We find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, meaning it is time to host a plethora of dietary restrictions, picky guests and high expectations. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus, National Cookie Day, New Year’s, or just having the family over. It is hard to compare yourself with social media being so integral to our day to day lives, on how bountiful and regal some else’s meal or decorations may look compared to your own. This is on top of the stress involved in making sure everyone’s needs are met, and the looming fear of how much food to feed a small army will cost.
What many tend to overlook is that while the food is essential, the real purpose of this bustling time of year, is the gathering of our loved ones. The meal itself does not have to break the bank or be the featured spread in this month’s Bon Appetit. We can simplify our needs, save some spending cash, make a delicious feast, and maybe even save some calories while still impressing all those who join your table this year.
You can join us for Frugal Feasts classes at South Trail Branch for new recipes, cooking demonstrations and tastings every month – but in the mean time, here are some simple and quick tips to host your own frugal feast this year.
Change your typical game plan and change those time-consuming dishes into something a little healthier and a little quicker. Instead of making a multi-stepped green bean casserole, instead, just chop up some winter veggies and roast them on a sheet pan. This alternative is equal parts delicious to quick. When it comes to dessert, rarely does a meal need 6 differently flavored pies, plus a cake and ice cream. In my experience, the pie comes last, and I’m always too full for more than half of a slice. Make less in terms of quantity and options. It will lessen the workload if you find a pie flavor that not only suits your budget but your needs.
Less is More
When making our seasonal feasts, it is always nice to have an abundant variety, something for everyone. Our family tradition dictates that we must have a turkey, a ham and some Maryland style blue crabs. I know how nice it is to have a sampling of everything but challenge yourself to decide if it is entirely necessary to provide a bountiful button-busting meal. If you manage to move from three meat or protein-based entrees to one, you’ll find yourself at ease and your wallet happy. Apply the same methods to your side dishes and appetizers. Why create a beautiful vegetable tray that will inevitably be ignored for the chips and dip anyway?
Who gets to decide that turkey is what we must eat during the holiday season anyway? For a large portion of home cooks or beginning chefs, the daunting task of cooking a whole turkey, just piles on the added stress of the rest of the meal, the travel, and the hosting of all your distant relatives at once. In Germany and many parts of Eastern Europe, it is traditional to have a whole carp for Christmas dinner, and in Japan, many households will order KFC. This past Christmas instead of making a turkey, I roasted whole beef tenderloin and everyone was elated from the change of pace of their other parties, previous holidays and work events. If you intend to host anything meal during this season, make what you’re comfortable with, what you have time for and what you can afford.
Have a Potluck
One of the easiest ways to lighten your financial load during the holiday season is to delegate. Typically, the host will prepare the large items and entrée dishes, whether that be turkey, ham, carp or others, and the rest of the guests will contribute a dish or two. Arrange a sign-up sheet or task various people with providing the sides, drinks and desserts. Maybe that way you can have six different types of pie for the day, and you don’t have to make them.
As simple as it sounds, make sure you take a step back and breathe. This time of year is stressful for a ton of reasons. If things do not go perfectly, then that is just how it is going to be! Being a “professional chef” puts me in a position of astronomically high expectations from my family, friends and co-workers. When the holiday’s pass and we’re all abandoning our New Year’s Resolutions, no one will remember that the carrots weren’t correctly done, or the pie had a cat hair in it. Whatever you celebrate and whoever you spend your time with, just remember that the vital part is the time spent with loved ones.