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Holiday like a PRO

100+ hacks, tips and recipes that will make this your best party season ever

Make Those Invites Tight

To get the word out about party details with style, digital may be the way to go (check out this roundup of our favorite digital invites). Experts agree: “I’m totally OK with digital invitations. Yes, it’s lovely to get a hard copy in the mail, but it’s often unrealistic. And, honestly, it’s easier to add to your calendar when you get it through email,” Prairie Rose of the popular cocktail blog Bit By a Fox says. If you do plan to send out paper invitations via snail mail (you overachiever, you), kick them up a notch with custom stamps made from your holiday photos at 20stamps.com.

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Photo courtesy of Paperless Post

Master Our Top 40 Holiday Hacks

Who needs a pastry bag when you’ve got a Ziploc? That’s just one of the tricks we’ve found for entertaining success: We’ll also show you the smartest way to soften butter, as well as how to use your pepper grinder for unexpected ice cream toppings (watch the video), instantly destink garlic hands, quickly soak up wine spills and clean your wooden cutting boards. Basically, these kitchen tricks will make you a kitchen genius—and let you spend more time with your guests.

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Upgrade Your Snack Arsenal

These modern versions of our favorite old-school snacks will take you back to Grandma’s house—and are the perfect way to start any party: We’re talking slice-and-bake cheddar crackers, garlic cream cheese dip and dried beef rolls. Addictive and easy to make, they’ll get things started on a playful note. For something slightly more sophisticated (or at least, sophisticated-looking), pop open a can of crescent rolls and create a new favorite with these upgrades on the classic.

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What to Drink (and Serve) Now

We’re calling it: Natural wines and luxe bourbons are officially trends. “When I think of the wines I like, they always use native yeast and have little or no sulfur. They are just tasty, interesting and made by a farmer, not a brand,” Randolph Moon, co-owner of The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn, New York, says. He recommends California’s Les Lunes Chardonnay with seafood, French organic La Grapperie L’Enchanteresse with rich dishes like pasta or fried food, and Mediterranean Testalonga Rossese with steak. For a stiffer drink, try one of the new luxury bourbons from Wild Turkey, Jim Beam and Four Roses.

Score a Zero-Effort Centerpiece

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t have time to craft a Pinterest-worthy centerpiece with branches, paint and glitter. Top Chef favorite Fabio Viviani seconds that: “I’m not a very decorative kind of person. I like the food to speak for the occasion, so if it’s a holiday dinner, I’ll serve dishes that show off fall and winter ingredients.” For an easy (and classy) centerpiece, score fresh flowers at a fraction of the retail price with Rebloom. The site collects arrangements from weddings, galas and other events in NYC and Boston and resells them for up to 90 percent off their original cost, with a large portion of the proceeds going to charity.

Photo courtesy of Prynt

Make Instant Party Favors

Print photos from your smartphone—literally, not wirelessly and sans ink—with the Prynt Case ($139), available for preorder now. Created by a team of photo enthusiasts who wanted to combine the instant gratification of a Polaroid with the convenience of a smartphone, the company launched in early 2015 with a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $1.5 million. Just plug in your phone, snap away and get prints in seconds. Estimated delivery for new orders is December 2015.

Go Bigger (and Better) than a Cookie Plate

We rounded up our most popular desserts of all time for your baking (and drooling) pleasure. From The Mast Brothers’ chocolate crunch bars and Roasted Chestnut Hot Chocolate to David Lebovitz’s buttery French madeleines and a mascarpone-filled Mille-Crêpe Tiramisu masterpiece, this is your holiday sweets hook-up. “Just don’t forget to do a dry run first if you’re trying a new recipe to avoid the stress of last-minute disasters,” Jeff Benjamin, author of Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets, advises.

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Photo courtesy of Supermechanical

Cook Smarter, Not Harder

For tech geeks who want even more temperature control, connect the high-tech Range Thermometer from Supermechanical ($69.95) to your iPad in the kitchen, download the app and it will send wireless temperature notifications from the oven to your iPhone, so you never have to worry about overcooking your roast again—even if you’re multitasking or hanging out with guests. For candy or sauce endeavors, there’s a food-safe, ecofriendly silicone handle that clips easily onto the side of pots.

Relax (No, Seriously)

Jennifer Adams, celebrity designer and lifestyle expert says, “When I am relaxed, my guests are equally as relaxed.” So try to chill and embrace the imperfections of hosting: “There’s too much emphasis on throwing the ‘perfect’ party these days,” Jen Mann, author of Spending the Holidays with People I Want to Punch in the Throat, says. “These are your friends and family who you’re inviting over. Stop apologizing for the clutter and the mismatched dishes. If you feel pressure to be perfect for your guests, then you’re inviting the wrong people over.”

Drop the Mic (and Some Denture Cleaner)

Andy Chabot, director of food and wine at the rustic-chic Tennessee resort Blackberry Farm, has a genius trick for getting delicate or awkwardly shaped glasses sparkling clean post-party sans scrubbing: simply fill your glasses with warm water, drop in denture cleaning tablets, let the fizz go to work, then rinse out with hot water. And we’re out.