Holiday Hospitality Tips

Time saving ways to stay jolly in the kitchen.

Here we are, smacked dab in the middle of the holidays. Halfway between the tryptophan coma and the many meals of St. Nicholas’ favorite month.

While I’ve never been accused of being a great chef, I have spent decades entertaining family and friends for the holidays without creating too much chaos in the kitchen. For me it all comes down to advance planning. 

  • Menu – It might seem like overkill, but I find that having detailed menus, in writing, for every meal and snack session is essential to building out thorough grocery lists and making sure all the ingredients are in the right place at the right time.
  • Lists – Grocery lists live in my computer to be updated annually, so I don’t have to start from scratch. I make notes of quantities and separate the perishable purchases from the fresh items so I can get ahead by buying the food that will keep in advance. As OCD as this sounds, I make the lists in order according to the store aisle locations. 
  • Spice it up – Don’t overlook the importance of freshening up your spice rack. Check your lists twice to make sure you have the key ingredients for each menu item.
  • Delivery and pick up services – Take advantage of convenient shopping and delivery services to ease the load as much as possible. 
  • Make in advance – Anything that can be made or prepped in advance is checked off the list, preferably the day before. 
  • Clean as you go – One of my favorite holiday moments is when the family teams up to clear and clean after a wonderful meal but there is nothing worse than leaving them with a pile of dirty pans. I find that most items take very little time to quickly wash, dry, and put away to keep a tidy kitchen and I make sure the dishwasher is largely empty before the cleanup crew steps in.
  • Stage it – Figure out in advance what serving dishes and utensils are needed for everything on the menu and lay them out, so they are on the ready when the meal served. No last-minute hunting for that special bowl or grandma’s gravy ladle. 
  • Buffets rule – While I love the formality of a served dinner, I reserve that for the most special occasions. With many meals over many days, there are many advantages to serving buffet style if you have the space. This can be done festively with little fuss. 
  • Cold storage – There are few conveniences that make holidays easier than having a second fridge for food storage. Prep and platter as much as possible in advance, grouping according to meal so nothing is left behind. Those who share a cold climate location may find that a garage is just as good (a small fridge thermometer helps with food safety) and makes for convenient beverage chilling rather than taking up precious fridge space. 
  • Tupperware – This detail is often overlooked. At the end of holiday meals there are always leftovers. Stock up on easy storage solutions and plan if you want to send guests home with a few tasty tidbits.
  • Travel cooking – If you are staying at a vacation rental and plan to cook, inquire in advance about kitchen amenities and the best local grocers to make sure you have what you need. Use convenient foil pans to supplement cookware as needed and minimize clean up.

Lastly, I can’t help but pass along a few holiday menu innovations my daughter and I have discovered over the years. 

Bake up the brie – Turn crescent roll dough into an easy crust, center the brie and slather with your favorite sweet jam before artistically topping with more crust. Bake and delight!

Turn over your turkey – Cooking your turkey upside down allows the dark juices to flow into the white meat, resulting in moist, flavorful succulence throughout. Flip the bird breast up near the end to crisp the skin. This method may accelerate cooking time. 

Mix up the stuffing – Diced corn bread and jalapeño cheddar bread dried overnight make for the most flavorful stuffing. Add chorizo sauteed with onion and garlic along with a green apple and chicken broth before baking for about an hour. A clever idea for stuffing leftovers … warm up for breakfast and toss on a couple of fried eggs.

Modify the green bean casserole – Try roasting fresh green beans (a toaster oven is the perfect size) and tossing with tahini and toasted slivered almonds. Healthy and delicious.

Kick up the mashed potatoes – Add creamy horseradish to freshly made rustic (skin on) mashers along with some goat cheese. No gravy needed.

Regardless of what is on the menu, do some advance planning and preparation so that you can have a holly jolly holiday.

The opportunities for your next Montana adventure are unlimited and Cherry Creek Guest House is ready to serve as your home away.

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