Holiday cooking or just cooking for a big crowd can sometimes be overwhelming.

The best thing to do is to 'divide and conquer' - that means separating tasks, shopping ahead, cooking ahead and refrigerating, etc. On the day of the party you might have to 'make' a dish or two, and just heat the rest.

How easy it is to roast several perniles at a time? It's nothing! The hardest part is seasoning the meat - cutting slits into it, separating the cuero from the meat for seasoning - ask your husband to help you with this part. This can and should be done a couple of days ahead for better flavor anyway. Say your party is Saturday night. Prepare the meat on Wednesday night and have it in the fridge in a plastic bag ready for the oven on Saturday. Put it in a large roasting pan the same way you would ordinarily - the cooking time will be a bit longer (not doubled).

The rice can be cooked ahead too and in large batches. Just multiply your ingredients, use a large caldero or two or three. Cook over very low heat so there won't be a lot of burnt rice at the bottom, which means it yields more. No pegao, but that's ok for a party. When the rice is done put it in the fridge in those disposable aluminum trays. You can make several batches to fill a tray - cook and refrigerate. Just pop in the oven to heat before the party. Use the bottom rack in the oven and you can heat up the rice at the same time the perniles and finishing up. It should be nice and hot within 60 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you are making beans, they can also be made ahead and refrigerated. Use a crockpot to reheat and keep warm, that leaves your stove free for tostones or bacalaitos. If you are cooking a very large quantity of beans use fresh beans and put them in the crockpot the night before, 1 hr on high and on low until the morning. All you have to do is season them and they are done.

The bacalaito batter can be made ahead of time. All you have to do is fry them - these have to be freshly fried.

Tostones can be partially prepared ahead of time. Cook them thru the first frying, then either freeze them or refrigerate them. All you have to do is defrost and fry. They are delicious - and easier to make when you are stressed.

Appetizers, such as sorullitos de maiz or bolitas de bacalao can be prepared ahead of time, fried just before the guests arrive and put in the oven on low to keep warm. I have a large toaster oven that I use to keep the appetizers warm because the oven will be tied up with something else. I use my toaster oven a lot during the holidays

Desserts should be made ahead of time anyway. So you can serve the flan you made Thursday night and the Besitos de Coco you prepared Friday night with the traditional strong 'café con leche' after dinner.

Have a great Nochebuena dinner!

Ivonne Figueroa