Ten easy steps to great holiday meals, so you can put family first

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Let’s get the mindset change out of the way first. Your meal does NOT have to be perfect! Holiday perfection comes in family and friends sharing a meal and enjoying being together. Gratitude and joy is the goal, and perfect food won’t get you there. Now on to ten ideas to make your life easier so you can get back to enjoying your loved ones sooner.
1. Just like in business, you can outsource or in some cases upsource (depending on your cooking skill) parts or all of your holiday meal. Many local, and frankly, wonderful Capital Region restaurants and caterers would love to do your turkey, ham, and any part of everything else that we affectionately refer to as “fixins.”
2. If you love to fill your home with the smell of turkey and/or ham, cook then carve your meats early so that the clean up is accomplished and out of the way first. Once you have carved the meat, you can lay the slices in a large disposable pan with broth. You can then reheat on low and place meats on the platter. No one will taste the difference. If you want to have the Norman Rockwell effect of the giant turkey carved at the table, then take an early ride to the Berkshires and go to the Norman Rockwell Museum and gaze until it is out of your system. We are talking about quick and easy here. (lol)
3. Research online, quick and easy recipes as options to the tried and true yet cumbersome side dishes you may have always used for years. Trust me; when family and friends are hungry, they will not notice that you did not make Grandmas sweet potatoes. Start every internet search with “quick” and “easy” and watch the many delicious alternatives appear. I do it all the time.
4. Cut down on homemade desserts and turn to fun alternatives. A pumpkin or apple pie can easily be accompanied by ice cream and toppings. The ice cream bar is something you can prepare ahead with jarred toppings served in cute bowls. Ice cream also offers the à la mode for your pies, invented and first served in our neighboring Cambridge, New York. I also think having a dessert cheese platter is incredible after a big meal. The kids will love the ice cream display, but the adults will enjoy the cheese platter. Local cheesemongers will help you chose and pair with simple accompaniments like nuts and dried fruit. Now, this is easy!
5. Appetizers can be outsourced easily to your guests for sure, but if you want to make them yourself, these can be done ahead and frozen. Some of my favorite (show off) appetizers like my friends’ famous smoked gouda cheese puffs (that I now claim as mine) are made and frozen a month ahead. They taste amazing when thawed. Cheese, nuts, and fruit can also be a great appetizer as well as a dessert (don’t do both).
6. Limit your cocktail choices. Wine of course for dinner and one or two house premade drinks is all you need.
7. Borrow or dig out your old big coffee pot. I know that many of us use single serve coffee pots now, but when it comes to hosting a dinner, you do not want to be preparing and serving one cup at a time. A lovely old fashion multi-cup pot is the way to go. Many local coffee brewers can recommend a great blend to have with dessert. Lay out your cups, cream, sugar, and a sugar substitute with some spoons and perhaps a cordial and call that task…done!
8. Pull out the game boards and card games beforehand, so there is no scrambling for things to do after the meal. For some, the many Bowl games will work for entertainment, but not necessarily for everyone so be prepared. If you have an area where football viewing will be happening, stock that room early with snacks and drinks so you are not kept serving the couch potatoes.
9. Keep a list of dishes your guests are bringing. If someone asks, “what can I bring,” be prepared with an answer. They will appreciate the answer/decision, and you can cross something off your list.
10. The dreaded food allergy list. Ask, listen, then either outsource those requests to restaurants or caterers or merely ask the family to bring their food item alternative. If you know what you are serving, you can quickly tell what allergy interaction there will be and can notify the person of what it is.

Quick tips for every course

Appetizers
• Ask guests to bring an app to share • Build a cheese board • Dips are quick and easy options that can often be made a day ahead • Buy frozen and reheat just before guests arrive – try a few before the big day and pick your favorites!
Main Dish
• Contact your favorite restaurant or grocer for amazing main dish options • Does everyone at your table prefer white meat? Just roast a breast! • Prepare your gravies ahead, then heat and serve
Sides
• Many restaurants will be offering à la carte catering for the Holidays – see what they have to offer to complement your meal! • Make a couple of vegetable casseroles that can be reheated or baked just before serving • Blanch your veggies al dente the day before and then reheat and dress before you eat
Dessert
• Consider thawing a frozen cheesecake before guests arrive • Order your pies, cakes, and cookies from your favorite bakery and serve with whipped cream or ice cream • Try creating a candy “antipasto”… Lay out an assortment of candies in your antipasto dishes for guests to pick from… This is a fun dish to shop for!

— By Vikki Moran

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