Mini Thanksgiving Dinner For Two

I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year. I can't imagine I'll even be hosting it within the next 5 years. But I'd never roasted a turkey before and I wanted to give it a try, so this year I made a pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner for my boyfriend and me.

I spent weeks leading up to this past Sunday (the reserved dinner date) planning out the meal. I wanted the main components of a Thanksgiving meal, but I didn't want to go overboard since it was just the two of us. I thought I'd start small and chose to roast a turkey breast rather than a whole turkey (maybe I'll try for the whole bird next year). And then I determined that I would also need some sort of bread, a starch, a vegetable, and a dessert (something traditional like a pie but not as complicated). It would look nothing like dinner at my parents' house, where we have more vegetable sides than I can count, two kinds of soup, and fruit salad on top of breads, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turkey, and cranberry sauce -- not to mention desserts -- but it would be my own and it would be plenty for us.

After paging through magazine after magazine, checking out recipe after recipe, making a list, and rewriting that list, I finally decided on the menu below.

Mini Thanksgiving Dinner for Two

Bread: Herb and Cheese Poppers (Bon Appetit, November 2009)

herb and cheese poppers
Main: Easy Roast Turkey Breast With Lemon and Thyme (Entertaining from Cook's Illustrated, Holiday 2009)

Starch: Mashed Potatoes with Crispy Shallots (Food & Wine, November 2009)

mashed potatoes with crispy shallots
Veg: Roasted Vegetables with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (Martha Stewart Living, November 2009)

roasted vegetables with pomegranate vinaigrette
Dessert: Caramel-Pecan Bars (Food & Wine, December 2009)

caramel-pecan bars
Once I knew what I was making, I had to figure out how I would get it all done. We planned for an evening dinner, about 6 p.m., although it was actually closer to 7:30 p.m. when we sat down to eat. (Everything always takes a little longer than anticipated. Dessert and the herb and cheese poppers could easily have been made the day before, and an afternoon dinner would have been possible, if necessary.)

To organize my time, I first read through all of my recipes, checked for the down time in each one (like when dough needs to be refrigerated), and then made myself a schedule. The cooking day would start at 11:30 a.m. because I wanted to brine the turkey, which takes 3 to 6 hours. I didn't want to be working constantly, so I made sure to give myself time for breaks in between recipes or during wait times.

The Schedule

1. Brine the turkey.

2. Make the herb and cheese poppers. Put 12 on a baking sheet, cover with plastic, and store in the fridge until 20 minutes before ready to bake them. Freeze the rest to accompany future dinners.

3. Make the caramel-pecan bars. (I wanted them finished and out of the oven before the turkey and veggies needed to go in.) I used any down time while making these to just relax.

4. After 4.5 hours, prepare the flavored butter for the turkey, remove turkey from the brine, rub the butter under the turkey skin, and roast the turkey.

5. While the turkey is roasting, prep the veggies. Cut cauliflower into florets, peel and cube sweet potato (or yam in this case), and trim and halve brussels sprouts. Toss with oil and spread on roasting pan. Set aside so they can go in when turkey comes out.

6. Make whipped cream to go with the caramel-pecan bars. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

7. Set the table.

8. Make the mashed potatoes. Cover them and keep them warm. I do this by letting them sit in the microwave (not running).

9. Take the turkey out, and let it rest.

10. Roast the prepared veggies. Make the pomegranate vinaigrette. Clean a pomegranate, reserving seeds for the veggies.

11. When veggies are done, pump the oven up to 500, and put the herb and cheese poppers in.

12. Carve the turkey.

13. Take the poppers out, and let them cool for a few minutes.

14. Feast!!!

Throughout the rest of the week, I'll go into more detail on all of these fabulous recipes!

Are you hosting Thanksgiving this year? Or are you bringing a side or dessert to Thanksgiving dinner? What are you making?