There’s no need to compromise on quality, flavor or abundance this Christmas if you’re on a budget, our chef shares top tips for cutting costs. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—yet many of us have a sense of impending dread at the thought of having to cook a fabulous Christmas dinner. TV chefs woo us with mini tartlets and smoked salmon blini that can be prepared “in minutes” and add “a touch of sophistication” to your festive cooking. Meanwhile, every supermarket has their own glossy magazine full of cooking and decorating ideas. They can provide you pre-prepared mini tartlets and blini (but with a hefty price tag) that you only need to “pop in the oven.”
The options are endless and dizzying. Somewhere along the way, the concept of a tasty home cooked meal shared with the people you love gets lost, replaced by panic and over complication. If this all sounds familiar, then maybe my tips for a stress-free Christmas dinner can help get you back on track.
Make your own canapés
Readymade canapés may save time but they’ll quickly add a frightening amount to your shopping bill. Making your own can save a considerable sum. Most are simple to make but can be time-consuming to assemble, so take advantage of helping hands, especially children who will enjoy wrapping sausages in bacon, spreading toppings on Crostini, or garnishing individual canapés with herb sprigs. Anything with a pastry or bread base should help keep the cost down. Try these: Crostini of artichokes & chives Red pepper, walnut & goat’s cheese palmiers, Crunchy Christmas Crostini, Bacon, sausage & prune rolls, Pea & feta toasts & Mini jacket potatoes
Find cheaper alternatives to old favorites
Smoked salmon might be a regular on your Christmas table, but it’s an expensive treat. Instead of forgoing it altogether, make your own smoked salmon pâté with smoked salmon trimmings. They cost less than half the price of even a basic smoked salmon:
Smoked salmon, dill & lemon pâté
Smoked mackerel is even less expensive and also makes an impressive pâté:
Smoked mackerel pâté with French bread & horseradish
Or you could try it flaked into a colorful salad for a Christmas starter with a difference Smoked mackerel salad with beetroot and horseradish dressing
Choose your bird wisely
This will probably be the most expensive item on the Christmas table. The cost varies hugely from as little as .89cents per pound for some of the cheapest supermarket birds, up to around $7.99 per pound for the finest slow-reared, free-range bronze turkey. Put another way, the cheapest one would cost around $12.46 for a turkey, the top end bird closer to $109.85 Happily there is a middle ground with free-range white turkeys coming somewhere in the middle and various other options depending on your budget.
Beware of false economy though, we did some taste test and found it yielded more meat per pound once cooked than its cheaper opponent. It also had more flavor and a meatier texture and gave more flavorsome juices for the gravy. Most chefs will advise you to get the best you can afford and I’d have to say I agree.
Buy a bigger bird:
Christmas turkey this might seem counterintuitive, but if you’re thrifty and disciplined when it comes to using up leftovers then you could make your turkey stretch to several other meals. It’s often cheaper per pound to buy a larger bird, especially when buying from the farm gate or online.
OR buy a smaller bird: However if you often end up throwing away leftovers then you’ll be better off buying only what you need. You can even opt for a smaller bird that you might think.
Make your own gravy
Christmas gravy if you’ve been tempted to buy fresh turkey gravy in the past then try saving a few dollars by making your own. The giblets and the roasting juices provide all the flavor you’ll need, along with a spoon of flour, an optional chicken stock cube and a splash of wine if you’ve got a bottle open.
This might seem obvious but it’s easy to forget with everything else going on. Lots of shops and supermarkets will be offering discounts in the run up to the festive season and you can check most of them out online. You’ll often find one is offering a bargain price for turkey, where another is the place to stock up on veggies and fruit.
Organic produce can offer good value
It’s a bit of a myth that organic food always is more expensive. Seasonal produce, that comes directly from the farm, cutting out the middle men and minimizing air miles and other transportation costs, can actually save you money and that means your vegetables will have tons of flavor making for a memorable Christmas dinner.
Posh up mincemeat and make your own mince pies
Buy a jar of mincemeat and spruce it up with some freshly grated orange zest, some chopped almonds and an optional glug of brandy. You can stir in a few extra spices such as ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger, or a handful of dried cranberries or prunes, or whatever else you might have lurking in your cupboards. Use to fill your own mince pies, which will be much cheaper and far better than shop-bought. Try these (you could use regular caster sugar which is cheaper than golden): Unbelievably easy mince pies
Decorate your own Christmas cake – Ho ho ho Christmas cake
Plain Christmas cakes can be bought fairly cheaply, but the lovely decorated versions can be very expensive. A block of marzipan, some ready-to-roll icing and a little bit of jam is all you need to cover your own cake, and then you can be as creative as you like. In the past I’ve given friends and family blobs of icing and asked them to shape angels, doves, even a forest and a small house! The shapes don’t have to be perfect but they’ll look impressive all in white on top of your cake.
Sugar-dusted snowflake cake
Ho, Ho, Ho Merry Christmas cake
Shimmering forest cake
Check the cheese
If you like to serve cheese boards at Christmas then keep an eye on the price of cheese per pound. When buying pre-wrapped it’s easy to think you’re getting a bargain when in fact the price per pound could be quite high. In some supermarkets it’s cheaper to buy from the deli counter, so take a few minutes to compare the costs. As lovely as the whole Stiltons in ceramic pots and ready-prepared cheese boards might look, these can often be far higher per pound than the same Stilton on the deli counter. Make your own cheese board feel special with some dried figs or dates, some homemade chutney and some nuts.
And finally… before you buy anything, check your cupboards!