Plan a Perfect Holiday Party on a Budget

Event planner has tips for creating a festive buffet and dessert recipes.

Dec. 19, 2008 — -- The holidays don't have to be a downer because you're pinching pennies.

Lifestyle expert and event planner David Monn shares last-minute, inexpensive decorating tips.

"It's not about how much money you have, it's about where you choose to spend it," Monn told "Good Morning America."

Here are his secrets to making a lavish-looking dinner and a delicious, festive dessert buffet for very little money.

Set the mood:

To set the stage you need to engage the senses. The most important is your sense of smell. Find one nice holiday fragrance or add mulling spices to your stove and let the smell entice the guests as they arrive.

Play great music, dim the lights and let the party start.

Keep it simple. Choose one main color and one accent color and stick with them.

Monn decorated a buffet table in a winter-green color palate for about $144:

Cloth from JoAnn's Fabric Store for $4.99 a yard. He used about nine yards on a six-foot table. Your tablecloth should always touch the floor to cover the legs of table.

Added sparkle with glitter spray from Michael's Craft Store.

Layer tablecloth with a burlap white lattice-work pattern that is about $3 a yard at most fabric stores.

To create the same lattice pattern on the napkins that are on the table, pull threads from all corners. Fringe the napkin about 1 3/4 inches from the edge. Using a ruler measure 1½ inches from the edge and pull one inch worth of threads.

Scale is really the secret to a great looking buffet table by creating balance. A table should have something on it that is at eye level and proportional to the size of the table.

Create topiaries from Styrofoam or floral foam cones (ranging from $5 to $16) and boxwood shrubbery.

Creating food levels for a buffet creates interest. However, there should be no dish higher than your elbow when you are standing. To create these buffet stands use floral foam or oasis and boxwood shrubbery, which you can pull from the outdoors. Michael's Craft Store sells oasis blocks for a little less than $2 each.

Use baskets you have around your house for food displays. Give them new life with a little white semi-gloss spray paint.

Use clear glass serving plates. Roll your flatware into your burlap napkins and serve in a basket.

Take wooden candlesticks you have around the house and spray-paint them white. Add taper candles to finish the look. Taper candles are $16 for a box of six from Creative Candle.

Décor for this table is about $144.

The all-white fantasy dessert table:

Use the power of one main color, for example white, and create a winter wonderland with all inexpensive assorted white desserts and coffee.

For a big bang use Christmas lights under a quilt batting tablecloth, which costs about $12. Add white Christmas lights ($3) with white cords. Use white felt ($3 a yard) to make snowflake napkins.

Cut an old log, such as birch, to create food levels. If you don't have a log then you can find birch pieces or cover cardboard boxes too. White boas from the dollar store and fake snow from K-Mart complete the look.

Dress up plain old angel food cake by slicing it into three layers, add a jam center and frost it with store-bought frosting. Then dust it with coconut.

Create marshmallow snowballs with a Styrofoam ball wrapped in Saran Wrap and covered with wooden toothpicks topped with marshmallows to dip in white chocolate fondue.

Make snowflake rice crispy treats with a layer of white chocolate by using a cookie cutter and Wilton candy melts.

As a take-away gift, fill an oversized mason jar with sparkled garland and fill it with cookies.

Marshmallows by Williams Candy

Mini Cupcakes by


From the kitchen of Marcia Shertzer

(Makes about 70 cookies)

Cookie Ingredients:

2 – 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese

½ lb. margarine

½ lb. butter

4 c. flour


Mix all together, cover and refrigerate overnight. Work with small batches in cool place. Roll dough on powdered sugar. Cut into strips about 10 inches long by ¾ inch wide. Wrap around lady lock form (or round wooden clothes pin) making sure to overlap dough. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Pull off form while still warm. Cool cookies before filling.

Filling Ingredients:

4 c. powdered sugar

1 c. Crisco

4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour

6 Tbsp. half and half

2 egg whites

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix all together until smooth. You can substitute almond or orange extract for vanilla for a different taste.



1½ cups egg whites (11 to 12 large eggs)

1½ cups (150 g) sifted confectioners sugar (sift before measuring)

1 cup (100 g) sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Special equipment:

10-inch tube pan (about 4 inches deep) with a removable bottom


Let egg whites stand in bowl of a standing electric mixer (see cooks' note) at room temperature about 1 hour before making cake. (They should be about 60°F, slightly below room temperature.) Set oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together confectioner's sugar, flour, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper using a triple sifter or fine sieve. Beat whites in mixer until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat at medium speed until they form soft peaks. Add granulated sugar gradually, beating, and continue beating just until whites are thickened and form soft, droopy peaks. Beat in vanilla.

Sprinkle one fourth of sifted dry ingredients over whites and fold in with a rubber spatula gently but thoroughly. Fold in remaining dry ingredients, one third at a time. Gently pour batter evenly into ungreased tube pan and bake until top is light golden, cake retracts a bit from pan and springs back when touched lightly, and a tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert pan onto neck of an empty wine bottle or a large metal funnel and cool cake completely.

To remove cake from pan, run tip of a long, narrow knife between outer edge of cake and pan. Tilt cake pan on its side and gently tap bottom edge against counter. Rotate pan, tapping and turning a few more times, until cake appears free. Cover pan with a metal rack or cardboard round and invert, tapping pan firmly to loosen cake. Lift pan from cake. (It should come out beautifully, like a pillow taken out of a slipcover.)

Once the cake is cooled cut into three layers with a serrated knife.

Angel Food Cake Frosting


1 quart of heavy cream

¼ quarter cup of sugar

3 tbsp of vanilla

1 cup of your favorite preserves

Large bag of bakers sweetened coconut


Combine all ingredients in a mixer on high whip until cream forms peaks. On first layer of cake spread evenly over whole layer 1/2 of a cup of the preserves. Spread evenly over same layer ½ inch whipped cream, sprinkle coconut on top of cream. Place second layer on top, use remaining jam, ½ inch of whipped cream, coconut. Place top layer on spoon and cover top and sides with remaining whipped cream and cover all with coconut. One hand spoons whipped cream with a wide cake spatula and in second hand have another metal spatula to apply evenly.

Cookies by The Cookie Artisan, Maryann Rollins in Oklahoma City, Okla. Other sweets provided by Tasty Treats.