CHRISTMAS IS IN THE AIR

Posted on 4th December, 2019

As we plummet towards Christmas I’m sure you’ll be looking at economic eats in the buildup period so you have slightly more pennies to play with over the holiday. If you’ve been frugal in the last few months and intend to go on a food shopping spree with your savings then well done. If, however, frugal is the norm, simply because economically you aren’t in a position to splash out despite the constant pressure exerted by TV, the Internet, leaflets through the letterbox and garish ads plastered on bus stops and billboards, then there are some hacks you can use to make Christmas special. Before we head down that route though we still have a couple of weeks in which to practice economising.

 

Winter vegetables tend to be cheaper, traditional root crops such as carrots, turnips, swede and parsnips as well as potatoes make the ideal vegetable stew or soup or why not try this easy one dish comfort food supper. The addition of lentils adds protein for an extra few pence although any of the tinned pulses will do the same for not a lot more money. Buy whole veg rather than ready prepared because this can save pounds, retain the leaves and stalks on broccoli and cauliflower, both ideal for soup and they still taste of the vegetable. Follow this link for some great ideas on storing vegetables to avoid waste. Invest in a large pan, check out charity shops for kitchen bargains, or ask on Freecycle in your area, it’s surprising what people want to give away. With a large saucepan or stew pan you can make a large amount of soup, easily stored in smaller containers and kept in the freezer for using later. A bowl of warming soup with bread is a satisfying meal in itself so don’t think of it as a starter, nutritionally it can be a substantial meal depending on its ingredients. Your imagination is the only limit on what goes into your soup, whizz it up if you like your soup smooth or leave in chunks for a more rustic look. The addition of herbs, spices, leftover salad leaves, a glug of ketchup in a tomato based soup adds a bit of oomph as does a teaspoon of mustard to root vegetables. Why not drag out that jar of horseradish, bought once and barely used, and add it to parsnip soup. Parsnip’s smoky sweetness can handle the heat of horseradish it’s just a matter of taste. Get experimental with those jars that are littering the far reaches of your fridge and who knows what family favorite’s you’ll invent for almost no cost.

 

Anyway back to Christmas. I really hope you don’t get sucked into the over-filled trolley mania that pervades the supermarket aisles at this time of year. Why not I hear you cry! Well I feel there is definitely a movement towards a more sustainable Christmas this year and the drive is obviously on to reduce single use plastics and people appear to be ditching the glittery cards because of the environmental impact. There’s a trend for crafting presents rather than spending the earth on unwanted gifts too, knitting, sewing, cooking, bottling, stapling, pinning, gluing or composing, writing and painting, personally made gifts touch people more because it shows care.

 

There’s room to have a thoroughly enjoyable celebratory period without breaking the proverbial bank. Of course one of the benefits of vegetarian or vegan recipes is they are naturally cheaper, quicker to cook and often very easy to prepare. One of my cooking heroes is Jack Monroe (The Bootstrap Cook) and I am tempted to try her Vegan ‘Ever Festive Nut Roast’ which feeds 8 people at 42p per portion. This certainly fulfils the description ‘special’ so you, your family and guests don’t feel deprived of that main element of their Christmas Dinner. Obviously you can serve your favourite vegetable selection to accompany it and dress with a vegetarian gravy. If that doesn’t float your boat then she also has a ‘Chestnut, Apple & Stilton Roast’ (you can replace the stilton with a vegan cheese alternative to make this a vegan dish). Personally I have often fallen back on a filo pastry parcel. Crisp filo wrapped around a large Portobello mushroom which in turn is filled with a traditional herb and onion stuffing which can be bulked out with a different variety of chopped and sautéed mushrooms. Or try making a nut, lentil and vegetable mix and placing this in the centre of multi-layers of filo pastry, drawing the circles up and making little crispy purses. If you make these small enough they can be used as nibbles for pre-dinner canapes. On this note why not mix cream cheese with herbs, add a little sautéed chopped mushroom, a few crushed walnuts spread onto filo pastry and roll into little cigar shapes, tie each end with chive leaves or spring onion leave so they look like Christmas crackers.

 

Mince pies are synonymous with Christmas and while they are reasonably cheap to buy why not make your own using home-made or shop bought shortcrust pastry? Mincemeat is often fully vegetarian these days and with a tot of brandy or rum (or the dregs of last years sherry) added to liven it up, even a very inexpensive jar of mincemeat becomes special. Or steal the idea of filo crackers from above and use mincemeat, thin strings of liquorice can be used for tying them up.

 

Christmas cake and Christmas pudding has become a  bit take it or leave it, it seems that these once staple Christmas offerings have fallen out of favour but it needn’t be expensive, or even traditional. There are lots of ideas out there for shortcuts, alternatives or cheats versions. Once again Jack Monroe comes to the rescue with a simple 4-ingredient cake and again there are cheats versions of the traditional pudding that can be whisked up at the last minute if you haven’t prepared one earlier. I’ve included links for a few. I’m not the worlds best baker, I can rustle up cake or a easy pudding if I have to but I’d never win ‘bake-off’ 😊

Not a fan of Christmas pudding then why not turn to trifle, slightly more extravagant but if you can stretch your purse then it's worth a try.

As well as looking at Christmas meals, recipes and food related ideas why not get creative and make some of your own decorations too? Or cut up old cards to make gift tags? Doily angels for the tree, faux crackers from toilet rolls and leftover wrapping paper, my effort is below but your imagination is the limit. Get the children involved, bake biscuit decorations to hang on the tree or tie onto pine boughs with ribbons or find a suitable small log and make a Christmas candle holder for the table, I've attached a photograph of one I made earlier using a log I had in the log-basket, a strand of ivy, hawthorn berries and holly leaves, a couple of tealights and some all-purpose glue, it's simple and fun to create. I also put together an easy to make floating tea-light table centre. Simply collect winter leaves and berries (I used hawthorn betties, rosemary and ivy) put them in a glass, a sundae dish or similar, top up with water and float a tealight or 2 (without their aluminium covers) and there you have it. Five minutes to collect the bits together and a couple of minutes to make.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try and make sure your Christmas is fun and stress-free, it’s not a competition, it’s not about how much you spend or how big your gifts are, it’s a time to spend in each others company but that doesn’t mean you have to invite everyone to lunch or everyone to tea. Enjoy it your way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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