The more the merrier? Not amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Fewer people are gathering around the table for the holidays due to social distancing and sheltering in place guidelines. But small parties can still be special – just ask Ina Garten.
Last month, the cookbook author and Food Network host, known to fans as the Barefoot Contessa, embraced a #MicroThanksgiving, a scaled down celebration as a result of the pandemic. She made an 8-lb. turkey, which she paired with sides like herb and apple bread pudding and chipotle smashed sweet potatoes. Those who follow Garten would not be surprised that her husband, Jeffrey, enjoyed the meal. “He thinks whatever I’ve just made is the most delicious thing he’s ever had,” she says with a laugh.
Garten feels it’s important to mark the holidays, despite the pandemic, “because every day seems like every other day.”
For your micro-Christmas or New Year’s Eve meals, Garten suggests entrees that can be made in small portions (like pasta) and re-purposed for leftovers and using special ingredients. “Make something a little special that’s different but not crazy expensive,” she advises.
Read on for more of the “Modern Comfort Food” author’s tips and recipes for a small holiday soiree.
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Question: How did preparing your micro-Thanksgiving compare to the meals you’ve prepared in years past?
Ina Garten: I didn’t make 20 vegetables, like I normally would’ve (or) three pies. One of the things I always do with a meal like this – and any time I’m making a big dinner – is I write a menu, and then I think about: ‘How much room do I have in the oven and at what temperature?’ So I try and do one thing that I’m cooking in the oven, one thing I’m cooking on the top of the stove and one thing that I serve at room temperature, so that I’m not trying to juggle too many things at one time.
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Q: What other tips do you have for people who are trying to make a holiday meal for a small gathering?
Garten: Something like New Year’s Eve, you want it to be really special but you don’t want it to be a big deal. I very often for New Year’s Eve make a recipe from my first book (“The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook”) which is lemon capellini with caviar. Once you’ve got the sauce done, which is basically butter and lemon and lemon zest – all you have to do is cook the capellini for three minutes, put it into the sauce, cook it for a minute and then serve it with a dollop of caviar on top. So it’s really special, but it’s also really easy to do. Or something like a filet of beef (recipe below)… It’s simple and then you can have leftover roast beef sandwiches with arugula.
Q: Is there anything else people should keep in mind for a scaled down dinner?
Garten: What I do is think about what the people you’re cooking for like the best. For holidays, they should have what their favorite chocolate cake is, or whatever it is. So you have dessert leftover? How bad is that? Don’t make a half a pie. Make a whole pie and just go crazy.
Q: Everyone loved the big quarantine cocktail that you made in April. Is there a holiday equivalent?
Garten: There is actually. It’s a pomegranate gimlet (recipe below), it’s pomegranate juice and cranberry juice. It’s a little like a cosmo, but it’s got pomegranate juice in it. It’s great for the holidays.
Q: Your fans will want to know if you’re making it by the gallon in your giant shaker and martini glass.
Garten laughs: That was the only time I put a whole bottle of vodka in anything. I think a half of a regular cocktail is all I can handle without falling over.
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Enjoy two holiday recipes Garten shared with USA TODAY readers, which can be modified for fewer servings.
Filet of Beef with Gorgonzola Sauce
Serves 8 to 10
1 whole filet of beef (4 to 5 pounds), trimmed and tied
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
Gorgonzola Sauce, for serving (see recipe)
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Place the beef on a baking sheet and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread the butter on with your hands. Sprinkle evenly with the salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium-rare.
Remove the beef from the oven, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the filet thickly.
Gorgonzola Sauce (makes 3 cups)
4 cups heavy cream
3 to 4 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola (not creamy or “dolce”)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Bring the heavy cream to a full boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then continue to boil rapidly for 45 to 50 minutes, until it’s thickened, like a white sauce, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the Gorgonzola, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and parsley. Whisk rapidly until the cheeses melt, and then serve. If you must reheat, warm the sauce over low heat until melted, then whisk vigorously until the sauce comes together.
Makes 6 drinks
1½ cups gin, such as Tanqueray
1 cup pomegranate juice, such as Pom Wonderful
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (6 to 8 limes)
½ cup simple syrup (recipe below)
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish
6 lime slices, for garnish
At least one hour before serving, place six martini glasses in the freezer.
Combine the gin, pomegranate juice, lime juice, and simple syrup in a large pitcher. Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice and add the drink mixture until the shaker is three quarters full. Shake for a full 15 seconds (it’s longer than you think!). Pour the mixture into the frozen martini glasses and garnish with a teaspoon of pomegranate seeds and a slice of lime. Repeat with the remaining drink mixture and serve ice cold.
Note: For simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small pot and heat just until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Refrigerate until cold.
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