Healthy Cook: Smart shopping and preparation means a big feast without the big cost

Surprise, surprise! Holiday dinner can cost more than Santa can afford. That budget-stretching and belt-loosening feast can make a big dent in holiday cash. With planning and patience, however, you can serve a show-stopping dinner and have money left over.
Start with the turkey.
Supermarkets use them as loss leaders at this time of year. With sharp eyes on the newspaper ads you can often pick them up for less than 50 cents a pound. Buy the biggest bird that fits your freezer, fridge, oven, and budget. The heavier the bird, the higher the meat to bone ratio. If you have room, buy two. I have had good luck cooking birds that have been frozen for a year.
You can save time, trouble and oven space over the holidays by cooking a bargain bird now. Cut the cooled bird into breast meat and dark meat and bits for leftovers. Wrap it well and freeze the packages.
Now is the time to make stock from the carcass. It will be invaluable for gravy, soup, and moisture for reheating meat and moistening stuffing.
Now for the stuffing.
Don’t even think of buying boxed stuffing mix. Some of it has enough salt to pickle peppers. Watch for buy-one-get-one free deals on bread and put a couple of extra loaves in the freezer. The same goes for corn bread, corn muffin mix, and cornmeal.
Try whole wheat bread for a change. It has more flavor than white, and it’s a healthier option. While you have time, you and the children can cube the slices or tear them apart before freezing. Put the pieces back in the bags and scrunch it down to save freezer space.
On to the side dishes.
Cranberry sauce or jelly is a must-have with turkey. Nowhere is it written in stone that you must serve the best-know brand of canned. Publix house brand was 40 cents less than the big boy brand the other day. Better than buying canned, make your own when the fruit is on sale.
You need a bag of cranberries, an orange or two from a neighbor’s tree and some sugar. A little cinnamon helps too, and maybe a tablespoon or so of brandy, bourbon, or rum.
Simmer the berries in juice until they pop. Add the sugar and cook it until it starts to thicken a bit. You’re done. Now stay out of it until the holiday . . . or, if you have used it all on meatloaf sandwiches, make a second (or third) batch.
Sweet potato casserole is another must-have, but what it must-have most of is sugar. Did you ever look at the ingredients on the back of the can of sweet potatoes?
Like some labels on prepared barbecue say “barbecue sauce and cooked pork,” canned sweet potatoes could say, “sweetening and sweet potatoes.”
Watch for sales of the real thing and buy a bunch. They should keep a couple of weeks in a cool, dark place. If you are roasting a turkey to cut up and have ready, bake some sweet potatoes at the same time.
Peel the baked potatoes and mash. They thaw quicker if you make flat packages rather than lumps in plastic bags. Thaw and mix with eggs, a little sugar or maple syrup, spice and nuts, and cook just before dinner. Don’t forget the marshmallows.
story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor

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