Top 10 Christmas cost cutters
Celebrate Christmas without breaking the bank or spoiling the fun. Xanthe Clay has 10 thrifty tips in the run-up to the big day.
1. Celebrate your treasures
Resist the temptation to shell out for this year’s fashion item. Instead, dig out your best china, polish up the silver and dust down the special glasses – if you don’t use them now, when will you? For a stunning centrepiece, rub apples, pears and walnuts with edible gold lustre dust. You’ll still be able to eat them and they’ll look beautiful in candlelight (talking of which, tealights in a collection of jam jars look as pretty as candles costing 10 times as much).
2. Bring on the Venetian glamour
Instead of expensive fizz, serve pear Bellinis. Delicate Prosecco works better than Champagne here – and it’s cheaper too. The classic Bellini, as made in Harry’s Bar in Venice, is based on white peach purée, but in a British winter pears make the perfect substitute. Peel, core and chop 2 green pears, then simmer in a covered pan with 80ml water, 1 tbsp caster sugar and a little finger-size strip of lemon zest. Once the pears are soft, take off the lid and boil the liquid until reduced to 2 tbsp. Cool, take out the zest and whizz the rest to a purée. Put 2-3 tsp at the bottom of each glass, half-fill with Prosecco, stir, and top up.
3. Cure your own salmon
Instead of spending a fortune on smoked salmon, try the DIY approach. Take a deboned piece of salmon fillet weighing around 500g and put it skin-side down on a large piece of cling film. Mix 2 tbsp sea salt crystals with 2 tbsp sugar and 3 tbsp chopped dill, then spread the mixture all over the salmon flesh. Wrap tightly in the cling film, put it in a container and place a chopping board (one slightly smaller than the container itself, so it rests on the fish) on top. Weigh it down with a couple of tins and put the whole lot in the fridge. Leave for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. Drain away any liquid that has accumulated, unwrap the salmon and brush off the salt, sugar and dill. Serve thinly sliced with crème fraîche and brown bread. (It will keep for 3 days in the fridge. You can make it up to a month ahead and freeze, tightly wrapped in cling film.)
4. Brine your bird
If an organic turkey is out of your price range, buy the best you can afford and take a tip from the Americans: soak it in a salt bath before cooking. The turkey will taste far better and slice beautifully. Dissolve 250g salt and 175g brown sugar in ½ litre boiling water. Pour into a container big enough to take the turkey and add 6 litres cold water. Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and immerse breast-down in the brine, weighing the bird down so it’s completely submerged. Cover and chill (or put outside if it’s cold enough) for 18-24 hours. Drain and pat dry, then bring to room temperature before roasting.
5. Be lavish, not over the top
Of course you want to be generous at Christmas, but throwing away leftover food after the feast is hardly in the festive spirit. As a rough guide, 250g in total of veg (prepared weight) and 250g potatoes (peeled weight) per person is plenty, especially with all the other goodies in store. A 2kg turkey will serve 4-5 people generously: add 500g for every extra person (so a 4kg turkey will serve 8-9).
6. Get it in writing
Make a time plan– it’ll help you stay focused when Granny is nagging you for sherry and the kids are running riot, reducing the risk of expensive mistakes. Use our Christmas lunch time plan here.
7. Dig out the slow cooker
Use it to steam the Christmas pudding (it will take about 5 hours). It won’t boil dry or fill the kitchen with steam and the hob will be free for sprouts and gravy. Plus, it needs far less fuel than conventional cookers.
8. Show off
For a bit of Michelin-style glamour, try easy-but-impressive homemade satsuma powder. It looks pretty and adds fragrance when sprinkled on the cream for the Christmas pud and mince pies – or around a pannacotta infused with brandy. To make it, save your satsuma peelings, then use a teaspoon to scrape off the white pith. Leave the orange part to dry on the radiator or a windowsill. When it’s hard and dry, grind to a powder in a mini food processor or coffee grinder and store in a sealed container. Heston, eat your heart out.
9. Get creative
Craft has become the new cool – which means anything beautiful made by hand, with a generous dash of style thrown in. Make a collection of star decorations out of festive wrapping paper – gather the stars with herbs and ribbon and use to decorate the backs of chairs around the Christmas table. The stars work well hung up as a garland too. Don’t forget the transforming power of affordable candles, either. I like white ones mixed with sprigs of evergreenery along a piano top or mantelpiece.
10. Be leftover savvy
Turkey stock is one of the big bonuses of Christmas. After the Boxing Day sandwiches, strip the rest of the meat off the bird and freeze to use over the next few weeks. Pop the carcass in a pot, cover with water, add an onion and a carrot, parsley stalks, a bay leaf and a few crushed peppercorns. Simmer gently for 3 hours or cook overnight in a slow cooker – or use a pressure cooker. Strain and cool, then use in soups, sauces and risottos.