What can be more delightful than the holidays spent in the good company of family and friends at a festive table enjoying a delicious home cooked meal! There’s the perfect blend of tons of great food, loved ones you’ve missed during the year, perhaps a bottle of wine (or two), and of course amazing conversation! But for those who are hosting and cooking the festive meal, the holidays can be a bit more stressful. You have to start planning ahead of time, get all the ingredients together, then cook and try to get everything done at the same time without disappointing your guests. Tough thing to accomplish when all you want is simply to enjoy the holiday with everyone else, right? Stop stressing out, and start reading! These simple tips for stress-free holiday cooking are sure to become your lifesaver this year.
Planning ahead is the key
It is very important to have a plan ahead of time, especially if you are cooking for a large group of people. Don’t try to do everything at once, take it in steps. First, decide what you want to cook and plan the menu. If you can, keep your recipes next to you. From there make a list of things that need to be bought. Make sure to put down exactly how much of everything you need, so you don’t overstuff your fridge. It will amaze you how helpful this will be when it’s time to cook and you don’t have to stress over little things like running out of salt.
Start preparing in advance
Once you have your plan ready, it is important to start preparing early to ensure your cooking day goes as smoothly as possible. This can be done anywhere from 2 to 7 days ahead of time. For instance, if you will need broth for your dish, make it a week in advance and freeze. If you will need a lot of vegetables and fruits, slice and dice them two or three days in advance and store in the fridge until you need them. Just make sure you quickly google how to store them, some (like potatoes and apples) need to be kept in water to keep from browning.
Since you’re already chopping vegetables, any casseroles whose final step is to be baked in the oven can be prepared ahead of time too. Make sure to slightly undercook your ingredients (particularly vegetables, since you don’t want them to turn into mush when you bake them), build your casserole, then save it in the fridge until the time comes to heat and serve. Take your casseroles out of the fridge about an hour before cooking, so they’re room temperature to start. This will also give them that “casseroles are better the next day” flavor that everyone loves, but few can wait for.
By the way, did you know that chopping those veggies will not only save you time later but also help to unwind at the end of a long workday? No joke! The steady chop, chop, chop of the knife against the cutting board forces you to focus on the task at hand and soothes the soul. This can be like meditation and will leave you with the quiet mind and a big pile of beautiful, perfectly shaped veggies for a great festive meal ahead.
Keep it low key
Just because you know you can pull off a full five-course fancy meal for 20 people with just one oven and two screaming toddlers running around in your kitchen, doesn’t mean you have to, or should. Keep your meals simple and not only will your stress levels stay low, but it will also keep your guests thrilled.
If you really want to show off pick one dish to be the star. Your family is there to be together and share love, what they don’t want is you so stressed that you can’t enjoy yourself.
Clean as you go
Remember, less mess is always the key. Most of the time it’s hard to juggle it all even if you’re making a one-pot meal, but in the case of the holiday feast, it’s essential to discard garbage, keep your cutting surfaces clean, and make sure your dishes organized. One of my favorite tricks is to keep a large bowl near my workstation and dedicate it to collecting your garbage. This keeps it off the floor and out of your way, without having to go back and forth to the bin. Another great trick: if you have people visiting who want to help, but may otherwise get in the way, set them to the task of cleaning up behind you.
One more important advice to keep in mind is that all (or at least some) dishwashing should be done by hand. This is especially the case for the tools you use the most – your chef’s knife, cutting board, measuring cups – you’ll need them over and over, and you might as well clean them by hand every time. Yes, I’m serious here. Studies have shown that washing your dishes mindfully can be therapeutic and relaxing. It allows you to slow down and focus on completing a simple, satisfying task. And it never takes quite as long as you expect it will!
Turn on the music
Listening to good, soothing music is another great way to take the stress out of the kitchen. Studies have shown that music helps to calm the system and remove stress.
So what type of music reduces stress the best? While it may be a bit surprising to some, Native American and Celtic music are among the most relaxing. Followed closely by Indian stringed instruments, drums, and flute which help relax the mind even if you like to really turn up the volume. Rain, thunder, and nature sounds may also be relaxing especially when mixed with jazz, classical, or easy listening music.
Need something more specific? Here is the list of five most relaxing songs of all times according to science: Mozart’s Canzonetta Sull’aria, Electra by Airstream, Enya’s Watermark, Strawberry Swing by Coldplay, and We Can Fly by Cafe Del Mar.
Have your playlist ready? Then it’s time to grab your knife and cutting board; turn on some tunes and start whipping up a table full of scrumptious goodies. Cooking doesn’t have to be complex and overwhelming! Follow these simple tips for stress-free cooking and you can make sure upcoming Christmas or New Year’s is more pleasant for everyone.