A $100 Budget Christmas Feast For 8!

I came face-to-face with my dinner, quite literally. I’d purchased a duck to be the centerpiece dish for the holiday feast, and I chose one that still had all of its body parts attached (its head and feet, to name a few), which materialized an overwhelming combo of guilt (“This animal died for me!”) and fear (“Dude…that’s a dead animal right there!!”).
I don’t regret my decision—I firmly believe that if we are in the habit of eating animals, we should acknowledge the fact that our meal came from a living being, and confront whatever ambivalent stormy feelings that might stir up in us. But boy, I had not expected to experience that intense of a storm!

After a quick phone call to my mom (thanks, mom!), I soldiered on with the duck project and managed to center myself back into a semi-stable state of mind. The rest of day 1 was spent on making spicy pickles, a multi-seed almond cracker dough, and three cookie doughs: cassava gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, amaretti, and pumpkin spice snowballs.
After a fitful night’s sleep, day 2 started at 8 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. Between those twelve hours that never seemed to end, I managed to braise a pork belly potato stew, simmer a pot of salmon soup, assemble a yule log cake, boil up a passionfruit syrup for our cocktail, reduce an orange glaze for our duck, stir together a tuna salad, and mix up a batch of pão de queijo dough.
The morning of day 3, I emerged out of the darkness of my bedroom filled with equal parts fear and determination. I told myself, “You must complete this meal today,加油!!” Terrified of disappointing no one but myself, the next 10 hours were a whirlwind.

Aaron and I ate until we couldn’t, and then for the sake of tasting everything, we ate some more.

At one point, Aaron passed out and I carried onward into gluttony hell alone.

Without further ado, here are some of the items we both loved eating.

The winning recipes

Soy Braised Pork Belly With Potatoes

Inspired by my childhood memories of eating my grandfather’s masterful braised pork belly with stewed potatoes, I wanted to remember my time with him by mimicking his signature dish. It was the first time I’d ever attempted to do so, and having no recipe but some lingering piecemeal flashbacks from over two decades ago, it certainly came nowhere close to his.
In the end, it was still really good stew, and you can’t go wrong with skin-on pork belly—the richness unfolds into a velvety mess as the braise carries on into its second hour, the potatoes disintegrate into a thick sauce, and everything unifies as one delicious mass. A very zen dish to sit down to, made even heartier with black sticky rice. 9/10.

      Roast Duck With Cauliflower Greens Stuffing

      It started off all full of high hopes and sweet dreams but reality hits you hard sometimes, you know? I wanted to make Peking duck, but with no skill, no knowledge, and absolutely none of the tools I needed, I settled very quickly for just a cooked, roasted duck that would taste decent. After two days of rest in the fridge, the flavors of the soy-based marinade permeated the meat and I’m happy to report that we yielded quite a satisfactory entrée after a couple of hours in the oven.
      Paired with some greens stuffing and a citrusy-sweet tangerine soy sauce, I gave it a 10/10. Served with a spoonful of spicy pickles, Aaron agreed—this was a winner.

      Pão De Queijo

      Was this the best pão de queijo in the world? No, it was my first time making it. Was it good? Absolutely. Did you see how much cheese I put in there? Aaron said he’s had pão de queijo maybe only a total of three times, but out of those three, mine was the best.
      Well, dang, I’ll take that as a win! 8.7/10.

          Multi-Seed Almond Sourdough Crackers

          I’m trying to reclaim the phrase “trash food” this year to mean food that I make out of ingredients that don’t look so hot—maybe even to the point where they look like they should go straight into the trash.
          These babies are an example of “trash food” that truly excelled: They started from the bottom of my fridge drawer, borne out of a jar of sourdough starter that had been neglected for way too long. It was a very questionable move on my part to use that starter, but I’m glad I took the risk. Aaron loved these, and I did too. 10/10.

              Amaretti Cookies

              I shopped for this challenge with this cookie in mind. Knowing that Aaron absolutely loved these, almond flour was a necessary purchase. This was a guaranteed win, and we certainly ate more than our fair share of these even after the camera stopped rolling. 10/10.

                  After all that cooking, my favorite bites were of a refreshingly pepperminty twist on Makinze’s bûche de noël—with a cake and ganache frosting made from awesome Raaka chocolate gifted to me by William, paired with a light whipped cream, and sprinkled with sweetly tart pomegranate seeds, I went back for a second slice even after Aaron succumbed to his food coma.

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