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With Easter quickly approaching, even the most astounding chef is beginning to feel the stress. Instead of racing to get everything prepared the Saturday before, try some recipes that can be made ahead of time, frozen and then defrosted on Easter Sunday.

Gather Your Appetizers

Before diving into the main meal, your guests like to enjoy appetizers. Purchasing ones that are already frozen is one way to cut down the amount of cooking you have to do. For this holiday, you could also make some meatballs in cranberry sauce or Easter bread in advance. If you opt for the braided Easter bread, don't make the eggs until the day before, or on, the holiday.

Warm Soup

As we go more and more into the spring, you are less likely to crave soup, so this holiday might be one of your last chances to enjoy a warm bowl of it. Whether you want to have one last round of butternut squash soup or you'd prefer something lighter like chicken vegetable, soups tend to freeze very well, so you just need to reheat after the appetizers.

Have Some Pizza

On Easter Sunday, many families like to eat a variety of breads, and pizza may be on that your family enjoys. You could make an Easter pizza by rolling the dough into the shape of an Easter basket, an Easter wreath or, if you are really creative in the kitchen, an Easter bunny. You'll have to consider which toppings you want to decide if that portion is make ahead or not. Try to keep it lighter since this is not the main course, and make the crust thin.

Any Italian Dish

Depending on the cultural background of your family, having a full course of Italian food before the leg of lamb may be traditional. Fortunately, most Italian food is make ahead friendly. Baked ziti, lasanga, stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage in sauce, ravioli and manicotti are just a few of the ideas. Sauce freezes well too, so you can make a big tub of it.

Main Course Ideas

Cooking the lamb or ham before and then reheating it is a possibility, but you are unlikely to have as flavorful of a piece. Instead, prepare the lamb/ham the night before, so you just need to pop it into the oven on Easter. It will need time to cool and rest a bit, so you can bake side dishes then. Look for side dishes that are easy to make such as vegetable casseroles, mashed potatoes and pre-made rolls.

Infusing at least some of these ideas into your Easter dinner recipe will make for less of a hassle this year.


Appetizers in Advance

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If you are planning to throw a holiday party this season, you might wish to consider preparing time saving appetizers you can make ahead of time. You will be plenty busy with cleaning and decorating on the day of the party and the last thing you need is having to worry about cooking the entire meal. Of course, you can offer one or two store bought snacks, but it is always nice to mix it with homemade appetizers. Below are two easy recipes you can make ahead and freeze until the day of the party.

These versatile appetizers are perfect to offer in the holiday season. Caramelize a small onion in olive oil or butter and mix it with a pound of ground beef, a cup of bread crumbs you soaked in milk, an egg, salt and pepper, and any seasoning you like. You can go for the classic Italian taste with oregano, parsley, and garlic or draw from the Asian spice palette with turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and coat with oil. Make small, bite size meatballs by rolling them between your palms. Arrange the meatballs in rows on the cookie sheet and bake them for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Let them cool off completely before placing them in an airtight container for freezing. On the morning of your holiday party, put them in a slow cooker with some marinara sauce/gravy or simply re-warm them in the oven. You can have a dish of sauce on the side if you wish. Insert toothpicks into the meatballs for easy party eating.

Cheese Pastry
Another great appetizer you can make ahead is a simple cheese pastry recipe. Mix eight ounces of small curd cottage cheese and butter each with two cups of flour and a pinch of salt. Knead together until a firm dough forms. You may need to add a little bit more flour depending on the cottage cheese you use. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and put in the refrigerator for a half hour. Roll your dough ball out into a 1/2 inch thick sheet. You can either use a knife to cut it up to small squares or a cookie cutter or small glass to cut round circles out. Lay the pieces on cookie sheets about ½ inch apart and sprinkle some grated cheese on top. Bake in preheated 375? oven for 20 minutes or until brown.

In addition to these recipes, you can also experiment with other snacks and appetizers such as cheese puffs, a roasted vegetable cream cheese dip, or the sweet holiday classic:  homemade fudge. Miniature cheesecakes are festive desserts you can make ahead and pull out from the freezer only a few hours before your guests arrive.


Slow Cooker Sides

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It is once again that time of year. The leaves have been changing colors and falling to the ground, and the temperatures are dropping. The holiday season starts out with Thanksgiving. What is an easier way to prepare holiday means for busy mothers than to prepare a side dish or two in the slow cooker? There is a wide array of delicious slow cooker side dishes available.

Rustic Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a staple on any holiday dinner table. There is no easier way than to prepare this side dish in a crock pot. The ingredients needed for these scrumptious potatoes are:

  • 3 lbs of baking potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces that are a couple of inches (Yukon gold work wonderfully, or russet are good as well)
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 2 - 14 ounce cans of seasoned chicken broth
  • 6 cloves of garlic, cut in half
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup of butter

To make this dish, put the potatoes and the garlic in a 3 1/2 to 4 quart crock pot and pour the seasoned chicken broth over the potatoes and garlic. Depending on how much time is available, the potatoes can either be cooked on high heat for 3-4 hours, or low heat for 6-8 hours. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return them to the crock pot. Heat the milk and butter until the butter is melted then pour over the potatoes in the crock pot and mash together. More milk can be added if the consistency of the potatoes are too stiff. The potatoes can be left on low heat in the crock pot to keep them warm until serving, making it easy to prepare them earlier in the day.

Apple Buttered Sweet Potatoes

Another great side dish that's a breeze to make in the crock pot is apple buttered sweet potatoes. For this dish the ingredients needed are:

  • 3 lbs of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 medium tart cooking apples
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (to taste)
  • 1 cup apple butter

In a 3 1/2 to 4 quart crock pot, place the sweet potatoes and apples. In a medium sized bowl combine the whipping cream, pumpkin pie spice and apple butter. Pour the wet mixture over the sweet potatoes and apples and stir gently to combine. This dish can cook on low heat for 6 to 7 hours, or on high heat for 3 to 4 hours.

These are just two of many side dishes that are delicious and simple out of the crock pot. Other examples of side dishes that are simple and stay delicious until serving out of the crock pot include:  creamy corn and roasted red peppers, tex-mex mac and cheese, easy cheesy potatoes and broccoli in alfredo sauce.


Potluck Party Dishes

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Family dinners, gift-giving, holiday shopping:  the end of the year is the perfect time to make memories and spend time with loved ones. Though this is a time of happiness and joy, it can be less so when the hassle of holiday cooking arises. After all, who has time to catch up with family members when there are hungry mouths waiting? Make ahead party dishes make it simple for you to enjoy the holidays while providing a tasty meal for your family.

One of the most effective, time saving potluck tips is to cook large batches of make ahead meals. I know what you might be thinking:  how am I going to make large batches of items when I am already struggling with time constraints? By assigning dishes to certain family members/friends, or assembling dinner in steps, you can save time and money in the long run.

For example, when making a potluck dish like chicken pot pie, first cook the chicken in a slow cooker. You then have the broth from the chicken that can be used in this dish or in another dish later on, if frozen. This can cool in the fridge overnight, be shredded tomorrow, and cooked into your pot pie ahead of time for the next day's potluck. This time saving tip works with a wide array of meals if you strive to think of ways to simplify every dish, and use one ingredient in multiple dishes.

Another time saving tip for party dishes is to multiply the dish by two or three. Instead of making one regular recipe of cheese dip, make two or three. Then, the extra portions of dip can be used for dinner on a night the following week. Many of these items can be frozen or chilled and re-heated. However, it is important to follow the temperature recommendations for each frozen food.

One of the main reasons why people do not take part in this time saving method is because they do not want to consume the same meal multiple time in one week. Yet, with a bit of creativity, numerous dishes can be made out of the original recipe. For example, left-over cheese dip can be used for nachos or in soup, day-old bread makes tasty croutons or stuffing, and cold turkey is great on sandwiches or as a casserole with leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce. Just about any dish can be remade into another for a versatile and palette-pleasing meal.