Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

Birthday Party 2013

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Since we were both turning 30 this year, Dana and I decided to throw a large joint birthday party. We invited somewhere around 100 people, but due to various conflicts only about 50-60 were able to attend. We ended up making a pretty large amount of food for the occasion, some of which was very popular and some of which was decidedly less so. In this post I’m going to list what we had, what worked, what didn’t, and what we would do different next time.


We had a variety of drinks on hand. We originally planned to have much more selection, we quickly decided to slim down the options (especially with regards to hard liquor) due to price concerns and concerns that we were simply going to have too much. Here’s what we had:

Yuengling is a popular choice in this area, and most of that went.  The Blue Moon, despite being “lighter” and “summerier” as the guy at the distributor said, was not popular.

I’m not a big beer drinker, so we got the cider because it was something I would drink if we had leftovers of. It was popular enough that there really wasn’t much left over. It’s a little too pricey to keep it available for all such occasions, but was a nice touch this time. 

We made about 2 gallons of the sangria (a recipe I may post later, with permission from the originators) and most of that was gone by the end. We had enough ingredients to make another batch, but didn’t need to refill. Among the people who drank it, response was overwhelmingly positive.

The bottled water was, as always, popular. Plus, Dana and I happily drink the unopened bottles of water (unlike the soda and beer, which we drink little to none of on a daily basis). The sangria could not be salvaged and after the party we dumped what little was left.

The soda was popular only among people below drinking age, and the Coke was more popular in this group than the Diet coke or any of the other offerings were. Next time, we won’t plan to have as much soda on hand, and certainly not as many diet offerings.

Some of the very little kids running around requested the Hugs juice barrels, so we pulled a box of those out of storage too.

Main Courses

The main dishes we made were:

  • Meatballs in spaghetti sauce (approx 6lbs ground beef, 1.5 gallons of sauce)
  • Pulled Pork (approx 14lbs pork loin)
  • Chicken Salad (approx 12lbs chicken breasts)
  • Baked Ziti (3lbs noodles)

We ended up getting lucky with some sales, so even though we used a large amount of meat we didn’t go broke buying it. With regards to the pulled pork, we definitely made more than necessary with the knowledge that we could keep it and use it later.

I don’t know how many meatballs we made total, but I know how many we were left with at the end of the day: 6. They were very popular as usual.

About a third of the pulled pork that we made was eaten. The bit left in the crockpot afterwards was tossed, but we had another container of it in the fridge that we kept.The people who tried it said they liked it, but they just didn’t eat a ton of it. I thought I had the recipe here on my blog, but I can’t find it. I may post that soon too. Pulled pork was lunch every day the next week, and I had intended to preserve some with my pressure canner but didn’t end up having the time to do so.

The chicken salad was, as always, popular. Probably two thirds of what we made was eaten and most of the rest was given away.

The baked Ziti actually didn’t seem as popular as the other options. Where it was eaten, I’m sure it was paired with meatballs (we used the same sauce for both dishes), and meatballs were frequently used on rolls to make sandwiches instead. In hindsight, the Ziti may have been unnecessary.

Sides and Appetizers

Among the side dishes and appetizers we had were:

  • Veggie Tray (with dip)
  • Fruit Salad
  • Pasta Salad
  • Potato Salad
  • Macaroni Salad
  • Chips with Onion Dip
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip with Crackers
  • Parmesian and Honey Baguette Slices

We went a little overboard with sides and appetizers, and some of them suffered because we ran out of time to prepare them, because we couldn’t keep them refilled, or because there were simply too many options.

The veggie tray was pretty popular, and needed to be restocked at least once.

The fruit salad suffered the most because of our cramped schedule. In the end, the “salad” was just watermelon, catelope, grapes and blueberries in a hastily constructed watermelon rind basket. I suggested that next time we could ditch the fruit salad all together, but Dana says it was plenty popular and would have been eaten more if there were more of it.

About half of the pasta salad we made was eaten. The rest kept well enough to be served with dinner for the rest of the week. Pasta salad has a habit of absorbing the dressing and becoming dry over time. We should have put out more dressing for people to use.

The macaroni salad, for whatever reason, was almost completely untouched, and eventually trashed. I don’t know if it was just less popular compared to the pasta and potato salads, or if it wasn’t a good batch, or if people just didn’t want macaroni salad. Next time, we’ll think long and hard about offering all three options at the same time.

The potato salad was the special family recipe of Dana’s mother. It has dutch origins and isn’t like the potato salad that most people are used to. Among people who had the courage to try it, response was very positive. Maybe I can post this recipe one day too.

The buffalo chicken dip was very tasty (provided by Dana’s sister). It didn’t go as much as I would have expected, perhaps due to it’s placement at the end of the table and being overshadowed by the sheer number of alternatives.


If there was one area where we went completely overboard, it was the desert course. We have a pretty large pile of leftovers, and there’s absolutely no way we’ll be able to eat them all ourselves.

  • Cupcakes (6 dozen)
  • Individual Tiramisu Cups (4 dozen)
  • Brownies (2 trays)
  • Blondies (1 batch)
  • Individual Cannoli cups (approx 4 dozen)
  • Birthday sheet cake
  • Chocolate “Texas” sheet cake
  • “Candy Kake” sheet cake
  • Cherry Pie

Two of the cakes, the birthday cake (from Dana’s mother) and the Candy Kake sheet cake (from my mother) were surprises. If we had known they were coming, we definitely would have cut out some of the other options.  The brownies and a batch of cupcakes definitely could have been left out, without anybody noticing.

The cupcakes were a store-bought cake mix topped with a cherry-amaretto frosting of Dana’s invention. If I get time later, and if I get permission, I may try to post the recipe.

The individual Tiramisu cups were a big hit, and were possibly my favorite part of the meal. We cobbled together several different recipes from the internet and the result was extremely good. I’ll definitely be posting this recipe soon.

The blondies were my grandmother’s famous recipe and, as always, they were a hit.

The cherry pie, from my cousin Liesa, was so popular that I barely managed to get a spoonful of it before it was all gone.

I’ll try to get my hands on some of the recipes for the various cakes and deserts, and post them here.


Overall, we had a great time at the party. All the food we had too a lot of time and effort beforehand to prepare, but during the party we were able to stay out of the kitchen for the most part and let people feed themselves. We did have plenty of leftovers, and were hastily packing them up in plastic containers and sending them home with anybody who would have them. Next time we decide to hold a party this size, we’ll definitely know better about where to cut and where to splurge, and we’ll be able to keep the popular options front and center where people want them.

Author: Andrew Whitworth

I'm a software engineer from Philadelphia PA. Sometimes I like to go out to my garden, or step into my kitchen and make a really big mess of things.

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