The key to achieving kitchen bliss over the busy holidays lies in one of our philosophies here at Tree House Kitchen, and that is to “think like a chef.”
As chefs we love to make people happy serving them great food that we’ve made. But what really makes us happy? When we can gift a bit of our experience feeding tons of people and provide some of our best tips. Cooking can be pretty enjoyable and relaxing, even when it’s your biggest feast of the year.
If you start thinking about your Christmas entertaining around Thanksgiving, you have lots of time to start working ahead on your holiday meals. With a plan and a different way of looking at holiday cooking, you can eliminate most of the stress, and really enjoy the experience.
If you’ve even seen a chef in action, you have probably marvelled at how collected they seem to be, even during a busy restaurant service. What if a chef left all their prep to the last minute, and tried to make a dish right before it was to be served? Pretty stressful right?
Now imagine your holiday kitchen the same way. It’s one of the few times a year we tackle the roasting of a large turkey, and on top of that, there are all the side dishes and desserts to prepare. How many times have you found yourself mashing potatoes, making gravy, or peeling vegetables as your guests are arriving? The whole point of celebrating together is to enjoy the company of our crew. When you’re rushing around the kitchen, you can’t really do that, and we’re guessing you’re not really enjoying the cooking part either.
Here are our best tips (which we also shared on CH Morning Live) for relaxing and enjoyable holiday cooking:
- Details first. A full day or two before, take care of all those little details you usually do the last minute Find your candles and get them into holders. Count your chairs – set extra for conversation clusters in social spaces. Arrange your flowers, and fold your napkins. Locate all your cutlery place settings. Pull the serving pieces from storage, and even set the table the day or two before. In the kitchen, fill your salt and pepper shakers, chop herb garnishes, make your cranberry sauce and put it into its serving bowl. (Sign up today for our newsletters, which cover even more party preparation details)
- Get the dessert out of the way. Dessert can be a big job, so you’ll feel better knowing this is done. Weeks ahead, you can prepare pie pastry and freeze it. Make a double batch, so when you need it next time, it’s made. Bake off cookies and squares weeks before and store in the freezer. If you are making a cake, layers can be made ahead and frozen. Mix your pie ingredients (fruit, sugar, and spices) ahead of time and add flour or other thickeners when you assemble the pie. Need candied orange peel or chocolate curls or syrups? Thats right, make them ahead and store in the fridge. Something like a cheesecake can be baked, cooled, on a serving plate, and garnished 2 days ahead.
- Make your mash. Peel and quarter potatoes for mash and store in cold water in the fridge. Potatoes can be cooked, mashed with lots of milk or stock, and put in a casserole dish up to a day ahead, then reheated in the oven.
- Make ahead stuffing. Most recipes, like our Stuffing System can be made ahead and frozen weeks ahead or chilled in the fridge a few days ahead. Go ahead and chop your onions, celery, garlic, whatever your recipe calls for, and have them in a bowl ready for when you have a bit of time to make stuffing. You can even mix up your own house-blend of stuffing spices in a small jar to be ready when you are. Everyone loves stuffing, so make enough to stuff your bird and fill another casserole dish (a great tip if you’re feeding vegetarians.)
- Prep your veg. Vegetable casseroles can be made days in advance. Root vegetables can be peeled, cut, and stored in cold water in the fridge. A roasted vegetable medley can be assembled and roasted ahead, and reheated in a casserole dish. Imagine pulling out dishes of vegetables from the oven, and all you need to do is sprinkle on some herbs or nuts and serve, instead of scrambling on the stove top, boiling and straining at the last minute!
- Forget last minute gravy. There’s never enough gravy anyway! Do what chefs do, and make a large batch of brown chicken stock. Reduce by half or more to create a rich sauce for your bird. This can be done months ahead and frozen. The day you serve, it can be simmering on the stove. No more juggling with carving the bird, finishing vegetables, and trying to make gravy in the pan, which bring us to…
- Roast the bird and carve it ahead. In the past we may have celebrated the drama of carving at the table, but we’re going for less drama here! A large turkey roasts in the oven for hours, so it will stay hot for a long time after it’s roasted. It needs at least 20 minutes of resting time before it’s carved, so plan to have it ready about 45 minutes to an hour before you plan to eat. Set up your carving station, roast, rest, then carve it right back into your roasting pan. Cover with foil, and keep warm in the oven with your potatoes, stuffing, and vegetables. When it’s time to serve, put the turkey on your serving platter and bring to the table.
Will stuff go wrong? Probably! And it does for professionals too. Working ahead gives you the time to correct them. When you think and plan like a chef, you’ll find yourself really enjoying your guests and the process of cooking with intention and emotion.
Let us know your tips for pulling off a big dinner in the comments section. We love to hear from you!