Help me make a Thanksgiving dinner for one
November 19, 2011 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan a small Thanksgiving dinner -- alone.

I'll be spending Thanksgiving alone this year. Looking for some help planning/cooking a small Thanksgiving meal for myself. I'm primarily concerned about the Turkey because I've never cooked one and don't need a huge bird, but don't want to settle for just turkey breast (i'd like to try cooking a real turkey). I have a basic kitchen (nothing elaborate).
Any suggestions on how to accomplish my goal of a Thanksgiving dinner even though I'll be alone?
posted by Yunani to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Cook a duck instead! I did that for my two-person Thanksgiving a few years ago. Perfect size, way tastier than turkey, and you won't be stuck with 800 years of leftovers.

This will also provide you with duck fat (i.e. nectar of the gods) for potatoes and such.
posted by phunniemee at 7:15 AM on November 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Obviously you can't make everything that you'd have at a Thanksgiving with a lot of people. So don't try. Rather, there's some dish that you think "it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without X" about; make that.

(for me, it's the stuffing.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:15 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just so you know, I have never seen a turkey smaller than 8 pounds, and 9 to 9.5 is more typical for a small turkey. That's a lot of turkey for one person. I am not at all discouraging you from doing this, but I would be prepared to spend the next day eating leftovers and making soup, which you then freeze so you're not eating turkey until Christmas.

If that's not appealing, capons or a duck have been successful alternative Thanksgivings in our house.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2011

If you have leftovers, and it sounds like you will, listen to Bittman. Yum.
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you live off of turkey sandwiches and turkey soup for the next few days and then freeze what is left of the turkey? If so, go ahead and fix the smallest one you can find.

Otherwise, I'd do what madcaptenor suggests and pick a side dish(es) you can't live without. I'm another "can't have Thanksgiving without dressing!" person; I also love pumpkin pie. Pick one or two of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes and then, if you want a bird, make a chicken or even a Cornish game hen (great for one person).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for duck. We did a duck for Thanksgiving a few years ago when there was no company coming, just the three of us (me, wife, child), and I would absolutely do it again. Plus, as phunnimee says, when you are done you have a pan full of fat for duckfat-roasted potatoes, which are the Best. Potatoes. EVAR.
posted by briank at 7:24 AM on November 19, 2011

You could try and find a small turkey crown (i.e. a turkey with the legs missing); my local butcher sells 2-3kg turkey crowns. Even if the butcher doesn't usually sell them, you can always ask if they'll do one for you specially; and if they won't sell you just the crown, they'll certainly sell you a whole turkey as a crown with the legs separate so you can freeze them for another time.
posted by emilyw at 7:27 AM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love duck, but Thanksgiving just screams turkey to me. Buy the smallest one you can find. Brine it. Seriously, this will make your turkey failproof delicious. then roast according to recipe.
It's incredibly easy to make single size portions of mashed potatoes, and of stuffing.
For the stuffing saute some onions and celery in butter, and some sage and other seasoning,s chunks of apples or sausage, anything you want in your stuffing actually...toss with a few pieces of diced up bread, moisten with chicken stock, season to taste.bake...ta-da!.
There are several options for left over turkey...shred the leftover meat and combine with gravy and freeze...or you can make your own tv dinners by buying several of the aluminum containers and putting a serve of turkey, gravy, mashed potato, stuffing and veg and freeze.
Last year, in lieu of the pumpkin pie, I made this pumpkin pie ice cream, and it was a hit with everyone...even non pumpkin pie eaters.
posted by newpotato at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Turkey is super easy to cook as long as you remember to defrost it. You can just pop it in the oven at the designated temperature on the package, stuff celery, onion, and carrot into the cavity, sprinkle salt and pepper on it, baste it with butter and juices every hour or so, and it will turn out wonderfully. Once my friend, at 18, brought home a giant turkey she'd won at work. She did what I just told you and it was perfect. I do agree that duck might be a better option size-wise, but I'm a huge turkey freak and would sorely miss its presence from T.Givin' festivities.

Gravy is also simple, as are mashed potatoes. Stuffing is another easy thing, and you can always steam some greens for a side dish. I might suggest buying a slice or two of pie from a bakery so that you don't have oodles of pie sitting around forever.

Do you have favorite Thanksgiving dishes? Maybe if you describe your ideal Thanksgiving meal, we can help you pare it down.
posted by 200burritos at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2011

Cook a whole turkey if you want. Why not? You can have turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pie, freeze some or throw it out if you can't eat all of the leftovers.

You can make enough veggies for four and have leftovers.

Have fun looking on the Food Network, All Recipes, and Epicurious for recipes that are highly rated and sound appealing.

Microwave your favorite green veggies -- frozen is okay -- and/or roast some Brussels sprouts.

You can cheat on the gravy and buy jarred.

Refrigerated rolls made in the oven are fine.

Canned cranberry sauce is delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving.
posted by Fairchild at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2011

I'd suggest you don't get a whole turkey, instead get turkey parts --- pretty much all groceries sell turkey parts like the breast or legs. Alternatively: just last year I found a package of frozen quail in my local Harris Teeter; I'd never had it before, it sounded interesting, and the portions were far more reasonably-sized than a whole turkey for me, especially since I'm usually working on Thanksgiving!
posted by easily confused at 7:47 AM on November 19, 2011

Another vote for doing something other than a turkey. For one person, that amount of meat is simply going to be too much. Add to that the fact that turkey doesn't really freeze well, makes dry flavorless hash, and you can see why I'm mostly down on it.
Contrary 200burritos, turkey is also a fairly tricky protein to pull off. Even the pre-brined birds from the store suffer from the breast vs. thigh conundrum, requiring you to tent the breast while you wait on the thighs and legs to cook. Good mashed, gravy and stuffing also have lots of little tricks to them that require you to plan way ahead. I would consider this a day and a half long job.
posted by Gilbert at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2011

Best answer: I've spent more than a couple of Thanksgivings alone, as well as having been the host of a couple of "orphan" Thanksgivings. The most memorable was when one friend got a 21lb free turkey that she donated. I had 5 skinny female art historians and one 21lb. bird. Talk about leftovers. Anyway as others have noted, cooking the turkey isn't that big a deal; dealing with all of the leftovers might be.

I currently live in a studio with a small kitchen and no microwave. I'd say cook a turkey if you want to, but don't feel that you need to make EVERYTHING from scratch. I typically get a small chicken, make some mashed potatoes and one other vegetable dish, but I don't feel an iota of guilt about picking up any other sides pre-made at Whole foods. Their smallest container is little more than a single serving (not in the pre-packaged aisle, but the prepared dishes behind the glass that you point out to the staff and they put in containers for you. They usually have more than one type of stuffing, and even tiny little pies (live 5" diam or less). Sometimes I'll even splurge and buy the veggies there as well. It's a lot less time consuming, both before and after the meal (less pots and pans to clean up). This way I can still get a little bit of all the dishes that make Thanksgiving special to me.

Oh and if you do go with a turkey, one of my favorite dishes to make with the leftovers is turkey mole enchiladas. Again, I cheat and by the bottled mole sauce and pretty much wing the recipe.
posted by kaybdc at 8:08 AM on November 19, 2011

should have previewed better; the individual pies at WF aren't "live" more "like 5" diam. or less." Live pies would be interesting but messy.
posted by kaybdc at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to try cooking a turkey, then, by damn, you should. It's certainly a no-pressure situation.

I would suggest studying up on the finer points of gravy-making and give that a shot, too.

Beyond that, roast some butternut squash or that roast veggie mix that Trader Joes' sells.

Mix up some whole unsweetened cranberries with crushed pineapple in juice, nuts, and chopped apples for the cranberry component.

Do some potatoes for the wonderful gravy you create.

And there you are!

Could you donate turkey sandwiches to a charity program?
posted by jgirl at 8:38 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came in to suggest Cornish Hen. Often my mom and I had Thanksgiving or Christmas and it was just the two of us and we'd have Cornish Hens and wild rice and whatever other side-dishes you'd want. It became as much a tradition as the huge feast. We'd have candles and cloth napkins and a nice elegant yet somewhat simplified meal.
posted by coevals at 8:46 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the awesome replies. I'm still reading them and thinking through my options. So much research to do now!
posted by Yunani at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2011

If you'd rather not have turkey breast (I prefer dark meat myself), consider roasting turkey legs - plus all the trimmings.
posted by sarajane at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

One year my (then) boyfriend and I had cornish game hens for just the two of us. Figure out what Thanksgiving is - and focus on that (for me, the stuffing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin roll for dessert).
posted by Sassyfras at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2011

How 'bout a Tofurky? Much smaller than a real turkey an just as delicious.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is my friend's brother's post, and it's a gem - detailed and illustrated with clear photos. I love his meat market and I love his blog. This sounds perfect for what you're asking for. Just add the libation of your choice and pie, and you are all set:

Thanksgiving When You're Broke and Alone
posted by peagood at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

Sorry - was going to say that it's possible to do this with a Turkey leg, but they're a bit gristlier.
posted by peagood at 11:53 AM on November 19, 2011

If you gotta do a whole turkey, try getting a heritage bird from somewhere--your local farmer's market or high-end grocery store--they are usually smaller than your average Butterball (also: not factory-farmed).
posted by elizeh at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2011

Buy 1 (boneless) turkey breast (preferably with skin). Buy 1 (boneless) turkey thigh.

Turn the breast over, angle diagonally. Open it up with your knife, like a book. One long slice under the tenderloin, another slice on the opposite end of the breast. It should fold out into a mostly rectangular sheet.

(Debone) thigh, two slices to fold out the thigh in a long-ish rectagle (longer perpendicular to where the bone was).

Season both with salt, pepper, aromatics (onion, garlic granules, rosemary).

Place thigh on top of breast, roll tightly and secure with toothpicks/string. Stretch out the skin, maybe rub some vinegar into it (it'll crisp a bit more in the oven).

Alternatively, a mini-turducken can be derived from a turkey breast, a couple of duck thighs, and a small chicken breast (or chicken tender) in the middle.

Place roll on a wire rack, in a baking tray/dish. Bake at 350 or 375. Stick a meat thermometer in it and take it out at 150/155'F and let rest at least 5 minutes. The internal temp will continue to rise a little. Near the end of baking, if the skin is getting darker than you like, cover lightly with aluminium foil.

Should take about 2 hours, give a little.

Enough for about 4 portions, so you won't be eating turkey for weeks.

If you're ambitious, buy a bunch of turkey backs/necks. Lightly toss with coarse/kosher salt, leave in fridge overnight. Next day, rinse well. Get a big pot with water to a rolling boil, boil carcass for 10-15 minutes to draw the blood out of the bones. Remove from water and rinse. Bring a fresh pot of water to boil, and boil the heck out of the carcass. Add celery tops, carrots, onion, garlic, &c. Season with salt near the end. Two, three hours. When the meat starts falling off the bones.

Degrease the stock (let stand so the oil floats to the top and spoon off, or better yet, pour it all into a grease separator thingy, and separate the oil from the stock). Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil to medium for about a cup &1/2 of stock. Slowly shift flour to the oil, and cook a roux. Once the roux starts browning, slowly add stock back into it until you get a gravy. Add white pepper, near the end, to taste.
posted by porpoise at 4:31 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always thought the leftovers were the best part of Thanksgiving-- I love being able to heat up turkey and dressing and all for a week afterwards. So I wouldn't worry unduly about that, if you like leftovers most of the time.

What I've done, when it was just two of us, is cook a side dish or two each day (maybe having that for dinner that evening), a few days before, and then on Thanksgiving, I'd have a full meal (some of which only needed reheating). Something like, dressing on Monday, mashed potatoes on Tuesday, pie on Wednesday, made turkey and cranberry sauce on Thursday and reheated everything else. This can help if you have lots of things that help it feel like it's Thanksgiving. 'Cause, yeah, you only need to make the things you're most excited about, but if you have four or five things, it can help to spread it out.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:31 AM on November 20, 2011

I have cooked Thanksgiving for one or two or 4 a number of times. As everyone said, you want to decide the core things that constitute Thanksgiving for you. For me, it is turkey and stuffing, so I got my favorite stuffing recipe from my mother and cut it down for the small turkey I had (you want 1/2 - 3/4 cup stuffing per pound weight of your turkey). Get a basic cookbook (I used the Joy of Cooking) and follow the instructions for roast turkey and giblet gravy. If you want to brine your turkey (my fridge is too small to easily do this), the Cook's Illustrated recipe is a good basic one. There are some good videos and other recipes on that site as well. Here is their Thanksgiving page. One tip, be sure to get or reserve a small turkey, because the stores tend to sell out of those often and you don't want to be left with no options if you wait till the last minute to get a turkey.

My small Thanksgiving from scratch is usually turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes of some kind and steamed fresh green beans (dressed with a little melted unsalted butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon). I've done a short cut version by cooking the turkey, stuffing, and green beans myself, and buying the rest at Whole Foods or a place like that. Canned cranberry sauce is fine, or if you have a Whole Foods their whole berry sauce is good. I have also gotten their turkey gravy and supplemented it by adding in some of the pan drippings from the turkey pan to their gravy (skim off most all the fat first).

As kaybdc says, the Whole Foods little pies are great for dessert; pretty much any of theirs are good, but I go for pumpkin. That said, these days you can get a slice or two of regular pie at most any bakery to take home for dessert.

Also, if you like cornbread stuffing, the Whole Foods prepared cornbread works well for that, or use the Jiffy Cornbread mix, though basic cornbread from scratch is pretty easy and can be made ahead.

If you want to make cranberry sauce, you can make it a day or two ahead and it keeps for while so you can eat it with other stuff later.

Here is one basic recipe for cranberry sauce:
12 oz. fresh cranberries
3/4 cup juice - apple cranberry is good, or cranberry raspberry
3/4 cup water
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
Clean and sort berries, discarding any damaged berries. Combine juice and water and cranberries and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer, stirring periodically, till thickened and most berries have popped (10 minutes or so.)

Here is a basic bread stuffing recipe for a small turkey (8 - 12 lb. bird):
1 stick unsalted butter (i.e. 1/2 cup or 1/4 lb. of butter)
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 - 3/4 cup diced celery
8 cups cubed bread (2 slices regular sandwich bread yields about a cup of cubed bread; use a decent bread that is not too squishy - i.e. no Wonder Bread. Store bread like Pepperidge Farm is ok though.)
1/4 cup chicken broth
salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning mix (a spice mix you can buy at a regular grocery store) to taste.

Put cubed bread and diced celery in a bowl. Melt butter in a skillet and stir in onion. Cook onion over low heat until onion is soft (not browned). Add this mixture to bread and celery and toss lightly, season to taste with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning, and add chicken broth and stir. This is a recipe for stuffing to cook inside the bird, which I like to do even though the food safety people keep telling us not to. You can also cook this stuffing in a greased casserole dish (grease with butter) in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes (add extra chicken broth if you cook it in the oven), or you can also microwave it on mid power to cook it.

Mashed sweet potatoes are easy to make in small quantities, but I also like to make sweet potato soup. Here is a recipe by Florence Fabricant, which serves 8, so I cut it in half when I make it. Helps to have a blender or basic food processor to puree this:

Sweet Potato and Leek Soup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white part only (4 - 6 leeks)
2 garlic cloves (minced or pressed if you have a garlic press)
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and then cut in 1-inch dice
1 1/2 cups milk or half and half
salt and ground white pepper (I use black pepper because I don't worry about appearances with this soup)
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Add leeks, and saute slowly over low heat until tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic.

2. Add sweet potatoes and 3 cups water. Simmer about 20 minutes, until tender. Puree.

3. Return puree to saucepan, add milk or half and half, bring to a simmer, add 1 to 1 1/2 cups more water to make soup no thicker than heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a dusting of cilantro.

Over time, we have bought (or gotten as presents) various things that help for making Thanksgiving dinner from scratch. Assuming you already have a few saucepans, a frying pan, and a mixing bowl or two, stuff you want to have to start with for Thanksgiving would be a sharp paring knife (Victorinox makes some good inexpensive ones), a knife that you can use for carving the turkey, a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons, a heat proof spatula, potato peeler, and an instant read thermometer to help figure out when the turkey is done. You can use a disposable roasting pan from the store, though a basic one of your own is good to own (measure your oven interior so you know the maximum size it can take). We have made do with the drip pan part of the broiling pan that came with our oven, by putting the turkey in at an angle.

Stuff we like and have added to the basic tool kit would be a potato masher, a garlic press, A V rack to put in the roasting pan is nice to have, a cutting board with groove to catch the drippings when you are carving the turkey, a coil whisk or flat whisk is useful for making gravy from scratch. A blender or food processor is very useful. Other stuff, in no particular order, that is nice to have but not essential would be a pepper mill (we love freshly ground pepper), some kind of gravy ladle, a long handled spoon that helps get the stuffing out of the turkey if you cook the stuffing inside of the bird (a stainless steel serving spoon can do double duty for this), a turkey baster (long handled spoon works for this instead also) and a big platter for serving the turkey.

We like to cook the stuffing inside the bird, and seal it up, even though the food safety experts discourage this. Even if you do stuff the bird, there is really no need to seal it up and you have, I am sure, seen pictures of roast birds with the stuffing just mounded up at the opening. My mother wound up giving me some of these turkey lacers to close up the bird, and I actually have taken to using them, though with some kitchen string instead of the cord they come with.

We always wind up with more turkey leftovers than we want to deal with after Thanksgiving (though I love turkey sandwiches), so we just throw the well wrapped carcass and meat in the freezer and then making soup a few weeks later.
posted by gudrun at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2011

Well, what did you do, OP? How did it go???
posted by jgirl at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2011

« Older How can I stop this sticky substance?   |   How to reduce Miata's road and engine noise... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.