Christmas Lunch can be an expensive affair, but it doesn’t have to be. Your crowd of family and friends will be happy as long as they’re fed. It doesn’t have to be a big roast, a massive glazed ham, or the difficult-to-keep-moist and hard-to-fit-in-the-oven turkey. If you’re looking to save some cash on your centerpiece main dish, try one of these. Sometimes it’s delicious and exciting to have something non-traditional on Christmas while being able to stay within budget.
1. Meat Eaters – Platter of Schnitzel
Big trays of thinly sliced pork or veal schnitzel can be easily obtained for very cheap (often $10 for a tray of 10 pieces). Otherwise pork loin or a butterflied, chicken breast between 2 is also cheap. Cheaper than a whole turkey, large rolled roast etc. A stacked platter of crumbed, golden schnitzels that have been pan fried and finished in butter the traditional way look beautiful, smell amazing and are a no-carve meat centerpiece. The crumbing and the cooking in butter also mean it is very filling.
Prepared veal or pork schnitzel. Or 1 x 100g(ish) pork cutlet per person. Otherwise you could use a chicken breast; butterfly it and use each half as a serve.
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup milk
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs or Japanese panko
1/4 cup chopped parsley
5 tablespoons butter
1 lemon cut into wedges
- Lay your pork cutlets between two layers of clingfilm. Using a meat tenderiser, a rolling pin or the a glass bottle (provided you don’t smash it), flatten each cutlet to make sure they are evenly about 1cm thick. Do this slowly because if you work too fast, you just bash holes in the meat (particularly with chicken)
- Take 3 bowls. These will hold the 3 different coatings for the chicken. One with the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and half of the pepper. One with the egg and milk beaten together. And one with the breadcrumbs and the remaining seasoning.
- Dredge each cutlet first in flour on both sides. Make sure it is completely coated. Then dip it in the egg mixture. Finally roll it in the breadcrumbs, ensuring a firm coating, pressing gently with hands. Lay on a baking tray until they are reading to cook.
- Place a large pan on medium high heat. Set the oven to 100 degrees Celcius. Add a tablespoon of oil and allow to get hot.
- Cook each schnitzel for 1-2 minutes each side. Cook no more than 1 or 2 in the pan at a time. When golden brown on both sides, remove from the pan and place on a tray with paper towel. Place this pan in the oven to keep them warm.
- Once all schnitzels are cooked, remove the oil from the pan and replace with the butter. Allow the butter to melt and bubble. Coat both sides of each schnitzel with butter.
- Place schnitzels on a serving platter, scatter with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
2. Vegetarian Layered Vegetable Tart
I’m sorry but I know nothing about how to prepare a tofu Turkey. But on a lunch table, a beautifully prepared tart can be a magnificent centerpiece that has everyone forgetting about meat. Take advantage of seasonal summer vegetables selling cheaply, like zucchini, summer squash and eggplant (my 5 year old reminds me that these are technically fruit, not veggies).
You will need a half quantity of my simple short crust pastry, recipe which can be found in our Beef and Vegetable Pie recipe here. You might as well make the whole quantity though and keep the other half in the freezer for back up.
100 mls of sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
150 grams of cream cheese
1 egg white
1 large zucchini
1 large eggplant
1/4 butternut pumpkin
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon of chopped thyme leaves
- Prepare the pastry according the to the recipe (or whatever recipe you prefer) enough to make one pastry case about 25cm in diametre and 4cm high or equivalent. Fill the inside with baking paper and baking beads, or old beans or rice and pre-bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pastry weights and then cook for a further 5 minutes until the centre of the base is just starting to colour. Remove from the oven.
- Beat the egg white and using a pastry brush, spread this over the inside of the tart base. This acts as a sealant to stop the filling from making the base soggy.
- Using a mandolin or even a good vegetable peeler, slice the vegetables length-ways, with the skin on, so that you have thin long strips. If you can do this with a knife then that’s just as good.
- Beat the 3 cheeses together until a smooth and even mixture and season with salt and pepper. Beat in the lemon zest and thyme. Spread the mixture evenly in the pastry case.
- Decide what order you’re going to arrange the vegetables in. You’ll be doing it one slice at a time, until you run out of pieces. Take a strip of vegetable no.1 and roll it up. PlaTake a strip of vegetable no.2 and roll it around the first piece. Take a strip of vegetable no.3 and roll it around next. When it’s getting close to being too big to handle, lift the roll and place it in the center of the pastry case. Continue to add layers, but arranging it while in the pastry instead of on your bench. This is like making a paper rose. Continue until you have used all your strips.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Brush the tops of the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes and then cover with tin foil and bake for a further 15 minutes. Allow to cool before removing from tin and serving.
3. Pescatarian – A whole fish
Beautiful whole fish like rainbow trout, salmon or native barramundi are cheaply obtained at fresh food markets for between $5-$15 per kilo, depending on the fish. This Christmas falls on a Thursday, so Tuesday and Wednesday are good market days for fresh fish, and some places are even open the morning of Christmas. If you’re going to buy a whole fish the day before you plan to cook it, fill a large lidded plastic container with ice cubes place the fish in this and fill the belly cavity with ice cubes too. This keeps the fish fresh. Make sure you give the fish a good rinse under cold running water before you put it in the container. Whole fish looks spectacular even when simply pan fried, grilled, oven-baked or barbecued. Just season with salt and pepper, and garnish with a squeeze of lemon and you have a fresh, light, flavour-some centerpiece to your lunch. See my fish up there? That was just an ocean trout which cost be $8. I grilled it on both sides in a griddle pan and then chucked the whole thing in the oven to finish off for 5 minutes. Topped with lemon and dill, it looks and tastes good. It is also a really easy fish to serve because the bones are obvious.
Bonus: How to pick your fresh fish:
- check the eyes; if they look clear and bright, rather than cloudy, the fish is decently fresh and very recently caught. When the eyes are cloudy, it means the fish may have spent a long time in transit. Combined with a strong fishy smell, this fish is not good to eat.
- give the fish a poke. If it feels like it bounces back well rather than being easily crushed by pressure, then it’s fresh and cared for in cool temperatures and gentle treatment since it has been caught.
Check out Mamabake’s guide to swapping your fish for a sustainable seafood option here.
4. Everyone’s favourite dish – Lasagne
You might make lasagne almost weekly for your family, or you might be the person who saves this multi-layered dish for birthday dinner requests and special occasions. You may never have made a lasagne. It is a hell of a lot of work. Take it from me, I used to make 30 of them at a time, and it took all day. So why not make it for Christmas? Lasagne can be made vegetarian with layers of roasted summer zucchini, eggplant and capsciums in a tomato sauce instead of the traditional minced beef and pork sauce. It is surprisingly a dish that turns up in Philipino banquet spreads, along with traditional adobos and roast meats. To make this extra special, you could make your own pasta sheets. I’ll admit, I’ve never made lasagne with my own. Such a behemoth task in itself, I don’t think I’d manage. When you consider that a dish so wonderfully comforting and delicious is made from simple mince, vegetables and pasta, compared to a hunk of roast meat or a big bird, a lasagne is something that speaks of more love, and less money.
200g pork mince
3 cloves garlic
handful of thyme leaves
5 celery ribs
400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
5 tablespoons tomato paste
500mls chicken/beef/pork stock
salt and pepper
For the bechamel:
500mls of milk
50 grams butter
50 grams flour
1 cup of grated parmesan
400g fresh pasta sheets
- Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery. Mince the garlic.
- In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat.
- Add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until tender and onion is translucent and just starting to caramelise. Add garlic and cook a further 3 minutes.
- Add both types of mince and brown with the vegetables, breaking up chunks of meat with a wooden spoon.
- Once meat has browned, add tomato paste and cook off for 5 minutes while stirring.
- Next add the tinned tomatoes and stock. Simmer sauce for at least an hour, though an hour and a half would be best. Sauce will thicken and reduce as it cooks, but don’t let it get to the chunk, dry pie filling stage.
- Make the bechamel, Take a medium pot and add the butter, place on high heat and allow to bubble and foam. Add the flour and stir until the mixture bubbles and resembles wet sand. Pour in the milk and grate in half a nutmeg. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and some black pepper.
- As the milk heats, whisk it to prevent it burning on the bottom. When the mixture begins to simmer, start whisking constantly as when it reaches full boil, it thickens and overflows easily if unattended. Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk constantly for about 3-4 minutes or until the bechamel has thickened. Set aside.
- In one (or several if you don’t have one big one) large ceramic or class baking dish measuring about 30cm by 20cm and about 5cm deep or equivalent, layer sauce, then pasta sheets (cut them into rectangles and puzzle piece them together over the sauce. End with a layer of pasta and then pour over the bechamel, spread it evenly and then sprinkle with parmesan.
- Bake at 170 degrees for 45 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.