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November and early December are always a busy time for us: purchasing gifts, attending work parties, getting ready for travel to see relatives, and as a teacher, finishing up the semester with exams. I am getting a little stressed just thinking about it! It’s also a time when we try to spend some quality time with our friends, since we’ll be spending most of the school break in Atlanta with family and won’t see them for awhile. If we’re having friends over, it has to be an easy, low-prep night!
A rustic holiday gathering is the perfect solution. And for this party, I kept it extra simple! I zipped over to Walmart to grab the perfect entertaining solutions: Barilla Pronto Penne Pasta, Pepperidge Farm crackers and cookies, and several varieties of wine.
Barilla Pronto Pasta is the easiest way to make pasta I’ve ever experienced. It’s an easy-to-prepare, one-pot pasta: no pre-boiling, no draining, no dirtying multiple pans! It is literally ready within 10 minutes, start to finish, and it’s available in 5 shapes. You can find it right next to the original Barilla pasta in the pasta aisle at Walmart!
Pepperidge Farm cookies are usually on my list, whether I’m having a party or not, but this was a good excuse to buy the variety box. It’s a quick and easy entertaining solution that’s great to have on hand for whenever guests drop by. My favorite cookies in the Pepperidge Farm Classic Cookie Collection box are the Chessmen cookies. Growing up, my grandparents always had Chessmen cookies on hand, and on Friday nights we’d go out to dinner with them and our parents and then come back to their house. We’d have the cookies for dessert, with a big glass of milk, and my sister and I always ate the cookies with the horse design first! Pepperidge Farm cookies bring back those wonderful evenings with my family, and I love both eating them and serving them to guests!
If we’re having Pepperidge Farm cookies for dessert, it’s only natural to serve Pepperidge Farm crackers for the appetizer! Pairing the crackers with some cheese is a great option, but honestly I think they’re so good on their own that I left out the cheese this time. Arranged on my DIY-ed monogrammed log, they looked so elegant in their different shapes!
Of course, no party is complete without wine, so I chose several bottles from Walmart; they have super premium wine at a great price, so I went ahead and grabbed three bottles! I chose the Mark West Pinot Noir, a smooth and somewhat masculine wine, Robert Mondavi Private Selection Merlot, an authentic and grounded variety, and The Dreaming Tree Crush Red Blend, a collaboration with Dave Matthews that has a fun and approachable vibe. I love a red blend, and this one even had Dave Matthews’ lyrics on the cork! It was too cute!
The decor for this party was super easy and fun because the whole idea of “rustic” decor is that it’s not perfect! For our dining room table, I ran a long piece of burlap down the middle and arranged on top our holiday light garland strands. (These are literally the same garlands we had on our banister when I was a little kid, and they are so old but I love them!) The table looked nice with the lights on, but even better with the lights off, with the glow from the garlands illuminating the rest of the decor.
I knew I wanted to add some sticks to the top (because what’s more rustic than sticks, ya know?), so last weekend when we went on friends’ boat to Picnic Island for a bonfire, I walked around the island collecting large branches of dead wood! Everyone thought I was nuts, and even more so when I told them we had to bring the sticks back with us in the boat for decorations, but they looked so great on the table and were FREE! If you live somewhere other than SW Florida, getting a few sticks is probably easy for you, but I was pretty proud of my resourcefulness on these!
I also added some pinecones that I had saved last year from my parents’ backyard in Georgia, and I filled a mason jar with water, leaves, and some cranberries from the fridge. It was the ol’ cranberries-with-water-and-a-tealight deal from Pinterest, but it looked great and was also free! I set out plates and chargers in neutral colors, and I cut some leftover plaid fabric from another project into napkins. The only thing I purchased was a set of adorable wood coasters with little quotes on them. So basically, the entire tablescape was nearly free, y’all! Boom!
For the outdoor food table, I did spend a little money, which I was okay with since I saved money on the dining table decor. I bought 2 yards of plaid fabric for a table cover, and another 2 yards of the cutest bird-printed burlap for the backdrop. I hung a holiday banner I already had, with little pieces of wood printed with holiday shapes, and I added a wood tree that I found in our holiday boxes when I was looking for the garlands.
It needed a little something extra on the backdrop, and though I really wanted to add some kind of faux deer head or antlers, they were all just too darn expensive! Then a lightbulb went off when I saw a chalkboard with a drawing of a deer on Pinterest. Since chalkboard is also kind of expensive, I used a piece of black posterboard cut into an oval. Looking at this amazing free graphic, I drew the deer freehand on the posterboard with chalk pen and added some branches to each side. I thought it was the cutest thing ever and was totally proud of myself. I may have even taken a photo of it the next morning and texted it to my husband before realizing it was 5am where he was at in Phoenix.
To create a place to set my pasta entree, I lugged in a fire starter log from the garage and placed one of the wreaths (that usually hang on the lights on our garage) around the base of it. Then I turned a crate on its side for a drink station and placed some wooden boards on the table to anchor the spot for the crackers and cookies.
For an extra touch, I wanted to make a new monogrammed log serving tray. I picked up one of those log slices from the craft store and a wood burning kit from Walmart for $12. I plugged in the wood burner, and when it was hot, I drew/carved our initials into the wood with a heart. It was even easier than I thought, and I love how it looked with the Pepperidge Farm crackers on it!
Easy Entertaining Foods
I knew I wanted to make a Pasta Rustica for my rustic party, so using the Barilla Pronto pasta, I picked up some vegetables and parmesan cheese to add. Even though there are quite a few ingredients, it was not hard to make and can be adjusted to your preference very easily. I used Barilla Pronto pasta, heavy cream, butter, garlic, onion, parmesan cheese, mushrooms, black olives, spinach, thyme, salt, and pepper. I left all the veggies in large slices except for the onion because I wanted to give it a true “rustic” feel. And also I was being lazy.
First I dumped the pasta in a deep pan, and then I added three cups of water, just enough to cover the pasta. No pre-boiling — just dump the water right in there!
Then I turned the burner on high and set the timer for 10 minutes. (I actually made the monogrammed log serving tray while it was cooking!) During the last minute, I added the cream, butter, garlic, onion, and parmesan and stirred.
Then I added all the veggies and stirred. Including cutting up the onion, the whole thing took less than 20 minutes, and it was sooooo good. I even had it for lunch two days in a row after the party!
- 1 box Barilla Pronto Penne Pasta
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz sliced mushrooms
- 1 small can sliced black olives
- 1 cup spinach leaves
- 1 jar marinated artichokes, drained
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- pinch of salt and pepper
- Pour the entire box of pasta into a deep pan, and add 3 cups of water so that the pasta is just barely covered. Turn on the burner to high and set the timer for 10 minutes.
- During the last minute of cooking time for the pasta, add the heavy cream, parmesan cheese, onion, and garlic. Stir to combine.
- Add the mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, spinach, and spices. Stir gently to combine and turn off burner.
- Serve immediately.
- Serve with homemade ciabatta bread or a crusty bread from the grocery store bakery.
I arranged the Pepperidge Farm crackers on my new monogrammed log tray and the Pepperidge Farm cookies on another plate, and I just let them stand on their own. Keeping it easy!
The Barilla Pronto Pasta, Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers, and the three wines (Mark West Pinot Noir, Robert Mondavi Private Selection Merlot, and The Dreaming Tree Crush Red Blend) really paired perfectly together, and picking up these items kept both my food prep and my grocery bill to a minimum! Combined with rustic decor that was partly free (like sticks I hauled off an island in a boat!), this party was a great solution for the busy holiday season.
And it can be even easier for you! Because Walmart is the go-to place for your holiday entertaining needs, they will be hosting tastings and pairing events at a store near you. Yes, that is correct. I said FREE WINE. And cookies. I know. I know. To learn more about upcoming wine tastings and Barilla and Pepperidge Farm demos in November and December, head on over to the Simple Entertaining Hub HERE!