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Planning ahead is key to hosting, cooking stress-free meal
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Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the holiday season is the lavish celebratory meal. Many people look forward to the food just as much as they look forward to the festivities. This could be why the average person gains a pound or two between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Planning a holiday gathering and a meal can mean chaos for hosts or hostesses. There’s a lot of pressure on the person in charge. However, putting together a delicious, stress-free dinner is possible with a few easy-to-follow tips.

• Create a meal concept. Holiday meals can be traditional or avant garde. There are many options from which to choose, but make sure to select foods that go together. Those new to holiday hosting may want to stick with classic items that are expected, such as turkey and trimmings. Those who want to experiment may want to introduce one or two new dishes into the mix. Food choices should be about what your guests will want to eat and not about which items will ensure a spectacle.

• Keep preparation time in mind. Another thing to consider when planning the meal is the amount of time you have for food preparation and cooking. The holidays are a busy time of the year, and work and social engagements may continue up until the 11th hour. Choose foods that can be prepared in advance and heated on the holiday if you’re time-pressed. Or simply choose easy-to-make dishes that won’t take much time.

• Compile a shopping list. Once foods are selected, review all recipes and make a list of the ingredients you will need. This will serve as a shopping list to take to the store. Also see which items you have on hand. Look at expiration dates and be sure that everything is top quality. If in doubt, add it to your shopping list. Make a list of things that can be bought in advance (paper products, coffee, linens, etc.) and other items that need to be checked off closer to the actual holiday, such as produce. Cross off each item once it is purchased.

• Create a timetable. Use a calendar to schedule when each component of the meal and other preparations will be made. You’ll ensure you will stay on track and have everything done by the actual holiday.

• Ask for help. If you find that time will be short, delegate some jobs to others. For example, if a grandmother or aunt is known for her prized potatoes or pies, ask her to make that item. Some hosts and hostesses turn the holiday meal into a potluck, where everyone is encouraged to bring one item and the host simply provides the main dish. This can cut down on the work involved and make others feel they’ve contributed.

• Go easy on yourself. While not everything will work out exactly as you expected, chances are guests won’t even notice little glitches unless you point them out.

• Make time for socialization. Too often, holiday hosts and hostesses worry so much about impressing guests with lavish foods and festivities that they fail to enjoy the actual day with their guests. Leave time to sit and chat and — most importantly — relax.

The holidays are a time of enjoyment. Ensuring the meal can be as stress-free as possible will go a long way to helping hosts and hostesses enjoy the season as well.

Classic turkey


• 12- to 14-pound turkey

• 1/2 gallon apple cider

• 1/2 cup kosher salt

• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

• 1/2 cup minced fresh sage

• 1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns


• Place a 2 1/2-gallon zip-close plastic bag upright in a large bowl. Place the turkey in the bowl, then pour in the cider, salt, brown sugar, sage and peppercorns. Seal the bag, squeezing out as much as possible as you do so. Massage the bag to mix the ingredients in the liquid. Refrigerate and let brine for a minimum of 8 hours, turning the turkey now and again.

• When ready to roast, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Fit a roasting pan with a rack.

• Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry with paper towels, then set it onto the roasting rack. Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the temperature of the breast reaches 160 degrees and the thighs reach 170 degrees. If the turkey begins to darken too much, cover it loosely with foil.

• Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, wrap with foil, then set a couple layer of bath towels over it to keep it warm.

Mashed potatoes


(serves 8)

• 4 pounds red potatoes

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

• 1 cup sour cream

• Salt and ground black pepper

• 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives


• Peel half of the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large pot, then add enough water to cover them by 1 inch. Cover the pan and set over medium-high. Bring the water to a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Thoroughly drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot.

• Set the pot over low heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking or stirring the potatoes to dry them. Using a masher, roughly mash the potatoes, then stir in the butter and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the chives.

Sausage pecan stuffing


(serves 8)

• 12 ounces loose Italian sausage

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 2 carrots, finely diced

• 2 stalks celery, diced

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

• 3/4 cup chopped pecans

• 12-ounce bag seasoned stuffing cubes

• 2 eggs

• 2 1/2 cups chicken broth


• Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a large casserole dish with cooking spray. In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the sausage about 8 to 10 minutes.

• Add the onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Cook another 8 minutes.

• In a large bowl, combine the sausage mixture with the pecans and stuffing cubes. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until foamy, then whisk in the broth. Pour the egg and broth mixture over the stuffing mixture and stir thoroughly.

• Spoon into the pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until browned and cooked.

All recipes courtesy of the Associated Press

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