It doesn’t matter how many Thanksgiving dinners you have prepared, it always seems to be stressful for most people. From the planning of the meal to the washing of the last plate, Thanksgiving creates more anxiety for the home cook than any other holiday. Added to the stress factor this year is not being able to celebrate with all of our family and friends. Most will curtail the number of people to only a few.

This year, the 25-pound turkey might not be the center of attention for many. The time spent together with those few loved ones is what really matters most, reflecting on this tumultuous year and looking forward to a better 2021. Some of my friends are planning virtual dinners with their family: planning the menu together, creating the shopping list and cooking together, virtually. Once the meal is cooked, they’ll enjoy dining “together” on their television or computer screens. The key is having a plan and someone to orchestrate the “gathering,” deciding on the recipes, timing and activities for the kids. One family is sending care packages to the virtual guests including most of the ingredients. 

So what does this year’s scaled-down Thanksgiving dinner include? There are those who might need some advice since they are used to preparing large quantities and many sides. 

James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Cynthia Graubart captures the reality of Thanksgiving 2020 in her “Thanksgiving for Two (Or Four)” (2020, Empire Press, e-book $3.99, soft cover $9.99), offering comforting holiday favorites. The e-book and book are available at https://amzn.to/2TZZTqG. The recipe collection is dedicated to medical personnel fighting the COVID-19 pandemic: a portion of the proceeds of the book are being donated to the Frontline Workers Fund. 

“It is hard to give up tradition and look at things in a new way,” Graubart said. “We need to try to adapt those traditions and set expectations aside. What are ways you can safely carry out the holidays and have positive feelings about it?” Prepare those traditional dishes you are familiar with, but in smaller quantities. You are not alone, most people are used to hosting large groups, never making Thanksgiving dinner for just a few. Graubart, who has written 12 cookbooks, said mentioned that she knows of 8 people who will be looking at 4 different screens across the country, cooking from her e-book. This cookbook is for all of the families who are gathering differently this year. Traditional favorites are there, from comforting casseroles and side dishes such as sweet potato and greens casserole and New-Fashioned Green Bean Casserole to elegant turkey breasts, homey skillet turkey thighs in Sage Mushroom Gravy, Sheet Pan Cornish Hen Thanksgiving Dinner and Dijon Turkey Tenderloin. And for dessert, mini pies. Some of the turkey entrees are sized to yield those beloved leftovers for a second meal or sandwiches, but not so much that it is an eternity of repeats. “Families are used to creating one dish that serves 16 to carry to Aunt Kathy’s for the big meal and have never had to make a small Thanksgiving dinner,” Graubart said. “I wanted to help those whose recipes served a crowd find a way to bring joy and right-sized recipes to their table.” 

The book is a must-have for those who are stressed about celebrating a scaled-down Thanksgiving. She is delighted to share the recipes below from the book. 

Check out this video featuring a roast turkey recipe and helpful hints from my friends at America’s Test Kitchen: https://bit.ly/3mW4x5u.

Boneless Turkey Breast with Bourbon-Orange Glaze

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Start to Finish Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Serves: 2 with leftovers, or 4 for main course 

The headnote says: “A boneless breast is a fuss-free entree for Thanksgiving. It’s just right for the main course and suited for those wanting beloved turkey leftovers for another meal or sandwiches. Boneless turkey breasts produce very few drippings, so plan on making gravy while the breast is roasting.”

1 (approximately 2-pound) boneless turkey breast

1 tablespoon butter

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 medium orange, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 cup bourbon

1/2 cup turkey or chicken stock or broth

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Fit a small roasting pan with a rack.

Dry turkey breast and move to rack. Coat breast evenly all over with butter. Season roast all over with salt and pepper. Boneless breasts come dressed in a string bag. Leave it in place until after cooking.

Roast breast 90 minutes. Test internal temperature and keep roasting until the interior temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Allow breast to rest 10 minutes before carving. Gently snip the string bag open to carefully remove it, leaving as much skin in place as possible. Slice as desired.

While the breast is roasting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic in the hot butter 30 seconds. Whisk in flour and cook until starting to turn light brown and all the white flour is incorporated. Zest and juice a medium orange and pour the juice slowly into the flour, stirring constantly. Whisk in brown sugar, bourbon and stock, and stir until thickened. Stir zest into remaining gravy and keep warm. If gravy is too thick, adjust with additional stock.

If drippings have collected, add to any gravy made for serving.

Buttermilk Brussels Sprouts Casserole

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Start to Finish Time: 1 hour

Serves: 2 (or 4)

The authors writes, “This recipe was developed by my friend and colleague Angie Mosier. It has been on my holiday table for years. I hope it will make it in your regular holiday menu, too.”

<AF>3/4<XA> (1<AF>1/2<XA>) pound small Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

3 (6) tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided

1 (2) teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 (1) teaspoon lemon juice

1 (2) tablespoon diced onion

1 (2) garlic clove, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (2) tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 - 1/2 cup buttermilk

1 (2) teaspoon dry mustard (or regular mustard)

1/2 (1) teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/3 (1/2) cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

1/3 (1/2) cup crumbled Ritz or saltine cracker

1 (2) tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Steam Brussels sprouts in a steamer basket over boiling water until they are bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes. Rub the inside of a small (medium) baking dish with about 1 teaspoon butter. Move the Brussels sprouts to the baking dish and toss with lemon zest and juice, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 (2) tablespoon of the butter in a small saucepan and stir in flour. Whisk and continue cooking until the flour barely starts to brown. Add the buttermilk, whisking to break up any lumps. Add the dry mustard, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Whisk until slightly thick. Add the onion mixture and 1/2 of the Parmesan to the sauce and stir until they’re all incorporated. Pour the mixture over the Brussels sprouts and stir to coat.

Melt the remaining butter in the microwave. Combine the crushed crackers with the remaining Parmesan cheese, parsley, and melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole. Move to the center rack of the heated oven and cook until bubbly and golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Cornbread Mushroom Dressing with Sage

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Start to Finish Time: ???

Serves: 2 (or 4)

The headnote says, “No other side dish is more controversial than dressing, or as some say, stuffing. Years ago, I stopped stuffing the turkey and instead just made a pan of dressing. I like being sure that it’s fully cooked and not worrying about if any under-done turkey juices are left lingering in my stuffing. Having said that, though, this dressing works equally as well as a stuffing, especially for Cornish hens where the stuffing is fully cooked in the time it takes to properly roast the hens. Some may prefer to substitute a combination of biscuits or white bread in with the cornbread. Suit your taste buds.”

4 (8) tablespoons butter, divided

4 (8) ounces mushrooms, roughly chopped

1/4 (1/2) cup chopped onion

1 (2) small celery rib, chopped

1 (2) garlic clove, minced

2 (4) teaspoons chopped fresh sage

2 (4) chopped fresh thyme

2 (4) tablespoons chopped pecans

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 (whole) recipe Cornbread (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons white wine

1 (2) cups turkey or chicken stock or broth

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub a small baking dish with part of the butter and set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and saute mushrooms until lightly browned. Remove to a large bowl. 

Add another 1 tablespoon butter to the skillet and when melted, sauce onion and celery until softened and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, sage, thyme and pecans. Season with salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add to bowl with mushrooms. Melt another 1 tablespoon of butter in the hot skillet and set aside.

Toss cornbread with the mushroom-vegetable mixture. Pour melted butter over mixture, toss, and spoon mixture into prepared baking dish. Pour about 1/2 cup of the stock over the mixture. If it seems dry, add another 1/4 cup.

Cover baking dish with foil and move to the oven and bake 40 minutes, until heated through. If a crunchy top is desired, uncover casserole the last 10 minutes of baking time. If casserole seems dry, add another 1/4 cup stock and bake until hot. Serve warm. Extra broth or gravy may be needed when reheating leftovers.

Variation: Crumble and saute two breakfast link sausages and add to mushroom-vegetable mixture before adding cornbread.

Cornbread

Preparation Time: 5 minutes 

Start to Finish Time: 30 minutes

Makes: 1 (6- to 7-inch round cornbread)

The headnote says: “Cornbread dressing is a traditional side dish all across the south. For best results, bake the cornbread a day or two ahead, cut into cubes, and allow to air dry. If making the Cornbread Dressing for two, only half of the cornbread will be used. Serve the other half at another meal or freeze for later use.”

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk, or buttermilk

1 large egg

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Add butter to a 6 - 7-inch cast iron skillet and move to oven to heat.

Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg, and butter together until smooth. Pour the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined. 

Remove hot skillet carefully from oven and pour butter into batter and stir. Pour batter into hot buttered skillet. Return to oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the top begins to brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out with only a crumb or two. Remove from oven to cool. Turn the cornbread out of the skillet and cut into 1-inch chunks. Spread out on a baking sheet to dry out for about a day.

Tart Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Start to Finish Time: 40 minutes

Makes: about 1 (2) cup

The headnote says, “The tangy tartness of cranberries is moderated with the addition of maple syrup and an orange liqueur. If liqueur is unavailable, add a little additional syrup.”

1 (2) cup fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 (2) small orange

Juice of 1 (2) small orange

1/2 cup water

1 (2) tablespoon maple syrup, or 2 (4) tablespoons granulated sugar

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

Add the cranberries, orange juice, water, maple syrup and salt to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer about 10 minutes, until the mixture has started to thicken and berries are beginning to burst. 

Stir in the orange zest and liqueur and simmer another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Remove from heat, allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator. Serve cold or room temperature. Cranberry sauce keeps about a week in the refrigerator.

What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at gw-stephen.fries@gwcc.commnet.edu or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to stephenfries.com.

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