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A festive Christmas dinner for six for under $75


A festive, elegant Christmas dinner doesn't have to blow your budget — here's how to do it right

'Tis the season for feasting, gifting, partying and, all too often it seems, spending far more money than you expect. I'm all about the homemade and handmade gifts this time of year — they're far better than an ugly Christmas sweater — but when it comes down to dinner parties, I can get a little carried away.

Yes, I love going all out on holiday meals, but that doesn't mean ignoring a budget. Holiday feasts are, after all, about more than just elaborate centerpiece roasts; they're about spending time with family, of whatever shape and size, and taking a break from our everyday lives. And it is totally possible to go all out on flavor without going all out on cost.

In fact, we just pulled off a festive, elegant dinner menu for six (or eight if you scale up your sides a touch), for $66 and change. At just over $10 a person, it's perhaps a bit more than you'd spend on an average weeknight, but far less than dining out or the average holiday feast. You'll surely have a bit leftover for a few nice bottles of wine to go with dinner.

Here's what was on our table, what each dish cost and why we love them.

Herb-Stuffed Pork Loin ($25)
The first item to tackle is the main dish. Why? Because this can often be the highest-ticket item on your menu. Crown roasts of pork, standing rib roasts, whole geese — these can all be very expensive. But you don't have to go that route. Instead, opt for a cheaper roast, such as a boneless pork loin, and gussy it up yourself by adding a vibrant green swirl of herb stuffing. You’ll need a good, sharp knife to trim the loin, but once you have the technique down, the rest of the dish is quite simple. And, really, is there anything prettier than slicing into such a vibrant roast?
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Instant Pot Braised Kale with Onion and Jalpeños ($12)
Braised greens are not only good luck for the New Year, but they're also an easy and cost-effective side dish. Here, we used our trusty Instant Pot to braise a mess of kale with sweet onions and spicy jalapeños for a (slightly) fiery addition to the table. Using an Instant Pot means the dish can be ready in less than 20 minutes, but you can certainly use the same ingredients and simmer the ingredients on the stove.
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Ricotta Gnocchi with Winter Root Vegetables ($8)
Here's where we really got fancy. Making homemade gnocchi is easier than you think — especially when you make them from ricotta cheese instead of potatoes — and they'll surely impress your guests without adding much cost to your meal. We tossed them with a mix of butter (natch), simply roasted root vegetables, fresh sage and a sprinkle of Parmesan for our slightly Italian side dish. And you can, by the way, prepare any vegetables you'd like, any way you'd like — roasting, boiling or sautéing are all game. You can even take this opportunity to use up that lone sweet potato and butternut squash you've got sitting in the pantry! As long as the vegetables are tender when they go into the finished dish, you’ll be good to go.
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Pommes Anna ($6)
Potato dishes are always a great choice when you're entertaining on a budget, but they're not always the most elegant. Enter Pommes Anna, a classic and elegant French side that can easily serve a small crowd. These thinly sliced and shingled potatoes get cooked gently in plenty of clarified butter (the same thing you use to make hollandaise sauce) before being turned out onto a cutting board as a show-stopping, sliceable cake. A sprinkle of chives and a generous hand with salt and pepper are the only other ingredients you need for this dish and — bonus — you can even take the pressure off and make it a day ahead of time. Simply warm it in the oven just before serving.
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Eggnog Panna Cotta with Bourbon Cherry Sauce ($15)
Finally, dessert. There are plenty of directions you can go for affordable, yet festive desserts, but this time we decided to take some inspiration from eggnog. This holiday quaff is, essentially, a drinkable custard, which is, as we all know, the base of some of the best desserts. So we transformed our eggnog (spiked with rum, of course) into panna cotta. Despite the fancy name, panna cotta is a super easy and forgiving dessert — it's basically fancy Jell-O — that you can top any which way you like. In this case, what we like are dried cherries cooked down in a bourbon-y syrup. Fee free to use any rum and/or bourbon you've already got on hand in this dish. And if you need to take a trip to the store for them, don't feel like you need to buy anything super expensive.  
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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.