The economics of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for extended family can pinch, hard. One easy solution is to go into save-splurge mode: Save on the "workhorse" ingredients that you need in quantity and splurge on the "impact" ingredients that infuse a little luxury into your meal.
Thanksgiving gives you an excuse to spare no expense, because it happens once a year and it’s a time to celebrate with family and friends. But the economics of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for extended family can pinch too hard. That’s when you have to go into save-splurge mode: Save on the “workhorse” ingredients that you need in quantity and splurge on the “impact” ingredients that infuse a little luxury into your meal.
Turkey: I’ve splurged on heirloom turkeys twice in the last decade. As much as I like the idea of having an heirloom turkey, I simply can’t afford to spend upward of $10 per pound. I save money by buying an all-natural turkey, which costs about $2 per pound. I coax the flavor out by brining or salting, and not overcooking the bird.
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Potatoes: I love heirloom potatoes and often will splurge on fingerlings or German butterball potatoes from the farmers market. But if it’s a choice between good butter or good potatoes, I’d save on the potatoes by buying a big bag of russets (recently spied for just $1 at Safeway) or yellow variety and splurge on the butter. That said, if you get heirloom potatoes that yield a creamy texture, you may not need as much butter.
Aromatics: You will end up using lots of celery, onions, carrots, parsley and such in stock and sides. If you need to shave a few bucks from your grocery bill, this is where you can find savings by buying in bulk or choosing conventional versus organic.
Butter: Back before kids and a mortgage, I could spend $8 to $10 on a small brick of imported French or Italian butter and not bat an eyelash. Now, not so much. But to make mashed potatoes sing out loud, I like to splurge on quality butter with a deep, rich flavor, such as Beurre d’Isigny (French), Delitia (Italian) or Straus Organic European Style Sweet Butter. You can find these at specialty stores such as DeLaurenti, Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market. They range in cost from $6.99 to about $10.
Stuffing ingredients: I love making — and eating — sausage stuffing with rosemary bread and morel mushrooms. I get raves every year. The key is using Italian sausage from Skagit River Ranch, Essential Baking’s Rosemary bread ($5), and dried morels from Foraged and Found Edibles. (Look for Skagit River Ranch and Foraged and Found at farmers markets.) As far as I’m concerned, turkey is a canvas for sides, and stuffing is the best part.
Wine and spirits: You don’t have to spend a lot to get some great food-friendly wines, but if there’s a time to splurge on wine, it’s during the holidays. I like to start with something bubbly like a Prosecco or cava. For dinner wines, I suggest talking to someone at your favorite wine shop to find a red and a white that are versatile enough for the predominant flavors in the dishes you serve. Or, turn this splurge into a save by replying “Wine!” when guests inevitably ask what they can bring. I also like to slip a hint of cognac into my gravy, which is a winner every time.
Hsiao-Ching Chou is the former food editor at the Seattle P-I and a freelance food writer.