Enhancing the boxed Thanksgiving

For so many of us, there is a difficulty in finding things to be thankful for this holiday season. Too many things on our mind, too many stresses to even think about Thanksgiving dinner. The thought of Thanksgiving just adds even more stress to our lives, how can we celebrate bounty with bounty, if there is little to nothing left? Here at All Foods Natural, we emphasize making food from scratch, but we also know that it isn't always feasible. Healthy alternatives can be rather expensive, as can making the majority of your food from scratch. I could sit here and tell you how to do such things, and tell you that it's cheap and easy, but it still won't be as cheap as the box substitutes. Some of those pre-made foods are good, but I think we might be able to make them delicious.

To help keep costs down this year, a Potluck style Thanksgiving might be called for. There might be some hesitancy on your part about broaching this subject with your guests. More than likely, your guests will be understanding, and not cast a critical eye your way. A potluck brings family and friends together over some things we as people love to have, food and companionship. Most the time, if you realize it or not, you have a good idea where your family and friends stand when it comes to their finances. You might not have the details, only a thought, yet this thought will help you decided on who should bring what. Be enthusiastic when you send out the invitations, as well as good humored and unapologetic. This will make you and your guests feel good as well as welcome.

Let's start with the turkey, the basic staple that is the center piece of the diner. Luckily this huge piece of meat goes on sale this time of year, and many can find it for under $0.19 a lbs. Granted it won't be the grass-fed or milk fed monster of a bird, but we can turn that generic version of it, and make it taste like it was. The best way to get your turkey that mouth-watering moist flavor, is to brine it in apple juice or cider for 24 hours. Juice will be less expensive than the cider. The flavor is different, but the results are the same, moist and delicious flavor. Spices and herbs already in your cabinets as do wonders to enhance that experience. The basic salt and pepper rub, or stuff dried herbs under the skin, like rosemary or basil, try spices like whole cloves and a little nutmeg. Get a little crazy and rub dry mustard, garlic and onion powder, red or white pepper, and sprinkle a little soy sauce over the top. Which ever you choose, be sure to add the ingredients into the cavities of the bird as well. With any of the herbs or spices you choose, I suggest stuffing chunks of apple, sage, onion and garlic into the bird to enhance flavors. Dried versions of these items will work as well.

Bread stuffing seems to be the second most important item on the table. Homemade stuffing is relatively inexpensive and very tasty. However many of us have the mind set that the boxed stuff is cheaper, I am guilty of that as well. The reason is that it takes less time and initial expense, so here we will talk about the box. Improving the dramatic flare of the pre-made stuffing will cost you little in both money and time. You can spruce it up with chopped pecans, apples, cranberries, just about any type of sausage; including that maple breakfast sausage. Just about any green vegetable, excluding lettuce, goes magnificently with the box. Try carrots, port, pearl onions, capers, oh the list goes on. Just use your imagination and what is available in your pantry or crisper drawer.

Canned cranberry jelly or sauce can't be improved on. Sorry, but I have tried. I am not the biggest fan of such a thing, I prefer a cranberry relish. My family loves the canned jelly. Let's skip that and move on to the biscuits. Frozen biscuits can be turned into a baker's dream by simply rolling it in herbs, parsley and garlic, rosemary and sage, thyme and basil, maybe a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese, the choice is yours and what would pair well with your turkey. Homemade flaky or buttermilk biscuits take a little more time, but is something a highly recommended. Baking soda biscuits are a good traditional and inexpensive food.

Then of course you have all those vegetables. Simply adding more vegetables to your table will increase your bounty and fill up more bellies. Traditionally it is green beans, some use corn, salads, broccoli. Take a look in your pantry, add to your regular Thanksgiving dinner list. Add chopped bacon (or bacon bits to your green beans along side the green bean casserole. Chop up red and green sweet peppers to add to your corn. Cook and mash your broccoli with your mashed potatoes, add a little of the sharp cheddar cheese. Steam your asparagus tips in wine that you might have left over. Maybe stir fry your Brussels sprouts if you have the time.

Root vegetables are another traditional favorite, be it the sweet or regular potato. This underground critters are the simplest to improve upon. Beginning with the regular white starchy variety, you can mash or bake, fry or roast. If you can, a selection of different types for your guest is impressive. Traditional we go with a mashed and a roasted potato. We like Yukon gold's for our mashed, and a nice red for our roasted, but as money will be tight this year, we will be going only with the Yukon's. Russets are very starchy and are best used as a baking potato, they are also cheaper than other types. A Twice baked potato casserole would be a wonderful use of those russets if you're wanting a mashed type. The Yukon's, albeit a bit more expensive, make the perfect mashed potato. Boil them with their skin on, they are thin and full of flavor and nutrition. To your boiling water add salt, dried parsley, basil, sage and garlic powder. The proportions should be about 2 tablespoons of each. You will lose about half these dried ingredients when you strain the potatoes. If able, try mixing in heavy whipping cream to your mashed potatoes rather than regular milk, even evaporated milk will create a silky texture that is hard to beat.

The sweet version of the potato is also a super versatile item. Many people will buy the Yams in heavy syrup. Baking them with brown sugar and marshmallows. If you haven't yet, read up on the sweet potato and all the different casseroles that can be made. They also make a show stopping pie.

Speaking of pies, the instant pudding pie will be your best bet when it comes to surviving a recession driven Thanksgiving. But if you are going the route of the potluck, you might be able to go buck wild with your pies. Pumpkin pies made with either the canned stuff or fresh, banana cream pies (warning, they aren't as yellow as the pudding version) Mississippi Mud pie, pecan pies ( takes patience on your part) blueberry, apple, and cherry pies. Making your own crust will take up a bit of your time, but there are some very inexpensive pre made pie crusts on the shelves that equal and sometimes supersede the quality of the more expensive brands.

However you decide to do things, the most important part of Thanksgiving is to remember the things you do have to be thankful for. In a time where many people are without work, without homes, without family, it takes a little more effort on your part to find that thankfulness, but if you look it is all around you. We all have something, even if it seems insignificant to some, to be grateful for. And that is the best recipe I have to make your Thanksgiving memorable and joyous.