It’s that time of year when food is on my mind. Well, on my mind even more than usual. I love to cook and spend a good deal of time planning holiday feasts. My husband, son and I spend Turkey Day and Christmas Day at our in-laws, as we have done the for the last decade. Since I like doing it, and I’m pretty good at it. I prepare and cook the bulk of the spread. When it comes to guests, we have had as few as five and as many as 25, depending on how many family members can make it.
However, even in a decent sized kitchen, refrigerator real estate, counter space and oven room quickly shrink.
You may have to bake the green bean casserole after the turkey comes out of the oven. Pies in the icebox don’t leave room for all the drinks everyone needs. It’s a challenge to get everything to the table at the same time. Over the years, I have cultivated some tricks to creating more space for all the dishes, sides, and desserts. I’ve also learned how to prepare certain items ahead of time and keep them at the right temperature until ready to eat, using a slow cooker and a cooler.
The Slow Cooker
Think of your slow cooker aka Crock-Pot as a miniature oven. In general, the warm setting is about 175 degrees Fahrenheit, the low setting is about 200 degrees and the high setting is about 300 degrees. One thing to remember about slow cookers, don’t keep opening the lid at that allows the heat to escape. So, what can you use a slow cooker for? Here are some examples:
Rolls: Already baked but needing to be warm
Line slow cooker with foil, apply a light coating of cooking spray on the bottom. Place rolls in cooker on warm for at least an hour before meal time. No oven space needed.
Prepare queso or spinach artichoke dip for appetizers in the slow cooker. No using precious stove top or oven space. Need a recipe? Google has bazillions. (Ok, that’s not a number, but you know what I mean.)
Prepared Mashed Potatoes
Transfer from stove top to slow cooker and keep on warm or low depending on how far away dinner time is. Just before serving, stir and add milk or butter as needed.
Prepare on stove, transfer to slow cooker set on low. A nice alternative to coffee in the morning, or yummy after playing football in the afternoon. You can also use the slow cooker to keep dressing and tamales warm, gravy hot and many casseroles can be prepared directly in the cooker rather than in the oven. Not sure if a recipe will work? Try it before feast day and see.
If you only have one slow cooker, ask some of your guests to bring their slow cookers to the party. People are usually happy to help! Especially if they don’t have to do much in the way of cooking.
Coolers are great for keeping things cold. (Obviously, duh.)
Utilize an outdoor space or patio and fill your cooler with ice, canned drinks, gallons of tea or bottled waters, along with another cooler just for ice. No taking up counter area for drinks. Cold salads and dips, baked pies and cakes can also be kept cool until serving. Line the bottom of the cooler with ice packs about two hours before placing food inside. Keep lid closed to maintain the coolness. This frees up refrigerator room.
Coolers can also function as great warmers for already prepared items. The morning of your meal, pour a couple of gallons of hot water in your cooler and close the lid. Keep it closed for at least two hours. When you have finished up your sweet potato casserole or baked mac and cheese, cover the warm to hot dishes with foil. Open cooler, empty water, place a folded beach towel on the bottom, place your baking dishes on top, then cover those with several more folded towels and close the lid. Keep closed until ready to serve so the heat doesn’t escape. Everything will stay nice and warm until it’s time to dig in. Yeehaw!
Here’s to being surrounded by people you care about, with a table full of hot food and hearts full of joy, blessings and love!
Got any other space saving tips? Share them in the comments below!