Christmas Dinner Party for $10/person!
I've seen lots of Christmas dinner threads and lots of of dinner party threads and lots of budget food threads.... so here's one that combines all of them!
My 5 closest friends and I have a gift exchange each year, and this year two of us will be cooking up dinner in celebration. $10 per person is our maximum budget, and we all love food, of all kinds. We're trying to come up with something that wintery, celebrationy, satisfying, and CHEAP. I was thinking along the lines of pork maybe.... more special than chicken, cheaper than the fancy cuts of beef, plus we all love consuming parts of the pig. Any ideas? Doesn't have to be fancy, just special and tasty!
We love consuming all parts of the porker too. One of our favorites is a loin which has been "drugged" with Italian herbs of all types: basil, fennel, oregano; and then rubbed down with olive oil and garlic and slow-roasted with a bit of milk in the bottom of the roaster. (To drug the pork, insert a sharp knife, then either a dowel or a large-handled wooden spoon to increase the size of the hole you'll be stuffing.)
Or you could take a sharp left and do a braised veal breast in Barolo with veggies.
Or maybe chicken al mattone, if you decide to use the poultry instead. Seared and then roasted under a brick with a bunch of garlic and parsley, with a touch of olive oil to make the skin crazy-crispy; finished with a good squeeze of lemon or red wine vinegar
It's fortunate that you have the ratio of guests to funds that you describe. It's much easier to prepare a holiday meal for 5 at $10 per head than for 2 at the same ratio; $50 goes a lot further than $20. That's often because it's difficult to find items like protein in quantities small enough to make it cost effective for the smaller group.
In my own holiday meal experience I've come to the conclusion that the foundation of the meal, i.e. meat and potatoes, impact the celebration less than the side dishes. Recipes using flavored gelatins (especially when layered and mixed with fruits and/or ricotta or cottage cheese) or flavorful mixed green salads and a special bread (e.g. dutch crust) or rolls) and sauces that knock their socks off or a special sweet potato concoction with wine, butter and nuts (pecans are nice) is what folks remember most about holiday meals.
When our family comes together during the holidays it is rare for anyone to ask for a special type of protein. But requests for those special side dishes are always on the list.
Six of you means a budget of sixty bucks, right? What about a couple of roast ducks? When I want really good prices for duck, I go to an Asian market. I think duck is really festive, and there are a gazillion recipes on the web ranging from l'orange to duck and grasshoppers. Well, maybe not grasshoppers, but lots of duck recipes! Maybe creme brulee for dessert? It's not expensive. Roasted yams and Brussells sprouts? Some sort of elegant, easy and inexpensive soup with gougeres could be nice. I love steaming and pureeing broccoli or cauliflower with chicken broth, then adding cheddar to taste. You could do both, then pour them into the soup plates side by side and swirl them into a ying/yang pattern. Easy to do and looks very festive and goes great with gougeres. Lots of things you can do with sixty bucks to feed six for dinner! Merry Christmas!
Pork is very affordable, so there are a lot of good options there. But another meal that always seems like a special treat to me is risotto. Plus it's easy to make for a group that size. It could be a side dish to a roast pork, or it could be a main dish on its own.
I also might get cursed for this, but I buy bags of frozen shrimp when they're on sale and keep them in my freezer for quick defrosting, and they're pretty darn passable. Maybe wrap them with sage and prosciutto, then broil them, and serve them on top of a mound or risotto with a little balsamic reduction on top.