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Cook ahead of the holidays to save time

Holiday hosts and hostesses may want to put a storage freezer on their wish list this year. Having the ability to prepare meals in advance and store them easily for later use could prove invaluable — especially for those who are opening their homes for the holidays.

Food and celebrations are unequivocally intertwined. While presents and decorations may be important parts of holiday festivities, food is just as important for hosts who want to throw a successful holiday party. Those who are welcoming guests to their homes for the holidays may fret over what to serve and how long preparation will take, especially when they’re busy with other tasks. However, stretching out food shopping, preparation and cooking over a few weeks can make the process much more manageable.

A freezer can be a party host’s best friend come the holiday season. Many foods can be prepared in advance and then frozen until the celebration. Also, having small portions of pre-made foods can be helpful when visitors pop in unexpectedly and may be hungry for a meal. Just take something out of the freezer and heat it.

Certain tips can ensure foods made in advance are stored properly and heat up quickly.

• Casseroles, baked pasta dishes and vegetables can be prepared in advance and frozen. Be sure to consult with any recipes to see if items can indeed be frozen if you are unsure how they will fare in the freezer.

• Instead of preparing food and storing it in one large container, separate it into two smaller containers so dishes defrost quickly and dinner time isn’t delayed.

• Use packaging specifically designed for use in the freezer. These products will offer extra insulation against freezer burn, which dehydrates food. Keeping air out of the packaging will help to alleviate cases of freezer burn and potential waste of good food.

• Mark packages with the date the foods were packaged as well as what is inside. This makes it easy to keep inventory of what is in the freezer.

• Defrost foods in the refrigerator the night before the holiday meal will be served. Heating foods that aren’t still frozen considerably cuts down on cook times.

• If food cannot be defrosted before cooking, keep in mind that you may have to cook foods longer than normal.

• Many desserts also can be frozen. Freeze pies before they are cooked. Cakes can be frozen if you freeze the layers separately. Then assemble and frost the cakes before serving. Cream pies cannot be frozen, but you can use pudding in place of cream in many recipes and be able to freeze them. Brownies and other “bar” recipes will freeze and carry well.

• If you don’t want to have everything prepped in advance and enjoy the taste of a freshly cooked meal, consider preparing side dishes in advance and then leave the roast or turkey to cook. Any steps you can take ahead of time will dramatically cut out the time you have to spend in the kitchen while guests are around.

• Don’t feel shy about cutting corners when possible. If you’re cooking the entire meal, invest in pre-made frozen appetizers to save time.