Everyone loves homemade but sometimes it makes sense to buy shop-bought rather than making everything from scratch – especially when you're short on time and money. Try our clever shortcuts (your guests will never notice!) and you'll have more time to focus on a few, well-chosen homemade showstoppers.
Ready cooked chestnuts
Perfect for scattering among Brussels sprouts, adding to stuffing or making luxurious soups, chestnuts are a seasonal favourite. Thankfully, you don't have to cook and peel your own. Keep a bag of ready-to-use chestnuts (Merchant Gourmet Whole Chestnuts £1.50 for 200g) in the freezer and add to dishes for an instant festive flavour.
If you don't have time to make your own stuffing, there are plenty of ready-made flavours, such as cranberry or chestnut and hazelnut (Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Chestnut and Hazelnut Stuffing, 110g £1.25) that will bring a festive touch to the table. Cheat the homemade look by adding a few cooked chestnuts or whole cranberries to the mix.
Ready roll pastry
Even professional pastry chefs like Eric Lanlard have no qualms about using a good quality shop-bought puff pastry. Keep a roll (Ready Rolled Puff Pastry, 375g, £1.30) in the freezer – remember to take it out in plenty of time to defrost at room temperature - to create party snacks or use up leftovers on Boxing Day. Mushroom and turkey pot pie couldn't be easier, combining leftover turkey, a tin of soup and ready roll puff pastry.
Buying individual jars of spices to make mulled wine can soon add up. Ready-made sachets are better value (Mulled Wine Spice, £1 for 6), easy to use and taste just as good. If you're really short on time, pick up a bottle of mulled wine, from £2.99, and add a few slices of orange and cinnamon sticks to give it that authentic "it took all day to make" look.
Ready to go veg
Peeling and dicing vegetables may not require much skill but it can take up valuable time. Keep a bag of finely chopped mixed veggies (Finely Chopped Vegetables 700g, £1.50) in the freezer and you'll have something to hand should unexpected guests arrive. Great in soups, it also makes a great filling for party food such as mini quiches or vegetable lasagne.
Mincemeat made easy
Homemade mince pies beat shop-bought hands down – but you don't have to do everything from scratch. If you're short on time, buy good quality mincemeat in a jar (Robertsons Traditional Mincemeat, 411g, £1). Jazz up shop-bought mincemeat with a glug of whisky and the zest of one orange. If time is really tight, cheat with ready-made pastry.
Gingerbread house in a kit
When it comes to dessert, most of us choose between making our own or buying shop-bought but there is a middle way – buy a kit. Few sweet treats are more impressive than a traditional gingerbread house. Don't worry if you've never made one before, you can get a kit (Sainsbury's Gingerbread House Homebaking Kit, £5) complete with cutters, edible decorations and most importantly instructions.
If you don't fancy making your own gravy, buy fresh gravy (Tesco Finest Beef Gravy 350g, £1.50) that tastes great and is just as easy as adding boiling water to a spoonful of granules. If you want to add your own touch, pour in a few cooked juices from the meat or a splash of red wine for extra depth.
Three kitchen gadgets to make life easier:
Russell Hobbs 21140 3 Tier Steamer, £19.99
Kenwood Chrome Can Opener, Knife Sharpener & Bottle Opener, £14.99
Russell Hobbs Creations Mini Chopper, £14.99