The Frugal Foodie: Vermilion’s Anthony Chittum

A Thanksgiving spread doesn’t have to gobble up an entire paycheck. One local chef proves it, dishing up a feast for four for less than $25.

“I can’t afford green beans,” says Anthony Chittum, looking a bit lost. The chef at Alexandria’s Vermilion is known for hosting farm dinners with Washington growers and typically feels right at home at a farmers market. But constrained by a tight $25 Thanksgiving budget, he wanders through the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market adrift.

Chittum studies his list. He looks at a selection of apples—too expensive. He jokes about collecting enough samples for his recipe but moves on. He does another lap up and down the market, then chooses a head of cauliflower and swaps green beans for kale.

“I can’t afford the farmers market,” says Chittum. Alone, the cauliflower and kale sapped $6.35 of his budget. We head to the grocery store.

There, Chittum combs through his options painstakingly. He chooses four apples, weighs them, and replaces them with four smaller apples to save a few cents. He picks raisins and nuts from the bulk aisle so that he can buy only the amount he needs. And he deliberates over the selection of meat, finally taking the only two turkey legs the store has plus a single sausage and a hunk of premade cornbread. The bill comes to $18.52, bringing the total to $24.87.

Used to buying wholesale, Chittum is still suffering from sticker shock as we unload the groceries. It seems to bother him that he couldn’t buy more at the farmers market, but he shakes it off and starts cooking.

He becomes a whirling dervish of activity in the kitchen—chopping cauliflower for a soup, deboning the turkey, slicing the scallions. He comes to a dead stop when he sees my frying pan. Holding it up, he tells me the pan is no good—it doesn’t hold the heat. I need a big, heavy pan that conducts heat evenly.

Then Chittum returns to full throttle. He adds cream and water to the cauliflower soup. He browns the sausage. He sautés the onion. My pans may be no good, but he’s working every one of them. He comes to a full stop again.

“What’s this?” he asks. It’s salt, obviously, but he’s not looking for an answer. “Is this the only salt you have?” I point him toward a cupboard with a selection of kosher and sea salt and ask him what’s wrong with the container he has in his hand.

“It’s ionized and has no flavor,” says Chittum. I don’t admit how old it is and just throw it away.

“Throw this away, too,” says Chittum, holding up a large container of ground black pepper. “Don’t let any other chefs see that.” He suggests whole black pepper that comes in a grinder.

Chittum turns his attention back to his feast. Saucepans sit on every burner. Soup bubbles, cornbread pudding bakes, and turkey legs roast. It looks and sounds and smells like Thanksgiving.

Chittum only had to forgo the farmers market for one day, but I permanently gave up on my pans and bought a few new ones. Some things are worth paying for.

Cauliflower Soup
Serves 4

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 head cauliflower
1⁄8 cup roughly chopped sweet onion
1 cup cream
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons almond slivers
4 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons scallions, chopped

In a small pan over medium-high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Caramelize a few cauliflower florets and set aside.

Roughly chop the rest of the cauliflower and put it in a large pot with the onion. Add the cream and enough water to cover the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Boil until the cauliflower is tender.

Purée the soup in a blender.

In a pan set over low heat, toast the curry powder. Then toast the almonds.

Mix the curry powder, almonds, raisins, scallions, and the remaining olive oil.

Divide the soup among 4 bowls. Place caramelized cauliflower florets in center of soup with curry mix.


Savory Cornbread Pudding
Serves 4

2 eggs
½ cup cream
2 cups crumbled premade cornbread
½ cup crumbled sausage, browned
2 tablespoons dried cranberries, rehydrated by soaking in hot cider for ½ hour
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Mix the remaining ingredients into the egg mixture.

Bake for about 20 minutes.

Sauteed Kale
Serves 4

1 bunch of kale, washed and torn into 4-inch pieces
½ onion, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon red-pepper flakes
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and set over high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until kale is tender.

Serves 4

2 turkey legs or thighs
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup apple cider
1 shallot, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 chicken/apple sausage, crumbled and browned
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon butter
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Debone turkey legs or thighs and cut in half.

Microwave the cider until it boils, and rehydrate the cranberries in the hot cider until they’re soft. Strain the cider into a separate bowl and set aside. Finely chop the cranberries. Mix the cranberries, shallots, and thyme with the sausage. Season to taste.

Fill the middle of each deboned leg or thigh with sausage mix. Roll up and truss with butcher twine. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and brown the turkey legs and thighs.

Finish the turkey in the oven until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Let the turkey legs or thighs rest on cutting board.

Meanwhile, add the reserved cider to the hot pan. Reduce to a syrupy consistency and finish with the butter.
Remove the twine from the turkey and serve with the cider reduction.

Baked Apples
Serves 4

4 apples
2 tablespoons cashews, toasted
2 tablespoons raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 tablespoons butter, plus 4 pats

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Core the apples.

In a bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons butter with the brown sugar, cashews, raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Place apples in a pan and add cider to the bottom of the pan. Top each apple with pat of butter.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft when poked with a toothpick.


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