The key to achieving kitchen bliss over the busy holidays lies in one of our philosophies here at Tree House Kitchen: “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? Gifting a bit of our experience feeding tons of people and providing some of our best tips. Cooking can be enjoyable and relaxing, even when it’s your biggest feast of the year.
If you start thinking about your Christmas entertaining around Thanksgiving, you’ll 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.
Have you ever seen a chef in action? You have probably marvelled at how collected they seem, 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 serving it? Pretty stressful, right?
Now imagine your holiday kitchen the same way. It’s one of the few times a year that we tackle roasting a large turkey. 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. You can’t really do that when you’re rushing around the kitchen. 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 last minute. Find your candles and get them into holders. Count your chairs and 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. You can 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.
- 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 it’s already made when you need it next time. Bake cookies and squares weeks before and store them in the freezer. If you are making a cake, make layers ahead and freeze. 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, chocolate curls or syrups? That’s right, make them ahead and store them in the fridge. Something like a cheesecake can be baked, cooled, put on a serving plate and garnished two days ahead.
- Make your mash. Peel and quarter potatoes for mash and store in cold water in the fridge. Cook potatoes, mash with lots of milk or stock and put in a casserole dish up to a day ahead. Then, simply reheat in the oven.
- Make stuffing ahead. Most recipes, like our Special Occasion Stuffing System, can be made and frozen weeks ahead or chilled in the fridge a few days early. 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. You can make vegetable casseroles days in advance. Peel, cut and store root vegetables in cold water in the fridge. Assemble and roast a vegetable medley ahead, then reheat in a casserole dish. Imagine pulling dishes of vegetables from the oven, and all you need to do is sprinkle on some herbs or nuts and serve. No more scrambling on the stovetop, 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. You can do this months ahead and freeze. The day you serve, simmer it on the stove. No more juggling with carving the bird, finishing vegetables and trying to make gravy in the pan—which brings 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, let it 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 it to the table.
Will stuff go wrong? Probably! And it does for professionals, too. Working ahead gives you the time to correct things. 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!