Before you head your separate ways for the Christmas break, impress your flatmates with a deliciously cheap Christmas dinner the whole campus will envy.
Contrary to popular belief, making a Christmas dinner can easily fit around a student’s budget (and culinary illiteracy), when shopping in the right places, for the right things. The difference in the amount you’ll spend at Lidl in comparison to Co-op or Sainsbury’s makes it entirely worth the journey. Also, I’ve always found Lidl has a far bigger selection of food (and alcohol!) and their fresh produce doesn’t go off as quickly – so if you haven’t already, head over to 306 Burdett road: Lidl. The walk itself takes less than 15 minutes, but if you can’t hack it (particularly when loaded with goodies), hop on one of the many buses (277/D6/D7) leaving from Mile End station (bus stop A) and cut your journey time to 2 minutes.
Now if you’re truly serious about saving money on food, one piece of advice – that may shock you – is to cut out the meat. Whilst many of you will gasp in horror, demanding how on earth anyone could suggest a Christmas dinner without the meat, those of us who eat a meat-free roast know it’s not much of a loss. The turkey is often dry, over-filling and gets in the way of the really good stuff (aka roast potatoes and gravy), but most importantly, it is always the most expensive part of any meal. If you’re still unconvinced, I spent some time on the food price comparison app Comparasaurus and found that even when buying the cheapest stuff, a meaty meal from Sainsbury’s costs £19.20 for 5 (£3.84 per person), whilst a meatless Lidl meal costs just £5.73 (about £1.15 per person). So you decide. But if you can’t go without your meat-fix, don’t worry, I’ve included a meat option, as well as some extras that’ll cost a bit more but will definitely add that festive flare to your meal.
Here’s a list of things you can buy for your meal, along with their prices and how much you’ll need for about 5 people. These measurements are just estimates, but you’ll always need more than you think! More greedy students will sniff you out and leftovers are never a bad thing.
- Gravy: Speaking as someone who has attempted to make gravy and never succeeded to make anything nice: buy instant granules. The faff and time it takes to make it from scratch is not worth the lumpy, dishwater-coloured slop that you will inevitably end up with. Instead, buy Lidl’s 300g Instant Gravy Granules for 85p.
- Stuffing: In the same vein, Lidl have a delicious and hassle-free instant stuffing mix: 34p, 170g
- Potatoes: Delicious and simple: You’ll need about 2kg, at 10p per 100g that’ll work out to £2.
- Carrots: Another essential: You’ll only need about 1kg of these, which costs only 44p at lovely Lidl.
- Parsnips: To be served with the carrots, so again about 1kg, at 55p per 500g this’ll cost you just £1.10
- Sprouts/Broccoli: The great debate – are traditional Brussel sprouts really worth it? If you don’t mind stinking out your kitchen and disappointing a few diners, they cost 65p per 500g; you’ll need about 1kg totalling £1.30. For a less controversial, cheaper alternative, two broccoli heads will cost you 99p from Lidl.
- Turkey: Whole turkeys are often sold on weight, and as 2kg usually serves about 4-6 people, this can be between £5-10, depending on the quality.
- Bacon: A packet of streaky bacon will cost you about £1.29 in Lidl.
- Red Wine: For mulled wine, of course. Fortunately, most mulled wine recipes don’t require a fancy brand, so the cheapest bottle of red, £3.19 at Lidl, will do. Unfortunately, cooking the wine also cooks off the alcohol, so if this meal was a joint stomach-liner and pre-drinks, I’d suggest having another mooch down Lidl’s incredible alcohol aisle.
- Christmas Crackers: For the essential boomerang and paper-hat-snap, it costs about £2 for 10.
- Mince pies: If you’re still not full after all that, mince pies (and some cream if you’re feeling greedy!) should cost no more than £1 for 6.
- Preheat your oven at 200°C.
- Rub oil, salt and pepper (if you’re feeling fancy and have any dried herbs like thyme or rosemary lying around add a sprinkle of that too) onto your meat and pop into the centre of the oven for 1 hour 40 minutes.
- Start prepping your veg! Peel your potatoes – cut into halves/quarters (depending on the size), carrots and parsnips – cut into sticks about 5 inches long – and cut your broccoli/sprouts. You won’t need most of this until later, but it’s best to get this part out of the way so you’re not rushing later on.
- Add the potatoes to a large pan of salted water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes. Par-boil your potatoes, don’t cook them all the way through or they won’t roast properly.
- About an hour or so after putting the meat into the oven, drain your potatoes and spread on a baking tray (you can use the one the meat is cooking on if you like, as the meat juices and oils will add to the flavour of your potatoes). Now is the perfect time to start basting your turkey – spoon the oil/juices from the pan over the meat and potatoes, season and add more oil if necessary (this will make them beautifully crisp on the outside and soft on the inside). Don’t forget to baste your meat and potatoes every time you open the oven. This further cooking process will take about 50 minutes.
- Spread the parsnips and carrots over a baking tray, squeeze some honey over them, season with salt and pepper and add a little bit of oil to crisp them up. Place in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning down after 15 minutes.
- Follow the packet instructions to make your stuffing balls (usually take about 15/20 minutes in the oven). For the carnivores amongst us, feel free to wrap your stuffing balls in bacon for a pigs-in-blankets alternative – if you have any, stick a cocktail stick through them so they hold their shape.
- Start boiling your broccoli/sprouts: this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. When draining, use the water from the greens to make your instant gravy. This saves boiling a kettle, adds a nice taste, and a lot of the nutrients from the veg are actually left in the water after boiling.
If you can find any space I’d recommend putting your plates in the oven for a bit to keep them warm and save your food going cold, and then its ready to serve! Best way when there’s a lot of you is to put some big spoons in the pans and help yourselves! Let people have as much/little as they want (FYI for roast potatoes: make loads).
This time of year there’s always ready-made mulled wine spices, but if you’re feeling creative you can make your own. The main ingredients are cloves, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg and something citrus: so oranges or even clementine if you’re feeling particularly festive. Boil for an hour or so, and leave on the heat as it MUST be served warm, or its just not mulled wine really.
If a cup of this doesn’t get you in the mood for Christmas, I don’t know what will to be honest. Now, whack on Wham!, crack your crackers and tuck in.