How to make a small, easy feast this Thanksgiving

The COVID-19 virus has changed how most of us think about Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday by the way.

We are told we shouldn’t gather in large nonfamilial groups, should avoid the classic buffet and should use our own disposable utensils. I’m bummed.

But as I thought about it, I realized a scaled-down (since we aren’t supposed to have big gatherings), easier-to-prepare Thanksgiving seems in order.

That said, here are some recipes that are pretty easy to make, for a gathering of a few related folks.

This fresh, uncooked relish is excellent with roast turkey and ham, pork and game. Try it with smoked meats and sausages, too. Forget about the canned stuff.

Fresh Cranberry Relish with Tangerine and Mint

Makes about 3 cups

12 ounces (3 heaping cups, usually 1 bag) fresh or frozen cranberries

2 unpeeled mandarins or tangerines, scrubbed

¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1¼ cups sugar, or to taste

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1-2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur (optional)

¼ cup chopped, lightly toasted walnuts (optional)

Fresh mint sprigs

Wash and pick over the cranberries. Cut the tangerines into eighths, peel and all, and remove and discard any seeds. Place all the ingredients (except walnuts) in a food processor and chop relatively finely in short bursts. Be careful not to over-process; you still want some texture. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Stir in walnuts, if using, just before serving. You also can sprinkle the walnuts on top. Garnish with mint sprigs. Store covered in refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen.


This makes a wonderful appetizer on its own or served as a side for grilled meats or butterflied poultry.

Salt-crusted Potatoes with Salsa Verde

Serves 6

For Salt-Crusted Potatoes:

2¼ pounds evenly sized waxy new potatoes, such as fingerling, scrubbed but unpeeled

Sea salt flakes

Salsa verde (recipe follows)

Put the potatoes into a wide, shallow pan in which they fit in a single layer. Add 2 tablespoons salt and 1 quart cold water (just enough to cover the potatoes). Bring to a boil and leave to boil rapidly until the water has evaporated. Then turn the heat to low and continue to cook for a few minutes, gently turning over the potatoes occasionally until they are dry and the skins are wrinkled and covered in a thin crust of salt.

Pile the hot potatoes on a plate and serve with the salsa, instructing your guests to rub off as much salt from the potatoes as they wish before dipping them in the sauce.

Salsa Verde

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups coarsely chopped parsley

½ cup chopped fresh basil or mint

4 (or more) anchovy fillets in oil

2 tablespoons drained capers

2 tablespoons blanched or roasted garlic (see note below)

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

⅔ cup or so fruity extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add the parsley, anchovies, capers, garlic, basil and zest to a food processor or blender. With machine running, slowly add the oil until just blended. Sauce should still have a little texture. Season with salt and pepper. Can be stored covered and refrigerated for a day.


Red Cabbage Gratin

Serves 6

3 tablespoons softened butter

9 cups thinly shredded red cabbage (1 small head)

2½ cups heavy cream

½ cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon freshly ground fennel seed

1 teaspoon sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

¾ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¾ cup finely chopped almonds

¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 3-quart oval baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter, add cabbage and set aside. Combine cream, stock, paprika, fennel, sugar, salt and pepper in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Do not boil. Pour cream mixture over cabbage and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, toss together Parmesan, almonds and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle evenly over cabbage and dot the top with remaining butter. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until cream is absorbed and cabbage is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove foil, increase oven heat to 400 degrees and continue baking until topping is browned and crisp, about 15 minutes more. Cool for 10 minutes or so before serving.


Slightly Spicy and Seductive Tomato Soup

Serves 6-8, Makes 7 cups or so

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups white onion, cut into small dice (1 medium)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon each whole fennel and cumin seeds

1 tablespoon pure medium chile powder, such as ancho

2 tablespoons medium- or short-grained white rice

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil

4 cups or so vegetable or chicken stock

⅛ teaspoon crushed red chile flakes, or to taste

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Garlic croutons (recipe follows)

Crème fraîche or whole-milk yogurt

Heat oil in a soup pot over moderate heat and add onion, garlic and seeds. Cook until just beginning to color. Add chile powder and rice and cook for a minute more. Add tomatoes, stock and red chile flakes and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes or until rice is very soft. Stir occasionally. Correct seasoning by adding more stock if desired. To serve, ladle soup into warm bowls and top with croutons and a swirl of crème fraîche.

Garlic Croutons

Makes 3 cups

⅓ cup olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, bruised with the side of a knife

3 cups bread cubes, cut in 1-inch cubes from day-old French bread

2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Add oil and garlic to a sauté pan and sauté garlic over moderate heat until it just begins to color. Be careful garlic doesn’t burn or it will become bitter. Toss bread cubes with oil and garlic and place on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in a preheated 375-degree oven until bread is nicely golden on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Croutons should be toasty on the surface but still somewhat soft in the very middle. Remove and toss with parsley, lemon zest and salt and pepper while still warm. Store in an airtight container if not using immediately.


One of the best ways to cook a chicken (or most birds for that matter) is to butterfly or spatchcock it, dry brine it, season it under the skin if you like and roast it at a fairly high temperature. This was a technique championed by the late Judy Rogers of the Zuni Café in San Francisco.

To spatchcock or butterfly a chicken, place chicken, breast side down, on a cutting board. Using poultry shears, cut along both sides of backbone; remove and discard backbone (or save for stock). Turn chicken breast side up. Place your hand on the breast and press firmly against breastbone until it cracks and flattens.

Dry brining is done by sprinkling the spatchcocked bird on both sides with kosher salt (1½ teaspoons per pound) and freshly ground pepper and then placing it on a rack over a rimmed sheet pan to catch any drips. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours uncovered with skin side up. No need to rinse. You’ll be amazed at the crispy skin.

Dry Brined Roast Chicken

Serves 2-4

3- to 4-pound or so dry brined and spatchcocked chicken, preferably organic and free range

Rosemary or thyme sprigs

Lemon slices

Place the rosemary and lemon slices under the chicken and place it in a preheated 450-degree oven. Roast until the chicken is golden brown and skin beautifully crisp. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thigh should read 160 degrees.

Remove chicken to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

This is a simple and delicious dish. Everything can be made ahead and assembled at serving time.


Green Beans with Bacon and Egg

Serves 4 – 6

1 pound green beans, stem end removed

5 ounces diced pancetta or bacon

Walnut or lemon flavor olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 peeled hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Flaky salt, such as Maldon’s (optional)

Blanch the green beans in lightly salted water until crisp-tender. Immediately plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a sauté pan over moderate heat until browned and crisp. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, toss the green beans with the walnut oil and season to your taste with salt and pepper. Top with pancetta and sliced egg and a little flaky salt.

Use any of the sweet, dense winter squashes such as pumpkin, butternut, red kuri or kabocha. If you want to serve the panna cottas unmolded, use 6-ounce ramekins or glasses and lightly oil them before pouring in the pumpkin mixture. To unmold, run a thin sharp knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen, then dip ramekin briefly in a small bowl of very warm water for about 10 seconds. Invert panna cotta onto a plate and gently lift off ramekin.


Winter Squash Coconut Panna Cotta

Makes 6 servings

1 packet unflavored gelatin

⅓ cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1¾ cups unsweetened coconut milk (a 13.5-ounce can)

1 cup pure pumpkin or other winter squash

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

Pinch of salt

¾ cup sweetened flaked coconut

Fragrant honey, such as orange blossom or chestnut

Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small saucepan and let stand 3 minutes to soften. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until gelatin is dissolved, then remove from heat.

Blend coconut milk, cream, pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, lime zest and salt in a blender briefly to combine, then add gelatin mixture and blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl with a spout or transfer to a 4-quart measuring cup. Pour mixture into bowls and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. Cover with plastic wrap if not using immediately.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle. Spread coconut on a rimmed sheet pan and, stirring once or twice, bake until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool. Just before serving, sprinkle desserts with coconut and drizzle with a little honey. Panna cottas can be made up to 3 days ahead and stored refrigerated.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of the KSRO “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website,

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