Ten Things to Help With the Holidays
1. Butterball Help: If those of you in the U.S. need any advice on thawing, dressing or cooking your holiday turkey, call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL by phone, or e-mail BBTurkeyCo@aol.com (e-mail response may take 24 to 48 hours.)
2. Grace or Thanks: Here's a short and simple prayer to say before your holiday meal: Bless us, O Lord, for these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Help us to be mindful of all our blessings, and the needs of those who have less. Amen. If you don't say grace at meals, you can ask everyone at the table to name something for which they're thankful, and why.
3. Nuking the Potatoes: If you're preparing microwavable mashed potatoes to save cooking and stovetop time, but want them to taste a bit more homemade, mix in 1/4 cup of milk, 1 tbsp. butter or margarine and (optional) 1/2 tsp. of black pepper per 24 ozs. of potatoes before you heat them.
4. Occupy the Kids: (You'll need ingredients to make a batch of cupcakes, some tubs of ready-to-use frosting, and shakers of sprinkles or tubes of gel frosting.) This is a great way to let even the youngest kid contribute something to the feast. Make your favorite recipe of cupcakes the night before your holiday, but don't frost or decorate them. While you're cooking the next day, give the kids the cupcakes, frostings and decorations, and let them at it. If grandparents need something to do, they can supervise. This is also a nice dessert alternative for the kids, who might not like pumpkin pie or whatever you've got planned for the grownups.
5. Painless Dessert: People ask me for this recipe every holiday season. It's sinfully rich fudge for those of us who can't be trusted with a candy thermometer.
PBW's Famous No-Brainer Fudge
3 cups Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 can 14 oz. sweet condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of salt
[optional add-ins: chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, raisins, M&Ms etc.]
Put morsels, milk, extract and salt in a sauce pan and melt over low heat. Stir frequently to blend. When it looks like fudge -- after about 5 to 10 minutes -- remove from heat, stir in your favorite chopped nuts, marshmallows, M&Ms or whatever. Pour into pan (I use an 8" pie pan), spread out, cover with foil or plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, take out, cut into squares, enjoy.
Note on fancy toppings: Before you put in the fridge, you can also top the fudge with coconut, maraschino cherries, pecan halves etc.
6. Punch with Pow: Freeze a 46 oz. can of unsweetened pineapple juice. When time to serve, place the frozen block of juice in punch bowl and pour black cherry soda over it until you fill the bowl (use as much soda as your guest count demands; we usually go through about 4 liters of soda at mid-size gatherings.) If you want a fancier look, freeze the pineapple juice in shaped ice cube trays or a ring-shaped mold.
7. Quickie Centerpiece: Fill your favorite serving bowl or basket with apples, oranges, grapes or other fresh fruit you have around the house, and then place unshelled walnuts in some of the spaces between the fruit. If you don't have walnuts, try short sprigs of evergreen or pine, autumn leaves or small bunches of fresh parsley.
8. Thanks in Return: If you're having your holiday feast at someone else's place and would like to do something nice for your hosts, give them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. After all the cooking they've done, it will be much appreciated.
9. Waking up the Stuffing: If you make traditional bread/celery/seasoning-type stuffing and want to liven it up a little, chop a medium onion, sautee it in a little margarine and add it to the mix. For more intense flavor, don't sautee the onion. Feeling more adventurous? Try adding one of the following to your basic stuffing recipe: chopped apples or water chestnuts (adds sweetness and crispness) dried cranberries (these are wonderful), crushed garlic, cooked sausage, or sliced mushrooms.
10. Ziplocks to the Rescue: If your fridge space is limited, try saving leftovers in ziplock bags versus Tupperware or plastic containers (bags seal just as well but are more flexible than rigid containers.)