Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Holiday dinners don't have to be a lot of work...

...but let's face it, they can be a lot of work. Here are some tips to lighten the load--

  • Buy the whole dinner pre-made. Lots of stores now offer a complete holiday "meal in a box." I can't attest to the quality of these particular commodities, never having eaten one (or at least I don't think I have); that's something you'll have to check out for yourself.

  • Spiral Cut HamBuy a precooked turkey or ham, and make the side dishes. All the big grocery stores have these now; some years ago I bought a pre-cooked, smoked turkey that you simply heat in the oven, and it was the most tender, luscious turkey I ever ate. Likewise, those Black-Label, spiral cut and pre-cooked hams are delectable.

  • Mix and match. Buy some side dishes, make some. We all know that most of the big grocery stores have innumerable deli-foods available, and you can buy any kind of pie under the sun, fresh or frozen. Likewise, some of those gravies in a jar aren't too shabby; a little amending on your part can make them exceptional. And taters is just taters. They just plain. They just potatoes. You can buy them, fresh, mashed, ready to go.

  • Necessity is the mother of inventionDispense with the traditional holiday dinner altogether. I did this one year. Lay a nice tablecloth, set out good china and utensils, and load that table up with deli goodies and some traditional items, as well. Sliced meats, including turkey, marinated artichoke hearts, pickles and olives, specialty breads, shrimp wheel, christmas cookies, apple strudel, pumpkin pie, etc. Whatever you like, as much or as little as you want. You can mix and match, here, too. Make some of it, buy some of it. And make the table festive. Fancy Christmas napkins, Pointsettia, assorted decorations. No one is going to complain when they see all that good food, laid out so attractively (my base inclination is to say that if they do, tough, but you know your family situation better than I).

  • Have a big Christmas breakfast instead of a big Christmas dinner. Souffle, quiche, eggs benedict, ham, blintzes, crepes - whatever you like. Save the afternoon for cuddling up and watching Christmas movies, visiting, playing games, listening to music. If you have company staying over, offer a light lunch/dinner.

  • Mulled Cider with Cinnamon SticksWhatever you're having, make the "atmosphere" special. Have a big pot of mulled cider or wine on the stove for people to dip into as they like. It smells wonderful, and it tastes great. Don't serve soda for drinks; that is, quite frankly, lame (recipes for holiday drinks will be forthcoming in the next few days). Get a bag of cinammon scented pine cones and some cheap baskets and distribute them throughout the house. Hang mistletoe. Do a Christmas simmering potpourri. Burn Christmas candles (observe proper candle safety). And for heaven's sake, turn the television off during dinner, and turn the Christmas music on, loud enough to be heard, but low enough to still allow conversation.

Finally, here's the most important tip of all. ASK FOR HELP. There is no shame in that. If you have kids, delegate. You may be the meal planner and the head cook, but that doesn't mean you're the prep cook, chef, dishwasher, and waiter all rolled up into one. Put the hubby to work, even if that's not the norm. Why is it that you should have to wait hand and foot on everyone, handle all the cleanup, and have very little time to relax and enjoy Christmas yourself?

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