Recipes for a Socially Distant Thanksgiving Dinner

I love this time of year. The chilly weather, hot coffee, the delight of a cozy mystery under a warm blanket. But my favorite part of this time of year is the anticipation of the upcoming holiday season. Halloween has just passed, Thanksgiving is around the corner, then Advent, Christmas, and New Years. I especially look forward to the extra time with family this time of year. 

Except this year, the world is upside down. The last 9 months have been uncertain, lonely, and scary. This year, more than ever before, I am longing for the holidays, especially Thanksgiving. I want to hug my family, sit down together for a meal, share what we are thankful for. However, I am cautious about how my family will get together with extended family to celebrate, especially for Thanksgiving.

In the Before Times, my husband and I host both of our families together every year for this turkey feast. This year, we have family stuck out of town, we have family who cannot social distance at work, and we have parents in the vulnerable category. So, instead of my normal planning and preparation, I’ve been thinking how we can safely social distance to include everyone who is able to come.

Our home has an open kitchen/living room layout, and we typically all gather in this area, cooking and laughing and watching football. People move in and out of the kitchen. That’s definitely a no go this year. Luckily, we have a large backyard with plenty of space to spread out. But what to serve?

We typically serve Thanksgiving dinner buffet style, and everyone fixes their own plate. Everyone could just bring every dish ready to go, and we could proceed like normal outside. However, I’m also a little wary of everyone dipping in and out of the same serving dishes with the same serving utensils. So I’ve come up with a few ideas to serve a delicious Thanksgiving dinner outdoors that will minimize communal touching, but maximize the community feel. 

Turkey Sandwich Bar

Everyone knows the best part of Thanksgiving is the amazing turkey sandwich you make the next day:: soft dinner rolls, seasoned turkey, cranberry sauce. Maybe an extra slice of gravy soaked bread, if you’re Monica or Ross. 

Recipes for a Socially Distant Thanksgiving Dinner

This year, in the name of simplicity, I’ve decided just to skip right to the good stuff, so I’m serving a turkey sandwich bar! The ingredients can be tailored to your family’s tastes, so it’s super versatile, and there are plenty of items for guests to bring, so the “cooking” doesn’t fall to just one person. And nothing needs to be warmed, so we’re free to spend our time safely outdoors. You can also scale your table up or down, depending on your comfort level/vulnerability of your family members:: serving a communal dish of cranberry sauce vs. individual plastic cups or a platter of turkey vs. individual portions on plates. Below are the items I’m thinking for my sandwich bar. 

  • grilled turkey breasts 
  • bread {maybe that 2020 sourdough we’ve all perfected!} or soft dinner rolls
  • cheese slices
  • lettuce, tomato
  • gravy made without turkey drippings {or if you roast the turkey inside, here is my favorite traditional recipe}
  • mayo + mustard {if you’re looking to step it up, this is legit the world’s easiest mayo recipe and miles better than store bought!}
  • cranberry sauce

Don’t Forget the Stuffing!

While I think I could serve the turkey sandwich bar and call the meal complete, I personally need Thanksgiving stuffing. Out of all the dishes I love to make at Thanksgiving, this is the one to which I look forward the most. In the interest of minimizing communal dishes this year, I’ve adapted a couple of recipes to create my favorite stuffing in muffin form. 

Cornbread Stuffing Muffins with Sausage, Apple, and Pecans

Ingredients
– 7 cups cornbread cubes {my favorite cornbread recipe}
– 7 cups crusty bread cubes {such as ciabatta}
– 1 lb of mild Italian sausage
– 1 large onion, diced
– 2 Granny Smith apples, diced
– 1 1/2 TB brown sugar 
– 1 cup toasted pecan pieces
– 1 cup white wine
– 2 to 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
– 2 tsp rosemary leaves, finely chopped
– 2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
– 2 tsp fresh thyme, leaves stripped
– 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
– 4 eggs, beaten
– 4 TB butter, softened

Directions

  1. Dry cubed bread overnight. {I normally skip this step in stuffing recipes, but for muffins, this is a crucial step to the muffin holding its shape!}
  2. In a large skillet, crumble and brown the sausage over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from the skillet and set aside. Pour off any excess grease and, without cleaning the skillet, add in the diced onions and brown for 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the diced apples, brown sugar and some salt. Cook until deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium and pour in the wine (be careful if you’re using an open flame). Stir and cook to reduce the liquid by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the apple/onion mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to medium heat (again, without washing) and add the chicken broth, rosemary, sage, thyme, turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Heat for a few minutes to develop the flavors, then let cool slightly. Mix in the beaten eggs. 
  4. Add the bread to a large bowl, and then add the browned sausage, pecans, and apple/onion mixture (and any juice that might have accumulated). Next, add the broth/egg mixture gradually as you toss the ingredients, being prepared to not use all of the liquid according to your taste. Let stand 5 minutes.
  5. Generously butter twelve nonstick muffin cups. Spoon 1/2 cup of stuffing mixture into each muffin cup. Press to compact. Mound another 1/2 cup of remaining stuffing mixture over stuffing in each muffin cup, pressing to hold shape. Bake muffins until golden, about 22-25 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Using small knife, loosen muffins and pop out of pan.

Recipe adapted from here and here.

And the Final Touch

You can’t have Thanksgiving without dessert. I normally make a couple of pies and call it good, but this year, I’ve decided to serve a variety of small, grab n’ go desserts. I’ve rounded up a few of the sweetest recipes for individual desserts!

However you celebrate the holidays this year, these recipes might give you some ideas for your holiday menu. While I’m normally a traditional sort of woman, I’m really excited to switch things up for this already mixed up year. Cheers to a {socially distant} safe and delicious holiday season!

Recipes for a Socially Distant Thanksgiving Dinner


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Rebecca S. is a born and raised Houstonian; she grew up in Katy, graduated with a BS in Hotel and Restaurant Management from the University of Houston {go Coogs!}, and made a home in West Houston with her native Houstonian husband. She quickly realized that the chaotic lifestyle of the hospitality industry was not for her and soon found her calling in education. She taught while earning her masters in Library Science from the University of North Texas. Currently, she is staying home with her son, Thomas {2016} and daughter Charlie {2020}. In her free time, she loves to read, write, run, and roam the world. While her roots are firmly planted in H-town, she takes every available opportunity to go on an adventure and explore historic cities, hike and run new trails, and, of course, try beers from every country.

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