It’s that time of year again, time to polish the silver, dust off the big platters, and take out the tureens! My usual 12 to 16 is coming over to partake in our Thanksgiving Feast. However, we have had Thanksgiving Holidays where it was just my immediate family of three (and I didn’t make quite as much food.) I had to get creative, because my family still expected “Thanksgiving” with all the trimmings (do you know how hard it is to buy a turkey to serve just 3??) I’ve also had budget-friendly Thanksgiving Holidays in my late teens and early 20′s with just a group of friends (the My-Family-Lives-States-Away CLUB.) Back then, dollars had to stretch really far - I learned a few tricks along the way. So, with today’s economy being what it is, and with so many of us tightening wallets & “downsizing,” I wanted to tell you about some thrifty ideas for Thanksgiving that worked for me, my family, and friends.
1) When money is tight, I suggest a Pot-Luck Thanksgiving Holiday meal. This way, everyone invited is involved in showcasing their culinary skills (and those that do not cook – or cook well – can buy some things for the party.) Back in the day, I used to make my Citrus-Thyme Turkey and friends would bring the rest. Tips to consider: ask your friends, what are they bringing so that there are no double-ups. For every starch, make sure there’s a veg. Ask that the food be brought over in disposable containers for easy throw-away clean up (can you believe the photo above -besides the turkey platter- features plastic-ware?) whoever doesn’t cook, and there’s always at least one, can bring desserts – they’re some really good ones out there, especially around Thanksgiving. They all would spent $10-$15 each (I spent around $25) and had a really great meal, oftentimes with enough for take-home left-overs!
2) Cornish Game Hens – my “Thanksgiving Specialty” when there’s just two mouths to feed (works well for romantic dates too.) Cornish Game Hens are not game birds at all, they’re actually your typical chicken, “taken” before maturity so they are smaller in size than what we’re used too. Two hens typically cost about $6-$8 and they serve two with hearty portions. Treat them like you would a real turkey, minus the cooking time - they look so inviting! This also works well for four people if the two hens are large enough. After baking, split the hens into four halves, then stuff each half with your favorite dressing afterwards. Tips to consider: Be sure to baste often with chicken stock – hens dry out quickly. Set your table with the hens on a pedestal cake-plate, lined with greens as your centerpiece. Have garlic-herb mashed potatoes and/or whipped yams (or candied yams), extra bread-dressing and/or cornbread, green vegetables (french beans, asparagus, broccoli, etc.,) in pretty bowls and eat buffet-style – even if it’s just the two of you. Add candles, your best plates, and soft romantic music. Cornish Hens – It’s a winner every time and not just for Thanksgiving.
3) If you just have to have Turkey on Thanksgiving, why not buy just the breast? Some people find dark meat on a turkey to be too gamey. So, now they sell whole turkey breast (sometimes with the wings, sometimes not) and they come bone-in or boneless – your choice. I would suggest bone-in (bones add flavor to poultry, beef, and pork), this way there’s a cavity for your stuffing. I’m not a big-fan of cooking bread-stuffing inside a turkey, but sometimes I’ll stuff it after the bird has cooked (I have become sick too many times from others placing cooked bread-stuffing into RAW turkeys and leaving it in the fridge for hours - the bread soaks up “germinated bacteria” that way.) I stuff my Turkeys right before they go into the oven with quartered red-onion, quartered yellow onion, lime and orange halves, fresh parsley, and whole cloves of bruised garlic to keep the bird moist and to give it intense flavor. After the turkey’s done, I throw out the stuffing – it has served it’s purpose. Buying just the turkey breast will cut down on costs since turkey is sold by the pound. In fact, I find that it is less expensive to buy turkey breast and a package of turkey legs (usually four) for your dark-meat turkey lovers. That being said, boneless turkey breast, pounded out thin, stuffed, and rolled (Turkey Roulade) is probably the most beautiful presentation (see pic above) you can have on Thanksgiving. It’s elegant and pretty healthy (depending on your stuffing and portion size) and as long as you stick to healthier-version “sides,” Thanksgiving no longer needs to be a gorge-fest. When I create this boneless version (like I will this year), I usually have grilled asparagus, baked yams with a dash of coarse salt and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil – the stuffing is usually made of sour-dough bread, dried cranberries, pistachios, mushrooms, and fresh herbs moisten with chicken stock. Tips to consider: know what your guests like - if some of your guests love dark meat, buy a package of turkey legs (inexpensive) and prepare it for them. Know what your guests will try and what they won’t – one year, I have made a beautiful, delicious cranberry-grape compote. The color was unbelievable and the flavor so well-balanced…sweet, tangy, fruity. My partner’s family came over and were like, “Dominicans don’t eat that!!” I was rolling, actually what I said was, “Dominicans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, but here you are!” Needless to say, they didn’t even try it and I made a whole bunch of it too. Like I said, know your crowd.
If you have any questions or need recipes – drop me a comment below.