Minimalist Thanksgiving
November 18, 2013 2:58 PM   Subscribe

I need help finding some really easy, uncomplicated one-pot Thanksgiving recipes! I'll be hosting an orphan's potluck for 4-8 people at my place this year and I need to provide a couple dishes. Problem is, I'm a notoriously shitty cook which means I never cook which means I have a really understocked kitchen. And I'm kinda poor.

I've always been a crappy cook so I just don't do it (other than the occasional dry pasta/sauce-out-of-a-jar deal). This means that my kitchen has barely anything in it. I mean, I don't even have flour or pepper or cooking spray or any spices/herbs. I also have exactly 1 medium sized sauce pot, 1 medium sized frying pan, 1 medium sized pyrex baking dish. I don't have a Cuisinart or a crockpot or anything like that. I also don't have the money to go buy a ton of stuff that I won't use again until next year.

I want to fix a few traditionalish Thanksgiving-y dishes, so recommending stir-fry ain't gonna cut it. I will also be cooking vegetarian (even though I am not, most of my guests are). So can you recommend some recipes or a website that provides easy, uncomplicated meal ideas? Also, assume that I have the cooking knowledge of a five-year old so beginners-level instructions are necessary as well.

Yes, I know that I could just provide the wine/bread/cheese whatever, which is what I usually do for potlucks, but since I'm hosting I want to try to make some actual dishes to impress my friends with my efforts.

posted by greta simone to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Green bean casserole, the kind you make with canned cream of mushroom soup. I recommend you use frozen green beans--the canned ones have a kind of mushy texture IMO, and frozen is only slightly more expensive than canned. The recipe is pretty much just mixing together the beans and soup (maybe some jarred roasted red peppers if you want to fancy it up a little), dumping it into a casserole dish, and topping with the canned fried onions, then baking until it's gooey (the can has a more detailed recipe.)

Cranberry sauce also requires few ingredients and or equipment, and it really impresses people if you make it from scratch. Bag of cranberries, sugar, water, some citrus is not strictly necessary but is a nice touch (orange juice works fine.) Boil and stir, mashing the berries against the side until you get the consistency and flavor you want.
posted by kagredon at 3:10 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Garlic Mint Peas! Really easy, but is unique and fancier than just thawing frozen peas. You can probably use a bit of oil instead of butter depending on your vegetarianism.

Roast vegetables: Take vegetable (like carrots, potatoes, parsnip, brussel sprouts), toss with olive oil and herbs (you can use the Italian seasoning packets and it's delicious) bake at about 350 until soft (40 minutes-ish, depending on how thick. Poke them with a fork until they feel edible). You can use your pyrex, or buy one of those disposable aluminum roasting pans (get them at the dollar store).

Mashed potatoes are a good default too. Boil water, add cleaned potatoes (you don't even have to peel them), then smash with a fork when soft enough to do so. Add butter and/or sour cream (or coconut milk, a friend makes them this way?). Top with chives if you want to be fancy.
posted by platypus of the universe at 3:12 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

One pot cranberry sauce. A bag or two of cranberries, some orange juice, a bit of ginger (fresh or powder is fine), water and sugar. Recipes abound online.

You need a smallish pot, a spoon, a measuring cup, and a serving dish.
posted by bilabial at 3:12 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi Greta,

Here are some ideas:

1) Simple macaroni and cheese:
Ingredients: 1 pound of Ziti pasta and an 8-ounce block of cheddar cheese
--Boil the pasta
--Spoon the pasta into the pyrex baking dish with a slotted spoon
--Cut the cheddar cheese into small pieces and spread over the top of the pasta
--Put the pasta in the oven and heat it for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit

2) Sweet and sour red cabbage with raisins:
Ingredients: 1 head of red cabbage, a large handful of raisins, a teaspoon of mustard, and about 6 tablespoonfuls of vinegar
--Fill the frying pan about one-third of the way to the top with water
--Put the raisins, the mustard, and the vinegar in the water
--Wash the red cabbage, peel off the outer leaves and throw them away
--Peel the remaining leaves and put them in the pan
--Boil until there is no remaining water

3) Cranberry sauce
--Open can, cut into slices

4) Buy a pumpkin pie from the grocery store

That's a tasty, vegetarian Thanksgiving for around $20.
posted by candasartan at 3:13 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roasted Potatoes. Just peel some russet potatoes and sweet potatoes. Slice them up into chunks, and place them in that pyrex baking dish. Add some olive oil, a few slabs of butter, salt pepper and some herbs, like rosemary and thyme. Then bake them in the oven at like 400 deg F until they are tender.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:15 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mashed sweet potatoes are super easy and forgiving. Ordinarily I would suggest boiling them, but since it doesn't sound like you have a big pot, you can bake them: Scrub your sweet potatoes and poke some holes in them with a fork. Preheat your oven to 350 and set the potatoes right on the rack, maybe with some foil underneath them in case they drip. Bake them for 45 minutes or until you can stick a knife in them and it glides right through... no crunch or resistance. Remove, let cool, peel slightly and then smush up in a bowl with salt, pepper, butter, maybe a little cream and a touch of cinnamon.

Or skip the smushing part and serve your guests baked sweet potatoes!
posted by marshmallow peep at 3:16 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding green bean casserole. Truly, it has four ingredients - the green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, milk, and fried onions (near the stuffing in the grocery store, or up in front for the holiday). It's the easiest damn thing.

Stovetop brand stuffing is delicious, vegetarian (savory herb or sage flavors), and super easy (I think you mix water, the mix, and maaaaybe vegetable oil). It's a Thanksgiving standard and a box is like $3.

Mac and cheese is delicious, but homemade mac can turn out very badly. Instead of trying to mess with a bechamel sauce (easy, but requires some pantry ingredients - flour, butter - you might not want to buy), just buy the fancy kraft mac (with the squeezy packet instead of the powder). It'll taste a lot better than just melting cheddar on top of pasta.

Baked sweet potatoes - buy sweet potatoes, wash them, poke holes in them with a fork, bake for about an hour at 375°. Top with brown sugar and, if you're ambitious, chopped pecans.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:18 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I read your title, I thought how funny it would be to serve one single quail instead of that mighty turkey.

But upon reading the actual question ... how about a vegetarian lentil loaf? With mashed (sweet?) potatoes?
posted by travelwithcats at 3:19 PM on November 18, 2013

OH and if you have Trader Joe's near you, buy a box of pumpkin bread mix - add vegetable oil or butter, water, and two eggs, and presto you have a super delicious loaf of bread. (Also, you can get a lot of stuff at TJ's that will look/taste homemade and still be relatively cheap, especially for appetizers.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:21 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The key dishes for Thanksgiving are Turkey - not vegetarian, Stuffing, Gravy - not vegetarian, Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Squash. Everything except mashed potatoes can be made ahead.

Stuffing - however much onion and celery the bag of stuffing says to use - double it. Get some vegetable broth to use in place of water or chicken broth. Saute (fry slowly) the chopped onion and celery in olive oil until soft. If you like mushrooms, add chopped mushrooms about 1/2 way through sauteeing the onions and celery. Mushrooms will help make up for the lack of chicken broth. The stuffing will be kind of wet and unappetizing. Put it in your baking dish, cover, bake @ 1/2 hour, remove cover, bake 15 minutes more.

Sweet potatoes. People like to make them sweeter, but they are already sweet enough. Bake them (or cook in the microwave), peel, and mash with olive oil, salt & pepper. If you want to go crazy, roast a head of garlic and add the garlic. Sweet, salty, & garlicky = yum.

Or, scrub sweet potatoes well, cut into chunks, douse with olive oil to coat, seasoned salt, pepper, ideally some rosemary, and roast at 400F for 45 minutes. Add some peeled, quartered onions. Stir them every 10 - 15 minutes. (like roast potatoes above, and you can combine sweet & white roasted potatoes)

Mashed potatoes - wash and cut up potatoes, boil until fork tender, drain, remove peels, mash with any combination of milk, butter, sour cream, cream cheese.

Parmesan-Roasted Acorn Squash
Serves 4| (make more - leftovers are good)
1 2-pound acorn or delicata squash—halved, seeded, and sliced 3/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 sprigs fresh thyme (or use 1 tsp. dried thyme)
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 ounce)

Heat oven to 400° F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with the oil, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with the Parmesan. Roast the squash until golden brown and tender, 30 minutes or so.
posted by theora55 at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a vegetarian and I'll be making and eating everything but turkey and gravy this year. (Husband is in charge of those).

Anything that has an ingredients list and requires you to cook until "done" is not going to be something I recommend. What you want is definite ways to tell when something is done. If people recommend recipes, be sure there are at least two ways to tell it is done besides having enough time pass.

For Thanksgiving, do not make anything you have never made before if it is from scratch. You have time to experiment with a couple things between now and then, though, with some test runs.

I got a stuffing mix, very simple - mix with hot water or something. Read carefully on the ingredients - most mixes have chicken broth, unacceptable for vegetarians.

I will be steaming frozen mixed vegetables, very simple. Probably they could be put in a pot on the stove, just don't overdo it or you end up with mush.

I will be making my own dinner rolls but you can get dinner rolls at any grocery store. A minute or two in the microwave, in a paper bag or wrapped in some dishtowels, and they will be warm (mine will be baked ahead so I will be microwaving them on T day).

Deli at your local store will probably have pie. Or there will be pie in the frozen section. Many kinds of pie. Again, read the ingredients (or call your vegetarians and ask if they know of definitely vegetarian brands or whatever - pie crust sometimes has lard, not good for vegetarians).

Pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cranberry scones -- all mixes available at Trader Joe's and I have found their mixes to be pretty foolproof. Just read the ingredients to make sure all vegetarian.

All this stuff and I never even notice I'm not eating turkey. Do feel free to ask your vegetarians if there is anything they can't live without and then ask for how to make it if it is more than "buy at store, put in oven."
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:32 PM on November 18, 2013

Response by poster: These are great so far guys. Thanks! Please keep them coming.
posted by greta simone at 3:39 PM on November 18, 2013

I'm planning on trying this sweet potato casserole this year. I suspect you could leave off the nuts and use margarine to grease the pan. I like the twist using the apples.
posted by kathrynm at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2013

You could make Nantucket Cranberry Pie in your medium-sized Pyrex dish. It's easy, it's delicious, you can make it the day before. You can skip the coarse sugar since I'm guessing you don't have any on hand. Put a blob of mascarpone on each piece as you serve it, rather than making whipped cream (since I'm guessing you don't have the equipment for that). It'll be easier than pie but still seem Thanksgivingish.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:50 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

The recipe printed on the cranberry bag is fine. Toss in some candied ginger bits if you want to impress. You can make it a few days ahead -- it'll keep fine in the fridge.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:51 PM on November 18, 2013

Your local dollar store will have aluminium baking pans for very cheap. For the size of the crowd you're feeding, you can probably get some square ones (9in x 9in) or some of the longer rectangular ones (13in by 9in) for like $3. They usually come 2 or three to a packet and it will make cleanup a snap.

Herbs --- I know you don't want to drop a ton of money on stuff you don't have a use for. If there's any size Latino community where you live, then go to the Mexican/Spanish food aisle in the grocery store and look for a brand called Badia --- they're usually about half the price of typical American spice brands and they sell little packets of herbs for like a buck each. For fall-type veggie dishes, you'll want thyme and rosemary, mainly. And salt and pepper.

As mentioned above, a roast veg medley is dead easy --- personally, I like sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips. Peel and chop into small chicks of about the same size, pour some olive oil, salt, pepper and some rosemary and thyme on them, toss to coat, them bung 'em in a hot oven (425) for about 20 min to half an hour. Check 'em at twenty minutes, if they're not brown give 'em another ten. If you want to get really fancy you can sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley and a small spoonful of red wine vinegar over them just before you serve.

Potatoes --- mashed potatoes are dead easy, really. You could splurge on a potato masher at the dollar store if you feel like it but the back of a wooden spoon or a big fork or even the bottom of a wine bottle will work as well. For your crowd I'd just use a 5lb sack of spuds. Peel, rinse, chop into medium sized bits and boil. When you can stick a fork into the middle of a piece easily, drain them, then put them back in the hot pan and mash them with a stick if butter, salt, pepper and about two cups of milk. I like to add a small log of goat cheese crumbled up along with some rosemary and roasted garlic, myself.
posted by Diablevert at 3:54 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am really into these wintery soups that you get from Trader Joe's. I know they're based on a regular grocery store brand but I can't remember which. Butternut Squash is great, so is their Corn. That would be an easy addition. Just heat it it up in a pot or even the microwave.

Jiffy Cornbread is super easy. You could probably "hack" it and make it like, jalapeno cheese cornbread. I like it in muffin tins but you can make it in a pan and cut the squares.

Oh yeah definitely get some cheap disposable aluminum pans - more options, easier cleanup. You could also get some cheap pots or pyrex from Goodwill if that helps.

Oh and I never bother to make cranberry sauce, IMHO nothing is better than Ocean Spray!
posted by radioamy at 4:22 PM on November 18, 2013

Watch out for Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix/Cornbread - it may contain lard.
posted by dilettante at 4:42 PM on November 18, 2013

Buy a nice pan of "homemade" Mac and Cheese from your grocery store. If cooking isn't your thing, don't do it. A pan of vegetarian lasagne is good too. Buy if you can.

Or: get a throw away pan. Line with no cook lasagna. Use a jarred sauce. Not Ragu, spring for a good one.

Layer with ricotta cheese mixed with spinach and shredded mozzarella.


Easy enough.

Happy Thanksgiving
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:05 PM on November 18, 2013

Pumpkin chili. Can't mess it up. One pot. Can't really overbook it: it's chili. Also, pumpkin is super seasonal. Very filling, good veggie main.
posted by slateyness at 6:11 PM on November 18, 2013
posted by slateyness at 6:12 PM on November 18, 2013

We had Thanksgiving at my apartment one year in college, which was better equipped than yours, but not by much.

We made eggplant parmesan (er... maybe go with the lasagna recommendation instead--it was ridiculously messy) in aluminum baking trays bought at the supermarket, mashed potatoes (which obviously totally went with the eggplant), pumpkin pie and had tinned cranberry sauce. We did the cooking together (well, in little groups, while others watched TV)--a few people chopping eggplant, some frying, etc. It was sort of silly and fun. I definitely recommend getting people to come over early and help cook.

My family actually really hates mashed potatoes (which didn't help in college--I was the most adept at cooking and had no idea about mashed potatoes) and roasts those little red potatoes (cut into pieces) at holidays and they are 17 kinds of awesome.

Quiche is pretty easy, too. You just need a bowl and a pie crust (which you can buy in its very own foil tin). As proof of how straightforward it is, here's a recipe for quiche lorraine (which does have ham in, but it was the plainest quiche recipe I found quickly--you can use greek yogurt for creme fraiche). Basically, mix stuff together, dump in pie crust, bake.
posted by hoyland at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2013

I just impressed a bunch of people with this vegetarian yellow squash casserole recipe from Southern Living magazine. Not counting oven time, it took about twenty or thirty minutes to prepare.

If you can get decent Parmigiano-Reggiano, I'd consider it.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:43 PM on November 18, 2013

Mushroom risotto is one I use if you want a veggie "main course", easy and not expensive (though it's good to get arborio rice and parmesan or romano cheese to grate if you can).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2013

Can you make lasagna? Because there's something you could do that is really Thanksgiving-y, but just as easy as lasagna - butternut squash lasagna.

Basically, you cook up some butternut squash and use that instead of the tomato sauce (and cooking the squash is really easy - you could probably just cut the squash in half the long way, put both halves on a cookie sheet, and put it in the oven for about a half hour-45 minutes until it's soft, then scrape it out of the peel). Mush up the squash when it's cooked and add some salt and pepper.

Then, cook up some frozen spinach (you can do that in the microwave), squeeze out the water and mix it into a thing of ricotta cheese.

Then you cook up the lasagna noodles (or, don't, if you're using the kind you don't have to boil first). And then you just do the same thing you do with regular lasagna - spread some of the squash sauce on the bottom of the pan, a layer of noodles on top, a layer of ricotta-and-spinach on top of that, and repeat. Then bake it.

There are a few recipes for "butternut squash lasagna" out there - check a few and pick the one that you feel like you can handle. But lasagna is actually pretty basic, and this is a good Thanksgiving-y update for that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 PM on November 18, 2013

As much as I try to deny it, this Ritz/Broccoli/Velveeta casserole is what I grew up with, and damn, if it isn't delicious. Every Thanksgiving. Sometimes two of them! Making it this year too.
posted by hydra77 at 8:03 PM on November 18, 2013

Just make Stovetop Stuffing from a box and add some raisins and extra butter and it will be amazing.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:43 PM on November 18, 2013

I love to cook from scratch and eat.

For your situation, I agree with the Stovetop Stuffing suggestions. Make on stovetop, transfer to disposable aluminum pan. Throw in oven for a last minute burst of heat before serving time.

Similarly, some instant mashed potatoes are pretty good. I just googled and Betty Crocker Yukon Gold seems to be a good option, add milk instead of water and extra butter and maybe extra salt. Again, make on stovetop, transfer to aluminum pan for for last minute heat or to keep warm in oven.

Definitely buy the cranberry sauce and rolls.

Keep it simple. Actually Thanksgiving is one of the easiest menus to make, almost all the traditional recipes are few ingredients.

Keep an eye on the sales, all of these traditional ingredients go on amazing sales at this time including the green beans, fried onions, mushroom soup, pumpkin pie mix in a can, pie crust.

Then enjoy and have a great time as it will be all about the warm food and fellowship.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:57 AM on November 19, 2013

I usually make spinach dip for an appetizer. It is easy to throw together, it only requires chopping some green onions and water chestnuts and mixing everything together. I just make it in a regular bowl instead of the bread bowl, but it is a nice touch if you feel like it. Serve with some Ritz crackers and raw veggies (some combination of raw cauliflower & broccoli cut into florets, baby carrots, celery sticks, green pepper strips, baby tomatoes.)

Nthing homemade cranberry sauce. It really could not be easier but people are impressed by it; it's tons better than canned; and if you make it the day of, it will make your house smell wonderful. It can even be done in a small crockpot if you have one, or you can buy one for like $5 at the thrift store or maybe someone has one you can borrow. If not, doing it on top of the stove is fine.

Green bean casserole, as stated above, is very easy. I don't even use milk in mine, which eliminates the potential for screwing it up by getting it too soupy. I usually use three cans of greenbeans (drained), two cans of mushroom soup (undiluted) and a can of french-fried onions. Set aside some onions for sprinkling on the top; mix beans, cans of soup and the rest of the onions and spread the mixture in a 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle the remaining onions on top and bake. (The fried onion can will tell you how long & what temp but that part is pretty forgiving, you can go down with the temp and up with the time or vice-versa depending on what your other dishes need.)

Hash brown casserole is super-easy and people love it (my dad won't let me in the door at family potlucks without it). Here is a recipe similar to the one I use. It calls for a can of cream of chicken soup, but I usually use cream of celery or mushroom instead.

If you want to go even simpler with a potato dish, you could do parsley potatoes. Peel a pile of potatoes and cut into chunks. Boil in a big pan until they are very tender; drain. Add a stick of butter (or big glob of Earth Balance spread) to the hot potatoes, let it melt and then toss potatoes in the butter to coat. Sprinkle with parsley (dried is fine, but I imagine snipped fresh parsley would be better) and toss again.

If you have an Aldi nearby, you can get a lot of the above ingredients very cheaply. Sour cream, mayo, cream soups, green beans, butter as well as baking ingredients such as flour, sugar, vanilla, etc. And of course the dollar store for kitchen stuff, thrift store for dishes, small appliances & seasonal decorations.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:32 AM on November 19, 2013

Oh! Cranberry relish is really easy, and you don't even need to cook anything - just use a food processor. Dump a bag of cranberries, a whole orange (peel and all), and about a quarter cup of sugar into the food processor, and turn it on until everything's all chopped. Taste it and see if you want more sugar. That's it!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

1 bag fresh Brussels sprouts. 1 bag baby carrots. 1 bunch beets (peeled and sliced to your desire). Coat bottom of Pyrex baking dish with olive oil. Add vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little fresh rosemary. Bake/Roast unconvered for 30 minutes at about 350-375 (I took out the dish to shake veggies around and turned up the heat about 15 minutes in) until the edges of your sprouts just start to brown. You can also add parsnips to this. Delicious!


Peel small-ish Yukon gold potatoes, slice in halves. Bring to a boil for about 10 minutes (before they get too soft. Drain out water and then sort of rattle the potatoes around in the pot. Lightly coat Pyrex baking dish with oilive oil add potatoes, fresh rosemary, salt, pepper and a little tiny bit of lavender. Roast uncovered at 375 for 45 minutes or so or until potatoes are golden brown and soft on the inside.
posted by thivaia at 6:28 AM on November 19, 2013

Oh yeah, I just remembered --- a good simple app is to buy a wheel of Brie, warm it up in a low oven (325 15 minutes or so, you want the middle to be soft if you poke it but not completely liquid). Take it out and sprinkle some chopped up walnuts and pistachios and craisins and dried apricots on top. Drizzle a couple spoonfuls of honey over the fruit and nuts, serve with some French bread cut into slices and maybe some apple slices. Really delicious and doesn't leave any leftovers that go bad.
posted by Diablevert at 6:52 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

This corn pudding has been a big hit with the ovo-lacto vegetarians at every Thanksgiving I've ever brought it to. (Which is at least five at this point, because now it gets demanded.) Someone did a price breakdown on it here and found that it came out to $7.36; that was in 2009, though. You can leave out the herbs and paprika if you need to, though the marjoram does really add a little something if you can spare the couple of dollars for it, and the paprika is nice for the coloring.

It's pretty much foolproof—all you have to do is sautée an onion, mix it with some other stuff, and put it in a pan to bake.
posted by felix grundy at 9:04 AM on November 19, 2013

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