Christmas pudding ice cream.
Christmas pudding with a twist ... the ice cream version. Photo: Eddie Jim

Christmas is the costliest time of year for most families, from the ham to the turkey and the Christmas tree with all its trimmings.

But this year, avoid all the usual frenzied spending by opting for the handmade, the preloved and the homegrown. Shop cleverly, plan your meals and use every little morsel of what you've got so that it stretches further and lasts longer. Think outside the usual Christmas food paradigm and you might be pleasantly surprised. Try some pork shoulder rolled into sausages, or turkey carcass made into soup.

Arabella Forge's roast chicken with sweet cherry sauce.
Arabella Forge's roast chicken with sweet cherry sauce. Photo: Eddie Jim

About one-third of food prepared at Christmas each year goes to waste. This is not only costly, but it's a tragic loss of delicious next-day leftover dishes.

Here are our tips for cutting down the yuletide costs.

Ditch tradition

Tomato seedlings and worm juice make great gifts for family members or friends who love to garden.
Tomato seedlings and worm juice make great gifts for family members or friends who love to garden. Photo: Eddie Jim

Elizabeth David once commented, ''If I had my way, my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine''.

Of course, while turkeys and hams are spectacular Christmas centrepieces, they are pricey (organic, free-range varieties can cost $100 to $200 apiece), and plenty of fun can be had with the lesser-loved, more unusual cuts of meat. Try a whole roast chook, or a pork-belly or shoulder roast.

Meet your grower

Arabella Forge with her Christmas pudding ice cream.
Arabella Forge with her Christmas pudding ice cream. Photo: Eddie Jim

There is so much hoo-ha about getting the best produce for your Christmas lunch. At the end of the day, the best food tastes of where it has been grown and how it has been raised and harvested. By shopping through a transparent buying system - knowing your grower or farmer, or meeting the person who sells your beef - you will have the best food, as it will taste of where it's come from and the system by which it has been raised. It's often cheaper as well.

Ask for all the bird

If you are pre-ordering your turkey from a butcher or farmer, most will be able to supply you with the feet, necks and any additional giblets. The same goes for chicken, turkey goose or duck. Make sure you request these in advance.

They usually won't cost you anything more, and much of the flavour and nutrition is in these extra bits.

The neck, feet and carcass can be thrown together in a pot with water, herbs and a little vinegar. A few hours of gentle stovetop simmering will produce a delicious stock. Use the stock to make a leftover roast turkey risotto, soup or a base for a deliciously silken gravy for the days that follow.

Even better the next day

While enormous effort goes into making the main meal on Christmas Day, much of the enjoyment can actually be in the days that follow. There's nothing nicer than mini ham frittatas or wild-bird-based soup made from the bones and offcuts of the roast the day before. Plan your meals so that all the leftovers can be reused for later dishes. This will reduce your food budget and mean less food is wasted.

Recipe: Wild bird-based soup

Save every turkey bone from your roast dinner (yes, everything, and it doesn't have to be turkey - the same goes for chook, duck or goose). Place it in a large pot and add the neck, feet and wingettes, if you have them.

Cover with cold water and add a few fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme or sage) plus one tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar and a fresh onion. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for a minimum of two hours. Drain and reserve all the liquid.

Use the stock as a base for a fresh minestrone soup using titbits of garden vegetables, or save the fuss and whip together a creamy pumpkin soup with a fat orange Japla, cream and herbs.

Recipe: Mini leftover frittatas

Place thin slices of ham in muffin cups, add cold roast pumpkin, a whisked egg, finely chopped spinach and grated cheese. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 10 to 15 minutes or until brown and crisp.

Swap, shuffle and share your crockery or table requirements

Alarm bells usually go off in early December for anyone hosting a Christmas lunch. Will your two-bedroom house cater for the 30 people who plan to come around on Christmas Day?

You may find that you need an additional 10 chairs, 30 knives and forks and a handful of wine glasses, teacups and napkins.

Rather than spending a lot of cash on a new table, chairs and crockery, opt for the preloved and pre-owned - second-hand tables and chairs sourced from eBay or op-shops, reuse old jam jars as drinking glasses and see if you can borrow some items from the neighbours.

Many community groups are springing up on social-media sites that encourage barter and trade within neighbourhoods. Try searching for ''swap group'' in your suburb on Facebook or Google.

Cheap but loveable gifts that grow

Every year, my seven-year-old niece collects broad-bean pods, pumpkin seeds and watermelon pips, bags them up and labels them for growing during the coming year. They make great gifts, and are likely to inspire even the most intrepid gardener.

There is still time to make pumpkin soup and save the seeds, or grab a watermelon or a bag of broad beans from the market. Make sure you choose non-hybrid varieties and include some clear instructions for first-time gardeners.

Other gifts that are inexpensive to assemble but wonderfully valuable for home gardeners include worm juice, home-sprouted seedlings, compost or coffee grounds, which act as a fertiliser.

Arabella Forge's Christmas recipes

This cooking method of roasting, then poaching keeps the meat moist and prevents it from drying out.  I prefer a smaller bird – usually 1.2kg. The meat is more tender and the breast less likely to dry out. For more than four people, I recommend a second bird.

INGREDIENTS

1 whole free-range chicken (if possible, ask for the neck, feet and wingettes)

1-2 tsp butter

fresh herbs - any or all of rosemary, thyme and tarragon

sea salt

olive oil for drizzling

rind of 1 small lemon

1 small onion, cut into quarters

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the neck, feet and wingettes if you have them and set them aside for making stock. Use your fingertips to separate some of the skin from the breast meat. Poke the butter and a handful of herbs into this cavity. Rub the skin with the salt, herbs and lemon rind. Place the onion inside the inner cavity of the bird.

2. Place your bird, breast side up, on a baking dish that has a tight fitting lid (foil can be used if you don't have the lid, but the baking dish must be deep enough for the bird to fill). Place the dish in the oven and roast, uncovered for 20 minutes.

3. Remove the dish from the oven. Add 2cm of water to the bottom of the dish. Cover with a lid. Continue to cook for a further 40-45 minutes or until cooked through. The bird is ready when the drumstick can be poked with a skewer and the juice comes out clear. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Cherry sauce

INGREDIENTS

2 cups fresh cherries

1 tsp butter

1 tsp arrowroot powder

1/2 tsp coconut or Rapadura sugar (optional depending on sweetness or sourness of cherries)

1/3 cup water

METHOD

1. Remove all the pips from the cherries and place in a small saucepan. Add the water, butter and sugar and turn up the heat to a gentle simmer.

2. Remove a small portion of liquid and stir through the arrowroot powder in a small bowl. Return to the sauce.

3. Simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the cherries are soft. Remove from the heat and pour into a serving jug.

ALT

Christmas pudding ice cream
The beauty of ice cream on Christmas day is that it can be made days in advance, which reduces the last minute stress of cooking. It’s also a winning dessert for those don’t like the rich flavour of traditional pudding.

Leftovers stored in clear glass jars make wonderful gifts.

INGREDIENTS
500ml non-homogenised milk
300ml cream
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup coconut sugar or rapadura sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
grated rind of 1 orange
grated rind of 1 lemon
squeeze of lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon marsala
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup currants


METHOD

In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream, arrowroot powder, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla essence. Gentle whisk to smooth out any lumps. Place it on a low heat and continue whisking every few minutes. When the mixture reaches a high heat (just below boiling point), remove from the stove top. Continue to whisk so that mixture remains smooth.

In a mixing bowl combine the milk mixture with the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Transfer to ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions.

NOTES

I use arrowroot flour as it is very cheap and sold from all supermarkets. It's also gluten free whereas some types of corn flour are not. In the ice cream it works as a binding agent and increases the viscosity.  In the cherry sauce it thickens it, like corn flour. 

What will you be doing this Christmas to keep the costs under control? Share your tips in the comments below.

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