Small Group? First Time Cooking for Thanksgiving? Serve a Chicken not a Turkey
Never mind Norman Rockwell, who was an artist, not a cook. If you're serving a small group this Thanksgiving or it's your first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner, ditch the notion of cooking the ideal turkey and go for something smaller--like a roast chicken. A six pound chicken cooks in about an hour and comes out of the oven golden brown and succulent, unlike some turkeys that can turn out tough and dry. That large chicken also can feed four people well, and you'll probably have leftovers and the makings of a great soup. Cooking a chicken is easy and will leave you plenty of time for making the sides of your choice. Try the recipe I'm posting below for Roast Chicken With Fancy Rice. The rice mixture substitutes nicely for stuffing, and the chicken juices add incredible flavor. Plus, the rice doesn't require much work. For a simple Thanksgiving dinner, I recommend adding some fresh green beans or other green vegetable, a salad, and rolls. Serve what you and your guests like most for dessert, regardless of tradition. Thanksgiving is about being thankful for a God who loves us in bad as well as in good times, not about turkeys and stress.
Easy Roast Chicken With Fancy Rice -- Serves 4+
1 5-6 pound chicken
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Handful of fresh herbs torn or chopped or 1 teaspoon each of dried rosemary, oregano,
sage, and thyme
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
2-3 stalks of chopped celery
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups of unsalted, unseasoned rice blend (I use the kind that cooks in 15 minutes
and includes white, brown, red, etc., rice -- I get mine at Aldi, but other places, have it)
1/2 cup of dried cranberries
Spray a large pan or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Unwrap the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Put the chicken on a large plate, not your clean counter, and, using your fingers or a spoon, loosen the skin on the top of the chicken over the breast (the fattest side--if you're in doubt, look at the legs, which should be pointing up the "right way," plus the back side should sit flatter than the breast side). Remove the giblets (if there are any) from the chicken cavity and put them aside on the plate (ooh, feeling around in there, that's gross! I know, but get over it, and just wash your hands). In a small bowl, mix well the herbs, oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper. Smear some of the mixture on the underside and all over the top side of the chicken, including under the skin. If you're using fresh herbs, toss some inside the cavity of the chicken, too (or put in the rest of the herb mixture, if you have some left). Set the chicken aside while you work on the rice.
Cook the rice as directed on the package, adding the onion, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to it. When the rice has just barely cooked, add the dried cranberries to it, and spread the mixture in the pan or dish you prepared. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (yes, 400, that's right). Place the chicken (and the giblets, too) on top of the rice. If you want, tie the legs of the chicken together with a little kitchen string and tuck the legs under the bird as much as possible (its sort of tricky/messy, and I just move them under the bird enough so they don't burn). Add 1/3 cup of water to the pan/dish, pouring it over the rice. Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a little more pepper over the bird. If you're using a meat thermometer/probe that is oven safe, push it into the meatiest part of the chicken, which is between the breast and thigh. Put the pan/dish in the oven and cook the chicken until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees for the breast meat and 175 degrees for thigh meat. That should take about an hour or a little longer. If you are using the oven-safe thermometer, let it get to 175 in that meaty area where you put it. Remove the chicken from the oven, loosely cover it with aluminum foil, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. DO NOT CUT INTO THE CHICKEN IMMEDIATELY. Go see about your side dishes, set the table, or surf the internet. After 30 minutes, go ahead and carve the chicken, preferably in the kitchen, not on your dining room table. Carving a roast bird is messy, and, despite Norman Rockwell's illustration, not the best idea on a table with a nice tablecloth. Sit down to a nice dinner and enjoy your juicy, delicious chicken.