Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’re hosting for the first time, there’s no need to be a hero, especially if you’re cooking for a small group. This year, Brad and I decided to avoid high priced airfare, long lines and frustrating travel delays in favor of staying home for the holiday. It’s the first time I’ll not be with my family on Thanksgiving, but I’m looking forward to cooking a low key meal for the two of us and a few of our friends.
Because we are complete gluttons and we want to eat leftover turkey sandwiches, mashed potatoes and stuffing for a good solid week after the big day, I’m going to cook for roughly double the number of people that will actually be sitting around our table.
I already know what kind of sandwich I’m going to make for lunch on Friday, too.
I know, I probably shouldn’t have admitted to that part.
If you aren’t like us though, and if you have some willpower or restraint, you might want to scale down the menu for Thanksgiving this year. If you’re cooking Thanksgiving for two people, here is how to do it with recipes meant for two or slightly more.
Before you dive in, note that this is an ambitious menu, meant for people who enjoy cooking, trying new recipes and like to break out the big guns on Thanksgiving whether they’re cooking for a crowd or not.
Below, I’ll offer some suggestions for those of you who might like to incorporate one or two of these dishes alongside some store bought choices and I’ll talk a little shop about turkey, too.
I like to plan my Thanksgiving menu about two weeks in advance so I have plenty of time to shop and take any new recipes for a trial run. Once you have your menu planned, create a grocery list so you’ll feel mega organized.
As you’re creating your menus, think about what kind of wine you want to serve. The menu here has wine pairings in mind assuming that you’re comfortable opening more than one bottle and saving what you don’t drink for later in the day or weekend, but feel free to pick the one you like best and stick with it for the whole meal.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserva is a nice choice to start the meal – sparkling wine, in my humble opinion, pairs well with everything and smoky minerality and fresh apple-skin notes will nicely complement the peppery arugula and earthy cheese. It turns out, some experts agree with me!
“Cava is a great Sparkling Wine choice to toast the holiday — and it’s always great to sip too while cooking the big bird,” said sommelier Sarah Lehman, Somm in the City. “It pairs well with turkey, sweet potato casserole, as well as stuffing and potatoes. Cava is from Spain and not only is it very price friendly, it’s also great for those who enjoy dry bubbles.”
Once you move on to the main event, consider a La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is another wine that pairs with virtually anything, but won’t overwhelm your meal. “Pinot Noir is another crowd pleaser, this grape grows well in many regions from Oregon to California all the way to Burgundy, France and beyond,” adds Lehman.
If you’re thinking about a dessert wine, try a port wine like Warre’s, “Warrior”, Porto, Portugal, NV, which will complement pumpkin or maple flavored desserts with its notes of orange peel, clove, molasses, and stewed plums, and a rich, sweet finish.
Wine pairings are suggestions, but what will pair best with your meal is what you like and what you and your dining companion are happiest drinking.
Buttermilk Biscuits with Maple Sea Salt from Alexandra’s Kitchen
Arugula, Pear and Blue Cheese Salad with Warm Vinaigrette from The Kitchn
Pan Seared Turkey Cutlets with Sage and Rosemary (recipe below)
Easy Apple Stuffing from Baking Mischief
Garlic Mashed Potatoes from Table for Two
Cranberry Sauce from Our Best Bites
Small Batch Shortbread Pumpkin Pie Bars from Baking Mischief
The Grocery List
If you’re going to follow this menu verbatim, then guess what? You actually don’t have to make a list because I did it for you. All you have to do is click, print, and shop. If you are adjusting this menu to your needs, I like to suggest making your list first, then shopping your own pantry and freezer before you go to the store.
So many times, I wind up buying something like cumin or dark brown sugar for a recipe only to find that I have a full one at home. Which is fine if you’ll actually use the backup later, but well, sometimes I just forget it’s there and the whole cycle repeats itself.
So, you really like the idea of this menu but there’s no way you’re making seven things from scratch for one meal? FINE. Here’s what I would do:
Make one baked good. Pick biscuits, bread for the stuffing, a dessert — make one thing, especially if you’re not a big baker. It’s good practice, you’ll feel super accomplished, and you can make it ahead of time so that if you totally screw up, which has been known to happen before in my kitchen, you have a day or two to hit the bakery and call a do over.
Buy the gravy. First, I don’t think you need it with the pan seared turkey cutlets because you will probably have enough of the pan sauce leftover to serve with the turkey, and it’s really a lovely sauce. If you’re a traditionalist and you need to have gravy for your turkey on Thanksgiving, see what your local grocery or gourmet foods store offers.
Buy quality. Look, as much as I can be as food snobby as the next person, one of my favorite foods in Chicago is the chicken tenders from the hot food bar at the Mariano’s grocery store. So, take my advice for what you will. Even if you’re not the type to buy your groceries at Williams-Sonoma, Thanksgiving is a celebration and it’s a great time to indulge, enjoy, try new things and elevate the classics a little. Most grocery stores offer holiday catering so if making cranberry sauce isn’t your thing, or if you can’t stand the idea of peeling any potatoes at all while you’re supposed to be drinking mimosas and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, I won’t be in your living room to judge you. I do think though, that ingredient quality does matter and the same goes when you’re picking up prepared foods!
The Kitchen Gadgets
No matter how often you cook, there are very few things you’ll need to go out and buy for Thanksgiving dinner prep. The truth is, if you have a strong set of basics, you’re in good shape. I have a KitchenAid Stainless Steel 10-piece cookware set, which includes an 8-inch skillet, 10-inch skillet, 1.5-quart saucepan with lid, 3-quart saucepan with lid, 3.5-quart sauté with lid and an 8-quart stockpot with lid. Having the set really eliminates the game of “what else do I need?” that I used to play whenever I was in a store that sold cookware, and the pieces are attractive, durable and — be still, my heart — dishwasher safe.
Among my favorite features, the riveted handles are sturdy and make it easy to grip and position cookware on the stove, even when the handles are hot. Each piece has measurement markings etched into the pot or pan so that you can easily measure quantities for soup and sauce. It’s a little detail, but it will take a lot of the guesswork out of the hearty soups and stews we all make during the winter.
In addition to solid cookware, for Thanksgiving, make sure you have adequate serving vessels — they don’t need to be fancy, but you want to have enough bowls and serving spoons for as many dishes as you’re making. I like to make side dishes in my enameled cast iron cookware so that the cooking vessel can double as a serving dish and will still look beautiful on your table.
Other things to think about: be sure your cutlery is sharpened and that you have plenty of cutting boards, a good colander for rinsing veggies and cranberries. If you’re going the gravy route, grab a gravy boat at Target or if all else fails, use a cute mason jar for the shabby chic look. Check and make sure you’re stocked on dish soap, paper towels, dish clothes, sponges, and other things that no one wants to run out of on Thanksgiving only to be left with a pile of dirty dishes the following day.
If you eat Thanksgiving dinner in your pajamas on the couch, or if you eat Thanksgiving dinner around a table dressed to the nines, it’s still going to be special, because you’ll have a delicious meal and a great view of the football game.
If you’re doing the whole dining at the table because holiday thing, break out the cloth napkins — Target has some great options in all different colors, some more seasonal than others, and Anthropologie usually has a fun selection of quirky table linens, too.
I also like the idea of doing a fun craft project, make a Thanksgiving inspired gold pumpkin tablescape — buy some baby pumpkins, spray paint them with metallic gold spray, and you’ve got yourself a tablescape, even if you aren’t typically one who tablescapes.
Ah yes, I bet you thought we’d never get here, didn’t you. Cooking Thanksgiving for two people doesn’t mean you have to forgo any traditions, even if two people really can’t reasonably eat a whole turkey.
If you’re cooking for two people, the first big decision you need to make is whether or not you would like to have leftovers. If you want to have leftovers, grab a three to four pound turkey breast and that will take you through the weekend. If you have leftover biscuits and cranberry sauce, all you need is some Havarti cheese and you have yourself the leftover sandwich of your dreams. But, if you don’t want to have leftovers, or if you’re traveling the next day and won’t be home, then turkey breast cutlets are definitely the way to go.
Turkey cutlets cook quickly, you won’t have to relinquish your oven all day — which means no stress when it comes time to make the sides and desserts. What I like about pan searing them is that they get nice and crispy on the outside, without drying out on the inside. The lemon butter sauce is decadent without being too over the top — which is important, because you have pie to eat soon.
- 1 pound (16 ounces) thinly sliced turkey breast cutlets*
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh sage
- Season the turkey breast cutlets* with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium heat, add add the olive oil. Working in batches if your skillet is too small, add the cutlets and sear about one or two minutes per side, then set aside on a plate.
- Pour in the white wine and the lemon juice, using a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan and loosen the browned bits. Let simmer until the liquid begins to bubble and reduce.
- Lower the heat and add butter, stirring until the butter is melted and mixture combined. Add in the chicken broth, rosemary, thyme and sage. Simmer for about five minutes or until the sauce begins to bubble.
- Coat the turkey with the sauce and let simmer about two or three more minutes, until the turkey is heated through and registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Serve with sauce and garnish with additional herbs, if desired.