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Published on November 08, 2022

granddaughter helping grandmother baste turkey

Tips and Tricks for Easier (and Less-Stressful) Holiday Dinners

The holidays can feel less like fun times with family and friends when you consider the countless hours of cooking that often goes with them.

If you want to prepare large feasts, time in the kitchen is a must. However, these tips can help you spread those hours out, leaving more time with family and friends on the big day.

What to Do Three to Four Weeks Out

Clean out your pantry, refrigerator and freezer weeks in advance. Precariously stacking storage containers and tin baking dishes is asking for trouble. Throw out outdated condiments, use up some of those freezer items you forgot and test your spices for freshness.

You can also use this time to empty any extra storage containers, so they’re ready and save you time in the long run.

Plan with Appliances and Dishes in the Mix

Meal plan with appliances in mind. Realizing all the sides don’t fit in the oven with the turkey can cause some panic and delay on the day of the gathering. Grills, ovens, stove tops and slow cookers should all be considered and utilized.

There are steps you can take to get certain dishes ready, too. Bread can be cut and baked (or left out at room temperature) well in advance. In the case of sausage stuffing, the meat can be browned and combined with the bread and vegetables and frozen weeks in advance as well. Come the big day you can combine the frozen bread, veggie and meat mixture with some warm broth and butter and heat it through in the oven.

Make the mashed potatoes early, but don’t skimp on the fat. Butter, cream, sour cream or cream cheese can help hold in the moisture when reheating. Although they do freeze and reheat well, mashed potatoes are notorious for being the cause of foodborne illness. Move them to the refrigerator to thaw a day before needed, instead of leaving them out at room temperature.

Make sure they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F before serving.

Give Yourself Time – Even the Day Of

It’s hard to create the perfect cornstarch slurry or flour roux under pressure. If you know you are going to need gravy, make it ahead of time. It’s also the perfect way to use the often tossed out turkey neck and giblets. Remember, you can use turkey or chicken wings for a delicious stock that’ll make top-shelf gravy, too.

Shopping Lists and Freezers Can Reduce Stress

Buy an extra roll of plastic wrap – you’ll need it.

When freezing and reheating, too much air can cause skins to form or lost moisture. Certainly use this must-have tool on your potatoes and gravy, but I would argue it never hurts on most anything. Once the food has cooled, put plastic wrap directly on it and seal the edges. Then you can add foil or a lid for added protection. Just make sure to peel it off before heating.

Cookies, cakes and even pies (specifically fully cooked pumpkin or pecan) tend to freeze very well. Fruit pies can be a bit trickier. If you make your own pie crust, you can always do that ahead and freeze it. The filling and streusel topping of many fruit pies can be made a day or two before the meal – just refrigerate them in separate containers.

Show Stoppers Aren’t Too Hard

If you really want to wow your guests, make fresh whipped cream. By using corn syrup instead of granulated sugar, your whipped cream will hold its shape and texture even after being frozen and thawed. A general guideline is 2 cups heavy cream, about one-third cup corn syrup and a half-teaspoon of vanilla.

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Lauren Cornay, RD, LN, is a registered dietitian with Avera Heart Hospital. Contact her by email to learn about her services.

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