Why I'm a Lidl bit pleased with myself
Making a traditional Christmas dinner for a family is no mean feat. I should know, I've done it single-handedly for the past 13 years and it's exhausting. It's not just the time that it takes and the attention to detail that is required, but also the sheer expense of doing it right with all the trimmings that everyone expects.
Last year, my elder son, Luke, was only home from university for four days at Christmas and most of my precious time with him was spent doing last-minute shopping and laborious food preparation. As for Christmas Day itself, I was so busy cooking that I hardly had a moment to sit with them and enjoy the occasion.
This year, I decided things were going to change, so I set myself a challenge: to do all the food shopping and preparation in advance, then freeze or store as much as possible (freezer defrosted and emptied in preparation!); to keep the cost down by doing all the shopping under one roof; and to stick to a budget of £20 per head for five courses, plus drink.
Twenty pounds per head for a proper five-course meal, with all the trimmings? As far as I was concerned, there was only one place for it, so off I went to see my Lidl friend. Armed with a shopping list the length of my arm and eighty quid to spend for our family-of-four (me, the boys, plus one guest), this was certainly going to be a challenge.
Anyone who reads this magazine will know all about Lidl, and I thought I did too, because I shop there all the time. But their brand new "concept store" on Andersonstown Road is the biggest and best one yet with a wider variety of... well, everything really. Plus all the usual quirky touches that make every trip there like a visit to Aladdin's bargain basement.
For example, this week's speciality aisle was dedicated to musical instruments - trumpets, clarinets, drums, the lot. It's probably the only place on earth where you can stroll across from frozen meats and find yourself in the brass section.
But down to business. My menu for the big day: buck's fizz; mixed seafood starter with cava; traditional roast turkey and ham with all the trimmings; cava; Christmas pudding with brandy sauce and/or Christmas cake; cheese board served with ruby port; coffee and mint chocolates.
So off I went, methodically ticking each item off the list and checking for freezing guidelines and use-by dates of every item before loading into my trolley. I knew there would be a certain number of items that I'd have to get or prepare closer to the day, such as some veg, brandy sauce, gravy, fresh fruit and the wheaten bread, but other than that I was getting as much as possible in this one fell swoop.
So did I achieve my goal to become Northern Ireland's most well-prepared Christmas dinner shopper and manage it all within my tight budget?
Here's my receipt, listed in order of appearance at the table: 2x bottles of buck's fizz @ £1.99; 2 x pack of oak-smoked salmon @ £2.69; 2 x smoked haddock souffle @ £2.99; whole king prawns @ £1.89; 2 x bottle Spanish cava @ £4.49; medium frozen turkey with giblets @ £10.99; pork chipolatas @ £1.39; 2 x streaky bacon @ 89p; ham fillet @ £2.59; frozen goose fat roast potatoes @ £1.29; frozen potato croquettes; frozen roast parsnips @ £1.29; petits pois and baby carrots @ 89p; chestnuts @ £3.49; fresh sage and onion stuffing @ £1.79 (freezable); luxury Christmas pudding @ £3.49; luxury Christmas cake @ £3.99; bottle ruby port @ £6.19; stilton @ £1.99; camembert @ £1.09; cheese truckles @ £1.69; luxury cheese biscuits; sea-salted butter @ £1.79; dates @ 99p; freshly ground coffee @ £1.39; chocolate mint sticks @ £1.49.
And the grand total? Came in at £75 with just enough to spare to buy a box of 6 Luxury Christmas Crackers at £4.99! Good old Lidl. I might not win any Michelin stars for my Christmas dinner, but I know it will be delicious and the extra time I will have to spend with my family is, quite frankly, priceless.