Give thanks for tasty savings

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Sure, we all know that Thanksgiving is about spending time with loved ones and being grateful for what we have. But, let’s face it, the holiday just wouldn’t be the same without a succulent bird and all the fixings that leave guests craving seconds and slumped in a sedentary, turkey-induced haze on the couch for hours afterwards.

With everyone watching their purse strings this Turkey Day, we asked culinary industry insiders, including Carol Brock, legendary food journalist and founder of Les Dames d’Escoffier, the preeminent organization for women culinary professionals; Christophe Morvan, chef at acclaimed Long Island City French eatery Tournesol; and Jennifer Clair, owner of Home Cooking New York and private culinary instructor, to share their tips on how to make a memorable Thanksgiving meal on a budget.

The biggest expense when preparing Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey itself, said Clair. For the stuffing, she advises making your own chicken broth with chicken giblets and carrots and using stale bread, she said.

“Keep it in your freezer, and when the bread [reaches] a critical mass, use it for stuffing,” said Clair. “A lot of times when I’m entertaining, I will make a Thanksgiving dinner, regardless of the time of year, because it feeds a lot of people inexpensiv­ely.”

Since people like a good, simple, old-fashioned Thanksgiving meal, Clair suggests limiting the number of exotic ingredients that you throw into the mix.

“For sweet potatoes, add orange zest and maple syrup or honey,” she said. “For mashed potatoes, you can add roasted garlic. For my stuffing, I add walnuts. For the squash soup, I might add a little chipotle or adobo pepper. There’s a lot of great [ingredients] out there that make things more delicious, but still makes them feel that they belong on a Thanksgiving table.”

For Christophe Morvan, a Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t be complete without celery soup topped with mushrooms; turkey stuffed with a mixture of apples, bread, dried fruit, chicken liver, brandy, milk, herbs, cranberries and pecans; and side dishes including squash gratin or Brussels sprouts. To cut costs, Morvan suggests substituting crimini mushrooms for more expensive varieties such as porcini or chanterelle in the celery soup, or using olive oil infused with roasted seeds as a salad dressing in lieu of pricier oils such as walnut and truffle oil.

Planning your menu and shopping list in advance is a crucial way to cut down on any costs associated with last-minute runs to the closest gourmet market.

“Shopping is tremendously important,” said Carol Brock. “At Thanksgiving, a lot of shops do their best to accommodate bargains.”

Brock is partial to supermarkets such as Pathmark, Key Food and Associated Supermarkets, where some of the best deals can be found on meat, produce and canned goods, she said.

As the longtime hostess editor at Good Housekeeping magazine, Brock knows a thing or two about throwing a party. If you’re trying to reduce costs on the actual meal itself, Brock suggests increasing the little things that you do, such as sending e-mail invitations to guests or having a younger guest carve the bird, to make the occasion feel special.

Offer “three cheers for the cook when the last cup of coffee is down,” she said. “Decorate the entryway with autumn leaves in a basket.”

Any Thanksgiving fete wouldn’t be complete without dessert, arguably one of the most popular parts of the meal.

Clair suggests the time-honored staple of pumpkin pie, but made with roasted pumpkin instead of the canned variety, which gives the pie more flavor and a custard-like texture. Another favorite of Clair’s is a crisp made with pears and apples served with cinnamon whipped cream.

Pears top the list of Brock’s dessert list as well.

“Canned pears in port wine are luscious and festive,” she said. “Whole fresh pears poached in water with a bit of sugar and spice are delicious.”

For a more French take on the quintessential American holiday, Morvan suggests crème brulee, bread pudding or a chocolate fondue served with Madeleine cookies and fruit to complete the meal.

Updated 6:29 pm, October 10, 2011
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