Guide to hosting Christmas dinner on a budget
Over the years, I’ve mellowed down and learnt to be a lot more efficient with the way I cook. Like most things, it pays off to buy things that are value for money. I have whipped up dishes with fancy ingredients like turbot, lobster, lamb, and truffles. But when it comes to the end of the year and the season of big parties, I have to balance quantity, taste, quality, and time. I am broke this year, so I’ve got a $200 budget and five guests to feed. Here’s my foolproof Christmas dinner on a budget that’s sure to impress!
Appetiser: Spicy mussels
This dish in its pure, unadulterated form is a bowl of luxury—sweet French mussels drenched in a buttery white wine sauce. This alternative may be blasphemous if you’re French but it’ll definitely blow away Asian palates. Instead of using French or NZ mussels, I use freshly packed green mussels. These are locally sourced and a lot more affordable. You can get them at NTUC or Cold Storage!
They’re not as sweet as your pricy alternatives but they’re meatier and plump, with a lot more protein for the same weight. For dinner, I am pairing them with a spicy, garlic-wine sauce. Whenever you’re dealing with seafood that does not have much of a natural taste, dazzle it up with a robust sauce. Most fancy high-grade meats need fewer punches of extra flavour.
I use chilli padi, crushed garlic, and lots of dried herbs. These last a lot longer than fresh ones. Throw in a few curry leaves too. As for the wine, look for the cheapest white wine you can find. These are, however, a lot more acidic so you have to reduce it in the pan for a longer time to burn off the alcohol. For butter, I go with whatever is on promo. Please use block butter though! Margarine or cheaper processed butter just won’t be enough.
Entree: Chicken curry
Let’s normalise having chicken curry for Christmas! It’s simple, yummy, and universally loved. Most budget guides recommend swapping roast turkey for chicken but personally, I find it a little too conspicuous. Using a dish that actually highlights the strengths of chicken, like curry, makes your menu look intentional and fun.
For Christmas, I’m going with a light, sweet-spicy curry. Ever since I overcame my fear of wet markets, I’ve only gotten chicken from Tekka Market. It’s affordable, fresh, and you can get it cut to your liking, all for under $8. I am getting five big pieces of thigh without the skin.
I think most people find curries intimidating because there’s just so many different varieties. And you can’t just use a premix and water if you want a good curry. Here are the basic components that make or break a memorable and tasty curry:
- Type of oil: Use ghee if you want a richer flavour.
- The base: Get premixed powders from any shop at Little India.
- Additional components: Stick to what the recipe suggests but feel free to spruce it up with bay leaves!
- Garnish: Always squeeze a bit of lemon for acidity, and throw in some chopped cilantro
I usually thicken my curries with some cream, coconut milk, or desiccated coconut, just to give it that extra silky texture. For Christmas, I’m serving up toasted baguettes on the side, so my guests can soak all that goodness up in a bite.
Feel free to play around, and throw in some cherry tomatoes and a medley of colourful veggies, just so it looks Christmas-y.
I feel like so many of us get unnecessarily worked up over holiday dinners because we feel the need to impress. But the whole point of having dinner together is to celebrate and bond.
Have fun with your meal prep and show your flair; it’ll be a great foundation for conversations that are a lot less superficial.
Dessert: Bread pudding with ice cream
Bread pudding is a no-brainer. The best part about it is that you can make it with leftover bread! This is a quick and easy way to close your Christmas menu while keeping it festive for your guests. I’m using eggnog on top of plain milk, just to elevate it a little. Feel free to throw in a bit of ground nutmeg too, instead of just the usual cinnamon.
For the ice cream component, I will be getting a cheap vanilla tub. Don’t worry too much about your ice cream tasting ‘confectionary’ and ‘overly sweet’. Though more affordable ice creams tend to have that distinctive sugary taste, you can add caramelised apples or berries just to infuse depth into it. Trust me, it’ll be perfect for your budget bread pudding!
Perks of having your Christmas dinner on a budget
I am seasonally broke but I love getting busy in the kitchen. When I first got my own kitchen, I was obsessed with cooking with the best ingredients: organic vegetables, fresh seafood from supermarkets, and online grocery hauls.
I think most of us are influenced by cooking fads and Western shows where elevated cooking is portrayed as a metric of success. We aspire to fit into that ‘dream’ but most of the time, we end up burning out and crashing because it’s super unsustainable, unless you’ve got deep pockets. Besides, Singapore does not have access to natural resources, so prices of high quality ingredients are far from cheap. As such, it’s best to be tactical with your Christmas dinner!
How are you celebrating Christmas this year? Tell us below!