With all the isolation and stress of the last year, 2021 may be a more important time than ever to sit down with loved ones and share a Christmas meal. Unfortunately, the pressure of making a memorable holiday meal can kick a cook’s stress level up several more notches. If planning and preparing your Christmas feast is feeling like one burden too many, don’t worry: we’ve got you! Here are our favorite tips to de-stress your Christmas cooking.
1. Think ahead.
Do as much as you can in advance so that when the day comes, you can spend most of your focus on the people you’re doing it all for.
• Shop early. Don’t plan on going to the store after December 20; it’s a zoo! Plan in advance and avoid the crush.
• "Mis en place" all your recipes. Mis en place is a French term meaning “everything in place.” It is the practice of measuring out all the ingredients for a recipe and doing any other preparation that you can do in advance. For example, mix your drinks and dressings beforehand. Peel potatoes and leave them in water in the fridge. Prepare vegetables on sheet pans so they are ready for the oven, wrapped in plastic wrap and stacked in the fridge, etc.
• Make your centerpiece, move the furniture, wrap the presents, and set the table as soon as you can. Actually, now! Don't wait.
2. Simplify what can be simplified.
As foodies dedicated to our craft, we have a hard time telling others (or even ourselves) to use the shortcuts that modern society has created for meal production because the longer, scenic route of cooking and creating a dining experience is a beautiful labor of love that you can taste with every bite. However, that labor can be a bit much on Christmas morning with a family of kids hyped up on sugar and presents, rampaging with their loud new toys while you’re trying to clean up before guests arrive. One of the best ways to de-stress your Christmas cooking is to simplify where you can.
• Dice the onions: This is one of the most time-consuming steps, especially because so many recipes start with sautéed onions. You can do this in advance. Put them in a bowl and keep them in the refrigerator or freeze them. Or simplify even more by just buying onions already frozen and diced.
• Buy the ham. Seriously. They come spiral cut and glazed, and they are delicious. Don't kill yourself making one from scratch; there are better things to do with your time. Just remember to order and pick it up early.
• If bread-making is your forte and you are not tapped from holiday baking by the time you get to December 25th, spectacular! Try making, shaping, and freezing your bread dough in advance. Then, day of, just remove from freezer and bake. But if you don’t have that kind of time and energy, take advantage of local artisan bread options that can make your Christmas meal-prep much easier. Eva’s Bakery, Mims Bakery, Flourish Bakery, and Harmon’s artisan bread section are all great go-tos.
• Desserts are a similar situation. It’s beautiful to share any of your homemade sweets, but you can also simplify by trying out one of your excellent local artisans who make delicious desserts. A few of our favorites are Grapefruit & Thyme, Cache Toffee, Les Madeleines, Gourmandise, Flour & Flourish, Cake by Alessandra, and Tulie Bakery.
3. Give yourself a gift.
We’re not speaking metaphorically about being kind to yourself and not expecting the impossible (although, yes, you should give yourself a break). We’re talking about literally gifting yourself something this year, one labor-saving piece of equipment that will make life easier for you in the kitchen. If you need ideas, we have a few suggestions.
4. Delegate (or, better yet, share).
Some cooks want to do it all by themselves. Believe us, we get that. But as tempting at it is to take the burden on yourself and be the Christmas kitchen god, it can be important for kids, spouses, and guests to have a hand in making the meal.
Remember: It’s not about the food; it’s about the experience. You’re not just feeding bellies; you’re helping create meaningful memories. We all know that turning part of the meal over to someone else can often create as much work and stress for you as it relieves, but don’t lose sight of the big picture. That grandson who messes up half the napkins he folds may not be saving you much time, but think about what he’s learning, the confidence he’s gaining, and the memories he’s making. We guarantee that the feelings and experience he gets from making a meaningful contribution will stay with him a lot longer than the mashed potatoes and gravy.
But how can you delegate part of the Christmas meal tasks without creating more headache for yourself?
• Have someone else bring dessert, salad, entrée, sides, or whatever parts of the meal you choose. If any of your guests have a specialty dish, consider giving them a chance to shine.
• Prepare a list of helpful things people could do when they arrive. Most people welcome a chance to be helpful if they know how to do it without getting in the way. Instead of waiting for them to ask and then scrambling to think of something for them to do, have it written down. The list could include things like
-- filling waters and pitchers on tables
--adding crackers/chocolate/room temp things to your charcuterie board or appetizers
--mixing mashed potatoes
--watching the turkey/ham, rolls, etc. in the oven
• Have all your platters and serving utensils picked out and labeled so when people are helping they aren't scrambling to see what platter is for what item.
• If people are arriving early to help, leave a recipe with your mis en placed plates and have them follow the directions.
Realistically, there may not be any such thing as a stress-free Christmas meal (unless you follow the Japanese Christmas custom and just order a bucket of chicken from KFC). But if you do what you can to de-stress your Christmas cooking, you'll minimize the anxiety and maximize the meaning of the experience.
We hope your Christmas is joyous and delicious.