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Offer houseguests homemade cooking with easy one-pot meals

The houseguests are hungry! But put away those takeout menus offer some homemade food: One-pot meals are quick easy make.

The houseguests are hungry! But put away those takeout menus and offer some homemade food: One-pot meals are quick and easy to make.

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Updated: January 22, 2012 8:00AM

During the holidays, there is little time to focus on much besides wrapping presents, deciding who is sleeping where, how many showers can be taken before the hot water runs cold and, most importantly, the time-honored tradition of preparing the main holiday meal.

Turkeys are thawed, honey-baked hams are stuck with cloves, apple pies are latticed, beer is fetched (and sneaked) and wine is uncorked. With all the effort going toward the one meal, figuring out what to eat during the days surrounding the holidays usually falls to the takeout menu pile.

Thinking ahead and preparing dishes that can be made in one pot or quickly for a large group, however, can help save time and money, and will create warmth in the belly that only a home-cooked meal can provide.

Planning meals and eating well at home “is not only enjoyable, but a much more economical option than dining in restaurants or relying on impulse-bought ready-made meals or takeout, which are all too often expensive and disappointing,” says Julia Charles, editor of the 2009 book, Long Nights and Log Fires: Warming Comfort Food for Family and Friends (Ryland Peters & Small, $19.95), recently released in paperback.

The dishes in Long Nights and Log Fires feature a twist on many classic comfort foods such as boeuf bourguignon; there are soups (parsnip, chestnut and chorizo), savory tarts and pies and a whole chapter on roasts. Some are flecked with American flair, but most offer a true taste of what comfort feels like “across the pond.”

A variety of recipes in the book require very little work and can be made the day of, while other more impressive dishes like a big pot of cassoulet have components that can be prepped ahead of time and assembled quickly once company has arrived — creating an easy, warming and impressive fix for a hungry crowd.

“Cooking and baking comfort food at home rather than ordering it in is extremely satisfying on so many levels,” Charles says.

When James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine was putting together the 2011 cookbook, Saveur: The New Comfort Food (Chronicle Books, $35), one market he focused on was people who have been hit by the economy, but who were still planning on doing a bit of entertaining.

“The fact that we’re all — all of us — looking for better, healthier, cheaper, more interesting, more clever ways to stay at home and feed ourselves and our families was a deep motivation,” Oseland says. “The deeper motivation was that we had never really encountered a collection of recipes like this before: a feel-good, no-holds-barred collection of truly delicious, easy-to-make foods that reflect the casually global way Americans eat now.”

Oseland says that although his holiday will have low-key moments, he also has a lot of, “I-missed-seeing-you-all-year-so-let’s-have-a-holiday-dinner-at-my-house evenings planned.”

For those dinners, he plans on cooking from the Saveur book. While there are a variety of quick party dishes, there are also many recipes suitable for feeding relatives on busy days.

One of his favorite family-friendly recipes from the book is the classic Lemony Roast Chicken. It is, as Oseland puts it, “almost absurdly simple to make — you marinate a cut-up chicken in olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, and garlic for an hour and then roast in a hot oven — but is so elegant, so satisfying.”

Regardless of who cooks what, homemade tastes best this time of year.

Carol Hilker is a Chicago free-lance writer.

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