Tonawanda News — When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner — the dinner of all dinners — most folks think of a huge spread that will be consumed by many people, often over the course of a few days or more.
Large, 30-pound birds accompanied by huge dishes filled with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, mountains of rolls and any number of other assorted sides. Top the whole thing of with “just a little sliver of each” of a handful of pies and Thanksgiving dinner can truly feed an army.
But what if your family is small? What if family is out of town for the holiday, or you can’t travel to see them if you’re the one that lives far away? What if, like me, you have just a small immediate family?
I’ve personally learned a few tricks of the trade after about a decade of being the only child of a single mother, and then another 15 years of only a slightly larger family when my step-dad came along. Top that off with several years of cooking for one and you’ve got the makings of a great column about preparing small Thanksgiving dinners.
(Or a rather sad column about how I’ve had to learn to adapt recipes meant for larger families.) Moving on.
Don’t be afraid
to use shortcuts
With fewer people to feed, you’ll also have fewer helpers in the kitchen. Even if you’re cooking in smaller quantities, keeping track of a roasting turkey, peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes and rolling out the perfect pie crust — along with preparing all the other dishes on the menu — can be a bit daunting for one (or two people if you’re lucky enough to convince your dining partner to help.)
Go ahead and use that pre-made pie crust. Heck, if you have a bakery you like, buy dessert from them and forgo the trouble altogether. And there’s nothing wrong with using those already-cut-up vegetables from the grocery store.
Be sure to edit
Sometimes we go a little crazy when planning our Thanksgiving menu. Sure, maybe five different sides make sense for a party of 20 people, but for just two or three, why deviate from the accepted practice of eating just a couple sides with dinner?
Fewer leftovers and less work. I’m in.
Also, stick to just one pie. You can make a different one at Christmastime if you really want to.
I’ve included a family recipe for chess pie — or buttermilk pie as we say in the South — below. It’s a great option because you can take advantage of a pre-made pie crust and you can make it the day before so you’re not saddled with pie-making on the big day.
Make room in the freezer
If you do feel the need to make mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, corn, — oh, and don’t forget we always have to have Grandma’s candied yams — that’s fine. Just make good use of some extra freezer space and you’ll have delicious Thanksgiving dinner for weeks to come.
Heck, if you’re always cooking for one or two, those extra meals can come in handy later on.
Just remember, potatoes don’t tend to taste too good after they’ve been frozen.
Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
But maybe, just maybe, you can try a different entree for Thanksgiving dinner that might come in something smaller than, oh, say, something that weighs 15 pounds. You could try cooking a smaller turkey breast, as reporter Jill Keppeler, suggests below.
Or perhaps something else special that you don’t often get to eat. One year my mom made a nice pot roast ... maybe not that special for some folks, but I was over the moon. Or maybe a Mexican feast like what my dad’s family once made.
Get creative. It’s one meal. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to the more traditional turkey dinner with all the fixins.
Buttermilk chess pie
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup buttermilk
½ cup butter melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell (I use the frozen, deep-dish pie shells already formed into an aluminum pie plate.)
Combine sugar and flour in a large bowl;
Add eggs and buttermilk, stirring until blended.
Stir in butter and vanilla, and pour into unbaked pastry shell.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until set. The surface of the pie should have a nice golden color and the pie will still only slightly jiggle if shaken ... it firms up a bit in the cooling stage.
Cool on a wire rack.
Refrigerate and serve cold.
— Danielle Haynes
I was taught this method as a newlywed by my mom — herself in possession, with my dad, of an empty nest. It was our Thanksgiving standby for a number of years until growing family and extended family made it feasible to go to a full-sized bird. (Which is a story in and of itself.) However, we still fall back on it for the occasional immediate family meal ... because it’s just that easy.
For one or two people, Mom recommends getting a smaller bone-in turkey breast, about 51/5 pounds — perfect, she said, for a meal and several days of leftovers. We go with a 7- to 8-pound breast for a small family.
Thaw it, rinse it out, pat dry, then rub it with a little bit of poultry seasoning if desired. You can put in some chopped onion and celery if you’re going to try to make gravy with the juices, but I’ve never done that. Put the turkey breast in a slow-cooler (which needs, obviously, to be big enough for the lid to sit firmly), then add 3/4 to 1 cup of water.
Cook 7 to 8 hours on low until cooked through. That’s it. It’s always been so moist for us that it falls right off the bone, and this method frees up the oven for other things.
— Jill KeppelerContact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116, or reporter Jill Keppeler at ext. 4313.