Best Holiday EVER Make Ahead Holiday Guide
Goal: Enjoy the holidays. Tear your to-do list in half.
I adore December. It should be all about decorating, Christmas music, wine, parties, and good will. The reality, however, is that it becomes about "stuff we have to do".
The activities themselves aren't what we can't handle, right? I mean wrapping gifts while watching Christmas movies is pretty cool.
Baking, decorating (and eating) cookies...fun.
Watching your little one in a Holiday concert is sweet and touching.
Exchanging gifts with friends over drinks and appetizers is awesome.
So, what gives? Why do we end up biting our nails, popping melatonin, and stress eating spoonfuls of Nutella from November 22nd through December 26th?
Because when you swirl all these things together over a period of 25 days and NOTHING else in your life slows down? Things get rough in a hurry.
I think there is holiday amnesia, much like childbirth amnesia if you will. Our memories get fuzzy around the edges and we just kinda forget the traumatic parts of the whole expirience.
Well, I am here today to shake you out of this "Holiday Amnesia", and tell you in all shouty caps IT'S COMING, SO YOU BETTER PREPARE YOURSELVES!"
I hate feeling stressed. I much prefer to savor.
While I can't help with all the responsibilities that may get heaped on you in December, I can help you shop less, do less dishes, and unchain yourself from your stove so you can go frolick in the snow instead. Honestly, one of our favorite parts about the Holidays is the FOOD, preparing it shouldn't feel like a chore. If you want to savor the holidays this year right along next to me, then let FREEZER COOKING buy you a ticket to the most relaxed, joyful, Holiday ever.
Imagine sleeping in late and serving your company a delicious and cozy breakfast casserole you made weeks ago. Or, host a dinner, and be able to actually drink the wine you serve because half of the meal has already been prepared. Wake up on Christmas day to cinnamon rolls and dinner in the freezer.
Yesssssss. Life can be so sweet with just a pinch of preparation.
Below you will find my favorite things to prep and freeze ahead for the holidays. First, decide which things you would love to cross off your list. Open up you calendar app and find a couple pockets of time you can plan an extra hour in the kitchen. If you can prep ahead even two items in advance, you will be guaranteeing yourself an extra hour for coffee with girlfriends, or some time to wrap gifts without stressing. Need more help with developing a strategy? Here is mine:
- Pick one item per week to prep in advance from now until Christmas Eve. ( I made two breakfast casseroles this weekend..took me 20 minutes!)
- Plug my selected recipe/recipes into my weekly shopping list so I have the extra ingredients on hand.
- On a relaxed Sunday morning (my first choice) or during a weeknight when dinner is finished, bang out one of your prep-ahead dishes. My theory is to do this when the kitchen is already a mess so you only need to clean once that day.
- Select one weekend day in the beginning of December and plan on an mini freezer-cook-a-thon. In a bout 2 hours you could easily complete at least 3 dishes including clean up. A cold or rainy day is ideal. Get cozy in your kitchen while the kids watch movies. Make it enjoyable, not a chore. I do this with coffee, music, cozy socks, and my kids enjoying a TV coma.
Now, on the things that are perfect to prep ahead:
The Big Family Dinner
(Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, we've got you covered)No one wants a soggy, less than perfect dish on their holiday table. These make ahead dishes freeze perfectly for a just prepared result.
Green Bean Casserole. This stunning recipe from SMITTEN KITCHEN adapts to the freezer like magic. TO FREEZE: Follow directions to make the delicious mushroom sauce. Let sauce cool to room temperature, place in a quart size freezer bag and freeze until needed. TO PREPARE: Thaw pre-made sauce. Warm in microwave or on stove in large skillet over medium low heat. Steam your green Beans until they are done to your preference (I like them crisp) and toss with the pre-made sauce. Place completed beans in preferred serving dish. If you opt to make the fried onion topping from scratch (my daughter would cry if I didn't) then you need to do that part on the day of your dinner or they will be soggy. HOWEVER, you can use fried onions out of a can. There is no shame in that...in fact I am willing to bet they are beloved by several folks at the table.
Unbaked stuffing/dressing. There are a trillion and seven recipes floating out there for stuffing, by all means you can use your own or another recipe you are dying to try. *Note* while apple is a traditional ingredient in many stuffings it may brown and be soft after freezing so you may consider leaving it out or adapting a recipe with apple in it. Try this one from ONCE UPON A CHEF. TO FREEZE: Follow directions from your preferred recipe. When stuffing is made and combined, press it into a buttered baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and tin foil and proceed to freeze it unbaked. TO PREPARE: thaw (consider taking it out of freezer night before) and bake as normal. It is that simple, and the results are fantastic.
Scratch Made Turkey Gravy How do you feel about using turkey stock instead of turkey pan drippings to create a a luscious, perfect, gravy ahead of time? I feel fine about it. It's one less thing that requires last minute scurrying while everyone is waiting for the turkey to hit the table. This is a great recipe I have used many time from INA GARTEN VIA FOOD NETWORK. TO FREEZE: Complete gravy recipe. Allow to cool to room temperature. Ladle gravy into a quart size freezer bag. Remove as much air as possible so it can lay flat in your freezer, freeze until needed. TO REHEAT: Let gravy thaw overnight in fridge or on day of. Warm gravy in the microwave or over low in a saucepan on the stove top. Pour into gravy boat and serve. No one will ever know it didn't come from pan drippings, and if they do...too bad!
Whipped Potato Casserole. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't tried it myself. This is a creamy, smooth way to serve mashed potatoes that can be made ahead and frozen. I understand your disbelief. You think I am leading you down the road of ruin. I would NEVER do that to you. I love you, and I love mashed potatoes. You see, I have too much invested to fill you full of bologna. Try this recipe from NOT A SUPER MOM ***you may need to double it for a crowd.*** Recipe in link includes all the freezer instructions!
Pie Crust. Use this all butter pie crust recipe from EPICURIOUS or use your own. TO FREEZE: Follow recipe as written, when dough is complete, form into round flat disk shapes and cover with plastic wrap. Place in freezer bag and freeze until needed. TO USE: Thaw to room temperature to use on baking day. Perfect for cream pies that can only be complete day of or day before serving.
Whole Uncooked Pies. My family owned a bakery that specialized in pies. I have been witness to tens of thousands of pies being made (and devoured.) You can trust this process. ANY fruit pie can be made in full and frozen unbaked. That is how we could sell 750 pies over a two day period for Thanksgiving. Or, Here Is A Freezer Apple Pie Recipe from Gale Gand. Below is the basic method you can adapt to any pie. ***DON'T USE A GLASS/PYREX BAKING DISH. Frozen pie in glass + high heat of oven = potential shattered glass.***
- find your favorite fruit pie recipe (apple is usually a must.)
- Make recipe as directed. This can be a crumb topped, lattice crust, or two crust pie. They turn out equally well. On pies with a top crust make sure to brush top with cream or half and half and sprinkle with sugar before freezing.
- Freeze pie unbaked with uncooked filling.
- TO BAKE FROM FOZEN: Heat oven to 425 degree. Place frozen pie in pre-heated oven and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Bake at 350 until pie is cooked through, hot and bubbly. This often takes an addition hour (or more). Consider placing pie on bottom rack of oven as it is often the bottom of pie that can take the longest to cook. Be prepared to cover edges and very top of pie with tin foil during cooking to protect parts of the pie from over browning which will likely happen. You can also Insert a paring knife through one of the vents on top of pie to check that the fruit is tender. It is hard to pin point an exact cooking time because it will vary greatly on type of fruit, and your own oven.
You're Having A party!
Likely you are going to serve some nibbles. There are so many appetizers that freeze amazingly. You can sip a cocktail (or three) at your own soireé AND impress and spoil your guests. Here are a few of my favorite freeze and heat appetizers that are easy and crowd pleasing.
Teriyaki Beef Skewers. Perhaps kind of basic, but they are always ANNIHILATED at every party. People like meat, and it tastes so much better when you didn't buy and prepare it yourself. TO FREEZE: Complete recipe through "marinade for 24 hrs" step. Place beef in a freezer zip lock bag and freezer until ready to use. TO USE:Thaw when needed. Thread beef onto skewers and cook as directed.
Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms. Again, these are a classic for a reason. They are yummy and labor intensive and therefore a treat for your guests. TO FREEZE: Make stuffed mushrooms as directed making sure not to overcook. By fully cooking before your freeze, the mushrooms lose their water content and I find that allows them to freeze more predictably. Keep baked mushrooms on baking sheet and leave to cool to room temperature. I take the whole cooled baking sheet and place them in the freezer so that mushrooms can flash freeze while seperated. Once the mushrooms are frozen through, I place them onto a paper plate or other flat tray that will fit into my freezer and cover well with plastic wrap, foil, or a freezer bag. TO RE-HEAT: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place frozen mushrooms on baking sheet and bake until they are warmed through, being careful not to overcook. About 20 minutes.
Bacon and Cheese Stuffed Fingerling Potatoes. These take a bit of time, but are really quite simple to assemble. The results are so worth it. This recipe from PAULA DEEN VIA FOODNETWORK is super cheesy and flavorful. TO FREEZE: Complete recipe as directed. Do not bake. place potatoes on a sheet pan and place in freezer so they can "flash freeze". When potatoes have frozen through you can stack them in a large Tupperware or in a large gallon freezer bag. TO COOK: You can cook these from frozen or you can thaw them first. Either method works ( I have done both). Heat over to 350 degrees, Place potatoes onto a lightly sprayed sheet pan and bake until heated through and have a lightly crusty edge. Cook time will depend on temperature of potatoes when you put them in the oven. I would check them at 25 minutes and add time as needed. These are easy to taste test for doneness.
Saucy Asian Meatballs. These meatballs from GIMME SOME OVEN are one of her most searched recipes so you know they will be a hit. TO FREEZE: Complete recipe as written and cook them completely with sauce. Let Meatballs cool to room temperature and transfer meatballs and sauce to a freezer safe container (I use a gallon freezer bag. Remove air from bag and lay flat to freeze. TO REHEAT: Allow meatballs to thaw ( I place entire well sealed freezer bag in a bowl of cool water for about about 30 minutes or until they can easily slide out of bag/container.) Warm meatball in a large sauce pan on low on your stove top making sure not to break meatball as you stir them OR place them in a crockpot set to warm. Serve either on a tray or right from the crockpot.
Company and "Cooking Fatigue" Casseroles.
There are going to be many meals over the next several weeks that you will not want to cook. Relax and enjoy these moments with your friends and family. I suggest having one or two "just in case" dinners banked, plus a hearty breakfast if you know you have overnight guests.
Company Is Coming Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole- Overnight guest are fun but serving two families is a lot of work. Really, its the dishes that will kill you. This Breakfast casserole only takes a few minutes to throw together, but if you prep it ahead, you will have zero dishes in the morning. Freezer instruction in the recipe!
Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls ARGGG! These are so good. Coffee, cinnamon rolls, while opening my stocking on Christmas morning is possibly the highlight of my year. I have tried several recipes but this one from KING ARTHUR FLOUR is my go-to. TO FREEZE: Follow directions as written. After raw rolls are sliced and place in buttered pan (no need to let them rise) cover tightly with both plastic wrap and tin foil and place them in freezer. TO COOK: Remove rolls from freezer, let rolls thaw and rise. It helps to keep them in a warm place and cover with a dish towel. Continue with remainder of directions. Bake and ice as directed.
Christmas Dinner Lasagna and garlic bread. This has been a family tradition of ours forever. You are already in a food coma so why not heap a pile of gooey cheese and carbs on top of your sluggish metabolism? Go for a brisk walk and enjoy. Feel free to try this recipe I swiped right off the back of the Barilla pasta box...so simple, yet so good. TO FREEZE: Make lasagna per recipe instructions. Do not bake. Cover with two layers of foil and place in freezer. TO HEAT: I allow my lasagna to thaw before cooking. This takes forever. Leave it out on the counter the night before you want to eat it. If you forget to take it out, allow yourself extra time for cooking in case it is still par-frozen. For a fully thawed lasagna, bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 45 minute to 1 hour or until hot, bubbly and the cheese is golden on top. If not fully thawed, bake it with the same directions but expect it to take an addition 15-30 minutes minimum to finish. Cover lasagna with foil towards end of cooking if it appears to be getting too brown on top.
Make Ahead Steak Fajitas. This recipe from NEW LEAF WELLNESS is quick and easy, and a nice departure from heavy holiday dishes that are coming. Serve this dish on a night busy with concerts and shopping, or save it to break out when company arrives. Full freezer instruction in recipe link.
Cheeseburger Helper Skillet Meal. I love love love this dish. It reminds me of watching the Wonder Years on the couch while doing my homework. This kid friendly dinner may not sound super elegant, but it will be loved and devoured by adults and kids alike. Super easy, super fast, and cooks in your skillet right out of the freezer. One dish to clean, that it!
Want to try your hand at freezing your way through this holiday but need some extra guidance? Gimme a shout, I will happily answer any questions that come up! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or in my private Facebook group Meal Planning For Modern Moms.
I would love to hear from you!