Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings everyone to the table. It brings together families and friends and unites us as a nation reaching across race, religions, circumstances.
But for those of us who don’t have large families or are far away from family and friends, I have been working on Thanksgiving menus for small gatherings that can be enjoyed with your spouse or partner and a friend or two. A lot of the stress of Thanksgiving comes from the perceived obligation to cook a whole turkey but you can still enjoy turkey without cooking the whole bird. Baking a turkey breast in puff pastry or braising or roasting some turkey legs or thighs with a variety of side dishes can make Thanksgiving dinner very accesible. And if you buy locally you can buy smaller quantities of vegetables at farmer’s markets and local farm stands. On the North Fork I use Miloski’s Poultry Farm for turkey but there are many options. You can even get Empire kosher turkey breast at BJs for that matter! A turkey breast en croute or some barbequed turkey legs with corn bread stuffing along with a half pound of string beans, cauliflower puree made with one small cauliflower, two or three baked yams and a lot of gravy make a wonderful dinner and not too much. Make the gravy a week in advance and freeze it. Make the stuffing and mashed the night before. Enlist help and get your table ready the night before as well.
The shopping list for food and wine
Select your wines weeks in advance and make a trip of it. Visit a local farmers’ market or go for a ride and visit the North Fork. In addition to farmstands replete with all the produce you’ll need, The North Fork has over 60 vineyards. Here you will find a great variety of wines that will complement your Thanksgiving dinner and buy a few different bottles to have something for everyone. For a light bodied red, try the Tavola from Raphael Vineyards and for a full-bodied herbaceous red, try the Cabernet Franc from Lieb Cellars. For white, have an oaky Chardonnay from Jason’s Vineyards. For some of your guests who want something lighter and fruitier, serve a stainless steel white blend like the First Crush white from Bedell. I have been serving this for years with turkey and everyone loves it. Think about what you want your Thanksgiving table to look like and start planning.
Stage your setting
Think about that fact that you want to relax and enjoy your guests so set up a self service bar or area in your living room where people can serve themselves. Place it where they can access it from several angles (think about circulation) and decorate it with small pumpkins and a mason jar filled with mini sunflowers (not too much fuss). Arrange some high ball glasses for mixed drinks or water, wine glasses and plenty of ice. Have one tray of simple stationaary hors d’oeuvres that also double as a first course. Select items that do not require maintenance like olives, marcona almonds, hummus, goat cheese or feta from Catapano Dairy Farm, crostini and bread sticks set up right next to the self serve bar. When the snacks are finished — don’t put out more because you don’t want to ruin your appetite and people appreciate eating a large meal a bit earlier. Move right on to the main course and serve it all at once so that you don’t have to get up and change plates and silverware.
Turkey Breast en Croute
Corn bread stuffing
String beans with sauteed shallots
Pureed cauliflower from Latham Farms with toasted spices
Whole baked yams drizzled with local honey
Gravy, gravy, gravy
Selections of pies (if you are cooking you might want to buy your pies and ask guests to bring one), some ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
Sitting down for dinner
At dinner time, make an show of placing the serving dishes at the table and ask everyone to sit down. If people don’t move to the table, ask them to “join you” at the table and bring a tray with you to assist in moving wines glasses and other beverages to the table (guests will follow their drinks). If your table should is set the night before complete with silverware, napkins and a serving utensil for every dish, all you’ll need to do is enjoy the meal and your beautiful table. This is the time of year you want to use all that beautiful china you are saving. Use it, enjoy it, let others enjoy it.
Have a pre-designated place for everything
Have a card table with pies that you can pick up during your North Fork excursion. You can start with Briemere Farms in Aquebogue and make your way to Mattituck for the pumpkin ice cream and kulfi from Magic Fountain Ice Cream in Mattituck (homemade and crazy good). Don’t forget to pack a cooler with ice when you come out to the North Fork so that you can transport your goodies home (anything from poultry to eggs, cheese, packed ice cream pints or quarts).