The Life of the Party
Considering cancelling your annual holiday shindig because of cost? No need. "With planning and a little creativity, it's easy to throw a great party without spending a lot of money," says former caterer Denise Vivaldo, author of Do It For Less! Parties (Terrace Publishing 2005) and Do It For Less! Weddings (Sellers Publishing 2008). Try some of her favorite themes for successful celebrations on a shoestring. Your guests will never guess that you didn't spend a bundle on them.
Cider and holiday cookie party Instead of hosting an affair in the evening, try the afternoon. Just changing the time of day can save you -- and your guests -- money. If you slate the party for Sunday at 2 p.m., for instance, you don't have to provide a full meal. Instead, you can get away with serving hot apple cider, desserts and perhaps some mulled wine. Your guests can bring their kids so they don't have to spring for a sitter -- and everyone's happy. Vivaldo also likes to bake an extra two or three dozen cookies that she leaves unfrosted. Then she covers a card table with a plastic tablecloth, sets out tubes of icing and lets her younger guests go crazy decorating. If there are any left at the end of the party, the kids can take them home as party favors.
Success secret: Spell it out on the invitation that it's a cider and cookies party so that guests won't be expecting more.
Soup for a crowd Soup is another good way to stretch your party dollar, and it's easier to serve than you might think. Vivaldo likes to cook up a big pot, leave it simmering on the stove and ladle it into tea and coffee cups, mixing patterns (if you don't have enough, borrow some). One of Vivaldo's favorite crowd-pleasers is ginger carrot soup: simply saute carrots and leeks until soft and puree in a blender along with some fresh ginger, adding chicken or vegetable broth if necessary. Then serve with a big basket of chewy breadsticks.
Success secret: The best party soups are easy-to-sip purees -- no one wants to deal with spoons when standing and socializing.
Champagne tasting More unusual than a regular cocktail party, a tasting is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season. Ask each couple to bring a bottle of bubbly in the $20 to $25 range. Prepare some nibbles, such as cheese puffs, or try this recipe for a succulent baked brie that only looks expensive:
1. Cut a 2-pound round of brie in half crosswise and spread the bottom half with two 6-ounce containers of pesto.
2. Replace top half, place on a sheet of puff pastry (from the supermarket's frozen food section) that's been slightly thawed and rolled out on a nonstick baking sheet.
3. Fold the corners up and seal at the top with a little beaten egg white. Spritz the brie with cooking spray, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 F or until lightly brown.
4. Serve the delicious gooey results with crackers. For a dessert variation, fill the brie with raspberry jam and candied walnuts and serve with shortbread cookies. Then pop those corks, and rate the different bottles.
Success secret: If you don't have enough champagne flutes, borrow or buy them cheaply (Vivaldo stocks up on elegant glass flutes from IKEA at $4.99 for six and stores them in the box between parties).