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Al Roker's hassle-free holiday recipes

The 'Today' weatherman shares his secrets for spending less time in the kitchen over the holidays.
/ Source: TODAY

“Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook” contains a collection of the "Today" show co-host’s best-loved, tried-and-true recipes for every holiday in the calendar year. Check out some of his recipes.

Corn Bread Stuffing for a Crowd
A lot of folks like corn bread stuffing, but it is not hassle-free, or so I used to think. First you have to make corn bread, then you have to make stuffing. I used to avoid making it until it dawned on me that I could buy a dozen corn muffins. Presto: no more hassle! You won’t be able to tell the difference and you’ll save some time as well. Of course, if you’re a stickler for the homemade variety, be my guest.

12 store-bought corn muffins or a 9 by 5-inch loaf of cornbread (store-bought or made from a mix) 1 pound hot or mild Italian sausage, removed from casingsUnsalted butter2 medium onions, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces 3 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces1 cup chopped parsley leaves1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried sage1 tablespoon thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, optional 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, optional1 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted Salt Freshly ground pepperAbout 1 cup canned chicken broth or apple cider

Preheat the broiler with the rack set 5 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cut the corn muffins into 1 1/2-inch chunks, scatter them on a baking sheet and toast them under the broiler, turning once, until they begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Warm a large pot over medium heat. Add the sausage, break it into pieces with a spoon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate and set it aside.

Measure the fat left in the pan-you want about 1/2 cup. If needed, add butter to make 1/2 cup. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers, and cook, stirring, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary and hot pepper flakes, if using. Stir in the pecans and the toasted cornbread. Season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Use immediately or cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Allow the stuffing to come to room temperature before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Just before you stuff the turkey, add enough broth to moisten the stuffing without making it soggy. Stir well.

Stuff the turkey (page 13). Butter a 9-inch baking dish and spoon the remaining stuffing in it. (If you’re cooking all of the stuffing outside the turkey, you’ll need three 9-inch buttered baking dishes.) Dot with 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, and moisten with about 1/3 cup additional broth. Cover and bake for 25 to 30 minutes in a preheated 325 F oven, until the stuffing is heated through.

Makes about 18 cups stuffing, or enough to stuff a 14- to-16 pound turkey and fill a 9-by-9 baking dish as well.

To toast nuts: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place shelled nuts in single layer in an oven-proof skillet and toast, stirring occasionally, until they become fragrant and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. You can also toast nuts in a skillet set over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Or, place the nuts on a layer of paper towels on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 2 to 3 minutes. (The time will vary according to the size and power of your microwave.) Whatever method you use, keep an eye on the nuts; they go from brown to black pretty quickly.

Sweet Potato Poon
This is a favorite in the Roker household. My mother’s been making this for as long as I can remember. It’s like a crustless, sweet potato pie topped with browned marshmallows. Tradition dictates that one of us distracts Mom when she puts the poon covered with marshmallows under the broiler to toast the marshmallows. Every year while she’s standing in front of the oven with the broiler door open, browning the marshmallows, somebody asks her a question. She forgets about the poon and before you know it, the marshmallows catch fire and all hell breaks loose. Every year, the same thing. Look, we’re easily amused. It’s the holidays.

6 large sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks 1 cup all-purpose flour4 teaspoons baking powder1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg1 teaspoon ground allspice8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened and cut into chunks1 cup packed dark brown sugar1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained1 (10-ounce) bag large marshmallows

Pour 2 or 3 inches of water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Set the sweet potatoes in a steamer basket over the boiling water, taking care not to let the potatoes sit in the water. Cover and steam the sweet potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the pot, pour out the water and wipe out the pot. Return the potatoes to the pot.

While the potatoes are steaming, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a small bowl. Set aside.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high.

Mash the potatoes with a masher (which will leave some lumps) or put them through a food mill or a ricer (for a smoother mixture). Stir in the butter until it is melted. Add the brown sugar and then the flour mixture, mixing until well combined. Stir in the pineapple.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish. The poon can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the poon is heated through and the top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and preheat the broiler, with the rack set 5 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Place the marshmallows in a single layer over the top of the casserole. Broil until lightly browned on top, but be careful: They will catch fire very quickly!

Serve immediately. Makes 10 servings

Fresh cranberry relish
You will relish this cranberry recipe. And it’s so simple, you won’t get bogged down.

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries1 whole orange, cut into eighths1/2 small sweet onion, such as a Vidalia, peeled, optional 1/2 to 1 cup sugarSaltFreshly ground pepper

Combine the cranberries, unpeeled orange sections, onion, if using, and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Taste and add up to 1/2 cup more sugar if desired. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the relish to a bowl, and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 2 days before serving.

Makes 2 1/2 cups

Basic sugar cookies, plain or fancy
Okay, this is what I call a triple play. This is a great basic cookie batter that can be the basis for three different cookies. What I like to do is bang out a double batch of dough and freeze one batch. Then I can thaw it later and make another batch of cookies. Or, truth be told, I just eat one quarter of the dough while I’m rolling out the cookies and end up with enough for a batch and a half. You decide what to do with your dough.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar2 tablespoons light corn syrup1 large egg1 large egg yolk 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour1/2 teaspoon baking powder1/2 teaspoon salt

Using an electric mixer or mixing by hand, beat the butter and the sugar together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the corn syrup, egg, yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest and beat well. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until incorporated.

Gather the dough into a ball and divide the ball in half, flattening each half slightly to form a disk. Cover each disk in plastic wrap or wax paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight to firm. (If refrigerated for more than an hour, the dough may get too hard to work with easily; let it sit at room temperature, unwrapped, for about 15 minutes to become pliable.) You can also freeze the dough, well wrapped, for up to 2 months (thaw before proceeding).

Position 2 racks equidistant apart in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper.

Working with half of the dough (leave the other half in the refrigerator until ready to use), roll it out on a floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters and place 1/2 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather any unused scraps into a ball and roll out to 1/8 inch thick, and cut with cookie cutters. If desired, decorate.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, switching positions of the baking sheets in the oven halfway through, until the cookies are just beginning to turn light golden in color.

Remove the cookies from the oven and let rest on the baking sheets for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a metal spatula, carefully remove the cookies from the baking sheets and place them on a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure you let the baking sheets cool completely before proceeding.

Store the cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or wrap well and freeze for up to 2 months (let thaw before serving).

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies

Recipes excerpted from “Al Roker’s Hassle-Free Holiday Cookbook: More Than 125 Recipes for Family Celebrations All Year Long.” Copyright 2003 by Al Roker. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.