Thanksgiving is around the corner, which means it's officially Time to Celebrate. All month long we're bringing you recipes, tips, tricks and stories that are equal parts memorable and delicious.
Thanksgiving is all about abundance, which is why we wanted to prove you can still feast like kings without spending an arm and a leg. The challenge: Make a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey and all the fixins for a party of four, and do it all for $50—and not a cent more.
With a pass on wine (Editor's note: We thought this was reasonable, considering most guests prefer not to show up empty-handed) and a few pantry staples like salt, pepper and basic spices, everything else would be tallied up and counted at the end of the day. One bonus rule, you know, just for fun: no packaged goods. After all, we wanted to this budget-friendly Thanksgiving to be as close to the real deal as possible. Here’s how our Senior Editor, Devra Ferst, did it.
I picked a date, a roster of friends and got to work planning my menu. A whole turkey was not the way to go here, not only because of the budget, but also because an entire bird just doesn’t make sense for a group of four. So I settled on a turkey breast ($16.38) roulade instead. Pro tip: The stuffing and stock that go into a roulade are good tools for averting any dry meat crises.
Next up, I knew I’d have to tackle one food I’ve always kept at a distance: stuffing. Although I love the stuff (heh), I’ve never made it for various reasons. Call it self-protection, if you will. Some conflicting advice about eggs or no eggs and some serious internet research later, I decided to ignore every recipe and follow my gut (and my taste buds), coming up with a mixture of dried cranberries (72 cents) for a touch of sweetness, two varieties of bread ($4.70), carrots (69 cents), onions ($1.49), garlic (28 cents) lots of herbs ($2.18) and just a bit of pancetta ($4.34) for the added salt value.
Brown butter adds a nutty note to sweet potato gratin.
Sweet potatoes are a must, but I’ve always hated the ones topped with marshmallows, so I set out to make a sweet potato ($2.24) gratin, sans cheese, which would’ve pushed me over budget. I opted for a thyme brown butter instead for nutty flavor and decadence.
I also threw in a couple of staples, too—dishes I know inside and out that would keep me sane when I invariably had the, Crap, this isn’t going to work and everyone is going to have a terrible time moment that plagues every Thanksgiving host.
So, I went with a riff on collard greens ($3)—bathed in lager (2.19) and turkey stock and finished with apples ($3) to hedge the bitterness. A bonus: I knew the pot liquor could double as gravy, taking one thing off of my to-do list. Cranberry sauce was another easy one I had in the bag. There’s a basic equation: Dump cranberries ($1.99) into a heavy bottomed pot, add sugar, orange juice ($1) and water, and simmer. If it tastes good, you’re done.
For the sake of time, pie wasn’t going to work, so I went with baked apples stuffed with leftover dried cranberries from the stuffing and walnuts ($1.27), topped with cream ($2.49). A whole bag of small apples goes for around $3 at my farmers’ market, giving me an excuse to make a dessert that I knew wouldn’t push anyone over the “I’m so full” ledge, while also supporting a local farm at the same time.
Although I had spent almost all of my budget at this point, to me you can’t have Thanksgiving without cheese.
So I paid a visit to my cheesemonger with just over $2 left. Together we settled on a quarter pound of Bulgarian feta (98 cents). I stretched it with a touch of olive oil and some pantry spices (I went with za’atar but dried oregano or basil would work just as well) and served it on toast points made from a few slices of leftover bread from the stuffing.
Sure, the table ended up without a tablecloth on it, but that didn’t matter. I was happy to be with friends, eating and drinking well into the night.
Total bill: $48.94. I haven’t quite decided what to spend that leftover $1.06 on, but I think I’m going to splurge on pack of M&Ms.
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