Christmas Party for 40 - theme ideas, main courses on a budget?
This is my 18th year throwing a Christmas party. Started in high school, menus have varied over the years, but I'm always looking to do something new. Like many others, this year will be a little tighter than the past, so I'm looking for main courses that I can do on a budget - probably do one pasta and one meat. Any suggestions for what to do with inexpensive cuts of meat for a crowd?
I also try to have a theme that helps me corral my menu. Past years were the "Very Drunken Christmas" with penne vodka and tenderloin in port sauce, "Colors of Christmas" with stuffed shells, chicken with red pepper sauce, and spinach with rice; or "Chritsmas Circa 1974" with apricot chicken, fondue, etc. This year I'm playing around with the budget aspect, and looking at things like "homestyle holidays", but I can't come up with a nice title that expresses the warm and welcoming, yet thrifty aspect without sounding too depressing. Any suggestions?
Pulled pork comes to mind immediately; pork shoulder/butt roasts are very inexpensive, usually.....you could set up a crockpot of it to keep it hot and put out rolls and extra bbq sauce. Here's a recent thread about cheap cuts of meat that also might inspire you:
The Zuni Cafe Mock Porchetta is a great recipe that dresses up a cheap cut of meat and opens the door to thrifty sides. You serve it hot, although I think it would also be good served cold, thinly sliced, on buns. Here's a thread:
As for naming it? Hmmm, you could call it the Christmas of Love or the Spirit of Christmas Past (Or Present of Future) or something a little sappy to distract from the cheapness aspect.
The pork ideas sound good....you could also do lots of sausages to go with the pasta. You can buy those in bulk at Costco.
As for the name...maybe just go with the flow and try to make light of the economic situation.
The "Christmas for Clunkers" menu....or "Fannie Mae Holiday"......or "Upside Down Season."
Why not just call it "Homestyle Christmas"? Home style means the menu can be made up of any comfort food...mac & cheese, stuffed red potato apps, green bean bundles tied with roasted red bell pepper strips, miniature size pot pies...instead of pulled pork, why not do pulled turkey barbecue? Turkeys are still on sale in most stores and a 25 lb turkey makes a lot of barbecue; you could either make or buy dinner rolls to make sandwiches out of..I buy extra turkeys to make this all year long. If interested, l have a great recipe for the sauce.
Other meat suggestions are chicken, meatballs or ground beef or pork; also pasta such as lasagna or other inexpensive pasta mixed with a cream sauce & vegetables. You could do a theme such as Italian, Mexican, French (which would probably be a little more expensive than the others) If you know anyone who owns a restaurant or has access to a food supplier, you can probably buy your meat cheap as well as some of the other items on your menu.
One last question: is the party for just relatives or is it an open house type of affair? If it's for relatives, you can call it a "Potluck Surprise Christmas" and ask everyone to bring a side or dessert and you can supply the main entree, which will make more affordable for you.
I usually cook mine on the grill by splitting it in half like a chicken, rubbing it down with a dry rub of onion powder, granulated garlic, cumin, a little dry mustard, a little (not much) brown sugar, kosher s & p.
Cook on grill using indirect heat for a couple hours then wrap in a couple layers of heavy duty foil wrap, poke with a few holes and put back on the grill to finish cooking, turning every once in a while, until it reaches 160F. Remove from grill and allow to rest for an hour. Once cool enough to handle, just remove the skin and bones and pull the meat like pork. Sometimes I'll partially cook the bird and remove it after a couple hours then wrap and finish in the oven. You could also do this in a smoker if you wish.
While the bird is cooking, I puree one large onion and 3 cloves of garlic in a food processor until completely broken down. Add this to a large saucepan with one cup tomato puree, a cup cider vinegar, 6 vegetable juice cocktail, 1 cup (or more, depending on how sweet you like your sauce) brown sugar, 1/4 cup molasses, 1 tablespoon worcestershire, 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt & pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until reduced by 1/3 and is concentrated, then whisk in a couple of tablespoons of butter.
I like to toss the pulled turkey in the sauce and heat in oven for about 20 minutes; serve in buns with slaw or on a plate with sides.
I don't know about NY (I think that's where you are from), but in Alberta Pork is dirt cheap right now because of Swine flu (you can't get it from eating pork). You probably could pick up some nice tenderloins at a bulk store (Costco) for cheap. Or a nice slow cooked pork roast with apples and onions.