Photography by Ryan Brook/TC Media Image by: Photography by Ryan Brook/TC Media
1) Plan out the menu. If you're hosting the holiday meal, be sure to plan everything in advance. Weeks before the big day, choose the menu (keeping in mind any dietary restrictions your guests may have) and start a master list. Include every little detail about the menu, table setting, decorating ideas and a cleaning list. Put this list on the fridge, use it to make the grocery shopping list and reference it often.
2) Schedule your oven. When planning the holiday meal, carefully consider how everything will be cooked. Roasts, such as turkey or beef, will monopolize the oven. Unless you have multiple ovens, make sure the side dishes can be cooked on the stove top, in a slow cooker (like our Savoury Slow Cooker Stuffing), or in the oven while the turkey is resting, like these Roasted Squash and Brussels Sprouts With Bacon.
3) Try new recipes out in advance. The big day is not the time to be trying new recipes. Always run through them at least once beforehand to familiarize yourself with the recipe and make sure you and your guests will like it. Scribble any special instructions or notes directly on the recipe.
4) Read through all recipes. Whatever you're making, be sure to sit down and read through all the recipes before actually making them. It's been said that experienced cooks cook in their mind just as much as they actually cook. They can walk through each recipe, step by step, and picture how it will be made. This is also a good chance to make sure you have all the pots, saucepans, baking trays and serving platters required.
5) Make ahead. Make ahead. Make ahead. Never pick a menu that can only be prepared at the last minute. Opt for a meal that's easy to prepare, and make as much as possible ahead of time. That way, on the big day, only the finishing touches need to be added. This Creamy Mushroom and Gruyère Gratin can be made ahead of time and reheated. At the last minute, simply add the crumb topping and broil.
6) Ask guests for help. Most dinner guests will ask if they can bring something or will lend a hand once they arrive. Take them up on their offer and put them to work! Give them easy tasks, such as trimming vegetables or stirring. Most guests will be happy to help and will feel good that they've contributed to the meal.
7) Better yet, make it a potluck! The easiest way to have a stress-free meal is to spread the stress around! When guests offer to bring something, ask them to make a side dish or dessert. Most people won't mind, and it will give you time to focus on preparing the main dish and getting the house ready. Once I brought a whole roast turkey with stuffing and gravy to a potluck (not the easiest to transport, but the car smelled like turkey for days afterward)!
8) Clean as you go. Cleaning while you cook, though sometimes hard to do, means the kitchen won't be a disaster when the meal is done. This is a great task to assign to willing guests; just set them up at the sink with a glass of wine and keep them chatting!
9) Keep it simple. Resist the urge to go over the top. There is pressure to get everything just right and please everyone. The holidays are about getting together with family, not slaving in the kitchen.
Click here for more holiday cooking tips and tricks, here for your ultimate holiday planning guide and here for how to host a party without stress.