Just because the economy is in the doldrums doesn't mean you can't have a scrumptious Thanksgiving meal. Use your culinary creativity and money-saving strategies to dial up a bountiful and healthful holiday table. So what, you won't have a Heritage grass-fed, organic bird with French chestnut and truffle stuffing, asparagus tips and a Godiva chocolate pecan pie, but you and your loved ones will be breaking bread together and having a blast. Here's a Thanksgiving primer for dishing up a frugal feast.
Just wing it
Instead of buying the whole bird packed around a heavy carcass and stuffed with a bulky bag of giblets and other wasteful innards, try buying turkey by the piece. If your family likes breasts, buy a large one, or mix it up with a thigh and a breast. If you like a whole bird, another option is to buy a nice-size roaster chicken (8-pounder) with a big enough cavity that you can stuff. Whatever your bird of choice, where possible make it organic, and always keep your eyes peeled for turkey deals at various supermarkets.
Buying prepared stuffings and other seasonal sides is costly and probably not as healthy as you can make at home. For stuffings, use up your day-old breads, leftover rice, veggies or couscous. You can stuff the bird (if you've opted to buy a whole body) or bake in a casserole and serve as a side dish.
Prepare yams or sweet potato sides and mashed potatoes from scratch to also control the fats and spices to suit your family's dietary restrictions and taste buds.
Relish the thought
Make your own cranberries, whether using fresh or frozen berries, or doctor up canned cranberry relish by tossing in some fresh mandarin sections and orange or lemon zest.
Get on the gravy train
Use pan drippings instead of buying pre-made gravy. Skim off any solid fat, add some chopped parsley, a splash of cooking wine, sliced mushrooms and pour away.
Don't buy white asparagus, artichoke hearts or other costly out-of-season veggies that also put a strain on the carbon footprint as they are imported. Stick to seasonal, wallet-friendly root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips and celery root, and make a casserole by roasting this seasonal melange. Brussels sprouts and string beans add some local green color as well as vitamins A and C and a cruciferous antioxidant punch.
Be a jazz cook — improvise
Go ahead, I dare you — break the recipe rules. If you don't have a costly spice, herb or other ingredient in your pantry, then do a smart substitution. For allspice, do cinnamon or nutmeg. Cardamom can be swapped out for ginger. Use turmeric for saffron. Poultry seasoning for sage, marjoram or rosemary. And for pricey pecans, substitute less expensive nuts such as walnuts or buy nuts in the shell and have at it.
Easy as pie
Do lemon meringue, classic pumpkin, cranberry pear, Dutch apple or sweet potato instead of the decadent pecan — less sugar, less fat, less cost.