The holidays are supposed to be filled with joyous moments spent with family and friends, but sometimes, in an effort to make the occasions as special (and delicious!) as possible, we end up spending more time in the kitchen than we do actually enjoying time together.
Let's *not* do that this year, okay?
Here are 12 tips and tricks to help you make the most of your festive time without sacrificing a yummy spread.
1. Spatchcock Your Turkey to Cook It Faster
"I never cook a whole turkey," Rach says. "I always spatchcock them."
Essentially, spatchcocking means removing the backbone of the turkey. To do as Rach does, cut along each side of the spine with poultry shears, a cleaver or a large chef’s knife before roasting it -- and then lay the turkey flat for cooking.
This way, Rach says she can cook a 14-pound turkey in just TWO hours. (That should shave at least an hour off your turkey cooking time!)
2. Make Side Dishes Ahead of Time
When friends and family are only around for a couple of days, doing prep work before they arrive is key.
Did you know you can make mashed potatoes (a.k.a. perhaps the most popular Thanksgiving side dish of all) ahead of time?
In fact, these Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes can be made up to two days ahead, our culinary producer Grant Melton says.
3. ...OR Skip the Potato Peeling Altogether
Make mashers even faster by skipping all that potato peeling period—with Rach’s Easy 5-Ingredient Mashed Potatoes (she uses baby red potatoes instead so you can leave the skins on).
4. Use Leftovers In a Day-After Sandwich Bar For Houseguests
If you have a lot of friends and family staying over, you may feel compelled to cook a brand-new meal for them for every meal throughout their stay -- but who has time for that, especially since you'd rather be spending time with them?
So, here's an idea: put leftovers to use in a fun and interactive way!
Let's say you had ham for dinner the night before, like Dietz & Watson's premium, no-antibiotic-ever Originals Chef Carved Holiday Ham -- which is fully cooked, sliced and glazed. You can then repurpose it in a sandwich bar for your houseguests the next day.
5. Batch Your Breakfast/Brunch Dishes
Having a big group over for Christmas brunch? Don't spend the entire morning at the stove flipping French toast.
This French Toast Casserole sets overnight and “is a perfect make-ahead," says Rach. "It's a whole lot easier to scoop up a couple portions of this than to flip individual portions for 10 or 12 people," she adds.
Better yet, place the casserole dish on the table and let your guests serve themselves!
This concept also applies to pancakes and eggs. Rather than making them to order, spray a muffin tin with some cooking spray and bake off a crowd’s worth of individual pancakes, over-easy eggs or frittatas in one fell swoop.
6. Prep Batches of Homemade Slice + Bake Cookies Ahead of Time
Want to impress your guests with piping hot, homemade cookies -- but you don't want to make them the day of the party?
We've got you covered!
Prep the dough for culinary producer Grant Melton's Bacon-Maple Slice 'n' Bake Cookies ahead of time and freeze it -- so when it's dessert time, you can -- well -- slice 'n' bake 'em! Ta da -- “instant” homemade cookies that are actually homemade.
7. Get Spreadable Butter (or Bring Eggs to Room Temperature) In a Pinch
Nothing's worse than realizing you forgot to get the butter out of the fridge to soften it when you meant to hours ago for a baking recipe or serving at the table.
Rach recommends running the lid of your butter dish under hot water for a few seconds until it warms up. Pop the warm lid over the butter -- and by the time your guests sit down, the butter will be super spreadable.
As for eggs, "If you need room temperature eggs in a pinch," our culinary producer Grant Melton explains, "all you have to do is put them in a bowl and cover them with warm water."
Just let them sit for a minute or two, and you’re good to go -- but don't use *hot* water, because you don’t want to start cooking those eggs!
8. Do Dessert In a Slow Cooker
No more oven space? No problem!
You can make these Triple-Chocolate Hazelnut Brownies in a slow cooker so your oven can be reserved for your main dishes. (This way, you don't have to stagger the cooking and baking either, thus saving you time!)
You can also use your slow cooker to make side dishes, like this Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole that don't fit in the oven.
9. … OR Make a No-Bake Trifle Instead of Baking at All
With oven space at a premium, why not make a dessert that doesn't have to bake at all?
This Pumpkin Pie Trifle is sure to satisfy your Thanksgiving guests' pumpkin cravings just as much as the real thing.
Place the trifle into the fridge and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight *before* your guests arrive -- so once they do, you can devote your time and attention to them (and to scooping this yummy dessert onto their plates).
10. Chill Wine + Champagne FAST
We've all been there: your guests are arriving for your big New Year's Eve party and you realize that you forgot to chill the white wine and Champagne.
Don't worry! Rach has a little trick that you should definitely keep in your back pocket.
She pops her wine or Champagne bottle in an ice bucket -- and to keep the ice icy longer, she adds salt.
"Salt makes the ice melt at a lower temperature," she says.
Your beverages will chill in about 6 minutes FLAT -- and your guests will never know you forgot!
11. Know Your Substitutes So You Can Skip Multiple Grocery Store Runs
Even when you make a shopping list, you're bound to forget something. But if you know your substitutes, you may realize that you already have what you need sitting in your fridge or pantry.
You can make your own substitute by adding a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk and letting it stand for 5-10 minutes. You can also use yogurt or sour cream watered down with some milk.
Butter For Baking
While everything arguably tastes better with butter, you can substitute butter for oil in a baking recipe if you're in a bind. Since they're both a fat, oil will do the trick just fine.
Broth VS Stock
Good news! There's not too much of a difference between broth and stock, Rach says. “Stock has a little deeper, richer favor," she explains. "Broth is just lighter and clearer." Essentially, it's a matter of flavor -- but they can be used interchangeably if need be.
Heavy Cream VS Whipping Cream
Have you ever wondered what the difference between heavy and whipping cream is? Well, according to culinary producer Grant Melton, not much! Heavy cream just has slightly more milk fat.
The more you know … the less times you have to run to the store!
12. Use Dryer Sheets To Make Clean-Up Easier
We're guessing you really put your baking sheets to good use during the holidays. So when remnants of baked-on gunk just won't budge, it can be really frustrating!
Well, this just in: dryer sheets are the assistants you never knew you needed. (In the kitchen, anyway!)
Just soak your dirty baking sheet with warm water, place the dryer sheet in the water and let it sit for a few hours. The goop will have come right off with a light scrub.