Heidi Finley | (TNS) The Charlotte Observer
Food costs are hitting us hard this year — we’ve all been feeling it. With higher prices for holiday staples including turkeys, eggs, milk and more this year, how can we enjoy the holiday season without busting the budget?
We took that question straight to the pros and talked to some of Charlotte’s top food and beverage professionals. These chefs and a drink maven are sharing their thoughts on how to keep the focus where it should be this holiday season — on family and friends, food and drink — while keeping costs down.
Here’s their advice:
Stephanie Andrews, beverage director at Billy Sunday Charlotte, Spindle BarStephanie Andrews, beverage director at Billy Sunday Charlotte and Spindle Bar, said the best bet to serve a crowd on a budget is always punch. You can create a nonalcoholic version, then set up a few bottles nearby and “allow people to create their own adventure.”
Gins and vodkas tend to have a lower price point, she said, making it possible to serve 15-20 people for about $40. You can also make sliced citrus available, along with tonic, ginger ale or ginger beer for people to go another route.
More tips from Stephanie include:
— Put a fantastic boxed wine in a decanter. The majority of guests don’t understand wine, so the “presentation takes away the price point perception of the wine. At the end of the day, you saved a couple of hundred bucks not buying a case.”
— Leftover decanted wine can be used to make mulled wine.
— Create a cocktail with excess cranberry sauce — or the ingredients you used to make it.
— Instead of champagne, reach for Cava. The Spanish sparking wine has price points that tend to never go higher than $18-20, with the luxury feel of champagne.
Lisa Brooks, Heart & Soul Personal Chef ServiceLisa Brooks, the owner of Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service and the Mattie’s Front Porch pop-up, suggests going a little smaller on the Thanksgiving meal this year to help cut food costs.
“People want to feel that sense of abundance. But honestly, we’re kind of stuffed at the end of that — you don’t have to make food for an army. Then everyone’s trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers,” she said. “Scale it down and pick your favorites.“
Here are a few more tips from Lisa:
— Purchase a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. “When you slice it and spread it out, it’s the same thing,” she said.
— Same thing with the ham: Get a smaller portion and get it sliced, instead of purchasing a larger piece of meat.
— Make things from scratch because pre-fabricated, processed things are more expensive. You can make pudding, fried onions or cream of mushroom soup, so you don’t have to buy the cans or boxes of those things.
— Shop farmer’s markets for holiday produce, such as green beans.
— Shop ahead of time when you find things on sale and freeze food. This works great for things like collard greens or sweet potatoes, and it also cuts down on the work on Thanksgiving because you can just reheat dishes. “Saves you time, and saves you money,” she noted.
Anthony Denning, Another?! Food TruckAnthony Denning, the chef and co-owner of Another?! Food Truck who recently appeared on Food Network’s “Chopped,” recommends staying on a budget this year by swapping out the turkey.
“One of the things I’ve seen that a lot of people are doing are substituting chicken for turkeys — you can cook it the same way you can cook the turkey,” he said. Or if you’re not inviting as many people, try Cornish hens.
Anthony’s other tips:
— Get rid of the dishes that aren’t fan favorites. “I don’t like stuffing, at all. And I also don’t really like the cranberry sauce that much — those are the two things that can go for me. And any casserole — I don’t want anything to do with casserole.”
— Share the cooking with family members. “For me, Thanksgiving is, of course, all about family.” Whether Anthony is at his family’s house or his wife’s side of the family, he’s pitching in. “They normally make me make the mac and cheese — they’ll start texting me months in advance.”
Joe Huang, Bang Bang BurgersJoe Huang, the owner of Bang Bang Burgers, pointed out that some high-dollar ingredients that people tend to use at the holidays are also the most indulgent.
“When i think of expensive ingredients, a lot of times they’re always the worst for you: bacon, sausage, butter, cheese. So make it healthier — it will be less expensive.”
Another tip from Joe:
— Make your own stock and gravy. “Some people will go buy the gravy, but I’m just taking the (turkey) bones and adding water to it to make stock.”
Jonathan Shuler, Dilworth Tasting RoomJonathan Shuler, the executive chef at Dilworth Tasting room, said: “My biggest thing is just cooking fresh ingredients. Learning how to make things on your own is always going to be the winner. “
Other tips from Jonathan include:
— Be flexible. “When you kind of strip away the idea that things have to be one certain way,” it frees you up to make swaps. For example, he usually does candied pecans on pumpkin cheesecake, but suggests that you could do candied peanuts spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg instead to get the same feel.
— Consider butternut squash where you’d usually use pumpkin. “It gives you more yield for the product and is easier to handle,” he said.
— Save your scraps and use them. Keep all the trim pieces from the bird, along with ends of your onions, carrots and celery, and roast them for stock. You can also use older bread for stuffing.
— If you’re rethinking the bird, buying turkey legs only could work.