Talking Turkey: Budgeting for Big Holiday Bashes – Part 1 of 4
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and we frugal types have been hard at work planning and budgeting for the annual event. Holiday bashes can be expensive, no doubt, so a few tips to keep those turkey costs contained:
1. If you are having a huge crew over for Turkey Day, do not be a budget martyr or blow your cash over one carb-laden meal. Do not even wait for the inevitable, “Can I bring something?” Contact everyone and graciously assign what you need. Expensive items start with: booze, booze and more booze. Fancy deserts can pile on the costs as well as the calories. If you are hosting a throng, be sure and divvy up the costs. Assign appetizers, wine and liquor, high dollar items to well-meaning family members and guests.
2. Keep the main event, turkey and some cheap side dishes for yourself if everyone is coming to your house. Mashed and sweet potatoes are cheap to buy and make. Cranberries are also inexpensive this time of year, keep that one as well. Be sure and try and honor relatives specialty dishes. My dad makes the most incredible stuffing so we always want his stuffing over anything I make so if your Aunt Clara makes a mean green bean casserole, let her have at it.
3. Don’t go overboard on the number of dishes. You really don’t need that many. Honest, you don’t. Couple of carbs to put everyone in a coma, a fresh salad (that nobody wants but somebody is always peevishly asking for), turkey or main protein you always serve, some deserts and a bread and you are golden.
4. Find that one relative who ‘never cooks’ and make sure they bring the extra ice, store bought baked goods, etc. Don’t let them off the hook. Everyone contributes.
5. These days somebody is also gluten-free, carb-free, pescatarian, the list goes on and on. You can accommodate but WITHIN REASON. My daughter has serious reactions to gluten, it is no joke so a few years ago, I went nearly all gluten-free. It was not difficult. There was maybe one bread that I always make from scratch that is very difficult to get right with gluten free flour so I made it the usual way. Everything else was gluten free. I found gluten-free pie crusts at Whole Foods (I know a splurge but my kid is worth it) and made our usual apple and pumpkin pies. I always make a beloved chocolate mousse which is naturally gluten-free. I found I only had to swap out some gluten-free flour to make the cheese sauce for our beloved broccoli cauliflower gratin and nobody noticed the difference. In fact, my partner made a big deal out of how nobody could tell the meal was nearly gluten-free.
6. if you want to go all out on the cheap, consider serving a selection of jewel-like small deserts so everyone who likes to bake can contribute. One year, we had a houseful. One niece bought homemade truffles, my daughter brought another set of small deserts, I made the usual pies in individual dishes, same for chocolate mousse. Everyone got to try a bunch of deserts, it was great fun.
7. Keep appetizers simple and light. Don’t let everyone fill up on snacks. Crunchy vegetable sticks, a low calorie dip or two, even stuffed mushrooms are light and tasty. Keep the chips, breads and other heavier pre-meal snacks off the menu. The cost of bags upon bags of chips and multiple dips can add up so cut up your own carrot sticks and make your own dip (see my recipes below). I know lobster, shrimp and crab are great ways to show off your host skills but again, if you want to serve something price and fancy like crab or shrimp, ask a guest to bring it.
8. Stalk the circulars for the best price on turkey. We have had good luck at both the big box stores and our local discount grocery outlet. We start checking prices around the middle of October and pounce once we see a price we are willing to live with. We relegate room in the freezer located in our garage and grab a nice sized bird when the price is right. If you don’t have the room, ask a friend or family member to host your frozen entrée until you need it.
9. If you have the time, bake your own breads for the big day. Much cheaper than buying. I usually do this the weekend before and freeze all the baked goods. This way, everyone gets the food memories they love and cherish and I am not stuck in the kitchen for three solid days.
10. Consider serving a soup as an appetizer. Soup is cheap, warming and can set the right tone for kicking off a festive meal. My French onion soup strikes the right note between festive and fancy and cheap to make. Recipe below.
Dips for Dollars
Base for dips:
1 cup mayo (go cheap on this ingredient)
1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
1 8 ounce package of softened cream cheese (goes on sale around this time of year)
Salt, pepper to taste
Five Classic Additions:
2 cups caramelized onions and a big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup finely minced carrots, celery, onions or other crunchy vegetables of your choice (just be sure they are really finely minced) and a generous splash of Worcheshire sauce
2/3s cup crumbled feta cheese, had full of dill finely diced, zest and juice of two lemons
1 jar of salsa, one toasted corn tortilla sliced into thin strips as garnish, olives or a few slices of avocado
1 and a 1/2 cups finely shredded cheese, 3 green onions finely chopped
Five Raid your Fridge Leftover Additions to Destined to Become Family Classics:
Couple of slices of bacon, some shredded cheddar cheese, chives to garnish
Half a jar of fig preserves, crumbled blue cheese
Two large spoonful’s of capers and a portion of last night’s left over salmon flaked in small bites with a squeeze of lemon
Leftover creamed spinach (at least a cup), spare packet of dried soup mix you have lying around, bits of leftover tomato or radishes from last night’s salad
Leftover pesto, zest of one lemon, half a fistful of toasted walnuts to garnish
Oh La La French Onion Soup
8 cups of raw onions, sliced thinly
2 sticks butter
1/3 cup olive oil
8 cups beef broth or 4 cups beef, four cups chickee (whatever you have)
4 garlic cloves minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
Fresh (if you can get it) thyme, at least a tablespoon or 1 teaspoon dried
2 tablespoons brandy
4 bay leaves
old baguette from your freezer stash, cut into 1-inch thick slices
1 and 1/2 cups grated cheese, Swiss Gruyere is best but parmesan will do.
Method, Slowly caramelize and cook down the onions in the butter and olive oil until a deep toasted brown, this can take upwards of an hour. Stir in everything else but the bread and grated cheese and cook on low for eight hours in a slow cooker. When ready to serve fish out the bay leaves and ladle into soup bowls. Take the bread and top with cheese and broil for a couple of minutes in the oven. Keep an eye on them so they do not burn. Garnish the soup with the cheesy bread. Delicious.