How to Prepare Your Holiday Meals in Advance
If you’re hosting your first big holiday celebration this year, congrats! It’s an exciting time—however, putting together a sensational multi-course meal for 10 is also nerve-racking. If you’re worried, take a deep breath. There is still plenty of time to plan the perfect stress-free meal. The key to an effortlessly executed Christmas morning brunch or New Year’s Eve dinner is to do as much as possible in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out what you are going to serve. Think about it now and create a manageable plan for carrying it out. Here’s how to prepare your holiday meals in advance.
Love browsing photos on the glossy pages of Bon Appétit? So do I, but I’m also a recipe nerd and enjoy actually reading the recipes. I know that most people aren’t into reading ingredients lists and directions, so here’s a gentle reminder: Read the recipe all the way through before you decide to make a dish. Don’t go to the grocery store an hour before your dinner to get the ingredients for a golden beet soup that takes three hours to make. By the time the soup is ready, your guests will be starving!
When you’re figuring out what to make, be it the crown pork roast with chestnut-rye stuffing you saw on Martha Stewart’s website or the Brussels sprout and ricotta gratin from Charlie Palmer’s American Fare, read the entire recipe. The technique and time it takes to assemble and cook the dish should determine whether or not it fits on your menu.
Certain dishes must be made in advance, so search for these items and make them instead of dishes that require last-minute cooking. If your husband requests spaghetti and meatballs for your celebratory holiday dinner party, tell him you’re going to make a classic lasagna with a rich meat sauce instead. Why? Spaghetti and meatballs are a lot of work and require that the cook make the pasta and toss it all together just before serving. A lasagna, on the other hand, can be assembled a whole two days before the party. All you have to do is pop it in the oven about an hour before you want to serve it.
Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead is a cookbook devoted to dishes that must be made in advance. If you do a lot of hosting, I highly recommend it. With dishes like Provencal fish stew with rouille, baked polenta with mushrooms and blue cheese, and French chicken pot pies, it’s a worthy investment. Other items that are best made in advance: soups, casseroles, stews, and slow-cooked meats.
Not all recipes will provide you with information on how to make the dish in advance. This is where you need to be smart and resourceful about things. Almost every dish can be partially made in advance; you just have to figure out how to do it. While potato latkes taste best when warm and crispy, fresh out of the pan, you can prepare the potatoes, onion, and egg mixture the day before your cocktail party.
Most roast chicken recipes won’t tell you that it’s perfectly okay to prepare the chicken (rub it with herb butter, stuff the cavity with citrus, and place on a bed of citrus and onions) and leave the bird uncooked overnight in the fridge. All you have to do is stick it in the oven to bake during your event.
Salmon en papillote with fennel, potatoes, and olives isn’t a dish that one would normally consider making ahead. However, you can certainly prepare the salmon and vegetable packages the night before New Year’s Eve. Keep them well chilled in the fridge and bake the following day. Just be smart about it: You wouldn’t want to add bread to the parchment paper package a day in advance, because it could end up getting soggy.
The only way you can possibly prepare your holiday meal in advance is if you plan your menu in advance. Figure out what you are going to make now so you have plenty of time to source a perfect cut of prime rib and rub it with rosemary garlic salt two days before you’re going to roast it.
You can’t make an elaborate layer cake an hour before you plan on serving it. Why? You have to bake the layers and let them cool before you can even think about frosting them! Most desserts must be made in advance, so make your spectacular finish first. Depending on what you’re serving, you can make it up to a week in advance.
Desserts that have ice cream, like baked Alaska, require time to freeze. Pies need time to cool and set. Cookies are made in batches. Trifles and tiramisu are better a day or two after being made, when the flavors have had time to meld together. Get your dessert out of the way and you’ll have more time to prep the other courses.
There is nothing worse than trying to shop for groceries in a horribly overcrowded Trader Joe’s. To make certain that you beat the crowds, shop early and avoid peak grocery shopping times. Don’t shop on Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons. Shop for the big holidays two to three days before the main event, during the middle of the day, around 2 p.m. If you’re just purchasing produce and pantry goods, go at night after 8 p.m., when the store will be significantly less crowded. If you just need one thing, ask a guest to stop and pick it up.
One way to ensure that you cook quickly and efficiently is to clear out your kitchen. Remove clutter. Put away unnecessary pots and pans that you don’t use regularly. Empty out the fridge so there is plenty of room for the food you will prepare in advance.
Shop gadgets that will make cooking faster and easier, below.
How do you make a celebratory grand-scale meal in advance?