A Small, Quiet Thanksgiving

By pete, Nov 4, 2015 | | |

  1. It's that time of year when food sites and food blogs turn their attention to the holidays and offer up all sorts of wonderful dishes for your holiday celebrations.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of these sites tend to focus on large gatherings and forget that, for many people, the holidays won't be filled with large family gatherings or parties  For many, it may just be them and their significant other, or just the few people in their immediate family.  Maybe they don't have any extended family, live too far away to get together, or maybe they are just looking for a nice quite holiday, at home.  Whatever the reason, they will only be cooking for a few people, not the large crowds that many websites assume they are cooking for.

    But that means no huge, roasted Turkey, piles of mashed potatoes, gallons of gravy, or 10 other side dishes. Instead think smaller. Pork Tenderloin fits that bill perfectly. They normally weigh in about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds, just the right amount for a meal for 2-4 people. And better yet, they don’t take very long to cook-less than 1 hour, start to finish, including prep time. Yes, I know that Turkey is traditional for Thanksgiving, but when serving a small group even a small Turkey can be way too much and if you don't relish a week of leftover turkey then pork tenderloin is a much better option.  Accompanied by a dried fruit relish or chutney Wild Rice Stuffed Squash and Cider Glazed Brussels Sprouts, you have the makings of a simple, yet elegant Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t have you spending hours in the kitchen (not a bad thing when you are cooking for a crowd, but it can be tedious when cooking for just a few people). Make the meal special by serving a nice bottle of American Pinot Noir or ratchet up the festive level and serve one of my favorite Champagnes, Billecart Salmon Rose. It will run you about $80-90, but it’s well worth it, and besides, it’s Thanksgiving.

    While I’m crusting pork in this recipe, the same procedure works just as well with lamb or chicken breasts. In fact, I think the first time I made this it was to crust Rack of Lamb at one of the first high end restaurants I ever worked at. Yes, this recipe is pretty traditional. It surely won’t win any awards for creativity or trendiness, but there is a reason the classics are classics. It’s because they work. Enjoy!!

    Mustard Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin
    serves 2-4

    1 1/2 – 2 pounds pork tenderloin
    1/2 cup bread crumbs
    1 1/2 Tbl. rosemary, fresh, finely chopped
    1 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
    3-4 Tbl. Dijon mustard
    salt
    freshly ground black pepper
    2 Tbl. vegetable oil

    Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a skillet over high heat. Meanwhile generously season the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. Add the oil to the pan and when hot add the pork tenderloin. While the pork is cooking combine the bread crumbs, rosemary, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper. Cook the tenderloin until it is seared on all sides.


    Once seared on all sides remove pork from pan and pat dry to remove excess oil. Liberally coat the entire tenderloin with Dijon mustard, brushing it on with a pastry brush.


    Then roll in the bread crumb mixture to crust all sides of the pork.


    Place on a pan and roast, in the oven to an internal temperature of 140°F. Once the pork reaches 140°F remove from the oven, loosely tent with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 8-10 minutes. This will leave you with pork that is still a little pink inside. Personally I like it this way and am loathe to return to the days when pork was cooked until gray, dry and lifeless, but if you are squeamish about pink pork then cook it to 150-155°F, but remember this is pork tenderloin and not very fatty. Cook it too far and you will have a dry tough piece of meat on your hands.

    After resting, cut the pork into slices about 1/4″ thick and serve.


    Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
    serves 4

    4 Carnival squash, individual sized (or 2 acorn squash, cut in half)
    1 cup wild rice
    4 Tbsp. cider syrup (if you can’t find cider syrup use real maple syrup instead)
    2 Tbsp. butter
    salt
    pepper
    3/4 cups dried cranberries
    1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

    Cook the wild rice in 4 cups water until the rice has popped open and is tender. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the tops off of the squash and trim a bit off of the bottom so the squashes sit upright. Scoop out the seeds and membrane. Divide the syrup and butter among the 4 squashes and season with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan, add 1/2 cup of water, cover with foil and bake until just tender (about 30 minutes). Remove from oven and uncover. When rice is done drain off all liquid and add the dried cranberries. Pour any remaining liquid, from the squash, into the rice, taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pecans. Pack rice into the squash cavities and mound on top. Place squash back into roasting pan, gently cover with foil and return to oven just to reheat (about 10-15 minutes). Transfer to individual plates and serve.


    Cider Glazed Brussels Sprouts
    serves 4

    1-1 1/2 pounds Brussels Sprouts
    3 slices Bacon, preferably thick cut
    3/4 cup Cider
    2 Tbl. Cider Vinegar
    2 Tbl. Maple Syrup (the real stuff not pancake syrup)
    salt
    pepper

    Clean and trim the Brussels Sprouts and cut in half.  Chop the bacon and in a large sauté pan, cook until brown and crispy. Remove the bacon, leaving the rendered fat behind and add the Brussels Sprouts. Saute, tossing occasionally, until the sprouts begin to caramelize.  Add the cider, syrup, and vinegar, along with 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the sprouts are nicely coated in glaze.  Add the reserved bacon, along with salt and pepper to season and serve.

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  1. pete
    @julieb26 pork butt wouldn't be appropriate for this application.  Pork butt has a lot of connective tissue that really takes a slow and low approach to make it nice and tender.  I'm afraid that by the time the pork is done the crust would be almost burnt.  This type of fast roasting is better suited to already tender cuts such as the loin and tenderloin.
  2. julieb26
    Could I use a pork butt for this recipe? 
  3. pete
    @cerise, the internet is full of recipes for all the traditional Thanksgiving foodstuffs.  This article is about cooking a meal for a smaller group of people and having the opportunity to change it up a bit.  The menu is still very "autumn" centric and has a lot of the flavors associated with Thanksgiving but with a twist.  Also, as someone that has lived far from home, many times, doing a turkey, even a small one, for 2-4 people is way too much food.  Sure people can use a chicken or individual Cornish hens, but I am providing another option for people to consider
  4. cerise
    Tried to edit, but unable to. Turkey, cranberry sauce and sometimes pumpkin pie are some traditional dishes. Always almost turkey is the main dish.

    I think folks serve/cook dishes that are traditional/what they grew up with.

    Recently posted some ideas for stuffed pork and beef tenderloin, and roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts root veggies.

    You can purchase a small turkey or eben Cornish game hens. Whatever you like.
  5. cerise
    Interesting take on a thanksgiving menu. I think most folks serve their personal family favorites.