8 Tips for Fast-Paced Holiday Cooking

Cooking doesn't have to take all day–set the timer and get cooking.

Wild Rice Stuffingenlarge
This hearty stuffing is chock full of vegetables, pecans, and dried cherries and apricots. The sweet-and-savory combination is a sure crowd-pleaser, and stuffing is an easy side to make for large groups.Yield: 12 servings Recipe: Wild Rice Stuffing

The holidays are big around MyRecipes.com. Aside from helping you plan your Thanksgiving dinner, we're also collecting recipes to plan our own. As other staffers talked about casseroles, main dishes, and sweet treats, I bemoaned the fact that, thanks to my small apartment kitchen, I'd never be able to make a traditional, all-the-fixins style dinner. Or could I?

The challenge was issued. Could Thanksgiving dinner be done using only one standard oven and one range? And, to make it more fun, we threw in a time limit of two hours.

My girlfriends and I gathered in early November for the big event and discovered, as you can read about on the You've Got To Taste This blog, it can be done. In two hours and three minutes, we cranked out an eleven-dish meal, including a 12-pound turkey, sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, green beans, gravy, mac & cheese, stuffing, apple crisp, homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, and ambrosia.

This year, if your holiday plans come-together last minute, or you just enjoy a good fast-paced culinary adventure, take a few of our easy tips, trips, secrets, and suggestions to getting dinner on the table in no time and enjoying the preparations along the way.


1. Plan Your Menu. Sure, the joy in last-minute cooking is not being bogged down in the details, but in order for everything to come together at the end (and you not to forget the stuffing still sitting piecemeal in the pantry), do a little front-end work. Plan a menu that works with your kitchen and map it out on paper noting what will occupy the oven, microwave, slow cooker, refrigerator, and range at any given time.

2. Make a Game Plan. Once you know what you're serving and how long they need to cook, make a kitchen schedule for the big event noting what times dishes need to go in or out of the oven. Don't forget to factor in preheating and time for pots of water to come to a boil.

3. Shop in Sections. Create a grocery list from your menu and divide it into two or three lists, whatever seems manageable to you (and your pantry). Purchase nonperishables (such as pasta noodles, canned goods, and dried herbs) a week ahead, then plan to pick up refrigerator items (the turkey that needs to thaw and fresh herbs) a few days ahead. Don't forget to factor in one day of thaw time for every five pounds of turkey.

4. Check Your Supplies. When we started cooking, I realized that I didn't own a vegetable peeler, which made prepping several pounds of sweet potatoes rather difficult. Make sure you have what you need, whether it's a zester, an apple corer, or a roasting pan before you get cooking. If I'd been on my game, I never would've had to use clean washcloths as stand-in trivets to save my counter.

5. Plan to Decorate. Just because dinner preparations are intentionally hurried doesn't mean the table setup has to be. Even if your dinner service for 8 won't serve all 12 of your guests, set the table with fun placemats, napkins, and dishes. If you're short on space, check out MyHomeIdeas.com, where the editors show you how to pick pieces that are both pretty and functional. (Christmas Table Decorations in a Flash)

6. Pick Your Battles Carefully. For this dinner adventure, we made everything from scratch, but if you have a favorite bakery in town, consider picking up a cake or a batch of fresh yeast rolls to free up your oven and a little time on the big day.

7. Pick Your Co-chefs Even More Carefully. When embarking on a limited time cooking spree, team up with friends or family that are familiar with your kitchen and your game plan. Invite other guests to enjoy the madness and put them in charge of making sure your wine glasses are full at all times.

8. Relax, It's Dinner! Whether you decide to try a fast-paced cooking event for a routine friends-only dinner or for a tried-and-true holiday meal, don't sweat the small stuff. If dinner takes a few minutes longer and your guests start eating at 6:10 instead of 6:00 on the dot, remember that the joy of cooking, and eating together, is gathering friends and family for a festive and fun event. And tasty leftovers.

by Ashley Johnson
Nov, 2008
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