Thanksgiving is about families gathered at tables loaded with a huge turkey, pounds of dressing, buckets of gravy and all the side dishes.
At least that is the traditional view of Thanksgiving, which is a wonderful holiday.
What if, however, you are single, have a small family or just don’t have the budget to produce the cornucopia most people expect?
Some people skip the holiday altogether rather than failing to live up to the expectation of the big turkey and spread.
If your budget is tight this season, don’t give up. There are good alternatives, and they may not produce a table bulging with food, but you and the people important to you can sit down and have a special meal that is delicious and just as festive as you want to make it.
Start with the turkey
If you go with a free-range all-natural turkey, you would spend well over $100.
No way, you say? There are several options that can drastically reduce the price.
If part of your problem is that you just don’t have a big oven or your cooking skills are minimal, many grocery stores will sell turkey quarters — leg and thigh — during the holidays that are already roasted.
The dark meat on a turkey is the most flavorful and moist. I have no idea why people think the dry and over lean breast is so good.
Grocery stores also sell turkey quarters and separate legs, wings and thighs raw at the meat counter.
Roasting those small parts is a snap, requiring nothing more than seasoning with salt and pepper, then roasting at 325 degrees until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp.
You can also buy some pretty good side dishes in the local deli that will go nicely with your roasted turkey thighs, such as macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato salad and mashed potatoes and gravy.
If you buy from the deli, you buy only the quantity you want, so you can count out the exact amount you want to spend.
Remember to serve multiple small courses as well.
Start with a loaf of good crusty French bread (no more than $1.50 at most bakeries) and a stick of butter that has been mixed with any fresh herb you can get your hands on, such as dill, rosemary or basil. Serve a small pasta dish like the Italians do before the entrée.
A box of pasta, a little olive oil and garlic can make a delicious second course. The entrée, the main event, is next, and follow it up with some fresh fruit such as apples and perhaps a few slices of a good cheddar cheese. That’s all there is to it.
If sitting down to a table of mostly store-bought food just doesn’t get it, and you are willing to try something a little different, try these one-pot recipes that keep turkey as the central theme, but are homemade and inexpensive.
2-3 cups de-boned turkey meat
1-2 cans coconut cream or milk
1-2 teaspoons red or green curry paste
1 chopped onion
1-2 cups rice
Chicken stock 2 times the amount of rice
Add rice and stock to a sauce pan, bring to a low simmer, lid on. Steam for 20 minutes. Place the coconut cream or milk in a sauce pan and bring to a low boil. Cook until the milk separates (you will see it when it happens). Add the onion and curry paste and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the turkey and mix well. Remember to taste and re-season as necessary. Serve with steamed rice. Other vegetables such as carrot or bell pepper will go nicely with this dish as well.
1 cup rice (try Arborio rice, or sushi rice for a creamer result)
3 cups chicken stock
2-3 cups de-boned turkey
1 cup chopped smoked sausage or ham (optional)
1 chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper
2/3 cup chopped celery
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Sauté the sausage, if you are using it, until well-browned, then set aside. Add the onion, bell pepper and celery to the same pan, you may need to add a bit more oil, and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the rice and mix well so that each grain is coated with oil, add 2 cups of chicken stock, put the lid on and steam for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, add the sausage and turkey, add as much more stock as necessary (you do not want it too dry), mix well, and cook over a low flame for a few minutes, just to incorporate the flavors. Remember to season as you go, now taste and re-season as necessary.