Cooking a great feast to share with family and friends is one of the many joys of the holidays -- and one of the many stresses. There are so many different things to remember and so many things that can go wrong. However, when everything goes right, it's one of the best holiday gifts of all.
Planning ahead is one of the keys to making the holiday cooking stress-free. Knowing how to prepare food and having all the right ingredients on hand is critical as well. And don't be afraid to make too much -- the leftovers are one of the best parts to a holiday meal, and they don't need to be repetitious or boring.
Check out the following for tips that will help to make your holiday feast go smoothly:
Gravy's not difficult to make -- you just need to know what to do! Learn how to make the best gravy.
Get some ideas for planning and getting organized as you prepare to start cooking your family's feast.
Did you buy too many cans of cranberry sauce? No worries. Check out these ideas for using it in new and unique ways!
Don't get the leftover blues. Get great ideas here for making the most -- and the best -- of leftovers.
For tips on one of the keys to a great holiday meal, see the next page to learn more about gravy!
For more on preparing a big holiday meal, see:
Holiday Gravy Tips
Great gravy is one of the great joys of home-style cooking. There are no secrets to making great gravy -- if you can master these few basic skills, you'll have all you need to make gravy just as good as (if not better than) Grandma's.
The foundation of great gravy is the juice left in the pan after roasting. When your roast turkey, beef, or pork has come to 5 to 10 degrees below the final temperature you wish to cook it to, remove it from the oven. Remove the roast, cover it with foil, and leave it alone for 10 to 15 minutes; during this time, its temperature will continue to rise, and it will cook fully without drying out. Carefully pour the juices from the roasting pan into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup.
They may look crusty or even burnt, but the solids coating the bottom of the roasting pan are the real source of the "roasted" flavor of homemade gravy. Fancy French chefs call this the "fond," and they incorporate it into their sauces and gravies by "deglazing" the pan.
Place the roasting pan -- emptied of its liquid contents -- over medium high heat on your stove. (Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to let it straddle two burners.) Pour in a cup of white wine or other liquid and stir constantly, scraping as much of the fond from the pan as possible. Continue cooking and scraping until the liquid has reduced by half.
By now, the juices you poured out of the roasting pan have most likely separated into an upper oily layer and a juicy bottom layer. Measure 1/3 cup of the fatty upper layer into a large saucepan over medium heat. Discard the rest of the fat, but save the rest of the pan juices. You'll need about 3 cups worth, but if you don't have enough, add stock or broth as needed (even canned will do).
Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour over the fat in the saucepan. Cook while stirring constantly for two or three minutes. Flour tends to form clumps when mixed with liquids, so if you want smooth, lump-free gravy, don't rush this step; stir constantly and don't neglect getting your spoon or whisk into the corners of the saucepan.
The rest is simple. Stir in the wine and fond mixture from the deglazed roasting pan, and add the juices (but no leftover fat) you removed from the pan earlier. Cook over medium or low heat until it thickens (probably five to 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
See the next page for more tips on making your holiday meal a success.
For more on turkeys and gravy, see:
For more on turkeys and gravy, see:
Holiday Meal Tips
When the first pumpkins begin to make an appearance at the supermarket, you know it's that time of year again: holiday get-together season.
Planning a holiday meal -- even one on a budget -- does not have to be a difficult and laborious task. From a cozy dinner for four to a feast for 10 or more, anything is possible with a bit of preparation. Use our countdown to get you from start to finish without a hitch!
Guest List: Before you even think about food, figure out how many guests you'll be expecting. Call or send out invitations and make sure to get a final count at least a week before the event.
The Menu: Write down a menu, making sure to take into account any food allergies or special dietary needs. For a large party, consider dividing up the dishes and having a potluck.
Schedule: Plan a cooking schedule for yourself. Take note of dishes that can be made a day or two ahead, those that can be frozen, and those that need to be cooked at the last minute.
Shopping: Go through the refrigerator and pantry to check what you already have. Then, write down a list of all the ingredients you still need and decide when you need to shop. Purchase frozen turkeys no sooner than a week beforehand and fresh turkeys a day or two prior. Make sure you have all the necessary cooking utensils and equipment.
Cook in Advance: To save time and kitchen space on the day of the event, cook what you can ahead of time. Cookies, pies and cakes can be made a week in advance, frozen and thawed out the night before the big meal. Cranberry sauce, casseroles, side dishes and vegetables can all be prepared the day before and refrigerated.
Break Out the 'Ware: Get all cooking utensils, pots and pans ready the night before so you don't have to look for them the next day. Set the dining table.
The Day Of: Place beverages in the refrigerator to chill. Begin preparing the rest of the food, especially large items such as turkey, ham and roasts. Toss salads and bake dinner rolls just before serving. Sit down and enjoy!
For ideas on how to make excellent cranberry concoctions from canned cranberry sauce, see the next page.
For more on Holiday meal Tips, see:
What Can You Do with a Can of Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce?
This is the perfect time of year to grab a can of instant help when you're mad-dashing through the day. Why not grab the cranberry sauce? Of course, it's been around a long time -- even your grandparents relied on it as a convenience product. But simply opening the can and putting it in a bowl is sometimes not enough for our "multi-purpose"world.
So rethink it! To start, there's no set rule that it has to be used only during the holidays. Cranberry sauce is not a seasonal food; it's available year-round. Look at it from a different angle…think of it in terms of a fruit that's simply sweetened, thickened and waiting to be used.
- Add a cup to cake batter to add moisture, flavor and texture
- Add it to smoothies for a boost of flavor and fiber
- Whisk it into your favorite BBQ sauce for a fruit twist
- Heat it with chili sauce and a dash of ground red pepper and simmer cocktail sausages or precooked meatballs for a few minutes for an easy appetizer
- For a quick pancake or waffle topping, mix it with corn syrup, orange juice and some grated orange peel
- Make a spread or glaze for poultry and meats by mixing it with a small amount of whole-grain Dijon mustard and a bit of brown sugar
- Or serve it as a side dish, stirring in some grated orange peel or fresh ginger to give a new taste to an old favorite
Do you have more left over than cranberries? See the next page for more creative ideas on using other leftovers from a holiday meal.
For recipes using canned whole cranberry sauce, see:
Holiday Leftover Makeover
In the days following a big holiday dinner, there are probably few things worse than being confronted with several refrigerator shelves full of leftovers. Food that once might have been exciting and delicious can easily become unappealing after eating it in its original form for several days in a row. But it doesn't have to be that way.
With a little bit of creativity and some help from additional staple ingredients, it's easy to turn your leftovers into something beyond turkey sandwiches and split pea soup with ham.
Before you start cooking, however, be sure to properly package, label, and freeze any leftovers that can't be eaten within several days. With turkey, don't forget to store the stuffing separately from the meat. Separate all large pieces of meat from their bones, which can be used later in stocks and soups. Most meat can be refrigerated and eaten within 4 days, or frozen up to 4 months. Ham is best refrigerated -- it loses moisture and can become gummy when frozen.
For a great post-holiday brunch, try serving up the following possibilities:
- Make French toast out of left over bread, and sprinkle with powdered sugar and toasted almonds. Instead of drizzling with maple syrup, serve with cranberry compote made of warmed leftover whole cranberry sauce combined with orange marmalade.
- Dice up some leftover ham and add it to your favorite omelet or frittata recipe. Or, sautè it with some diced onions and the remainder of your roasted sweet potatoes for a sweet-and-salty breakfast hash.
- Instead of having sausage patties, try making turkey patties by combining shredded turkey meat with leftover stuffing, a lightly beaten egg, and seasonings such as garlic powder, fennel, salt, and pepper. Form the mixture into small patties and pan-fry on both sides until lightly browned.
- Make a quick bagel spread by stirring cranberry sauce into some cream cheese.
For lunch and dinner, consider these ideas:
- Create a simple sandwich wrap by heating up some shredded pot roast and combining with grilled or sautèed bell peppers and onions. Place the mixture inside a tortilla, top with shredded cheese, and roll up.
- For a pot pie/empanada hybrid, combine cubed or shredded turkey with leftover vegetables such as corn, green beans, potatoes, peas, and carrots. Stir in just enough canned condensed cream of mushroom soup for the mixture to hold together, and use this to fill triangles of frozen puff pastry dough. Crimp the edges of the triangles shut with the tines of a fork and bake at 375° F until golden brown and hot, about 6 to 10 minutes.
- To use up excess corn on the cob, try making a delicious corn soup. Remove the kernels using a chef's knife and set aside. In a stockpot filled with just enough water to cover the cobs, simmer 30 minutes to extract the juices. Meanwhile, caramelize some diced onions, shallots, or leeks in butter; add the corn kernels and sautè until hot. Remove the cobs from the corn stock and add in the onions and corn kernels. Simmer another 20 minutes. Process half of the soup in a blender or food processor and add it back into the stockpot. Simmer 10 more minutes and season with salt and pepper.
Craving something other than leftover pie for dessert?
- Use leftover bread (challah and cinnamon raisin bread work especially well) and substitute leftover eggnog for the milk in your favorite bread pudding recipe.
- For easy ice cream sandwiches, fuse leftover holiday cookies together with a good portion of vanilla ice cream (softened enough to spread easily) and roll the exposed edges in crushed candy cane pieces. Freeze until ice cream hardens.
- Use leftover candy canes as swizzle sticks in after-dinner coffee drinks or hot chocolate for a cool, peppermint kick.