Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Simple Guide to the Holiday Kitchen

It's that time of year.

Not Christmas.  Well, sort of.  It is that time of year when I do a lot of baking - baking for Thanksgiving, baking for parties, baking for gifts, baking for Solstice, baking for Christmas, baking for New Years.  In addition to the general increase of cooking and baking in the fall and winter.  Oh, and I also try and do more make-ahead-and-freeze meals during the fall and winter because there is just more of those nights when some people will be gone, or we will need to eat earlier before a concert, or it will be a vacation day, and I just don't feel like spending the whole day in the kitchen. So I've put together a guide for the holidays.  I call it -

The Simple Guide to the Holiday Kitchen:

(inspired by some of the holiday lists on Simple Bites)

Menu Planning

I beat this horse a lot, but it is SO true.  My life, all year round, runs better when I meal plan, and certainly, it is only MORE important to do it around the holidays.  Decide what meals that you want to serve for the big holidays, how many dozen cookies you need to bake, what meals are your favorite make & freeze meals, etc. 

People do menu planning in different ways - fancy holiday meal planning notebooks/checklists, 3 x 5 cards, on the computer, etc.  I am mostly lazy old fashioned about it.  I just write a list in a notebook. I usually make categories - Breads and Cookies, Holiday Meals, Freezer Meals or whatever and the name of the recipe in the category. I'll write the name of the recipe book it is from, and then put a corresponding post-it note in the recipe book on the page that has the recipe.   

Organizing Your Kitchen

I've said it before, and I'll keep mentioning it, probably until the day that we move.  I have a small kitchen and it is important to make sure that my kitchen is organized.  I try and keep it well organized during the year, and then I also add some organizing touches during the holiday season too.

1.  Clean the cabinets, inside and out. And clean the counters, the stove, the oven, the microwave, and the fridge. And the floor. There will probably be other people in your kitchen during the holidays, so not only is it nice to have a clean kitchen for yourself, but it is always nice to have a clean kitchen for other people. 

2.  You will probably need to make room in your fridge and freezer for the upcoming holiday food.  So as your cleaning, make sure that you dispose of anything expired, and make a plan for using up some of the things so that you can have as much room as possible for your holiday food. 

3.  You will also need to make room for your holiday items.  You can put up anything that you don't need for cooking/baking in the fall and winter time.  You can make things like platters and specialty tools more accessible.  If you use holiday dishes or china during the holidays and you store them during the rest of the year, you will want to decide where you will keep it during the next few weeks.

4.  Check your holiday linens.  You will want to make sure that you have the type of tablecloths and cloth napkins, etc. for all of your holiday events and in the sizes needed.  You will also want to decide if you are going to use disposable items for any of those events and purchase those ahead of time. 

Stocking Your Pantry

If you haven't been keeping this up during the rest of the year, it is essential to do in the holiday season.  There is nothing so aggravating but to need to make something and you go to get the ingredient and you have run out.  And it is late.  Or it is blizzarding.  Or something like that.  You'll want to, of course, stock your pantry with the type of ingredients that you (and your family) use often.  Look at the type of ingredients that come up over and over in the recipes that your family uses, and make sure and keep those stocked in your pantry. 

But here are some general pantry staples:

Flours – unbleached white, wheat, rice, cake, bread
Sugars – brown, cane  powdered
Dry Pastas – a few different shapes and sizes
Sweeteners – honey, maple syrup, agave
Grains – couscous, rice, barley, quinoa, oats, flax, cornmeal
Oils – olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
Leavens and Stabilizers - Yeast, Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar, Meringue Powder
Vegetables – onions, potatoes, garlic
Canned/Jarred Tomatoes – sauce, diced, paste
Spreads – peanut butter, jam, jelly
Vinegars – balsamic, white, red wine, apple cider
Specialty Sauces – hot sauce, Tabasco, soy sauce
Nuts – peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts
Dried Fruit – raisins, apricots, dates, cherries, cranberries
Dried or Canned Beans- black, navy, pinto, kidney
Canned fish/seafood - tuna
Herbs and Spices – oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, cumin, peppers and many more
Salts – kosher, sea salt, pickling salt
Baking Ingredients – baking powder, baking soda, yeast, cream of tartar, chocolate
Extracts – vanilla, almond, lemon, peppermint
Beverages – tea, cocoa

And here are some things to add for the Holiday Pantry:

Canned and Jarred Items - Pumpkin Puree, Sour Cherries, Applesauce, Maraschino Cherries, Mincemeat
Candies and Confections - Peppermints, Candy Cane, Marshmallows, Mini-Marshmallows, Caramel Squares, Marshmallow Fluff
Chocolate and Chips - Cocoa, White, Dark, Milk, Chocolate Chips, Sprinkles, Butterscotch Chips, Toffee Bits
Crackers and Crumbs - Graham Cracker Crumbs, Oreo Crumbs, Graham Crackers, Ritz Crackers, Pretzels
Dairy - Evaporated Milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Soy Milk, Powdered Milk, Powdered Buttermilk, Malted Milk Powder
Dried and Candied Fruit - Raisins, Currants, Apricots, Dates, Cherries, Cranberries, Prunes, Candied Citrus Peel, Figs, Candied Ginger, Apples,
Dried Herbs - Fennel, Rosemary, Coriander, Mint, Lavender
Extracts and Flavorings - Almond, Lemon, Peppermint, Anise, Rum
Grains and Cereals - Rolled Oats, Quick Oats, Wheat Germ, Bran, Rice Crispies, Puffed Wheat, Shredded Wheat
Nuts - Hazelnuts, Brazil Nuts, Pistachios,
Oils and Shortenings - Lard, Shortening
Seeds - Sesame, Pumpkin, Poppy, Sunflower
Specialty Items - Food Coloring
Spices, whole and ground - Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Allspice, Cardamom, Ginger, Anise

But again, go through the recipes YOU use and pick out the items that you will need. No use spending money on items that you don't need!

Kitchen Supplies, Utensils, etc.

There are certain things that I ONLY use during the holidays.  My trifle bowl is one that doesn't make too many appearances during the rest of the year.  Also, I have special holiday cookie cutters.  Make sure to locate them ahead of time and make sure that they are washed and ready to go. 

There may also be certain tools that you only need to prepare Holiday Foods.  Locate them too.  You also make want to read through your recipes and make sure that you have all the necessary tools to prepare all of the things on your list.  If not, you can see if you have something that could work as a substitute, perhaps you could borrow it, or get yourself an early Holiday present! LOL Or at the very least, borrow for now, but put on your gift list!

And while you are looking at the tools that you'll need for the holidays, look at your other kitchen supplies.  I always have a few things on my gift list - whether that it is cookware, silverware, gadgets, knives, etc.  I find it is best to be very specific on what you want (brand, style, store where to get it) or to ask for a gift card with an explanation of what you are planning on getting with the card.

Freezer Meals

I usually first do freezer meals.  It is, in someways, seems like the lowest priority during the holidays, but it truly does make my life easier because things get so chaotic during the 6 weeks of fall/winter holidays, and if I know that all I have to do is defrost something and cook it up an hour before we need to eat? Priceless, I tell you.  From a financial standpoint, it is also easier for me to go ahead and spend the money to prepare a month-ish amount of freezer meals in early November than trying to squeeze money out of the budget during Mid-November - early January for "just" everyday food. 

Of course, this means clearing out some space in the freezer, so do that before you start the actual cooking! LOL

Holiday Baking

I do most of the ACTUAL baking right before the event, but there is no reason that you can't make some cookie dough up ahead of time and freeze it. 

I generally keep some gingerbread, sugar, and chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer for those moments when I need to make a quick couple dozen for something.  Or to get a head start on making cookies for a cookie exchange, etc. 

You can also have some bread dough frozen and pie crusts. 

Holiday Cooking

I plan what the meals are going to be for the big events and then I try and make a rough schedule of the 24-48 hours before the event and what order I need to cook/bake things.  Anything fresh, etc. I put on a list to buy a day or so ahead of time.  I check the pantry a week or so before (and I also make sure and do a guest check about a week out too, so that I'm sure I have enough of all necessary ingredients.) I have a VERY small kitchen and only one stove, so I need to be pretty organized about the order of things or I end up having to reheat practically everything.  But mostly, it helps me feel less overwhelmed about the amount of food that needs to be cooked.  Sometimes, when I just look at the list of items, I feel like I don't even know where to start.  This way, I have a path. 

Edible Gifts

I often make teacher gifts and neighbor gifts around the holidays.  However, with these types of gifts, you also need to plan what type of container you will putting the items in.  Many of these you can pick up during the year - a tin or a basket doesn't have to use holiday colors.  You can then pretty it up with some holiday ribbons instead.  Paper bags are an easy choice.  Holiday plates, cellophane, and tissue paper are also options. 

No comments: