Last week I spent the better part of a morning in my pajamas and slippers, leaning on the kitchen counter, where a sprawl of cookbooks, notebooks and post-it notes were scattered. I’ve learned that when a planning mood strikes, I need to ignore everything else and jot down my flow of ideas as they tumble out:
“–make & freeze pie crusts.
–set up a photo booth for cookie swap fun.
–order copies of Desserts in Jars for B, A & M.
–new shortbread flavor???
–check on homemade vanilla.
–stock up on baking supplies…”
My coffee grew cold, and the kids tore apart the playroom in the meantime, but when I looked up an hour or so later, I was better organized for the next two months of kitchen planning. Yep, right through New Year’s Eve and into 2013. Teacher’s gifts, holiday baking, Christmas dinner, a cookie swap, freezer meals and more were more or less sketched out on paper.
Not every detail was planned in that blitz, mind you; I’ll still spend hours on Pinterest adding to boards such as My Christmas Party and Holiday Baking, but the quick brainstorm was helpful to set the holiday planning in motion. Once I gathered my notes and did a quick cross-check with a calendar, it was plain to see I had my work cut out for me, but with planning, everything was doable.
Why plan ahead? Many of our favorite holiday foods – like Tourtière or mincemeat – can easily be made 6 weeks in advance, and some, like the mincemeat, actually improve with age. Guess what? 6 weeks before Christmas is today.
It’s not too early to send out those cookie swap invites, stash a few meals or rounds of gingerbread dough in the freezer, or make those edible gifts for the school teachers.
Here’s what else is on my agenda for the next few weeks; grab a pen and paper and make your ‘To-Do’ list while you read.
Meals to Freeze
Before Christmas I rely on freezer meals to keep us fed up while we barrel along at top speed toward the holiday. Then between Boxing Day and the return to school, I slump into such a lazy, post-holiday haze, that those wholesome dinners save our family from consuming nothing but shortbread and eggnog for supper.
Should you find yourself busy (or lazy, like me), it’s always handy to have a few heat ‘n serve meals in the freezer. Jessica has a wealth of inspiration in her new cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, which I wholeheartedly endorse in a recent post on batch cooking.
After my aforementioned planning blitz, I got busy stocking my freezer. First up was Chocolate Chip Chili, a double batch, pictured above, which I loaded up with beans and added a cup or so of pumpkin, so it really is better for you than it sounds.
This week I’ll follow up with my French Onion Soup base recipe which requires 10 lbs of onions to be sliced with the help of my trusty Magimix food processor and slowly cooked down into a rich, golden stock. The onion soup base freezes well, and, with the addition of crusty bread and cheese, will make for many a delightful Sunday supper sometime in the future.
A few more of my freezer favorites for this time of the year are:
- Tourtière, or Quebec Meat Pie
- Skillet Chicken and Zucchini Parmesan
- Baked Lasagna Casserole
- Coq au Vin with Mushrooms
- Sweet & Sour Turkey Meatballs with Cranberries & Peppers
- Turkey Shepherd’s Pie
I hate to beat a dead horse, but stocking your pantry for success is crucial for surviving the holidays, especially if you entertain often. Rather than having to bundle up three kids and brave the snow every time I need a box of powdered sugar or bag of lemons for baking, I tend to do one or two big expeditions where I stock up on the essentials.
Two years ago I created The Ultimate Holiday Baking Pantry Checklist, a digital list that I can print, bring on my shopping rounds with me, and be sure to stay organized for Christmas baking. If you’re a serious baker, you’re going to want to have a fully stocked pantry with everything from dried fruit to cake flour.
Of course, the great shopping expedition is always best preceded by a quick pantry clean and purge to make some space. It also may be time for an upgrade on items like nuts, which can quickly go rancid if not stored in the freezer, ground spices (again, best stored in the freezer), or musty flours. Check expiry dates on temperamental ingredients such as yeast and flours (which can go stale quickly).
Get the recipe for this Christmas Shortbread
I’ll get super serious about Christmas cookies in another few weeks, as I like my treats as fresh as possible, but there are still some favorites that can be made in advance. Like rolled gingerbread cookie dough, for example. We already have a double batch in the freezer (recipe coming soon) as the dough can be frozen for up to 6 months before it is thawed, rolled and baked.
Making and freezing raw cookie dough in advance is my preferred way to get a jump on holiday baking. Then when guests show up, all you have to do is preheat the oven, and voila, fresh cookies! You can freeze the raw dough of pretty much any drop cookie, as well as most slice and bake types. You can get started with these favorites:
- Browned Butter Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies (roll into balls directly after preparing the recipe, when the dough is still soft)
- Glazed Maple-Pecan Cookies (freeze dough in logs, as per recipe)
- Gingered Orange Shortbread :: Food for My Family
Lastly, don’t forget to send out invites for your cookie swap! Chocolate, Charity & Cheer: Tips for Hosting a Christmas Cookie Swap
Teacher’s Gifts & Edible Gifts
Edible treats are the only kind of handmade gifts that I know how to do, so I try to stock up on items for pretty packaging before the holidays. I find that if I already have what I need on hand for presentation, it’s much easier to dress up a jar jam or bag of cookies.
A few suggestions for decorating and packaging an edible gift: tins, cellophane bags, ribbon, labels, tape, paper bags, brown paper, felt-tipped pens, tissue paper, clear cellophane wrap, burlap garden twine.
This year, we’re getting our teacher’s gifts out of the way as soon as possible by making multiple batches of Pumpkin Spice Granola with Toasted Pepitas, sealing it in bags and freezing for four weeks. I’ll have Noah cut and decorate some hand made labels and voila, it’s off the to-do list.
Inspiration on Pinterest:
- Edible Gifts (my board)
- Preserves – gifts anyone would be happy to receive!
- Edible Gifts (group board)
While my good intentions for deep household cleaning might not get carried out, the kitchen is one area where I must be organized before heading into December. If the heart of the home is clean, uncluttered, well-stocked and in top working capacity, then anything is possible.
Last year’s post on How to Organize Your Kitchen for the Holidays is a must read, and covers my 9 simple steps to getting your act together before the rush of the holidays.
Holiday Meal Plan
You don’t have to iron out every detail of your Thanksgiving (if you’re in the States) or Christmas dinner this far in advance, but it is a good idea to sketch out the basics.
Do you need to pre-order a free-range turkey? Should you source a reputable butcher who can order you a holiday ham? Do you need to brush up on your bread skills so you can serve these adorable whole-wheat buttermilk rolls? Making a holiday meal plan will help you answer these questions and more.
Here is some menu-planning inspiration. Have fun!
- Savory & Sweet: Two Holiday Brunch Menus
- One Turkey, Four Meals
- A Vegetarian Holiday Menu
- A Simple Bites Holiday Menu
More resources for holiday planning:
- 6 Steps to a Relaxed Christmas :: Simple Mom
- A Simpler Season – an eBook from Jessica of Life as MOM.
- Planning for a Stress-Free Christmas :: Mandi Ehman’s ebook available for Kindle
What are you doing to plan ahead for the holidays?