The holidays are a time when many families have guests over and cook big meals to celebrate the season together. Often, large dinners can be difficult for the host or hostess to cook and coordinate because it seems like there’s never enough time to get everything done. Here are ten holiday shortcuts to make the season less stressful and give you time to enjoy entertaining:
1. Plan, plan, plan. The first step to cooking a holiday meal for a large number of people is to plan your menu very carefully. Think this isn’t a cooking shortcut? Think again. Planning ahead saves unneeded trips to the store and allows you to follow the steps below more quickly and efficiently. A great holiday dinner menu has the following: meat, bread, starchy vegetable, green vegetable, salad, and dessert. Opt for a delicious soup before dinner and plenty of different colored food choices for a pleasing table full of delicious food.
2. Make a list and check it twice. Planning a big family and friend holiday meal requires a serious look at the details. Check to make sure you have enough of the following: serving utensils, eating utensils, tableware, napkins, glasses, ice, serving bowls and platters. It’s a terrible feeling to have a beautiful table, beautiful food, and not enough of something. Imagine running out of forks or having to serve your roast beef on aluminum foil. Yikes!
3.Shop early. By planning your menu ahead of time and shopping early, you can beat the last minute rush and might even find better deals. Shopping early also helps you follow the next shortcut, which is to do some pre-cooking for your special family and friends holiday meal.
4. Pre-cook what you can. Some things need to be cooked right before they’re put on the table. Many things, however; don’t. Many desserts can usually be made beforehand and frozen. Hours before the meal, go ahead and make your potatoes, rice, and vegetables. Casseroles can be pre-made, too, and frozen or refrigerated. Just bake and add the topping right before the meal.
5. Do your homework. If you’re trying a new recipe, try it before your big holiday meal to make sure it turns out the way you hope.
6. Save time, energy mess. Holiday meals are typically much more time consuming than your average meal at home, so make sure you know all the great cooking shortcuts to save time, energy, and mess. Need some ideas? Ask a great cook and they will tell you helpful hints like: the best way to measure shortening is to displace water. If you need ½ a cup of shortening, get a 4 cup measuring cup, put a cup of water in it, and spoon in the shortening until the water rises to 1 ½ cups. Then, you have ½ a cup of shortening and still have a cup of water… because water and shortening don’t mix. Brilliant!
7. Choose your tableware the week before. There are lovely paper plates, napkins, and silverware that are beautiful, convenient, and perfect for the holidays.
8. Set your table the day before. The last thing you need on your big day is to worry about setting your table. Set it the night before and eat somewhere else on the day of your event. Use a card table, the kitchen table, or have a picnic in the living room with sandwiches.
9. Have a cooking strategy. The best meals are those where everything is hot and done at the same time. This doesn’t happen by accident – it takes some serious strategy. Great cooks use a timeline and cook things in a specific order. You must plan how many things can be in the oven at the same time, which need to be on the top shelf to brown.
10.Find a co-hostess. When your guests arrive, they will need greeted, their coats should be taken, they should be introduced to other guests, etc. This will all happen while you are in the last 30 minute crunch to get everything on the table piping hot and lovely. A great cooking shortcut is to make sure you can stay focused on your meal while your guests are well taken care of by a hospitable friend or family member.
Other miscellaneous cooking shortcuts:
11. Cut your turkey baking time in half…by cutting the turkey in half. Slice the turkey from armpit to hip and remove the whole back (use it for soup…later). Remove the legs and thighs from the body, leaving the breasts as a separate chunk. of meat. pile a heap of stuffing in the roasting pan and place the breast on it. separate the thigh from the leg. cut the thigh lengthwise, de-bone, stuff with stuffing and tie-up with white string. tent and baste the turkey as usual. the breast/stuffing will bake for x time and then the wings, legs and stuffed thighs are added, also tented and basted as usual. the beauty of this method is that the cooking time is cut almost in half…so no need to get up at 4am to start the turkey.
12.Keep hot water in your coffee pot to use for making mashed potatoes, tea, and more. This will save time by you not having to bring water from cold to a boil.
13.When you’re ready to slice your dessert, dip your knife in hot water and wipe it off after every slice.
14.Utilize a helpful guest to stir, watch bread in the oven, put ice in glasses, pour drinks, and carry food to the table. Guests are usually more comfortable hanging out in the kitchen and many ask if they can do anything to help – let them!