This recipe and photos were provided by Sally Roeckell of Table and Dish and were originally published at 365Barrington.com.
With holiday entertaining in full swing, “what’s your game plan?” Do you take the task on solo or do you delegate? Do you do it all from scratch or do you go for ready-made? How do you organize your time? What shortcuts do you take to ensure you have time to enjoy your guests?
Here are ten of my tried-and-true tips for making a holiday meal a bit easier:
1. Start with Linens
In the past, I have been stressed at the last minute by wrinkled table linens or stained napkins. Having clean, fresh linens takes time and effort. You don’t want to have to think about this days before the food prep begins. Getting these prepped allows me to feel like I’m on the road to ready.
I often start, as many of you probably do, with lists and shopping. I set my table and put out the bowls and platters I will use with sticky notes inside indicating what they will contain. When the day comes and the guests are arriving I always want food and drinks out and ready for nibbling. Even though we are about to sit down to a huge feast of a dinner, having something to nibble on as we mingle seems right.
2. Planning Your Menu
By now you probably have your menu established. Breaking it down even further with a timeline for the day is a big help with details like what goes in the oven, where and when. I also often leave notes about where I’ve put things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes put something away in the pantry, or in the mudroom or in the basement refrigerator and forget where I put it only to find a complete tray of food the day after that was never put on the table. Making a list on a dry erase board or a chalkboard is a good idea.
3. Do it Ahead of Time
For me there’s nothing worse than trying to get everything plated and to the table hot while struggling to get the gravy made from the pan drippings. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve scrapped the gravy and used store-bought. My friend suggested that I make my turkey gravy ahead of time. She cooks turkey thighs or turkey legs by slow roasting them for a weeknight dinner before her holiday gathering. She deglazes all the scraps and pan drippings and adds it to some turkey stock with carrots, celery, and seasoning. All that’s left to do is reduce and strain the stock, add flour and make your gravy in the calm of any given weeknight. Freeze it and bring it out on morning of. Microwave and serve. Genius.
This Hot Mushroom Pastry dish ticks all the boxes. It’s easy and quick to prepare, can be made ahead of time, can be served as a hot appetizer or even plated and served with the meal. Your house will smell wonderful when these come out of the oven.
4. Serve What You Like
This is my favorite tip. Don’t be stressed about following the guidelines of what a traditional holiday meal dictates. Make what you really love to eat. If you must have the turkey because your father-in-law needs something to carve, then by all means make sure you have a glorious turkey in the oven. If you love lamb roast put that on the table too. Or how about enchiladas? One year we ditched the turkey all together and cooked a lobster bake. It was awesome, but kind of a bummer the next day when there were no turkey sandwiches. A holiday feast should be about bringing everyone together, gathering at the table, nourishing those you love with their favorite foods and fully celebrating that which has brought us all together.
5. Try a New Cooking Method
If the oven is full, incorporate your grill. This year we’re smoking a turkey. We’ve never done it before, so I’ll let you know how it goes. We’re just going to go for it with no trial run, how bad can it be? In years past, we’ve often grilled our turkeys. I generally always start two days before by brining the turkey. I do it in a five gallon bucket. Luckily we have an extra side by side refrigerator. I just remove the bottom shelf and set the bucket on the refrigerator floor.
For the brine, I add about half a gallon of apple cider two oranges cut up a 1” piece of peeled fresh ginger 1 cup of Kosher salt and enough water to cover the bird. It will float, so use a heavy dish to weigh it down. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. I used to heat the brine liquid to dissolve the salt then let it cool. I have found that it doesn’t make any difference when I don’t heat it so now I don’t bother. I simply stir the salt in with a whisk to dissolve it.
6. Save on Oven Space
You can accomplish this by preparing some of your dishes on the stove top. Last week I spoke about how to make sweet potatoes in the slow cooker. One of our all time favorite Dishes is bacon Parmesan Brussels sprouts. I start them buy steaming them in the microwave and finish them off in the cast-iron skillet on top of the stove.
7. Have a Signature Cocktail
You can make the batch ahead of time and be ready to pour when guests arrive. Offer drinks for all ages. It’s easy to create a festive mock cocktail that the little ones will enjoy. When I was little my grandfather would always have a before dinner cocktail when we had a festive gathering. Often times the only thing in my glass with a 7-Up but all he had to do was add a cherry and one of his silly garnishes like an umbrella or a little plastic monkey that would hang off the side of my class. I remember always feeling special because I was included. Click here for one of my favorite signature cocktails: Satsuma Orange Vodka Cocktail.
8. Celebrate the Ease of Ready- Made
If you can just check one dish off your list by purchasing it ready-made at the Heinen‘s hot and ready department you’ll have that much more time to enjoy your guests.
I have so many favorites: ready-made deserts, cheese trays already cut and displayed beautifully, roasted vegetables from the salad bar, ready-made bacon that you can add to your dishes without having to take the time to fry it yourself.
My friend also suggested buying Bob Evans ready-made mashed potatoes. At first thought this seems like cheating but they are really pretty good. She puts them in a crock pot to keep them warm and ready to serve. You can doctor them up with your favorite mix-ins. I’m a huge fan of caramelized onions in mashed potatoes. It would make getting hot food to the table and reserving oven space a bit easier. I might just have to try this one.
One of my favorite ready-made hacks is to simply buy a delicious ready-made cheesecake and adorn it with beautiful snowy looking sugared cranberries. It’s always beautiful and big crowd pleaser. You can find the recipe here.
9. Find Your Hostess Gift at Heinen’s
Yes, you can bring wine or flowers, but what about a special olive oil or scented hand soap? My favorite gift is special sea salts and funky herbs. The options are endless!
10. Stock up on T0-Go Containers Before the Big Day
We always like to send leftovers home with our guests. Ziploc and disposable takeout containers are perfect for sharing your feast. Don’t forget to add parchment, foil and plastic wrap to your shopping list. The holidays would be a bad time to run out of these.
We hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy!