Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Making a good meal for cheap

For many of us, cooking a large meal can be a daunting experience. I’ve also heard many people claim that they’re “bad at cooking,” and if you’re one of these people, or are merely inexperienced, cooking a Thanksgiving dinner can seem impossible.

Fortunately, I have good new. Cooking is merely following instructions. For those of you who are worried about cost, there’s lots of ways to cook a five-star Thanksgiving dinner without breaking the bank or losing your mind.

The turkey is the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners, and is usually the most daunting task. However, in my experience cooking for a nine-person family, I found that it’s actually the dish you should worry the least about. Around this time of year, turkey usually goes on sale for about 60 cents per pound, and you can grab a pre-seasoned butterball for less than $10. If you’re worried about not having a pan to hold the bird, just buy one of the disposable foil ones from the grocery store in the same trip.

The next step is crucial: read the instructions. This may seem like common sense, but I’ve met scores of people who never considered that the steps to cook their turkey are written on the package. If you want to get fancy, rub the turkey down with some orange juice, salt and pepper to give it a citrus kick. Put it in the oven, and forget about it for a few hours. Don’t forget to remove the package of guts and organs from inside unless you want your dinner to resemble the chestburster scene from “Alien.”

The sides, while complicated, can also be handled easily. If you don’t want to mess with the minutiae of buying fresh vegetables, it’s a simple task of buying some pre-cooked canned vegetables and spicing them up.

For green beans, fry some bacon and toss some chopped garlic and onions into the pan with it. Saute them all until the bacon is crispy, then throw in the canned green beans to warm them off and blanch some firmness back into them. Add salt or some vinaigrette if you’re feeling fancy.
Canned corn is usually fine on its own, but I’ve found that adding some cayenne or chili powder can give it a southern twist.

Don’t bother messing with the mashed potatoes and gravy or cranberry sauce. The dehydrated mashed potatoes are usually edible, and no one can tell the difference between packet gravy and homemade gravy. Consider adding some of the pan drippings from the turkey if you want to spruce it up a little, but in a pinch don’t bother. I sometimes mix a little bit of red or rose wine with the cranberry sauce, but other than that I go with canned.

For the stuffing, just mix some stale bread with chicken broth and simmer until it’s thick. Add some whiskey to give it some smokiness and improve your guest’s mood.

If traditional Thanksgiving dishes don’t appeal to you, don’t be afraid to add spaghetti, mac and cheese or some other side as an ensemble to your meal. Thanksgiving is all about the blending of cultures (if you ignore the eventual genocide of the Native Americans) and adding something different can eventually become one of your own traditions.

How to get “white girl wasted” on a budget and keep the party going.

In some families, no Thanksgiving is complete without wanton alcoholism. However, good wine isn’t cheap, and if you followed some of the tips above you may want to pry some goodwill from your guests with some alcohol.

Never fear! There is a solution. You see, numerous studies have pointed out that wine-tasting is bullshit, and you can use that to your advantage. Even professional sommeliers from France can’t tell the difference between a $300 vintage and a bottle of cheap vin de table (basically French Charles Shaw).

All you have to do is grab some Franzia, Charles Shaw or any other two-buck chuck and chill it beforehand, making sure that your guest don’t see the bottle. Cabernets tend to contain the highest alcohol content of any wine, with Franzia being the most ethanol per dollar you can legally buy. For added enjoyment, watch your tipsy guests pretend to sample the bouquet and examine the legs of the wine, blissfully unaware that they’re not drinking an expensive vintage.

My go-to holiday cocktail is called the Girl Scout cookie. Simply mix hot chocolate with some peppermint schnapps to recreate the magic of a peppermint mocha. Add some Kahlua if you want to give it some smokiness.

Now, before your guests use their inebriation to make boastful claims about previous generations, throw around some casual racism or try to convince you of the validity of Ben Carson’s presidential campaign, why not try steering the discussion toward something more fun. I’ve had good luck trying to keep a straight face while reading from “My Immortal” or “The Eye of Argon,” and you’ll soon have all of your guests rolling on the floor.

Dealing with spiteful family members and in-laws

As you race excitedly downstairs, propelled by the alluring smell of pumpkin pie, your thoughts become second nature and your body moves on its own. Once you get downstairs you see all the delicious food spread out on a beautiful centerpiece that incites your holiday spirit instantly. Your stomach growls and you feel as though you could eat mountains of stuffing and turkey until a comment made by your parents sends chills down your spine.

“Make sure you clean up well. You know family and inlaws are going to be pouring in. Yes, that includes Uncle Jimmy.”

You know from experience that Uncle Jimmy’s drunken antics have been the single catalyst for wall Thanksgiving disasters in past years, so from that moment on you tread lightly. Dealing with crazy family members isn’t easy, especially when there is alcohol involved, but it is possible.

One way of dealing with estranged or spiteful family members is to simply ignore them. If your house often hosts a lot of people every year on holidays then it might be entirely possible for you to evade their presence because of the sheer amount of other people. This is the easiest option, but it ultimately depends on the number of people.

If you happen to run into a drunken aunt or uncle while hiding behind the plates it may seem like all hope is lost. They’ll begin to rant about the state of the world or how tired they are of their job. In this case, it may be time to rival them at their own game. If as sober you can’t relate and communicate effectively, then maybe a tipsy or buzzed state will align with your inebriated relatives. It’s like fighting fire with fire.

A last ditch effort to avoid family members is to bring a significant other or a close family member everywhere you go. Interact with that relative, make sure you guys are attached at the hip and are seen enjoying each other’s company. If people see that you are talking to someone they most likely won’t bother you or interrupt to hold a long and painful conversation.

Girl Scout Cookie Holiday Cocktail Recipe

Peppermint Schnapps
Hot Water
Hot Cocoa Mix
Milk (optional)
Whipped Cream (optional)
Kahlua (Optional)

Mix Hot Water and cocoa mix, filling a coffee cup about two-thirds full. Add one to two shots of peppermint schnapps, adding milk to taste.

Top with whip cream if desired, and add Kahlua to taste. Serve while warm.