Serving Up Holiday Cheer

Simple Tips to Elevate Everyday Dishes into Something Special this Holiday Season

Article by Susan Lanier-Graham

Photography by Janie Jones Photography @uncommon.jane

Originally published in North Peoria Lifestyle


Is it possible to create a gorgeous holiday spread without spending a fortune or putting hours into the preparations? Yes! Welcome to your holiday rescue!

The holiday season is the ideal time for getting together with friends and family. Don't spend so much time prepping and cooking, only to end up too exhausted to enjoy yourself.

These easy tips help you transform everyday items into Instagram-worthy spreads.

  • Appetizers take moments with a few store-bought items of food and décor
  • Sip hot chocolate around the tree—but with a twist like a sugared rim, a do-it-yourself hot chocolate station, and a little something extra for the adults
  • Desserts are a must-have for that Christmas party, but these easy holiday ideas will be the superstar—no baking required

Baked Brie.

Melted brie is an appetizer sure to bring oohs and ahhs. Place a wheel of brie on parchment on a baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Transfer the warm brie and parchment to a serving board. You can serve it with slices of baguette or—as pictured here—sliced pound cake you find in your grocer's freezer section. Drizzle a little honey and it's perfect as a holiday appetizer. 

Candied Pecans.

Candied pecans dress up cheese or are a great snack. In a skillet, heat 1/4 cup butter with 1/4 cup brown sugar. When dissolved, add in 1/2 cup pecans. Stir to coat. Let cool on parchment paper. 

Festive Charcuterie.

Everyone loves a gorgeous charcuterie board. Arrange nibbles on a board in the shape of a Christmas tree. Decorate with rosemary or greens. 


Notice in these photos, everything is simple, easy to purchase in your local grocery store, but decorated for the season with small festive items. Head to your local craft store to find small items you can use to embellish your tables. This might include miniature Christmas trees, ornaments, floral stems, garlands, pine cones, candles and more. 

Every holiday gathering needs hot chocolate. How about creating a fun do-it-yourself hot chocolate station at your gathering?

You can get creative and think outside the box. Place items in little jars with small spoons or scoops. Here are some of the items you might want to include:

  • Whipped cream
  • Peppermint or chocolate-coated stir sticks or spoons
  • Marshmallows
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Cranberries
  • Sprinkles or Gummie Bears
  • Crushed peppermint
  • Toffee bits
  • Chocolate chips (or mint chocolate chips)
  • Gingerbread cookies
  • Malted milk balls
  • Chocolate or caramel syrup for drizzling
  • Candy canes
  • Chocolate bars

Offer lots of options—and either paper cups or big chunky mugs—and watch the adults and kids alike have fun creating over-the-top hot chocolate treats. 

Add adult options.

Make some adult options available for your hot chocolate station. There are several options that pair best with hot chocolate, including bourbon, vanilla vodka, Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa, spice rum, or cognac.

Create a sugar rim.

Sugar rims are something you can do ahead of time and have prepared when your guests arrive. Prepare two shallow dishes: one with light corn syrup and the other with crushed peppermints. Dip the rim of each mug into the corn syrup and then into the crushed peppermint, rolling slightly to coat. Allow to stand for a few minutes before adding hot chocolate. 


No gathering for the holiday season is complete without dessert. But trying to come up with the perfect dessert—when you aren't a baker—can sometimes be difficult. No worries! You can use something already prepared or even a simple boxed cake mix and decorate it for the season. 

Remember all the flavors and colors of the season when thinking about how to dress up your desserts. Make use of fresh and dried fruits that fit your color theme. This can include raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries. 

Place your desserts on colorful plates or boards and decorate with rosemary sprigs, evergreen cuttings, mint leaves. Use that random Christmas napkin or towel under the plate for a dash of color. And find more of those fun little knick-knacks from the craft store that you can add to your dessert for decoration.

These simple ideas can make your holiday parties a festive occasion—without leaving you too exhausted to enjoy the party!

Dress up a cheesecake.

Find delicious cheesecake in the bakery department or frozen section of your grocery store. Place it on a pretty plate. Add fresh fruit and candied pecans, and then finish with mint leaves.

Add coconut for a snowy scene.

To create a winter wonderland, just add coconut. Again, you can dress up a simple cake from the grocery store (or a boxed cake you make) that is decorated with plain white frosting. Sprinkle liberally with coconut and decorate with Christmas cookies or gingerbread.

Don't forget the garnish.

If you prefer chocolate, you can also make that perfect for your Christmas celebration with a few simple items. Dress up a simple chocolate cake with sugar-dipped berries, mint leaves, and a few tiny Christmas items.

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