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Thanksgiving pared down

Just pondering. How simple could one make it? Oh, not a turkey sandwich, but maybe salad, turkey risotto, and pumpkin cheesecake. ?? Any thoughts on keeping it simple?

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  1. Simple is easy. The few times it been just the three of us I roast a smallish turkey and keep the sides to a min. Usually stuffing, mashed and a salad or veggie. Dessert from the local culinary school.

    I much prefer a big get together and going all out though. It's my all time favorite holiday.

    1 Reply
    1. How many people? If only 2 or 3 you could roast a chicken- better yet, treat yourself to a Zuni chicken.

      1. You could make a roasted turkey breast. I just made it the other night. I follow a recipe from Cook's Illustrated and it's easy and good. Not sure how many people you are talking about but the turkey breast feeds 5-6 people or there are even half breasts on the bone that feed about 3.

        1. My thoughts ran something like this: no no no no NO. There must be many pies, a huge pan of dressing (cornbread dressing, not stuffing, people here), ALL the potatoes, deviled eggs, etc etc etc.

          It's weird that I'm not an emotional eater or feeder, but the idea of not having our "favorites" on the table is somewhat depressing.

          2 Replies
          1. re: shanagain

            I think simple can be good, & I second the idea of a turkey breast, smoked or roasted, & I would add in all your favorite sides, w/ smaller quantities. Sometimes, in trying to stick w/ tradition, T'giving goes over the top & is more of a stress than it should be. If you already have a large group to cook for, that's fine, but you can do a lovely smaller celebratory meal, too.

            1. re: thistle5

              Yes, add the sides that you like. For a small group, even 3 people, I'd still make brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce or something like that. I don't mind having leftovers of those but I don't want a million pounds of turkey left over.

          2. Don't feel pressured by the overachievers on Chowhound, or the food network, or your relatives! I like the dark meat, I would do stuffed turkey thighs, maybe some mushroom risotto (maybe with turkey stock), a salad of arugula, roasted squash and pecans. My DH would insist on cranberry sauce. And pumpkin cheesecake sounds wonderful.

            2 Replies
            1. re: firecooked

              how wonderful to look so forward to your kind invite-put us down for 2 please :)

              1. re: iL Divo

                This year I'm going to my brothers... so while I will get the stuffed thighs, there will be mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin and pecan pies along with the rest of the turkey. But I'm planning something smaller scale for Christmas!

            2. One year it was only a few of us, we did jumbo shrimp, filet mignon with baked potato, chives and sour cream and creamed corn. Apple pie for dessert.

              2 Replies
              1. re: LuluTheMagnificent

                Good for you! The Pilgrims did not have turkey and dressing.

              2. One year when it was just me and DH, I did deep-fried turkey legs instead of a whole bird (neither of us likes white meat anyway). Stuffing and mashed potatoes, one vegetable and two mini-pies. Still plenty of leftovers, and not too much work. I think the OP's plan sounds just fine, although for me stuffing is non-negotiable (I couldn't care less about turkey, as long as I get my stuffing!).

                1. My mother used to roast a capon if wee were not at a relative's house for the holiday. Much better than turkey, much bigger than chicken. No idea what I'll do this year, as we'll be travelling the weekend prior. Maybe something with turkey thighs or a breast, maybe just go out.Gotta have something with cranberries (usually cranberry-persimmon pie), celery stuffed with green olive cream cheese, and creamed onions. Everything else can vary without much concern.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: zeldaz51

                    The year my parents came to visit me we went super un-traditional. Thanksgiving out in nyc is crazy expensive, we didnt want to deal with shopping and cooking (it was their vacation!) and a catered meal from whole foods in their rented apt sounded depressing.....
                    So we went out for Chinese to a place that specialized in soup dumplings! It was an awesome meal, and totally stress-free

                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Totally agree.

                      If we are not with other family, and it's just the hubby and me? We go out for killer dim sum, order way extra for leftovers - and it's still cheaper than a $20 a person cheapie turkey dinner, while having the quality (and fun!) be way way more.

                  2. Roasted turkey leg, individual stuffing "cups" baked in a ramiken, mixed roasted veggies (parsnips, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, onions with rosemary and garlic), green beans with almonds and a mushroom gravy, pumpkin pie.
                    IMO thanksgiving is alllllll about the leftovers-so even if cooking for two i would make enough for 4-6. Pumpkin pie for breakfast is a day after tradition in my family......(its practically healthy! There's pumpkin in it! :)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Ttrockwood

                      Pumpkin and eggs! Perfect for breakfast.

                      1. re: firecooked

                        Better than pretty much ALL standard American breakfast foods!

                        1. re: sandylc

                          .....well let's see, eggs, milk, fruit, pumpkin < (roughage) spices from heaven, and isn't sugar/brown or regular, on the food chain somewhere ..........................hahahahah
                          I'm all for it myself.
                          we oughtta start a thread called "day after Thankgiving, did you eat your Thanksgiving pie yet?"

                    2. I'm all for keeping it simple, especially now that it's generally just two to four of us, but even before the guest list got pared down, I was paring down the menu.

                      I used to go all out, everything from scratch, including the bread to make the stuffing, the pie crusts, and the dinner rolls. I usually spent 48-72 hours cooking, was a frazzled mess by the end, and collapsed into bed before everyone even left. As much as I enjoy food traditions (and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays...it's all the love and joy of Christmas without the shopping and obligation of presents), I love being able to spend the time with my family enjoying the day more.

                      One year, I did a big pot of chicken and dumplings, a few easy munchies (cheese and crackers, crudites and hummus), brussel sprouts (pretty much just for me), and bread pudding and a pie.

                      Another year, I surveyed the important people who would be there (sorry, but Grandma trumps second cousin) what was the one thing they couldn't live without that was our version and made those (ended up being bread pudding, my cranberry sauce, and my version of stuffing) and I storebought the rest with a couple of rotisserie chickens, some veggies and mashed potatoes from the deli, and a pie for those who doesn't care for bread pudding.

                      After grandma died and it was only two to four people, I've let restaurants cater (while making one or two special things...these days that would mostly be my cranberry sauce and Nantucket cranberry pie), done smaller pots of chicken and dumplings, did a chicken curry one year, and last year I did rotisserie chickens and sides from Trader Joe's refrigerated case (which were actually ridiculously good) because I was too busy at work to plan anything else and didn't come up with something until the Wednesday before. Still not sure what we'll do this year.

                      The point is, while the extravagant dinners seemed quite satisfying at the time (both from a gastronomical and a personal achievement standpoint), the simplified Thanksgivings are actual the ones that my family and I have enjoyed far more because I got to spend more time with my family friends than worrying about what we're going to put in our bellies and not once have there been complaints about the meal being unsatisfying. I think your menu is just fine and one I would proudly serve at my own home.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: amishangst

                        The point of T-day is not to kill yourself trying to impress, its to be with family and friends, to just be grateful for what you have. So go simple. I do almost every year. Homemade cranberry sauce, some stuffing, potatoes of some kind, maybe roasted brussels sprouts and usually one other thing, we don't eat meat or poultry, so its usually some kind of cheesy casserole.

                        And there have been the years when I was just not in the mood, somwe ordered pizza or took sandwiches and some picnic items to the beach. (T-day us SoCal usually means sunny skies!).

                        T-day is not as big of a deal for us Orthodox Jews, at least for a lot of us. We make huge meals almost every week for Shabbat, so the idea of making a big meal for one day may just not be as daunting. That's not to say that some don't go all out and prepare the whole shebang and stress about it, but I find, that for me, at least, its really just another Shabbat meal, but during the week rather than Friday night,

                        But just try not to stress. There are no hard and fast rules about Thanksgiving dinner. Go ahead and make what you're happy withl after all, you're the one eating it. If you want jelly heans and popcorn and toast, go for it,

                        Oh, wait. That's Charlie Brown. Oops! My bad. :)

                      2. I've done TG meal for as little as 3. I didn't omit anything. it was small turkey, mashed pots/gravy, brussels gratin, whipped yams, cranberry sauce, red jello with marshmallows, fried apples and punk pie. smaller amounts of everything except turkey/potatoes/gravy for leftovers.
                        have a great thanksgiving.

                        1. I plan to get a medium turkey, remove the legs and thighs to roast for broth for gravy, and "Zuni" the breast. Also stuffing and cranberry sauce.

                          1. If it's just dinner for 2, then ...

                            Cornish game hen (one each), paired with some roasted fingerling potatoes mixed with Japanese yams, and sauteed kale with pearl onions. Finish off with dessert of individual pumpkin tarts

                            6 Replies
                              1. re: happybaker

                                Honestly, I think Thanksgiving should be more about family and communal gatherings than food, esp. voluminous amounts of food.

                                No matter how you define "simple" just don't feel like you have to make enough food to feed everyone of the Cowboys' lineman after a football game.

                                The meal can be simple (just turkey and mashed potatoes) or complicated (coq au vin and risotto) but treat it like any other meal in terms of food quantity.

                                Then just settle down, eat, and most importantly enjoy and *savor* that you are actually eating with family and loved ones.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Ah Ips.

                                  True, all you say. In fact, my husband used to complain that my travel sandwiches were never as good as my Dad's - and I realized he was measuring them against the sandwiches my Dad made, with love, from the Thanksgiving leftover turkey. Hard to beat that.

                                  But the flip side to your comment is what Margaret Smith, the comedian, used to say in dealing with her mom asking why she didn't stay longer at the holidays. And her rebuttal was, that she stayed as long as she currently did "Because I can't get Delta to wait in the yard."

                                  1. re: happybaker

                                    It's that old adage ...

                                    ... "Too much of a good thing"

                                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                                        .....how could a turkey/cranberry sauce/stuffing/gravy sandwich be anything but fabulous.................

                                        I'll bet dads sandwiches were/are the best, but the memories are great forever...

                              2. A turkey breast, or a roast chicken.

                                Dressing. This is what's non-optional to me, what keeps even the most modest yet tradition-nodding meal from feeling too pared-down. It can be made ahead, and re-heated with broth/drippings while the poultry rests.

                                Potato-sweet potato-greens gratin. This stands in for several traditional stand-alone sides: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, green beans casserole. It can be made ahead through the first (covered) bake, then baked uncovered with its cheesy crust on the day.

                                Relish tray: carrot and celery sticks, pickle spears, black olives.

                                Dessert: molasses-spice cookies (with optional ice cream).

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: ellabee

                                  I would do something similar to the above.

                                  I would suggest picking which dishes are most special or important to you and just making those...without worrying if it makes a perfectly compete meal or not.

                                  I personally would want roast turkey breast (could even be a half breast), mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing. I really don't care about salad or sweet potatoes or any dessert.

                                  There is also nothing wrong with making your personal favorite dishes from scratch, and then supplementing the meal with store bought cranberry sauce or side dish or a nice dessert. It saves time and clean up and many store offer some more gourmet options this time of year.

                                  1. re: Mellicita

                                    This is exactly what I do. My family often criticizes my unbalanced dinner, but when it's one or two the benefit is getting to make just what you want.

                                  2. re: ellabee

                                    In real life, I'm attending a more pared-down Thanksgiving this year, hosted by vegetarians. We're bringing our own roasted turkey breast and mushroom gravy [mainly for the matriarch, with blessing of the hosts], and a carrot mash to share. There'll be brussels sprouts, and pumpkin mac & cheese, and I'm really looking forward to being a guest more than a cook.

                                  3. I am likely making dinner for only two this year, and am thinking about doing something with duck breasts.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: sandylc

                                      I'm flashing back to the turkey day my roomates made duck- omg it was duck-r-us! Duckfat sauteed green beans, duckfat potatoes, the actual duck....And some kind of ducky gravy! Well, And a kitchen covered in splatters...

                                    2. I've done a turkey breast in the crock pot and it came out super moist and tender. No crispy skin, but the trade off for easy. Some roasted brussels sprouts, a bit of cranberry sauce, stuffing, and then your pumpkin cheesecake for desert.

                                      For me, it's not thanksgiving without stuffing/dressing. Even if it's my MIL's weird gooey cornbread and sausage stuff, that's what makes thanksgiving for me (I go for the crusty corners with hers).

                                      1. It depends on how many people you are cooking for. You want people to enjoy the meal and not feel deprived. Ask them each this question: "Thanksgiving dinner would be a disappointment without________________(up to 5 dishes)."
                                        There will probably be a lot of overlap. After you decide how many things you are willing to make, pick them in order of most-often listed. Secret ballots might help, depending on family dynamics.

                                        I agree with turkey parts. For me, it would be a roast breast, and stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts. If you want to consider the first 3 items as one thing, then also baked sweet potato, and apple pie.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          Your 1st para is the compromise Mr. and I have come to--just the two of us, but a few things are "required" by each of us for it to be Thanksgiving. I've ditched green beans, salad, rolls, etc, so we're down to just the essentials that we each need for it to be a special meal. One, however, is a whole turkey, even though it means beaucoup frozen bits for ages.

                                          1. re: pine time

                                            It's also jut me and SO and we insist on a full turkey and the frozen leftovers are great through the winter. We also only make what we like which is mostly foods that we don't eat much at other times of the year so veggies don't really appear.

                                        2. I once did a down-home bbq thanksgiving, with turkey burgers, grilled sweet potatoes and pumpkin, sausage-stuffing dressing, and a dirty risotto. dessert was apple pie or pecan pie a la mode...

                                          1. One year I braised some turkey thighs and made chestnut dressing and Brussels sprouts, pumpkin custard for dessert. The only disappointment was not having stuffing cooked in the bird, which is IMO infinitely superior.

                                            1. I have not had the op to do a small TG (all family still in one state). However, I love turkey and stuffing, so I have come up with ways to cook it small.

                                              Use an 8x8 baking pan for the stuffing and bake either thigh and/or a wing directly on top of the stuffing. Keep the veggie simple, just cook your favorite or go ahead and have a simple yet great salad. Cranberries can be bought fresh, made into sauce and freeze remaining into portions for 1 or 2 for another time.

                                              For dessert, I have a Fresh Market nearby and they always have a great and delish selection.

                                              My main point of Thanksgiving is to be around family and friends around that make you feel happy and to give thanks for having them in your life. I sincerely hope your Thanksgiving is what is important to you.

                                              1. I occasionally get the turkey-urge at times other than November so the mister will grill some brined thighs for the two of us. Sides are whatever among the favorites (gravy a given) I feel like eating and cooking. Always a successful meal! I think sage should figure in somewhere-- I need that aroma in there.

                                                1. Another take: Can you imagine a small plate or tapas approach to the feast? Maybe turkey tenderloin and small bites?

                                                  1. Last year, twin sis and I decided to keep it simple, because we thought it would just be 4 of us. We made the turkey breast on top of stuffing from the Serious Eats food lab.
                                                    It turned into 10 people for dinner, so we made ran out and bought a second breast and did two of them. We liked it do much we'll do it again this year, but maybe add some legs/thighs.
                                                    We enjoy cooking together and don't get to do it but once or twice a year. We always wind up with way too much food because we keep saying, "Ooooh, THIS sounds good!" So, whomever joins us for dinner gets a few traditional family "must have" dishes and a bunch of experiments. It's all about having fun together in the kitchen!

                                                    1. One version I've done was a nice roast chicken, with a fall themed rice pilaf (rice, mushrooms, dried cranberries, walnuts, etc), and a salad. You could do the same with a turkey hind-quarter or breast. It captured the flavours of the meal well, without being a full out turkey dinner.

                                                      I'm only willing to do the turkey dinner with a toaster oven, microwave and two burner stove experience once a year.

                                                      1. Sam Sifton addresses just this in today's (11/24) NY Times-- A Small-scale Thanksgiving, he calls it. Lots of Elizabeth David, and risotto, too!

                                                        1. If I had to keep it small and simple:
                                                          Turkey breast (or leg if you prefer) simply roasted
                                                          baked sweet potato
                                                          cranberry-apple sauce
                                                          pie from a good bakery
                                                          bottle of wine

                                                          1. you said not a sandwich, but it got my mind going in a weird direction…

                                                            Make bread out of stuffing flavors or pre make stuffing and form into a log, chill, and then slice into bread… open face style…
                                                            Mashed Potato "tapenade"
                                                            Some roast turkey
                                                            some cranberry sauce
                                                            Some gravy on the side to dip into
                                                            Alongside, sweet potato chips
                                                            and a cup of pumpkin soup….

                                                            OR there's this!