This lovely guest post comes to us from Katherine Tuggle, a very talented food blogger whose website is Minimalist Meal, a great resource for all sorts of culinary knowledge, from brining chicken breasts to how long cream cheese lasts. Visit her blog to find out more cooking tips, and enjoy her advice here on how to make the long-awaited holiday dinner less stressful.
There’s always significant pressure in coming up with a beautiful and sumptuous dinner on Christmas. With it now seemingly just a few blinks away, you should begin preparing for the inevitable Christmas Eve dinner. I like this kind of gathering because family is around a single dining table, sharing in the merriment. But before that happened, I’d typically go through many stressful moments.
In an article in the Daily Mail, chef Gordon McDermott put it so aptly: “The trouble with Christmas dinner is that, quite often, it’s the only meal people cook from scratch all year. And it’s quite a complicated and expensive one. It’s no wonder people get stressed out.”
You can truly feel the Christmas rush when you’re trying to whip up a festive Christmas dinner in your kitchen. You rush from the oven to the stove, from the fridge to the sink, and you end up all spent and beat up by the time guests have arrived. Here are ways to minimize stress and maximize enjoyment while setting up your dining table.
1. Keep Things Simple.
This is a trick I learned the hard way simply because I naturally wanted to please everyone. However, preparing our Christmas food took a toll on me after several hours of being busy in the kitchen. Then I was left with little energy to enjoy the moment. So what I did was simplify a lot of things in our household come Christmas-time. For instance, I’ve adopted fewer dishes on my menu, so I can focus on making them more special than simultaneously making a greater number of mediocre-tasting dishes. It also gave me more leeway to take care of all the logistics without coming out haggard after I’ve finally done the cooking.
For the past few years, I have taken to heart creating a special 5-dish menu that I know will please my family deeply. While I can manage to make more, I just know that with my one-man team in the kitchen, the food will come out so much better if I can give it my full focus.
2. Plan Your Menu in Advance.
It’s just several weeks away from Christmas, but planning your menu early may give you enough leeway for your kitchen activities. I don’t want to get too stressed out preparing way too many dishes simultaneously, so I pare down the menu to two special dishes, and the rest are made up of dishes requested by my family. So if the kids want hot chocolate and gingerbread, then so be it. I just want to strike a good balance of making the occasion as special as possible with my specialties. Then my kids can have all of their requests satisfied at such a memorable time. I also try to change some items in the menu year after year, so it pays to pick your dishes as early as now so you can also shop for ingredients accordingly.
Admittedly, I have been one of those people who go through great lengths to prepare a festive and unforgettable Christmas dinner. Previously, I always believed that the stress would be worth it. I soon learned that I just needed a system to make preparations breezier.
3. Gear Up Your Kitchen.
Since you’re anticipating more hours than usual in the kitchen, it’s a good thing to gear it up a few days before Christmas. Clean your refrigerator and clear your freezer. Check your oven and cookware. Stock up on the ingredients so you don’t need to make a mad dash to the grocery just to get cream cheese. Take out special dish containers from their storage and clean them up.
Basically, what you want to do a few weeks before Christmas is to make sure that your kitchen is well-equipped for the demands of your cooking, from the ingredients right down to your kitchen utensils.
4. Prepare What You Can in Advance.
You properly want to enjoy more time bonding with family on Christmas than stressing in the kitchen. To do this, determine the dishes that you can prepare in advance. For instance, if you’re serving a huge batch of red cabbage salad, you can chop the cabbages a few days before Christmas and freeze them. It might surprise you that red cabbage will retain its flavors quite well in its fresh state. So, you will get the guarantee of the thin slices you want without risking your fingers out of hurry.
You can do the same with carrots, bean sprouts, and parsnips. Simply boil them until tender, then place them in a bowl of ice to halt the cooking process. Stick them in the fridge, and they’ll still taste as fresh as when they hit the pan.
And you can also prepare gravy, potatoes, and stuffing the night before. Simply reheat them on the big day, and you’ve just claimed a few hours of free time not stressing and just sipping wine. You can also prepare puddings even a few weeks before Christmas because they’ll taste even better as they mature.
5. Let People Help Out.
It used to be just me working in the kitchen for several Christmases. Now the kids have grown up a bit, and they have learned to knead dough, chop vegetables, and make simple desserts. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Someone else might have to take care of the Christmas lights, put on batteries on the kid’s soon-to-be-toys, or come up with a program of sorts. If your family is coming over for a vacation, cooking and doing chores in the kitchen can be a great bonding time while getting a few tasks off your hands.
I love preparing food for my family during the holidays because I get to steer away from my usual daily menu and prepare something truly special for the people I love. But this commitment can be very stressful because I am also feeling the pressure from all corners, even pressure coming from myself.
In moments like this, what you need is a good strategy. Planning can span a few months before Christmas to the day itself. But when you’ve mapped out your next moves, things will fall into place. You’ll surely come up with the perfect Christmas dinner this way. As early as now, begin planning it so you don’t have to cram trying to do multiple things all at once.
Just take it easy, plan ahead, and be kind to yourself. Knowing what I wanted to serve on Christmas dinner allowed me to prepare certain dishes in advance. For this reason, I may win some precious time back and relax while waiting for my potatoes to roast in the oven. While that happens, I bring out my wine glass, say a toast, give myself a pat on the back, and whisper, “It’s indeed a merry Christmas.”