Tips and Tricks

Can You Make Thanksgiving Dinner In A Toaster Oven?

Making Thanksgiving dinner in a toaster oven might sound like a recipe for disaster. I thought the same thing the first time I attempted it, but then again I didn’t really have a choice.

At the time, I had just moved to Paris, where most apartments don’t have anything larger than a toaster oven. Given that it’s an American holiday, there was no time off for Thanksgiving in the cards for me, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my favorite holiday, and neither were most of my expat friends. It took a lot of trial and error, but now I am a pro at making Thanksgiving dinner – often for close to 20 people – in a toaster oven. Here are my secrets to success:

1. Make a menu.

The first thing to do when you’re planning any big meal is to get your menu straight, but this is particularly important when you’re planning Thanksgiving in a toaster oven. First thing’s first, when it comes to toaster oven Thanksgivings, chicken stands in for turkey. Once, I experimented with cooking turkey legs, and let’s just say that was filed in my poor life decisions folder. Trust me, chicken is the best choice.

When it comes to everything else, I write up a big menu of all the dishes I hope to include, and then it’s time to cut. Be brutal. For example, do I really need both mashed potatoes and a cheesy potato gratin? No. Try to limit the menu to the chicken, five sides, and two desserts. When creating your menu think ahead to what can be cooked on the stovetop and what needs to be done in toaster oven. To retain your sanity (and for purposes of time management) you’ll want to make use of both.

I use the toaster oven to make pies, cornbread, the stuffed chicken, and some kind of savory bake (like a savory pumpkin tart or a potato gratin) the day before or early in the day. But I make everything else – from the sweet potatoes to the extra stuffing – on the stovetop. Consider your toaster oven “reserved” for the chicken and the chicken alone on Thanksgiving Day.

2. Be aware of sizing.

When it comes to cooking in a toaster oven, you have to keep certain things small. For example, I usually bake miniature pies in ramekins, so that each person gets their own individual serving. This can mean doing two or even three batches of pies to make sure that everyone gets one, so see how many ramekins you can fit in your oven ahead of time and be sure to plan accordingly.

You’ll also only be able to fit about a 3-4 pound chicken in your toaster oven, depending on the brand you have. This means that there won’t be a lot of meat on the big day, so make up for it by making a bit more of each of the side dishes. You might end up with a lot of leftovers, but at least you can be sure that your guests won’t be going hungry. In all honesty, in the 10 years I’ve been making Thanksgiving in a toaster oven, no one has ever asked why there wasn’t more meat.

3. Plan ahead.

There are a lot of things that you can do ahead of time to make the day of easier, like grocery shopping. Once I’ve decided on my final menu, I make a detailed grocery list and buy everything I need two days in advance. Ten years of toaster oven Thanksgiving dinners has taught me that you should always buy an extra pound of butter – it finds its way into things like mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes for flavor, and it’s also useful as a base for cooking caramelized onions or leeks.

Once you’ve shopped, it’s time to get some menu items out of the way: Dishes like cranberry sauce and pies (see my recipes below) are things that you can make entirely (or almost entirely) in advance to give yourself room to breathe on Thanksgiving Day. I also bake my whole sweet potatoes and roast the red kuri squash a day in advance and store them in the fridge in re-sealable plastic bags. Just be sure to schedule time to reheat these elements, which brings me to step four.

4. Make a detailed schedule – and stick to it.

When you’re making Thanksgiving in a toaster oven, the essential part of your success will be your schedule. Mine is laid out with military precision: I now know it takes me a total of 10 hours to finish cooking the entire meal. To take the pressure off, I parcel that time out as much as possible over the course of a few days (see step 3), though you can actually do it all in one day if you really need to. For “the day of schedule,” I decide what time I want dinner to be served and work backwards from there.

It’s imperative to include time to heat all the dishes up thirty minutes or so before I want the meal served. Most of the dishes will be heated on the stovetop. Dishes like sweet potato mash, mashed potatoes, or green beans, remain in the pan I cooked them in, covered, and I heat them back up at according to my schedule. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to make time to reheat any oven-based dishes that you’ve made.

Here’s an example of a schedule with the recipes I’ve included below, where you could feasibly do everything on one day:

9:30pm – Dessert is served

9pm

  • remove the pumpkin pies from the fridge
  • bake the tarte tatin

8pm – Guests arrive!

  • serve hors d’oeuvres
  • reheat sweet potatoes (stovetop)
  • reheat green beans (stovetop)
  • reheat stuffed red kuri squash (in the toaster oven, covered with tin foil, at 350 degrees for 15 minutes)

7:30pm

  • remove chicken from the oven; tent with foil
  • cook extra stuffing (in a loaf pan, covered with tin foil, at 350 degrees for 20 minutes)
  • add the frozen green beans to the bacon and heat (on the stovetop) together

6:40pm

  • Turn the chicken
  • have a shower and get ready for the party

6:00pm

  • chicken goes in the toaster oven
  • finish the mashed sweet potatoes

5:30pm

  • make the stuffing; stuff the chicken

5:00pm

  • red kuri squash goes in the toaster oven
  • make the stuffing for the red kuri squash

4:15pm

  • prep and cook the bacon for the green beans
  • prep and cook the leeks for the mashed sweet potatoes

3:30pm

  • make the apple portion of the tarte tatin

2:30pm

  • sweet potatoes for the mashed sweet potatoes go in the toaster oven
  • make the cranberry sauce and chill

1pm

  • set the table
  • prepare hors d’oeuvre platters

12pm

  • make the mini pumpkin pies (chill when cooked)

5. Don’t be ashamed to take some shortcuts

While it’s always nice to make everything from scratch, sometimes it’s better to let certain things go. I often use a good-quality store-bought piecrust instead of making my own, and sometimes I’ll use canned rolls or skip the rolls entirely and just buy a good loaf of bread instead.

I also rely on friends quite heavily for anything that doesn’t need to be heated once it makes it to my house. I’ll have them bring the hors d’oeuvre platter or to make cornbread or a salad, or just ask them to surprise me! I’ve had friends bring green bean salads, pasta salad, potato salad, and even, once, macaroni and cheese that could be reheated in the microwave. Most people are usually happy to contribute something, and it can take a lot of the stress off the big day.

 

 

Roasted Chicken with Chicken Liver and Chestnut Stuffing

Ingredients

 1 tablespoon butter

1 onion, minced

1 stalk celery, minced

5 ounces chicken livers, chopped

5 ounces chestnuts, chopped

½ cup chicken broth

¼ teaspoon dried sage

½ loaf whole wheat bread, cubed

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds

salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, and sauté until translucent, about five minutes. Add the chicken livers and chestnuts. Increase the heat to high, and cook until slightly browned, about five to ten minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth, and season with sage and salt and pepper. Cook for five additional minutes.

Place the bread cubes in a bowl, and pour the mixture over them. Mix well.

Stuff the chicken with as much of the mixture as you can, and truss, if you have things like butcher’s twine in your house (or don’t truss, if you’re like me). Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken breast-side down on a rack (or, if you don’t have a rack, slice an onion into rings, and place them in a line down the pan. Place the chicken on top. This will elevate it and keep the skin from getting soggy.) Roast for 40 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a roasting fork, a fondue fork, or a skewer and a lot of courage, to flip the chicken over so that it is breast-side up. Continue roasting for about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. You can tell that it is cooked when it’s easy to wiggle the leg at the joint.

Orange Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients

 

1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries

½ cup cane sugar

½ cup maple syrup

1 orange

Instructions

Combine the cranberries, sugar, and maple syrup in a saucepan. Juice the oranges and add the juice and the orange halves to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until the cranberries begin to pop, then stir and cook for an additional ten minutes. Remove the oranges and refrigerate the sauce until ready to serve.

Wild Rice, Cranberry, and Hazelnut Stuffed Red Kuri Squash

Ingredients

Note: This recipe is best when you’re just making Thanksgiving for two, but if you plan ahead, you can make this for a group as large as six.

1 red kuri squash

1 cup wild rice

¼ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped

4 tablespoons avocado oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 shallot, diced

salt and pepper

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roast the red kuri squash whole, then remove and allow to cool. Halve lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and discard.

Meanwhile, cook the wild rice according to package instructions.

Make the dressing: puree the oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot, salt and pepper until smooth.

Drain the rice and toss with the dressing. Allow to cool to room temperature, then mix with the cranberries and the hazelnuts. Reheat the red kuri squash halves if necessary, then stuff and serve.

Green Beans with Bacon

Ingredients

1 pound bacon, diced

2 pounds frozen green beans

Instructions

Cook the bacon over medium heat. When cooked to your desired doneness, add the frozen green beans, and cook until hot. Serve.

Sweet Potato Mash with Leeks

Ingredients

5 sweet potatoes

5 leeks, thinly sliced

1 stick butter

salt and pepper

 

Instructions

Pre-cook the sweet potatoes, either by boiling them or roasting them. I prefer to roast them, as it caramelizes them slightly, but it’s always hard to jam this many sweet potatoes in your toaster oven. Use your oven. Either way, cook them and peel them.

Combine the butter and the leeks in a pan, and cook until the leeks are wilted and beginning to caramelize, about ten minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the sweet potatoes and mash them slightly with a wooden spoon. Stir until well combined, and cook until the sweet potatoes are completely heated through.

Mini Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

– Makes 6 –

5 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced

1 stick butter

3/4 cup cane sugar

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 store bought refrigerated pie crusts

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the butter and sugar together in a frying pan. When the sugar is melted, add the apple slices. Cook until caramelized and soft, about 15 minutes.

Use the ramekins you’re going to bake your pies in to cut out rounds of dough. Set the rounds aside.

Fill each of the ramekins with one compact layer of apples. (Discard the remaining caramel, or let it cool and then break your teeth on it later.)

You can make the tarte tatins up until this point the night before.

Just before baking, top each of the ramekins with a piece of pastry, and bake for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Use a knife to loosen the pastry from the edges of the ramekin, then turn the pie out onto a plate while it’s hot. (If you wait until it cools, it’s a bitch to do.) Serve with ice cream.

Mini Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients

-makes 6-

1 cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine; I make my own out of red kuri squash)

1 egg

1 egg yolk

½ cup cane sugar

1 teaspoon molasses

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

1 pinch ground nutmeg

1 pinch ground cloves

¾ cup heavy cream

2 store bought refrigerated pie crusts

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together all of the filling ingredients.

Use the ramekins you’re going to bake your pies in to cut out rounds of dough. Line the ramekins with the rounds.

Fill each of the ramekins to about ¾ of the way with the filling mixture. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is set but still jiggly in the middle. Allow to cool, then chill completely before serving.

Join the conversation