10 Tips to Make Holiday Cooking Easier

We’re just a little more than a week away from Thanksgiving – and Christmas will be here before you know it. If you’re hosting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the details of everything but hosting doesn’t have to mean a day of cooking stress and no fun.

These are tips I’ve used when hosting big meals in the past – and tips I’ll be relying on to host Thanksgiving this year. All together, they’ll save you a bit of sanity and help things go smoothly!

Clean your kitchen now. Not only will you want a clean kitchen before you start prepping the feast, guests always seem to hang around the kitchen to watch the main event. Cleaning now will give you a good head start.

Check your oven temperature. If you don’t have an oven thermometer, now’s a great time to get one. Checking the oven temperature a few days before your big meal will give you a chance to make adjustments. (Our oven it about 10 degrees hotter than the dial says, so I know to always set it 10 degrees lower than the temperature I want.) Everything cooks much better at the proper temperature!

Write lists with amounts. For big meals, I add amounts to my shopping list – especially for ingreditents that are needed in multiple recipes. This is helpful to keep from running out in the throws of cooking. I don’t know how many times I’ve skipped adding butter to the list because, hey, we always have butter! only to find I’m four tablespoons short when I’m trying to make something.

Freeze and prep ahead. Lots of dishes can be made or prepped in advance, which will make life easier on the big cooking day. I’ll be making and freezing the pies for dessert the weekend before – the dinner rolls too. The cranberry apple chutney will get made a few days in advance and I’ll prep the green bean casserole (leaving the topping seperate) the day before. That’ll free up more time on Thanksgiving for dealing with things like the turkey.

Plan dishes and serving utencils along with your menu.  I add a column to my menu list so I can fill in which dishes will go in which serving dishes, and which serving utencils will dish up each. This helps prevent last-minute scrambling… and I can hit up my Mom or Mother-in-law if I need any extras.

Make sure you give yourself enough time. If you’re buying a frozen turkey, it needs to defrost (and it’s not quick). You’ll need to cook your turkey and warm side dishes. Not enough time to do it all? Try to pare down or delegate. Picking some dishes served cold or room temp will also help relieve the crunch for oven time.

Blanketing your bird will keep it warm. I saw this tip on Rachael Ray and it’s fantastic. When your turkey’s done cooking, you take take it out of the oven, cover it in foil and throw a heavy towel over the whole thing to keep it warm until you’re ready to serve. This will keep it warm for a few hours – so I’ll be timing things so my bird finishes early and I have time to heat the side dishes before serving.

Work all your cooking options. The oven tends to get quite a bit of play, but don’t forget other options – like your slow cooker or grill. You can grill your turkey and some vegetables are great on the grill. White potatoes and sweet potatoes can be made in the slow cooker. All will free up your oven for other dishes!

Stock up on plastic containers. This is something my Mom does, and it’s a great idea: she buys a few packages of cheap plastic containers so she can send leftovers home with guests easily. This makes it easier to divide up dishes so everyone gets a little bit of everything instead of 5 lbs. of turkey or more mashed potatoes than anyone can eat.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line (1-800-BUTTERBALL) is available for those in the US and Canada, with both English and Spanish operators whom can answer all kinds of turkey-preparing questions. And, they’ll be available most of Thanksgiving day.

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