Courtesy of Chef Michelle Suh
The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles
(ARA) – One of the most famous images of Thanksgiving is the iconic Norman Rockwell painting depicting a big family of several generations gathered around a huge table in hungry anticipation of a big turkey dinner and all the fixings.
But for many, Thanksgiving is a much smaller affair. Still a time to celebrate all there is to be thankful for, but around the table there are no more than four to six guests. What to cook for a small crowd when a gigantic turkey is the most famous guest?
Although Chef Michael Vignapiano of The Art Institute of New York City rarely makes Thanksgiving dinner himself – “I’m always working!”- he loves the idea of a small gathering that requires little to no preparation so there is more time to enjoy your guests.
“I like a bone-in turkey breast for a small Thanksgiving crowd,” he says. Chef Vignapiano likes to start the breast at a high temp and then lower the heat so the meat gets crispy but doesn’t dry out. Check with your butcher about specific roasting times when you’re at the market. If you have guests who prefer dark meat, add turkey thighs to the pan.
“If you add carrots, onion and celery halfway through the cooking, you can make a nice, simple pan gravy using chicken broth and a little cornstarch or flour mixture to thicken it,” he adds. Consider using good quality frozen vegetables; organic frozen vegetables, for example, are easily available and using them cuts down on prep time, says the Chef. For stuffing, Chef Vignapiano keeps it simple with a good quality packaged stuffing mix to which he adds sausage or chestnuts which are available now in many frozen food sections.
While it may be missing from the Norman Rockwell painting, a wonderful bottle of wine can help complete any Thanksgiving meal, big or small. Chef Joseph LaVilla, assistant academic director for culinary arts at The Art Institute of Phoenix, says “It’s nearly impossible to match wine with all the foods served at Thanksgiving dinner,” says the certified Sommelier. “Instead, go for wines that pair easily with any food and taste great at the same time.”
For example, if there are white wine drinkers in the bunch, Rieslings are the perfect food wine: light, yet full flavored; tangy, yet still fruity. These wines will be the chameleon on the table, fitting in everywhere. Another option is a Gewurztraminer. Known for its floral, exotic aroma and spicy notes, it will blend well with all the flavors at the table. Red drinkers can stay with Thanksgiving as an American tradition and drink Zinfandel. A juicy, easy drinking Zin (not the pink stuff) has enough fruit and spice to fit into the feast.
Finally, there’s dessert. If you’ve taken Chef Vignapiano’s advice on keeping it simple using good quality-frozen vegetables, then you might want to go all out on dessert. Nearly everyone wants pumpkin on Thanksgiving, but what about chocolate? They live together happily in Chef Michelle Suh’s White Chocolate & Kabocha Pumpkin Cheesecake. “You’ll need to walk around the block before you dig into this cake, but the flavor is just spectacular. It’s worth the effort, and everyone will applaud you. Or they should,” says Chef Suh, culinary arts instructor, The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles.
- 3 pounds cream cheese
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 ounces Kabocha squash, puree
- 8 eggs
- Zests from one of each: lemon and orange
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1½ tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 8 ounces, white chocolate, pea size chunks
- 9 ounces chocolate wafer, coarsely broken.
- 3 ounces pecan pieces
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- White chocolate curls (optional)
- For crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter 10-inch-diameter spring form pans with 2¾-inch-high sides. Wrap outside of pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Place cookies and pecan pieces in processor and blend until coarse crumbs form. Add butter and process until evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust 5 to 7 minutes; cool on rack.
- For filling: Steam Kabocha squash, press through sieve. Measure 5 ounces puree and set aside.
- Using electric mixer beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time until just blended. Stir in zests, vanilla and grand Marnier. Transfer 2 cups of batter to medium bowl; stir in Kabocha puree. Stir reserved batter with chocolate chunks.
- Pour white chocolate mixture batter into prepared pan and spoon Kabocha mixture onto white chocolate mixture and swirl with back of spoon.
- Place spring form pans in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come 1 inch up sides of pan. Bake uncovered until filling is puffed around edges and moves slightly in center when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour.
- Remove pans from water; remove foil; cool slightly. Refrigerate cake at least 4 hours. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead; cover and keep refrigerated.)
- Run small knife around pan sides to release cheesecake from the pan. Garnish cheesecake with large white chocolate curls, if desired.
The Art Institutes with 32 educational institutions throughout North America, provides an important source of design, media arts, fashion and culinary professionals.