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Holiday Survival Guide

The $66.95 Family Feast

We'd like to propose a toast: Let's get through this holiday season without going broke. Here's to the perfect dinner -- and good cheer -- on the cheap.

By Adam Ried
December 7, 2008
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The challenge was simple: With budget as a guiding principle, devise a merry menu for eight, with an appetizer, main dish, two side dishes, and dessert, for no more than $100. To pull it off, I needed a battle plan. First, I had to shop smart. I bought all the ingredients (except for the beer) at Somerville's Union Square Market Basket, a store with good quality and great prices. I tried to repeat the use of ingredients where I could, like the brown sugar in both the pork glaze and the tart. Plus, I assumed that most of us had some basic staples on hand, like flour and salt.

The main dish -- Glazed Braised Five-Spice Pork -- employs a Boston butt, a roast cut from the shoulder that requires long, slow cooking. The reward is rich, tender meat with a price that can't be beat -- $1.49 per pound. Chinese five-spice powder flavors the meat and perfumes the house during cooking, and it's a bargain to boot -- just $2.39 for several spices in a single jar. Sweet potatoes are inexpensive (our gingered mashed recipe costs about $6 to make), healthy, and flavorful, as is the slaw, which provides a fresh, crunchy counterpoint.

For dessert, the Caramelized Clementine and Chocolate Tart is the indulgence. It's so rich and intensely flavored that a single tart easily serves 12, perhaps even 14. So invite a few extra friends for dessert -- and buy some wine. With the entire meal costing less than $70, there's still room to splurge.

Instant Hors d'Oeuvres

Starting your guests off with a nibble while you put the finishing touches on dinner needn't be expensive or complicated. Simply top a block of room-temperature cream cheese with hot pepper jelly, and serve with crackers.

Cream cheese$1.70

Hot pepper jelly$3

Crackers$2.50

Total$7.20

(Prices for all grocery items are rounded up.)

Glazed Braised Five-Spice Pork

Serves 8

Cuts from the shoulder cook up rich and tender, but they're less cohesive than other pork roasts. So whenever you have to move the roast during or after cooking, do so gingerly, so it does not come apart.

2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

Salt and pepper

¾ cup high-quality lager beer

½ cup homemade or packaged low-sodium chicken broth

5 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 6-pound boneless Boston butt pork shoulder roast

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed

½ cup ketchup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons five-spice powder, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper, and set aside. In another small bowl or measuring cup, mix the beer, chicken broth, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar; stir gently to dissolve the sugar, and set aside. Set the pork on a cutting board, pat dry with paper towels, tie into a uniform shape with kitchen twine at 1½-inch intervals, and rub all over with the five-spice mixture.

Set the oven rack in the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large, ovenproof Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Place the pork roast in the pot and cook until well browned on all sides, about 12 minutes (if necessary, adjust heat to prevent scorching). Transfer the roast to a large plate. Return the pot to the burner, reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beer mixture, increase the heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape bottom of pot to release the fond, about 2 minutes. Return the pork roast and its juices to the pot, bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot tightly with foil, position the lid, place the pot in the oven, and cook, turning over the pork hourly, until it is very tender, about 4 hours.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, transfer the pork to the baking sheet, and increase the oven heat to 475 degrees. Cool the braising liquid (there should be 2 to 3½ cups) for about 10 minutes and remove as much fat as possible. In a small bowl, whisk the ketchup, remaining 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, soy sauce, and remaining 1½ teaspoons five-spice mixture to blend. Add ¼ cup of the ketchup mixture to the pot with the braising liquid, whisk to blend, and set the pot aside. With a sharp knife, cut the twine off the pork and discard it. Brush the remaining ketchup mixture evenly over the surface of the pork, place it in the oven, and roast until the glaze sets, about 12 minutes. While the pork roasts, place the pot with the braising liquid mixture on a burner, set the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and boil until the mixture reduces by about half and thickens slightly, about 12 minutes.

Remove the pork from the oven, cut into thick slices (or gently pull apart into small chunks), arrange on a serving platter, pour about half of the sauce over the meat, and serve. Pass the remaining sauce separately.

Chinese five-spice powder$2.40

1 lager beer$2

1 can chicken broth$1

Brown sugar$.90

6-pound pork roast$9

Canola oil$3.50

Garlic$1

Ketchup$1.80

Soy sauce$1.40

Total$23

Tip: Save $1.40 on soy sauce. Use three of the free packets you stashed from your last order of Chinese takeout.

Gingered Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8

1 3-inch by 1½-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

4½ pounds (about 4 large) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium chunks

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Finely mince or grate about half the ginger, to yield 1 tablespoon, and set aside; cut the remaining ginger into ¼-inch slices. Place the sweet potatoes and ginger slices in a large saucepan, cover with water by about 1 inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Reserve about ¾ cup cooking water, drain the sweet potatoes, and remove and discard the ginger slices.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the grated ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Place the cooked sweet potatoes in a large bowl, add the butter-ginger mixture, and mash, adding the reserved cooking water a little bit at a time to achieve your desired texture. Taste the puree and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, and serve at once.

Unsalted butter$2.70

Fresh ginger$.40

Sweet potatoes$3.10

Total$6.20

Christmas Slaw

Serves 8

This slaw is named for the green of the scallions and parsley and the red of the pomegranate. The savoy variety is definitely the cabbage of choice here.

6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

1½ tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

1½ tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper

1½ pounds green cabbage (about 1 medium head), preferably savoy, finely shredded (about 12 cups)

12 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)

3 cups loosely packed, torn fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

2½ cups seeds from 2 pomegranates

In a small bowl, whisk the rice vinegar, oil, sugar, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1½ teaspoons pepper until sugar and salt are dissolved, and set aside. In a large bowl, toss cabbage, scallions, parsley, and 2 cups pomegranate seeds. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture, and toss. Allow the slaw to rest for about 15 minutes to soften, adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if necessary, sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup pomegranate seeds, and serve.

Canola oil from pork recipe$0

Seasoned rice vinegar$2.80

Savoy cabbage$2.05

Scallions$1.20

Flat-leaf parsley$1.60

Pomegranates$4

Total$11.65

Tip: Save on sugar. You need only 1½ tablespoons, so if you don't have any in the pantry, use four of the packets stashed in your office desk to sweeten coffee.

Caramelized Clementine and Chocolate Tart

Makes one 10- to 11-inch tart

Buying clementines by the crate is a better deal than by the pound; snack on or decorate with the extras. The flavors in this rich tart are intense, so cut small slices. A dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream makes a simple garnish that nicely balances the tart's flavors.

Crust

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the dough

¾ cup confectioners' sugar

Salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Chocolate Filling and Caramelized Clementines

8 medium (about 2 ½-inch) clementines, washed

2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces (two 4-ounce bars) high quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Salt

Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for garnish

To make the dough and line the pan: In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk, heavy cream, and vanilla extract, and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse 1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, confectioners' sugar, and a large pinch of salt to combine. Add the butter pieces to the flour mixture and pulse until it takes on the texture of fine sand. With the motor running, add the yolk-cream mixture through the feed tube and process just until the dough comes together (about 30 seconds -- do not overprocess). Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap, pat it into a neat 5- or 6-inch disc, wrap, and refrigerate, at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Remove dough from refrigerator, rest for 5 minutes, dust lightly with flour, place between two sheets of plastic wrap, and roll into a 14- to 15-inch circle, dusting with extra flour to prevent sticking. Remove the top piece of plastic wrap and use the bottom piece to help gently drape the dough over the top of a 10- or 11-inch tart pan (with a removable bottom). Working your way around the pan, gently lift dough and ease it into the corners. Shave off dough that overhangs the edges and press it into thin spots in the sides of the tart shell. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 weeks.

To bake the tart shell : Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the frozen, dough-lined pan on a baking sheet, line the dough with aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights, making sure there are enough to reach part way up the sides of the pan. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Carefully remove the foil and weights, and continue baking until the tart shell is deep golden brown, about 12 minutes longer. Place the tart pan on a wire rack and cool completely.

To caramelize the clementines, make the chocolate filling, and assemble the tart : Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut two clementines in half, juice them (you should have about ½ cup juice), add 1/3 cup brown sugar to the juice, stir to dissolve the sugar and blend. Cut the remaining 6 clementines crosswise into very thin (about 1/8-inch) slices; discard the end slices. In a large, nonreactive baking dish (such as a 13 x 9-inch ovenproof glass one), tile the slices so they overlap slightly, pour the juice mixture over them, cover the dish with foil, and bake until the peel is very tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove the foil from the dish, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup brown sugar over the slices, increase the heat to 375 degrees, and continue baking, basting the clementines with the juices several times, until the liquid is reduced and syrupy and the slices have caramelized lightly, 35 to 45 minutes longer. Remove dish from oven, baste clementines one last time, and cool to room temperature.

In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream to a gentle simmer, about 10 minutes (do not boil). Add the chocolate, butter, and a tiny pinch of salt and, off heat, allow mixture to stand until the chocolate is mostly melted, about 90 seconds. Using a heatproof spatula, stir the mixture until it is smooth and uniform. Pour chocolate mixture into room temperature tart shell, spread evenly, and rest until it firms up, about 2 hours.

Starting about O-inch in from the edge arrange the clementine slices, overlapping them slightly, in a circular pattern over the chocolateCut the tart into slices, garnish each slice with a small dollop of whipped cream, and serve. Tip: You'll have almost a cup of heavy cream left from the pint, the perfect amount to whip for garnish. Sweeten it with a teaspoon or two of the confectioners' sugar.

Checklist:

Brown sugar from pork recipe, 1 dozen cage free, organic eggs ($3.90), 1 pint heavy cream ($1.70), confectioners' sugar (90 cents), unsalted butter from sweet potato recipe, 1 crate clementines ($9), and 2 4-ounce semisweet chocolate bars ($4.60). Total: $20.10

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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