By Nancy Caivano
The monster of all holiday seasons is upon us. Just as you recover from Thanksgiving, it's time to get the Christmas or Hanukkah preparations started. Running from mall to mall, shopping, baking, wrapping, cooking...it never seems to end.
The most important things we can do for ourselves (and our family) is to take a few moments to catch our breath and actually enjoy the holidays. After a long day or evening of shopping, come home to something quick for dinner (maybe something you made ahead of time and took out of the freezer), so that you don't have to add cooking to that day's chores. After a hectic day of baking or wrapping, indulge in some holiday music and a cup of hot chocolate to soothe your nerves and relax your muscles. Sometimes the days go by so fast and we're so busy that we forget that we're actually supposed to enjoy the holidays! Stealing a few moments here and there will make it a better holiday all around.
I really found out the hard way how much it helps to have pre-made things in the freezer during this busy time. Both my mom and I got very sick with bronchitis right before Christmas last year and were unable to do a lot of our normal holiday preparation. The other people in my family helped out with the shopping, which was awesome. We did, however, end up getting take-out almost every night, because, with being sick and doing the holiday cooking and baking, who wanted to cook dinner? After learning that lesson, I decided that the most helpful thing that I can do with this column is to give you make ahead dishes that you can make and put in your freezer for busy weeknights, unexpected guests, or times when you just don't feel like cooking. Pulling out a dish that not only tastes great but also is easy to fix will help you to relax and enjoy the massive holiday prep. You can also use these dishes as part of your holiday dinner, so that the meal doesn't keep you chained to the kitchen.
All of the recipes are pasta recipes, so we're taking a little break from risotto this month. There really is no way to make risotto ahead of time, except for making risotto cakes. (You can find a recipe for my Risotto-Zucchini Cakes in the July-August 1999 section of the Pasta, Risotto and You archives.) These pasta recipes can be used as an every day dinner, or you can make a big portion of any dish and build your Christmas or New Year's dinner around it. Having it made already really cuts into kitchen time, and you can sit and actually talk to your guests instead of yelling from the kitchen.
The first recipe, Lasagne with Sausage, Spinach and Tomato Cream Sauce, is a universal favorite. The sausage and spinach give regular cheese lasagne a great twist, and the spinach adds holiday color. The cream sauce has a smoother flavor than a regular tomato sauce, and the combination of these flavors is divine.
Our next recipe will please the vegetarians in the family, Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Shells with Spicy Tomato Sauce. The filling contains bell peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, celery, onion and garlic all roasted together with balsamic vinegar. The vegetables are combined with ricotta, goat cheese and herbs, then put into freshly cooked pasta shells. The sauce gets a double whammy of spice from both red pepper flakes and Italian cherry peppers. The shells then get topped with Romano, Mozzarella and Provolone cheeses, making this dish a real stand out. Doing all the fussing ahead of time makes it a perfect choice for your holiday table.
The last pasta, Chicken, Roasted Fennel and Potato Cannelloni, is a very unique recipe with very different flavors. The cannelloni are made from homemade spinach pasta and a lively filling that begins with roasted fennel. Roasting the fennel mellows the flavor, letting the other ingredients come through. The fennel is combined with potatoes, and sautéed, shredded chicken making a delicious combination of flavors. The cannelloni are topped with a lemony cream sauce that really binds all the flavors together. Making the cannelloni ahead of time lets you decide how little or how much to make. You can take out exactly how many cannelloni you need to serve, and just whip up the sauce accordingly.
I couldn't end my holiday column without some holiday desserts. Both of these desserts, again, are make ahead. The first is my family recipe for Tiramisu. This recipe is the old fashioned original recipe that serves tiramisu as a trifle, the way it was originally intended. Many now serve it as a cake, which is fine, but I prefer the original version, which looks as beautiful as it tastes delicious. The other dessert, Cannoli is again an old family recipe. Making cannoli shells takes a little practice, but like anything else, the homemade version outshines the store bought version. If you don't want to make the shells, you can purchase pre-made shells and just use the recipe for the filling. The shells and filling can be made ahead, and the cannoli filled right before serving.
I hope that you enjoy these recipes. My wish for you and your family is to have love, laughter, good health and lots of great food now and into the New Year. I'll see you again in 2001, and see what kind of mischief we can stir up. Have a wonderful holiday!
This page created December 2000
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