Just a Little

Recipes for a Small Thanksgiving Gathering (Maybe 2?)

Since this year has thrown us a curveball, knock it out of the park.

By Timothy Malcolm

Turkey breast! Make it for Thanksgiving if you're keeping it small.

You may have heard that it's probably not the best decision to get a lot of people together for Thanksgiving this year. Instead, local officials would rather you stay home and not risk acquiring or spreading Covid-19 by celebrating with whoever has been with you this whole time. It's a good idea!

So, if that means you're hoping to make dinner for a much smaller cohort—say, two or so—we're here to help. We reached out to a couple of folks who are good at Thanksgiving, whether it's for several dozen or just a couple folks looking to have a nice evening, and got a couple recipes you can easily follow to make the day special.

Protein (Turkey)

Buttermilk-brined turkey breast

From Mark Schmidt, Rainbow Lodge

  • 1 qt water
  • 2 tbsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tbsp cane syrup
  • 6–8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 T roast garlic puree (fresh garlic is fine, but will be a stronger flavor)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 half turkey breast (about 2 1/2 pounds), on or off the bone

Two days before you plan to cook, place water, salt, cane syrup, thyme, and peppercorns in a medium sauce pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Once cooled, stir in garlic puree and buttermilk.

In a gallon-size resealable plastic bag, place the turkey breast and brine in the bag, and seal carefully, expelling the air. Turn the bag to distribute brine all around the turkey, place on a plate, and refrigerate for 24–36 hours. Turn the bag periodically so every part of the turkey gets marinated.

A few hours before you plan to start cooking, remove the turkey from the plastic bag, and drain off the brine. Discard brine, set the breast on a plate or sheet pan, and bring it to room temperature.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven, and heat to 425 degrees F. Place breast skin-side-up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a wire rack or parchment paper.

Place the baking sheet on the prepared oven rack, and roast the turkey until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast—without touching bone—registers 150 degrees F; it's about 40 minutes for a boneless breast or 50 minutes for a bone-in breast. (You might want to tent the breast with aluminum foil if it’s darkening too quickly.)

Transfer turkey to a cutting board or platter, and allow it to rest at least 15 minutes before carving.

Smoked turkey gravy

  • 1 lb smoked turkey necks (legs are fine)
  • 1 cup sweet onion, minced, half reserved
  • 1/2 cup celery, minced, half reserved
  • 1/2 cup carrot, minced, half reserved
  • 4 leaves fresh sage, chopped, half reserved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp pimentón (Spanish-smoked paprika)
  • 1/2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot (for thickening)
  • 1/2 cup water (for thickening)

In a medium stock pot, combine the turkey necks (or leg), half of the onion, celery, and carrots with half of the sage, the entire bay leaf, and all of the thyme and peppercorns. Pour in the water.

Bring the pan to a light boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook covered for 2–2.5 hours. Strain liquid, and discard solids. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat, and add the olive oil; sweat the reserved onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Cook until vegetables are softened and onions are translucent, about five to eight minutes.

Add pimentón, reserved sage, and parsley, along with the smoked turkey stock, and simmer until you have about three cups of liquid remaining. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper, thicken with a slurry of water and arrowroot. Use one part arrowroot to two parts cold water, and stir into the simmering gravy until desired thickness.

It doesn't have to be turkey this year! Rainbow Lodge gives us a recipe for this venison loin.

Protein (Not Turkey)

Coffee-rubbed venison loin with endive and roasted beets

From Mark Schmidt, Rainbow Lodge


  • 10 lb veal bones
  • 3 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1  bouquet garni (loose herbs tied together and enclosed in cheesecloth)
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste


  • 1–1.5 lb venison loin
  • 5 red Belgian endive leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup espresso, finely ground
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1 cup roasted beets, recipe below
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated horseradish
  • Juice of 1 half lemon

Roasted Beets

  • 2 medium beets (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Cook the beets: Heat the oven to 375 degrees F, and arrange a rack in the middle. Rinse the beets, and trim off any leafy tops. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

Wrap completely in aluminum foil, and place in the oven. Roast until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 1.5 hours. Remove from the oven, and let cool.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, peel using a paring knife or by pushing the skin with your fingers. Cut beets into wedges.


Make the stock: Heat oven to 500 degrees F. Put bones into a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer, and roast until lightly browned, about 1–1.5 hours. Add carrots, onions, and leek to the pan, and spread them evenly around the bones. Roast the bones and vegetables until they are deeply browned, about 45 minutes more.

Transfer bones and vegetables to a 15–20-quart stockpot. Pour off and discard any fat in the roasting pan, and place pan over two burners on the stove at medium heat. Add three cups water to pan; begin scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon.

Simmer for three minutes, then transfer liquid to pot of bones. Add bouquet garni and tomato paste. Cover bones with six to eight quarts of cold water, and set pot over medium-high heat.

When the first bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the liquid, reduce heat to medium-low and maintain a very gentle simmer; a bubble should rise to the surface about once per second. Skim fatty froth from surface of stock with a ladle every five to 10 minutes during first hour of cooking to prevent it from clouding stock. After the first hour, skim the stock every 30 minutes or so.

The strength and concentration of your demi-glace will be determined by the length of time the stock simmers. For the minimum amount of extraction, it should simmer for at least six to eight hours, but we recommend 12–24 hours for a richer, more gelatinous sauce. Check every few hours, and add more cold water, if necessary, so that bones are always covered.

When the stock is ready, set a chinois (a fine-mesh conical sieve) or a fine metal sieve over a clean eight-quart pot. Strain stock through sieve into the pot. Tap edge of sieve with a wooden spoon to loosen any solids that impede the straining of the stock, but do not force liquid through. Discard bones, vegetables, and bouquet garni. The stock should yield four to five quarts.

If storing stock for another use, you can cool it quickly by placing the pot in a sink half filled with ice water. Once it's cooled, skim the surface again to remove any fat. Transfer the stock you don't plan to use right away to storage containers, and refrigerate. Stock will keep refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to six months. To transform the stock into demi-glace, proceed to next step.

Finally, simmer stock over medium-high heat, skimming occasionally, for four to five hours until reduced to two cups. Refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze for up to six months.


Prepare the venison: Heat gas or charcoal grill as you would for grilling steaks. While grill is heating, take one endive, separate the leaves, then slice the other endive in half, lengthwise.

Rub the venison loin with two tablespoons of olive oil; season with ground espresso, salt, and pepper; and set aside.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat; add the butter, beets, and horseradish; cook until hot; and set aside and keep warm.

When grill is ready, add the endive halves, cut side down, around the edges of the grill, and cook for three minutes, turn them 45 degrees, and cook for three more minutes, then turn over, and grill for three more minutes. Remove, and reserve.

At the same time as you are grilling the endive, cook the seasoned venison on the center of the grill. For medium rare, cook three to four minutes per side. Allow to rest, and then slice.

To serve, place cooked endive in the center of a serving platter, spoon horseradish beets around the endive, and arrange the venison slices on top. Toss the separated endive leaves in the remaining olive oil, salt, pepper, and the lemon juice, and scatter over the top of the venison. Drizzle with reduced veal stock.


Loaded potato salad

From Erin Smith, Feges BBQ

  • 5 lbs Idaho potatoes
  • 3/4 cup bacon
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • 2 tbsp green onion (diced)
  • Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Peel the Idaho potatoes, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Place in a pot filled with water to prevent browning on the potatoes while you finish peeling/cutting all potatoes.

Boil the potatoes until fork-tender. Remove from water, and let cool.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a 350 degree oven on a sheet pan until crispy. Let bacon cool, and separate out. Reserve bacon fat, and chop the bacon into small pieces.

Mix together potatoes, bacon, sour cream, cheese, green onion, and bacon fat. Be careful not to over-mix the potatoes—keep everything chunky. Season to taste. Serve warm with some cheddar cheese and green onions as a garnish, or serve chilled with green onion garnish.


Sticky rice hand pies

From Victoria Dearmond, Underbelly Hospitality


  • 2 cups sweet sticky rice (sometimes called glutinous rice), rinsed and drained
  • 1/2–3/4 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 (15.5 oz) can coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup tropical fruit marmalade (such as pineapple, mango, or papaya)


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/8–1/4 tbsp kosher salt
  • 4 oz cold lard, cut into small chunks
  • 1/8 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 large egg, beaten (plus 1 more, if baking the pies)
  • Vegetable oil, for frying (optional)
  • Sweetened condensed milk, for serving

Make the filling: Put the rice in a bowl, and cover with four cups water. Let soak for at least four hours, or overnight.

Drain the rice well, then put it in a medium pot, and set it over medium heat. Let the rice dry out, stirring, for two minutes, then add one cup water and the salt, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the coconut milk, sugar, and another 1/2 cup water. Let it come to a boil again over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid reduces down to the level of the rice, about 15 minutes.

Add another 1/4 cup water and continue to cook, stirring, until the grains are fully cooked and chewy but with no hard center, another 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla, and increase the heat to high for one to two minutes more; the mixture should be thickened slightly—not quite to the extent of porridge but heading in that direction.

Pour the rice onto a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, and spread out to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill completely.


Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix on low just to combine. Add the lard, and mix on low until only dime-sized fat chunks remain.

With the mixer running, slowly pour in 1/2 cup cold water and the vinegar. Increase the speed to medium, and mix until the dough has formed and has a slight tackiness to it. Wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

Separate the dough into 10 equal balls. On a flour-dusted surface, roll out each dough ball into a circle about 1/4-inch thick.


Fill the pies: Place a heaping tablespoon of the rice on the top half of each dough circle, leaving a ½-inch margin from the border—the rice will be firm but malleable, almost like a dough. Spoon two teaspoons marmalade on top of the rice.

Brush the edges of the dough with the beaten egg, and fold the dough over the filling to form a half-moon shape. Press the edges together, and, using the tines of a fork, seal along the border by pressing down. Refrigerate the pies for at least 30 minutes.


Cook the pies: You can either bake or fry them. To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and place the pies on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Brush the exterior of the pies with the beaten egg. Bake for 15–17 minutes, until golden brown.

To fry, pour at least four inches of vegetable oil into a Dutch oven, making sure to leave a few inches of clearance from the top. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, add the pies, and fry until golden brown, five to seven minutes.

While the pies are still hot, drizzle them lightly with sweetened condensed milk, and serve.

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