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Frugal Foodie - A Very Frugal Thanksgiving

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Written by Heather Jones   
Thursday, 12 November 2009

ImageFor some, the idea of entertaining is positively frightening, especially during the Holiday season.  Once you have the guest list put together, you develop your menu, write up that grocery list, and before you know it that intimate gathering for ten is starting to rival the catering cost from your wedding.  But Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be that way, as a matter a fact Thanksgiving is probably the most frugal of all the major holidays.  Before you disagree, hear me out.  For one, practically every dish on a traditional Thanksgiving menu is seasonal, right down to the pumpkin and sweet potato pies.  And seasonal often means less expensive.  Number two Thanksgiving dishes often have a simple, homey quality to them. Even though we foodies have found ways to make those dishes more “Gourmet”, no fancy or hard to find ingredients are needed for this meal to make it delicious.

If those facts aren’t enough to convince you than allow me to take it a step further, I’m going to break down the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, dish-by-dish in hopes that you will see just how frugal and fun your Thanksgiving can be.

Turkey - Other than the alcohol (if you’re having alcohol that is) the turkey is the most expensive part of the meal, but also the most substantial. So, my philosophy is: allow yourself to spend a little more.  Turkey is still relatively inexpensive compared to beef or choice cuts of chicken and pork - and at this time of year almost every local supermarket has a sale.  Fresh and free-range are more expensive than frozen, not to mention the Grand Daddy of them all, Heritage Turkeys, which is why for the centerpiece you want the best you can afford.  If you’re confused as to how big the Turkey should be, think one pound of turkey per person and up to two pounds if you want leftovers or if you have big eaters and kids.  So for a party of ten 15-20lb is perfect. I suggest:


Salt-and-Pepper Roast Turkey (Tacchino Arrosto con Sale e Pepe)

(Sunset, November, 2000)

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Stuffing – This is my favorite part of the meal (then again I haven’t met a carbohydrate I didn’t like). Traditional stuffing is beyond basic: bread, celery, chicken stock, herbs and seasoning - all stuff you should have on hand or can easily get very cheaply.  Stuffing is also a great base that allows you to add a myriad of different flavors such as sausage, chestnuts, or apples. One thing that I like to do in preparation for the big day is save a few bits and pieces of really great artisan breads that I’ve had over the past couple of months and keep them in the freezer.  I simply break them out when I’m ready to make the stuffing.  It’s so much better than the dried bread crumbs in those mixes out there. Day old bread from your local store is another great option. I suggest:


Sweet Potato Stuffing With Bacon And Thyme

(Bon Appétit, November, 2009)

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Sides – I can’t say it enough: use seasonal ingredients. They not only taste great but are less expensive than non-seasonal items.  Sweet Potatoes are a must on every table and a classic Thanksgiving side. Others include Brussels Sprouts with caramelized onions and bacon and winter items such as greens, collards, mustard, or turnips.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about all of the choices. All of these require very little preparation to make them shine on your dinner table. I suggest:


Sauté Of Winter Greens And Shiitake Mushrooms

(Bon Appétit, November, 2009)

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Cranberry Sauce – For many, you either love it or hate it.  Want to guess which side I’m on.  Skip the stuff in the can, buy yourself a bag of fresh or frozen cranberries and make your own.  The flavor is so super intense there is no comparison to the other stuff.  A little sugar, lemon or orange flavoring and you have a new classic. I suggest:


Baked Cranberry-Orange Sauce

(Sunset, November, 2001)

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Desserts – If you’re having guests other than family they may bring a dessert, but it’s so nice to have something homemade on hand.  If you haven’t perfected that perfect pie crust, now is the time to make it happen.  If you want something other than the traditional pumpkin or apple pies try a pear tart, individual pumpkin soufflés or how about sweet potato pot de crème.  Remember you can shake things up a bit, but to keep things affordable, keep it seasonal. I suggest:


Steamed Persimmon Pudding With Cinnamon Crème Anglaise

(Bon Appétit, November, 2009)

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Libations – You guys already know that I am a huge fan of the signature cocktail, Apple Cider martinis or break out your grandmother's punch bowl for a Pomegranate flavored Punch. But if its wine that you’re after, find one that will pair well with all of the courses, I usually go for a Pinot Noir for dinner and a something fun and bubbly like Prosecco for dessert. I suggest:


Mulled Apple Cider Cocktail

(Alex’s Day Off, Episode: Lunch With Friends, Season: 1)

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Appetizers & Starters – Don’t go overboard, one or two starters will suffice or forgo the chips and dips all together and offer starter size servings of a cozy fall bisque or a salad of mild winter greens with pear and dried cranberries. I suggest:


Harvest Pumpkin Soup

(Martha Stewart Living, October, 2007)

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I could go on and on because really the sky is the limit with Thanksgiving. It’s a perfect time to showcase all of those great fall flavors out there and the best part it doesn’t have to break the bank. Really, whether your guest list is 2 or 20 Thanksgiving can be frugal and so much fun. 

And let’s not forget to take a little time to really reflect on how fortunate so many of us are, the fact that we will be able to have a nice spread is cause for celebration alone and what I am thankful for.  Well, besides my husband, daughters, and my adopted family here at Project Foodie I am also thankful for all of you for taking a few minutes out of your day to see what Project Foodie is up to for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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