photo: Sugar Daze (f/k/a LittleMissCupcakeParis)
The holidays can be cooking overload — even if you’re not hosting one of the major family get-togethers, there are still parties, holiday cookies and your own traditions to contend with. (Oh yes, and figuring out daily meals amid shopping, wrapping, caroling, sledding and other to-dos. Whew!)
With so much on your plate, literally and metaphorically, it’s helpful to have a few cheap, festive recipes in your repertoire to ease the stress on your time and budget.
The National Retail Federation says the average shopper will spend $86.32 on food this holiday season. That’s just 12.5% of the total average expenditure of $688.87, but still a hefty addition to your regular food bill. Sub in a cheaper meal here or there, and you could save enough to cover a few more presents and avoid the hangover of holiday debt after New Year’s.
So we present, once again, the “under-$10” challenge, where preparing a hearty family meal should set you back no more than $10 for ingredients. As with our earlier challenges (check them out here and here), we asked food and finance bloggers, as well as chefs and home cooks, to send in their best suggestions: this time, for a favorite holiday meal fit for family get-togethers, parties or other celebrations.
Now Frugal Foodie has a challenge for you: what’s your best super-cheap yet gourmet holiday standby? Post it in the comments, and don’t forget to “like” favorite submissions.
(All cost estimates are based on non-sale New York City supermarket prices. If it’s a cheap meal in NYC, we figure cooks in most other places in the country will spend even less. Prices are also adjusted for quantity: if a recipe calls for half an onion, you’ll probably find something to do with the other half. Finally, estimates don’t take into account basic ingredients you likely already have, like flour, olive oil or dried spices.)
Cost: $1, or $0.20 per dozen.
If you happen to have a pizelle maker or can borrow one, these cookies are among the most cost-effective out there: one batch yields more than five dozen. Chef Asdren Azemi of Ruffino’s Restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, makes a simple batter by beating six eggs, then adding a cup and a half of sugar, a cup of cooled melted butter and a tablespoon of anise extract. Sift in three and a half cups of flour and four teaspoons baking powder. Cook on a hot pizzelle griddle in batches until the cookies stop steaming, and let cool on a wire rack. (Frugal Foodie, who isn’t a fan of anise, has subbed in vanilla, orange and lemon extracts, too.)
2. Caramel Apple Spice Cider
Cost: $2.68, or $0.34 per half-cup serving.
Instead of a cold punch for parties, try this hot cider from Stephanie O’Dea, the author of “More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow: 200 Brand-New, Budget-Friendly, Slow-Cooker Recipes.” Pour four cups apple cider into a two-quart slow cooker along with three tablespoons caramel syrup (the kind you’d put on ice cream), a half tablespoon ground cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon ground cloves. Cover and cook on low for four hours or on high for two hours. Stir well and ladle into mugs with a squirt of whipped cream.
3. Dark Chocolate Bark
Cost: $3.45, or $0.86 per quarter-pound serving.
Home cook Laura Nathan-Garner pulls out this recipe every year to bring to parties and wrap up as quick gifts. “It’s super cheap and easy,” she promises. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Pour two cups dark chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave at medium for one minute. Stir. Continue microwaving at medium in 15-second intervals, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted and smooth when stirred. Measure out a half-cup each of dried cranberries and lightly salted, chopped almonds. Set aside about three tablespoons of each, and then stir remaining almonds and cranberries into melted chocolate. Pour mixture onto jelly roll pan; spread to about 1/2-inch thickness. Gently tap the pan on the countertop to even out thickness. Sprinkle the remaining cranberries and almond pieces over the mixture. Refrigerate about 45 minutes or until firm, then break into pieces.
4. Bacon Peanut Brittle
Cost: $5.15, or $1.29 per quarter-pound gift.
Pamela Braun of “My Man’s Belly” packages this homemade sweet-and-savory brittle as gifts. Be cautious about using it as a party food. “My friends asked me to stop bringing it to get-togethers because everyone spoiled their dinner by eating this all up before hand,” she admits.
5. Fruit ‘N Honey Sticky Buns Wreath
Cost: $6.23, or $0.62 per serving.
Every year, Frugal Foodie’s mom makes a version of this SunMaid sticky bun ring to enjoy on Christmas morning. It’s easy to prepare in advance and bake that day, and easily serves 10 – or provides a few mornings’ worth of leftovers.
6. Holiday Pears
Cost: $6.75, or $0.84 per serving.
Although the ingredients of this treat are inexpensive, “the presentation looks quite rich,” O’Dea says. Peel eight firm, ripe pears but leave them whole and stand upright in a six-quart slow cooker. Sprinkle on a half-cup dried unsweetened cranberries. In a small mixing bowl, combine one cup sugar, a quarter-teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon, and an eighth of a teaspoon ground cloves. Spoon the mixture on top of the pears. Pour the juice of lemon and two tablespoons apple cider vinegar evenly over the slow cooker contents. Cover and cook on low for four hours, or on high for about two hours.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.