Life gets extra busy this time of year. Like everyone else, my family has the normal action-packed schedule…work, basketball practice, piano lessons, gymnastics, homework…not to mention, fitting in holiday activities like baking cookies, shopping, cutting down the tree…
Getting together with family and friends is a big part of the holiday magic, but we are too often pressed for time in between events. What is my little secret that keeps us from hitting a restaurant or drive-thru? Big-batch cooking!
Seven Vegetable Soup
I make food in large quantities and freeze leftovers so they are available to serve at multiple events. Every year the day after Thanksgiving, instead of hitting the malls, my whole family heads to Wisconsin to cut down our Christmas tree. Before we go my mom and I take inventory of our freezers and pull together an eclectic combination of soups, stews and chilies - instead of calling it leftovers, we call it "Soup Smorgasbord".
The trick is to know what freezes well so your guests will never know they are being served leftovers. Typically, most soups, stews and chilies taste just as good (sometimes better) after freezing because the flavors have a chance to blend together and ingredients like beef, beans and stewed tomatoes are not compromised by the freezing process. Ingredients that don't freeze well include crisp vegetables (like stir-fry), fried foods that lose their crispness. Also, potatotes and ham in freezing change texture and quick-cooking foods like shrimp get tough when re-heated. A general rule I follow is - If a recipe cooks for an hour or more, it likely will be just as delightful after freezing. This opens up the world of casseroles and slow cooker recipes as wonderful options, like the recipe Slow Cooker Beef & Barley Soup shown at the beginning of this article.
Pesto Lasagna Roll-Ups
My perennial favorite dish to have on-hand is frozen lasagna. When I go through the effort to make one pan, I always make a spare to wrap up tightly with foil and throw in the freezer. Knowing that it’s there gives me the confidence to say, “Come on over for dinner,” when my schedule is busy. I just put it in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. Before guests arrive, while the lasagna is baking, I throw together a salad and enjoy my evening with almost no effort. It is like a holiday gift to myself. And it’s the perfect way to enjoy the holidays and the company of good family and friends!
What are your tips and tricks for feeding a crowd during the holidays? I’d love to read your ideas, too!