When it comes to your big holiday meals there is really no substitute for putting in the time to make great homemade food. But that’s the downside isn’t it? At a time of year when our calendars are full of concerts, gifting, performances and parties we’re also supposed to make some of the most time consuming and cherished meals of the year. Over the years I’ve learned a few handy tricks and tips that have helped me end my holiday meals with two slices of pie instead of two Tylenol.
1. Plan your menu
Don’t assume that because you’ve had a holiday meal every year that you’ll automatically remember every component of the meal. Sit down and write out all the dishes you’d like to have at your feast and begin a shopping list of items you don’t have stocked in your kitchen. Keep in mind that some of your guests may have dietary restrictions, and make sure that you offer a well-rounded meal for everyone. Having a written menu also makes it easier to give food assignments to guests that offer to contribute to the meal.
2. Prep ahead of time
On the first Thanksgiving my husband and I had without any extended family I erroneously thought I could make everything on the day of the big meal. I got it done, but at the cost of my enjoying the rest of the day. Since then, I’ve learned that there are a lot of things you can prep ahead of time without sacrificing quality. Here are a few that I’ve done and how long I’ve found they can be prepped ahead of time.
Cube and toast sourdough for stuffing (up to 1 week)
Sauté stuffing vegetables (1 day)
Make and shape rolls, cover and refrigerate (the night before)
Peel potatoes for mashing and store them in a bowl covered with water (1 day)
Cut any vegetables (up to 2 days)
Whisk vinaigrette (up to 1 week)
Process fresh cranberry sauce (up to 5 days)
3. Make an oven schedule
I have also learned that for any big holiday meal I like to start with the most time-consuming item first and then work backwards. For example for Thanksgiving I always start with the turkey. I plan for the turkey to come out of the oven between 45 minutes to 1 hour before we plan to eat and use the weight of the bird and the given weight/time table listed on the turkey to plan backwards. During the last hour when the turkey is resting and being carved, I pop the stuffing and other items in the oven to warm up before dinner.
(here are some of my planning sheets from Thanksgiving)
4. Set the mood
Nothing really kicks off a good meal like a little Frank Sinatra. When its about time for guests to arrive I make sure that the table is set, music is gently playing in the background and there are simple appetizers to nosh on. Even with the best planning, sometimes everything doesn’t work out exactly how I’d like. That’s when I try to remember that if my guests feel welcome and I’m at ease, everyone will leave the night fulfilled and fed no matter what time dinner is served. Contrastingly, nothing can spoil a meal more than a stressed-out attitude or a bad headache.
During this often hectic time of the year it’s easy to be daunted by the big holiday meals, but with a little planning, prepping, scheduling and the right atmosphere you can still make a delicious homemade feast and more fully enjoy the day.