There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a big celebratory dinner with family and good friends during the Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa seasons. But all too often, the cook ends up slaving in the kitchen and missing out on quality time with everyone else.
The key to avoiding this fate is organization. We’ve put together some simple shortcuts to minimize kitchen time on the big day so you maximize time with your guests.
1. Serve cold appetizers. There’s no need to add to the cook’s stress levels by having a hot appetizer on the menu. Instead, choose items that can be served cold, including a shrimp cocktail, deviled eggs, cheese plates and vegetable dips. This keeps the oven and stovetop free for what’s really important, and you can prepare these dishes well ahead.
2. Get the potatoes right. There’s always one dish that, if done right, will make your guests forget any other shortcomings. For Sarah, it’s roast potatoes. For Alicia, it’s latkes. So we both put lots of attention on getting those potato dishes done beautifully and at just the right moment. Everything else we do our best, but don’t waste a moment’s energy worrying about getting perfect.
3. Prep veggies the night before. Do prep work in advance so that all your vegetables are ready to be cooked on the big day. We recommend cutting up your vegetables the day before and storing them in Ziploc bags or in sealed glass containers so they stay fresh.
4. Put dirty plates and pans outside until you can deal with them. When you’re whipping up a large dinner with many side dishes, the pots and pans can quickly accumulate. Rather than stopping what you’re doing to get the mess under control (and get your counter space back), consider putting the trays, pots and pans and any other baking dishes you’re done with out in the back yard, or on a porch, until you have time to deal with them.
5. Organize your time so the turkey finishes cooking one hour before you serve dinner. When it’s done, cover it in tin foil and let it rest. It will be juicier, and will free up precious oven space when you need it most.
6. Measure ingredients ahead of time. Rather than measuring out the dry ingredients you need for that zucchini bread on the big day, do it the day before. Sift them if the recipe calls for it. Then store them in a sealed plastic bag so all you have to do is dump its contents in the mixer with the wet ingredients. This trick works for everything from cheese for your mac and cheese dish to baked goods and eggnog.