Couples' cornucopia: Thanksgiving might be a little smaller this year, but the flavor can stay big

Tiny is the new big this holiday season, and making a small meal can be just as festive — and a whole lot easier — than a feast. Clockwise from left, Maple-Roasted Squash With Sage and Lime, Sauteed Greens With Smoked Paprika, Herby Bread-and-Butter Stuffing and Turkey Thighs With Pickled Cranberries and Onions 
(The New York Times/Christopher Simpson)
Tiny is the new big this holiday season, and making a small meal can be just as festive — and a whole lot easier — than a feast. Clockwise from left, Maple-Roasted Squash With Sage and Lime, Sauteed Greens With Smoked Paprika, Herby Bread-and-Butter Stuffing and Turkey Thighs With Pickled Cranberries and Onions (The New York Times/Christopher Simpson)

The whole point of Thanksgiving is to go big: a huge turkey surrounded by a bevy of sides and what's never too many pies, all devoured by relatives who may or may not be under the influence of free-flowing wine. That's the way the holiday usually goes.

Not so this year. Given the pandemic, current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rate small Thanksgiving dinners confined to members of your household as the lowest-risk way to celebrate the holiday. Tiny is the new big for Thanksgiving 2020, and, for many people, that means dinner for two.

But a Thanksgiving for two can be just as festive and delicious as a feast for 12 — with the distinct advantage that there's a lot less to clean up when it's over. It's simply a matter of scaling the proportions way down.

Even if it's just the two of you, you can still eat until your stomach aches and the only sensible course of action is a bracing walk or a cozy nap (or both). Because even if we are celebrating a little differently this year, some holiday traditions remain sacred.

[RELATED: How to scale down favorite Thanksgiving recipes]

Turkey Thighs With Pickled Cranberries and Onions

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely grated, pressed or minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on turkey thighs
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, basil or parsley leaves, for serving

Finely grate ½ teaspoon zest from the lemon and put it in a small bowl with the garlic and thyme. Halve the lemon and squeeze 1 tablespoon of the juice into the bowl. Mix everything into a paste.

Pat the turkey thighs dry and season with salt and pepper. Smear turkey with the paste and place thighs on a plate. Refrigerate, uncovered, so the skin can dry out, for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Meanwhile, squeeze the remaining juice from the lemon halves into a medium bowl. Add the onion, cranberries, lime juice, sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt, tossing well. Let the mixture sit at room temperature, tossing occasionally, until the onions wilt and turn pink, 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until serving. (These can be made up to 3 days in advance.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Put turkey thighs on a baking pan and dot with butter. Roast the thighs for 40 to 50 minutes, until the skin is crisp, the meat is cooked through and the juices run clear. (No need to rest here.)

Serve turkey with a little of the cranberries and pickles on top, with herbs scattered over everything.

Makes 2 servings.

Herby Bread-and-Butter Stuffing

  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, diced
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a large pinch
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or thyme leaves (or use a large pinch of dried)
  • ½ to ¾ cup turkey, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh soft herbs (use 2 or 3 of the following: parsley, tarragon, chives, mint, basil, cilantro, dill or celery leaves)
  • About 2 ½ cups torn-up stale white or whole-wheat bread, not too crusty (3 ounces)
  • Black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a small, shallow gratin dish, casserole dish or loaf pan with a 3- to 4-cup capacity.

In a small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in shallots and a large pinch of salt. Cook until soft and just starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in marjoram and cook for 1 minute longer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together ½ cup broth, egg, chopped herbs and ¼ teaspoon salt. Fold in bread and shallots, letting the bread absorb the liquid. It should be very moist. (If the mixture seems dry, add more stock a little at a time, using up to another ¼ cup.)

Spoon stuffing into the prepared baking dish and grind some black pepper onto the top. Cut the remaining tablespoon butter into small pieces and scatter over the top. Bake until golden brown and firm, about 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Makes 2 servings.

Maple-Roasted Squash With Sage and Lime

  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Large pinch of ground cayenne or chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Large pinch of coriander seeds
  • 1 pound winter squash, such as dumpling, delicata or butternut, halved, seeded and sliced into ½-inch thick
  • Fresh lime juice, for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves, for serving

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a small pot over medium-high heat, combine maple syrup and cayenne. Bring to a simmer and let cook until it reduces by a third. Add butter and let it melt. Turn off heat and mix in salt, pepper and coriander.

Spread the squash out on the pan and spoon maple mixture over the pieces, turning them to coat. Roast until the pieces begin to soften, 15 minutes. Turn the squash pieces over and roast until glazed and tender, 10 to 20 minutes more. Drizzle lime juice and scatter sage leaves over the top for serving.

Makes 2 servings.

Sauteed Greens With Smoked Paprika

  • 1 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 small bunch greens, such as kale, chard, spinach or mustard greens, torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups)
  • ¼ cup turkey, chicken or vegetable broth, or use water, plus more as needed
  • Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and let it heat up for about 20 seconds. It will thin out to coat the pan. Stir in shallot slices and garlic, and cook until pale golden at the edges and softened, about 2 minutes. Add a big pinch of salt and the paprika. Give everything a stir.

Add the greens to the pan, using tongs to toss everything well. Add broth, and let greens simmer, until very soft, about 3 minutes for tender greens, and up to 15 minutes for tougher, mature greens. If the greens still seem tough but the pan is dry, splash in a little water and let cook for another few minutes.

Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Squeeze on a little lemon juice, if you like, then serve hot or warm.

Makes 2 servings.

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Puddings 
(The New York Times/Christopher Simpson)
Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Puddings (The New York Times/Christopher Simpson)

Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Puddings

  • For the puddings:
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, plus more for greasing
  • ¼ cup pitted, chopped dates
  • ¾ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • ½ cup canned pure pumpkin
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom or ginger
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Generous pinch fine sea salt
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • Flaky sea salt, for serving
  • Creme fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt, for serving
  • For the sauce:
  • ¼ cups dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons canned pure pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Large pinch of fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup butter, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon or brandy (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 (8-ounce) ramekins or a small, shallow gratin dish with a 2- to 3-cup capacity. If your ramekins hold less than 1 cup (8 ounces) each, you can divide the batter among 3 or 4 of them and reduce the baking time.

Prepare the puddings: In a large, heatproof bowl, combine the dates, butter, lemon zest and baking soda. Stir in the boiling water. Let sit for 10 minutes or until cool.

Whisk in pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and fine sea salt until well combined, then whisk in the flour.

Scrape batter into the prepared ramekins and bake until just firm when pressed in the center, 28 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a rack until ready to serve. (Pudding can be baked up to 8 hours ahead.)

Prepare the sauce: In a medium pot over medium heat, combine the sugar, pumpkin puree, heavy cream and salt. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Whisk in the butter, and bourbon (if using). If the sauce separates, use an immersion or regular blender to blend it together.

Just before serving, heat the broiler. Pour a little of the sauce over each pudding. Broil until the puddings bubble, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle tops with flaky sea salt, and serve at once, with more sauce and creme fraiche dolloped on top.

Makes 2 generous servings.

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