'll still have enough for some leftovers, too.
my mom (who didn't like to cook and wasn't too good at it, lol) always used the frozen candied yams/apples - very quick to make (can be done in the microwave even quicker than the oven). so i've just followed suit because they taste good and are convenient. i want to say it's mrs. pauls brand...i don't think that's quite right though - i'll look in the store tomorrow for the exact name.
i've also gotten a bunch of sweet potatoes
, baked them a day ahead and then mashed them with some butter and cinnamon - easy to reheat in the microwave. you can throw some mini marshmallows in (and lightly mix) right before you put it on the table (the kids will like that
) the canned yams have a recipe on the side to make them candied - from experience, the frozen stuff is much easier and tastier.
actually, if you want regular mashed potatoes
, you can do them a day ahead too.
something different that i've done is cook pierogi as the 'potato
' dish...we're polish, so everyone likes 'em...
before going to all the trouble to make fresh cranberry sauce - make sure everyone likes the whole berries. kids tend to prefer the jellied stuff out of the can (ocean spray is the best. they also have a whole berry version which has some jelly with whole berries mixed in - might be a nice compromise).
i've got a good recipe for sausage stuffing - if you want it, let me know and i'll pm it to you. i also have a good recipe for coleslaw - it takes a while to do it...is definitely worth it, though!!
if you're going to stuff the bird - make sure you take out that little packet of giblets first!! also, the neck is usually in there too (or up the tush end). some people like to eat the giblets (liver, etc) so you can cook them seperately (slow-boil them). you can also use them when making your gravy.
don't stuff the bird so full that it's completely packed...you want the stuff to cook!! i usually do it just over 3/4's full - if i have any left over, i just put it in a casserole dish and cook it seperately (covered so it doesn't dry out). i'll take some of the juices from the bird pan and pour them over what's in the casserole dish to add some of the flavor, too.
regardless of whether you stuff or not, to get the bird nice and golden brown, use a small amount of oil on a paper towel and smear it over the top of the breast and the legs.
put the bird in a pan big enough for it! use a rack to set the bird on and put enough water in the bottom to just cover it ( a few cups will do it). keep the bird covered for the first few hours and then, the last 45 minutes is all you need, uncovered, for it to get nice and browned. you shouldn't need to add more water - as the bird cooks, it will give off some liquid...periodically (every hour) baste with the water/juices. it's done when the little temp thing pops up (if it has one). if it doesn't have one, put a fork into the thickest part of the leg as well as the spot on the breast behind the thigh - if the juices run clear, it's done.
if you don't have pan with a lid, you can use tin foil - spray it with some pam so it doesn't stick to the bird. also, you can 'tent' it to keep it off the bird. i've used those cooking bags too...they work terrific! only thing is the skin doesn't get to crusty and i like to munch on it, so i don't use them too often...
i always cook at 275 until i can smell it cooking - that's about 1 1/2 hours - then i raise the temp to 325 for a couple of hours and then turn it down to 275 again for the rest of the time. in more than 20 years, i've never had a dried out turkey.
i usually do a 12-15 pounder and i stuff it. takes 4-5 hours.
if you get a frozen turkey let it defrost in the fridge for at least 3 days. there may still be some frozen areas...run cold water into the carcass to remove ice crystals so you can get the bag of giblets loose. actually, a slightly frozen bird will come out juicier.
there's also the school of thought about cooking it upside down first and then turning it over to have a really moist turkey. i've done that a couple of times and it really does make a difference! it's hard to turn it over when it's hot and the breast side gets squished, so, if looks/presentation are important, i wouldn't do this on the first time doing the dinner!! wait until next year when all they care about is getting to the really tasty bird that they know you've got there
the usual vegy's are easy enough to do...i always make the pumpkin pie myself, too...