How to Plan a Smaller Holiday Menu for 2 (or 1)
It's still worth celebrating, even if we're social distancing
This article is part of our monthly issue "A Culinary Christmas Carol," in which we explore traditional and modern takes on holiday dishes from around the world. Using the framework of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, we'll share fun recipes, last minute gift ideas, tips for cooking a small feast in case you're social distancing, and plenty of light-hearted holiday content for you to unwind with. Check out this link to find an overview of all our weekly topics, stories, recipes, and more.
The memories I have of my favorite holidays are almost entirely around the table, around the food, around the plates (and stomachs) that are always just a little bit too small. Copious amounts of creamy mashed potatoes, platters of turkey or ham too heavy to hold, mountains of dinner rolls I’d drench in gravy boat-loads of the homemade stuff I swear I could eat like soup, and of course, after having more than my fair share of savory (tinged with the tart sweetness of a spoonful or two of cranberry sauce), the pies make an appearance—classic apple pies, custardy pumpkin pies, classic (or not so classic) pecan pies, maybe even a berry or cherry or something-cream pie.
This year though, it’s going to be different. Whether you live near your loved ones or halfway around the world from them, gatherings are going to have to be smaller—much smaller—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them. In fact, we might need them this year more than ever. I’m not going to give you tips to have “the best” virtual holiday with your family, I think we’re all a bit over the screen time, the talking over each other or not talking at all, and there are plenty of other “resources” for this type of celebration. Instead, I want to convince you that, whether the table will be set for four, three, two, or one, we owe it to ourselves to stand up to this year and not let it get the best of us or our holiday celebrations.
Don’t cancel Christmas
While it might be true that food takes center stage for many of us around the holidays, it’s our family and friends that make that food mean something. So when most of those people are stripped away from the holidays by a global pandemic, it’s easy to slip into the mindset that the celebration is therefore rendered meaningless and should be skipped or cancelled—thanks Covid19! While there’s no arguing our way out of the fact that the scale will be smaller and the number of households limited, there is at least one valid argument to be made for keeping the holiday intact: Do it for yourself.
By nature (or nurture, depending on who you ask) I have a tendency towards pessimism and melancholy and this year has been tough. I’ve tried many things to pick myself up, to try and look at the glass as half full, to push my face towards the sunshine of optimism, but by far the best relief I’ve found has been in my kitchen and at my table. It’s a simple pleasure to spend a few hours (or an entire day) hovering over the stove, peering into the oven, or leaning over a cutting board. This might not be true for us all, and that’s fair, but I’m certain we find common ground when we finally sit down at the table, plate steaming with the reaped reward of our labor. It’s this simple satisfaction that pushed me to make a tiny, very untraditional Thanksgiving for two, and it’s this simple satisfaction that pushes me now to convince you to experience that for yourself this holiday season. Set aside some time, set aside some money, and do something nice for yourself. You deserve it.
3 takeaway tips for scaling down recipes
There are just three main takeaways you should think about as you plan your scaled down holiday menu to ensure nothing burns, everything’s properly cooked, and whoever’s at your table (even if it's just you) is happy.
First, read the recipes all the way through. This is important any time you’re following a recipe, but especially when you want to scale it down (or up). Reading the ingredient list will tip you off to some things that scale nicely (see: garlic cloves or potatoes) and things that just don’t scale well at certain sizes (see: eggs). Reading the steps will alert you if there are specific tools (see: baking pans) that will also need to be adjusted from their original size, and already get you thinking about how you might need to adjust cooking and baking times as you work your way through the recipe.
Second, try turning to recipes that were developed specifically with small serving sizes. If you read through the recipes and feel at a loss for how to approach scaling them down, try searching the good old internet for recipes developed with a small table in mind. There are whole blogs dedicated to this topic and plenty of listicles from all of your favorite food publications, so if you do a little digging, you can definitely curate a little menu where no extra effort is needed to scale the recipes down.
Last but not least, learn to love your leftovers. This might go without saying, but of course, some recipes just aren’t worth scaling down, because the leftovers are great, can be frozen for later, or even completely repurposed for another dish. Basically, don’t be afraid to make an entire pie if that’s what you want!
15 scalable recipes for your holiday table
Now that you have some quick tips at your disposal and a renewed vigor for putting on a downsized celebration, here are 15 recipes that you can easily scale down for two or one. Use the serving toggle button above the ingredients list to physically scale the recipe down, but don’t get thrown off if odd fractions and weird numbers come your way—just round up to the nearest regular fraction.
Published on December 7, 2020