Home Cookin'

As we near the upcoming holidays, we tend to find ourselves becoming more and more stressed over the little things. Don't sweat it! Make your holidays brighter with less stress by using some quick and easy recipes that you can make ahead.

Grandma Lucille always lightened the load by baking pies and freezing them a couple months in advance or by cooking them a couple days in advance and storing them with some plastic wrap or pie holders on the back porch where it was cool. We've always had an enclosed back porch, but you could use a garage or a shed as long as the dishes are kept covered. It can save a lot of stress ... except for the one time we forgot about the Jell-O sitting on the dryer while we ran it, OOPS! If you don't have an enclosed porch or live in a climate where it doesn't get cool at night, you could put some freezer packs in the bottom of a cooler and then place the pies or items to be stored for a couple of days on top. Remember to store the cooler out of the sun. A brick placed on top of the cooler will keep out the critters ... usually. You'll want to make sure to change the freezer packs when they melt to keep the cooler at a constant temperature. Fully cool all baked goods before placing them in a cooler.

Another thing you can do is prepare all of the dry ingredients for your recipes and put them into labeled baggies ahead of time. That way, all you have to do is add the wet ingredients to the mixture.

Vegetables could be cut a day or two in advance and kept in a bowl of water in the refrigerator.

Crackers can be crushed and placed in a baggie for scalloped corn.

Cookies are a great bake ahead item. They will keep for a while in the freezer. Place a couple of pieces of bread alongside the cookies to help keep them soft when you take them out.

My great-grandmother would mix up the custard part of her faux pumpkin pie (squash pie) and freeze it in plastic containers, or even all ready in the pie shells. If you don't have time to bake then don't be afraid to buy store made pies! Just hide the package and they'll never know. ;)

Organize your cooking ingredients so that you don't have to keep running back and forth to the cupboards. Keep things out that you can use for the next recipe such as flour, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Pre-measure all of your ingredients into plastic cups or containers so all you have to do is dump them into the bowl and mix.

One tool that most people seem to forget they have around the holidays is their microwave! Just because something is homemade doesn't mean you can't use the microwave to partially cook potatoes, thaw frozen items, soften butter, warm rolls, and warm up casseroles that were pre-baked.

Get the family involved in the cooking! Have older children chop veggies or make up baggies of measured ingredients. Make an assembly line of your countertop or table.

Most of all, don't forget the holidays are about family and not stress, so get out there and have some fun already! So what if everything didn't come out absolutely perfect? Don't sweat the little stuff! Happy Thanksgiving!

Faux Pumpkin Pie (Squash)

This is a wonderful use for fall squash. If there is too much filling, the surplus may be baked in custard cups set in a pan of hot water. Do not bake it with the pie because the steam from the water will make the pie soggy.
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 9-inch single crust pie pastry

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a small saucepan, cover squash cubes with water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and mash. Measure out 2 cups of mashed squash and refrigerate remaining leftover amount.

Mix sugar, salt, and spices. Blend in milk, squash, eggs, and butter. Pour the filling into an unbaked pie shell.

Bake at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) for 40 minutes, or until a knife blade inserted in the center comes out clean.

  • Yields: 1 9-inch pie
  • Preparation Time: 90 minutes