Friday, January 7, 2011

Make Ahead Recipes for Thanksgiving and Christmas


MAKE-AHEAD RECIPES TO FREEZE FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Tips on How Not to Spend Your Entire Holiday in the Kitchen - Start Cooking Now!

by Lois Breneman, Copyright 2003

Since we could all use extra hours around the holidays, any shortcuts we can apply in our kitchen will give us more time and energy to be used elsewhere - preferably with our families! Here are a few ways of trimming down our kitchen time and energy over Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sweet potatoes can be cooked and mashed ahead of time, then frozen. We used to grow sweet potatoes in our garden and harvest several bushels at one time. That's when I learned to freeze them! Now when sweet potatoes are on sale, I like to stock up, because the prices fluctuate greatly. Autumn is when we find the best prices in the US. Bake the washed sweet potatoes in a Dutch oven or roaster pan with a small amount of water added for moisture. Bake at 350 F. for about an hour (check for tenderness). When cool enough to handle, peel, mash and freeze in freezer bags. It's as simple as that! I like to freeze sweet potatoes without salt or seasoning, so they can be used for sweet potato casseroles, bread, muffins and pies. Of course, freezing a casserole flavored with ingredients such as butter, salt, brown sugar (or sucanat), cinnamon or cranberries also works very well. It's wonderful to go to the freezer and take out a dish already prepared, except for thawing and heating! If you are able to freeze your casserole in the same dish you plan to set on the table, that saves even more time.

A last minute tip: Brown sugar or sucanat, from the health food store, placed around the outside edge of the casserole not only looks and tastes good, but it allows those who prefer not to have sugar to reach into the center for a scoop. Color and texture give the dish more appeal, so why not add chopped walnuts and/or dried cranberries, sprinkled around the edge or only in the center?


Five or ten pound bags of white potatoes are often "Buy One -- Get One Free," so in order to take advantage of these special prices, without them spoiling, you can cook, mash and freeze them for multiple casseroles to use later.

Sometimes I cook the potatoes and mash them, adding some of the cooking liquid, butter and salt - and freeze them in a casserole dish until needed. Before serving them, I thaw the potatoes, heat them in the microwave, add a little milk as I mix them up with a potato masher and they are ready to serve! They can also be held over in the oven, covered, until the rest of the meal is ready.
Or here is a delicious and convenient recipe from the More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. If your family does not like spinach, try substituting grated carrots or other vegetables, although it is very good plain, with vegetables served on the side. If potatoes are the only vegetable your children will eat, try mashing a few cooked carrots or some sweet potato in with the white potatoes. When I've done this, my family thought I had added cheese. For extra nutrition and a yellow tint, an egg can also be added as the potatoes are whipped. A sprinkle of dried dill weed mixed into the potatoes as well as over the cheese before (or after) baking adds extra flavor and color.
Cook and mash:
3-4 large potatoes.

1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tsp. salt
dash of pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar (given in recipe, but certainly not necessary)
1/4 cup butter

Add just enough milk to bring to proper consistency and beat until fluffy.

1/8 tsp. dill seed
2 tsp. chives, chopped
1 cup cooked spinach, well drained, chopped (optional)

Place in greased casserole and top with 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese. May be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated, or make a double recipe and freeze half to add to a future oven meal. Or freeze now to use during the holidays!


1 bag (12 oz.) fresh cranberries, chopped finely
1 large can crushed pineapples, in its own juice, undrained
1 large jar natural applesauce (no sugar added)
zest from 1 orange

1 cup orange juice
Stevia to sweeten (very little is needed)

Chop washed and drained cranberries in a food processor, removing the soft and mushy ones first.  Add undrained pineapples, applesauce, zest, orange juice and stevia.  Refrigerate 1 to 2 days before serving, so the flavors and cranberry color has time to intensify.  The pineapples and applesauce will take on the cranberry color.

Since fresh cranberries are so seasonal, I like to stock up and freeze chopped cranberries, so we can enjoy this delicious and healthy recipe all year round.

How easy can it get?

1 #2 can crushed pineapple in its own juice, drained
1 can whole cranberry sauce
1 cup sour cream (Whipped cream could be substituted for all or half of the sour cream.)
Mix together and put in ice cube trays or in a 9x9 glass dish. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top. Freeze overnight. Cut into squares and serve as a salad with green lettuce beneath or serve as a dessert - maybe with a cookie on the side. 


1 can whole cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar (Healthier - Splenda or NuStevia - use less)
8 oz. crushed pineapple with juice, drained 1 cup chopped pecans
8 oz. sour cream
(Whipped cream could be substituted for all or half of the sour cream.)Mix together all ingredients and freeze in muffin cups.
*Note: Small pieces of banana mixed in is delicious too! Either cranberry recipe is a great make-ahead salad or dessert for Thanksgiving or Christmas! Of course, either recipe can be frozen in a large mold, glass dish, muffin cups, custard cups or individual molds.

Using the best rolled gingerbread cookie recipe I've ever found (below), cut with round cookie cutters and bake, following the directions below. A time-saving tip would be to make enough gingerbread cookies in all kinds of shapes right now and freeze them. Then have the children help to decorate them with frosting closer to Christmas.

For Pilgrim hats, after the round circles have cooled, unwrap a small peanut butter cup and place one upside down in the center of each round cookie. Using store-bought frosting in a tube (or your own frosting), pipe a ring around the base of the peanut butter cup, "gluing" it onto the cookie. This can be a thick or a thin line, and it will automatically form the band of the hat! Lastly, pipe a square buckle from that line, upward onto the peanut butter cup to form the buckle. These can be made ahead, as well! You may want to bake the round cut-out cookies and freeze way ahead of time to simplify things even more, then have family members join in this fun decorating project. That's what I did this year, thinking my daughter would enjoy this!

When our children were young, my sister and two brothers got together for Thanksgiving and we moms organized fun art projects for the children. Those are priceless photographs, now that they are all grown! Well, enough reminiscing!  Here's the recipe!

The Best Gingerbread Cookies Ever!

Beat butter and sugar (sucanat) together.
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup or less brown sugar (or use sucanat)

Add and mix together:
1 egg
3 Tbsp. orange juice
4 tsp. grated orange rind

Add remaining ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
a dash of salt

Mix all ingredients well and chill dough for 3 hours. Roll 1/4" thick. Cut cookies in various shapes. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake.


I like to make a large dishpan full of stuffing at Thanksgiving, so I can freeze the extra and completely skip the process for Christmas -- it's already done! I don't really use a recipe for this, but make it as my mother always did. Cube bread (whole wheat and white mixture) and let it dry out on a large tray for a day or so. Sometimes I dry it in a dishpan, stirring occasionally over a 2-3 day period. Melt butter, add chicken broth, beaten eggs, lots of cooked celery and onions (sometimes a small amount of grated carrots for color), salt, onion salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and other dried herbs (parsley, Greek oregano, thyme, rosemary or tarragon, etc.). Stir well. Add enough bread crumbs for a slightly moist mixture. I bake it in greased dishes, (rather than in the bird) at 350ยบ F. until golden brown on top. Don't overbake. The unbaked stuffing mixture will freeze great in containers or freezer bags to serve later.

Note: Anytime before Thanksgiving is the time to make this recipe and freeze for both Thanksgiving and Christmas or any other time you want to enjoy stuffing throughout the year.


If you want to save last minute meal preparation, cut a couple pats of butter into a microwavable casserole dish. Add finely chopped fresh or frozen green pepper, a jar of chopped pimientos (drained), dill weed and a bag of frozen corn. Cover and put the dish in the freezer. To make things even easier for us, some supermarkets sell bags of frozen chopped onion, red, green and yellow bell peppers. On the day you are ready to serve the corn, take the dish from the freezer, thaw and microwave as you normally microwave corn. Add salt to taste just before serving. To cook on top of the stove, add a small amount of water first. This is a quick, tasty and colorful dish -- yellow with red and green!

If using a frozen turkey or turkey breast, be sure to give it a couple days in the refrigerator for safe thawing. For a juicy turkey or turkey breast, place a grapefruit, orange or lemon inside the cavity prior to roasting. Pierce the fruit to prevent it from bursting, and simply cook it as usual. You are "guaranteed" a juicy bird each time and there will be no citrus or orange flavor in the turkey. I don't know how this works, but it does. You simply take the fruit and dispose of it after roasting. Obviously, you don't stuff this bird, but it works great to have a separate casserole dish of stuffing as a side dish. Several "Heart to Heart" ladies and I have tried this and we all agree that it works great!