When you’re the holiday’s designated cook, and your extended family is large, Thanksgiving can be a very long day.
Up early to stuff and throw a 20-pound bird in the oven, there’s barely time to swallow a single cup of coffee before starting the slow and steady work of preparing the expected smorgasbord of Turkey Day pre-dinner munchies, side dishes, starches and desserts. And that’s just the cooking part of the holiday.
Depending on your interests, Thanksgiving might also include an early morning footrace (Pittsburgh’s 22nd annual PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5K starts at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 22), a neighborhood turkey bowl, volunteering at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, picking up a college student or adult child at the airport or Megabus drop-off stop, or a car trip across the city or state to visit friends or relatives. And don’t forget about the many football games on TV, and the time-consuming job of developing a plan for post-dinner Black Friday shopping.
By the time the turkey’s ready to be carved — well, who can blame you if you’re almost too tired to eat? Especially if the night before, you spent far too long at your local watering hole catching up with the people you went to high school with.
Maybe it’s time to come up with a different plan.
Instead of the traditional sit-down dinner with all the fancy trimmings, why not embrace one of the year’s hottest trends and prepare a feast of finger-friendly foods your family and invited guests can nosh on throughout the day, whenever the mood strikes?
Imagine: all the wonderful tastes of Thanksgiving served in bite-sized portions, without the need for a knife or fork. Turkey and stuffing. Potatoes and pastry. Green beans and bacon. Pumpkin and maple.
Even better, because all of the dishes offered below can be prepared ahead of time, there’s no need for the marathon cooking session. So instead of fretting over how to stir lumps out of the gravy while also mashing the potatoes while simultaneously carving the turkey and making sure there’s butter and cranberry sauce on the table, you can do the one thing you’ve always wanted to do at Thanksgiving dinner.
Relax and eat!
Turkey Hand Pies
These grab-and-go hand pies are absolutely delicious, and the crust is easier than you might think, even for a cook with pastry issues. Feel free to substitute your favorite frozen mixed veggies. Just as good cold the next morning for breakfast as hot from the oven for lunch or dinner.
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1 to 2 cups cooked, shredded turkey breast
- 1/3 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
- 1/3 cup chopped, cooked carrot
- Salt and pepper
- Flaky Butter Crust (recipe follows)
In a large frying pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter or oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add turkey breast, peas and carrots. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Remove half of dough from fridge, unwrap it and place on floured work surface, and flour the top lightly. Roll out dough into a rectangle that is roughly 9 by 12 inches. The dough should be about 1/2-inch thick.
Using a pastry wheel, trim off ragged edges. Then cut the dough into circles, squares or rectangles, as small or large as you like, saving the trimmings. Evenly divide half of the turkey filling on top of pastry circles, fold over and crimp the edges with a fork. (I made 8 rectangles.) Slash or prick each pie to vent steam.
Transfer pies to prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Repeat rolling, cutting, filling and crimping with the rest of the dough. Gather dough scraps from both halves, form into a ball and roll out to make more pastries.
When second baking sheet is ready, place first pan in oven and second in fridge. Place a baking rack over a sheet of parchment on your table or counter to catch sticky drips.
Bake pastries until they are golden brown on top (the sides will brown first), about 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and immediately (and carefully) move the pastries onto the baking rack, then slip the second baking sheet into the oven. Let pastries cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, but be sure to enjoy them warm.
Eat or freeze these pies the day they are made (can be frozen for up to 2 months). Reheat in a 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes.
Makes 10 to 12 hand pies.
— Adapted from “Handheld Pies” by Sarah Billingsley and Rachel Wharton (Chronicle, Jan. 2012, $19.95)
Garlic, Potato and Chive Cutie Pies
These bite-sized mashed potato pies will disappear almost as fast as you can pop them out of the muffin pan. For extra oomph, sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese before serving. Even better reheated the next day!
- 4 to 5 medium redskin potatoes, chopped into 1-inch cubes
- All-Butter Pie Crust (recipe follows)
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped chives (I used green onions), plus additional for garnish
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
To make filling, fill medium pot halfway with water and bring to a brisk boil. Add potatoes, cover and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rack in center of oven. Spray cups of muffin pan with nonstick pan spray.
Roll out All-Butter Pie Crust dough. Cut 36 circles (I used a 2 1/2-inch cutter) from the dough. Reroll scraps to make all the circles, and avoid overhandling the dough.
Gently but firmly press each circle into a muffin cup. Fold, tuck and crimp edges.
Drain potatoes. Mash in a food processor, electric mixer or by hand with a potato masher. Gradually add half-and-half and sour cream. Mix well.
Add chives, garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to mash until smooth.
Spoon the filling into the Cutie Pie shells to about the top of muffin cup.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden and top starts to brown. If pie top is browning too quickly, cover with foil for final few minutes.
To serve, garnish with fresh chives.
Makes 36 Cutie Pies.
— “Cutie Pies: 40 Sweet, Savory and Adorable Recipes” by Dani Cone (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $16.99)
Green beans in a glass
This sweet and buttery green bean recipe should even please the kids.
- 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup real bacon pieces
Cook beans in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, 6 to 8 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When beans are cool, drain in a colander and pat dry.
Melt butter. Add brown sugar and bacon pieces to butter and mix thoroughly. Toss beans in the brown sugar and butter mixture. Serve in tall shot glasses.
Sweet Potato Latkes
These are a nice alternative to the usual mashed or cinnamon-scented sweet potato casserole served at Thanksgiving.
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup creme fraiche for garnish
Place sweet potato between 2 sheets of cheesecloth; grasp ends and twist to extract as much liquid as possible. (I used paper towels.)
In a large mixing bowl, toss drained sweet potatoes with green onions, shallot and garlic. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and fold to combine. Stir in egg until fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper.
Warm oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drop dollops of batter into the hot skillet and fry on each side for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain latkes on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Top each latke with a small dollop of crème fraiche or serve it on the side as a dipping sauce. Serve warm.
Makes about 30 latkes.
— “Tiny Food Party!” Bite-size Recipes for Miniature Meals” by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park (Quirk, $18.95)
All-Butter Pie Crust
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3/4 cup ice water
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar, and mix well.
Add butter to flour mixture and mix gently with pastry blender, a fork or your hands. The goal is to lightly incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. The butter pieces should be well coated with the dry mixture and somewhat flattened.
Gradually add water to the flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing dough until it comes together and forms pea-sized or crouton-sized crumbs. The dough should look like coarse individual pieces, not smooth and beaten together like cookie dough.
With your hands, gather dough crumbs together to form 2 patties, gently molding the mixture into a patty shape and being careful not to overhandle the dough. Wrap each patty in plastic wrap.
Chill dough for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. The dough can also be frozen up to 2 weeks.
When ready to use dough, let it sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes to soften it and make it workable. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each of the 2 dough patties to about 1/4-inch thickness, lightly dusting it with flour, to prevent sticking, and making sure to roll the dough evenly.
Makes 1 double-crust 9-inch pie, 2 single-crust 9-inch pies, 16 cutie pies or 36 mini muffin pies.
Flaky Butter Crust
- 1 cup cold unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes, and freeze them while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.
Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times to mix. Retrieve the butter cubes from freezer, scatter them over the flour mixture and pulse until mixture forms pea-sized clumps. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse to mix, adding just enough water for dough to come together. (You also can make the pastry by hand or by using a pastry blender.)
Turn dough out onto a clean, floured work surface. Gather dough in a mound, then knead it a few times to smooth out. Divide in half, and gently pat and press each half into a rough rectangle, circle or square about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.