Wednesday, November 15, 2006

10 Steps To A Frugal Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the ultimate frugal holiday. No expensive presents. No fancy decorating. Just quality time with the family and a delicious home-cooked meal. And the meal does NOT need to be expensive or time-consuming. Thanksgiving is mostly about the side-dishes, and side-dishes are often inexpensive. Even the meat course is not too bad, with high-quality turkeys going for only about two or three bucks a pound.

But keep it simple. There's no need to make complicated dishes with expensive ingredients. Just make simple, classic recipes. If you do it with a little finesse, it will be the best Thanksgiving you've ever had.

A Few Days Beforehand

1. Buy a good quality turkey. Time is money, and you don't want to have to spend time brining a bland supermarket bird just so that it is juicy and tasty. If you're in California, I'd recommend a Diestel brand turkey (found at Whole Foods among other places). The turkey will have been treated nicely during its life (no factory farms), and will taste better than a Butterball that has been injected with flavored salt water (so-called self-basting). Go for 1 to 1.5 pounds of turkey per person. Stick with the upper end if you want a lot of leftovers.

Can Be Done Ahead of Time

2. Make a simple fall soup. Try carrot-ginger or butternut squash.

3. Make dessert. Try a pumpkin or apple pie. Or a pumpkin cheesecake. Even just cookies and ice cream would be simple, delicious, and inexpensive.

4. Make cranberry sauce. The canned cranberry jelly is somehow retro and delicious, but a cranberry-orange relish is incredibly easy to make and tastes awesome. Last year we served both the canned and the homemade.

On Turkey Day

5. Cook the turkey simply. There's a lot of extra things you could do if you want the perfect turkey (such as brining, e.g. this SF Chronicle recipe), but buying a good turkey and cooking it to the right temperature is probably good enough. Try these high-heat, quick-cooking time recipes from Epicurious or Safeway. Temperature matters, so Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to pick up an "instant-read" thermometer. I've had pretty good luck with the Taylor model.

6. Potatoes are cheap. Mash them. Last year I enjoyed mashed potatoes with sage and white cheddar cheese.

7. Make stuffing (more properly called dressing b/c it's cooked outside the bird). Bittmann has a feature today on simple stuffings. For something more substantial (but more expensive) try cornbread-sausage stuffing.

8. Make another vegetable side dish. Try creamed leeks. Or make something lighter, like green beans with ginger butter.

9. Remove and rest turkey, heat up side dishes, and make gravy. The Epicurious turkey recipe cited above has a simple version. Alton Brown's scientific explanation plus from-scratch version here.

10. Serve and enjoy!

UPDATE: Other Thanksgiving advice for those on a budget from About. Even more advice here, here, here, and here.


Yulinka said...

Just found your blog via the Amateur Gourmet. Being a frugal grad student foodie myself, I like what you have here, especially this frugal Thanksgiving guide.

Keep blogging!

John V said...

Thanks for the encouragement! You keep reading too...

Anonymous said...

You say frugal then you recommend a turkey from the most expensive food store on the planet...Whole Foods! I buy mine for .59 cents a pound in my local food store. I have never had a health problem from eating the turkey year after year. If you want what you consider the most healthy turkey than maybe whole foods but if your talking rugal whole foods doesn't fit my bill for frugal!