Sunday, November 15, 2009


November 15, 2009

A frequent question during the is time of year is HOW can I make the holiday meal easier so the host/hostess can enjoy the day more.  This is a post I did on one of the  yahoo lists when the annual question came up. I've added some more ideas to the regular post  I hope it helps someone.  I've also included a couple of recipes that you can do most if not all the work on ahead of time.

When we do the big family meal thing it can mean in excess of 30 people. Here’s a few things I do to prepare and make before, during and after easier.

Jan who is having a small group this year and is trying to push Murphy out of the door so the utility room and dining room will be finished in time in OK

1. Plan the menu TODAY, break it down into categories

a. Meats/meat substitutes

b. Vegetables

c. Desserts (remember to include sugar free/diabetic friendly ones

d. Beverages

e. Breads

f. Pre-dinner snacks for those early arrivers

g. Soup if desired

h. Salads/relishes

i. Paper/plastic products if using them.

2. Take that list and call each and every one that is coming and ask them which category they would most like to add a dish to. You might just be surprised. All my sil’s crew (6 of them) work for the same casino and they get FIVE turkeys at Thanksgiving and FIVE hams at Christmas for their holiday bonuses. So she supplies the turkey/ham at the big gatherings. You could cook a ham or roast for those non-turkey eaters like my dh. Don’t take “I dunno”, for an answer if someone can’t make up their mind tell them you’ll see what’s left on the menu and assign that to them. Then do it---you come you supply something! Breads, paper products and beverages should be reserved for those that travel a long distance and could stop and pick it up just before they arrive.

3. Take a look at what you are going to serve yourself and look hard at it. What could you do ahead of time and freeze?

a. Sweet potato pudding/casserole—I have a pecan topped one that freezes wonderfully.
b. If you are doing homemade dinner rolls make the dough up as far as the “roll into balls” step and then freeze the individual balls on a cookie sheet. When frozen solid bag bag them in up in a plastic freezer bag or container.  Then on THE day all you have to do is put them in  your baking pan early in the day and let them thaw and rise.

c.  If you are doing homemade bread either make it the day before or if using a bread machine. Mix up all the dry ingredients now and store until the day of and use your timed feature the bread machine if doing a recipe from one of my newest favorite cookbooks "Artisan  Breads in less than Five Minutes a Day" make up the sponge earlier in the week.

d. Make up your stuffing except for the wet ingredients (broth and eggs) and freeze.

e. Do the same thing for anything you can think of and spread the work out over the time you have left between now and the holiday.
f. Early in the week on Thanksgiving/Christmas week boil and peel your eggs for deviled eggs. Seal in a plastic bag with the air pushed out, or an airtight container.        
4. Once the menu is made and your part is decided make a detailed grocery list. Check your cupboards don’t just look in and see you have sage, check the bottle to see if you have ENOUGH sage. Check right down to the salt and pepper. Set these ingredients aside and mark them DO NOT USE so you don't accidentally use something up before the big day.

5. Fill the salt and pepper shakers you will use, fill the sugar bowls, a creamer bowl etc. days ahead of time and them set them aside so they don’t get emptied before the event. Be sure and do a set for each table you will be using.

6. If you use silver, get it out and polish it 1-2 weeks early then wrap it in Saran wrap in an airtight way. While you are at it wash the dust off the good crystal and china if you are going to use it.

7. Big group? Go with sturdy paper plates—spring for the big ones it is THANKSGIVING/CHRISTMAS you know, the better plastic silverware, cups etc. Don’t forget hot cups, napkins and table cloths. Do you have enough trash bags and containers you can line with them to encourage everyone to clear their own place?

8. Plan your cooking and serving dishes and utensils now. If you are doing individual tables instead of a buffet you will need a serving set up for each table. Do you have enough gravy boats? Should sister Sue bring hers? How about trivets/hot mats?

9. If you are doing all of the oven cooking or have a lot of “will bring but need to heat it in the oven when I get there” foods do you have enough oven space so everything will hit the table hot? Could it be done in another room other than the kitchen, kitchen space is a valuable commodity with a big group. Here’s a few things I do to help with this: JP NOTE: If heating things in small appliances in other rooms remember these appliances put heat out and take precautions that they are not where small children cannot pull them over, pets get into them or will harm the finish of the item they are setting on.  Also check that all these will not be on the same circuit and blow a breaker or fuse when in use at once--do a quick test run ahead of time.

 a. Use the toaster oven to cook/warm whatever will fit in it. That’s where my sweet potato casserole goes.

b. Make the mashed potatoes early in the day and hold them in the crockpot in another room out of the kitchen.

c. Borrow my sister in laws turkey roaster and set it up in another room to cook the turkey.

d. Veggies in crockpots of all sizes in another room.

e. Bread machine in another room

 f. Throw a sheet over the washer and dryer and all spare things like the lid off of sister Sue’s cake pan, foil to reuse, spare paper products etc. go in there to be stored.

g. If you have a woodburning stove take advantage of that spot too. Just remember to stir often.  Our Ashley has a firebox I can simmer things directly on or put the cool touch top on it to hold big pots of coffee, mulled drinks, and other things that need to be kept warm   but not boiled.

10. Plan your tables and seating out now. Buffet style we have them come in one door of the room and out another to the seating area, it avoids confusion and accidental spills.  We often will use two sturdy saw horses and a piece of plywood for a buffet style serving table. A flat king size sheet will work as a table cloth. Dh rounds the corners with a saw to avoid boo-boos. No saw? Pad the corners with something like a folded wash cloth taped to the board. Either use a ¾ inch piece of plywood or put some middle supports (more saw horses) under an 8 foot piece. You don’t want the turkey sagging to the middle of the board. When looking at seating, consider seating AND eating. Buffet style works great for large groups for serving, but remember how hard it is to balance a full plate and a cup in your lap. Granny will have an especially hard time doing it. Bring in the picnic table from the yard if you need to, borrow tv trays, clean off end tables, set up bridge tables, we once used a ping pong table.  Everyone needs a sturdy surface to hold their plate that can be set up and taken down out of the way quickly.  Good weather?  Covered porch and a space heater, even if you have to hang tarps down the sides of the covered porch, provide everyone plenty of elbow room.

11. Plan it for a mid afternoon. Seriously noon is too early supper is too late. We do 2:00 pm around here. That lets me do all the last minute stuff without being up all night or up at the crack of dawn and gives others plenty of time to do their morning chores and travel while little ones sleep in the car (read no cranky babies).

12. Plan a thought provoking theme for people to do while waiting for the meal. One suggestion I read said to make simple leaves out of colored paper (kids can help cut these out for you). On a large piece of poster board draw a tree, it doesn’t have to be fancy, again let the kids do it. When the guests arrive you ask each one to fill out leaves with what they are most Thankful for this year. They can do more than one leaf if they like. Then they tape the leaves on the tree. It has great eye appeal when everyone sees how much you all have to be thankful for.—We did a verbal version of this at my son’s ground breaking party for his house and it was fun that turned hilarious. With every "thankful" ds had to turn a shovel full of dirt.  He got to say his thankful last--He was thankful all that digging was over--it was a big group.

13. Give kids age appropriate things to do to help. Let them know ahead of time if possible their job. Little guys can set the table, fill candy and nut dishes, fold napkins etc. Put some of the older ones in charge of “entertainment” games, a puppet show or play to perform for the adults, story time for the littler guys etc. Trust me things go a lot smoother if little kids aren’t bored. Plan both indoor and outdoor activities because Mother Nature is unpredictable.

14. Work out ahead of time where all those coats are going to go and where sister Sue can easily change nephew Johnny’s diaper, or nurse him in peace and quiet. If you have a lot of nap time kiddos coming, plan for a safe quiet nap spot for them too.

15. Start your cleaning now. Wash up the table cloths and napkins then place on a hanger and hang out of the way. Clean as you work. Scour the bathrooms a week before, they won't need more than a quick swipe on the day of then. 

16. Plan out a REALISTIC schedule for the day of, keep that day as simple and carefree as possible. You WILL be interrupted.

17. Pamper yourself the night before, schedule some serious ME time for that day. Go to bed early.

18. Dress comfortably for as long as you can on Thanksgiving. Donna Reed might have been able to cook all day in heels and looked perfectly comfortable but I certainly can’t.

19. Think about each individual that is coming. Is there something they will need? Do you have enough ashtrays for smokers and where can they smoke I don’t allow it in my home but several of the family do smoke. So we put up a covered area outside for them to be comfortable in while they smoke. Table, chairs and a heater provided. Can Grandma get up the front steps or would the back ones be better? Does Uncle Charlie need a ramp for his wheel chair and can it get into the rooms it needs to? Do you have a  safe play area for the youngsters?

20. Plan out the adult entertainment too. I know football is on, but not all of us like football—most of our group does not. So we put on videos of all the family when growing up on the tv (ask everyone to bring their videos of the entire family) , and soft music in the background. Do you have a box of old photos with no names on them? This is a great time to get those out and have everyone go through them to see if they know who the person is. The stories will flow. Much more fun than football (put a tv in the corner for Uncle Joe who MUST see the game). Tape or video record those stories if at all possible, these people may not be with you next year.

21. Set your table the day before and cover with a table cloth or sheet.

22. Plan ahead for sending leftovers home.  I lay in a supply of the heavy duty Chinet PLATTERS and then hand them out as guests are leaving telling them to fill up with what they want.  These will fit most microwaves and when covered with plastic wrap can go right in. They will also fit safely in a Wal-Mart sack long wise (we use two bags, one from each end) to carry them home in.

23. Do NOT turn down help with clean-up.  Even if it means having people fill their take home platters early. even if it's just gathering up paper plates and taking out the trash for you it's helpful.

I could go on, but others have some great (probably better) ideas too.

Now for the make ahead recipes I mentioned:


3 C. Mashed cooked sweet potatoes 1/2 C. milk

1 C. sugar 1 t.vanilla

1/2 t. salt 2 eggs

1/2 stick margarine

1 C. brown sugar 1/3 C. flour

1 C. chopped pecans 1/2 stick butter

Mix ingredients together and pour into a buttered baking dish. Mix

topping ingredients together and sprinkle on top. Bake in 350* oven

for 35 min. May be frozen and baked later.  Place in the refrigerator the day before to thaw. 

Hot Roll Mix
5# or 20 C all purpose flour OR 9 C whole wheat/rye/other specialty grains + 8 C all purpose flour
1 1/4 c sugar ( you can substitute some honey if desired on baking day)OR 1 c packed brown sugar
4 tsp salt
1 cup powdered milk (or approx 1/2 c dry non milk substitute-rice, soy potato etc)

Mix all ingredients well together well, I use a wire whisk.  Store in an airtight container, label and date. Best if used in 6-8 months.  Makes 20-22 c mix. 

I have a large group of recipes that include breads, English Muffins, sweet rolls, herb or squash rolls and more I use this master mix for that I will post as time goes on.  For the dinner rolls for the holidays I make it one of two ways.
Clover leaf or Pan Rolls
1 tbl, active dry yeast OR 1 (1/4 oz) pkg.
1 1/2 c warm water
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c vegetable oil OR olive oil, OR melted butter
5-6 cups Hot Roll Mix

In a large bowl disolve the yeast in the warm water.  Blend in eggs and oil/butter. Add roughly 5 cups of the mix.  Blend well.  If dough is sticky add more mix. Knead for about 5 minutes.  Place in a buttered or oiled bowl, turn the ball of dough over once so all sides are coated.  Cover bowl with a warm damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.  Now make the dough into small balls, about walnut sized.

TO FREEZE: if you are going to freeze the dough this is when you do it.  Once the dough is in balls place them on a wax paper lined cookie sheet spaced to where they are not touching.  Freeze until hard then transfer to a freezer bag, vacuum bag or freezer container.  These will vacuum seal and keep a long time.

To use the same day as making: Either place them in a greased 9 x 3 baking pan or three small balls in greased/sprayed muffin tins.for clover leaf rolls. Cover with a warm damp towl again and let rise until doubled roughly 45-60 minutes again.  Bake in a preheated oven at 400F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

IF USING FROZEN DOUGH BALLS: place in the choosen baking pan/tin early enough in the day in a warm spot (roughly 4-6 hours) or overnight in a cooler area to do the final rise)

Same ingredients as above PLUS 2 tablespoons of melted butter.  Follow the recipe above up to and including the 10 minute rest period. 

Here's the difference. 

On  a lightly floured surface row 1/2 of the dough out into a 12 inch circle.  Brush the circle with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. 

Cut circle into 16 pieces.  Now roll the created wedges up wide end to narrow point.  Placing with the pointed side down on a greased cookie sheet curve the roll to a crescent shape as you do so.  Repeat with second half of the dough. 

From here on follow the instructions as above


13 c  bread flour OR 8 C bread flour and 5 C whole wheat/rye flour
2 Tbl salt
1/2 C sugar (if honey is preferred add on baking day)
1/2 c powdered milk OR 1/4 c dried milk substitute (rice/soy/potato)

Mix ingredients well store in a labled airtight container in a cool dark place.

for a small loaf

1/2 tsp yeast
2 1/4 c master mix
1 tbl butter or oil
3/4 C warm water

for a large loaf
2 tsp yeast
3 1/3 mix
1 1/2 tbl butter or oil
1 1/4 warm water

Place in the order bread machine recommends and bake on a medium or white bread setting.

JP NOTE: I have other variations I post at another time to use this master mix up.

Grandma Zell's Stuffing
Sorry, no true measurements here, this is the way I got it from dh's grandmother.

1 recipe cornbread ( I use roughly 1/2 of an 8x8 pan of it) crumbled fine
1 recipe biscuits (I use roughly 8 or so large biscuits, I've substituted other breads as well)crumbled fine
2 stalks celery diced
1/2-1 onion diced
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp each thyme and sage

Mix well--this is where I freeze it in a large ziploc or ziploc bowl.
When ready to bake add:
2 large eggs beaten
enough chicken or turkey broth to make the mixture "soupy" when added to the dry ingredients

Place in a greased/sprayed 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 F for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until set firm and starting to brown around the edges.

JP NOTE:  I often make up a BIG batch of the dry part and store it in the freezer in airtight containers for quick to grab Homemade Stovetop Stuffing mix and use it not only for stuffing but to use as a coating mix for chicken, pork chops, fish, sliced/cubed veggies etc in. Simply dip the choosen meat or veggie in first a beaten egg and milk mixture OR spread with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip and then into the crumbled mixture.  Bake as you would shake and bake.


Warning, I do not use measurements for Deviled eggs, but here’s what I use.

Two eggs for each person (that makes four ½’s each)

Boil the eggs to the hard stage.

Drain the boiling water and put cold water on them immediately (this helps make them peel easier). Peel (you can hold them at this point for a couple of days in a ziploc you have squeezed all the air out of—I do this at the holidays to help cut down the last minute rush for the big meal)

Cut in half long ways and plop the yolks out. The whites go on a plate the yolks go in a bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork.

Now add the following to taste and creaminess preference:

Miracle whip or mayonnaise (your preference—I use MW)

A tiny amount of prepared mustard (dh is not big on mustard)

A small amount of garlic salt

A couple of dashes (more or less) of Worchestershire sauce

Mix well. Spoon or pipe into the whites and sprinkle with paprika—unless you are my son who likes spicy and uses a small amount of cayenne pepper to top.

Jan who has planned reunions with over 400 family members in the past and still has a lot to learn in OK

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