Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday Entertaining Tips from Author Pam Anderson

Thanks to everyone who sent questions for best-selling author, Pam Anderson--food columnist for USA Weekend, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and author of the cook book series The Perfect Recipe. Today I'm happy to be able to post the answers to your questions (and a few of my own).

Before I do, though, let me remind you that Carnation Evaporated Milk is giving away a free Holiday Recipe Guide for download or in print; click the image at left to get your copy.

Question: My family are big eaters and for the past few years I've been changing and using organic/locally grown foods in the dishes and some dishes don't turn out as tasty or what we're use to. Is it all the additives that give it flavor? I don't want to over season. The main one is the stuffing. How do I recreate that unique flavor using fresh ingredients? I hope Pam can help me out.

Answer: I would need to compare your old stuffing recipe to the one you're using now to determine why the one with organic/locally grown ingredients might not be as tasty. If you were using packaged stuffing mix, you're right--there would be added flavorings and seasonings that would give you that familiar taste you might be used to.

I believe, however, that when it's made right, there aren't many better from-scratch dishes than stuffing. To start, you need good sturdy bread--cottony-textured bread will mush and fall apart. You need to toast the bread cubes--browning them makes them taste more flavorful and dehydrating them means you can eventually replace the bread's water with flavorful chicken broth.

You need a generous amount of sautéed onions and celery as well as herbs--I like dried thyme leaves, rubbed sage, and a little fresh parsley for color. You need to make sure your stuffing is well salted and peppered--taste it before you bake it (before adding the eggs if your stuffing calls for them) to make sure it's seasoned enough. If not, confidently shake in a little more salt and seasoning.

Question: Do you have any tips for creating a display of desserts or cookies that looks bountiful but doesn't take a solid week of baking?

Answer: I suggest 2 things--invest in a tiered stand which helps create a bountiful look. Use baskets, but rather than filling them with treats, stuff them with napkins and arrange treats on top.

Question: How can I prepare sweet potatoes without added sugar? We traditionally eat them candied, but would like a recipe that's more healthy (and more interesting than plain baked).

Answer: Well here's the recipe I made this past Thanksgiving. As you can see, there's no added sugar in the puree. The marshmallow on top give it just enough sweetness.

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Baby Marshmallows
Serves 8

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup Carnation evaporated milk
4 tablespoons butter

Garnish: 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

Adjust oven to low position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes, cut side down on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool slightly. Holding the potato in a pot holder-protected hand, scoop potato flesh into a blender canister or food processor bowl, leaving a 1/ 4-inch border of flesh to support skin. With machine motor running, gradually add both milks through feeder tube. Stop machine, add butter, then process until potatoes are silky smooth. Spoon a portion of puree back into each potato shell. Sprinkle a portion of marshmallows over each potato. Bake until potatoes are hot and marshmallows are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Question: Do you have a recipe for bread stuffing that doesn't require as much butter as the traditional one? My family loves it, but we don't need all of that fat and cholesterol!

Answer: My recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of butter for 1 pound of bread serving 8 people which is only 1 1/2 teaspoons per serving. I think that's reasonable--especially for the holidays!

Question: I always feel stressed over getting everything perfect for guests. How can I throw a great party without that stress?

Answer: It's interesting that you use the word “stressed" and "perfect” in the same sentence. In my book, Perfect Recipes for Having People Over, I teach people to take the E word (entertain) out of the vocabulary. Entertaining is all about you--whether you succeeded or failed at the end of the meal. On the other hand, having people over is FUN. It's what you say when you really want to do it, right? "Honey, let's just have the Smiths over for dinner tonight." So my advice is make the food as best you can, realizing that good food is important, but it's only the means to the end. What's really important is what happens around the table. I guarantee that if you're relaxed, everyone will have a good time. And at the end of the day, isn't that what you really want?

I'd also like to direct your readers to: I'll be there to welcome them in my virtual kitchen. They'll find great recipes for potlucks, appetizers, brunch, game-day that will help them stay stress-free over the holidays and beyond.

---Thanks so much to Pam Anderson for answering our questions, and to the team at Carnation Evaporated Milk for allowing me this opportunity!


  1. Looks like a great book! I liked the tips for displaying cookies. :)

  2. Book sounds like a winner. Ms. Anderson gave some great advice on the stress factor!


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