Low-fi Travelling Thanksgiving
November 22, 2010 3:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I do as good a Thanksgiving as possible with 2 burners, a microwave, and a fridge?

My wife and I are travelling and staying at an extended stay hotel type place. We have my stepkids visiting us, and want to do Thanksgiving as well as possible but the problem is doing a nice setup with limited cooking utensils and tools. And if we get things catered, things can't really stay warm very long, can they?

Looking for brainstorming on making a fun and quality Thanksgiving experience minus a good kitchen.
posted by artlung to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you totally attached to the classic turkey+trimmings meal? You can do some sort of awesome slow braised thing (short ribs?) over polenta with a salad and ice cream with a poached fruit topping (prepared ahead of time, rewarmed either during dinner over a burner or in the microwave).
posted by mollymayhem at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2010

Dinner out at Cracker Barrel? We ate there last year when we were in FL on Thanksgiving. A turkey dinner with all the fixings was about $10 each (IIRC), quite tasty, and ample enough that we all took home leftovers.
posted by COD at 3:24 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: I like the ice cream+rewarmed fruit topping (possibly cherry or boysenberry?)! Turkey is a must for several of us, but something slow braised is a good thought. The place is right next to a Trader Joe's (not open on the day of course) so we'll take a look. Thanks!
posted by artlung at 3:26 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: "There are no Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores in the state of California at this time" -- should have mentioned. We're in Ventura County.
posted by artlung at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2010

Here's what we did while our kitchen was being remodeled over Thankgiving AND Christmas - we didn't have any burners, just a microwave:

We ordered the "fully cooked dinner" from the grocery store for the first holiday, but you still have to heat it and the side dishes tasted fake.

Slices of honey-baked ham heated in the microwave.
Instant mashed potatoes - they only need hot water with butter melted into it.
Instant gravy from a packet.
Stove Top stuffing - again, it only needs hot water with butter.
Can of sweet potatoes in sugary syrup; I think we did this at Thanksgiving, but decided it was worth it to get fresh ones and boil them in the microwave and use our traditional brown sugar/melted butter coating. Our family has never done the marshmallow casserole style, so we didn't miss it.
Can of cranberry sauce.
Any other canned vegetable or microwave-in-a-bag veg.
Dinner rolls from the bakery.
Pies from the bakery.

You can totally pull that off if you also have 2 burners to work with. We found that the stuffing and potatoes would retain their heat while the veg cooked, then heat the meat slices and put plates together. Nuke again, if needed.
posted by CathyG at 3:30 PM on November 22, 2010

Another source for cooked turkey is a barbecue restaurant.
posted by CathyG at 3:32 PM on November 22, 2010

Wow, I didn't realize there were any states lacking in the starch and carbohydrate extravaganza that is a meal at Cracker Barrel :) I did notice that our local mega-mart grocery store is selling ready to serve Thanksgiving feasts for $39.99. I imagine the grocery stores in CA do the same thing.
posted by COD at 3:42 PM on November 22, 2010

Is a good restaurant out of the question? Googling "ventura county" + restaurants + thanksgiving brought up several apparently decent options, if reservations are still available.
posted by tully_monster at 3:47 PM on November 22, 2010

I'm in Ventura myself. Wanna borrow my grill? (this is approximately how my father does the turkey every year, and it turns out quite nice.)
posted by contraption at 4:15 PM on November 22, 2010

Mimi's has really good turkey dinners, and I think you still have time to call them. $80 for their "feast," serves 6-8.
posted by SMPA at 4:17 PM on November 22, 2010

Alternatively, you might be able to just buy a cheap grill and bring it home, give it to one of the kids, or just doante it to Goodwill when you're done.
posted by contraption at 4:17 PM on November 22, 2010

Oh, and it's actually a pretty nice place to actually sit down and eat. I go there for my twice-a-month turkey fix.
posted by SMPA at 4:22 PM on November 22, 2010

I can't come all the way out and recommend a turkey fryer based on the fire risk, but I will point out that a turkey fryer doesn't even go in a kitchen.
posted by mendel at 4:22 PM on November 22, 2010

Find a restaurant that will be open, or a hotel, and buy roasted turkey and gravy. Trader Joe's has pretty good packaged turkey gravy; frozen or refrigerated mashed potatoes are pretty good. Mashed potatoes, creamed brussel sprouts(or other veg), green bean casserole, stuffing, etc. can be made on burners. A good bakery will have good pies, but you may need to reserve ahead.

Improve the flavors of store-bought stuff: Use real butter and cream to make things taste better. Add a little sherry or white wine to gravy. Use spray whipped cream and/or ice cream on pies. Sparkling wine makes it festive. Don't forget the egg nog.

Reserve the microwave for heating things up. Get a cheap cooler. Put hot food in it to keep warm. You can put boiling water in a glass bottle (snapple) and put it in there for extra warmth.

My TDay specialty is cranberry ice; you can make it in your tiny freezer: I can cran jelly, 2 - 3 cans cran juice, juice of 1 lime. Mash it with a fork, freeze it, mash some more, etc. Serve with dinner.
posted by theora55 at 4:46 PM on November 22, 2010

A great option is small, individual, turkey roulades. Normally you'd pan sear them, then let them finish in the oven, but I think you can work the pan sear/steam technique.

Buy turkey breast cutlets, and make a box of stove top stuffing. Pound the cutlets to about 1/3rd inch thickness. Place some of the stuffing, along with a few dots of butter, on the surface of the cutlet. Roll into a tight log. A longer, skinnier roulade will cook faster than a short fat one. Secure with tooth picks or butchers twine.

You'll want to sear them on all sides, in oil, on medium high heat. Then turn the heat to low, and add some broth to the pan, maybe a half inch thick. Cover the pan, and no peeking. You're going to let the steam cook it all the way through I'd estimate 10-15 minutes if your pan isn't too crowded. I'd slice one to make sure its done before removing the rest from the pan.

Once thats done, you could turn the broth in your pan into gravy with a bit of butter and flour/wondra.

I think instant mashed potatoes are perfectly fine (if not fake butter flavor), and can be done in the microwave.

Next, it sounds like you'd need a vegetable. Brussels sprouts could be good and I think Trader Joes has them frozen.

So thats stuffed turkey roulades, extra stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and brussels sprouts. Get some canned cranberry sauce and I think you'd be set.

Oh, and I should mention that I go all medieval when pounding meat. I'll put it in a ziplock bag, then smash it with my fist, no fancy equipment needed. I don't think you'll need anything more advanced than a pair of tongs and some spoons. Assuming you've got enough bowls and pans, this should be doable.
posted by fontophilic at 4:47 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a bit about how celebrated Times foodwriter Mark Bittman is able to function in a tiny kitchen. I offer this as much for encouragement as practicality!
posted by JohnFredra at 4:52 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: Pay $30 for an electric roaster and have a full-on turkey. Then give the roaster to a kid or Salvation Army.

I use a roaster like that every year. Frees up the oven for other things, sits on the counter and is therefore easier to get the bird in and out of. Doesn't get the ouse as hot as the oven going all day does.
posted by dirtdirt at 4:54 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oops, borked my link.
posted by contraption at 5:01 PM on November 22, 2010

Fontophilic's suggestion is great, and pretty much the only way of doing things if you're set on not getting precooked turkey.

There are other variants on the theme of sear/braise pan preparation for the turkey; the roulades would help it stay moist and add flavor, but you could do plain seasoned thinly sliced breast with similar results if you're not big on stuffing. You'd want to have it precut in individual portions and in one or two batches, sear the breast chunks, then add stock or other flavorful liquid (wine? mushroom soup? go nuts), and cover the pan and let them finish. Risotto is an alternative to mashed potatoes from that point; whatever you do cook something else in the broth to soak it up after the turkey.

Green beans are also versatile and easy in a pan. I like them blistered and just slightly blackened on the outside with a ton of garlic, some pepper and lemon.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:09 PM on November 22, 2010

trader joe's is selling a pre-cooked 1/2 turkey, several kinds of cranberry sauce, frozen mashed potatoes (I think you can heat them stovetop), good quality frozen veggies, dinner rolls, gravy, frozen desserts that defrost on the counter. In other words, you can get pretty much a classic dinner that just needs reheating.
posted by metahawk at 6:58 PM on November 22, 2010

You don't need to roast a turkey to serve good turkey. Really. You can boil turkey and it will taste fine, and most people will never know the difference if you serve it to them sliced up. So that's how you can do it on the burner.

Just don't overcook it, though. You want to take the turkey to an internal temperature of ~165, not higher, and it will go faster in boiling water than it will in an oven. Invest in a good instant-read thermometer if you don't own one already.

You can still even make gravy if you boil the turkey, utilizing the broth. It takes a bit longer than using pan drippings, but I've had people swear that it's easier since there's no chance of having good stuff burn on the bottom of the roasting pan. You basically reduce down, skim the fat, reduce some more, and do your gravy-making as usual. It takes a bit longer but is basically the standard process otherwise.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:23 PM on November 22, 2010

Does it have to be roast turkey? How about a post roast in a slow cooker (e.g., crockpot)?
posted by bentley at 6:38 AM on November 23, 2010

Response by poster: This is excellent. I'm working with Mrs. artlung: we're going to talk to Mimi's as that may be a good solution. The suggestion of the roaster is particularly cool -- had not heard of such a device, we're going to hit Target (fallback: Wal-Mart) today and see if that will work. Thank you all so much!
posted by artlung at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2010

In other words, you can get pretty much a classic dinner that just needs reheating.

...in an oven.
posted by banshee at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2010

Response by poster: The roaster dirtdirt mentioned has been acquired and our minds are at east. Like having an oven when we have no oven. All the rest are ultimately side dishes. We have some additional non-kid guests who are bringing even others. Thank you AskMe!!!
posted by artlung at 3:12 PM on November 23, 2010

Response by poster: ...minds are at ease..., I meant.
posted by artlung at 3:12 PM on November 23, 2010

Not going to try and improve on the food suggestions above. However, I would like to share a tip from my mom and Oma about keeping food warm - wrap the pot in a blanket and put it under the covers on the bed.

Make sure the pot is clean on the outside first! Also you probably want to wait a minute or two after it comes out of the microwave/off of the stove top, just in case.

Unless the pot is so nuclear hot it will immediately burst the blanket into flames, the covering should keep things nice and warm until you are ready to serve without any worry about scorching. Think tea cozy, but bigger. Or a giant oven mitt that covers the pot instead of your hand.

This might get you more mileage out of your two burners.

(bonus - the bed becomes nice and toasty warm for that after-dinner nap!)
posted by sandraregina at 2:54 PM on November 25, 2010

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