Whether it’s the golden-brown turkey of Thanksgiving or the lovingly shaped latkes of Hanukah, the end of the year brings a feast that will draw the whole family together. However, getting the components of a meal together can be an ordeal, one that’s compounded by the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Don’t waste time sweating in the kitchen when you could be making memories with your loved ones. Follow these simple rules to get your holiday meal on the table in a snap and enjoy the free time under the mistletoe with your favorite dinner guests.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
The secret to any successful battle is knowing your tactics ahead of time. About a week before the big day, sit down and plan your menu, shopping list and plan of attack. Any cooking or preparation that can be done in advance should be completed as far ahead as possible. Bread dough, for example, can be kneaded and proofed, then divided into rolls and frozen for up to a week to make for an effort-free trip to the oven the morning of the feast. Think that TV chefs have all their ingredients pre-chopped and separated into bowls for presentation? Think again: actions like dicing sweet potatoes, peeling shallots, measuring spices and more will all reduce preparation time and stress during the big day. If you’re making a large piece of meat such as a turkey or rib roast, make sure to truss and trim it the night before, as well as adding any brine or pre-seasoning to allow the flavors to penetrate.
While the holidays are all about sharing the bounty of the season with loved ones, there’s no rule stating that everything must be strictly homemade. Never had a knack for piecrust? Pick up a frozen one and concentrate on perfecting Aunt Ethel’s famous pecan filling. Pre-packaged fresh ingredients such as sliced mushrooms, crushed garlic or stemmed broccoli can also prove useful for saving time and counter space. Many grocery stores carry pre-chopped vegetable mixtures such as mirepoix, a combination of finely diced carrots, onions and celery.
If you’re finding your hands full simply handling the logistics of the main course, suggest that your guests bring along easily customizable items such as appetizers, desserts or side dishes. Everyone loves the opportunity to show off their family recipes, and you’ll be thanking them as much for the saved time as you will for the tasty contribution to the table.
Enlist Some Help
T’is the season to be together, and that means bringing quality time into the kitchen. Grown-ups and older teenagers can be enlisted to chop salad or man the food processor as the day goes on. Little ones too small to handle knives can be assigned “clean-as-you-go” duty or to set the table for dinner. As a bonus, even if they may complain in the moment, you can be sure that the kids will appreciate the memories — and the cooking lessons — for years to come.
There you have it: four simple and festive ways to reduce the stress of the holiday meal without losing an ounce of the festiveness. Finally, when the last dessert has been polished off and everyone’s full of cheer, kick back, relax — and be happy you’re not the one doing the dishes!
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