Holiday Hacks...

Discussion in 'Christmas Magic' started by AuntJamelle, Feb 27, 2018.

  1. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    So there are just those times - especially during the holidays - that life throws you a curveball - you are scrambling at the last minute. It happens!!! I've been working on compiling a list of holiday hacks - or cheats - or whatever you want to call them - that can help save sanity in those moments of need!

    So far I have the following categories:

    - Last Minute Appetizers
    - Holiday Baking Hacks
    - Wrapping Hacks
    - Last Minute Hostess Gifts

    I'll start throwing these up there for folks to take a look at. Please, please, please chime in! If you have any gems of hard won knowledge - let them shine! :D

    If there is another "category" of hacks to discuss, shout that out too. I didn't really go the decorating route but we could go there if desired...I have a couple of thoughts on that - mostly due to experience of unexpected sickness I had this past year which definitely impacted decorating!

    In any case, I'll start posting and you guys take a look!
  2. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Last Minute Holiday Appetizer Hacks

    For those panicked moments when you need something NOW! You forgot the carry in at work - or whatever life threw your way! Times when you need to stop at the store on your way to the event you are supposed to bringing a food offering to! Times when you are sitting in your car mixing things with plastic silverware you just bought along with the food items! LOL- NOT that any of us have ever DONE that! Times when last minute company is on the way! Whatever the situation, these are nice options to have in mind in your time of need!

    If you're grabbing items on the way to an event, take a moment before you leave the house to grab a platter, maybe a knife, or any other serving items you might need for your chosen offering...although I've cited some ideas below if you forget that part ;)

    Most of these ideas are NOT frugal - last minute stuff equaling paying for convenience in many of these ideas...

    No Name But Amazing Appetizer: 1 container marinated mozzarella balls + 1 small clam shell grape tomatoes (red ones, purple ones, yellow ones - it’s all good!)...Cut tomatoes in half. Mix entire contents of cheese container, oil and all with the tomatoes. Serve on toasted baguette slices - grab baguette from the bakery (you’ll have to slice and toast at the party) or you could buy those baguette chips they sell too..I could eat my body weight in this stuff!!!!

    Hummus Tray - Pick a couple of fun flavors from the deli - buy some pita chip wedges, some crackers, some baby carrots, even cucumber slices and you have a really nice tray put together!!!

    Easiest Bread Dip Ever: 1 container sour cream (16 oz) + 1 packet Lipton’s Vegetable Soup Mix + 1 round loaf of bakery bread...Mix sour cream and soup mix packet, chill at least an hour or two. Hollow out middle of bread loaf, reserving bread pieces. Place chilled sour cream mixture in bread, place bread on large platter, surround with saved bread pieces for dipping. Supply knife for cutting more pieces out of bread for dipping.

    Now this one needs time to chill to taste best so it isn’t SUPER last minute - but simple enough that I wanted to include it regardless! If you have the sour cream and mix on hand you could get that mixed and chilling while getting ready for a party and pick up the bread on your way!

    Anti-Pasto Platter - That deli/produce section up front is the place to grab all of this stuff on the go! Salami, prosciutto slices, pre-cut melon balls, marinated mozz balls, variety of cheeses, pepperoni slices, pre-cut bell pepper slices. Don’t forget to grab some olives (fresh from an olive bar or the aisle with cans/jars), jarred banana peppers, etc. Arrange on a platter and life is good.

    Quick Stuffed Mushrooms: Good one for last minute company coming to you - or take and bake at the party! Small button mushrooms (as many as you're wanting to make) + boxed/frozen Spinach Artichoke Dip + Seasoned bread crumbs -- Pull stems from mushrooms (throw away or finely chop and use to stretch filling) then fill with thawed dip and top with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs turn golden/filling is hot.

    Spicy Fruity Cream Cheese Cracker Appetizer: 1 block of cream cheese topped with 1 jar of raspberry fruit spread mixed with one jar of red pepper jelly - serve with crackers - YUM!!!

    Brie - You don’t have to bake it wrapped in puff pastry! You can just slap it on a plate and top with apricot preserves and serve with crackers! BAM!

    Fruit Platter - Hit up the section with pre-washed and cut fruit to assemble your platter selections. Buy fruit dips they provide or grab some flavored yogurts to go with. OR try grabbing a cup of vanilla yogurt (6 oz) to mix with 3 T creamy peanut butter and 1 ½ T honey. OR if you have the time how about this 5 minute dessert sauce?


    Cheese Platter - Tried and true! Purchase pre-cut cheese (scrutinize the package CLOSELY! I have seen so many that were starting to mold!) crackers and grapes. Grab a cheap plastic platter or even a foil cookie sheet to arrange on! You could also get blocks of cheeses and cut them once you arrive by borrowing a knife. You’ll be able to pick and choose cheese types more that way for sure! Look in the deli section - pricier selections but really yummy ones usually! Bonus Idea - Grab some dried fruit for your platter as well. And maybe some pecan or walnut halves + a small jar of honey (raw organic tastes best!) for drizzling over everything! Grab a bottle of wine to go with and you are a rock star!

    Pesto Veggies - You can grab items pre-cut at most stores...Cauliflower Florets, Cucumber Chunks - then grab cherry tomatoes and baby carrots - toss all in large ziplock bag until bag ½ full - put in ¼ cup prepared pesto - seal up bag and shake it up!!! When ready to, spread contents on platter and provide toothpicks for people to spear as they like!
    Minta likes this.
  3. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Holiday Baked Goods Hacks

    For whatever reason you need’s nice to pick and choose where we save a little time!!!

    Cookie Shortcut - Want to decorate cut out cookies but don’t want to bake them? Check out options at local stores for purchasing baked but undecorated cookies. For example, Gordon’s Food Service sells them for a reasonable price - last time I checked it was 72 cookies for $10 or $12.

    Gingerbread Houses - Instead of making it from scratch, purchase one of the pre-assembled kits and focus on the decorating alone! Premade frostings should be available right next to the kits along with plenty of decor options! Remember to dig through your pantry for leftover bits of Halloween candy and other items that you can use - pretzels, fruit roll ups, peppermints, Oreo cookies, etc. there are tons of cute ways to use all of them!

    Are they out of the kits? Try these simple but fun creations with your kids instead!


    Dipped Cookies Hacks

    Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter “Cookies” - Take Ritz crackers (store brand is good, as well), sandwich peanut butter between two, and dip into melted chocolate, place on waxed paper and let harden. Yummy! You can drizzle them with white chocolate or colored icing...nuts...whatever! This would be great with other crackers too, Town House, Club Crackers, Saltines, etc.

    Dip chocolate wafer cookies with melted white chocolate and top with crushed (or chopped real small) candy canes.

    Take fig bars (store brand works fine) and cut them in half, either the long way (so you end up with two strips) or diagonally (you end up with two triangles). Or do some of each shape. Dip each piece about halfway in melted semi-sweet chocolate, then into finely chopped nuts. Place on wax paper until set.

    Graham Crackers are another GREAT thing to dip in chocolate!!! How good would those be dipped in chocolate then drizzled with melted peanut butter chips???

    Chocolate Dipping/Drizzling PERIOD! Any store bought cookie can be dressed up by dipping in chocolate. Pecan Sandies! Oreos! Whatever!!! Let harden on wax paper then dip other side in different melted chocolate. You can melt chocolate bars, baking chips, or get the packs of “barks” they sell at holiday time. Don’t forget options like the peanut butter chips or even butterscotch. Mix and match your dipping flavors to you cookies to make really fun creations! You can roll or sprinkle with crushed Oreos, peppermints, nuts, shredded coconut, etc. You can toast the nuts or coconut first even by popping in oven for a few minutes or just toasting dry in pan on stove.

    For that matter - that bag of pretzels - whatever kind you have - languishing in the pantry suddenly becomes an all star when dipped in chocolate and covered in colored sprinkles.

    To Drizzle: Piping bags fitted with small round hole type nozzle work of course. You can also put melted chocolate in a small ziplock then cut a tiny bit off one corner and squeeze icing out that way. OR you can dip a fork in melted chocolate, let most drain off then kind of flick it over the cookies - this is the quickest (and probably messiest) way but it works in a pinch!!! Or do you have a plastic squeeze bottle - even the kind you would put ketchup or mustard in normally? Those work great too!

    Candy Shortcuts

    Small pretzels, regular style or circles or the little lattice squares can be set on a glass plate and topped with a chocolate candy - Rolos, Hershey’s Kisses - any flavor, Andes Mint Thins, etc. Microwave on defrost setting in short bursts until chocolate starts to soften up. Press another pretzel down on top and let cool until hardened.

    Brownie Balls - Buy the little brownies they sell prepackaged for kids. I usually see the ones where there are two small squares in each little pack with an indentation where you can break them apart. Break apart and roll each square into a ball - use toothpick or skewer to dip in melted chocolate - could also roll these in whatever you like. Or make them into brownie pops if you have cake pop sticks around. Or those little pretzel sticks? That would work too!

    Sugared Marshmallows - Stick a cake pop stick in one end of regular size marshmallow. Moisten marshmallow slightly with water, pat it mostly dry, roll in colored sugar. Done! Or, or, you could just dip it in chocolate. Just sayin’.

    Keeping Melted Chocolate, Etc. From Hardening:

    Use your Crock-pot!!! Saw it on Pinterest and it totally works! Put 1 inch or so of water in crock and get it hot! Once it is heated up well, you could turn it to LOW. Place melted chocolate (or PB chips or whatever) in a glass bowl that you sit down in the water in the crock. You just leave the lid off and dip right out of bowl(s) sitting in the crock. I’ve used a couple of bowls small enough so that I could fit both in at the same time so I could do both dark and white chocolate. Or you could use pint size Mason jars too. Let’s you not worry about rushing to dip before chocolate starts to harden up on you!

    NOTE: I have always melted my chocolate in microwave or via double boiler before transferring to crockpot to just keep it melted. There might be a way to melt it in jars IN the crockpot but I personally haven’t tried it yet.

    Extra Melted White Chocolate? Grapes in the fridge? Assign kids the task of sticking a toothpick in each grape. Dip ½ to ¾ of the way in white chocolate then in finely minced nuts - let harden on wax paper.

    How about maraschino cherries that still have the stem on them - some of those would be AWESOME dipped in chocolate! But most things are, aren’t they?

    Seriously, extra melted chocolate means it’s time to raid your pantry and fridge for things to dip and eat - who knows what you’ll come up with!

    Simple Dessert Idea - Last minute dessert needed for company? Keep pound cake in freezer - I like to make my own, slice and flash freeze before transferring to bags for longer storage. Keep bag or two of frozen berries like strawberries (my pref) or raspberries on hand as well. You can pull out bags of pound cake slices and let them thaw on counter or wherever (if you want them out of sight put in pantry or inside a cupboard lol) while you are eating dinner, etc. Get frozen berries out to start thawing as soon as you can too.

    Defrost them in the microwave on a plate if you have to. Either before dinner or after make a simple sauce by heating thawed berries with sugar to taste - thicken if desired with tapicoa or cornstarch (ladel out some hot liquid into small dish - whisk in 1 T of cornstach until dissolved THEN add back to syrup to avoid lumps) - heat until thick. Add additional cornstarch if needed. Splash in a teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract at the very end for a final touch!

    Put this dessert over the top by having a tub of Cool Whip in the freezer you pulled out with everything else to thaw. Drizzle each whipped cream topped serving with sauce from a bottle of chocolate syrup like Hershey’s. It’s official - hostess with the mostest!
    luludou and Minta like this.
  4. Minta

    Minta Administrator Staff Member

    AJ great tip using crock pot for melted chocolate, I will have to try that.

    Dip Marshmallows in melted Chocolate, place on wax paper until the chocolate sets and then use to top off mugs of hot chocolate or stick wooden skewers to eat as a treat.
    luludou and AuntJamelle like this.
  5. jollykelly

    jollykelly Active Member

    My best cookie hack was joining a Cookie Swap. There were six of us in the swap and we each made 6 dozen cookies. All of the cookies you make are of the same kind, and the host coordinates so there are no duplicates. You leave with a variety of cookies. It was not to hard to make 6 dozen of the same kind and made shopping for the ingredients easy.
    Minta, luludou and AuntJamelle like this.
  6. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Minta - Dipping marshmallows in chocolate - how can you go wrong?

    Kelly - Sounds like you have a good group for the cookie swap! The only ones I've been too I came home with very little I would be willing to regift :( That was years ago and a different group of people than I would think of gathering now - have to give this idea some thought!


    Think things you can get at the grocery store on your way! Grab tags, wired ribbon, bows, scissors and tape before you leave the house. Maybe a nice little basket depending on what you find! Take along the crinkle filler or get some while at the store. You can repackage something and make it look great! Looks matter here, so pick prettiest labels/containers you can where appropriate. Once again, these ideas aren’t necessarily meant to be frugal - just something that you can do last minute that doesn’t look last minute!

    High End Cookies (Think Milano) + High End Bag of Coffee - Have fun with your flavors - caramel/chocolate is something you can probably find in both cookie and coffee choices! Or mint, etc.

    Cute Kitchen Towels - Fold, stack, tie with ribbon. Add a cute paper tag if you have one! It’ll probably look so cute it won’t need wrapping, just give as is!

    Mrs. Meyer’s Soaps - A couple of these would be a great hostess gift. Pop in a gift basket - tie a ribbon on the handle - done!

    OR get one big bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap and a cute dishtowel and tie them together with wired ribbon - voila!

    Bag of high quality coffee beans (use the store grinder to grind them) + either a travel mug, ceramic mug or a bottle of syrup meant for flavoring coffee. Or even a bottle of flavored creamer if you’ll be there quick enough that it’s not out of the fridge too long - CoffeeMate and International Delight have lots of choices + there will be seasonal holiday flavors available too. Get one big one or a couple little ones. Pop into a gift bag and you’re done!

    High End Bakery in town? We have a local place called Breadsmith with outstanding baked goods, breads, coffee cakes, etc. Packaging is so pretty you could just pop on a bow and call it done! Some grocery stores have similar items in their bakery. A loaf or two of bakery bread plus a nice bottle of olive oil would work too! Or a higher end bottle of balsamic vinegar!

    Winter Bouquet - Maybe grab one of wintery colored flowers, one of greenery and combine into a vase. Purchase vase at store or bring one from home (TIP: Thrift stores like Goodwill are a GREAT place to get vases of all types for CHEAP - look for pretty and unusual designs - run them through the dishwasher and they will be like new. Tuck away for gift giving opportunities all year long! I often see green glass vases and those are perfect for Christmas!)

    Scented Candles - Pop in a gift bag!

    Clementines (“Cuties”) - Very pretty tumbled into a small basket - tie on a bow and GO!

    Potted Plant - Go to the florist section of the store. Pop on a bow or tie on pretty ribbon!

    Potted Herb or Herbs - If you have a flat bottomed basket that would hold 3 or 4 at home that would be perect!

    Nice Water Bottle + Containers of Water Enhancers (i.e. flavorings, like the MiO brand)

    Cute Cocktail Napkins (there always seem to be a ton of these around at the holidays!) + Bottle of Wine; All should fit in a wine bag!

    Bags of Nuts! Think pistachios or anything else you can spot - should be some cute packaged ones at holiday time! Or pop into a cute gift bag instead!

    Bottle of Real Maple Syrup (these usually are in decorative glass bottles) + Box of Pancake Mix; Repackage mini chocolate chips into clear plastic food bag to go along with. Or throw in a can of Reddi Whip! Perhaps a little carton of berries - raspberries, etc. Non seasonal fruit is a little more this time of year (in US) and would be a nice indulgence type thing to give...

    Magazine Subscription - Grab latest issue and tear out subscription card to fill out after the party! Give with a card or tag telling them to enjoy their year of XYZ.

    DIY Hickory Farms Gift Basket - Here’s where that basket you brough comes in again! Grab summer sausage, blocks of cheese, crackers, small bottles of mustards, pickles, whatever you want! Line basket with tea towel or grab some paper filler.

    A Whole Pineapple - Tie on a bow with wired ribbon!

    IZZE Sparkling Juice - They come in really pretty packaging! Add a bow! You could also gift with some “fancy” plastic champagne glasses...

    Bakery Cookies or Pastries - Put in a tea towel lined basket!

    Hot Cocoa (look for cannisters with pretty packaging label(s) + Mini Marshmallows (grab those clear bags from cake decorating aisle and put the marshmallows in that - the bags are sold with little silver twist ties you can use the close up the bag)

    Jams/Jellies - Pick the ones with prettiest labels. Grab a bag of english muffins - repackage as described above under Hot Cocoa idea with clear food bags...bundle jars and muffins together into small basket or gift bag.

    Strawberries - If you can find some that look good out of season there is nothing lovelier in a teatowel lined basket - simple and sweet!

    Simply Apple Juice (in refrigerated section of store) + bottle of Caramel Vodka + Cinnamon sticks (Spices aisle) - Tag instructing to heat juice in crockpot or microwave - add desired amount of vodka by the glass and garnish with cinnamon sticks…

    Apples - Find some great looking ones! Honeycrisp are amazing - fill in around a jar of caramel dipping sauce/ice cream topping in a nice little basket…

    Beer - If your hosts are beer drinkers and you know what they like or even better what they like to splurge on - grab a 6 pack and slap on a bow!
    Minta and luludou like this.
  7. sweetpumkinpye

    sweetpumkinpye Well-Known Member

    Another great post. Going to have to grab a coffee and look through on my next day off.
    Minta likes this.
  8. luludou

    luludou Well-Known Member

    AJ I am loving this thread! you have got fantastic ideas.
  9. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Thanks guys! Some are mine and many are gleaned from the web so I can't claim original thought on all... :)


    Cookies or Other Home Baked Goods to give and no spare platters or tins on hand? Try this paper plate method:


    Or use wrapping paper on the outside of Pringles cans and put the cookies in those!

    I’m sure most have heard of this - but in the event that you need to wrap a present - you don’t have a gift bag or any other suitable paper - something a person like me can’t imagine because I seriously have a gift wrap supplies store tucked away - IF that happens - use the comics from the newspaper! Super cute!

    Simple Bows with Wired Ribbon - Okay, so there are a MILLION how to make a bow posts out there on the internet. I used to mess with all of that. Not so much these days unfortunately. This is what I do - cut length of ribbon that can be tied around box, crossing once underneath and coming up sides and past top far enough that there is extra to tie a bow.

    Tie the ribbon. Before tying the bow this is your chance to slip an ornament on - just thread one of the ribbon sides through the ornament hanger and slide it down.

    Tie the bow, just like you would on shoelaces. IF you want the finished bow to “face” a certain direction on the package, do the bow tying with that direction facing away from you. For whatever reason I’ve found that this just works. The tails of the bow then hang down in the direction I wanted. I can fluff the loops and curl the ribbon tails. If you tie a bow and it’s oriented in wrong way when you’re done, try untying and turning box around and doing it again - been there many times when I get it all backwards in my head.

    TIP: Use a small round spice bottles to curl the ribbon tails. Ever used a curling iron? It’s the same principle without the heat. Starting at end of ribbon tail wrap it tightly around the bottle, rolling up until you get almost to the top. Leave yourself enough to grab the ribbon tail just under where it meets the bow (this prevents you from untying your bow in a moment). Hold firmly and pull on ribbon wrapped bottle to tighten ribbon against it as much as possible. This is where you are “setting” the curl in those ribbon wires. Let go of ribbon and slide off of the bottle. It will be in a tight spiral that you can loosen and arrange. Repeat for other tail.

    FINAL TOUCH: Use sharp scissors to trim the ends of the ribbon tails. They can start to look raggedy by the time you are done. Cut on a diagonal or notch the ends - both look great! If you added an ornament just arrange so it is peeking out from under the bow. If it is dangling too much I’ve used pipe cleaners in colors matching ribbon to catch it up and kind of snug it up under the bow.

    Wrapping Tools - I cannot say enough about having a hot glue gun and a pair of wire cutters around for decorating wrapped packages! Little picks and sprays can have extra stem length cut off and then you can hot glue them right into middle of a bow, for example. Have a big bunch of greenery, cut it down and use as desired!

    Pretty buttons or other flat-ish doo dads? Hot glue them right onto the wrapped box! Pretty much anything I’m trying to add to my decorated package that won’t stick with regular tape I go to either packing tape or hot glue gun, depending on what it is. Packing tape is important too! I use it mostly to close the lids on cardboard boxes I’ve saved from Amazon and am reusing to wrap gift items. But also loops of packing tape, sticky side out, let you stick wrapped items together - like when stacking different size boxes on top of each other in a sort of pyramid. I do that frequently when the gifts go together - i.e. video game system and games, etc.

    If you are delving into the world of fancy tied bows using wired ribbon, a stapler is another sanity saving thing to have around when wrapping. Works great on the ribbon - you’ll see that in a lot of the tutorials out there!
    Minta likes this.
  10. Holiday_Mom

    Holiday_Mom Well-Known Member

    Thanks for these ideas!
    AuntJamelle likes this.
  11. Ahorsesoul

    Ahorsesoul Santa's Elves

    Nice ideas, tfs
  12. DahliaDoll

    DahliaDoll Well-Known Member

    You've probably all seen these reindeer beer bottles, but just in case ...

    Would work with a 6-pack of anything.

    AJ ~ What an amazing list! Thanks so much for sharing.
    Holiday_Mom and luludou like this.
  13. sweetpumkinpye

    sweetpumkinpye Well-Known Member

    DJ, I have seen those reindeer bottles and they are so cute. Will try it with ginger ale I think.
  14. housewife2

    housewife2 Well-Known Member

    cute idea

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