Holiday meals usually call for something special. For most of us, this just isn’t the time of year to pull out a Lean Cuisine. But, who wants to be stuck in the kitchen for hours when friends and family are visiting? Whether you are planning to feed a houseful of kids and grandkids for the week, or just hosting a few holiday visitors, make-ahead meals will help you relax and enjoy your guests. Let the meal-planning begin! Get started with our tips, hints, and links.
- Meal-Planning: Decide ahead of time which meals you want to go “all-out” on. If you want to lay a top-notch table for Christmas dinner or New Year’s Day, and you’re willing to spend several hours getting everything ready ahead of time, then go for it. But try to give yourself a break on any other meals by planning a menu full of prepared foods, smorgasbord ingredients, or dishes that are easy to make ahead. Consider these make-ahead recipes from Cooking Light, The Food Network, or Eating Well to get started. Your family is coming to see you, after all, not to vote you onto Top Chef.
- A Weekend of Cooking: Try setting aside a weekend before your company arrives to get ready. Put on some music, open a bottle of wine, and let the cooking begin! Consider inviting a friend or talking your spouse or sister into helping.
- Slightly Skeptical of Frozen Meals? There are many ways to freeze a cat…er dish, as they say. Before baking, after baking, in components, etc. Check out Annie’s Eats for lots of ideas on stocking your freezer with great food.
- DIY Bread-Machine Mixes: Nothing says home like home-baked bread, but measuring out the necessary ingredients can take twenty or thirty minutes. To get around that, grab a few gallon-size freezer bags and fill each one with the dry ingredients for your favorite breads. I like to make up four or five batches of Honey Oatmeal Bread at a time, excluding the wet ingredients and yeast, and I just store them with my baking supplies. Make a note of the additional ingredients right on the bag (e.g. “Add 1 cup water, 7/8 cup milk, 1 packet yeast,” etc). Then you can easily get a loaf started anytime you want.
- Frozen soups: Some meals lose their luster in the freezer, but a good soup is always still delicious when it’s defrosted. Try making up a batch of Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew – one of my favorites. Serve with a loaf of freshly made bread and nobody will feel like you made this ahead!
- Quick Salads: For easy side salads, chop enough celery, carrots, red onion and bell peppers for two or three salads at a time, and store them in Tupperware in the fridge. Splurge on the bowl-ready triple-washed salad mixes, and keep chopped walnut pieces and dried cranberries on hand. That way, you can assemble and toss a large salad in just a few minutes.
- Delicious Entrees: Just because you make it ahead doesn’t mean it can’t be impressive. Consider lifting a top-notch main course from the slow cooker this holiday season: Easy Slow-Roasted Prime Rib or Irish Stout Beer (Guiness) Pot Roast.
- Desserts: Quick breads, pies, and cookies keep quite well in the freezer and are a quick crowd-pleaser. Wrap tightly in plastic and foil to prevent freezer damage. To defrost normally, leave on the counter at room temperature for three to four hours. To quickly defrost a frozen pie or bread, remove the plastic wrap and place it still-frozen into a 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes. If the crust begins to brown, tent with foil. Consider unfreezing a Cranberry Orange Bread for a zesty holiday breakfast. If you really want to save time, just plan on ice cream sundaes.
- Slightly-Ahead Recipes That Just Look Good: Herb Marinated Pork Tenderloins (made ahead that day), Alton Brown’s Fried Chicken Recipe (made the day before), Rachael Ray’s Golden Lemon Olive Chicken with Couscous (poach and shred chicken ahead).
Happy Holidays everyone!