Dazzle Your Guests: 16 Budget-Friendly Christmas Dinner Entrees


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The six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's are a dinner-party delight. If ever there were a time to roll out the glitz and glam, this is it. And that often means a meal full of culinary bling -- posh main courses comprised of rich foods that come at rich prices. With a little forethought and work, however, budget-friendly entrees using cheaper cuts of meat will satisfy a host's desire to feed a crowd something sumptuous on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or anytime during the holiday season. Just remember that presentation is everything -- make it look elegant and nobody will miss the goose.

Related: 15 Themed Dinner Party Menus Under $5 a Person
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Unctuous and hearty, short ribs are cheap but taste like a million when dressed up with ingredients like chocolate, stout, or wine. Classic red-wine-braised short ribs from Epicurious are a surefire crowd pleaser. Serve the ribs atop a bed of polenta to sop up the sauce and alongside a simply dressed arugula salad to cut the fattiness of the beef.

Related: 24 Top Wines for $10 or Less
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As impressive and holiday-worthy as a wreath, a crown roast of pork is basically two racks of rib chops tied together in a circle and roasted with stuffing inside. Some supermarket butchers will prepare the racks upon request. Otherwise, Martha Stewart provides step-by-step instructions. Coat the crown with a mash of herbs, garlic, and olive oil and roast for about two hours or until the meat's internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. A festive apple pecan dressing à la Williams-Sonoma bakes separately and can be set inside the circle of ribs for serving.
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Put anything in a crust and it looks snazzy as all get out. Rather than use beef tenderloin to make the traditional and pricey beef Wellington, take a cue from the Pampered Chef and marry chicken with spinach and cheese, wrap in a phyllo crust, and serve with mustard cream sauce.

Related: 50 Chicken Recipes That Won't Break the Bank
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To feed a crowd well and cheaply, make lasagna. No ordinary red-sauce lasagna will do for an elegant holiday party meal, though, so turn to a white-sauce version filled with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese. Emeril Lagasse's recipe is heaven for cheese lovers, as it's laden with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. It's also ideal for vegetarians.
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Boneless pork loin (not tenderloin) is often on sale at a budget-friendly price. Although it's a plain and fairly dry cut of meat, pork loin is easily gussied up when stuffed with something holiday-worthy. Ask the supermarket butcher to butterfly the roast or do it yourself. Even a beginning chef can tackle this job: Just follow a video from Chef John of Food Wishes. He suggests wrapping the loin in caul fat, but it's hard for most people to come by, so substitute prosciutto.
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For hosts who can still tolerate turkey after Thanksgiving, turkey breast is excellent holiday fare, especially for a small gathering of six or so people. The challenge with turkey breast is that it's extremely lean (read: dry), but it benefits substantially from a bacon wrap. First coat the meat with a mixture of butter, chopped sage, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and then wrap with a basket-weave of bacon. The folks at FastPaleo show how it's done and even suggest brining the turkey beforehand. Repurpose any leftover turkey gravy and maybe add a splash of cognac for sparkle.
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It's not always necessary to serve meat, even if no one at the dinner party hews to a vegetarian diet. At holiday time something a bit lighter than usual might be appreciated. Portobello mushrooms are meaty and hefty enough to be filling. A mushroom Wellington recipe from the blog Delicious Everyday calls for sautéing a few of the edible fungi; coating them with mustard; and adding caramelized onion, chopped spinach, and herbs. Wrap the whole in buttery puff pastry and bake for half an hour. This recipe serves four but can be doubled or tripled to accommodate all the guests at the table.
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There's something quite wonderful about shrimp and grits even though the latter signals down-home fare. Shrimp are fairly expensive on their own, but mixed with sausage and bell peppers, as in a recipe for old Charleston-style shrimp and grits posted on Allrecipes, 1 pound of shrimp is enough to feed eight. The creamy grits are a perfect antidote to cold, wintry nights.
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Made from super-cheap pork shoulder, porchetta is the ultimate Italian party fare. Food Network chef Anne Burrell's recipe for porchetta with roasted fingerlings calls for an economical picnic shoulder of pork sufficient to feed 10 people. This juicy and tender cut of meat cooks atop a bed of garlic, winter vegetables, and white wine for about four hours, yielding an entire meal from one pan. The flavorful and crispy skin that results is an added bonus.

Related: How to Feed a Crowd 15 Ways With a Cheap Cut of Pork
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While leg of lamb tops the charts money-wise, lamb shanks are its budget cousin. They're flavorful but very tough, require hours of cook time, and take to almost any type of sauce. Give the shanks a Moroccan spin by spicing the meat with cinnamon, cumin, and ginger. A recipe for lamb shank tagine with dates from The New York Times also uses raisins for a nice, sweet finish. Figure one shank for each diner and serve over a large bowl of fluffy couscous.
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Plain but soul-satisfying, roast chicken pleases almost everyone as long as it's juicy and flavorful. Served on a platter surrounded by vegetables, its golden goodness looks like a million bucks. Whole chickens are usually cheap to begin with and often on sale. Ina Garten's recipe for perfect roast chicken is a classic. The Food Network chef says one 5- to 6-pound chicken serves eight, but that won't leave any leftovers. To ensure enough for a second meal, roast two smaller chickens.

Related: 11 Ways to Spice Up Leftovers
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Pizza is definitely not something destined for a fancy dinner party. But make the crust out of puff pastry and it becomes a tart. Just about any combination of savories can cover the pastry after it bakes in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes at 350 degrees until golden. Topping ideas include herbed goat cheese melted on the baked crust and sprinkled with pea shoots, caramelized onions with melted Gruyère and fresh thyme, sausage with parmesan cheese and garlic, sautéed mushrooms and onions with feta, and Kalamata olives with ricotta. Set out an array of different pies to make the party special.
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Keep meal costs low by turning a vegetable into the main focus of a holiday dinner party. An acorn squash cut in half yields individual-serving containers that can be filled in many ways. Meat lovers will take to a sausage- and apple-stuffed acorn squash recipe posted on Food.com. Martha Stewart reaches out to vegetarians with a stuffing of rice and mushrooms.
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When a lot of people are expected around the table, a whole, bone-in ham is a budget-wise yet impressive choice. In the olden days, holiday hams were tarted up with orange juice or cola and pineapples and studded with cloves, turning them sparkly but overly sweet. Bon Appétit suggests basting the ham with a sweet Riesling and mustard for a more modern take on this old favorite.
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The beef bourguignon from Julia Child's canon is definitely not your average everyday beef stew. For one thing, it takes just about a full day to prepare; the results, not surprisingly, are sublime. A slightly modified version printed in The Christian Science Monitor is meant for cooks who don't mind spending the time to save money. A frugal trick: Use chuck roast, which is often on sale, rather than pricier stewing beef, and cut into chunks. The dish tastes better after a few days in the refrigerator, so prepare it well in advance and keep the big day stress-free.

Related: Cheers to Julia Child: 11 Recipes for Leftover Wine
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Now this is something for a very special occasion, and Bon Appétit shares credit with the cook. Take a humble chicken breast and pound it thin. Roll it up with elegant ingredients like prosciutto, provolone, and fresh herbs, and smother the whole with a mushroom pan sauce. Present on a bed of parsley rice.