The holiday season is in full swing: twinkling lights, pine needles, Christmas music, gift wrapping, crowded shopping malls, pageants, sugar cookies and hot drinks! I don’t know about you but I love every minute of it. But those minutes add up and before you know it the craziness of the holidays take over and all you want for Christmas is Xanax.

Besides trying to entertain on a budget, I also try and look for ways to save you time. After all, they say time is money…or time is precious sleep and that’s more rare than a well-behaved elf on the shelf. So if you’re planning a Christmas open house or a family gathering, here’s a festive idea that will save you time and a little money.

You’ve probably seen the Hot Chocolate bars gracing the Pinterest boards (I even did one last year), but why not change it up by creating a Hot Cider bar? The nose-appealing advantage is that your home will be filled with a warm apple cinnamon scent. The disadvantage is that most people don’t normally add many toppings to Hot Cider. Here are the toppings I provided (you can also save this picture to your computer, print out and place in a frame to grace your own Hot Cider bar).

Combine the caramel with some salt to create a salted caramel hot cider or the candied orange slices with cinnamon sticks to create a cinnamon orange cider. You could also just add some dried apple rings with the cinnamon stick to enhance the hot cider taste. I didn’t include any alcohol on this hot cider bar but if you’d like to include it on yours, spiced rum or even a splash of champagne (ala hot cider mimosa) would be fun.

The only topping I bought was the dried apple rings. The caramel sauce is regular ice cream topping. For the candied orange peel, I did it the Heidi shortcut way. Most recipes say it takes hours to candy orange peel. I don’t have hours to make candied orange peel so I nuked it in the microwave.

 

Candied Orange Peel

Orange Peel (only the orange part try to not include the white part at all)

Water

1 ½ cups Sugar (or more if you’ve got a lot of orange peel)

Submerge the orange peels in a cup of cold water and heat in the microwave for 3-5 minutes on high. Take it out, drain the water, add another cup of cold water and microwave for 3-5 minutes. Repeat this at least three times. This process gets the bitterness out of the orange peel. Taste a small piece to see if you need to continue repeating the process.

Add ¾ cup of sugar to a cup of water and add the microwaved orange peels. These should now have a translucent look to them. Microwave for 3-5 minutes. Take the candied orange peel out of the sugar syrup and place on a paper towel or wax paper. You can now roll the peels in sugar (I just lightly coated mine) and let dry. If you really wanted your orange peels on a sugar high, dip them in dark chocolate. Yumster.

To show my guests what toppings they could choose from, I took a leftover piece of burlap and listed the toppings with a white paint pen.

Instead of displaying my oh-so-glamorous crock-pot, I decided to just fill up a pitcher as needed. It’s all about a little curb appeal, ya know?

No Christmas/Holiday party would be complete without some treats. I decided to whip up some quick little sweets that are sick, if I say so myself. (Sorry…after the first rhyme I was trying to go with it. This is where the whole stop while you’re ahead comes into play)

Miss Semi-Homemade herself, Sandra Lee, would be proud of me. I did a little mash-up of store bought items to come up with a unique spin on them.

A little brownie mix with some crushed heath bars equal a rich toffee-like brownie. Just a tip…I’d add a sprinkle of crushed heath to the top of the brownie before you put it in the oven then once it’s out, I’d sprinkle some more crushed heath maybe even some crushed nuts & a little caramel. I added a ton of crushed heath bars into the brownie batter and it was too mushy.

Pecan sandies have a special place in my heart (said no one ever, except for me). My grandmother loved pecan sandies. I always think of her when I see them. She’s one of the reasons I love entertaining so much.

Anyways…add a little Christmas touch to pecan sandies by topping them with dried cranberry pieces and drizzle with white chocolate. Wham, bam, easy Christmas treat ma’am.

I’ve tried to think of another name for these but all I can come up with is lemon balls. The middle school girl in me always giggles at the term balls in any dessert so I try and avoid it at all cost but this was impossible, so lemon balls it is.

Take a pack of lemon sandwich cookies and crush them in a food processor. Add ½ block/4oz cream cheese for a whole pack of lemon cookies and ¼ block/2oz for a half pack of lemon cookies. You may have tried this method with oreo cookies. That recipe calls for an entire block of cream cheese but I think it’s too much. Feel free to add your desired amount.

After you’ve combined the cream cheese and cookie crumbs, roll your dough into balls a little over an inch in diameter. Refrigerate or freeze until you’re ready to serve them. Before you serve the lemon balls, roll them in powdered sugar to give them some sex appeal. See…I told you I must avoid desserts with the word “ball” in them. I start saying all kinds of strange things.

You could also dip your lemon balls in melted white chocolate instead of the powdered sugar. Another tip-bit for you is that I added a tiny bit of lemon juice to my cookie/cream cheese dough. The lemon flavor just wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be.

Whether your home is graced with a hot cider bar or just the smell of sugar cookies baking, I hope your Christmas & holiday season is filled with joy and of course…parties.

I’ll be back later this month with some New Years ideas. Until then, party on!