The Boy Scouts got it right: Always be prepared. We've all got our ideas of the "perfect" holiday season. Some of us daydream Norman Rockwell-ish scenes of baking cookies with our children, covered in a perfectly flour-dusted apron and our hair fetchingly unkempt. Or, we fantasize about being able to have friends over for a stress-free spontaneous gathering, pulling together last-minute appetizers and treats. Though holiday celebrations will never be perfect, you can make them as stress-free and fun as possible by making preparations in advance. Here's our guide to stocking your pantry with the holiday essentials that will carry you all the way through New Year's Day.
1. Assorted coffees, teas, hot chocolate, and eggnog: Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a steaming hot mug of something sweet. By having a variety of flavors on hand, you can satisfy any comfort craving that strikes you (or your guests). For extra hostess points, fill a small basket with gourmet hot chocolate mixes and tea bags and keep it in your guest room.
2. Wine, beer, and soft drinks: It's easier to open your home for spontaneous get-togethers when you've got plenty of drinks on hand. Be sure to take advantage of discounts offered by warehouse clubs like Costco or wine clearance sales at your local grocery.
For tips on spreading holiday cheer with a nice bottle of chardonnay, merlot, or another varietal, see The Gift of Wine.
3. White, brown, and powdered sugar: Stocking up on these sweet staples now ensures that you'll be ready to bake everything from humble sugar cookies to fancy cakes.
4. Ground allspice, cinnamon cloves, ginger, and nutmeg: Just opening a jar of one of these fragrant holiday spices is sure to trigger your favorite Christmas memories. Keep your spice jars filled and use them liberally! For more great ways to use these wonderful-smelling spices in your cooking, see 7 Ways With Cinnamon, 7 Ways With Ginger, Hot Couple: Cinnamon and Nutmeg, and All About Holiday Spices.
5. Baking soda and baking powder: Most bread and cake recipes call for at least one of these leaveners, which cause the dough to rise. Baking powder, however, is actually a blend of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch.
6. Baking chocolate: This unsweetened chocolate is chocolate liquor that has cooled and hardened. It's commonly found in chocolate sauces and cakes. Find out more about t
7. Semisweet chocolate morsels: While not bitter like baking chocolate, these morsels still aren't as sweet as milk chocolate. They're usually called for in chocolate chip cookie and bar recipes, but for more ways to use these chocolate bits, check out 7 Ways With Chocolate Chips.
8. Assorted nuts: Pecans, walnuts, and peanuts add salty crunch to a number of holiday desserts and salads.
9. Sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk: Did you know that evaporated milk is actually unsweetened condensed milk? The sweetened variety is 40 to 45-percent sugar, which accounts for its super sticky texture. Both sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are common ingredients in Christmas desserts.
10. Whipping cream: It's hard to resist adding a dollop of whipping cream to hot chocolate, pies, and puddings. (We would never squirt it right from the can into our mouths. Oh no. MyRecipes' honor.)
11. Jams, jellies, and preserves: Take your holiday brunch from ordinary to extraordinary with a selection of specialty jams and jellies. Feeling crafty? Make your own jams, spreads, and sauces.
12. Raisins, cranberries, and other fruits: Fresh and dried fruits add a little "oomph" to quick breads and salads. Over the holidays, we love using them in recipes from our 6 Moist, Marvelous Muffins, Christmas Bread: Gifts for the Holidays, and Start with a Holiday Salad recipe collections.
13. Canned pumpkin: Canned pumpkin makes preparing pumpkin pie, bread, and cake easy as, well, pie. Be sure to grab several cans if you love all things pumpkin–you can always donate the leftovers to a canned food drive. For more easy ways to cook with pumpkin, be sure to browse our 7 Ways With Pumpkin and Sweet Pumpkin Desserts recipe collections.
14. Frozen/refrigerated bread dough, biscuits, and croissants: Whether you need a quick side for your big family dinner or are cooking something more elaborate, frozen or refrigerated bread dough is a great holiday time-saver.