I’m not going to sugar coat this. I’m a very competitive person. Years in the radio industry have made me extremely competitive with other radio shows and rival stations, I regularly compete in triathalons and my boyfriend knows not to invite me to trivia night because it usually gets ugly very quickly. In these realms I always win, so it makes competing even more fun (for me).
But there is one place where I compete and lose that I need to confess to you. I’m losing my ongoing holiday party battle with my girlfriend Hannah. When it comes to our “who can throw the most creative party for the least amount of money” she wins handily. Her last Halloween party is already the stuff of legends, her Christmas shindig outshines mine every year (despite my “Santa falling into the snow” cupcakes where his little feet dangled atop vanilla frosting), and her New Year’s day brunch should have its own TV show.
However, she has yet to come close to my Fourth of July parties. In our circle, I own the Fourth of July, and despite my better judgment I am going to share my secrets with you, as long as you promise not to share them with Hannah.
The flag cake that will wow everyone
I must admit, this looked like a 10+ on the difficulty scale but after doing it once I couldn’t believe how easy it was.
- 3 (9-inch) layers and some food coloring.
- 1 layer will be colored blue
- 1 layer will be colored red
- 1 layer left white (angel food is OK, but vanilla is fine too)
Tip: At my grocery store they do double coupons on Tuesdays, or you can get cake mix on sale which is usually in the $1-$2 range depending upon where you live.
- Bake layers according to the directions on the box or feel free to bake from scratch if you are so inclined. The trick is to make it a day in advance, wrap in plastic and store in the fridge.
- I follow the cutting instructions from the secret life of a chef’s wife, because she’s amazing.
Repurposing those Christmas and Hanukkah star cookie cutters for Jell-O stars
One year I made Jell-O stars just for decoration but they went the fastest. There’s nostalgia for everyone in Jell-O, plus it’s the least expensive treat that everyone adores. ($1 each) You’ll need the berry blue and cherry flavor and some gelatin. I trust the Kraft recipe since it is their product.
The vodka that will knock off their socksa
This is one of my favorite tricks that are both practical and visually cool. Right now, today, keep an eye on a half-gallon sized container in your fridge that you’re almost done with. When it is empty, clean it thoroughly and grab a bottle of cheap vodka. As a former bartender I can tell you that vodka is one of the few alcohols for which the cheap version and the expensive version tastes about the same, especially if you are going to mix it with anything. Seriously. Don’t believe the vodka hype. I get Svedka Vodka because it’s under $10 and I like the bottle, but Smirnoff is just fine. Also in this price range is the trendy KU:L Vodka.
Take your clean half-gallon container and open the top of that bad boy up so that you can put your vodka bottle inside of it. Now grab either fresh flowers from your garden (white and red preferably) or some blueberries and raspberries and stuff those in there gently. Now fill the half-gallon container with water (with the vodka bottle and the flowers or fruit inside). Put the entire thing in the freezer for a day or two. Then on the Fourth, peel away the half-gallon container and what you are left with is cold vodka with some great looking decorative ice around it.
Easy savories: I do three cheap and easy savories. Sliders and hot dogs (since it is the Fourth and those are traditional foods!) and then I make my baked ziti flag dish.
Baked ziti flag
- 2 boxes DeCecco Penne ($2 per box)
- 2 jars Brad’s Organic Marinara Sauce or Vodka Sauce ($5 per jar)
- 2 containers Ricotta cheese ($4 per container)
- A few black olives (3-4 olives chopped)
- Mozzarella, at least 16 ounces (The type is up to you; I like the fresh Buffalo mozzarella which may be a tad more expensive, but if I’m skimping on the pasta and sauce, I like to splurge on the cheese. It’s like wearing clothing from H&M with a pair of Manolos.)
- After you cook the pasta, place it in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix with the ricotta and about 90 percent of the sauce. Pour the mixture into a rectangular baking pan. The size will depend upon how many guests you’re having.
- Layer the cheese evenly on top of the entire thing so it covers the pasta
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-35 minutes.
- When it cools, use the remaining sauce to draw stripes like the flag and use the chopped olives for the stars.
One real secret to partying big on the cheap: The dollar store is your friend.
I stock up on tiny flags because then I can make any of my usual appetizers or sliders and stick a flag in it; voilà, it’s a Fourth of July food.
I also purchased these cute red, white and blue airplanes and put them all over the house. I buy red, white and blue paper tablecloths in different sizes at my dollar store, and then I layer those. You can do the same with the napkins.
Red, white and blue paint goes a long way. You can get 50 ice pop sticks for $1 that you glue into star shapes, or buy packages of pine cones for $2 and then make your kids paint them all!
Have fun doing all of my tips; just make sure none of it gets back to Hannah. Happy Fourth of July!