DIY Holiday Meal Ingredients
It’s officially November which means we can talk openly about the holidays without being shamed for it being too early!
The next eight weeks are by far my favorite in the entire year. Everything feels just a little cozier.
Cozy sweaters, cozy boots, cozy coffee, cozy everything.
And the food! Holiday food is 100% my favorite food of all the food. I keep saying “holiday food” because I really don’t know what else to call it. There isn’t really a theme to it other than the food that commonly comes together on the table for American Thanksgiving and American Christmas.
Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, apple pie, cherry pie, pecan pie…
You will not have the same menu as me, and that’s the beauty of holiday meals- they are curated to reflect a family’s shared heritage. Growing up in an Italian family, we had pans of lasagna as an appetizer… yeah.
Now that I’m an adult(ish) and have my own family, I take great joy in creating cozy holiday meals with my children. Especially now that we live overseas. I cling to my American winter holidays and traditions because they bring me comfort… and joy.
The first holiday meal I tried to make as an expat was Thanksgiving 2016. I made my plan, collected all my recipes, compiled my shopping list only to realize…
I CAN’T GET MOST OF THESE INGREDIENTS AT MY GROCERY STORE!!
So many of our favorite holiday dishes call for ingredients we buy in a can from Safeway, but simply aren’t available in other parts of the world. I would not abandon my grand holiday plans just because of that!
One life lesson I’ve definitely learned from living overseas for nearly two years is that most prepared food products that we buy in the grocery store are made of simple things and are fairly easy to make yourself. Whether you’re doing this out of necessity because things aren’t available, for cost-cutting measures, or for more accountability on the processed foods in your life, it’s always helpful to have a few make-it-yourself options in your back pocket.
Since then, I have collected many expat-kitchen hacks to make creative substitutes for holiday meal staples. Here are six of my favorite!
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Chicken/Veggie broth or stock
I never really knew what the difference was between a broth and a stock. It turns out (after a bit of savvy Googling) that the difference between the two lies in bones and seasoning.
A broth, when you come down to it, is really just any flavored cooking liquid, whether it’s meat, fish, vegetables, whatever. It’s also assumed to be seasoned making it able to be consumed on its own. A stock, while similar, has a defining feature of being made with bones, simmered for a long time to extract their gelatin and flavor. A stock is also assumed to be unseasoned to be added to other dishes.
Does it matter whether you use broth or stock? No, probably not. I’m willing to bet you can use one in place of the other and NOBODY is going to notice.
Making your own stock or broth is ridiculously simple but does take a bit of foresight. And the product you’ll end up making (broth or stock) will entirely depend on what you put into it. I think that’s why I love making my own so much. Not only do I know what’s going into my broth/stock, but I can put whatever I want into it!
From now on, whenever you’re chopping vegetables, rather than throwing out the ends, peels, and extra cuttings, throw them into a freezer bag and keep in the freezer until the bag is full. You can do this with chicken bones too!
When your bag is full, dump the whole thing into a large stock pot and fill with water until the stuff inside is juuust covered. I don’t add any seasoning yet to mine because I want to wait to see what the final flavor is going to be.
Bring to a boil and then bring the heat down to simmer for a few hours. I usually let mine go for 3-4 hours. From a purist’s perspective, if you would like to make broth, you may add your seasoning to taste. Allow it to cool and then strain into storage containers. I use regular ol’ mason jars.
Is there nothing better in life than a warm buttery biscuit or perfect buttermilk pancakes? It’s in so many wonderful breads and cakes and always seems to give your baking a little extra oomph.
Now I’m not normally one of those people who keeps buttermilk on hand and would only buy it if I came across a recipe that called for it. So what a great option to be able to make your own when you need it instead of remembering to buy it! … OR if you live somewhere that would think you’re loony for asking for buttermilk!
To make one cup, just add one cup of whole milk with one tablespoon of lemon juice. (I’ve also heard of vinegar being used.) That’s it.
I’m serious, that’s it!
I feel like in the United States we are a bit obsessed with sugar, amiright? Apart from the general excess of sugar in all of our diets, you can really visualize the abundance of our problem in the baking aisle. Offhand, I can think of six different kinds of sugar I could buy at Safeway and I’m sure my memory is lapsing. And that’s just the sugar products, not to mention all the crazy “artificial sweeteners” out there.
We have a serious problem.
But oh, think of the cookies!! SO many of my favorite holiday desserts are crammed full of silky soft golden brown sugar. It’s not so easy to give up when all you want is a batch of warm chocolate chip cookies.
My natural American conditioning was to assume that the rest of the world is as sugar-obsessed as we are.
I was wrong.
When I first arrived at post, I was really surprised to not be able to find brown sugar in my local grocery store. (Expat life lesson #1: Just stop assuming things)
One local store carries it, but it’s crazy expensive so I pursued how to make my own.
This is another SUPER simple one. To make one cup of brown sugar, take one cup of white sugar and add one tablespoon of molasses. This is, of course, assuming you can get your hands on a jar of molasses, but it’s a good hack to have in your back pocket in case of a pinch.
And hey! One jar of molasses is easier to stick in your suitcase than 5 pounds of brown sugar.
Cream-of-whatever (condensed) soup
One of our favorite holiday menu items is my mother-in-law’s amazing broccoli casserole. It’s loaded with tender rice, broccoli, and creamy Havarti that I was determined to try to make it for our first expat-Thanksgiving. But guess what it calls for… yep, cream-of-chicken soup.
Can anyone guess if I could find cream-of-chicken soup in my grocery store?
10 points to Gryffindor if you said a big, fat NOPE.
Lucky for me (and you), condensed soup is so easy to make and I bet you already have all the ingredients in your pantry.
Evaporated Milk and Condensed Milk
Confession time: I’m one of those people who didn’t know the difference between condensed milk and evaporated milk until very recently when I thought I had bought evaporated milk in the grocery store that turned out to be condensed milk. Woops.
Seriously, how was I supposed to know? The label was in Russian.
Also, sidenote, does the concept of “canned milk” give anyone else the heebie-jeebies?
Anyway, it made for a very interesting pumpkin pie. After that, I sought out a homemade version of evaporated milk. Something that I knew what to expect and would cost me pennies.
Before I became an adult, I never really thought of pumpkin pie being made from actual pumpkins. We’re just so accustomed to strolling down the aisle and only worrying about whether you picked up “pumpkin puree” or “pumpkin pie filling”.
It wasn’t until I started making my own holiday spreads that I tried my hand at making a pumpkin-made pumpkin pie and couldn’t believe how simple it was.
Now that I’m living in Armenia, where there is actually an abundance of pumpkins, I am able to make pumpkin puree on the reg to have handy when I get a craving for pumpkin loaf in the middle of July. Don’t judge.
Granted in the U.S., whole pumpkins aren’t available most months of the year. But it IS one of those items you can make in the fall/winter and freeze to have all year round.
Do you have any other favorites?? Leave me a comment below!
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