As a grad student in my final semester of school, my piles of assignments mean I have little free time to even keep up with friends and family, much less go home and visit them. Thanksgiving is the one time during the fall semester that I can travel back to Virginia and be with my loved ones.
While it’s a relatively quick (and cheap!) four-hour bus ride home for me, many of my classmates live farther away and can’t always afford to go home for the holidays. Instead, they often have a parent visit them in the city, or they get together with a small group of friends for a more intimate Thanksgiving celebration.
For those whose families are on the small side, or who prefer to spend Thanksgiving with a few friends, going to great lengths to cook the full traditional Thanksgiving spread can easily get too exhausting or too expensive to justify—or both. But you have more options than just a turkey TV dinner. You can still have the juicy turkey, the warm pot of soup, and yes, the sweet, sweet dessert. You can have it all, and with much less effort than those cooking for a crowd.
Below are our favorite recipes for a scaled-back affair that doesn’t skimp on flavor, or on holiday spirit. If you're looking for more recipes and Thanksgiving cooking tips, check out our whole guide to Thanksgiving here.
Behold, the turchetta: the perfect antidote to a traditional roast turkey. It’s turkey breast prepared like an Italian porchetta—i.e., butterflied and rolled, tied with twine, and roasted in its own skin—and it’s got character, namely, a deeply golden-brown, crisp exterior and juicy, tender meat on the inside. We know what you and your guests will be thankful for this year.
If only one kind of "potato" is going to make an appearance at the dinner table, I vote for giving the underdog a chance. We’re accustomed to our sweet potatoes getting hidden behind a ton of sugar and marshmallows on this holiday, but this recipe lets them shine all on their own. Slow-roasting your sweet potatoes before mashing helps bring out their natural sweetness; from there, the only embellishments you need are a bit of browned butter, a touch of maple syrup, and a few sprigs of thyme.
Pumpkin soup has no business tasting as sweet as pumpkin pie. We prefer a more complex, caramelized flavor, achieved by roasting the pumpkin and ditching the fall spices. This helps concentrate the squash's natural flavor, yielding a simple, savory-sweet soup that's more fitting for dinner than dessert.
Any opportunity I have to eat with my hands, whatever the meal, is one I embrace with, well, open hands. Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, these individual serving–sized stuffing muffins are the best way to enjoy the best side dish. We opt for oven-dried bread instead of the stale bread that's often called for, with hearty sausage and aromatic sage for flavorings. Are they stuffin's, or are they muffings? All we know is that we want more of them.
Consider this a deconstructed green bean casserole, without the gloppy mushroom soup and with much cleaner flavor. It's lighter fare that capitalizes on the flavors of the onion, the mushrooms, and the green beans before bringing them all together to make one wholesome dish.
This salad is a play on one you might have seen on restaurant menus here and there—warm spinach and bacon—yet so much better. We swap out the spinach for Brussels sprout leaves and thinly sliced cores, which get crisped up in rendered bacon fat. Combine the sprouts with the bacon bits, minced shallot, and a vinaigrette of bacon fat, chopped hazelnuts, honey, sherry vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil, for a salad that's packed with flavor and an interesting variety of textures.
Pie may be the peak of easiness according to the cliché, but an apple crisp is much easier, and (dare we say it?) possibly even better. It provides everything you could want in a fall dessert—soft, tender fruit; a buttery topping; and a hint of spice to make everything nice—all in a fraction of the time. Using a mixture of different varieties of apples, plus a crisp topping of toasted pecans, raw sugar, lemon zest, and grated nutmeg, results in plenty of textural contrast and complexity of flavor.
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