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Inexpensive Christmas dinner for 8, but NOT turkey

I'm hosting the Orphan's Christmas this year, where all my friends (who have not gone home) come over to celebrate the day.

I'm pretty broke this year and need a main dish. I really don't like turkey, although I can get it fairly cheap.

In the past I have made turkey, beef Wellington, and ham. I may do ham again if I can find a good deal on it, I did manage to find it at $.49 a lb. a Fresh and Easy dur Thanksgiving.

I have access to TJ's, and Costco.

My friends will be bringing the booze and maybe some desserts.

There aren't any limits as far as allergies, and no vegetarians, so almost anything would work. I just need it to be inexpensive, tasty, and worthy of a Christmas dinner.


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  1. Sounds like a fun challenge. Could you do a crown pork roast with stuffing? Maybe a beautiful platter of roasted veggies with it. I've seen them at some pretty good prices. Another thought is paella (seafood often great prices at both TJ's and Costco).

    1 Reply
    1. Tri-tip? My family didn't have a lot of money growing up and that's what we had every year. They're available at Costco in packages of 2.

      Also, it doesn't have to be a big piece of meat... what about like a lasagna?

      4 Replies
      1. re: juliejulez

        Not here in LA, they don't. Most tri-tips are only about two & a half pounds, so, though there's no waste to them, you will need at least two of them.

        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

          Ah OK. I used to live in Fresno and they sold in 2 packs there, same with Chicago. Either way, tri-tip is still pretty cheap to buy just about anywhere.

          1. re: juliejulez

            Ya know what? I think you were right, they do at Costco, I was thinking of my grocery store, since I just picked one up for later in the month. So yes,, your suggestion is perfect, a tri tip roast is not overly expensive, easy to do, and really tasty.

        2. re: juliejulez

          I second Lasagna, that's what I'm making for about 16 people. Someone will bring bread, another will bring salad, and another will take care of dessert. I can make it ahead of time, pop it in the oven & enjoy the gathering instead of worrying about cooking.

        3. farsumagru

          Basically a cheap piece of veal shoulder made into a giant braciole. Might need two veal shoulder steaks, but they aren't expensive. This way, since it isn't stew it doesn't look cheap. Also delicious go for a bread crumb currant almonds cheese stuffing.

          1. Small meat, big pasta. Maybe a roast chicken (even a Costco rotisserie reheat looks nice) for those longing for tradition, and a large bowl of pasta, marinara sauce, and an array of add-ins: small beef meatballs, a bit of grilled Italian pork sausage, roast veggies, diced olives, nice shredded Parm. Huge green salad to start.

            1 Reply
            1. re: DuchessNukem

              Good ideas and it hits on all the traditional things. She can also make a pile of dressing if she goes costco chickie. Cheap mashed potatoes...

              I love Sunday gravy on holidays.

            2. Pork Roasts....either a Whole Loin or a Picnic Shoulder

              Lasagna is also very traditional on Christmas Day.

              1 Reply
              1. re: fourunder

                Fresh hams are usually around this time of year, too. Lots of meat plus skin. Should be fairly cheap.

              2. Lasagna and maybe a vegetarian manicotti too and a nice salad with crusty garlic bread. Ham would be good with al gratin potatoes too.

                2 Replies
                1. re: mara44

                  Lasagna was my first thought as well. Eggplant parm wouldn't be a bad vegetarian option (if you have cheese-eating vegetarians), as well.

                  1. re: shanagain

                    I second/third/fourth doing lasagna. My family used to also do beef stroganoff, if you want to go old school. It can stretch meat a long way. I like to do a crab lasagna using crab, cream cheese instead of ricotta, sliced tomatoes, cream of shrimp soup and whatever cheese you like. A pound of crab will make lasagna for 16. Or, go with eggplant as one or two of the layers in a classic marinara based dish--I brush the slices with a little oil and broil them to cut down on the fat and save time.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I make meatloaf that I shape (like a half egg) on a jelly roll pan and completely cover in bacon, with glaze on top. Very pretty on a platter. I especially like it with baked purple potatoes. Supreme comfort food.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      +1. Even people who "don't like meatloaf" often like mine. It's a wonderful food if you make it right.

                      Three rules:
                      (a) either no onions or onions that have been *completely* softened
                      (b) liberal use of panade (milk & bread), which has the doubly good effect of making the dish a little cheaper per pound
                      (c) bake it freeform on a sheet pan, not one of those loaf pans.

                      Serve with mashed potatoes and carrots. Or green beans if you dislike carrots.

                      1. re: Jay F

                        I hope this isn't a dumb question, but why freeform on a sheet pan v. loaf pan?

                        1. re: kmlmgm

                          Free form pan allows for development of more crust and avoids the pool of "meatloaf grease" one gets with a loaf pan, which can lead to a steaming effect.

                          1. re: kmlmgm

                            Regular loaf pans don't allow fat to drain away from the meatloaf. I use a meat loaf pan with a perforated insert that allows drainage and achieves nice rectangular slices. It is really easy to make gravy in the pan once the insert containing the cooked meatloaf is lifted out. The loaf shrinks away from the sides of the insert enough to allow browning of the sides.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Okay, the perforated pan is what I've always used, too, so I forget that other people make it in a bread loaf pan as well. I like how it sort of steams it, like mentioned by ipsedixit, but also gives cripser edges which are easier for my young kids to stab with their fork. In our house of 5, meatloaf is one of everybody's favorite dinners, it caught me off guard to read that I might have gotten it wrong. Thanks for the clarification from you both!

                          2. re: Jay F

                            This is exactly how I make mine. Have to agree with you on the onions.

                            1. re: ChristinaMason

                              I like to make mine like a 'jellyroll' on parchment, stuff with something (often fontina and sauteed spinach, and roasted red peppers would be great for a red/green holiday effect). Roll up, pat the ends closed, and cook the whole thing on a sheet pan with sides.

                              Sometimes I dress with bacon or prosciuttio outside.
                              Nicely browned by mostly done, you can glaze this to to really gild the lily. A very festive and company worthy meatloaf!

                        2. Big pot of chili, any style you like, made ahead & reheated with lots of toppings and even baked potatoes for those that like to top them with chili.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                            I have been to a few chili xmas dinners - love them! With all the toppings and sides it feels very festive but different.

                            You could do one veggie or chicken version, one meat.

                            1. re: happybaker

                              Or go even further with Cincinnati Chili with choice of toppings.

                              1. re: jcattles

                                While I agree that a big pot of chili - or 2 pots of 2 different types - with a "toppings bar" of all sorts of different toppings - would work well, I don't think I'd make Cincinnati Chili for a holiday party. Far too many people (myself included) don't care for it because of the cinnamon aspect of it.

                              2. re: happybaker

                                Not sure about the Cincinnati Chili, but "regular" chili and a great selection of toppings would feel festive. Are your guests going to be sitting down for the meal, or milling around? This chili bar probably works better for buffet and help-yourself style.

                            2. Coq au vin or carbonnade -- warming, delicious, make-ahead, not expensive,

                              1. I agree with the pork roast suggestion. You could do a picnic shoulder in a variety of styles but I enjoyed this version of "pernil" from Mark Bittman http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                                Another thing to consider (but, not sure of pricing/availability in your area) is a capon. Good flavour and "turkey" like but not turkey. We have been doing this in my family for the last few years for Thanksgiving and enjoy it more than turkey.

                                1. Lamb's lettuce with roasted sunflower seeds and oranges, Boeuf Bourguignon made with beef shank, mashed potatoes and carrots, Tarte Tatin.

                                  1. Costco has really good deals on salmon. Depends on how inexpensive you need it to be, but they usually package a very large fillet for a very reasonable price.

                                    1. Crepes or manicotte with creamy fillings like chicken with mushroom, or seafood newburg. Not a lot of meat/seafood per serving in dishes like this.

                                      Or, a soup smorgasbord with 4 or more crockpots of hot soup, including a chowder and a chili, plus nice crusty bread/rolls and good butter, and an assortment of garnishes.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        +1 on the soups. I usually do three -- a minestrone with white beans and mini meatballs, a clear one with won tons or mini ravioli or tortellini, and a creamy one like corn chowder with bacon. Just wash your bowls between servings, or tell your guests to bring one along to augment your supply.

                                      2. One option is to serve several small dishes from a particular culture's Christmas. In Mexico tamales are often the central dish, but some parts of the country have fish courses, too. Lots of other cultures have varieties of dishes you could use to make a feast of small dishes for low money.

                                        A pork roast would be beautiful. Costco often has pork tenderloins that are very affordable. You can marinate and roast and I'm sure there are some great presentations that will be worthy of a Christmas table. (Herb crusted, sliced on a platter with veggies...) Stay away from the regular loin roast as they are often dry and tasteless (I did a crown roast once, but it was costly. It tasted wonderful, though!)

                                        1. Pork Tenderloin with dried cherries; made a version of this the other day; was delicious - restaurant quality - i brined then grilled the pork and served with sauce; easy and nice presentation; served with a spinach/brussel sprout saute (epicurious) and mashed potatoes

                                          1. Pasta and sides could be a really good option. Do two pasta sauces for variety.

                                            It takes a while, but a bolognese sauce is really good and very rich. I use Marcella Hazan's recipe, but made with a mix of ground beef and lean ground pork (due to availability and price), and some chopped bacon at the beginning. The other ingredients are celery, carrots, onions, canned tomatoes, milk, and wine. If you want to go all out, use that as a basis for a home-made lasagna, which is amazing.

                                            For contrast, you could also do a cream based sauce, or even a pesto depending on how much that costs at this time of year.

                                            For sides do simple vegetable dishes or salads - Italian style green beans dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper, romaine salad with walnut and gorgonzola dressing, slow cooked carrots with parmesan, marinated mushrooms, etc. and some garlic bread on the side.

                                            1. Inexpensive *and* impressive = porchetta. Whole pork belly, some herbs, garlic, string.

                                              1. How about asking everyone to bring s dish from their Christmas past? Get the dishes that they will be providing and use that as a clue for your contribution. You might get some things that make the main dish less of an issue!

                                                1. I'd go with the salmon filet or the pork tenderloin from Costco - Both are delicious and festive. I have a very simple baked salmon filet recipe that my niece loves - it is so easy it's ridiculous. Is from a fund raising book for our local Caring House - a place for cancer patients to stay while undergoing treatment. Recipes were given by many individuals - this is from one of our best oncologists - and a very nice man to boot!!!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Jeanne

                                                    You didn't tell us the recipe!

                                                  2. Watch supermarket ads as Christmas approaches---chains in Chicago put out coupons for $10 off on a ham. 1) Ham feeds a crowd and still leaves you a lot of leftovers. 2) If money is tight, remember that you can use every bit of a ham---cut all the meat off the bone for scalloped potatoes and ham salad then use the bone, skin, and junk in the pan for flavoring beans or greens or making soup. 3) Sweet potatoes are usually on sale 'way cheap in the holiday season. Make a huge casserole of them, add a couple of on-sale vegetables, and there's dinner. At Thanksgiving here sweet potatoes were 17 cents lb, broccoli crowns were 48 cents lb, and frozen corn was $1 a bag (think: corn pudding). You can do this.

                                                    1. I'm having a 'pizza party'. I'll make the thin crusts the day before. I bake them on the pizza stone on both sides till they are nice and crispy then refrigerate. I get all the toppings you can think of laid out and everyone builds their own pizza then into the oven till the cheese is screaming hot and golden. Gets everyone involved and there's never any grumbling from someone who didn't like the pizza. LOL

                                                      1. If you watch the flyers you should be able to get a center cut pork loin for pretty cheap. To make it go farther you can butterfly, stuff and roll it up. I like to layer it with spinach, gorgonzola and dried cranberries (or cherries). So pretty and festive when sliced and tastes great. Definitely worthy of christmas dinner! You can use less expensive cheese too, goat and feta are both nice.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: foodieX2

                                                          That sounds really yummy! And yes, worthy of a Christmas dinner.

                                                        2. Can you give a ballpark idea of your $$ budget? It's easy to say "inexpensive", but that term differs severely from person to person.

                                                          That said, & since you stated you're trying to steer away from turkey or ham, a nice Coq au Vin (perhaps preceded by a French Onion Soup) with a few appropriate but simple sides; a modified French Cassoulet with a big green salad & crusty bread; a Mexican feast with a tray of enchiladas, big bowl of Spanish/Mexican rice, refried beans, warm tortillas, chips/salsa, etc.; are just a few things that come to mind.

                                                          1. Pork shoulder. Everybody loves a Puerto rican style pernil. The marinade is cheap as so is the pork.

                                                            1. Christmas enchiladas.

                                                              1. Duck legs are cheap and a bit more elegant than turkey. Pasta with duck ragu could offer a nice change of pace for you without being a budget buster.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                                                  See - this is what I mean by the OP defining what she considers "inexpensive". Duck Legs might be considered "cheap" for you, but they're definitely not considered "cheap" to many folks - myself included. For what I'd pay for eight to ten duck legs - if I could even find them without having to resort to mail-order - (the OP is serving EIGHT people for Christmas dinner), I could probably buy 2 or 3 WHOLE ducks.

                                                                  OP needs to post back re: her budget before anyone is going to be able to give her viable suggestions.

                                                                  1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                    It should be obvious that not everyone has the same provisions available to them as the next poster.

                                                                    I have an embarrasing amount of broad based grocery, specialty, and ethic markets near me. At an Asian market duck legs are readily available and dirt cheap. I also live 30 minutes away from one of the best duck producers in the nation. I am aware of this good fortune, and I don't take it for granted.

                                                                    The more details the OP provides the better suggestions she will get regarding her situation. However, we must admit many of the best threads occur when other posters simply run with the concept of the OP.

                                                                    BTW roasted bone marrow with toast points and parley salad makes for s nice cheap meal as well. I will admit though, my access to marrow bones is easier than most posters.

                                                                2. Lots of suggestions, didn't read them all so if this is listed, apologies. But for festive events like a Christmas dinner, I love the idea of a large centerpiece during the meal. Thus, roasts are perfect for such events. THe great thing about roasts are for the most part that they are relatively inexpensive. Thus, some cheap ideas that come to mind would be a stuffed roast loin. Pork tenderloin is quite cheap and delicious as well. Fourrunner had some GREAT pictures of inexpensive beef roasts where he cooked them low and slow. Instead of turkies, you can roast multiple chickens. Anything roasty. :). Gl!

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. You all have some excellent ideas! Thank you so much for them!

                                                                    To give you and idea of my budget, I want to keep the WHOLE dinner under $80. This does NOT include booze (that's the guests responsibility). I'll be making quite a few sides such potatoes (even if I make these au gratin, it's still about $8 for the dish), my world famous stuffing, dish cost $10, and some side veggies, but since I live in SF with great access to fairly inexpensive yummy veggies I don't see this as an issue.

                                                                    I am trying to think of something as alternative to a whole turkey or chicken, which I can do cheaply. No it won't be a free range, fresh bird, but I can make it tasty, and really people wouldn't notice too much after they put my gravy on, if at all. It's just that I HATE turkey with a passion. I kinda want something that I would like. My friends aren't picky at all, so it's an easy crowd to cook for, but they can be wowed.

                                                                    So for 8 people I'd like to keep the costs for the main entree to under $30. Also keep in mind that any ingredients in said dish that end up with leftovers, to be used in another dish or on it's own, should only be accounted for for the amount used in the dish. For example: Gorgonzola cheese, if it uses 2 Tb, i can use the remainder for hors d'oevres or for us later.

                                                                    I'm really liking many of the ideas here! Keep them coming! Even if I don't use them, I'm sure that there are other readers who may!

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                      Costco sells whole chickens for 99c a pound (in packs of 2) and they're on the large side. I'd go with that as your meat course, because per pound it's very difficult to find meat cheaper then that. You can save the livers and make a pate. Save the gizzards, necks and any trimmings from cutting the chicken into pieces can be used for stock to in another xmas recipe (chicken gravy, stuffing, or sauces).

                                                                      Seasonal veggies are going to be cheapest, that means potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash and citrus. You can start out with a pumpkin soup, maybe a mixed root veggie gratin, and a salad with grapefruit supremes & fennel using a vinegarette made with the the grapefruit juice you get when cutting out the supremes and squeezing what's left of the grapefruit.

                                                                      1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                        Now that you've outlined your budget, I vote again for a nice Coq au Vin. Chicken is inexpensive, & those lovely red-wine-braised pieces placed on a large platter surrounded by their scads of little pearl onions & halved button mushrooms (parsley garnish optional) are extremely festive looking. Sides of plain boiled potatoes, buttered egg noodles, parsleyed or tarragon-scented buttered baby carrots, a green salad, & some crusty baguettes will still easily keep you within your budget.

                                                                        In addition, the Coq au Vin itself can be cooked the day or even two days before. In fact, its flavor is all the better for it. Thus all you need do on Xmas day is reheat it, cook the sides, & warm the bread. You may even have enough time to whip up a little herb butter for that bread. :)

                                                                        1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                          Pork loin, preferable bone, in what I'd recommend. You can get it at CostCo and stay within your budget of $30 for the entree. There are a lot of recipes out there, stuffed with dried fruit and or nuts that will make it very festive.

                                                                          1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                            If you're committed to potatoes and a stuffing that you're proud of and want to showcase, absent poultry I'd vote for a pork loin. You can stuff it with your recipe, plus extra in a casserole. You can easily do this for under $30.

                                                                          2. Beef bourguignon served over pasta with a veggie side dish. Use 2 buck chuck Shirza for the cooking wine. This is nice because you can do it ahead. In fact, it tastes better the next day.

                                                                            Jacques Pepin's chicken ballantine - boned chicken stuffed. In the book that I have, he had 3 chickens - one stuffed with mushrooms, one stuffed with spinach and one with red peppers. It's some work, but I thought of this because of the Christmas colors.

                                                                            1. Maybe porchetta has already been mentioned? if not and the idea intrigues, check out the Zuni Cafe Mock Porchetta recipe. This is something I do frequently when I a) have to feed a lot of people and b) still want to be part of the party on the day of. And it is cheap as long as you can get decent pork shoulder or picnic cut inexpensively where you live.

                                                                              For the potatoes, though the au gratin idea is good, too, think about a Baeekhoven. Super simple and cooks in a casserole along-side the pork. Very simply, it is layered sliced potatoes, salt pork cut and pre-cooked, sliced onions, swiss cheese (Kraft /no name will do fine on a budget), dusting of flour, salt on pepper on each layer (as many as you need/will fit). Drench the pot in mixture of stock and white wine, stick a lid on and cook forever (like 2-3 hours).

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                              1. re: LJS

                                                                                Agree, porchetta would be a great main. I'll be trying this recipe, next time I make porchetta: http://www.porchettanyc.com/recipe.html

                                                                                1. re: prima

                                                                                  the link is dead (for me anyway)- if you have the recipe could you post? Have been looking for a good one

                                                                                  1. re: sparky403

                                                                                    Here's the same recipe on some other sites: http://lacucinaitalianamagazine.com/r...


                                                                                    Last time I made porchetta, I didn't have time to roast it at 250 degrees F, as suggested in this recipe. I roasted it for a shorter amount of time (around 1 h 45m) at 300 degrees F (convection on), and it still turned out well.

                                                                                    1. re: prima

                                                                                      Much thanks - this might see my xmas table - I have really been wanting to try.

                                                                              2. Souffles are cheap and impressive.

                                                                                8 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                                                  There's a restaurant here that's all souffles--savory, dessert (bread pudding souffle is my favorite), and they do a carrot and tomato soup with mini goat cheese souffles floating in it. Truly fabulous. I guess the viability of this depends on whether you already own souffle dishes or ramekins ...

                                                                                  1. re: foiegras

                                                                                    Actually not. I made my very first souffle in a loaf pan. The key is mise en place; if you do that, it's a breeze. I discussed this in an old thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/279685

                                                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                                                      That may be, but I personally don't think souffles to feed 8 people for a Xmas dinner is at all suitable. Souffles don't wait, & who the hell wants to deal with 8 individual or a couple of large must-serve-NOW souffles for Xmas dinner?? Certainly not me. Doesn't sound like a very relaxing meal to prepare for the host/hostess.

                                                                                      I'm sure it's delicious, but not suitable for this scenario.

                                                                                      1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                        Actually, souffles work perfectly for this; they are much less stress than their reputation. They can be prepped ahead 2-4 hrs easily and put in the oven when you time things properly. They are actually quite relaxing.

                                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                                          I bow to agree to disagree. To each his own.

                                                                                          But I still say that unless the OP has had experience making souffles before, suggesting that she make them to feed eight people for Christmas dinner of all things, is suggesting an AWFUL lot.

                                                                                          I suggest she save this as an experiment for a less important meal.

                                                                                          (Oh - & I've made souffles myself, so I know the ups & downs. ;) )

                                                                                          1. re: Bacardi1

                                                                                            I can make souffles, but probably won't as it's a bit too fussy for this dinner, I do want to be able to enjoy my guests. My plan si to make the main dish and stuff it into the oven, then do the sides.

                                                                                            I'd say that I could make one for a dessert, but I'll probably be very merry by that point, as my friends always supply me with drinks or wine, while I am cooking.

                                                                                            1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                              If souffles are too fussy, you could also consider a savoury bread pudding, a strata, a frittata or a Spanish tortilla.

                                                                                              1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                                                I'd also suggest doing as much of the sides as you can the day or night before. I try to do as little as possible the day of a party--I don't want to be so tired that I don't have fun!

                                                                                  2. Pernil: Cuban - Puerto Rincan roast pork, with Beans and rice, Yucca etc.

                                                                                    It's the cuban meal for xmas - takes a bit of time to cook, makes the house smell great and takes just enough skill to master.

                                                                                    I have made this on X-mas day for the last few years (I'm not cuban). It's a great break from all the turkey and ham.

                                                                                    Past that, because I am rather sick of turkey - I am thinking of breaking out the bbq and doing pork ribs:-).

                                                                                    Either one is pretty cheap to make (pork roasts are about a $1.00 per lbl).

                                                                                    Here's Daisy Marteniz version (the Julia child of Puerto Rican cooking)


                                                                                    1. Well we used to have Lasagna - it used to take mom hours to make -- but now you don't even have to cook the noodles. I just soak them in the sink with hot water.
                                                                                      I make the sauce thinner than normal and add a lot of meat (usually Italian - slip the sausage out of their skins to cook first) . Your time is really cut in half to make this dish. Garlic bread is a great option as well and ceasar salad - we used to have tomato and cucumber.