25 Tips for an Easy Holiday

Count down to Christmas with our home cooks' best entertaining, baking and hosting tips that'll keep your holiday less harried.

Tip #1: Make freezer-friendly apps!

The freezer is your friend! Don't leave your cocktail party snacks to the last minute — these freezer-friendly appetizers can go from freezer to oven just before party time.

Get started with:

Tip #2: Freeze your cookie dough!

Mix your favorite dough, then roll into a log for easy freezing. Thaw the dough in the fridge a day ahead and bake however many cookies you need. This will make the busy holidays so much easier!

Essential doughs to stock:

Tip #3: Make your home smell jolly!

Skip scented candles and capture the season's aroma with an all-natural brew. Simmer cinnamon sticks, cloves, more spices and fruit in a small pot.

silly sally's tip: "Always keep water in the pan so you can keep the aroma going all through the holidays."

Three festive scents:

Tip #4: Give a gift from your kitchen!

Skip the crowded mall and pricey online shopping. Save money, keep it personal, and whip up something friends and family will really enjoy: a handmade food gift! Fudge, truffles, quick breads and jar mixes are perfect for everyone on your list.

Some great food gifts:

Tip #5: Throw a cool cocktail party!

Keep your guests — and cocktails! — flowing throughout the house. Create a bar stocked with all the essentials in the living or dining room instead of the crowded kitchen. Keep guests moving and your party will be a sure-fire hit!

Festive bevies for your next party:

Tip #6: Host a fondue party!

Get everyone involved in the party prep! Ask pals to bring their favorite dippers (veggies, breads, cakes) while you supply the different fondues (broth, cheese and something sweet for a dessert).

Fun fondues to try:

Tip #7: Use one dough many ways!

A good cookie dough is just a foundation for dozens of variations. Start with a basic mix and get creative with your flavor add-ins. Go for chocolate chunk, peanut butter-oatmeal, snickerdoodles and more.

Recipes to start with:

Tip #8: Make your own coffee creamers!

Homemade coffee creamers are perfect to have on hand for guests, and they make great hostess presents, too! With just a stir of a spoon, coffee lovers can enjoy flavors like mint, vanilla, amaretto and more on Christmas morning.

A few great mixes:

Tip #9: Be a great guest and bring along a portable party dish!

Whether headed to a family potluck or a pal's tree-trimming party, don't show up empty-handed. There's no guarantee your host can spare the oven, so bring along a dish that's best served chilled or at room temperature.

A few good choices:

Tip #10: Rescue hard cookies!

Rock-hard cookies? Place them in an airtight container with apple or bread slices for an hour to soften them up. Quicker fix: Pop any you want now in the microwave — a few seconds is enough!

Or for a guaranteed soft cookie:

Tip #11: Out of something? Try these baking subs.

Keeping the basic baking ingredients stocked is essential this month, but we've all run dry before: "I am short an egg!," "there's no buttermilk at the store!" and "one more cup of flour?!" If you find yourself out of something, we have the subs!

Easy substitutes that work:

Tip #12: Give yourself a (dinner) break.

If all the shopping, wrapping and fa-la-la-ing is wearing you out, don't add dinner to your worry list. Stock up on simple recipes instead. With five ingredients or fewer, in 30 minutes or less, you can whip up one satisfying meal.

Some great bets:

Tip #13: The perfect ham is perfectly simple.

When picking out your holiday ham, buy a shank end for less fat and easy carving. Then, dress it up the way your family loves it. Make it easy so you can enjoy the day with everyone else!

Our easy-yet-special ham picks:

Tip #14: Keep snacks on hand.

Serve up some savory treats to go with all those cookies. Make a batch of your favorites now, stash them away and then refill your snack bowls as needed. These are great for hungry house guests or when family comes by to help trim the tree. Perfect mixes:

Tip #15: Make one cookie, swap for more!

Recruit coworkers, book club pals or neighbors to participate in a cookie exchange. This way you only have to bake one kind of cookie, but can gather a variety for your holiday tray. A win-win for everyone!

Friends will be asking for these:

Tip #16: Party must: Serve small bites throughout the house!

Guests flock to the food. To keep traffic moving, position small platters of appetizers on end tables around the house. Folks can eat, mingle and enjoy the party outside of the kitchen. Fun finger foods:

Tip #17: Save money with these winter warmers!

Serve guests mulled wines, ciders or fruity sangria that you can brew in bulk (use your slow cooker!). No need for expensive liquors or mixers, and you can stretch your wine with added fruit and juice. Bonus: a lovely smelling house!

Friends will be asking for these:

Tip #18: Make ornaments with the kids!

Keep the kids busy (and entertained!) with an ornament workshop. Rustic and personal, homemade ornaments add the perfect touch to a Christmas tree.

A few ornament ideas:

Tip #19: Whip up easy dips in a flash!

Dips are the perfect holiday party food or evening snack because they're fast, easy and cheap! Stock up on a few ingredients and keep your favorite dippers (chips, crackers or fresh veggies) on hand, and you can entertain at a moment's notice.

3 no-fuss dips:

Tip #20: Host a Hanukkah latke party!

Here's a great idea from chia: "Every year, we get together with friends and family for a latke party. Everyone pitches in and mans a pan, so to speak. We do this buffet style and the party flows from the kitchen to the den — very informal and so much fun."

Celebrate with:

Tip #21: Feed a crowd with hearty soups and stews!

After caroling and tree decorating, refuel family and friends with something warm and soothing. For low-stress prep, make a big batch of soup in your slow cooker. Offer crusty bread or a simple salad and let folks serve themselves!

Fill up your crew with:

Tip #22: Get Christmas brunch ready the night before.

Breakfast casseroles are great for a busy Christmas morning. Prep them the night before and, in the morning, just pop them in the oven while the kids tear into the presents.

5-star Christmas casseroles:

Tip #23: Need quick cookies? Skip the oven.

If you need some last-minute cookies, don't bother heating up the oven. No-bake cookies come together fast and are just as satisfying and popular as their baked counterparts.

3 to try:

Tip #24: Jazz up your hot cocoa!

Pass on the plain ol' powder mix. Dress up your hot chocolate with extra flavorings (and maybe a splash of booze)! Fill your thermos with a fresh batch before you head out to tour the neighborhood lights.

Grab a mug:

Tip #25: Have a Merry Christmas!

Tip #25: Have a Merry Christmas!

Goal today: Relax and enjoy time with family. If you want to keep the kids busy (and they haven't OD'ed on sugar yet), gather them to decorate store-bought cookies at a cookie craft table.