Preparing a Thanksgiving feast on a shoestring budget
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.
Have a potluck party
‘Tis the season to chip in. Have everyone bring their specialty dishes and written copies of the recipes and have a recipe exchange.
Soup kitchen patrol
Instead of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your home, you can volunteer at a soup kitchen and dish up holiday meals to the needy. If you’re a follower of Kabbalah as Madonna is, you will be helping to create Tikkun olam, which means “repairing the world.” Bring the kids along. This is not only a great lesson in altruism, as an added boon, you get to eat free!
Here’s a basic bread and herb stuffing that can be jazzed up or downplayed to suit your budget and tastes. Happy Thrifty Thanksgiving.
- 1 pound of toasted French or Italian bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter or 1/4 cup of grapeseed oil (if cholesterol-conscious)
- 2 small white onions, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 8 white mushrooms, chopped
- 1/4 cup of minced fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried sage, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
- 1/2 cup of raisins or dried cranberries
- Sea salt, nutmeg and cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
In a heavy skillet, heat the butter or oil and saute the onions, garlic and celery until soft. Add herbs, mushrooms and raisins and simmer for 5 minutes. Blend in the bread crumbs and mix well. Stir in the stock until the stuffing is moist, but not tightly packed.
To stuff the bird, reheat before filling the cavity, or for a casserole, lightly oil an oven-proof baking dish and spread the stuffing evenly. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until the top is crusty.
If you’d like to talk turkey, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.FreeRangeClub.com for more holiday recipes.