In all of the excitement of planning for the Big Meal, it's easy to forget that there's a houseful of people - visiting relatives, home-from-college kids, and assorted other hangers-on - expecting to be fed on the days leading up to and after the holiday. Stocking the pantry and freezer with these guests in mind can avert those last-minute scrambles to get something on the table.
One of the challenges of feeding family and friends during the holiday season is knowing how to walk the line between celebratory and indulgent. After a month of office sweets, neighborly cookies, and cocktail parties, some guests might actually be craving smaller meals - and they might appreciate not being tempted. "This time of year we tend to make lighter breakfasts because people are eating so much during the other meals," says Fairville Inn co-owner Rick Carro. "You don't want them to be too stuffed to enjoy the fabulous holiday dinner you've prepared."
For breakfast, keep plenty of cereal, fruit, juice, and yogurt on hand. "You can't go wrong with an excellent cup of coffee or tea," says Bea Briggs, innkeeper of Bridgeton House on the Delaware in Upper Black Eddy. "And when you're hostessing, you want to focus on foods you can make in advance. Muffins or scones you can bake and keep in the freezer are perfect for a continental breakfast."
Briggs always keeps some frozen puff pastry on hand to make cinnamon rolls (she rolls them up like a roulade, then slices them and bakes them in muffin tins); breakfast strudels; or savory, pizza-like tarts for brunch or lunch.
For those hosts who want to go the extra mile, a yogurt parfait is easy to assemble the night before. Chef Michael Giampa of Paramour in the Wayne Hotel suggests macerating frozen berries with a bit of sugar or honey, then layering them in juice glasses or plastic cups with plain yogurt and topping it off with granola. "Cover and store overnight, and you have a healthy meal ready - it's a little bit nicer than just plunking down a quart of yogurt on the table."
In a home of later sleepers, brunch can be more substantial (and saves the trouble of preparing two separate meals). French toast, frittatas, stratas, and savory bread puddings are all variations on egg dishes that are a boon to the busy host. Giampa is a fan of a simple baked egg casserole that is almost entirely made the day or night before. "This is something my mother always made for company as I was growing up. You take a couple of slices of brioche bread, cut them into cubes, and line a buttered 8.5-inch-by-11-inch glass pan. Whip up about eight eggs with a pint of half-and-half and pour it over. You can add scallions, cooked bacon, and/or shredded cheddar. You cover it in foil and let it sit overnight so the flavors meld and the bread absorbs the custard. Then, in the morning, you pop it into the oven and bake it for 35-40 minutes or until browned."
To take the pressure off the morning meal, Giampa suggests setting out an "appetizer," such as cut fruit; a beet-and-orange salad; or even, if the mood is still festive, a mix-and-match Bloody Mary bar with tomato juice-based mix, assorted pickled vegetables, beef jerky sticks, fresh-cut celery, and vodka and tequila. "This gives guests something to do and frees you up to cook the rest of the meal."
Lunch could be a (make-ahead) quiche, (make-ahead) chili, or (make-ahead) soup. Baked pastas, gratins, and casseroles will also fall into the crowd-pleasing, made-in-advance category. Lighter options might include turkey or shrimp salad repurposed from holiday meal leftovers, a spread of sandwich fixings (meats, cheeses, condiments, a couple of breads) or salad bar (grilled chicken, steak, and/or tuna; greens, cut vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, dressings, crumbled cheese). "These have to be made closer to the time you serve them, but one thing we forget is that people like to help, and you can get them involved by letting them put together the meal," Giampa says.
Shopping is half the battle - keeping the shelves stocked for last-minute changes of plans. "I love to keep prosciutto around because you can serve it with cheese and crackers or wrap a chicken breast in it for a quick dinner," says Carro. "I also usually keep a smoked fish pate I make with bluefish, cream cheese, capers, and sometimes toasted pine nuts. I always keep pesto in the freezer in ice cube trays, and frozen raspberries for a quick sauce for desserts or pancakes."
For kid guests, stock up on mac and cheese (either homemade or, better still, the dehydrated box kind, which always wins out anyway), juice boxes, string cheese, and snack crackers.
Giampa leaves out bowls of fruit and pumpkin and sunflower seeds for all-day nibbles. Other things he likes to keep on hand are sparkling wine for instant mimosas, muffin mix for impromptu baking, and plenty of the basics such as butter, eggs, milk, and bread. "I can't tell you how many times I had to go to the corner store as a kid to pick up an extra pound of butter or some pine nuts because someone forgot them," Giampa says. "Think ahead, and you keep everyone's stress levels down."
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced Italian turkey sausage
1/2 cup corn, frozen or fresh
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
8 large eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Italian cheese blend
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 10-inch glass pie dish with cooking spray.
2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and saute turkey sausage, corn, onions, and red pepper until vegetables are soft.
3. In a bowl, beat eggs, half-and-half, and dill together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Put turkey and vegetable mixture in prepared dish. Pour egg mixture over it. Sprinkle cheese over top and bake until the center is set, about 20 minutes. Allow frittata to rest a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve. Can be refrigerated and reheated for up to 1 week, or cut in half, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and foil and frozen, then reheated on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Per serving: 265 calories, 16 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 309 milligrams cholesterol, 338 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 16 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs
2/3 cup chilled sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sugar for dusting
16 whole walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Rub in butter with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal.
3. Separate 1 egg, placing white in a small bowl and the yolk in a medium bowl. Set white aside. Whisk remaining whole egg, sour cream, and vanilla into yolk. Gently stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture. Dough will be very moist.
4. Turn dough out onto generously floured work surface. Divide in half. Press each half into 6-inch rounds about 1/2-inch thick. Cut each round into 8 wedges.
5. Beat reserved egg white until foamy. Brush over wedges. Sprinkle with sugar.
6. Make a thumbprint in the middle of each scone. Fill with raspberry preserves. Press 1 whole walnut into the wide end of each scone.
7. Transfer wedges to baking sheet, spaced 1 inch apart. Bake until pale golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool and freeze, or serve immediately.
Per scone: 166 calories, 3 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 42 milligrams cholesterol, 120 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 6 servings
21/2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp
1 tablespoon good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup good mayonnaise
1 tablespoon orange zest (2 oranges)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon good white wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons small-diced red onion
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel and devein the shrimp. Place them on a sheet pan with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss together. Spread the shrimp on one layer and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, just until pink, firm and cooked through. Allow to cool for 3 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, orange zest, orange juice, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
4. When the shrimp are cool, add them to the sauce and toss. Add the dill, capers, and red onion and toss well. The flavors will improve if you allow the salad to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Otherwise, chill and serve at room temperature.
Per serving: 371 calories, 40 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 379 milligrams cholesterol, 791 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Makes 12 servings
10 uncooked chorizo sausages, approximately 1 1/4 pounds)
3 3/4 pounds boneless beef shank, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
3 onions (1 pound), peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 fresh long red chile, seeded
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
3 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 cup water (swished out in one of the tomato cans)
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Finely chop or process the onions, garlic, and chile.
3. Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid or Dutch oven and fry the onion, garlic, and chile until soft, on low for about 10 minutes, then add the cardamom seeds, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes.
4. Stir the oniony spiced mixture together, and then add the chorizo, sliced into ¼-inch coins, letting them ooze their paprika-orange oil.
5. Drop in the cubes of beef, turning them in the pan with the chorizo and onion mix, to brown the meat.
6. Stir in the tomato paste, ketchup, drained kidney beans, and diced tomatoes. Add the water and bring the chili to a boil. Once it's started bubbling, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the chili and give it a good stir. Put on the lid and transfer to the oven.
7. Cook for 3 hours. Once cooked, it is best left overnight to improve the flavor. To make ahead, cook the chili for 2½ hours only. Cool and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to a boil on the stovetop and return to the oven for 1 hour.