The holidays are stressful enough without spending hours and hours in the kitchen prepping for your guests. If you haven’t been listening to foodie podcasts to get the inside scoop on cooking your best-ever holiday meal, don’t worry. We have your back. Armed with these tips and your no-fail dinner party checklist, you’ll cut major time off your big holiday meal, whether you’re feeding two people or 20. That means more time to sip cranberry cocktails!
Mise en place
This French term simply means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” In the kitchen, this translates to prepping your vegetables and other ingredients before it’s time to cook. Doing this makes recipes progress more smoothly without trashing your kitchen.
You can use various bowls and ramekins for each ingredient (go with this option if you’re preparing them more than an hour before you plan to cook), or you can make piles around the edge of a large cutting board. Chopping all your vegetables at once and doing tasks like shelling pistachios, grating cheese, or measuring dry ingredients for cookies can save time when you’re ready to start cooking.
If you have a food processor, utilize it to save time when chopping and slicing vegetables. Most models have slicing and grating attachments, so use them if you have them. If you haven’t yet planned your menu, keep prep time and food-processor shortcuts in mind as you decide which dishes to make.
No food processor? You probably have other time-saving gadgets in your kitchen, like a garlic press, immersion blender, or spiralizer. Use them!
Slow down or speed up
The stove and oven inevitably are overcrowded when you’re cooking a big holiday dinner. Instead of trying to time each dish perfectly, lean on the slow cooker and Instant Pot if you have the counter space. Bonus: You can keep foods warm all day if need be — and don’t need a separate serving dish!
Don’t cook everything
There’s no shame in taking shortcuts. Prioritize what you can (and want to) cook and buy the rest — or ask guests to bring something. Most guests will bring something even if you discourage them, so be specific about what you need in order to minimize your workload. Consider outsourcing the most time-consuming dishes: Buy pie from a bakery, ask someone else to make the rolls, or pick up a cheese and veggie tray so you only have to worry about the meal itself.
Keep it clean
Most of us would agree that cleaning up is the worst part about cooking. If you clean as you go, it will feel less overwhelming when dinner is over. Enlist a friend or family member who hates to cook to keep you company in the kitchen and help you keep up on the dishes. If you’re flying solo, use any downtime — like while waiting for water to boil or your pie to bake — to wipe up spills, wash a few dishes, or load/unload the dishwasher.
Use your freezer
If you have a few days or weeks to prep and plan for your event, cook things ahead of time, then freeze them. Cookies, rolls, and even casseroles freeze beautifully. Defrost them the day before (cookies and baked goods can thaw on the countertop; thaw the rest in the fridge to be safe), then reheat before sitting down to eat.
Serve cocktails in a punch bowl. Opt for slab pie instead of mini treats. In fact, swap out any dish that requires you make one (or more) for each person. Individual drinks and dishes might be photogenic, but they take more time. Save the tiny phyllo tarts, individual stuffed pumpkins, and roast Cornish hens for an event when you’re not trying to juggle as much at once.
(Photo via Brooke Lark / Unsplash)