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We all want that picture perfect holiday meal — all the dishes spread out on the dining room table, everything perfectly done and steaming flavorful goodness, while the main dish is brought out and carved: moist, delicious and tender.

Norman Rockwell aside, getting that picture perfect holiday meal is easier said than done. We aren’t super moms and our kitchens don’t have 8 separate ovens for all the different foods. Time to employ some tips and tricks to get it all on the table at the right time and the right temperature.

1. Buy Pre-Prepared Food


There is no prize for destroying your kitchen while cooking everything from scratch. Decide ahead of time what dishes you want to make from scratch and which are going to be purchased pre-made. For example, baked goods such as brown-and-serve dinner rolls and pies have dozens of delicious options available at your grocery store’s bakery counter. Foods like mashed potatoes can also be purchased pre-made or nearly so — like these Edward and Son’s Organic Mashed Potatoes — just add hot water and the dish is done in 5 minutes.

2. Cook Food Ahead of Time


Now that you’ve taken some of the cooking tasks off your list, you can focus on the rest of the dishes. For as many items as possible, cook or prepare these a day or two before the holiday. While you are cooking these items, don’t forget to pull your turkey or roast out of the freezer — if necessary — to thaw for 2-4 days in your refrigerator. The items that are cooked ahead of time need to be able to reheat well or not need reheating at all. Here are some items that are a good fit for this category:

  • Roasted vegetables
  • Casseroles (omit crispy topping for initial cooking — add during reheat)
  • Pies and other baked goods
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Soup
  • Fruit, potato, frog-eye or other thickly-smothered salad
  • Gravy (unless you plan on using pan drippings, in which case, hold off until the day of)
Tender, steamed veggies or green salads need to wait until the actual holiday day to be prepared.

3. Alternate Cooking Methods


Let’s face it: for several hours before the holiday meal, your oven is going to be occupied by your main dish. Anything you can prepare or reheat using other cooking appliances is going to make concurrent cooking times not only easier, but actually possible! Utilize your slow cooker(s), toaster oven, stove-top, buffet server, and microwave, and take full advantage of all your cooking options.

You can get that turkey out of the oven completely by purchasing an electric roaster — just make sure you have a large enough space to store it later.

Alternatively, if this is a small family party, instead of eating main dish leftovers for the next seven days, purchase a smaller turkey (or turkey pieces). Then, instead of cooking it in the oven or large electric roaster, you could use a smaller appliance like a 6-quart, 8-quart or casserole size slow cooker.

4. Let That Roast Rest!


If you haven’t heard about resting your roasts after cooking, it’s good practice. Cutting into a roast turkey, ham, or standing rib roast right after cooking lets those flavorful juices run wild all over the serving tray. Resting the meat gives time for the juices to “redistribute” evenly throughout the meat. For a more scientific explanation, check out this article from Serious Eats.

Now that you are convinced of resting your main dish, it’s time to leverage that resting time. If you tent your roast with aluminum foil (“tent” is just a fancy way of saying cover loosely with aluminum foil) and let it rest for 30 minutes, you now have time to heat or reheat all of your pre-made dishes in the oven. Just wait to heat up those pies until the main course dishes are out.

An hour or two before your main dish is done in the oven, pull all the main courses out of the refrigerator so that the chill is taken off the dishes. When the main dish is out of the oven and tented, put everything else in at 350 degrees during that rest time. This should warm up everything to the right temperature in that 30 minutes. Those brown-and-serve rolls might need less than 30 minutes; go ahead and put them in at the appropriate time per package instructions.

For some items, add additional moisture with extra butter, oil, or water to be sure that the dish stays moist during reheating. Or add a bit extra during the initial cooking time to compensate for reheating day.

Very dense dishes — like mashed potatoes — might not be done in 30 minutes. Try using alternate appliances to reheat, reheating in 2 smaller cooking vessels in the oven, or put in the oven with the main dish for a span of time.

Cooking holiday meals may be a bit more stressful and labor-intensive than regular meals, but with these tips and tricks up your sleeve you can make sure your efforts produce the beautiful holiday spread you’ve envisioned.

Need some more helpful kitchen tips? Read all about Daily Mom’s Top Kitchen Essentials for Busy Families.

Photo Credits: Our Thanksgiving Table and Cutting the Pie by Didriks (CC BY 2.0), Kristen Lee Douglas, Stefani, Carving Set by Match Pewter by Didriks (CC BY 2.0)

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