12/15/2011 11:06 am ET Updated Feb 14, 2012

The No-Stress Christmas Eve Buffet

The countdown is almost over (these days it begins before Halloween), and the holidays are here, with all the stress that goes with them.

Most of us have limited time to devote to all of those things that will claim our sanity from now until January 2nd. But we try to please our loved ones and friends by putting the "merry" into Christmas as best we can. One of the most overwhelming jobs for people at this time of the year is cooking. Well, if it were just one day that would not be so bad, but I am talking about cooking for the season, you know, from Thanksgiving to New Year's. That's a lot of trips to the grocery store!

One of the things I like to do each year is host a Christmas Eve Buffet, but I try to choose as many recipes as possible that can made ahead of time. That way, I can enjoy the party, too, without being frazzled by last minute cooking. So here is a menu that I am going to use this year. Some of these recipes are from my latest book: Ciao Italia Family Classics (It should really be a gift under the tree!)

Anyway, I hope you will consider trying some or all of the recipes listed here. Depending on how many people you are serving, the recipes can be doubled or tripled successfully. Have a very peaceful and restful holiday season!

  • Classic Antipasto: p. 21 in Family Classics (Make the day before and refrigerate.)
  • Stuffed Shells: (Make the day before; bake. Reheat for buffet.)
  • Stuffed Turkey Breast: p. 289 in Family Classics (Make day before, refrigerate; slice day of party and reheat .)
  • Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables: p. 255 in Family Classics (Can make two days ahead; just reheat.)
  • Green Beans and Fontina Cheese Casserole: (Make morning of.)
  • Almond Paste Cheesecake: p.384 in Family Classics. (Make two days before; bring to room temperature to serve.)
  • Peppermint Ice Cream Cake: Recipe below. Make it now; lasts forever!

This no-bake frozen "cake" must be on our Christmas table; it was a favorite of my children, and still is, and I can't think of the holiday without it. Put it together a month ahead of time and stash it in the freezer. There are only two ingredients, good peppermint ice cream and store bought chocolate wafer cookies. I gild the dessert and serve it with warm hot fudge sauce ... Christmas comes but once a year.

Chocolate Wafer Cookie Peppermint Ice Cream Cake

Serves 8

1 box Nabisco chocolate wafer cookies
1 quart peppermint stick ice cream, softened
Hot fudge sauce (optional)

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, and leave at least 2 inches of an overhang.

Place a layer of cookies in the base of the pan. Don't worry if they do not fill in the entire area. Spread a layer of ice cream over the cookies.

Repeat, making as many layers of cookies and ice cream that your pan can accommodate. Make the top layers cookies.

Bring the overhanging edges of plastic wrap over the top of the pan to cover and press on pan with your hands to compact the layers.

Wrap the pan tightly in aluminum foil and freeze until ready to serve.

To serve:

Remove the foil and invert the loaf onto a serving platter or rectangular dish. Remove and discard the plastic wrap.

Cut the cake into slices and serve with warm hot fudge sauce, or whipped cream and nuts.


15 seconds in the microwave will soften a quart of ice cream that is perfect for spreading.

Let the ice cream cake stand about 5 minutes before cutting and use a serrated knife that has been dipped in warm water; re-dip for each cut.

Use vanilla wafers in place of chocolate.