So you didn't get invited back to Aunt Helen's after last year's "table fire" debacle. So what! Family gatherings mean family drama—ain't nobody got time for that! But just because you aren't sitting down for a big holiday meal doesn't mean you have to miss out; grab a friend/roommate/similarly orphaned neighbor and make your own holiday meal.
Though leftovers are a wonderful part of the Thanksgiving experience, nobody wants to be shoving down week-old green beans just so they don't go to waste. Here are a few tips to keep the portions at a reasonable level when you're cooking a holiday meal for two.
Ditch The Turkey, Embrace The Chicken: I'm going to confess something here: I really fucking hate turkey. Think back to all the delicious-looking roasted turkeys you may have encountered in your lifetime. Sure, they have that beautiful browned skin and damned if they don't make for a beautiful centerpiece on your holiday table. But if you really think about it, does it ever truly live up to the hype? I think not. Instead of beating yourself up to make The Perfect Roasted Turkey, why not ditch that big bird altogether and prepare a simpler—and dare I say more flavorful?—roasted chicken?
The two most well-known, time tested recipes are Thomas Keller's Simple Roast Chicken and the Zuni Method. Both call for minimal ingredients (chicken, salt, pepper, thyme) with high heat cooking. You can't go wrong with either method, as they're both foolproof and turn out perfectly every time, so it comes down to the amount of advance time you're working with. If you're planning a day in advance, go for the Zuni Method, which calls for liberally salting the bird a day in advance and letting it hang out in the fridge until cooking time, at which point you throw it into a screaming hot oven. If you're more of a last-minute kinda person, go for Keller's method, which calls for liberally salting the bird and then immediately throwing it into a screaming hot oven.
Both methods leave you with lots of delicious chicken bits left in your roasting vessel, which in turn can be made into a kick ass gravy. Since you'll want to slather gravy on everything on the plate, make as much as you can. Here's a video from Epicurious that shows you how it's done:
If you simply must have turkey on the table, I recommend avoiding the whole bird—because seriously that's just ridiculous—and instead roasting up some turkey thighs. The dark meat is infinitely more flavorful than the dull, often dried out breast meat and because they're larger than a chicken thigh you should have some extra meat to make the obligatory turkey sandwich later on. Diner's Journal at the New York Times has a very simple recipe for perfect turkey thighs with lots of sage.
Start The Meal Off Right Cooking for two doesn't mean skimping on portions, but we all know the starch-heavy spread can do a number on our insides, especially after that second helping of potatoes. Starting off with salad means a little less guilt at the carb-and-meat loading to come, especially if that salad contains so-hot-right-now Brussels sprouts. Oh, and bacon—didn't think we'd go totally health nut, didja? Our friends from LAist turned us on to this Warm Brussels Spouts Salad from Napa Valley Grille, which has all the right flavors for a Thanksgiving celebration with some fiber and minerals to boot. Plus, it'll make you feel fancy to have multiple "courses" to your feast.
Starch Up Those Sides It would be downright sacrilegious to omit some kind of creamy vegetable side dish from the meal. Potatoes are the logical choice here but mashed potatoes take forever and you end up with a sink full of pots and pans for just one dish. The easiest, muss-free option for a Thanksgiving duo would be Microwave Mashed Potatoes or a simple Baked Potato. If you're a little more gourmet, try out Gothamist editor Jen Carlson's Baked Apple and Cauliflower Purée, a savory-sweet dish that's on the lighter side.
Insert Obligatory Vegetable Side Dish Here Just because Mom isn't around to nag you doesn't mean you're getting out of some kind of veggie. Martha Stewart can't photograph food worth a damn but she has a super simple recipe for Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots—just cut the recipe in half—or try Taste of Home's Peas with Buttered Crackers.
We're Gonna Cheat A Little I'm all for homemade whenever possible, but there are a few tasks that are just not worth the effort for a paired down holiday meal.
A Bit-O-Sweet Baking involves precise measurements which means measuring cups and measuring cups mean dishes and dishes mean...to hell with more dishes. Grab some Gaeter's Pumpkin Ice Cream or, better yet, take this opportunity to try the new Cronut; the bakery will be open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Cut Right To The Chase Why go through the trouble of all of these dishes and courses when you can get all of Thanksgiving wrapped up in one buttery pastry? Crack food editor Krista Simmons over at LAist has a great recipe hack for Thanksgiving Stuffed Croissants, inspired by NYC's own Christina Tossi of Momofuku Milk Bar fame.
Booze 'Nuff said.