Our yearly day of thanks doesn’t have to bust the budget. You’ll be amazed at the spices, fresh ingredients and dry goods that line the aisles of your neighborhood 99 Cents Only Stores.
Here are nine simple, budget-friendly Thanksgiving ideas for food and décor that can easily become your shopping list. All items in bold are available at most 99 Cents Only Stores. Just add friends, family and a turkey.
1. Marvelously mashed
Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving must — whether you’re whipping them up from a box of potato flakes or putting in the elbow grease for homemade.
To make homemade mashies: Peel and half (or quarter) 5 pounds of russet or Yukon Gold potatoes. In a large pot, boil potatoes for 30 minutes, then drain. Return potatoes to pot, mash with a large fork or masher, then stir in 1 1/2 to 2 sticks of butter and a cup or more of heavy cream (or if you’re feeling decadent, use 8 ounces of cream cheese). Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic salt, onion powder, nutmeg or whatever else you happen to have in your pantry.
2. Good gravy
No need to fear the gravy! Either buy jars of turkey gravy or try this simple version using your turkey’s drippings.
To make pan gravy: In a saucepan, make a roux with 1/4 cup butter and 1/ 4 cup flour, creating a thick paste. Add 1 cup turkey pan drippings and whisk. Stir in 1/2 cup of chicken stock to start, bring to a low boil, then add more stock if you desire thinner gravy. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. Suffering succotash
For a classic American riff on Native American food, try succotash. It’s good for you and fun to say.
To make succotash: In a saucepan, add uniformly chopped squash, a rainbow of bell peppers, tomatoes and onions. Add shucked corn and frozen lima beans (because who has time for fresh?) and some chopped jalapeno if you like some kick. Saute lightly and finish with citrus and your fresh herb of choice.
4. Cranberry sauce — classic or fancy
Plenty of folks like their cranberry sauce canned, cut into perfect circles and laid out in a ring — very Betty Crocker cookbook circa 1978. If you want to up your game, though, try this recipe.
To make fancy cranberry sauce: In a saucepot over medium heat, add one can of cranberry sauce and one cubed apple, a bit of butter and a cinnamon stick. Simmer until warm and flavors combine.
5. Classic sweet potato casserole
Aside from Rice Krispies treats, there aren’t many other reasons to cook with marshmallows except this Thanksgiving classic.
To make sweet potato casserole: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cube 4 pounds of sweet potatoes and place in a casserole dish. Pour 5 tablespoons melted butter evenly over the potatoes, then sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and ginger. Cover and bake for an hour. Remove casserole from oven, sprinkle with chopped pecans and a layer of mini-marshmallows. Return to upper rack of oven and turn on the broiler. Finish under the broiler, keeping watch. Remove when marshmallows begin to brown.
6. Party punch
Kids love to be in on the toast, so pick up some sparkling cider in bottles and singles. Also, for an extra festive sip worthy of a crowd, try a party punch.
To make party punch: In a plastic punch bowl, combine 1 cup frozen lemonade, 6 ounces frozen orange juice, 2 cups cranberry juice, 3 cups water, 1/4 cup superfine sugar, 2 liters lemon-lime soda, and several freshly sliced oranges. It’s instantly festive.
7. Pie for days
Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be the same without pie. You can create a homemade wonder with pre-made graham cracker crusts and canned filling. Go traditional with pumpkin or apple filling. Feeling fancy? Add some raisins to an apple filling, or fresh apple slices to a lemon filling. And don’t forget the whipping cream.
8. Decorate the kids table
Save the crystal and silver for the adults — they’re the only ones who will appreciate the effort anyway. The best kids table is colorful and disposable. Think paper plates, napkins, cups and utensils in a variety of reds, yellows and oranges. Choose white for the tablecloth. Before dinner, put out scissors, crayons and construction paper so kids can make handprint turkey placecards with each guest’s name. Any leftover party goods can be repurposed for birthdays and holidays to come.
9. Decorate the adults table
You can do some very festive decorating without going whole … turkey and spending a fortune. String up white lights that can remain through Christmas, reuse the festive gourds from Halloween, and add small timeless touches like tea lights, burlap ribbon, wire garlands with metallic leaves and solid-colored cloth table runners and napkins that can be reused.
—Laura Lambert for 99 Cents Only Stores