Photography: Maya Visnyei
Hosting a holiday dinner doesn’t have to be stressful! (No, really.) With these simple tricks, you’ll feel confident about pulling off a fabulous feast like a pro.
We won’t beat around the bush: Hosting a holiday dinner is a big commitment, requiring time, preparation, and coordination of many moving parts. But what if we told you that there were some essential tricks that could help make your meal (and the work leading up to it) dramatically easier? Below are some of our favourite holiday hacks to help pull off a no-stress dinner, so you can spend more time enjoying what the holidays are really about: the company of your loved ones.
Tip 1: Simplify the turkey.
This might be controversial, but we’re just going to say it: roasting a turkey whole is overrated. Half of the time, that edible centrepiece is brought back into the kitchen for ease of carving anyway, so consider skipping this step altogether. A deconstructed turkey roasted in pieces (with the bones and skin still on, for flavour) cooks in less than half the time it takes to roast a whole one—and if it’s frozen, it will thaw much faster, too. After your bird is cooked, it’s simply a matter of transferring the far more manageable pieces to a carving board and slicing them up in advance to serve.
You don’t have to deconstruct the turkey yourself; when placing your order with your local butcher, simply ask them to take the bird apart for you in advance. Plus, you can roast your pieces over a large baking sheet packed with stuffing so that turkey flavour still infuses every bite.
Tip 2: Make ice cubes with your signature punch.
Whether your holiday dinner features an alcoholic punch or a booze-free alternative (or both!), over time, all signature drinks suffer as the ice that chills them melts, diluting the flavours. To avoid this, mix up some of your punch in advance, and freeze it in ice cube molds, so that as the ice melts, the punch is simply replenished with more of itself.
Or, for an elegant touch, line a large bundt pan with plastic wrap and fill it with your punch and slices of fresh fruit before freezing overnight. To unmold, simply immerse in a large bowl of hot water until the ice pops out of the bundt pan, discarding the plastic wrap. It takes almost no effort, but will truly wow your guests.
Tip 3: Stovetop shortage? Use a Slow-Cooker.
The lack of available space in the oven and on the stovetop plagues many a holiday dinner, particularly when your great-aunt shows up with a massive casserole dish and tosses off a casual: “Oh, just throw this in the oven to warm it up.” Enter: the slow cooker. This appliance is not only amazing for cooking holiday sides in advance (scalloped potatoes, anyone?) but also can be used the day of your dinner as a supplementary extra-large stovetop burner, or about 1/4 of your oven space. Plop a side dish in there, set it to "warm" and have extra room at the ready for whatever comes your way.
Tip 4: Choose oven-to-table dinnerware.
Hosting a dinner is work enough; there’s no need to prolong the labour by having hours’ worth of dishes to wash at the end of the night. Consider treating yourself to some oven-safe cookware instead. From ceramic baking dishes to enamelled cast-iron pots, there are plenty of types to choose from, and being able to cook in something that’s also pretty enough to serve tableside is a major help in cutting down on the dishes.
Tip 5: Pre-make and freeze some dishes.
The top tool in any holiday host’s arsenal is hardly a secret, and yet surprisingly few cooks use their freezers to their maximum potential. Yes, your freezer is a terrific place to store cookie dough or cake layers, but you can also use it for so much more! Homemade pull-apart bread rolls freeze nicely (either in dough form before their final rise or after they’ve been baked), and pie dough freezes like a dream. On the savoury side, certain chunky soups (particularly ones without pieces of potato) freeze well, and just about any blended soup can be given the ice treatment without compromising on flavour. Heck, you can even prepare for your holiday brunch this way; both frittatas and waffles are just fine after a little defrosting.