Dinner is Done! ShopSmart Highlights New Shortcuts to Make Holiday Cooking a Snap

Timing a meal can be just as important as what you serve—but when you’re juggling hors d’oeuvres, turkey, veggies, casseroles, dinner rolls, and a dessert or three, it’s easy to fall behind. A new guide in the November 2010 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, reveals timesaving tools that really work and can save you some money. 
“It’s a good thing that holiday meals aren’t like a ‘Top Chef’ TV cooking challenge—no one’s going to kick you out of the kitchen if you cheat a little and use a few shortcuts,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. ShopSmart has uncovered tips to save time, including exactly what dishes you can make in advance and which foods to stock up on to shave cooking time and save money, which we hope will help our readers enjoy the holiday season instead of spending it all in the kitchen.”
ShopSmart’s “Best Cooking Time-Savers” feature covers 14 tricks to shop and cook smarter, top timesaving tools, a handy holiday-meal countdown to organize cooking schedules, and professional chef-approved shortcuts (pre-chopped nuts are a no-no!). Below is a sampling of some of ShopSmart’s advice.

New Ways to Save Time and Money on Big Holiday Dinners:
          An Easy Meal Planner to Prevent Cooking Burnout

·         Money Saver! Write down your menu and read recipes carefully: Prepare a shopping list. Making a list ahead of time will save you from spending wastefully on ingredients you don’t need, or purchasing too little and needing to run out again.
·         Money Saver! Bargain hunt or borrow: Don’t waste money purchasing an item you can borrow but if you need to, planning ahead will help you bargain hunt. Keep an eye out for deals at supermarkets and cooking-supply stores.

·         Cook ahead: Soup can be made up to a week ahead and frozen if you follow a few guidelines. Add pasta, rice, and other grains just before serving to avoid sogginess. Don’t stir in milk or cream until dinnertime: if you freeze, they’ll separate and curdle.
·         Money Saver! Get prepping: Toast your own croutons for stuffing and salads instead of spending on them in the store. When they’ve cooled completely, freeze in an airtight plastic bag until ready to use. Firm cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan also freeze nicely, so grate them now and save time later.
·         Money Saver! Shop for perishables, like fresh produce and dairy products: Trying to make room for incoming groceries may tempt you to throw out space hogs like bottles of juice, soda, beer and wine—but you shouldn’t have to buy them again. Put beverages in a cooler to save them for later use.  
·         Start brining your bird: If you bought a fresh turkey or ham, submerge the meat in a brine solution and refrigerate for 24 hours. Drain, pat dry, and return the turkey to the fridge until roasting time.

·         Boil the potatoes: Dice potatoes speed cooking time; when they’re cooked, keep them covered in cold water to prevent discoloration.
·         Get organized: Prepare cocktail garnishes. Squeeze lemon juice, peel garlic, and wash herbs. Organize and label serving dishes; transfer them to a tagging area for easy plating at mealtime.  

·         Bake fresh: For prime freshness, bake biscuits, rolls, and par-baked bread today; their textures can change even overnight.
·         Roast veggies: Roasted vegetables like brussels sprouts, potatoes, and parsnips lose their crispness once they’re refrigerated. Cook them today.

About ShopSmart magazine:
Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon Consumer Reports’ celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. The magazine features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and “best of the best” lists. ShopSmart is ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and Publix. ShopSmart is available by subscription at www.ShopSmartmag.org.

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