Cracking Christmas lunch tips on a budget

Pull the other one: Master Chef of Great Britain and Sheffield College lecturer Mick Burke, left, with head of the catering and hospitality department John Janiszewski and the budget Christmas lunch. PICTURES: STEVE ELLIS
Pull the other one: Master Chef of Great Britain and Sheffield College lecturer Mick Burke, left, with head of the catering and hospitality department John Janiszewski and the budget Christmas lunch. PICTURES: STEVE ELLIS
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Christmas presents bought and wrapped? Now it’s time to focus on the food. Families could be in for a shock, though - Christmas dinner comes at a premium price this year. Sheffield’s top chefs tell you how to cut the cost, not the quality...

Your festive feast could end up leaving you with a financial hangover this year.

Food prices have risen dramatically, with the bird taking centre place at your table representing the biggest increase of all.

Cash-strapped families could be facing an extra 25 per cent on their food shopping bills.

A recent survey reveals the Christmas dinner is the one luxury most of us don’t want to skimp on, though.

But you can sit down to a luxurious, three-course lunch at an affordable price assure the experts, the chefs at Sheffield City College, who train hundreds of the region’s future restaurant and catering stars - the cooks, kitchen and dining room staff on whom the local food industry relies.

After researching the market, pooling their know-how on how to make food go further and their favourite easy, low-priced recipes, they are confident readers can cook up an entire three-course family feast, right down to the rum sauce, for just £5.71 a-head.

That’s less than the cost of a takeaway pizza for one.

“Without a doubt, the cost of food has continued to rise this year,” says John Janiszewski, head of Sheffield City College’s catering and hospitality department. “The college is spending 25 per cent more on its food bills this year than it was last. I’m sure families will have found a similar rise in their grocery bills.”

He says the best way to cut down on the cost without forsaking quality is by doing what the professional chefs do - and that’s rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck into some proper cooking, rather than relying on labour and time-saving products from the supermarkets.

“I’ve priced up a full three-course dinner for six done using convenience foods, and another using food to prepare from scratch. The DIY dinner is almost 40 per cent cheaper. You pay so much more for dinner the easy way.”

He also strongly advises shopping around for everything. The turkey, the main expense, is at least 10 per cent more this year; farmers blame a 25 per cent rise in the cost of feed.

And, says John, now many people are considering the morality of intensive farming methods and preferring to opt for free range birds, we could be paying a high price for our principles.

“It’s great that people are thinking this way. And the bird should be tastier. But some free range birds could cost you £14 a kilo. We estimate you need a pound of turkey for each guest, so if you’ve eight sitting down to dinner, you might be paying a whopping £56 for turkey - -£7 a head.

“Indoor-reared could be as low as £3 a kilo for a frozen bird,” says John.

He advises either buying a frozen turkey from a store you trust for quality, or if you want free-range, you look for small farms.

Don’t buy a massive turkey, either; most people buy far more than they need. “We always go mad and make way too much food. It’s surprising how little people actually eat on Christmas Day. Stick to the basics.”

The only DIY dish that you won’t save instantly on is the Christmas pud.

“There are lot of ingredients to buy,” John explains. “But you will only use a proportion of each, so you do get the value in the long-run.”

Many people could well be about to pay through the nose for the humble potato. “Buy ready-roasted done in duck fat and you might pay around £2.50. Do it yourself for half the cost. And mashed potato, surely the easiest thing to make, will cost you no more than 80p if you DIY. Buy ready mashed and creamed and the cost rises to £2.20,” says John.

“Vegetables should be the least expensive part of any meal, but buy ready peeled and chopped veg like carrots, sprouts and beans and you’ll pay a heck of a lot more. The preparation only takes a few minutes and it will save you pounds.”

Soup, the traditional starter, is a breeze to make from a simple recipe. A luxury ready-made version could cost you £1 a head for six people. Make it yourself and it’s 62p a bowlful.

Turkey, prunes, soup and sauce

Turkey

Don’t buy costly butter-basted; push butter under the skin of the bird yourself.

Cut out the wishbone before cooking; you’ll get more off the bird when carving.

Cut off the legs, carefully cut the bone out, fill with stuffing, tie up and roast in tinfoil with the bird. They will go much further.

Stuffing

Buy a cheap box of ready-made and bulk it out with your own breadcrumbs, herbs and fried onions.

Prunes wrapped in bacon

1 tin prunes in natural juice (54p, Asda)

1 pack of streaky bacon £1.31

Stretch each piece of bacon lengthways by gently stroking it with the back of a knife. Cut in half. Wrap each piece round a prune, place on a baking tray and cook in oven at 180 degrees for ten minutes.

Leave to cool for five minutes before serving.

Festive cream of

mushroom soup

1lb of field mushrooms roughly chopped

1 large onion finely diced

2 pints chicken stock

Amontillado sherry

1pt single cream (or crème fraiche)

Gently fry onions in a little oil and butter until soft but not browned. Add mushrooms and a little more butter. Continue frying for 10 minutes.

Add a very good glug of sherry to the mixture and allow to reduce slightly.

Add the stock. Simmer gently for about half an hour, or until liquid has reduced by a third. Blitz with a processor or hand blender. Reheat when required, add cream to taste, pepper and a little salt.

Rum sauce for the

pudding

350m full fat milk

150ml whipping cream

60g sugar

40g butter

40g plain flour

Rum to taste

Bring milk and cream to the boil.

Melt butter in a thick-bottomed saucepan, add the flour, return to the heat and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook for about one minute without colouring. Remove from the heat, add the hot milk and cream a ladleful at a time, bringing the mixture to the boil after each addition and beating with a wooden spoon to remove any lumps. Add sugar and rum or brandy to taste, then strain into a clean pan ready to serve.

Tip: If you need to keep the sauce hot ready to serve after the main course, sprinkle the surface with sugar, place cling film over the saucepan and stand it in a tray of simmering water. The sugar will prevent a skin from forming.

Price comparison for a three-course Christmas dinner for six people

Do it yourself:

Christmas cream of mushroom soup with sherry £3.75

Frozen turkey £20 (6kg, Morrisons)

Home-made stuffing 60p

Mashed potatoes 80p

Roast potatoes in duck fat £1.20

Sprouts, carrots, parsnips 90p

Gravy 20p (stock cube)

Christmas pudding £5

DIY rum sauce £1.80

Total: £34.25

Ready prepared:

Christmas cream of mushroom soup with sherry £6

Butter-basted turkey £28 (6kg, Tesco)

Two packs sage and onion stuffing £1.56

Mashed potatoes £2.20

Roast potatoes in duck fat £2.50

Sprouts, carrots, parsnips £3.15

Gravy £4

Christmas pudding £5

Rum sauce £2.70

Total: £55.11