Christmas Meals on a Budget
One rule that I have which I stick to that keeps the costs down at the Christmas table is to have smaller amounts of the specialty items, and add to the table a selection of wonderful salads, sides and vegetable dishes.
Instead of the Christmas turkey, purchase turkey breasts with the skin on, they can weigh in at 1-2kg per breast. A couple of these which is enough to feed a family of up to 12 as part of a banquet.
Dress up the humble and old favourite roast chicken with some wonderful Christmas stuffing using, combinations such as apples, cranberries, sage, apricot and pistachios or parmesan prosciutto and parsley. If you are buying your chicken from the butcher you could ask them to bone out the chicken, pick up some netting from the butcher and stuff the chicken yourself again the yield will be greater as you can then easily slice the chicken, minimal wastage and also is great cold the next day on sandwiches or with salads.
Seafood is always a favourite at Christmas but if that’s stretching the budget and the lengthy lines at the fish markets scare you opt for purchasing frozen green prawns from the supermarket, allow them to defrost, marinate them in garlic, chilli, parsley and sumac and skewer them for a bbq lunch or flash fry them in a little sesame oil and toss them in a salad with sliced snow peas, diced fresh mango, sliced capsicum, a handful of Asian herbs, toasted sesame seeds and a dressing of coconut milk, sweet chilli sauce, lime juice and a splash of fish sauce, a great dish to add some noodles in as well.
You can also pick up Phillips fresh crab meat, ideal for a seafood entree , a salad or mixed with eggs, boiled potatoes, fresh herbs and lemon and rolled in flour makes the lightest crab cakes served with a zest mayonnaise for a delicious starter or buffet filler.
I love duck but it can be expensive and if you don’t know how to cook it properly it can sometimes come out a little tuff, so the cheats and cheap way of a little duck with dinner is to either create a wonderful salad with duck legs or breast which you can now buy cooked and packaged in the supermarket, couscous, a couple of fresh figs, peaches, pears or fresh dates sliced, shallots, wild rocket and a wonderful orange dressing, or duck goes great with noodles, with some sliced bok choy, shredded green pawpaw and a simple Asian dressing. Heat the duck in the oven and serve it sliced with your favourite roast vegetables and a wonderful cherry sauce. You can also pick up the wonderful Peking duck in China town, also a great place to shop for cheap Asian greens, herbs and sauces.
If you are a roasting or BBQ family then the cheaper cuts of beef and pork will be great, whip up a sticky marinade and leave the meat in the marinade for at least 24 hours, heat up the BBQ and undoubtedly you will definitely have lunch and left over’s for dinner and possibly the next day. Your best buys for beef roasts are rolled rib, rib eye or round and if you are a BBQ fan then a brisket is great for that slow tender pull apart BBQ beef smothered in a smokey home made marinade. Many less tender cuts of beef are tenderised further when cooking if you use the BBQ rotisserie. Pork roasts are a winner especially if you get the crackling right and the best cuts for a great pork roast is the pork loin you can also use the leg, shoulder or the belly, make sure that your butcher leaves the skin on and get them to score it for you as well. 1kg portion will take about 60 minutes. Accompany your roasts with spiced baked fruits, summer vegetable salads and introduce some grains like couscous, cracked wheat, barley and into your salads to add a substantial element. You can spark up your salads and vegetables with nuts, fresh herbs, dressings, cheeses and fresh baked garlic tossed croutons for a crunch.
A lamb chop can be something special marinated with smoked paprika, garlic, lemon and parsley and serve with a wonderful yoghurt and mint dressing. Savoury tarts, quiches and savoury slices are great and inexpensive and can be teamed up with just about any ingredient, homemade relishes, chutneys and sauces are a great way to use up some of the bargain fruit and vegetables you find at the markets and you can double them up as Christmas gifts.
For Christmas desserts, meringue, cinnamon and brandy spiced whipped cream and fresh strawberries is a favourite of mine, topped with a berry sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
Another great Christmas dessert is a take on the Italian Galati cassata, purchase a 2 lt tub of vanilla ice cream and divide it into three bowls, then go for it, in each bowl add whatever you like, it’s like your own “cold rock” mix ins. Try combinations like chopped up Toblerone, frozen raspberries and glace green cherries, or dried cranberries and pistachios, give those festive colours, candied fruit – such as cherries, lemons, chopped dried peaches, pears and dried strawberries folded in with a sponge cake soaked in little whiskey is a cool change from the warmed plum pudding and custard. Line a freezer proof bowl with cling film and spoon in the flavours in layers, cover with cling film and freeze until firm. When its ready, invert onto a plate and garnish with more of the fillings or your favourite topping.
Individually set champagne or juice jellies are also a simple and elegant desserts, garnished with fresh fruit and cream.
Even the old packet cake mix can come to the party baked with brandy soaked mixed fruits, a little ground all spice, ground cinnamon, and cloves or go half and half with fresh and dried fruit for your Christmas cake to keep the costs down instead of just using all dried fruits and nuts.
My tip on shopping is markets, markets, markets, you can buy the freshest produce and many fruits and vegetables that you may not always find in the supermarkets for a lot less. Gather your friends and family together for a bulk buy at the Rocklea markets, especially for our beloved stone fruits, cherries, mangos and for me my punch bowl fillers of lychees and strawberries. You will get a great buy and you will only need to shop once for all your fruit and veg needs to last the holiday season.
Just before Christmas, although a little crazy it is the best time to shop anywhere as most producers want to get rid of all their stock so the bargains are out there. Your local fish market, the stall on the side of the road or the larger markets are great for all your seafood needs, most of them take orders if you are that organised and again will have great buys just before Christmas day. Most of your seafood will be fine stored on ice for up to three days. All the supermarkets are showcasing their specials right through Christmas and new year so keep an eye out for those. Aldi is great for food gift ideas as they carry many European lines at discount prices, think outside the box when it comes to putting together your Christmas spread
My other tip is try not to over shop, the supermarkets are closed for one or two days and many of us shop like they are never to open again. Have a list and a budget and do your best to stick to it. If like me you are the host this year, give yourself permission to invite family and friends to bring a plate, everybody want to share what they like as well. After all its about the sharing of food and the enjoyment that we have when we come together as family and friends and we all know what it’s like to be the one to take on the challenge.