Amy Clark

Tips & Recipes for Pulling Off a Great Winter Party

If there is one thing that I feel I do really well, it is pulling off a budget-friendly and wonderful birthday party for my children. The truth about pulling off a great party  though is that it takes a lot of planning and preparation to make a wonderful party come together. Now that I have shown you how to make your own DIY Barbie Cake and elegant tissue paper pom poms to hang over your party table, I wanted to share with you our menu from this party!

We decided to host the party on a Friday evening since that seemed to work with everyone’s schedule the best.  With seventeen people in our immediate family, it makes for a big party even for just a family birthday party.  In the dead of winter, I wanted food that would warm everyone up, would be relatively easy to assemble (since the cake did require a bit of effort this year), and that would also make great leftovers.

Homemade party subs are so inexpensive to make and can be a fun addition to any party. Walmart sells french bread loaves for $1.50 each and turkey breast meat (behind the deli counter) is only $3.99 per pound.  Each sub was loaded with almost an entire pound of meat, a layer of cheddar cheese (only bought inexpensively behind the deli counter), and then sliced and assembled on cookie sheets. Condiments were gathered on trays and fresh tomato and lettuce was cut the day before to pull out for the big party. These took about fifteen minutes to pull together, serve eight people each, and cost less than $8 each to make yourself (even with the cost of condiments included).

If you have any sandwiches leftover, store them covered in the fridge and the next day they will make fabulous paninis to serve with your leftover soup. As an aside, I make these almost every grocery day for my family as a quick meal when I am too tired to cook from shopping.   It is my special treat after getting the shopping done and the kids go bonkers over these subs.

I made a double batch of our Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup to go along with our sub sandwiches. Bowls and a creamer full of spoons were set out for our guest to dish their soup. I also set out a hunk of Parmesan cheese that could be grated over the bowls of soup to add even more flavor to it. To save on the cost of the soup, buy the pesto over in the pasta aisle (rather than the refrigerated pesto in the dairy cooler) and feel free to substitute the fresh tortellini with the cheese tortellini found in the freezer aisle.

No party is complete in our house without a punch bowl brimming over with some delicious punch. This new punch recipe that I pulled together is the new favorite with strawberry soda, cranberry juice, strawberry lemonade, and cherry 7-up. The cranberry really added a hint of tartness to the punch and this punch bowl was drained in record time this year.  I have to say that my thrift store punch bowl is one of our most used party items and has served us well over the years!

In addition to punch, the coffeemaker was preset for hot coffee to go with the dessert portion of the evening.

I rounded out the party table with a couple of easy appetizers that I made the day before.  My cheese ball and spinach dip went perfectly with our soup and sandwich theme, and gave guests something to munch on before and after the dinner hour.

Party supplies can really burn through a girl’s budget, but I strive to keep the paper products to a minimum. To incorporate the Barbie theme though, I did find a cute tiara and reuseable Barbie themed cup & plate for the party girl that cost only $5 total.  This made the party theme fun for her, but kept my party budget right on track. Our regular dishes were used for everyone else and last year’s vinyl tablecloth made another appearance this year at Emily’s birthday party. With our inexpensive tissue paper pom poms, it still looked like a fabulous party without the need for excessive party themed plates and one-time use decorations!

Here are a few recipes that can be used at your next party!

This tortellini soup brought together all of the flavors that my family loves, but is a versatile recipe that could be created with what is at your supermarket that day or what your family loves to eat. For our vegetarian readers, the chicken tortellini and chicken broth can easily be switched to a cheese-filled tortellini with vegetable broth instead. I used basil pesto in this, but you could also try a sun-dried tomato pesto or omit the pesto altogether if it is not a favorite of your family. Versatility is the beauty of a good soup recipe  and this recipe is quite versatile!

Pesto Chicken Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans petite diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces)
8 cups chicken broth
1 pound chicken herb tortellini or tortellini of your choice (I used the refrigerated kind, but you can also use the dried pasta)
9 ounces spinach, chopped roughly
1/4 cup basil pesto

In a large pot, saute the garlic in the olive oil. After a minute or so, add the diced tomatoes and chicken broth to the pot. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and then add in your tortellini. Cook tortellini as directed on package. In the last minute of cooking time, mix in your roughly chopped spinach and stir in the 1/4 cup of basil pesto. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top. Side Note: When reheating, feel free to add some additional chicken broth to thin the soup, as the tortellini will absorb the liquid!

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You can never go wrong with a good spinach dip and this one is my absolute favorite because of the unexpected flavor that the salsa adds to the dish. You can make it as mild or as spicy as you like! I opt for a mild salsa and serve it with pita chips, tortilla chips, or fresh veggies for a little lighter fare!

Spunky Spinach Dip

2 cups salsa (approximately one standard size jar)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
8 oz low-fat or fat-free cream cheese, softened and cubed
10 oz frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

Make Ahead: Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Place in an oven-safe bowl and tuck in the fridge for Thanksgiving Day.

Party  Day: Cook at 350 for 20-25 minutes (double your cooking time for a double batch) in an oven-safe bowl (covered). Serve with your favorite dipper! I served this with blue corn tortilla chips, but you could also serve with fresh celery sticks and fresh carrots to balance out the heaviness of your party day food!

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These cheese ball is so embarrassingly easy, but is always a showstopper when I bring it to holiday get togethers. Put the ingredients for this recipe on your grocery list and relish the joy in ease of the preparation and the compliments that come from it!

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled (or buy prepackaged crumbled bacon)

Make Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Mold into a ball  and wrap in plastic wrap,

Party Day: Roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Serve with assorted crackers.

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No get together in our family is complete without a big punch bowl that is overflowing. This punch is always a hit and it can be ready when everyone arrives. It is loved by kids and adults alike. The addition of cranberry juice adds a delicious tartness to your punch that balances out the sweetness of the strawberry soda and lemonade.

Christmas Cranberry Punch

2 liter bottle strawberry-flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
2 liter Cherry 7-Up
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 container of cranberry juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones.

What is one idea you incorporate into your parties to keep your birthday parties on budget?

Published January 10, 2011 by:

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark is the founder of MomAdvice.com. You can read all about her here.

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