Monday, November 25, 2013

No-Fuss Thanksgiving for Two or Four

                  Not everyone, every time, wants to make a huge Thanksgiving dinner.  This fully-satisfying but simple menu is for the year when there are, thank goodness, just two of you--or maybe four.  Or for the year when you escaped the family and borrowed a friend's cabin on the lake or condo at the shore.  You'd like something tasty, but it's just not the year to spend two days in the kitchen.

                 This little menu begins with a sparkler (a sparkling wine)--an inexpensive Spanish cava or  New Mexico Gruet (not sweet and very reasonable)--and a bit of cheese.  No need to get full before dinner.  Next comes a magnificent, golden brown chicken* roasted with lemons, basil, and huge shards of winter squash.  Just to show off, there are nearly instant--but incredibly luscious--green beans graced with lots of bright lemon zest and a splashy note of crushed red pepper. A very fast, cooked stove top, spicy cranberry sauce made with apples and lemons is an optional side and truly a contrast.  Drink a good bottle of Pinot Noir with the chicken.  (I like an Oregon Pinot Noir, which comes at several different price points:  A-Z at the lower end, Ken Wright or Adelsheim further up.  Can't find one you like or can afford?  Ask the wine shop for a middle-ground French red Côtes du Rhône. Want white?  Choose an off-dry Riesling--German or Washington state. ) Tiny individual microwaved pumpkin "pies" bring up the rear--so to speak-- with no crust necessary, though you can add a small ginger thin at the bottom of each ramekin if you'd like. Coffee  you flavor yourself with cinnamon (a sprinkle in the grounds works wonders) and a nice piece of dark chocolate--or two-- end the day in happiness.

*You might consider a slow cooker roasted chicken if that would be simpler.
                     Some Hae Meat
 Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.            --Robbie Burns

Cook's Notes: 

While the pumpkin custards are made very quickly,  you still want to do them ahead.  If more than two hours ahead, you'll need to refrigerate them.  (They taste best at room temperature, though.)  You don't want to be messing with them while your guests are in the kitchen. You may need to try one to get the timing right...  After that, they're fairly quick.  You'll need ramekins or custard cups in which to make the custards.  Microwave-safe coffee cups will work just fine, too.

Several of the other dishes can be made ahead, too--the muffins and green beans can be done a couple of hours beforehand, covered, and stored on the counter, for instance.

Set the table, if you have one, with your favorite things; they needn't be "thanksgivingy."  If you have no table and you're eating with trays  or elsewhere, arrange the serving dishes on your kitchen counter  with a candle or a vase of mums.   Enjoy the day!  Being grateful is a perfect way to use all your time.


sparkling wine--Spanish Cava or New Mexico Gruet
sliced brie topped with dried cranberries and walnuts, drizzled with honey or maple syrup
         and served with crackers sliced baguette
butter-basil chicken with winter squash
lemon green beans with a kick
spicy cranberry sauce
corn muffins with onions and cheese (GF or not)
pumpkin custard with cinnamon creme fraiche or whipped cream
wine:  pinot noir
coffee:  sprinkle a little cinnamon in the grounds and serve with pieces of dark chocolate for a
          final fling

butter-basil chicken with winter squash

  • Roasting chicken--approximately 5-6 pounds
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1/8 pound) butter, melted
  • Bunch of basil
  • Fresh lemon
  • 1 large or 2 small butternut squashes or 1 large Hubbard squash--cut in half, seeded, and cut into large (3-4 inches) serving pieces
  • Olive oil


 Preheat oven to 425 degrees and set oven rack in bottom 1/3 of oven.  Remove giblets, heart, and neck from chicken. Freeze for future use or discard.  Sprinkle chicken cavity with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper.  Cut a fresh lemon into 8 pieces and place in the cavity with a large sprig of basil.

 Brush outside of bird with 2 tablespoons butter melted together with 2 tablespoons chopped basil.  Sprinkle outside of chicken with salt and pepper.  With kitchen string, tie the ends of the legs together.  Tuck wings underneath chicken by pushing each of them backward and then down and under--using the weight of the chicken to hold them down.

Add butternut or Hubbard squash, cut into large pieces and brushed with olive oil/sprinkle with salt and pepper, to the roasting pan--in the rack (if you have one) is great, but right in the pan is also fine.  Tent the chicken with foil and place roasting pan in the oven. 

Baste once or twice with a little more butter while roasting for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit or legs wiggle easily and juices run clear when carved a little bit. Remove foil for last twenty minutes or so so that chicken browns.  Check squash when basting; remove and keep warm (or reheat at end) if tender.   Let chicken rest 10 minutes or so before carving.


lemon green beans with a kick

  •  1 pound fresh green beans or haricots verts in a package
  •  Finely grated zest of one lemon
  •  Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Generous pinch of crushed red pepper (1/8 teaspoon) --optional

Cook the beans in a  medium-sized pot of boiling water for 4-5 minutes or until just becoming tender* or microwave in the package (for the haricots verts) for 2-3 minutes.  Drain well and sprinkle with the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, the olive oil, and the crushed red pepper, if using.  Toss well and serve warm or at room temperature.   Taste and re-season if necessary.  (Can do ahead, cover, and leave on the table.)

*old beans might take longer

corn muffins with onion and cheese

makes 12 muffins

Note: These muffins are easily made Gluten-Free.  Use GF cornmeal  (plus an extra tablespoon) in place of the cornmeal* and all-purpose GF flour mixture in place of the all-purpose white flour.  

*While most cornmeal is gluten-free, some is not.

  • softened butter to grease muffin tins
  • 1 cup each cornmeal and all-purpose white flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit if not already heated from the roasting chicken.  Grease 12 muffin tins  thoroughly with butter.  In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients -- flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and black pepper.  Set aside.  In a small bowl or  in a 2-cup measuring cup, beat together the onion, eggs, butter, and milk.  Pour the milk mixture into dry ingredients and stir together until just  well-combined. Do not over mix. Divide the batter into the muffin tins evenly with a spoon or ice cream scoop and top each with a little grated cheddar.  Bake 15 minutes or until tops are just dry and firm and toothpick inserted at center of a muffin comes out clean or nearly clean.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

spicy cranberry sauce

In a 3 qt heavy sauce pan, place 1# fresh cranberries, 1/2 lemon quartered, 1/2 large apple peeled and chopped, 2 cinnamon sticks1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes, and 1/2 cup (or more to taste) brown sugar.    Add water to cover fruit, the pour in 1/2 cup red wine.  Bring to a boil, and lower heat.  Simmer for about 15 minutes until cranberries pop, fruit is softened, and mixture is thick.  Stir frequently  and add water if it becomes too dry.  Remove lemon to serve or let your sour puss friend eat it.  (Oranges can be used in place of lemons or in addition.)  Serve hot or cold.  Keeps well in refrigerator for several days.    If you do not like spicy food, leave out the crushed red pepper.

pumpkin custard with cinnamon crème fraîche (click for recipe)

Don't forget the music!

Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. Lovely menu. You have the right idea. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    Wishes for tasty dishes,

    1. Thanks, Linda! My daughter is cooking her first Thanksgiving dinner for a couple of friends and I thought of her when I designed this menu. Of course, I don't know who wouldn't like it! Happy Tuesday!


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