Q. I normally fly home for Thanksgiving for a big dinner. This year, I am staying put, so it will just be me, my husband and a couple of close friends in my “pod.” I love the traditional dinner, but a whole turkey with trimmings seems too much. Options?
A. We are in the same place this year. Forget the Norman Rockwell imagery. You could investigate a “dinner in a box” option, particularly from a local restaurant. If you decide to cook, don’t feel compelled to make the usual big meal. Ask yourself what foods you love most on a traditional holiday table. Focus on that and build your meal around it.
This is 2021. We’ve just come through a year in which people day drink and many continue to do video calls for work wearing pajama bottoms. Do what you want, no one will judge you. No one says you can’t have a cheesy, gooey mac and cheese casserole in place of turkey.
One good option is to gussy up a side up enough to feel like a main. If you look forward to the Brussels sprouts, maybe opt for this Brussels sprouts gratin from SimplyRecipes?
Back when my whole family went vegetarian for a couple years, we made Kim O’Donnel’s veggie pot pies. Round out with your two favorite sides and voila, dinner. (I love these little porcelain tart/pie molds for pot pies.)
To save money, break down a turkey
If roasted turkey is a must, consider getting a whole bird and cutting it up. This will be more economical and you’ll get the neck for stock and giblets for gravy. (If you buy one from an proper butcher, they may do this for you.) For three to five people, roasting a half breast and one leg should be plenty. Freeze the extra pieces for later. (See my tips on freezing meat.)
How to roast a turkey breast or legs
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat the turkey breast and/or legs dry with paper towels, slather with butter, season with salt, pepper and sage or poultry seasoning. Spread a cut up onion, carrot, celery and if you desire, apples or mushrooms in the bottom of a small roasting pan.
Roast for one hour. Carefully turn the breast and/or legs over. Roast for another half hour to cook and brown the underside. Reduce heat to 325F. Then, turn over and cook for 30 more minutes or until an instant-read meat thermometer reads 155F. Remove from roasting pan to a cutting board or platter. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and rest for at least 20 minutes.
To make gravy: Pour the roasted veggies, juices and fat at the bottom of the pan into a two-quart or larger saucepan. Heat through, then sprinkled in a tablespoon of flour. Stir to coat the vegetables and cook for two minutes until it smells like popcorn. Add two to three cups chicken stock and stir until thickened.
No cook turkey
Alternately, for a no-cook turkey solution, hit a deli counter and just ask for extra-thick sliced roasted turkey. A half-pound per person should be plenty. To reheat, put it into a pan with a bit of chicken stock. Cover with foil and put into an oven for a few minutes until warmed through to replicate that just-from-the-oven juiciness.
Even though small, set a nice table
Even though it will be a smaller than usual gathering, give it a sense of festive celebration by setting a nice table. Linens and good dishes if you have them. Some candles, perhaps flowers?
This will also make a nice backdrop for video calls. One thing to remember: Zoom will be eliminating its 40-minute limit on Thanksgiving this year. So plan some calls, set up a schedule. If you have no one to call, then I’ll chat with you. Drop me a line.
This page may contain affiliate links. Images: Turkey plate by Ezume Images; Brussels sprouts by Algus; pot pie by Madele; carved turkey by Bochkarev Photography. Page created November 2020 by Kathleen Flinn.