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A Thanksgiving Menu, Recipes + Guide for 2021

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A Thanksgiving Menu, Recipes + Guide for 2021 ~ for a smaller crowd and without the fuss of a big ol’ turkey! Enjoy less stress with my Thanksgiving roadmap!

heriloom pumpkins photo by Kerstin Wrba on Unsplash
Photo by Kerstin Wrba on Unsplash

A (Somewhat) Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Menu + Recipes 

When I started planning our Thanksgiving menu this year, I knew that I wanted to give it a spin and go just a little off the beaten path…(ahem, no turkey!). But, options are good, so I’ll provide a few along the way.

The menu is totally scalable — whether you’re cooking for 2 or 12. And, the roadmap contains a timeline and tips so you can prep ahead and spend more time enjoying family and friends on the holiday!

{For an even easier holiday gathering, check out this Friendsgiving Cocktail Party how-to!}

Bonus Thanksgiving Day Recipe Ideas


It’s Thanksgiving all day, after all, so kick things off with something delicious to get everyone in the spirit. Pair any of these with some savory breakfast meats and eggs to round out your brunch spread!

Pumpkin Spice Latte Sweet Rolls — these can be made ahead to save you time! You can bake them days in advance and freeze, or prepare them the day before and bake in the morning.

Easy Homemade Spiced Apple Waffles — you can have these piping hot and ready to go in about 30 minutes.

Caramel Apple Compote with Dried Cherries + Pecans — this is delicious with those Spiced Apple Waffles. Make the compote a couple days ahead and warm it up while you make the waffles.

Prosciutto + Parm Brunch Rolls with Fig Jam Drizzle — another make-ahead recipe that can be done the night before and refrigerated or way in advance and frozen. Bake them just before serving.

Cocktail Hour

Give yourself some extra flexibility to get the main event ready by having a cocktail hour. A pitcher of cocktails and a grazing board are all you need to keep the hungry vultures at bay.

Thanksgiving on the Cape: a cranberry + orange vodka cocktail — shaken and strained into a pretty orange cinnamon sugar rimmed glass. You can skip the cranberry sauce in lieu of one of these!

Autumn Grazing Board — mix and match items to suit your tastes or what’s available…here’s what I used:

  • Cheeses — Midnight Moon (semi-firm goat), Come Ash You Are (bloomed rind cow) + buffalo burrata (fresh, for Basil + Lemon Burrata). 
  • Charcuterie — Prosciutto (piled up) Genoa salami + Sopressata (in the salami river).
  • Fruit — fresh Bosc pears (sliced thin), dried figs, dates + cranberries, mixed olives, and cornichons.
  • Crunchy things — spicy roasted pumpkin seeds + green bean chips (both allergy-friendly)
  • Carbs — toasted sourdough slices, grissini, fig & olive crisps, rosemary & raisin crisps.
  • Spread — fig jam pairs well with blue or rich cheeses (like the Come Ash You Are).
  • Garnish — fresh rosemary and mini gourds.

The Main Event Thanksgiving Menu

First Course

Roasted Acorn Squash Bisque with Crispy Bay Scallops

You know what’s great about a recipe like this? You can make the bisque a couple weeks in advance and warm it on the stove while you’re doing other things. You’ll cook the scallops just before serving and those are ready in just 2 to 3 minutes!

bowl of soup with sage, a spoon, napkin and glass of wine

Main Course

Roasted Butterflied Cornish Hens with White Wine Pan Sauce

This is the perfect poultry alternative for a small scale gathering! Cornish hens roast quickly so you don’t have wait hours for that 14 pound turkey to be ready. You can get away with making 3 hens (for 6 people). Any more than that and I say spring for the turkey!

pouring white wine pan sauce over roasted cornish hen

If you must have turkey, here are a couple options:

Side Dishes

Side dishes are what Thanksgiving is all about! Small gathering? Pick just one or two. Or, go crazy and make them all!

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes with Pumpkin Seed Pesto Butter — you can whip up the pesto butter a day or two in advance. Bake the sweet potatoes before the hens and cover with foil to keep warm. Toss them back in the oven after the hens have finished roasting to warm them through. 

hasselback sweet potato with pumpkin seed pesto butter

Roasted Garlic + Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes — here’s another recipe you can make-ahead. Prepare the mashed potatoes a day or two in advance, cool and refrigerate. Use the microwave for a quick warm-up. Or, transfer them to your slow cooker and turn it on low for 3 to 4 hours. Give them a stir once or twice. In either case, have a little extra buttermilk on hand in case they dry out during the warming process.

serving dish of mashed potatoes with pats of butter and sprig of rosemary

Beet + Baby Greens Salad with Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette — it’s not all starches! This recipe calls for roasted beets, which are easy to make a day or two ahead. If you want to skip that step, many grocery stores now carry cooked beets in the produce department; simply dice some up for your salad. The rest is assembly!

beet and baby greens salad with carafe of maple mustard dressing

Rosemary Dinner Rolls with Poppy Seed Honey Butter — you can’t have a Thanksgiving meal without some warm bread. Make these the day before, too. Before serving, pop them in the oven (along with the sweet potatoes) to warm them through. If you’re concerned they’ll get too brown, cover the tray with foil first.

baked rosemary dinner rolls

Here are a couple bonus side-dish recipes you can swap out or add-on:


Are you team pumpkin or team apple? How about team pear?! 

Spiced Honey + Wine Poached Pear Pie — this pie just really makes for a pretty presentation. The pears are poached in two different wines to give it that two-tone effect. Make this a day ahead and refrigerate. Place it on the counter when cocktail hour starts and it’ll be ready to devour after the main event. Serve it with vanilla bean ice cream for an extra treat.

Oh…and the poaching wine? Don’t throw it out. Reduce it down to a syrup and add a little to a glass of Prosecco for a mulled wine mimosa!

wine poached pear pie with fresh pears in background

Countdown to Thanksgiving Roadmap

A Week or Two Before


  • Shop for all ingredients you don’t have on hand
  • Figure out which serving dishes and platters you will use and label them



Thanksgiving Day


Remove refrigerated items:

  • Acorn Squash Bisque (from freezer)
  • Pumpkin Seed Pesto Butter
  • Roasted Garlic + Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes
  • PSL Sweet Rolls

Enjoy Brunch (if serving):

  • Bake Prosciutto + Parm Brunch Rolls; warm the Fig Jam Drizzle
  • Warm PSL Sweet Rolls in the oven; spread with icing
  • Make Easy Homemade Spiced Apple Waffles
  • Warm Caramel Apple Compote with Dried Cherries + Pecans in the microwave


Before Cocktail Hour (if serving)

  • Assemble an Autumn Grazing Board at least 30 minutes before guests arrive
  • Mix and set out your pitcher of cocktails along with glasses, plates and napkins

Remove refrigerated items:

  • Spiced Honey + Wine Poached Pear Pie
  • Poppy Seed Honey Butter

Before Dinner (allow for 1-1/2 hours)

  • Make the Butterflied Cornish Hens 
  • Warm the Acorn Squash Bisque, covered, over a low burner
  • Make the White Wine Pan Sauce, strain and set aside
  • Allow the hens to rest for 10 minutes before splitting in half to serve
  • Place the Hasselback Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary Dinner Rolls in the 350°F oven while the hens rest
  • Sear the Bay Scallops
  • Warm up the White Wine Pan Sauce
  • Remove the salad from the fridge and drizzle with vinaigrette

Arrange the hens and side dishes on platters and bowls + enjoy your dinner! As always, I love to see your creations and answer your comments and questions! Leave them below, or tag me @sipandsanity on Instagram!

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Feature Image Turkey Photo by Meelika Marzzarella on Unsplash

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