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Life and living: Make-ahead holiday meals

The holiday season is filled with joyous carols, twinkling lights and the merry laughter of loved ones gathered around the table. But as magical as it can be, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed in the kitchen, trying to prepare numerous family meals to feed our hungry guests. What if we told you there’s a way to combine the magic of the season with the simplicity of a make-ahead meal? Here are four recipes you can make ahead of time, so you can simply heat and serve during your family gatherings. 

Overnight French toast II 

View the original recipe here.

Servings: 4 to 6 

Ingredients: 

• 2 tablespoons corn syrup 

• 1/2 cup butter 

• 1 cup packed brown sugar 

• 1 (1 pound) loaf French bread, sliced 

• 5 eggs 

• 1 1/2 cups milk 

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

• 1/4 teaspoon salt 

Directions: 

1. Combine corn syrup, butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan and simmer until sugar has melted. Pour this mixture over the bottom of a greased 9x13-inch casserole dish. 

2. Place bread slices over the sugar/butter mixture in the dish. In a bowl, beat together eggs, milk, vanilla and salt; pour the mixture over bread. Cover the dish and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. 

3. The next morning, preheat the oven to 350°. 

4. Uncover the pan and bake for 45 minutes. Serve while hot, or the French toast will harden in the pan. It can be reheated. 


Vanessa’s make-ahead beefy lasagna

View the original recipe here

Servings:

Ingredients: 

• 12 uncooked lasagna noodles 

• 1 (24 ounce) container 4% small-curd smooth-and-creamy cottage cheese 

• 1 (16 ounce) container ricotta cheese 

• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten 

• 1/2 cup refrigerated pesto 

• 1 teaspoon salt 

• 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided 

• 1 pound lean ground beef 

• 1/2 cup finely chopped onion 

• 2 (24 ounce) jars tomato-and-basil pasta sauce 

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Prepare noodles according to package directions. 

2. Stir together cottage cheese and the next four ingredients. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella cheese. 

3. Cook ground beef and onion in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, 

6 to 7 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Stir in pasta sauce.

4. Layer 1 cup beef mixture, 3 noodles and 2 1/2 cups cottage cheese mixture in a lightly greased 13x9-inch baking dish. Top with 3 noodles, 2 cups beef mixture and 3 more noodles. Top with remaining cottage cheese mixture, 3 noodles and beef mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese.

5. Freeze unbaked lasagna for up to three months. To bake, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Let stand for 30 minutes.

6. Bake, covered, at 375° for 40 to 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is browned. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving.


Hearty baked potato soup

View the original recipe here.

Servings: 10

Ingredients:

• 5 pounds baking potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 13 cups)

• 1 large onion, chopped

• 1/4 cup butter

• 4 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon pepper

• 3 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth

• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

• 1 cup half-and-half cream

• 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

• Optional toppings: Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, crumbled cooked bacon and minced chives

Directions:

1. Place the first seven ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Cook covered on low until potatoes are very tender, about 6 to 8 hours.

2. Mash potatoes slightly to break up and thicken the soup. Add 1 cup of cheese, cream and chives. Heat through, stirring until blended.

3. Allow soup to cool before freezing. To use, partially thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Heat through in a saucepan, stirring occasionally.

4. Serve with toppings as desired.


Chocolate mint brownies

View the original recipe here.

Servings: 16

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

• 2 eggs

• 1/4 cup neutral oil (e.g., vegetable, canola or corn oil, to name a few)

• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 cup butter (softened)

• 1 cup chocolate chips

• 1 cup powdered sugar

• 1 tablespoon half-and-half

• 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Directions:

1. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or line the pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, eggs, oil, vanilla extract and salt. Pour this into the prepared dish.

3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a tester comes out with a few crumbs attached. Cool on rack.

4. To prepare the chocolate glaze, melt 1/4 cup butter in a small sauce pot. Remove the pan from the heat and add chocolate chips.

5. As the chips start to melt, whisk until smooth. Allow to cool.

6. To prepare the mint layer, cream together the powdered sugar and the remaining 1/4 cup butter.

7. Add the half and half, along with the peppermint extract. Whip until light and fluffy. Spread this mixture over the cooled brownie layer.

8. Spread the cooled chocolate glaze over the mint layer.

9. Wrap to freeze.

10. Thaw and slice to serve.

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