At a recent party I attended, a retailer friend mused that this holiday season is being referred to as “catch-up Christmas.” As soon as I heard it verbalized, I realized he was exactly right. With the timing of Thanksgiving being the last weekend in November, the holiday frenzy didn’t ramp up slowly, it burst to the scene on steroids. Some of the more organized folks had their trees up before Thanksgiving, but most of us are grabbing the tree, the wreath, new lights and working frantically to pull it all together before it’s too late to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

If your house is holiday-ready and the hard work accomplished, bravo to you! Now it seems fitting to throw a fun party to celebrate that you are “caught up” and proud of it, don’t you think?

Hooray! With your house decorated to the nines and ready for the holidays, it's time to throw a party. T'is the season to be with friends, right?!

Hooray! With your house decorated to the nines and ready for the holidays, it’s time to throw a party. ‘Tis the season to be with friends, right?

With this thought in mind, we asked Nashville event planner Amos Gott to join in the fun. The challenge was to hit Trader Joe’s with a budget of $250 and plan a party for 20, libations not included. The goal was to inspire through creativity via the presentation but not slave in the kitchen.

What is so great about Trader Joe’s is that they get the holidays. At every turn, you will find something delightful with a holiday theme. It may be their delicious holiday Oreo-like Joe-Joe’s cookies with peppermint filling, or a perfect bourbon cake, barrel-aged in its own customized box, or the plentiful frozen food section, stocked with gourmet appetizers. They also have mini wreaths and poinsettias, and a slew of garlands, larger wreaths and more. It is truly one-stop shopping at its best!

Create a beautiful tablescape with your treasured holiday finds, and add some lovely greenery from the garden for a casual but elegant look. The wooden tree is from AshBlue, and the gorgeous wood platter from Epergne is perfect for cheese.

Create a beautiful tablescape with your treasured holiday finds, and add some lovely greenery from the garden for a casual, but elegant, look. The wooden tree and the gorgeous wood platter, which is perfect for a cheese display, are both from Epergne.

Both Amos and I did some pre-shopping to scope out what looked good. And both of us encountered record crowds, but still forged on. Trader Joe’s, even with tons of people crowding the aisles, is a ton of fun. Since Amos’ business is all about entertaining, here are his thoughts on hosting a great party:

“A successful party is all about the guest list. Invite some old friends, as well as some new friends that have similar interests, to facilitate new relationships. Introduce them with topics they both have interest in or why they should know each other, and let them facilitate a new relationship from there. Like the warmth of friendship, plan your party around the comfort of the holidays. A large fire in the fireplace, a throw used as a tablecloth, cuttings from the yard, along with wood and gold tones on your table, create an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.”

On to the big event …

The Table Setting

Rather than a traditional formal-style holiday table, which can be a tad bit stuffy, Amos created the look and feel of an English manor house — think plaid, dark wood, blazing fireplace and a couple of antlers, just for sport. What’s fabulous about country charm is that it’s casual and elegant in the same breath.

For serving dishes, nothing works better than the combination of pewter, white platters and magnolia. Throw in a red plaid throw that doubles as a tablecloth for the finishing touch, and you are off to the races! The greenery for your table can be found right out your back door if you have varieties of nandina, boxwoods or magnolia trees.

It's amazing where you can find holiday containers! Check out your local antique stores or secondhand shops. The small, clear glasses were found at Pier One and are so versatile — everything from soup to mousse. The platter from AshBlue with the horn handles in silver makes us droop. Of course it was crafted by Ben and Lael Caldwell.

It’s amazing where you can find holiday containers! Check out your local antique stores or secondhand shops. The small, clear glasses were found at Pier One and are so versatile — for everything from soup to mousse.

The Food

In terms of food, again, we were working with a $250 budget (excluding libations) and were planning for 20 guests. Here’s what we bought at Trader Joe’s, all of which rang in at just $4 over our budgeted amount:

  • Smoked salmon with capers, cream cheese and red onions with brioche toast
  • Roast beef with mango ginger chutney on freshly baked croissants
  • Tomato and roasted red pepper soup with chopped chives
  • Seafood potstickers with shrimp and crab
  • Shrimp & grits bites
  • Butternut squash, beet and goat cheese ravioli with olive oil and fresh thyme
  • Spinach artichoke dip with cheddar cheese sticks & pita crackers (seriously rivals Bricktop’s!)
  • Cheese tray with assorted crackers (note the Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese, yum!)
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A true Trader Joe’s find, the croissants in the frozen food section are so easy and absolutely delicious. Just let them rise the night before, and your guests will arrive to the aroma of freshly baked bread.

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After perusing the frozen food section of Trader Joe’s, Amos couldn’t resist the colorful potstickers of crab and shrimp with canapes of shrimp and grits. SB Tip: Buy a ton of herbs before your party — basil, rosemary and parsley. It makes everything look a tad more finished. Lemons go a long way, too.

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Every party needs a vegetarian option or two. The butternut squash, beet and goat cheese ravioli with fresh thyme is perfect choice for the non-meat eaters.

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This classic appetizer of smoked salmon, red onion, capers and lemons is always a hit. The gorgeous platter in pewter and white porcelain creates a sophisticated look, don’t you think? It’s MATCH.

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We told a friend that we were featuring the spinach artichoke dip from Trader Joe’s in this article, and she ran out to stock up. Serving this classic appetizer in the winter will delight your guests.

The Bar & Desserts

No holiday party is complete without some delicious desserts and festive libations. Here’s what we scored at TJ’s:

  • Macarons in festive colors
  • Danish pancakes with organic maple syrup
  • Kentucky Barrel bourbon cake
  • Soy ice cream sandwiches with festive sprinkles
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Believe or not, Amos found these macarons in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s. The colors are perfect for your holiday table. They are super yummy, too.

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I love this idea for an easy sweet to serve that is both pretty and tasty. The Danish pancakes (they really look like donut holes) are dusted with powdered sugar and served with warm maple syrup.

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This Kentucky Barrel cake at $17.99 is a must! It looks so festive with some red berries and is hard to resist.

soy ice cream sandwiches

If you take a closer look, you will see itty bitty candy cane sprinkles. Sitting the soy ice cream sandwiches on top of them is a clever touch.

This may be one of my favorite finds from Trader Joe's. Young and old alike will love letting these Belgium chocolate squares steep in hot, frothy milk. They are easy to display and unique to boot!

This may be one of my favorite finds from Trader Joe’s. Young and old alike will love letting these Belgium chocolate squares steep in hot, frothy milk. They are easy to display and unique to boot!

To drink? Here are two tasty ideas, one with alcohol, the other without:

  • Hot chocolate with dark chocolate; the speared squares pictured above work perfectly! (You can add some zip with Amaretto, bourbon or other liquors, but it is certainly not necessary)
  • Rudolph’s Nose holiday cocktail recipe (SB Tip: Trader Joe’s has incredible nonalcoholic juices and spritzers in all flavors.)

Rudolph's Nose

Amos Gott
Gorgeous with its festive look and taste!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Holiday cocktail
Servings 2

Ingredients
  

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce white cranberry juice
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/2 ounce rosemary simple syrup
  • Fresh or frozen cranberries for garnish
  • Ice cubes

Rosemary Simple Syrup Directions (makes 1/2 cup)

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary crushed to release essential oils

Instructions
 

  • For the simple syrup:
  • Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Add the fresh rosemary and simmer for 1 minute.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the syrup stand for at least half an hour.
  • Remove the rosemary from the syrup and pour the mixture into an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • For the cocktail:
  • Mix all ingredients, shake with ice and pour.
Tried this recipe?Rate it above to let us know how it was!

See? A party for 20 at $250 is most definitely doable. All right, $254 and some change. We hope that you have found some inspiration here. Now go throw a festive holiday party!

OK. $254.28 was the grand total. Amos, never a rule follower, went over $4.

OK. $254.28 was the grand total. Amos, never a rule follower, went over $4. But pre-sales tax, it was under!

Elizabeth and Amos

Here’s our sage advice: don’t stress when throwing your holiday party. Just relax and hit Trader Joe’s (preferably on Thursday afternoon). Happy Holidays to all of you from Amos Gott and Elizabeth Fox.

A very warm thanks to all who made this article come together: