Smaller groups al­low for a more in­ter­est­ing menu

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE TASTE COVER - 6 small del­i­cata squash, about 1 pound each Kosher salt and ground black pep­per, to taste Olive oil, for the bak­ing sheet ta­ble­spoons un­salted but­ter medium onions, diced bunch red kale (about 1 pound), trimmed and chopped 6 ½ ½ 4 ounces whole-grain brea

Be dar­ing and add a se­ri­ously spicy dish. Pick­les and rel­ishes like pic­calilli or chut­ney add a puck­ery note.

Most Thanks­giv­ing recipes are tai­lored for eight to 12 guests. But what if you’re hav­ing 25?

Roast­ing two whole turkeys at the same time de­mands a gi­ant oven. Carv­ing those birds is a daunt­ing task re­quir­ing at least sev­eral helpers if you want to get the meat onto the ta­ble while it’s still hot.

In­stead, try roast­ing one bird to use as your cen­ter­piece for the big Nor­man Rock­well mo­ment (get your cam­eras ready), while si­mul­ta­ne­ously roast­ing a tray of turkey parts on a sep­a­rate rack un­der­neath. The parts cook quickly, are in­cred­i­bly easy to carve, and you can let your guests choose which they like best, elim­i­nat­ing any fights over dark meat or white.

Think of it as the Thanks­giv­ing ana­logue to the wed­ding-cake trick: At large af­fairs, there’s al­ways one tiered cake done up for show, and sev­eral other plain sheet pans full of cake that are easy for the cater­ers to slice and quickly serve.

For a smaller group – say, closer to eight peo­ple – count your­self lucky.

You get to make a much more in­ter­est­ing meal. Since you don’t have to cook in bulk, try out recipes that are a lit­tle more creative than clas­sic. Have a guest bring the mashed pota­toes, so you can make a sweet potato gratin in­stead. Buy some puff pas­try and play around with it to make cheese straws, pump­kin turnovers or an ap­ple tarte Tatin.

Roast a turkey breast and use the ex­tra oven space to bake a dress­ing that’s new to you. Take the op­por­tu­nity to fuss over the ta­ble and the guests a lit­tle more than usual.

It’s not easy to please ev­ery­one in a coun­try where those who in­sist on a hard-core tra­di­tional Thanks­giv­ing meal and those who flirt each year with dif­fer­ent dishes are more po­lar­ized than Repub­li­cans and Democrats. It is pos­si­ble for one cook to sat­isfy both camps, but it re­quires some in­ge­nu­ity. Adding new in­gre­di­ents to the old fa­vorites is not the way; in­stead, add one or more new dishes to peren­ni­als on the ta­ble, and make sure they have modern, fresh fla­vors. Here’s how to pro­ceed.

Glaz­ing a turkey with pome­gran­ate or rub­bing it with chipo­tle won’t change any­one’s mind; peo­ple ei­ther like turkey or they don’t. Adding cel­ery root, Ched­dar and the like to the clas­sic mashed pota­toes is risky. These days, plain, but­tery, home­made mashed pota­toes are a treat that ev­ery­one seems to look for­ward to.

It doesn’t have to be onions. Also have a jel­lied cran­berry sauce (canned is fine), so the re­ac­tionar­ies will be happy. can add a wel­come note of sur­prise to an all-too-fa­mil­iar menu.

Don’t stray too far from the essen­tials: turkey, dress­ing, a cran­berry sauce, pota­toes, gravy and a veg­etable of some kind. To tamp down any anx­i­ety about mul­ti­task­ing, think of your­self as mak­ing a sim­ple roast chicken din­ner with a cou­ple of ex­tra sides. There is no need to bake a pie. Ask some­one to bring one, or buy a good one the day be­fore the feast.

The high­est-im­pact change you can make to Thanks­giv­ing din­ner may be mas­ter­ing a new recipe for turkey. But be­cause smok­ing, spatch­cock­ing and deep­fry­ing all re­quire at least one test run, here are some al­ter­na­tives: a more so­phis­ti­cated veg­etable side, a fancier pie crust or a snappy modern touch like an herb salad.

A note on spe­cial di­ets:

For a group with many di­etary re­stric­tions, don’t as­sume you’ll have to cook sep­a­rate meals. What you want to do is bring unity to the ta­ble and of­fer as many dishes as pos­si­ble that ev­ery­one can eat and en­joy.

If you’re not go­ing to have a turkey on the ta­ble, take care to serve a main dish that has some of the vis­ual and sen­sory fire­power of a roast. Some­thing demon­stra­bly large, like a roasted cau­li­flower or two, or a plat­ter of stuffed squash is sure to please. Many veg­e­tar­i­ans may be happy to fill their plates with all the veg­etable side dishes, but you could serve mac­a­roni and cheese and de­clare that you made it just for them.

You can make a ver­sion with meat, and one with­out. Both could live in har­mony. A recipe for stuff­ing with mush­rooms and ba­con can be adapted to use gluten-free corn­bread. Leave out the ba­con and use veg­etable stock, and that recipe could also be veg­e­tar­ian.

Some cooks don’t want to use tem­peh, tex­tured veg­etable pro­tein or xan­than gum, and that’s fine. Chances are, that ve­gan gravy recipe with nu­tri­tional yeast, mush­room pow­der and Mar­mite isn’t half as good as a sim­ple home­made ver­sion. Our ve­gan gravy recipe re­lies on real mush­rooms and can be made well ahead of the big day. 1½hours 6 to 12 serv­ings Here’s a veg­e­tar­ian din­ner of im­pres­sive size and heft. You could use small sugar pump­kins, or any sweet-fleshed win­ter squash, but del­i­cata squash is our fa­vorite for rea­sons of taste and beauty.

1. Cut 1 inch off the top and bot­tom of each squash. Use a melon baller or small spoon to scrape out the seeds. Sprin­kle the in­side of the squash with salt and pep­per, then stand them up­right on an oiled bak­ing sheet.

2. Heat oven to 425 de­grees. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 2 ta­ble­spoons but­ter. When it foams, add onions to pan and saute, stir­ring of­ten, un­til they be­gin to soften and turn translu­cent, about 6 to 8 min­utes. Add kale to pan and con­tinue to cook, toss­ing, un­til kale be­gins to wilt, about 5 min­utes. Re­move pan from heat and put veg­eta­bles in a large bowl.

3. Place bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast in the oven un­til they be­gin to crisp, about 7 to 9 min­utes. Add bread cubes to the bowl with the veg­eta­bles, and add blue cheese and cran­ber­ries. Stir to com­bine.

4. Put pecans in a dry saute pan set over medium heat and toast un­til nuts be­gin to darken and turn fra­grant, about 4 to 6 min­utes. Stir in maple syrup and cook for 1 minute, then scrape into the bowl with the rest of the stuff­ing and toss to com­bine. Taste and sea­son with salt and pep­per.

5. Lower oven tem­per­a­ture to 400 de­grees. Di­vide stuff­ing among the squash. Cut re­main­ing 2 ta­ble­spoons of but­ter into 6 pieces, and top each squash with a dot of but­ter. Roast squash un­til you can eas­ily pierce it with a fork, about 45 min­utes. If squash is brown­ing too quickly, lay a sheet of alu­minum foil over it.

6. Sprin­kle pars­ley over the squash. Serve 1 whole squash per per­son as a main course, or ½squashorlessas­asidedish. 30 min­utes 3½cups This ve­gan gravy fea­tures caramelized mush­rooms and a lit­tle soy sauce for depth of fla­vor. You can sim­mer the gravy up to five days ahead and store it in the fridge. Re­heat just be­fore serv­ing.

1. In a large skil­let, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and mush­rooms; cook, stir­ring, un­til well browned, 8 to 10 min­utes.

2. Sprin­kle in flour and cook, stir­ring, un­til golden brown, 3 to 5 min­utes. Slowly whisk in veg­etable stock, a lit­tle at a time, un­til a smooth sauce forms. Sim­mer 2 to 3 min­utes un­til thick­ened. Sea­son with soy sauce, salt and pep­per. Serve as is, or pass it through a fine mesh strainer.

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