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Make holiday galas more convenient



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Evaporated milk makes boxed mashed potatoes rich and creamy
November 24, 2004 - As the holidays approach, there's excitement in the air and a bustle of anticipation.

To ensure the season fulfills its promise of pleasure, put "convenience" at the top of your list when planning meals and en-tertaining activities.

These practical ideas are brimming with convenience to help enhance the efficiency of your kitchen time:

• Stock the pantry with versatile staples. Have items on hand like chicken stock, evaporated milk, canned condensed tomato soup, instant puddings, boxed mashed potatoes, canned pumpkin and corn meal.

These items don't need to be refrigerated and can be used to create a variety of delicious dishes.

• Plan a menu where guests can serve themselves. Successful buffet menus offer dishes that are easy to serve and eat. Slice meats in advance.

Prepare or buy individual desserts. For large parties, set up different areas for each of the menu items to accommodate the traffic flow of guests.

• Prepare recipes that you've already successfully tried. Using tried-and-true reci-pes is one of the best ways for the cook to eliminate entertaining stress.

• Savor leftovers. Your guests only ate half of the pumpkin pie? You forgot to serve the Chili Mexicana? Don't despair, these make great choices for lunch the following day, and allow you extra time with house guests.

Only used half the can of evaporated milk? Use it in your coffee. It has one third less fat than half-and-half and twice the calcium of milk.

• Make lists. Plan ahead with a guest list, recipe list, and grocery-shopping list.

There's satisfaction when you cross off an item and you won't need to make repeat trips to the store for one or two things.

• Choose convenient versions of holiday favorites, such as boxed mashed potatoes or canned, condensed soups. To make them taste more like homemade, substitute evaporated milk for milk or water to get a richer, creamier flavor.

• Plan to cook ahead. Review recipes to determine which can be made in advance.

Plot out a schedule and bake ahead as appropriate, then refrigerate, freeze or store items until needed.

• Have two or three large cookie sheets on hand. For oven efficiency, three large cookie sheets speed up holiday cookie baking sessions.

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