The 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.
Dazzle Your Guests: 20 Budget-Friendly Christmas Dinner Entrees
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 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. Recipe: Epicurious
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, this recipe 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. Recipe: Martha Stewart
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. Heaven for cheese lovers, this dish is laden with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and provolone. It's also ideal for vegetarians. Recipe: Genius Kitchen
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 the instructions in a video that accompanies this recipe. The recipe calls for wrapping the loin in caul fat, but it's hard for most people to come by, so substitute prosciutto. Recipe: Chef John of Food Wishes
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. This recipe suggests brining the turkey beforehand. Repurpose any leftover turkey gravy and maybe add a splash of cognac for sparkle. Recipe:FastPaleo
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. This mushroom Wellington recipe 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. Recipe: Delicious Everyday
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 this recipe for old Charleston-style shrimp and grits, 1 pound of shrimp is enough to feed eight. The creamy grits are a perfect antidote to cold, wintry nights. Recipe:Allrecipes
Made from a super-cheap cut of pork, porchetta is the ultimate Italian party fare. This recipe for porchetta with roasted fingerling potatoes 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. Recipe: Food Network chef Anne Burrell
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 mint, saffron, and parsley. Figure one shank for each diner and serve over a large bowl of fluffy couscous. Recipe: Jamie Oliver
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 are often on sale. A 5- to 6-pound chicken serves eight, but that won't leave any leftovers. To ensure enough for a second meal of tasty leftovers, roast two smaller chickens. Recipe: Food Network chef Ina Garten
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.
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 this sausage- and apple-stuffed acorn squash recipe posted on Food.com. Martha Stewart reaches out to vegetarians with a stuffing of rice and mushrooms. Recipe: Food.com
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. Instead, consider basting the ham with a sweet Riesling and mustard for a more modern take on this old favorite. It’s a great way to use leftover wine. Recipe: Bon Appétit
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. This slightly modified version 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. Recipe: The Christian Science Monitor
Now this is something for a very special occasion. 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. Recipe: Bon Appétit
This vegan spin on a classic delivers all of the warm and comforting flavors of a pot roast, complete with meaty mushrooms. This hearty recipe from can be served over polenta, potatoes, or with crusty bread as a delicious main dish for any holiday gathering. Recipe: A Virtual Vegan
Italian seafood stew is characteristically made with loads of shellfish, which are full of flavor while being low in price. This recipe is also a host’s best friend since it can be made ahead of time, and will actually improve overnight, and reheated before serving. Recipe: Food & Wine
A holiday brisket is classic and warming, bringing back fond memories of family for many people. This slow cooker version of brisket and onions is a foolproof method for getting the right texture while giving you enough hands off time to tend to the side dishes and other aspects of hosting. Recipe: The Kitchn
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