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Party Plan: Holiday Entertaining Ideas

Make seasonal spirits bright with these easy ways to bring glad tidings to your gathering!

Ready to throw a holly jolly seasonal celebration? We’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started! Set the holiday mood with some Welcome Wreaths and 3 New Ways to Style Your Holiday Table. You can also use your wreath in a fun new way by turning it into a Wreath Chandelier. And check out the Top 5 Home Décor Ideas for the Holidays for some great decorating tips!

We’ve also got plenty of delicious snack and beverage ideas for your holiday party! Serve some Bourbon Hot Caramel Apple Cider and Cranberry Mules for the grown ups at your gathering, and an Ultimate Hot Cocoa Bar will be a hit with the kids…yum! Keep plenty of snacks on hand, like Mustard Roasted Nut Mix and Cranberry Apple White Chocolate Snack Mix, to keep your party going!

Ultimate Make-Your-Own Hot Cocoa Bar

Ultimate Make-Your-Own Hot Cocoa Bar

Hot cocoa brings us joy and comfort, and antioxidant-rich dark cocoa may yield health benefits, too. When guests come to your home, treat them to a grand make-your-own hot cocoa bar! Don’t worry: it’ll look fancy, but it’s simple to set up.

  • Set out a variety of festive, silly, or winter-themed mugs.
  • Fancy drinks deserve special rim garnishes. Next to your mugs, set out separate saucers of honey, caramel sauce, maple syrup and molasses. Next to each liquid, set a small bowl or saucer of a complementing spice: cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, sea salt flakes, sprinkles, or edible glitter, for example. Be adventurous.
  • Will you provide instant hot cocoa and hot water, or warmed milk and melted chocolate squares? The former you can serve from an insulated pot or tea maker; for the latter, you’ll need an electric hotplate and a saucepan.
  • Set out a variety of flavored marshmallows. Use small cookie cutters to form fun marshmallow shapes. Sprinkle some with tasty spices (i.e., cloves, cayenne, vanilla, cake-decorating sugar). Toss others with crushed peppermints.
  • Make decorative marshmallow sculptures:
    • Use toothpicks, large and small marshmallows to make snowflakes for garnishing drinks. Stick 6 toothpicks into a large marshmallow, in a hexagonal pattern. Affix a small marshmallow to the outward-facing end of each toothpick, or stack several marshmallows on each toothpick.
    • Make side display snowpeople. Push a small straw or toothpick through a stack of marshmallows (large mallow on the bottom, then medium, then small — in the shape of a snowperson). Use cake-decorating gels to paint eyes, a smile and a carrot nose on each snowperson’s face, if you wish.
  • Offer tasty stir sticks. Set out mason jars filled with candy canes, cinnamon sticks, biscotti, salted caramel bars, and chocolate-dipped pretzels. The trick here is to supply lavish accompaniments with minimal work on your part — all you have to do is open the packages. It’s luxury, the easy way!
  • Spike it! Party guests age 21 and over may appreciate the opportunity to add some liquid cheer their hot cocoa. Coffee or hazelnut liqueurs, Irish cream, crème de menthe, crème de cacao, spiced or vanilla rum, vodka and bourbon are all excellent complements. If you are providing warm milk for the hot cocoa base, avoid raspberry or orange liqueurs—their acids will curdle the milk.

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Creative Name Cards: Welcome Wreaths

Creative Name Cards: Welcome Wreaths

When guests sit down at your table, let them know how glad you are that you’re sharing the holiday with them, with personalized mini wreaths at their place settings. Make the wreaths out of things you probably already have at home.

  • Cut out a donut shape on green cardstock or construction paper. Add other decorations to it: sparkles, pine cones, or feathers, for example.
  • String cranberries or beads on wire and bend into a loop. Affix a ribbon bow at the top.
  • Use spare evergreen or boxwood trimmings to make tiny wreaths. Use twine, wire or bread ties to secure the ends together and form a circle.

Stamp or write (calligraphy, anyone?) each guest’s name on a gift tag and attach the tags to the wreaths to personalize them.

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3 New Ways to Style Your Holiday Table

3 New Ways to Style Your Holiday Table

Hot cocoa brings us joy and comfort, and antioxidant-rich dark cocoa may yield health benefits, too. When guests come to your home, treat them to a grand make-your-own hot cocoa bar! Don’t worry: it’ll look fancy, but it’s simple to set up.

Decadent Edible Runner

Celebrate rich hues, exotic flavors and abundance by creating an edible runner — which conveniently doubles as healthy hors d’oeuvre — with winter produce! Heap pomegranates, red and green pears, grapes, plums, fresh figs and clove-decorated tangerines down the center of your dining room table.

If staining a tablecloth isn’t a concern, halve a few of the pomegranates and display their jewel-like seeds in small bowls. The insides of figs are also lovely, with a delicate yellow rind and rosy pulp, so halve a few of those, too.

Accent your edible runner with crystalized ginger, chocolate truffles, bowls of dates and nuts of all sorts — whole walnuts, filberts, chestnuts and pecans are especially enticing.

Snowy Glamor

This décor is inspired by quiet, sparkling snowfall. Mirror the magic that occurs when the world is hushed under a fresh, peaceful blanket.

Set your dining table with a white centerpiece or runner and many white, silver, or gold candles. You can use tea lights, tapers, or candlesticks. Float white roses in crystal punch bowls.

Trim the table, mantle, bannisters and crown molding with real, pine garland, or with twinkling white holiday lights, and enchant your guests!

Red, Green and Fun

Use classic Christmas colors for this traditional, whimsical theme. Alternately fill glass vases with red or green beads and nestle white, taper candles inside. Trim the table runner with jingle bells, gold tinsel or silver sparkles.

Place fresh cranberries and spare evergreen trimmings in a clear, unadorned glass jar, fill it with water and float tea lights on top. Wrap spare, empty boxes in gift paper and make piles of presents in the corners of the room, on a sideboard or credenza.

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From Wreath to Chandelier

From Wreath to Chandelier

Many people enjoy lush, green holiday wreaths. The fragrance and familiarity are classic comforts of the season. This year, update the tradition. Instead of hanging a wreath on a door or wall, use it to make a botanical chandelier! Use different-sized wreaths to make tiers. Hang them over a dining table or over your front stoop.

Things You'll Need:
  • Wreath (or 2-3 wreaths of different sizes, if you want to create a tiered chandelier)
  • Ribbon or twine
  • Scissors
  • Ceiling hook(s)
Directions:
  1. Decide where you’ll hang your chandelier. If there’s not a ceiling hook in place, to which you could tie the suspending ribbon or twine, you’ll need to place some. Note the hooks’ weight limit; make sure they’re appropriate for the job. Use a stud-finder to locate an appropriate spot for affixing your hook.
  2. Tie three equal lengths of ribbon to the wreath; they should be tied an equal distance from one another. If you’re creating a tiered chandelier, repeat this step, tying each new wreath to the next at 3 equidistant points.

    Remember, the type of ribbon you chose will influence the overall look. Wide, velvet ribbon feels sophisticated. Glittered ribbon adds glam. Plaid ribbon or package twine adds a cozy country feel. If you want the evergreens to remain the focus, use an understated ribbon that coordinates to the general shade of the wreath.
  3. The three ribbons at the top of your wreath chandelier will need to be tied together and securely looped to the ceiling hook. Before tying them, re-measure all three ribbons and verify they’re of equal length, so your chandelier won’t hang crooked. Trim ribbons as necessary.
  4. Voila! You now have a lovely holiday chandelier.

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Smart Tips for Maximizing Your Dining Room Space During a Dinner Party

Smart Tips for Maximizing Your Dining Room Space During a Dinner Party

Things can get crowded when you have the whole family over for dinner. How do you manage to fit everything on the table? Is there enough room for decorations, or do they start to feel like they’re in the way?

Here are a few tips to keep your party spread looking neat, attractive and uncluttered:

  • Use cake plates, instead of large dinner platters, to increase the surface area of your serving space. Cake plates can be plain or as ornate as you wish. Find some that match your décor, style and budget.
  • Tier your table service. Elevate your serving platters on small pedestals or wire dessert stands. It nearly doubles the table area you have because, now, there’s room underneath for regular plates. Lazy Susans can also help to consolidate dish space and give your guests more elbowroom.
  • Use your sideboard or credenza. Over the years, sideboards and credenzas have become never-touched adornments in many American dining rooms. It may surprise you to learn that they were originally developed to be useful.

    Sideboards were just that—boards, set over a pair of stands, on which butlers and footmen could stage wine pitchers, water pitchers and food platters during dinner service. Eventually, furniture-makers added cabinets for storage of candlesticks, silverware and dishes; the credenza was born.

    If at present your sideboard or credenza is just an overly large display stand for your knick-knacks or decorative dishes, a large holiday dinner party presents you with the perfect opportunity to clear it off and let it function as intended.
  • Use built-in shelving or bookcases near the party area. Clear away books, trinkets and family photos. Replace them with plates, cups, napkins, a coffee station, all the desserts—anything that will fit and that wouldn’t be awkward for your guests to access.
  • Use jars or vases for items that can be served vertically. Biscotti, candy canes, chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks and other treats can easily fit in vases. So too can utensils, stir sticks, straws and rolled silverware.

    Want to match your table’s theme? Tie coordinating curling ribbon around each jar, or use decorative vases that complement your holiday décor.
  • Use pitchers instead of serving bowls for anything that can be poured. Every square inch of surface area that can be conserved by “serving up, instead of out” will add up. Serving pitchers even work for small candies, nuts, marshmallows and snack mixes – no scooping necessary!

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Top 5 Home Décor Ideas for the Holidays

Top 5 Home Décor Ideas for the Holidays

These simple, do-half-of-it-yourself projects require minimal supplies and steps but take your home décor up a festive notch.

  1. Ornament Garland
    String ornaments onto ribbon for a bubbly accent to hang on your balcony or over the mantle. We recommend using plastic ornaments instead of glass.

    You can easily find color-coordinating plastic ornaments. Deck the halls in red and green, or silver and gold, and make a garland statement that complements your typical décor.
  2. Card Garland
    What should you do with old holiday cards? Instead of burying the sentiments one on top of another in a messy pile, put them on display! String colorful yarn or ribbon across your mantle or bannister, then use clothespins to clip cards to it.
  3. Kid’s Christmas Tree
    Sometimes, kids have their own visions for decorating the tree. Encourage creativity by providing them with their own evergreen canvas. Create a Christmas tree on their bedroom or playroom wall, using green construction paper and painter’s tape. They can draw on it, stamp it or sticker it, or make felt ornaments to paste to it.
  4. Pomander Mantle Message
    Decorate oranges with cloves to make pomander balls that spell out a message on the mantle. Use a fork tine or needle to poke tiny holes in the oranges, into which you can then insert cloves. In this manner, you can form dot-matrix letters—make one letter per orange.

    Then, use the oranges to spell out your family name, a welcome message, or what-have-you on your mantle or table. They should last several days to a week, and your home will smell wonderful!
  5. Stairway of Presents
    Wrap empty boxes or books in gift paper and line one side of your front staircase with them. Use different patterns of giftwrap, ribbons and bows for the “presents” to add some ascendant holiday cheer to your front stairwell.

    Note: If you or someone in your household has mobility limitations or impaired sight, or if there are small children in the house, it might be better to pass on this idea. Use good sense when it comes to safety!

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Make Your Mudroom the Tidiest Room in the House

Make Your Mudroom the Tidiest Room in the House

There’s a reason it’s called the “mudroom.”

This is the place where muddy footprints and pawprints dot the floor, where mismatched mittens and outgrown snowsuits mysteriously seem to accumulate. This is where backpacks and gym bags are dumped, skates and hockey sticks are dropped, where shoes and boots are strewn.

Before you know it, your mudroom isn’t just muddy—it’s a downright disaster! Wouldn’t it be nice to do away with the chaos and clutter this winter?

Use these tips to keep your mudroom manageable:

  • Only store winter items. Eliminate some clutter by storing out-of-season items—like beach bags, bike helmets and lightweight jackets—in another location. You’ll free up space for bulkier winter coats, boots, etc.
  • Double up on doormats. Place sturdy doormats outside and inside the entryway. This will make it easier for all to follow the “wipe your feet!” rule. Make sure the mats are winter-weather friendly.
  • Get an over-the-door shoe holder. Store mittens and hats in the pouches of a closet shoe-holder. It’s a great way to keep them organized; everyone can find what they’re looking for at a glance.

    It’s also a handy way to store gloves and mittens that have lost their mates—if the other one shows up, it’s easy to reunite the pair. (This is a great storage trick even if you don’t have a mudroom. Just hang the bag from any door.)
  • Build cubbies. If possible, build individual cubbies for each family member. This way, coats, boots and backpacks are easy to find and out of the way. If you’re not too handy, you might find ready-made storage cubbies at a hardware store or online. Kids who are used to school lockers will find this a familiar way to stash their stuff.
  • Get rid of unused items. Given up on finding the mate to that pair of gloves from three years ago? Pitch it. Toss whatever you know you won’t be using anymore. Donate old coats and boots that are still in decent shape.
  • Store boots upside down. Build a boot rack! Screw upright pieces of scrap wood or thick wooden dowels into a wood plank, then waterproof it with commercially-available sealant.

    After the rack has completely dried, put it in the mudroom, where your family members can use it to dry their wet boots, upside-down, on the upright pieces. Make sure there’s a plastic tray or waterproof mat underneath to catch drips as the boots dry off.

Winters are long, wet and messy. Keep your mudroom organized; it’ll make your days a little brighter and make spring cleaning a snap later!

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Keep Your Winter Clothes Looking Great

Keep Your Winter Clothes Looking Great

Hand wash or dry clean? Machine dry or hang? Here are some pro tips for keeping your winter wear fresh and looking like new.

So long, shorts. Toodle-oo, tee shirts. Farewell, flip-flops. It’s that time again—when we swap our easy summer cottons for sweaters, scarves and parkas.

While most warm-weather clothing can be tossed into the washing machine, many of the woolens and down-filled items we wear in winter need special care.

Woolen Items

  • Dry clean wool coats at the beginning and end of the season. Dry cleaning at the end of the season helps protect your wool items from moth damage.
  • Remove surface dirt and lint from wool coats with a lint roller or, even better, with a natural-bristle coat brush.
  • Wool sweaters that say “hand wash only” can be washed in the machine on the hand wash or wool cycle. Use cool water.
  • Never use hot water or bleach on wool items.
  • Try not to hang wool coats in a packed closet. Wool that can “breathe” will stay nicer longer. Sturdy wooden hangers help keep the shoulders from stretching.
  • Wool socks can be machine washed. Turn them inside out before washing. Don’t use bleach or fabric softener. Machine dry on low heat, or lay them out flat and let them air dry.
  • Wait 24 hours before re-wearing woolens. This will keep wrinkles at bay and help restore the fabric’s elasticity.

Down Items

  • Down coats, jackets, vests, etc., can be machine washed. Use cold water and a minimal amount of mild detergent. Using too much soap can make the down less fluffy. You might want to put the items through an extra rinse cycle.
  • For really dirty items, stop the machine mid-wash and let them soak for an hour or so.
  • Machine dry on low heat. Throw in a few clean tennis balls to help prevent the filling from clumping.
  • Don’t wash down too often; a couple times per season should be fine.
  • Cedar wood hangers will help keep items smelling fresh.

Sweaters

  • To prevent stretching, store sweaters in drawers, instead of hanging them up.
  • Remove pilled cotton or wool by gently rubbing your sweater with a disposable razor or piece of sandpaper.
  • Twisting and turning action in the washing machine can damage your sweaters. Hand wash them to keep them in great shape. If you do wash your sweaters in the machine, use the hand wash cycle and cool water.
  • Lay sweaters out flat to dry. A wet sweater on a hanger will stretch.

Fleece

  • Fleece items can be machine washed in cool or warm water. Wash inside out on the gentle cycle.
  • Use powdered detergent instead of liquid can help fleece retain its water resistance.
  • When washing fleece, never use bleach or fabric softener.
  • If machine drying, use low heat. High heat causes fleece to pill.
  • Fleece should never be ironed.

Accessories

  • For wool hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves, wash as you would a wool sweater.
  • Place non-wool winter accessories in a mesh laundry bag; wash the whole bag. Let them air dry.

Following these tips will help make your winter clothing, outwear and accessories last longer, and keep them looking their best season after season.

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Bourbon Hot Caramel Apple Cider

Bourbon Hot Caramel Apple Cider

A seasonal coffeehouse favorite with a grown-up twist.

Hands-On Time: 5 min.
Total Time: 4 hrs.
Serves: 18 | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:
  • 1 gallon Kroger apple cider
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, whole
  • ½ cup caramel sauce
  • 1½ cup bourbon
  • Whipped cream
  • Caramel sauce, if desired
Directions:
  1. Place apple cider, cinnamon sticks and caramel sauce in a 5-qt. (or larger) slow cooker. Cover and heat 3-4 hours on low setting, stirring occasionally to thoroughly disperse the caramel.
  2. Add bourbon just before serving. Ladle into mugs, top with whipped cream and drizzle on additional caramel sauce, if desired.
  3. Refrigerate leftovers.
Tip:

To make it family-friendly, leave out the bourbon; instead, add another ounce of cider to each mug.

Nutrition Analysis:

Per serving: Calories 180, Calories from Fat 0, Total Fat 0g (0% DV), Saturated Fat 0g (0% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 85mg (4% DV), Carbohydrates 33g (11% DV), Dietary Fiber 0g (0% DV), Sugars 27g, Protein 0g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 6%, Calcium 0%, Iron 2%.

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Cranberry Mule

Cranberry Mule

A seasonal twist on a cocktail favorite.

Hands-On Time: 5 min.
Total Time: 5 min.
Serves: 1 | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup frozen cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp. Kroger cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1½ oz. vodka or cranberry vodka
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • ½ cup ginger beer
  • Lime wedge
  • ¼ cup ice cubes
Directions:
  1. Place ice and frozen cranberries in a highball glass or copper mug. Add cranberry juice, vodka, lime juice and ginger beer; stir to combine.
  2. Garnish with wedge of lime.
Nutrition Analysis:

Per serving: Calories 190, Calories from Fat 0, Total Fat 0g (0% DV), Saturated Fat 0g (0% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 0mg (0% DV), Carbohydrates 24g (8% DV), Dietary Fiber 1g (4% DV), Sugars 20g, Protein 0g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 35%, Calcium 0%, Iron 0%.

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Cranberry Apple White Chocolate Snack Mix

Cranberry Apple White Chocolate Snack Mix

White chocolate and apple pie spices will make this snack mix a crowd favorite.

Hands-On Time: 20 min.
Total Time: 20 min.
Serves: 20 | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:
  • 8 cups wholegrain cereal squares
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. apple pie spice
  • ¼ cup Kroger butter
  • ½ cup peanut butter, creamy
  • 1½ cups white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 package (2.5 oz.) apple chips
Directions:
  1. Place cereal in a large mixing bowl; set aside. Mix powdered sugar and apple pie spice in a 2 gallon zip-closing food storage bag; set aside.
  2. Combine butter, peanut butter and white chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds; stir, then continue microwaving in 30 second intervals until all ingredients have melted.
  3. Pour chocolate mixture over cereal and stir gently to coat. Transfer cereal to bag containing powdered sugar. Toss to coat each piece. Mix in cranberries and apple chips.
  4. Store in an airtight container.
Nutrition Analysis:

Per serving: Calories 290, Calories from Fat 100, Total Fat 12g (18% DV), Saturated Fat 7g (35% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 5mg (2% DV), Sodium 150mg (6% DV), Carbohydrates 48g (16% DV), Dietary Fiber 3g (12% DV), Sugars 33g, Protein 3g, Vitamin A 6%, Vitamin C 8%, Calcium 4%, Iron 40%.

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Mustard Roasted Nut Mix

Mustard Roasted Nut Mix

Savory, seasoned nuts make a great addition to a holiday party.

Hands-On Time: 5 min.
Total Time: 20 min.
Serves: 12 | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:
  • 1 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • ¼ cup mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 3 cups raw mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. Whisk oil, honey, mustard powder, salt, garlic powder and onion powder together in a large bowl. Add nuts; stir to coat evenly. Transfer coated nuts to prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway, until golden brown and toasted. Remove and allow to cool completely.
  4. Store in an airtight container.
Nutrition Analysis:

Per serving: Calories 250, Calories from Fat 180, Total Fat 21g (32% DV), Saturated Fat 3.5g (18% DV), Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg (0% DV), Sodium 160mg (7% DV), Carbohydrates 11g (4% DV), Dietary Fiber 2g (8% DV), Sugars 3g, Protein 6g, Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 0%, Calcium 4%, Iron 6%.

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