Holiday Cooking Tips for Better Outcomes The holidays are an extremely hectic and chaotic time for the vast majority of the population. We run from one place to another with more "to do" lists than we think we will ever manage to complete. One thing is certain and that is that throughout all the running around and festivities that are going on it is quite likely that you are going to either lose your mind because you are obsessively over organized or you are going to forget one dinner, event, or gift during the season that is going to prove to be important enough for a mad dash out into the cold, harsh, cruel world of reality. Depressing though the thought may be the following tips can help you avoid potential break down as a result of the constant insanity of the holidays. First of all, you absolutely must adopt the KISS policy. Keep it simple silly. The meals you plan for your contributions to holiday cooking in your own home and for various events and pot lucks that take place this time of year should be simple to prepare, take little time, and cost as little money as possible. Do things in bulk. Rather than trying to squeeze in a few minutes hear and there mark out large chunks of your calendar and dedicate those times to tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, and wrapping and stick to that one thing during its allotted time slot rather than trying to cook, wrap, clean, and shop at the same time. This saves confusion and lessens the opportunity of something getting boiled, burned, splattered, ruined, or forgotten. Plan ahead and shop ahead. This saves valuable time and money because you aren't impulse buying at the last minute. Whether you are shopping for food items for meal preparation and cooking or the perfect gifts for friends or family putting things off often tends to result in spending more money than intended and getting less value for that money. Make sure you have enough room inside your fridge for the foods you need for preparation and storing the foods that need to be chilled once they've been prepared. Space is a must and if you do not have enough space in your refrigerator you need to be making other plans for food that needs to be kept cold in the interim. Plan a quick and easy back up in case something goes wrong with one of the more complicated dishes or casseroles. A last minute substitution that is quick and easy is a much better option than not having enough to go around. You never know what's going to go wrong when dealing with the holidays and it is best to be prepared when something does. Make sure the turkey or ham is properly thawed and that you've allotted the necessary time for cooking. In fact an extra hour is often the best way to go as you never know what kind of differences there will ultimately be in cooking time for your main course. Clean as you go. This little tip will save so much time, trouble, and pulled hair that you will never really know how wonderfully valuable this nugget of advice really is. Dishes are simpler to clean when still warm and before food has time to dry and set in. These tips do not guarantee a perfect holiday cooking experience but they are an excellent way to guarantee less stress in the mix. Choosing a Theme for your Holiday Cooking For some families there is constant competition from one year to the next to top the efforts of the hostess for the last season's holiday festivities and cooking. If you are looking for a great way to do just that when it is your turn to do the holiday cooking for the family how about breaking with tradition and creating your own theme for the holiday? I know it may seem a little rebellious and some may not like it but others may find it ingenious. You can make your holiday cooking fit any theme or situation you like. You can create the perfect picnic complete witch a checked table clothe, seating on the ground, and baskets filled with goodies for everyone to dig in when ready. The idea is to do something a little bit (okay I admit it a lot) different from what others have done in the past and give them ideas to build upon for the next holiday cooking theme. If you decide to go with the picnic theme be sure to bring wine, cheese, and plenty of finger foods that travel well. If the weather permits (and it may depending on where in the country you live) you can actually make a picnic event of your turn doing the holiday cooking. You can set your food up and display your cooking efforts like an all you can eat buffet if that's what you like, though I hope your cooking is much better than most of those I've tried. The point is to make the theme something that is new and a little bit different but also that isn't really related to the holiday but allows the family to enjoy the benefits of the holiday, which includes the pleasure of each other's company. If you really want something new go with an ethnic theme for your holiday cooking. This leaves a lot of room to explore and those who have the duties of cooking for the holidays next year will have a hard act to follow if you choose a theme that you really enjoy eating and cooking and decorate well to suit the theme. Let your imagination, personal tastes, and knowledge of your family be your guide as you decide what theme to incorporate and how far you want to take it. You can even have a lot of fun by issuing a challenge from the very beginning. One fun theme that I've always wanted to bring into my Christmas cooking (specifically) is a Medieval Christmas theme. I think it would be fun to require costumes for the dinner, dancing afterwards, and observance of some of the cultural 'manners' of the time for the celebration of Christmas. It just seems like such a fun way to spend the day with family and loved ones even if you are doing the cooking. The good news is that with a Medieval Christmas cooking theme you have a little bit of room to let your imagination run wild and it will definitely be a hard act to follow. The downside is that skipping tradition is always a risk. If you are worried that your family might not like it, ask first, and then decide if this may or may not be the right move for your family situation. You could always do the other as a Christmas party or for your own personal Christmas with immediate family only (though arguably that would be less entertaining). Start the New Year's Cooking Off Right Most people will make a New Year's resolution each year. Most of those will also break that resolution before the year gets too far underway. In fact, most people who are going to break their resolutions do so within the first day at some point or another. There is hope however if you are planning to eat healthier throughout the New Year. The trick is to immediately begin rather than putting it off until tomorrow or until you have emptied the Christmas goodies from your pantry. If you are among the many people around the world who resolves that this next year is going to be the year that you take positive steps to reducing your weight and improving your overall health the way to begin isn't by loading up on carbohydrates and champagne. So out go the peas and in goes the cabbage and corned beef (in small proportions however). Begin the year by understanding portion size, the value of fresh vegetables, the idea that the meat isn't supposed to take up most of your plate, and the notion that dessert is a rare treat not the anticipated ending of an ordinary meal. These are outstanding beginnings. Not only do you need to rethink the way you eat for your New Year's Day festivities but also the way you prepare the foods you love. High fat preparation methods are out. In is the idea of using seasonings that contain no or very few calories and leave little fat behind as evidence of their participation in the savory flavor of your meals. Herbs and seasonings are a healthy cooks best friend because they help eliminate visions of blandness invading every meal to come until your fitness goals are met and you've reached a state of maintenance in which a few more calorific luxuries are allowed. Stop frying. The frying process adds simple carbohydrates and fat to your cooking. These are two things you want to try to eliminate from your diet all together. While I am not personally an advocate of removing all carbohydrates from any diet I do believe it is a good idea to switch, whenever possible and tolerable to more complex carbohydrates that are healthier to consume. Fats should always be in moderation however, it is best to save their use for those times when it is a real treat rather than wasting them on well, dinner. Reserve the fats for fun food and rewards rather than squandering them on fuel that is meant to merely get you through the day. Another thing you need to learn when cooking for the New Year's Holiday and trying to keep things on a more healthy note is that bigger isn't necessarily better. This means that by sticking to the proper portion size you may avoid over eating and filling up. You do not want to leave the table full you want to leave the table wanting a little bit more (not hungry but definitely not full). Eating the proper portions reduces the risk of overeating and feeling bloated or stuffed later on. It also helps you understand what your limits are better and where you need to make cuts in your dietary habits. Prepare for smaller meals rather than cooking one huge meal for New Year's Day and carry that eating ethic through the rest of the year with you in order to achieve optimal results. Food is the fuel your body needs to carry out its duties properly. The bad news is that far too many of us really enjoy food to the extent that we overindulge, which also prevents the body from working properly. You will need to work to discover what the optimal amount of food and calories is for your dietary needs but it starts by eating healthy one day and following up the next. New Year's Day is a great day to begin a new way of eating. Are you ready? Cooking for Two on Valentine's Day There are many holidays that are meant to be a celebration of family, friends, and memories. Valentine's day is a holiday that is meant to be a celebration of love. While that love can relate to family and friends it is quite often interpreted as a celebration of romantic love. While it would be nice if we could all go out and enjoy dinner together each Valentine's Day at our favorite restaurant that is not always even a remote possibility. After all, someone has to prepare and serve the foods, put on the productions we see, and drive us to and from those locations or any number of other important features. There is also, of course, the little matter of the fact that for many of us, Valentine's Day falls exactly one day prior to payday. Don't despair however cooking for two can be done and can be a lot of fun if you pour your heart and soul into the meal planning and preparations. It is even more fun if you do it together. I am talking about the cooking and subsequent clean up. Great Valentine's Day favorites include dishes that we don't eat every day such as steak and lobster, streak and shrimp, well steak and pretty much anything but also include foods that are believed to be aphrodisiacs such as oysters, truffles, chocolate (ever wonder why the stores fill with boxes of chocolate around Valentine's Day?), and asparagus. If this isn't your style or you just want a nice romantic dinner you might want to brush up on your seafood recipes such as shrimp scampi, roasted salmon, lasagna, chicken alfredo, and countless other favorites that you and the love of your life may share. If nothing else seems appealing go through his personal list of favorites and cook something that is a personal favorite for him. Even if it's chicken and dumplings he'll appreciate the effort and that you put his favorite on the table. It's almost always the thought that counts and he or she will appreciate the thought. Dessert is also very important when it comes to preparing the perfect Valentine's Day feast. While you do not want anything so heavy that you can't move afterwards (you'll definitely want to be able to move) a light dessert of chocolate souffle, or cheesecake is an excellent ending to a beautiful meal. Be prepared to do a little moving around afterwards rather swinging on the front porch or dancing in the den to get the blood flowing and work off those extra calories. Of course both of these things can be a great prelude to other romantic activities that work off some serious calories. In addition to cooking your favorite meal for two for your Valentine's Day celebration of love you will also want to set the mood for the evening with a nice setting. Get out the formal table clothe, the good China, the formal silver, and light a few candles in the room. Have champagne on ice and some romantic music playing in the CD player. If you have a fireplace be sure to light a fire so that there is a warm glow in the room. You want your dinner to be an event rather than just another meal in the life. Perhaps the most important thing about making your Valentine's Day cooking worthy of a romantic event is to send the little ones off to a sitter or home with the grandparents for an evening. There is little to make the preparation and enjoyment of a meal much more enjoyable than being able to do both without constant interruptions from those children you adore. It is good to have time alone and important for sanity and for relationship building with the person you are supposed to be sharing your life with. One night out of the year certainly isn't a bad idea when it comes to building a better romantic life with your mate. Back to Beginning for President's Day Cooking Most people forget to honor President's Day, a day that has been set aside each year to honor those who have held the office of the President of the United States of America. In fact, very few do manage to celebrate this special day at all other than hitting the local malls in anticipation of a few great sales. If you have decided that you would like to make the most of this great day and celebrate the great nation that America is and those who have been responsible leaders of this nature you might be wondering what you should be cooking. How about going back to the beginnings of this great nation and going for a Colonial theme with your President's Day menu? There are many great dishes that can be traced back over the centuries. You can find many great resources online that highlight the cooking of Colonial America. You might even find a few bonus recipes if you browse websites about Williamsburg, VA or other cities that were of import during the colonial days and those years when we were a fledgling nation. If you search carefully you can find many resources that may give you even more ideas about cooking and serving a colonial style feast fit for a President's Day celebration. You will find many books relating to etiquette of the day and expectations along with a few that were devoted to food preparation and some books that were published much later and contained recipes that have been passed down from one generation to the next with a gold mine of recipes that were often used during colonial times. If the idea of a colonial feast isn't your idea of a great way to celebrate American Presidents then there are other options available. One great cooking idea for Presidents day is the good old American Barbecue. There are those among us who feel that there is never a time of year in which a barbecue can't take place. It doesn't matter if there has been a foot of snow overnight there are many of us who are perfectly comfortable digging out the grill and throwing a few steaks and potatoes on for the sake of an honest excuse to celebrate and what better way than to honor those men who have led our country throughout history? Even when using the grill and barbecuing for President's Day you are not limited to foods that are typically barbecued. If you are of the mind you should consider doing something you may not try every day on your grill. Some popular firsts for many people include food items such as a whole pork tenderloin. This goes great with grilled or broiled vegetables, rice, and bread and feels like a very American thing to eat. Of course, hamburgers are quite nice and very American too. Of course you could go the route of honoring the President's fitness award on President's day by electing to go the healthy route with your cooking and eating. Great ideas would be broiled fish or chicken, chicken noodle soup (soup is good for the soul after all and it is in February), steamed veggies, and a side of long grain and wild rice. Though there are some that find President's Day the perfect excuse to go after some comfort food. Beef stew, vegetable soup, chicken and dumplings, and good old Virginia ham with all the trimmings might make an excellent choice for those seeking comfort and warmth on this, sometimes, cold winter President's day. However you choose to honor all the past Presidents with your cooking be sure to take a moment out of your cooking schedule to send positive thoughts and hopes toward the current leadership whether you approve or not. This is a position that very few of us could fill and still maintain some degree of sanity. For this reason we should be grateful for those who do. Cooking Cajun Favorites Makes Mardi Gras Sizzle Aside from the temperatures, there is plenty that sizzles in the city of New Orleans. From the streets in the summer time to the music in the square almost any night of any given week to the food in dingy diners and white table clothe restaurants alike this city is hot and everyone who spends any amount of time here knows it. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an entity unto itself. It has taken a hit since Katrina but the people of this great city that have come back and are dedicated to its rebuilding efforts are much like the food and the flare that makes Mardi Gras such a memorable event in this of all cities. If you haven't had the pleasure of some of the spicier New Orleans cuisine perhaps we should place a warning label on it, but this is something most visitors simply must find out for themselves. One thing is for certain if the first bite isn't hot enough we can certainly bring up the temperature with some aptly named Louisiana hot sauce to be sure. Red beans and rice is a great Cajun favorite. While the beans and the rice aren't too terribly hot by themselves when you add a bit of the hot sauce and some andouille sausage to the mix you'll find the temperature inside might be rivaling the warmest of August days in the sunshine. Be sure to have plenty of water close at hand when you begin your dining experience because while you don't necessarily need it with the first bite, chances are good that you will need it by the last. When cooking red beans and rice you'll want to brown the sausage a bit first, leaving the dripping in the pan, then add the beans and prepare to have them simmer all day once they've been brought to a boil. You should season according to your preferences but be sure to add a little bit of salt unless you'll be adding ham in addition to the sausage. You also serve the beans over rice and don't cook the rice and the beans together though some people certainly use less rice than others. Another thing you want to remember when enjoying Cajun food is that you want to save room for whatever comes next and you do not necessarily want to know what you're eating at all times. Sometimes it is better to wonder in ignorance than to like something and discover the truth. In other words, no matter how good it is, never, ever ask what's in it. If you're learning to cook Cajun food, of course, you won't have the option of deniability. You will learn the good, the bad, and the ugly about many favorites. I think I was most dismayed to discover that I was eating turtle soup one day. It was actually quite delicious (though I'm not sure if I was more pleased with the soup or the sherry, which is a common add in for turtle soup, that I found more pleasing) until I discovered what it was. From that point on I was afraid to try anything that looked remotely different from what I was accustomed to eating without first wanting all the details of what was in it. I missed out on a few great dishes I am quite certain and have learned my lesson to some degree. But cooking Cajun food is part science, part art and very important to take the Mardi Gras atmosphere away from the Big easy. Good luck and "let the good times roll." St. Patrick's Day Brings Out the Irish Cooking There is something about St. Patrick's Day that brings out the Iris cook in all of us. At least it seems to have this effect on the women in my family. If you are not of Irish decent it may not have quite this profound effect upon you. If you are, then I'm quite certain you will understand what I mean by this. There's something about revisiting traditions that may have been lost in the fog of coming to a new world and adopting a new way of life that is lifted on this one day of the year. As a result old favorite recipes handed down from mother to daughter over the centuries come out and grand meals are prepared. If your mother wasn't of Irish decent and you do not have a stockpile of wonderful Irish recipes in your inventory there are a few great websites on the Internet that offer excellent recipes that have already been converted to standard American measurements that will have Irish eyes and any eyes that think they might wish to be Irish smiling once again. Corned beef and cabbage is a favorite. In our house we add great things like potatoes and carrots to the recipe. This is a great meal because it can be put in the crock pot before the work of the day begins and with very little effort is simply waiting on you to be ready for dinner time. No real effort is necessary in creating an outstanding feast that many will think you've had to miss a parade or two in order to prepare. Just make sure you hide any throws you might have caught and they will never know that you were out having fun and drinking green beer along with everyone else in the neighborhood. Lamb stew is another great dish to put on your St. Patrick's Day table. There are also slow cooker or crock pot recipes available for this family favorite if you take the time to search them out. This is a stick to your ribs kind of meal that is very popular in cooler climates for the St. Patrick's Day festivities. This makes a great lunch or dinner for this great day and goes quite well with Irish Soda Bread. Shepherd's pie is another hale and hearty meal that is a wonderful addition to the St. Patrick's Day festivities. This dish is a favorite among those who have tried it and might just become a staple recipe in your kitchen if you haven't managed to prepare it before. There are many recipes online though I recommend going the path of least resistance and finding the simplest recipe possible. No Irish meal is really complete without potatoes of some kind on the table. Keep this in mind no matter which meal you cook. There must be potatoes in order to complete the meal or it simply cannot be authentically Irish. This may be a slight exaggeration but you should take a moment to make sure that there are potatoes for this particular event because it's just a very Irish thing to do. Of course Irish coffee and green beer are quite often the drink choices for St. Patties day celebrations and they are never a bad choice, provided someone not drinking those drinks is doing the driving. If alcohol isn't your beverage of choice it is definitely not a requirement. However, if you are feeling particularly in line with the green theme of St. Patrick's Day you could make a green milk shake, a green smoothie, green powdered drink mix, or any other green drink that comes to mind. The drinks and even the colors aren't really all that important in the end. It is all in good fun at this point even if it isn't Irish in nature. There are some days when it just pays to be green despite the fact that Kermit still claims, "it ain't easy being green." Hopping Good Easter Cooking Ideas Easter is another one of those days that brings friends and family together. There are many great dishes and plans that can be made for Easter dinner depending on where in the world you may be celebrating. Just remember to try to avoid making plans for Easter dinner that are contingent upon the weather to work because it never seems to do exactly the opposite of what you plan for no matter where in the country you may be. With so many dyed eggs around it would be a shame not to incorporate them into the meals that are being prepared for your Easter menu. There are many ways to do that and a favorite in my house is with devilled eggs. In addition to devilled eggs, which are excellent appetizers you can also chop the eggs up and include them in potato salad, egg salad, or chicken salad (which also happens to make excellent finger sandwiches for a light appetizer). You may also use boiled eggs in the making of cornbread dressing and/or giblet gravy, which are both popular Easter dishes in some southern states. The good news is that there are plenty of dishes that go wonderfully well with eggs. If you like ham this is a great dish to serve with dressing, to make ham salad with later, and to simply have along with your favorite egg recipe. Ham is relatively simple to make as the hard part is often waiting on it to be finished. If you want even more simplicity the only thing you really need to do to have an excellent ham dinner is poor a can of Coca-Cola over the ham, cover it in aluminum foil, and bake it for the necessary duration. It really can't get any easier than that though there are plenty of more complicated ham recipes available. You will want to offer plenty of side dishes to compliment your main dish. Popular favorites are vegetables, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, dressing, sweet potato casserole, and rolls. These are all relatively simple to prepare, not very time consuming and can also be delegated to guests if you'd like without too terribly much fuss. You'll also want to have a few appetizers on hand for the time before dinner is ready and a couple of desserts for the perfect finish -- as if those chocolate bunnies from the Easter basket's are not enough. For those looking for fare that is a little lighter on Easter I recommend offering salads with low fat dressing, steamed veggies, use diet coke on the ham instead of regular and prepare at least one sugar free dessert as well as offer some fruit and a raw veggie platter with fat free dip along with the appetizers. Easter is a day to celebrate and you shouldn't leave family members who are dieting to dread their lack of healthy eating options. You'll also find yourself surprised by those who, given the option, will eat the healthier foods if they are available. Make sure you offer plenty of drink options ranging from bottled water, coffee, tea (sweet and un-sweet if you live in the South), and favorite pop brands of family members as well. If you are hosing Easter dinner at your home in addition to these cooking ideas I also suggest offering a place for your guests to change clothes if necessary. Many people come wearing their Sunday best and while it was great for church services and photo opportunities they don't often fare too well with gravy, butter, or grass stains. Of course you could skip all the advice above and go for a down home hoe down of a barbecue for the Easter holiday that in some parts of the country signals the approach of Spring. Barbecues are often appealing because it limits a good bit of the mess to the great outdoors and gives the kids involved a great place to run, play, and let off steam. Chinese New Year Cooking Ideas There are few festivities that are felt around the world on quite the grand scale that the Chinese New Year is celebrated. This is an event that affects people all around the globe and the celebrations are quite exotic and a lot of fun for everyone involved. One thing that many outsiders may not realize is that many of the aspects of the Chinese New Year celebrations have a very specific purpose and meaning even the food. Whether you are Chinese are not, I know very few people in the world that couldn't use a small degree of good fortune to make things in their worlds run a little more smoothly. When it comes to cooking for a Chinese New Year celebration there are a few things you might want to keep in mind. The foods that are prepared each have their very own meaning and a definite reason for being prepared. Dumplings are believed to bring wealth in the New Year to those who eat them on this special day. Of course wealth is something that many people wish to accumulate so there are many paths to doing so. Other foods that are symbolic of wealth on the Chinese New Year are bamboo shoots, black moss seaweed, egg rolls, and oranges. Wow, this is just the beginning of the symbolic nature of food for the Chinese New Year so be sure to bring your appetite if you choose to celebrate. Longevity or long life is something else that the Chinese are quite famous for. Eternal youth is what some may call it though these days it is far less eternal than may have been the case in centuries past. The secret however, to that long life was in consuming the proper foods as part of the New Year festivities. Those foods include: noodles, Chinese garlic chives, and peanuts (circus elephants everywhere rejoice at this news). Prosperity is attributed to foods such as lettuce, whole fish, and pomelo. IN addition to prosperity whole fish and pomelo are believed to bring abundance and togetherness (as in marriage or romance) during the coming year. Chicken is the main course when happiness is the goal. In addition chicken is associated with marriage, particularly when served with foods such as lobster that are considered to be dragon foods). For those planning for children in the near future you might want to add eggs, seeds (such as watermelon seeds), and pomelo-the last two especially if you want several children. Finally, if luck is what you are most in need of try to add a tangerine or some seaweed to your plate on this special day. If your run of luck has been really bad you may want to double up on your servings of both. The Internet is filled with wonderful recipes for to help you celebrate the Chinese New Year in as traditional a setting as possible. Foods such as Jiaozi (Chinese noodles) and egg rolls are commonly found online and will go a long way towards creating the proper atmosphere for all good things to come your way in the coming year. Add a few lettuce wraps and longevity noodles and you have a good grasp on the good things that most of us hope will come our way in the coming year. If you can't manage to eat all of the foods that are believed to be symbolic of good things to come in the coming year be sure to pick those you feel are most important and focus on eating those. This is, after all, quite a bit of food to take in during the course of one day unless you are barely getting a bite in of any of them and that would most likely defeat the purpose. Take time and make sure that you manage to enjoy cooking and preparing the dishes that make a Chinese New Year so special as well as you enjoy eating them. Mardi Gras Cooking Cajun Style Mardi Gras is a special time of year down in Cajun Country. Even if you don't live down around New Orleans you can still celebrate some of the fun revelry associated with Mardi Gras by throwing a grand old meal fitting of King Rex himself. The trick with bringing Mardi Gras to the Midwest or wherever you may wonder is to always have the frame of mind that makes Mardi Gras such a fun and enjoyable event for people from all over the world. If that doesn't work a bowl or two of gumbo followed by a hand grenade or hurricane and topped off with some Mardi Gras music should do the trick quite nicely. Seriously part of the charm and intrigue of Mardi Gras and the city of New Orleans is the food that has made this city almost as famous as its ability to party. If you are wondering what to cook to bring the spirit of Mardi Gras into your home from afar try any of the traditional favorites. If ingredients prove difficult to come by you might want to add a little rice, a little spice, and a lot of hot sauces to your favorite family meal. Those who live in New Orleans often use rice to stretch the budget of the food. Rice is filling and has traditionally been quite cost effective. This makes rice a great meal for many of the families of New Orleans that have traditionally been quite poor. Rice is used in all manner of dishes from gumbo to red beans and rice to jambalaya and many dishes in between. It is probably the one staple of Cajun cuisine that you will find very few restaurants in the city without. Otherwise there are wide variances in cuisine according to cost and culture (though the more expensive foods are typically considered Creole rather than Cajun kind of a city cousin -- country cousin relationship between the cuisines). The rich could afford foods the poor couldn't even consider. Spices are prevalent in these dishes for much the same reason that rice is. They have traditionally been an inexpensive method of seasoning dishes that would otherwise be quite bland. Expect to find plenty of spices and a little bit of heat in most traditional Cajun dishes throughout the city. Some restaurants that cater to tourists have slightly watered down versions of local favorites but for the most part you will find that Cajuns handle the heat quite well though they do keep plenty of iced tea on tap to help combat those dishes that get a teensy bit too hot to handle. If you want to try something with a little less kick a po-boy or muffaletta might be what hits the spot. These sandwiches are more than a little deceiving in appearance however as they are very filling. French fries are still a Cajun favorite though we also have a popular dish called fried sweet potatoes, yes in the south we fry everything but it is something a little bit different and the sweetness of the fried sweet potatoes can often counteract some of the heat of other Cajun favorites. You can find recipes for all of these online quite easily though you will probably have a bit of time finding the perfect bread for a po boy anywhere outside the Crescent City. There is a unique "chewiness" to the perfect po boy bread that may be imitated elsewhere but I've never quite found anything to compare and I've been all over the country. For the perfect finish for your Cajun cooking you should make a point of purchasing some chicory coffee. This is easily accomplished via the Cafe du Monde website if your local coffee shop doesn't have any on hand. Historically, chicory was added to coffee and often used instead of coffee because it was much cheaper than actual coffee. This meant it could stretch the more expensive coffee beans and provide a similar taste and texture with that hint of chicory. It's a rather unique flavor and for many people is synonymous with the city itself. It's quite easy to plan your Mardi Gras cooking no matter how far from New Orleans you may roam. Cooking Light for Memorial Day Memorial Day is a special holiday for Americans, particularly during times of war. We celebrate this day to honor those before who have served their country and those who serve today. Brave men and women have dedicated their lives to the service of our great nation, some of them at the cost of those lives. For this reason it is important that we dedicate one day each year to remember and honor their sacrifices. One way we celebrate, as decent red blooded Americans is by gathering together with friends and family and having picnics, barbecues, and bonfires to commemorate those who now serve, those who have served in the past, and countless others that we will never know. The downside to our Memorial Day celebrations is a menu that lingers with us in the form of calories well beyond the festivities of the day. If you're looking for a great way to enjoy the day without feeling deprived and still avoid some of the heavy hitting calories that we consume far too many of on a normal Memorial Day there is help to be had. Keep reading to discover some excellent methods for cutting calories from your Memorial Day feasts. Grill your chicken instead of frying it. Fried chicken has for a very long time been a favorite among those celebrating almost any occasion -- particularly in the south. However, this packs on unwanted calories that would be better spent on dessert rather than the main course. Another thing you can do is to skip the sauce. By this, I mean barbecue sauce. There are plenty of great rubs that can be used on your beef, pork, and chicken that pack a powerful punch when it comes to taste and leave off those pesky calories that sugar filled barbecue sauces add to your favorite dishes. Have salad as a side. In addition to salad as a healthy side option include fresh cut up vegetables and low fat dressing as a dip for sides as well as appetizers. By having these available for your guests you may be surprised to discover that others appreciate the healthy options just as much as you do. Even cooked vegetables that aren't dripping in cheese sauce, butter, or other types of fats provide a better option than high carb, high fat sides such as macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and mashed potatoes. Have fruit on hand to help diminish the craving for sweets. While I would not dream of completely depriving yourself of dessert I recommend two steps to help make the fight against fat a more survivable contest of wills. First, have at least one sugar free dessert option available for those that are dieting and offer fruits. By combining the healthier sweet treat of fruit with a delicious sugar free dessert in a smaller portion you are doubling the health benefits. Finally, homemade ice cream has for a long time been a favorite family tradition for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. You do not have to say no to all the good things in life even if you are trying to watch what you eat. By eliminating the empty calories many of us consume in drinks, and following the steps above you just might find that ice cream is an option for you after all without completely blowing the good work you've done. Remember that moderation is the key. If you allow yourself a taste of the really good stuff along the way you will be much less likely to fail in your healthier living efforts. In addition to watching the calories you put into your body on Memorial Day be sure to take stock of the calories you burn. Go for a walk, take a hike, pick up a game of flag football with the family, or dance with the little ones in the afternoon. Consistent efforts to burn more calories while consuming less will net the greatest results whether it is a holiday or not. Mother's Day Cooking Made Easy This is something that traditionally gets left off the menu. So many families either go out to dinner on mother's day, because Mom typically does all the cooking or resolve to barbecue because that is often the only meal that dear old dad is comfortable preparing. While barbecuing in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, if it works like barbecuing in my house it ends up being more work for mom because dad wants mom to hold things, find things, fetch things, and bring things. By the end of her Mother's Day barbecue mom is typically tired and face with a huge mess to clean. Not that mom doesn't smile, thank everyone, and then go about the business of cleaning her kitchen back to it's pre mother's day state but a day off with no dishes, no fetching, and no clearing is quite often the desired treat. That being said there are ways you can go about cooking the perfect mother's day meal and creating very little mess for mom to clean up if you are willing to put a little bit of effort into the planning phase. In fact, even the most cooking impaired among us have options for creating a grand feast worthy of mom with very little mess when all is said and done. The perfect plan some may say and mom might be inclined to agree. Even better you won't find yourself on a waiting list and jostled about by others looking to get a good seat at your favorite restaurant on this day that is often one of, if not the, busiest restaurant days of the year and no it isn't ordering take out from said restaurant. There has been a recent emergence of gourmet cooking stores cropping up that allow guests to come in, prepare meals for the family with fresh ingredients, close examination, and explicit instructions that are delicious, nutritious, and only need to be heated in the oven when the time comes to prepare the meals. They sit nicely in the freezer and can quite often be prepared in various sizes to accommodate different needs. You can prepare delicious dishes such as coconut shrimp, Caribbean pork roast, and delicious pasta dishes to bring home for Mother's day and mom will truly appreciate the fact that she doesn't have to clean up a huge mess when the day is done. If you want to be an even bigger hero for mom, pitch in with everyone to clean up what mess has been made so that she can sit back, relax, and enjoy her big day. The places you can go to do this for mom are not exactly inexpensive though they will cost less than six servings at your favorite restaurant (well unless it's McDonald's) and are a great deal of fun to put together. They will be called different names and you may have several from which to choose. They can often be found online through a search of 'meal preparation centers' and are a grand idea for Mother's Day, Father's Day, and any other holiday or birthday that brings the family together. Of course, these meals aren't a bad idea for those nights when you just don't feel like going through the hassle of preparing a big meal for the family. It's great to have a freezer with food that can be taken out and prepared on demand that doesn't taste like a TV dinner.
Giving Dad Home Style Cooking on His Big Day There is no one on earth quite like dear old dad. He has given hugs, offered advice, picked up the pieces of your broken heart, and been the source of many twenty-dollar bills finding their way into your pockets unexpectedly for gas or a new pair of shoes. This man has meant so much to you throughout your life. Do you honor him on his special day with a trip to some nameless restaurant where he is little more than table number 23 or do you cook him a feast fit for the King her really is in your heart? A little hint, most dads prefer home made food (provided of course you have a firm grasp on basic cooking skills) to a restaurant menu almost any day of the week and twice on a day that should be sacred for family. For this reason it is a great idea to prepare to put on a fest for your dad whether you are planning for your family and mom and dad or bringing the entire family to the table you need to plan carefully and prepare as much of the food as possible ahead of time. Be kind to dad too and his health. Avoid laying out a table of his favorites if they are all completely off the charts for his dietary and health restriction needs. Chances are that you can find low fat, low cholesterol, or low sodium versions of most of his favorites if you do a thorough search online. You can also find plenty of recipes for sugar free treats that are delicious and friendly to those who either have type II diabetes or those who need to shed a few pounds because of other health concerns. Of course you do want dear old dad to live a little and enjoy the foods you prepare but do try to keep some of his dietary needs in mind and offer choices that fit in with his needs as well as his favorites. Is your dear old dad a steak and potatoes kind of man? If so, feed that need. Offer a nice steak prepared in a low fat, low sodium method and a small side of potatoes with a large side of steamed or raw vegetables. This will be a good balance on the plate and should also leave a little bit of room for an excellent dessert later on. Of course if comfort food is your dad's mainstay we are seeing new and improved recipes crop up almost every day that provide as much of the great flavor as possible without the fat, calories, and/or carbs. Of course if your dad is the kind of man who is going to eat what he wants no matter what, there is no reason not to give him what he wants. Just make some efforts to minimize the impact by lowering where you can while still providing the taste he loves so much. Be sure to offer a nice selection of dear old dad's favorite drinks too. Preparing an excellent father's day feast goes well beyond just throwing a few steaks on the grill. Desserts should be something dad will enjoy and fresh fruit is another great option to add for a healthy choice and a bit of variety. The important thing is that you have taken the time to prepare and cook a great meal for the man who has given you so much on this special day. Excellent Menu for a Great Fourth Outdoors The Fourth of July is America's Independence Day. It is a special day in the minds and hearts of patriotic citizens of this country and there are many ways we celebrate that patriotism. If you are looking for a little something extra to add to your Independence Day menu try some of the ideas below. Remember that the red, white, and blue of the American flag can be excellent color additions to your fabulous fourth menu and make it definitely firework worthy. It is fairly safe to say that for most of the country the weather on the fourth of July is going to be a little bit on the warm side. While there are exceptions to every rule this is the general rule of thumb. For this reason you should prepare your menu according to that and avoid foods that are going to melt quickly or will not look as appealing in warm weather. You should also take proper precautions for storage and keeping things from spoiling by leaving them out in the elements too long. Store as much of the food as possible until it is time to serve. This may somewhat limit your offerings but opens the door to other offerings. Rather than have chilled pies for dessert choose cake that can be stored at room temperature. There are sure to be a few chilled recipes or dishes that are best served and/or stored chilled. Be sure to have plenty of cold gel packs or ice on hand and plenty of ice chests and other appropriate containers, especially if you are going to be camping or cooking out away from home, on hand to take care of at least the amount of food you are contributing that needs cold storage. If you are going to be camping out or enjoying the great outdoors on the fourth consider foods that can be prepared with a Dutch oven. There are many great recipes and these foods can pretty well cook for the prescribed length of time and served immediately if you plan properly. These ovens are quite useful and can prepare everything from cakes and muffins to stews, chili, and roast beef with vegetables. In other words, a Dutch oven opens doors that may not be widely available to the average camper on a cookout. Foil packet meals are also excellent choices for your Fourth of July cookouts. These leave little mess, little fuss, and more often than not taste great. Dishes such as Hobo Stew and Creek Bank Potatoes are very popular and quite savory for the average cook out. They are also rather simple to prepare with few ingredients. This makes them an excellent choice for cooking on a grill or even in a Dutch oven if you have one at your disposal, which I highly recommend not only for Fourth of July meal preparations but also any time you are cooking in the great outdoors. You might find that you love it so much you don't want to do without it. Another great tip when cooking away from home on the Fourth of July is to keep things simple. You do not want to lug around stacks of condiments, dishes, bowls, trays, etc. Keep things as simple as possible and try to use dishes that require few ingredients yet still taste great. The more simple things are when dining in the great outdoors the more you can appreciate the simplicity of being in the great outdoors. Don't forget the appeal of simple hamburgers, hot dogs, and brats as great Fourth of July meal ideas. These foods are easy to prepare, easy to clean up, and go great with chips. No muss, no fuss, remember? The less time you spend on meal preparations, the more time you have available to get around to enjoying your time in our great countryside. I can't think of many better ways to celebrate our independence as a nation than by enjoying it. Labor-Free Labor Day Cooking It's almost a misnomer but there are plenty of ways that you can make the cooking for your Labor Day meal virtually labor free compared to years long past. At least the cooking that will take place on the actual holiday. This is a good deal in most homes as the ones doing the cooking really don't get to enjoy the holiday and still have to go to work the very next day. By doing most of the labor for the meal preparation ahead of time you will have very little to do on Labor Day itself other than setting up the table and reheating the items that need to be heated. The first thing you absolutely must do in order to enjoy a truly labor free Labor Day is plan ahead. Plan a menu that is full of items that can be prepared ahead of time and either stored, refrigerated, or frozen in such a manner that very little work will be required to have them ready to serve on the day of the main event. Some excellent ideas for this include foods such as vegetable trays (the veggies can be chopped a day ahead of time and stored in zipper bags in the fridge, sausage balls (these may be prepared well ahead of time and frozen), and frozen desserts. Once you have the menu planned you need to do the shopping a bit ahead of time. Shopping close to the holidays is a little more hectic, a lot more crowded, and you are twice as likely to either not get the items you need or forget something from your list. Another thing is that you should have a list and just like Santa check it twice to make sure that everything on your list has been purchased. If not, you need to either go back into the fray and get it or (if the store is out) make immediate plans to stop in another store and pick up the missing item. You do not want to be going on a mad hunt for an open store on Easter morning. Once you've done this, consider meals that can be made relatively trouble free in the crock pot. This means a few minutes of trouble in the morning, for each crock pot treat, and hands free cooking the rest of the day. Barbecue ribs and baked barbecue beans are popular crock pot items that require little prep work and taste great at the end of the day. If grilling is indeed something that is an important labor day tradition try to do all the marinating and rubs the night before so that the grilling is straightforward and everything is ready to go in the morning. While you're at it, you may want to toss a few of the veggies you set aside for the veggie tray onto the grill as well for another no fuss strategy and the work only had to be done once. Another thing you need to do to limit your labor contribution to the Labor Day cooking is recruit help for the process. Invite friends and family that will be joining in the experience to bring specialty dishes that they prepare. This leaves you free from the need to prepare that particular dish and, equally important, from the need to clean up after the dish was made. If you have kids and a husband put them to work for the preparation and the clean up efforts. There is no rule written that says you have to do it all and you shouldn't be expected to. Make others contribute their fare share and take a moment to have a nice cold glass of tea. If you do all of the things mentioned above you will find yourself anticipating rather than dreading Labor Day and that your efforts really pay off quite well in the end. In fact, you may have time to hit the hammock for a little while if you're lucky. Hanukkah Cooking Traditions Whether you are sincerely seeking opportunities to explore new cultures or you are Jewish seeking great recipes and cooking tips for this important time of year you've come to the right place to get some of the basics. For as long as family traditions have been around eating good food at these events and during these times has also been a part of the merriment. Unfortunately, all that great food cannot be eaten unless someone goes to the trouble of actually cooking it. If you are looking for some excellent treats to help with Hanukkah celebrations or simply want to get a taste of what other cultures experience during their religious or cultural celebrations there are plenty of great foods you should be cooking for this particular holiday. Oil is important in the celebration of Hanukkah and, as a result, many of the foods that are part of Hanukkah traditions are prepared in oil. One popular favorite is Latkes, which are a type of potato pancake that is deep-fried. Another popular favorite is fried lamb chops. The lamb is breaded and then fried much like many Americans fry chicken. Once again oil is used in the preparation of the meal. If you are looking for something more in line with finger foods or a snack sort of food you should consider deep-fried ricotta balls, fried zucchini, fried onion rings, and even fried mozzarella are good savory fried delights for the season of light. Of course, fried foods aren't everything that is eaten during this 8-day celebration but they do play a vital role on the menu and in the festivities. Even the sweet treats for this celebration include a few fried goodies. From apple fritters and raspberry doughnuts there are plenty of delicious fried foods for your snacking enjoyment. If you like something a little sinful to enjoy during this delightful celebration you might like to try blintzes in your favorite flavor. There are many from which to choose and recipes can be found freely online for these delicious treats. If you'd like to include something a little healthier in your dining options then you might wish to include an Israeli salad, stewed white beans, and baked eggplant and peppers. These dishes provide the opportunity to have a little something that isn't either fried or sweet to help watch waistlines that always seem to find room for expansion during the holiday season no matter which religion you practice. Other Hanukkah favorites include delicious dishes such as cheese gelt coins, loukoumades, vegetable kugel, and brisket. Once again the recipes for these dishes are fairly widely available online and in cookbooks that are dedicated to Jewish cooking and traditions. To make things go a little more smoothly prepare as much food as possible well ahead of time and store items quickly that may be used again in order to avoid spoilage. Enlist the help of children and other family members at home when needed to make things go a little better and take turns preparing food. You should also make great efforts to keep the preparation as simple as possible in order to avoid possible delays or added stress. This is a time that is supposed to be dedicated to celebration not pulling out your hair trying to cook the meals. The good news is that with so many deep fried foods it is unlikely that you will find these dishes too difficult to prepare. Good luck and have fun exploring the world of cooking for Hanukkah. Cooking for the Mexican "Day of the Dead" The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is an important holiday in Mexican culture in which the departed adults that have gone on to the afterlife once again walk the earth for a night. It is an opportunity to honor those who have left us behind and a very healthy approach to death that many other cultures would do well to adopt. This is a family event and as such there is typically a good deal of great food involved. If this is your first celebration of the Day of the Dead you are not alone. Most Americans never adopt this custom and those that are interested enough to try out some of the cuisine of this important day in Mexican society are very rarely versed in the tradition, which makes it difficult. Sugar skulls are a very important part of the Day of the dead festivities and can be decorated quite elaborately by skilled artisans. If this is a tradition you'd like to explore there are many recipes for the mixture as well as forms for the skulls that can be found online. It is a fun art project that takes place in the kitchen for kids and grown-ups alike that also happens to provide a somewhat unique peek at another culture. The painting of the skulls can be very simplistic or as elaborate as you wish to make it. You should note that days when it is either raining or very humid are not good days for trying to make the sugar skulls so plan ahead and pay attention to the weather reports. Pan de Muerto is a staple for cooking on the day of the dead. It has become known as day of the dead bread. There are many recipes ranging from simple in nature to extremely complex. They are all somewhat different and you may need to try a few before you find that one you like best. The best solution is probably to taste several different varieties and request the recipe for the one you prefer if you know the person who did the baking. Beef tamales are another excellent food for the day of the dead. They are also great to make ahead of time and freeze so that there is little actual prep work to be done on this day. You can also make tamales with the help of your little ones if you are so inclined. It makes them feel important and allows them to be big kids and big helps in the kitchen. Not only that, but when all is said and done they will appreciate the tamales that their efforts produced even more than if they had taken no part in the preparation. Another great tradition is to serve foods that the departed family members considered favorites. This means that you may have quite a variety of foods on the table, depending on how large the family was and how many family members are dead. This is a tradition that was Indian in origin and is more strongly observed in areas that have the largest Indian population within Mexico and in some southwestern states within the United States. If you are looking to add a little excitement to your cooking feel free to do a little cooking for the Day of the Dead next time it comes around. Cinco de Mayo Cuisine du Jour Those who live in the American southwest have experienced the fan fare and celebrations of Cinco de Mayo a little longer than perhaps many other states across the U. S. though the exposure is most definitely growing. As a result more and more people of various ethnicities are joining in the celebration and adding Cinco de Mayo to their list of favorite holidays. Whether it's the music, the dancing, the drinks, or the food that is most enjoyable about this holiday no one is really sure. However, when you combine them all you have a holiday that is difficult to match in gusto and fun. But for some of us, the food is most definitely the draw. Mexican food is becoming an almost Americanized version of itself in many restaurants across the United States. One reason is because it's just that popular. Even small towns are beginning to have as many Mexican restaurants as they do Chinese or Italian. This is good news on one hand as it indicates a growing desire on behalf of Americans to try the cuisine of our neighbors. It has also managed to get us accustomed to the wonderful flavors of Mexican cuisines and we are beginning more and more often to bring these cuisines into our own homes. If you are looking for some great foods to cook for your family on Cinco de Mayo then you've definitely come to the right place for ideas and inspiration. My personal favorite is spicy chicken enchiladas with cheese sauce. This was something I had never heard of until I found a great Mexican restaurant in my neck of the woods called Carlos O'Kelly's. It is now one of my favorite Mexican dishes of all times. It isn't easy to prepare however, so that is the one major drawback. If you are looking for something fun and festive try creating a taco or fajita bar that lets everyone add their favorite ingredients to their tacos and/or fajitas and keeps the favorite sides such as black beans, refried beans, and Mexican rice close by to complement the meal. This is an excellent idea if you are situated in a manner that allows for buffet style serving of family, friends, and honored guests. It's a lot of fun and you can generally get people to help out or pitch in on the preparations and bringing their favorite toppings along. Be sure to have plenty of everything and refills that need to be chilled on ice and those that need to be kept warm in containers that allow for proper food safety. If you need something that is a little more portable, especially if you have little ones that tend to wander around with their food, then quesadillas may be the perfect solution. They are delicious, they are easy to walk around with if you have them cut properly, they are fun to make and they do not require a good deal of difficulty in the preparation -- especially if you make the $20 investment in a good quesadillas maker. You put one in at a time and let them cook until they are ready. Clean up is a snap and you have a lot of happy campers with full bellies. Keep the music upbeat and Mexican inspired to further the tone of the party and the food will digest so much better if you get up and dance around a bit. Enjoy the spirit of the celebration. In other words, have fun. Don't spend the entire day in the kitchen fretting over whether you've made enough or if you need to make more. Have a few options available for one and all and leave it at that. If they are still hungry they can always make a run for the border (old Taco Bell slogan) though I'm quite certain that one and all will agree that your food was far superior to any fast food offerings in town. Halloween Cooking Ideas Whether you are cooking for a feast of adults for Halloween or looking for some great kid approved recipes there are plenty of resources online for some excellent spooky recipes for All Hallows Eve. There are some basic rules that will help the meal preparation and presentation go a little more smoothly if you'll follow them. Hopefully that advice below will help you get through your spook fest and enjoy a great dinner too. Most people who have a huge Halloween party will find that they will be interrupted throughout the evening with trick or treaters seeking the perfect treat. While we want to enjoy the ghosts, goblins, kings, and princesses gracing our stoop we also do not want to burn the food we are working hard to prepare. For this reason we need to select foods that require little attention during the preparation process rather than foods that are quite time consuming and attention demanding. Crock pots are a blessing to have around on a night like Halloween. You can begin the food cooking well before the little goblins begin their appointed rounds and have the dishes you've prepared kept warm while you're waiting for guests to arrive or doling out treats at your front door, whatever the necessity of the moment may be. You can even cook normal favorites in the crock pot or cook them on the stove and use the crock pot to keep them warm. Some excellent spooky crock pot ideas include spaghetti brains. Prepare the sauce and the noodles ahead of time separately. Mix the sauce in the noodles and keep them warming together in the crock pot. Meatball eyes are another crock pot favorite. Stuff the meatballs with one stuffed olive eyeball and place in spaghetti sauce. Bat wings (which are actually chicken wings) with your favorite sauce are also excellent in the crock pot. Sloppy Joes can also be prepared and stored in the crock pot then served open faced over buns with small triangle cheese slices for eye and a pickle for eyeballs and a large triangle of cheese for the mouth. Another great Halloween cooking idea is to prepare as much as possible ahead of time. There are all kinds of frightening and ghastly goodies that can be made ahead of time and stored for the big day. Make your spooky offerings such as dips that can be made cold and used for veggies, which can also be chopped ahead of time, can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for the big day. Cookies can be baked and decorated and stored in advance. Devilled egg white mice can be made earlier in the day and stored in the fridge on waxed paper. The Internet is full of great recipe ideas for delicious and devious Halloween desserts, snacks, and treats. There are far too many to try them all. However, if you have favorite foods that are easy to prepare and a good party food you might want to search the net for a manner of making the food more appropriate to a Halloween theme. You can make your own pizza a little spookier by decorating it in a manner that is spooky or painting pictures, such as a jack o lantern face with pizza sauce. There are plenty of things you can do to raise the fear factor even on family favorites if you use a little creativity and give it a fancy name (like spaghetti brains). The most important thing about Halloween as a holiday is that it gives children of all ages the perfect excuse to use their imaginations and play pretend. The food you cook doesn't have to be too terribly spooky in order to be a perfect fit for the theme of the day. A few simple adjustments, a little dash of food color, and a lot of imagination can make any meal so much more Halloween worthy in the end. Thanksgiving Menu Ideas Thanksgiving is many things to many different people. In America it is a day we set aside to give thanks for all the things that are important to us and pay homage to an excellent dinner with an afternoon of football watching and yelling at the television screen (at least that is what you do if you live in Detroit). In other areas of the nation people actually do things together such as playing board games, touch football, or any number of other games that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Other traditions are to gather the ladies together to plan the shopping strategy for the next day's shopping. A worthy cause if ever there was one to be sure. But, the traditions that go along with Thanksgiving and giving thanks do not solve the dilemma that many face each and every time Thanksgiving is celebrated in their homes faces. That dilemma would be what to prepare for the big meal. There are plenty of options and as hostess and chef extraordinaire it is entirely up to you what the menu will be. The best piece of advice that can be given however, is the less food left to prepare on Thanksgiving day is the less food that has the opportunity for something to go wrong in the preparation process. Here are a few great menu ideas, tips, and tricks that should help make your Thanksgiving Dinner preparations go a little more smoothly. First of all, plan ahead and make sure you have all the ingredients you need and any special menu items that may be required well ahead of time but in a manner that allows for maximum freshness. If you must wait until the day before to get some of your shopping done, then do so as early in the day as possible. Otherwise make a point of getting all the non-perishable ingredients that are necessary a week or so ahead of time. Also if you are going to order a smoked turkey or something along those lines do so far enough in advance that you have no doubt at all that your order will be filled on time. Second, if you can afford to have something ordered and prepared offsite and it doesn't hurt your sense of pride do so. You do not have to have everything catered but having a few items catered will leave your day much less stressed making the risk of something going wrong a little lower than if you were cramming everything into one morning and doing it all yourself. Bread from the bakery, smoked ham or turkey, and certain favorite side dishes that are complicated and time consuming as well as some pies are a great buy and save a lot of time that would be better spent enjoying the day. Third, recruit help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a passing child or adult and asking for a little help with the chopping, washing, or mixing that must take place in order for the dinner to go off without a hitch. The thing is that while people often don't mind helping they are afraid to offer for fear of seeming to imply that you aren't doing well enough on your own. For this reason there is no harm in recruiting help especially among friends and family. Finally, keep the animals outside or locked away from the festivities and, more importantly, the food. Animals are great friends to have but most of your guests do not appreciate them in the kitchen or at the table. You do not want Fluffy or Fido to run off the food you've worked hard to prepare (or purchase whichever the case may be) so remove them from a situation that it might prove tempting. The most important thing about your Thanksgiving dinner is that you are not so stressed from the preparation that you do not have the time or peace of mind to enjoy it. The advice above should help with that. Traditional Christmas Cooking Christmas is a time of year when different families around the world will get together and observe traditions that are the same for them year after year and yet vastly different from those that other families share around the block. There are very few universal Christmas traditions any more and there is nothing wrong with that. In America however, there are some items that many people consider traditional holiday cooking and there is little that will be done to dissuade these opinions. The truth is that many of these traditional holiday foods are largely traditional in specific regions rather than the United States having one nations wide traditional Christmas dinner. Turkey or ham? For some families the answer is both while others answer quite quickly that it is neither. One of the best all-American Christmas cooking ideas I've ever seen was lasagna. It was a Christmas Eve tradition but a delicious tradition just the same. There are no right or wrong traditions only those traditions that work well for you and your family. If you feel the need to change a long-standing tradition for a large extended family by all means discuss it with everyone involved. Otherwise it is your tradition and you should feel free to make it your own. At the same time, there is something comforting and reminiscent of home to have those traditions to come home to year after year. I can't help but think of the movie Christmas with the Kranks. The entire movie was spent in an attempt to break with the traditional Christmas trappings and trimmings only to make a mad dash to return to them in the end. That is often the way things go when attempting to break with tradition. If you are considering this for the first time this Christmas be sure to hang on to some of your old traditions in case you find that it just doesn't feel like Christmas without them. You certainly don't want it to be too late and miss out on the spirit of Christmas in your home. Other great traditional favorites for many Americans as far as Christmas cooking goes are: sweet potato casseroles, devilled eggs, dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, apple pie, mince meat pie, and pecan pie. Of course there are regional favorites that are often highly dependent upon where you live such as key lime pie, lemon icebox pie, oyster dressing, deep fried turkey. If one of these is a Christmas tradition for you, no matter where you are in the world you will think of home or Christmas whenever you come across them. It's really amazing how that happens and quite nice too when family and friends seem far away to have something as simple as a dish of food make them seem that much closer. That, of course, is the great, and almost perfect things about Christmas traditions. We pass them along to our children who one day will find that they are a little less alone because someone in an airport is eating a slice of key lime pie or having a dish or macaroni and cheese. If you don't have Christmas traditions it is time to develop a few just so that you can share something special and almost sacred with your friends and family. Christmas Dinner Ideas When the stockings have been filled then emptied and after Santa has made his appointed rounds families around the globe begin the preparations (or in some instances continue them) to prepare the family feast that is most often associated with Christmas Dinner. There are many traditions around the world though sadly far too few families have the opportunity to experience some of the rich traditions and delicious foods that mark the Christmas holidays in other corners of the globe, or even across each individual nation. In certain parts of Italy, because of the Catholic tradition of abstaining from red meat on Christmas Eve day, there is a tradition of having fish for the evening meal. This is commonly referred to as a 7 fishes dinner and is a fascinating tradition for those who enjoy seafood. It's certainly a new and refreshing dinner idea for many people if you are looking for something a little different from the ordinary. Even if fish really isn't your food of choice there is no rule that says you can't prepare a nice Italian feast for your Christmas dinner. The important thing is that you have friends and family gathered near and prepare the food with love. You do not have to have turkey or ham in order for the meal to qualify as Christmas and there is no reason that you have to stick with traditions that you really do not enjoy. A traditional German Christmas dinner might be a neat tradition to try in America as well if you are looking to introduce your family to various cultures or just want to do a little something extraordinary for Christmas this year. One thing to note is that many Germans have their Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. A traditional German Christmas dinner often consists of dishes such as stuffed Christmas Goose, Potato Dumplings, Red Cabbage, and Baked Apples for dessert. Of course you do not have to choose a traditional Christmas dinner for your Christmas German cuisine there are plenty of great German dishes that can be enjoyed if you wish to bring a German theme to your Christmas table. Do whatever tastes good and it might be best to choose foods that are relatively easy to prepare rather than those that are time consuming so that you can enjoy time with friends and family rather than cooped up in the kitchen. If a taste of the UK is what you have in mind for your Christmas Dinner table then you might find the foods bring a flavor that is a little closer to home than you may realize. Popular Christmas dinner favorites in the UK include dishes such as roasted turkey, roasted potatoes, brussel sprouts, dressing, and pudding pie. One interesting tradition that is popular in the UK is that of Christmas crackers, which hold little gifts and goodies inside. Another interesting choice for your Christmas table may be to include your favorite Mexican dishes for dinner. Most Americans have a soft spot for Mexican cuisine and it is definitely warming to eat on a cold winter's day. The point is to make your Christmas dinner menu fun to eat, fun to prepare, and something that is likely to make your guests smile while building fond memories of your Christmas day. The same may be said of most cuisines, even those from cultures that do not traditionally celebrate Christmas. Thai, Indian, Chinese foods make wonderful themes for a Christmas table if you are knowledgeable about the cuisine and willing to undertake the tasks of preparation as part of your Christmas dinner plans. The trick is really in finding dishes that are relatively simple to prepare, difficult to mess up, and can easily be skipped in the event that something does go wrong. There are tons of distractions on Christmas in most households and you do not want Christmas dinner ruined because one dish is proving difficult or impossible or (heaven forbid) gets burned, dropped on the floor, or eaten by the dog. Easy Christmas Cooking that is Sure to Please Christmas is a hectic time of year. Many families find that they barely have time to breathe much less cook dishes to bring for this or that function. For this reason there are several great cheat dishes that can be purchased and prepared for the occasions and very few people will be the wiser. Though Christmas may be about being with friends and family it is not about broadcasting a possible lack of talent in the kitchen, time on hand, or a shortage of attention span that is required in order to prepare a stellar dish for your Christmas needs. Of course, you could begin preparing and freezing large casserole favorites as early as August for the Christmas season. In this instance you could freeze all your family favorites and have great dishes not only for family functions that require a pitch in dish but also for those nights when you are far too busy to be bothered with something as demanding on your limited attention span as actually preparing a home cooked meal. This is possible the best method for each Christmas cooking known to man. If you prepare casseroles and similar dishes that work well with a holiday theme throughout the year be sure to double your efforts next time and freeze half for busier months such as November and December. Of course there is one method that may be a little easier in the long run though a good deal more costly. This is the supreme cheater method. There are plenty of businesses that offer you the opportunity to put together or 'assemble' meals then bring them home to freeze and bake. This isn't quite home made though it tastes as good and might convince those at the parties and events you attend that you are in fact an excellent cook even if you have difficulties finding your way to boiling water. Some cities have several of these meal assembly stores while others have none or only one. You need to constantly check with the menu if you are a finicky eater because they often rotate some of the more popular dishes so that they aren't available all the time. Since the food is frozen you can typically plan your sessions for those times when they are offering the dishes you are interested in creating. A variation on the theme above is purchasing prepared meals in the freezer section of your local supermarket. There are a few surprisingly good meals to be had especially if you are considering macaroni and cheese or lasagna for your offering. These are meals that you bring home and heat in your oven. They are often sold in foil pans, which are great for potlucks and pitch ins but not so much for looking good. If that isn't the utmost concern these are definitely a possible fit for your needs and your plans. They also happen to be fairly budget friendly which is something most of us can agree is a great thing. You do not have to have super powers or even a great deal of cooking talent in order to make a Christmas dinner that is delicious and easy to make when time is short. Careful planning well ahead of time is often the key to a successful Christmas season. Most of us begin our shopping early there is no harm in also beginning our cooking a little early too. Fun Christmas Cooking for Everyone Christmas is a time of year that brings friends and family together who may not have the pleasure of one another's company at any other time throughout the year. While family ties may be a bit difficult to maintain in the world in which we live today, the traditions of Christmas for many families is what keeps us grounded and in touch with one another no matter how far apart we are geographically. The problem is that if one person is doing the cooking for all, that person tends to spend endless hours in the kitchen and misses out on the joys of the company of others year after year. One way to avoid this is by rotating locations for the festivities from one year to the next. Another way, a much simpler way, is to delegate items of contribution from all guests in attendence each year so that the cooking and meal preparation duties are shared among the masses. Of course this isn't a perfect plan but it is a good plan. Another great plan is to prepare pieces and parts of your Christmas dinner ahead of time. With careful planning there are items that may be prepared as much as a few weeks ahead of the big day and stored either in air tight containers at room temperature or frozen for heating or baking on the big day or within a reasonable time frame of Christmas for best results. Any of the prep work that can be taken care of before the big day is one less thing to be taken care of when the time comes and that becomes a load off your mind. Make lists. Lists are wonderful things. If you learn to live by your lists you will wonder how on earth you ever got anything done without them. When you are planning your Christmas dinner right down everything you plan to have, who is bringing what, what you are making, and what ingredients will be needed to complete each and every single dish. Go through your pantry and see which items you have in abundance and which items you will need to prepare the meals. Head to the store at least a week ahead of the big day and purchase all but the fresh ingredients you will need in order to prepare your Christmas feast. Another thing you will need to do is make sure you have a list of all the non food items you will need to stock ahead of time. Make sure all the bathrooms are stocked, that you have plenty of garbage bags, waste baskets, paper plates, cups, napkins, cutlery, and other items that will be needed in order to make things go smoothly when your guests begin to arrive. These are little things that matter and may get overlooked if you fail to plan ahead. You should also make a list of decorations, invitations, and gifts or games you may need to purchase for the day too. You want your day to go as smoothly as possible and you want everyone to fill wanted, appreciated, and anticipated. It may be a great idea to pick up a couple of generic gifts for a male or female in case someone unexpected shows up (you really never know) and have extra wrapping paper and supplies on hand in case someone has an emergency rewrap (as in a kid opened a gift intended for someone else). Most importantly plan to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy as much of the festivities as possible. Cooking Christmas Cookies with the Kids Christmas cookies are as much a part of the Christmas tradition for many as a visit from Old St. Nick himself. The cookies are often prepared in hopes of his pending arrival by children that are as excited as they can possibly be with all sorts of visions of great things to come dancing around in their bright and shining little eyes. Preparing the cookies in these instances can be a great time of bonding with your little ones but can also be a trying time if you don't follow a few of the tips and hints listed below. If you want to make cooking Christmas cookies and/or candy with your little ones the very best experience for you all that it can possibly be make sure you do it on a day when this is the only thing on your calendar. You do not want to rush through this time that is not only important for bonding with your child as a parent but also a time that is an important opportunity to lock in a few precious memories of great times you'll spend together. This is one thing that you want your children to look back at Christmas and remember doing with you and you want to be able to look back on Christmas and remember doing this with your children. You should also make sure that everyone is well rested and well fed before beginning the process. This is important now more than ever before, as we know more about the dangers of foods, such as raw eggs, that are included in cookie dough as well as the dough for many of our favorite Christmas confections and candies. You do not want to risk the health of your children through temptation over raw cookie dough. Be sure that every child gets a turn with the fun stuff. This includes of course using the mixer and watching things spin around as well as choosing their personal favorites for the next batch of cookies. You should also make a few cookies that you plan to let them paint, decorate, and play with just for fun and their own personal enjoyment. This will guarantee a few smiles while also scoring a few brownie points for mom. Be patient and expect spills and messes. If you can afford a cleaning service once a year, the day after your cookie extravaganza is the day you want to splurge. Seriously, don't sweat the small stuff. We make little messes every day it shouldn't be such a shock when they make a really big mess in one day. This is one of the reasons why you want to plan your cookie making on a day when the calendar is clear-you will need time for clean up when all is said and done. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients for each and every single recipe before you begin. This is very important as cookie dough doesn't wait well for that final egg and children don't understand very well when they are interrupted from one project to run a quick errand (also, when was the last time you made it in and out of the grocery store in under an hour?). If you can make it through all the steps above you should be in for smooth sailing and Christmas cookie cooking.
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