The Unorganized (Disorganized?) Guide to Holiday Preparation

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Whether your holiday meals are grand affairs for no less than 30 people with five courses, or the six of you and whatever you can slop together, the holidays tend to be a time of anxiety for the non-planner. I’m here to help with that and get some healthy, delicious, easy and show-stopping food on your table for the holidays. Here is my quick guide, which also works well for any time you have a big event and want to prep in advance:

  • Make Space. For me, this means cleaning out the freezer, cooking any meat I won’t use for the holiday, and using up those freezer meals I made for emergencies. (This has the added bonus of freeing me up to cook for the holiday!)
  • I shop in stages.
    • Step one is making sure I have the basics on hand that are shelf-stable, such as spices, oils, and canned goods. This eliminates the last-minute run for garlic powder and tomato paste. Your basics may be different, but see my precious post on pantry items. An expanded basics list can include canned goods like tomato paste, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, marinara sauce, mayonnaise, dried fruits and nuts, seeds, and even potatoes/onions/fresh garlic. These last fairly long.
  • These are the items that are found in 98% of my recipes, so I make them in bulk, mainly sautéed onions and chopped garlic. I have a few epic shortcuts for you.
    • For the onions, peel and chop about ten pounds (two of those orange mesh bags) into half-moon shapes. Place into your crock pot with about 1 tbs kosher salt, 2 tsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, and a splash of optional balsamic vinegar. Cook on low for about 14-16 hours and high for about 10, or until reduced in size to a third and golden brown. Now when a recipe calls for sautéed onions, no chopping or waiting! I portion these out into 1/2 cup Ziplock bags. They freeze amazingly as well.
    • Garlic: You can either pay for the convenience of buying the already peeled garlic, or buy them at Costco and do the job yourself. I buy the bag from Costco. First, separate the heads into cloves. I do about ten heads, which yields around 100 cloves. The fast way to peel them is to put them into a glass bowl, and a tight-fitting plate on top. Then, shake, about 15 cloves at a time. The skins should come off. Off to the food processor they go with enough olive oil to make a very dry paste. Store in an air-tight container with a thin layer of oil on top. Use whenever a recipe calls for fresh chopped or minced garlic. One heaping teaspoon is about 1 clove.
    • Yet another way to prepare garlic is the oven method. Preheat oven to 400°. Take about ten cloves of garlic, and cut the top third off. Leaving root end intact, place on large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and drizzle cut side with olive oil and kosher salt. Wrap tightly with foil, and place in oven for about 30-40 minutes until soft. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the soft cloves into an airtight container and cover with thin layer of oil to preserve. This will last months in the fridge. Use this as a spread on challah, for the most amazing salad dressing, add to mayo, or slather on chicken/roasted veggies, or stir into soup for an incredible depth of flavor.
  • Cook a Little at a Time.If you’re making dinner or cooking for Shabbos, make one extra thing to freeze for the holiday. When your defrosting meat, take an extra roast out, or an extra pack of cutlets.
    1. Example:  Last week when I was roasting my Shabbos veggies, I made a cream of asparagus soup (parve) to freeze. Or when I was doing my brisket,I made an extra to freeze. Baking? Don’t wash out the bowl and measuring spoons throw together some cupcakes or biscotti. Doing this in batches makes the tasks manageable and it doesn’t feel like your climbing Mt Everest.
    2. There will be items that can only be made last minute, like salads or fried foods, for example. But by using my four tips above, I hope it will take some of the stress out, and allow you to enjoy these precious times with your family.
  • Bonus tip: Use what you have as well!  Don’t create a whole menu using ingredients you need to source. Work backwards. See what you have, and then find new and interesting ways to prepare them. Have frozen puff pastry? Do you always use it for deli roll? How about doing something sweet and individualized, like mini apple strudel? That uses ingredients you usually have at home. London broil in freezer? Do you always broil it? How about searing it and the cutting it thinly for a salad? Or grilling it? Or just change up your marinade? Is noodle kugel a staple? Go savory. Or add some interesting fruit to the mix, which is fun for the kids and keeps things moist.

Whatever you do, don’t stress much. Take time for yourself and enjoy your moments with family. Remember what our holidays are all about. Chag Sameach!

xoxo Elana

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