Do the words "stress" and "holidays" go together like two peas in a pod around your house? Do you eagerly await the upcoming season, yet dread it at the same time?
I've certainly found that to be true many times over the years here at The Café. I love Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, Eve, and all the fun traditions and festivities that come with the season - but wow, it's a lot of extra work, isn't it? It seems that regular, everyday life keeps me going strong from morning until evening - but throw in extra visitors, special meals, choosing, purchasing and wrapping gifts, etc. and it can end up taking me over the edge!
That is exactly what I don't want during this beautiful, reflective season. I've learned over the years that there's only one antidote to the frenzy I so easily fall into around the holidays. It's called preplanning and it means taking time to prepare before the season begins. From a culinary sense it means figuring out meals that can be made, or at least prepped, in advance. To help you (okay, me too) out a bit, I thought I'd share a holiday menu that's completely make ahead. It would be perfect for entertaining guests over the long Thanksgiving weekend as well as any other time over the holiday season.
Before I share my menu however, I'd like to introduce you to a delightful resource that I've just recently discovered - The Chew. If you're not familiar with The Chew, it's a show on ABC and is the place to find anything & everything holiday-related. . It's a unique talk show but the focus is on food, entertaining and lifestyle topics rather than celebrity news, hence the name, The Chew. I'm always looking for cooking inspiration and The Chew is a great source for recipes and entertaining ideas. Recently, they featured an entire week focused on Thanksgiving including topics like Thanksgiving on a Dime, Greatest Thanksgiving Tips of All Time, and No Fail Thanksgiving Feast. They also share seasonal crafts and home decor ideas.
I love a recent clip they aired on How to Make a Cranberry Topiary (if you were a mouse in my house, you'd spot one of these on my Thanksgiving table or Christmas table).
And being one who loves setting a pretty table, I was thrilled to discover their recent video tutorial on Simple Techniques for Napkin Folding. It's a short but really fun clip with Michael Simon and Mario Batalio included as the "students".
I'm using their single pocket fold idea for my Thanksgiving table with a different Bible verse on thankfulness tucked into the napkin at each place setting. I love how something so simple can add such a fun and personal touch to a tablescape.
I also discovered the appetizer recipe for my Make Ahead Holiday Menu on The Chew and I have a feeling this Autumnal Cheeseball will be a Café repeat performer for easy entertaining this season.
It's a fabulous cheeseball made with cheddar and cream cheese. There are also fresh herbs, (I substituted rosemary instead of chives) spices and a splash of horseradish for a little zip. And there's a whole video tutorial not only how to make it, but a really easy technique for shaping a pretty cheeseball.
I love the beautiful, delicious coating of toasted pecans and dried fruit (I used multi-hued raisins and dried apricots, but feel free to use whatever you have or whatever looks prettiest at the market).
I've already made one of these Autumnal Cheeseballs and it's waiting patiently in the freezer for an upcoming occasion. Yes, this cheeseball can be made ahead and frozen until about 12 hours before serving. Allow it to slowly defrost in the fridge and no one will ever know it wasn't freshly prepared (although they might wonder how you can be so relaxed and calm).
So on to the rest of my Make Ahead Holiday Menu: for the main course, I'm featuring my Provencal Beef Stew. Not only can this one be made in advance, it actually gets better as the flavors have time to meld together. That means you can put the whole thing together a day or two before your get-together and simply rewarm it in the oven before serving. It's a meal in a bowl that everyone seems to go crazy over!
I've chosen a simple salad as a side, dressed with a Lemon Herb Vinaigrette. Just pick up a pretty package of arugula or mixed greens, add a few tomatoes and/or avocado slices, some thin shavings of good Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of this easy-peasy dressing that can be prepared several days in advance.
This Rosemary and Black Pepper Focaccia might look like something out of a fancy artisan bakery, but the actual hands-on time is minimal. It can be made weeks ahead and frozen. Thaw it out early in the day and warm a bit in the oven, just before serving. Oh, by the way, there's no kneading!
And the crème de la crème of our Make Ahead Holiday Menu? The easiest dessert you'll EVER have the pleasure of meeting! I'm not spoofing, these Chocolate Pots de Crème can be made in 5 minutes! They're a decadent, silky chocolate dessert that will be the perfect finish for any holiday meal. Don't be surprised if you catch one of your guests licking the bowl clean!
So there you have it, a start to finish holiday meal that's perfect for stress-free entertaining, because all the work is done in advance! Be sure to check out The Chew, for lots more delicious recipes and fun ideas for decorating and making your holidays colorful, fun and memorable! The Chew is the place to find anything and everything holiday-related. Join in the fun of The Chew Holidays weekdays 1e/12c/p on ABC.
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