Hack your holidays: Holiday baking

WBAY.com's Hack Your Holiday feature has covered gift wrapping, decor, outdoor lighting up the wazoo, but this is the first year we turned our attention to the kitchen.

We spend so much more time in there during the holidays baking cookies, making snack mix, and preparing family dinners, so, like the turkey I burned that one year, this was a long time in the making.

Not just for cookies anymore

Use Christmas cookie cutters to make holiday-theme brownies and fudge. (We also have some pancake ideas below.)

Candy cane, the new pumpkin spice?

Put candy canes in a paper bag or hardy freezer plastic bag and smash them. Really, really smash them. Add to cookies, ice cream, hot chocolate, and anything else your culinary imagination desires.

Hot chocolate, sweet delight

Spread whipped cream on a cookie sheet or wax paper (so long as it has some depth) and freeze it for a few hours. Use Christmas cookie cutters to cut the iced cream into shapes, and drop into your hot chocolate or coffee for some extra holiday sweetness.

We have video demonstrations of more holiday kitchen hacks below. Mobile users might have to click a "More on the web" link.

Make easy chocolate shavings

Potato peeler. Candy bar. If you need further instruction, this one's good:

Cookie cutter pancakes

Those metal cookie cutters can get hot. Use pliers to grasp them.

Learn to draw... pancakes

12 patterns for Christmas pancakes

Color pancakes

Once you have enough practice, draw your pancakes in color.

Cookie decorating tips

Kids may handle condiment squeeze bottles better than plastic bags

Cookie decorating tips... tips

Make your own piping bottle with cake decorating tips

Hot chocolate for a firehouse

Family coming over? This hot chocolate recipe uses a 6 quart slow cooker. Mint is probably optional. Search the web for "crock pot hot chocolate" for smaller portions and variations like white chocolate and peppermint.

2 (11.8-oz.) bags milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. mint extract
1 gallon whole milk
marshmallows for serving

Add everything except marshmallows to a 6 quart or larger slow cooker. Stir. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until hot, stirring occasionally. Top with marshmallows before serving.