8 Tips For Making Your Holidays Hassle-free (In The Kitchen, At Least)

We’re heading into what, for many, is the most intensely social time of the year. Parties, dinners, decorating, baking—it can all be a little overwhelming. But when it comes to hosting holiday dinners and parties, staying organized and doing some pre-planning can make your entertaining easier and more enjoyable for everyone, especially you. Then you can relax and appreciate all the rest of the festivities, too.

  1. Keep it simple. Now isn’t the time to experiment with a bunch of new , complicated recipes. Cook things you’ve made before using as many on-hand ingredients as possible. Keep the beverage list short—beer, wine, and a do-ahead batch cocktail, along with a non-alcoholic choice for those who don’t want to drink.
  2. Make a plan, and don’t wait until the last minute. Whether you’re doing dinner for two or cocktails for 50, advance planning makes the event easier. Develop your menu, gather and read through your recipes, make a shopping list and a timetable. But, stay flexible. In these days of uncertainty, guests get sick at the last minute, an ingredient you need may be in short supply (or really expensive), your oven decides to quit working—any number of situations could put a crimp in your plans. Take a deep breath and shift accordingly. There’s always a solution or alternative.
  3. Inventory your equipment and supplies well in advance. Make sure you have everything you need, like roasting pans, pie plates, and serving pieces. If you have holes to fill, make a stop at your local thrift store. Sometimes you can find what you need without spending a fortune. Make sure all of your table linens, if you’re using them, are clean and ready to go.
  4. Don’t think you have to make everything from scratch. It’s perfectly fine to take some shortcuts when you’re cooking a huge meal. Frozen pie crusts, frozen vegetables, even canned cranberries can all work with a little dressing up. Even Ina Garten doesn’t hesitate to use store-bought ingredients.
  5. Do as many things in advance as you can. Bake the pies, chop the vegetables for the stuffing, set the table, cook the sweet potatoes. Everything you can do ahead of time will make it easier on the day of.
  6. Embrace the principle of mise en place. That means chopping, measuring, and organizing all the ingredients and tools you’ll need for each recipe. It may seem a bit time-consuming at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never go back to your old habits again. It makes the actual cooking way more efficient. Real Simple explains how to do it.
  7. Clean as you go. This is when a helper can make a big difference. While you’re focused on the cooking tasks, someone else can be washing up the pots and pans and measuring cups so they’re ready to go for the next recipe. If you don’t have someone else to pitch in, then take a few minutes to do it yourself. It makes the next cooking task easier when you’re not trying to move around dirty dishes from the last one. And when the avalanche of after-dinner dishes hits the kitchen, you’ll have an empty dishwasher and sink ready for them.
  8. Let go of your expectations and perfectionism. Your guests won’t remember a dry turkey, but they will remember how you made them feel welcome and loved, and that’s the most important part of all. 
Brisket slices on plate with sides of carrots, potatoes, and braising sauce

Chile-braised Brisket

This is adapted from a long-ago Epicurious recipe for short ribs. It’s a complex flavor profile—spiciness from chiles, bitterness from coffee, slight sweetness from maple syrup, and acidity from lime juice—but it blends together in a warming and delicious symphony of taste. The slow cooking brings the brisket to the peak of tenderness. You can serve this over a bed of mashed potatoes or polenta, but it’s also good with crispy smashed potatoes on the side. If there are any leftovers, shred them for tacos or add to mac and cheese for a second tasty meal.

Serves 6-8

  • 4-6 dried red chile pods, seeds and stems removed
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 large onion, cut into chunks
  • 6 whole cloves garlic
  • 3 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 pound grass-fed brisket flat
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup coffee

Cover the chile pods with boiling water and allow to sit for about 20 minutes until soft. Drain, reserving the soaking water.

Add the chile pods, onion, garlic, chipotles and adobo sauce, maple syrup, lime juice and kosher salt to the jar of a blender. Puree until smooth.

Heat the oven to 275°. 

Pat dry the brisket and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Brown the brisket in the oil on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Reduce heat and carefully pour the puree into the pot. It will splatter, so use caution. Stir and deglaze the pot, scraping up all the brown bits. Cook until the puree darkens a bit, about five minutes. Stir in 1 ½ cups of the soaking liquid and the coffee and bring to a boil. Return the brisket, along with any juices, to the pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. It should almost cover the brisket. If not, add a little water.

Cover the pot and place in the oven. Check in 15 minutes to make sure the liquid is at a simmer. If not, adjust the temperature up or down by 15 degrees and check again in 15 minutes. The liquid should never boil.

Leave in the oven for 3-4 hours. When the braising is finished, remove the pot from the oven. At this point you can proceed with the recipe or allow the pot to cool uncovered, and then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Remove any fat from the pot and proceed with the recipe.

Remove the brisket to a cutting board and keep warm. Return the pot to the heat. Boil the braising liquid until reduced and thickened, about 8 minutes. Slice the brisket and serve with the sauce on the side.

Short ribs with carrot, onion, and herb garnish atop polenta on red plate with glass of red wine

Italian-style Short Ribs

Short ribs are the ultimate comfort food. They scent the house as they’re slow cooking all afternoon, and the combination of tender meatiness and gravy over a bed of mashed potatoes or polenta is perfection, especially on a chilly night. They’re delicious on the day of cooking, but they’re also excellent the next day. The key to any braise is to cook low and slow—the braising liquid should never boil. Instead, it should simmer slowly to break down the collagen and fat in the meat and deliver a falling-apart result.

4 servings

  • 4 pounds grass-fed short ribs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2-inch piece of Parmigiano Reggiano rind

Heat the oven to 275. 

Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Mix together the salt, black pepper, and flour, and then rub all over the ribs.

Heat the oil until shimmering in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add the ribs and brown on each side. Remove to a plate and keep warm. 

Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic to the pot. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Pour the red wine into the pot and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom. 

Add the rosemary, thyme, and sage to the pot, then stir in the broth and tomato paste. Add the salt. Return the ribs and their juices to the pot and make sure the braising liquid covers them. If necessary, add a little water. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano rind. Bring to a simmer.

Once the liquid is simmering, cover the pot and place in the oven. After about 15 minutes, check to see if the liquid is still simmering. If not, adjust the temperature by 15 degrees and check again in 15 minutes. The liquid shouldn’t be boiling. Cook for 2 ½-3 hours until the meat is falling from the bone. Remove from the oven.

NOTE: At this point, the ribs can be refrigerated overnight in the braising liquid. When ready to serve, remove any fat that has solidified on the top (with grass-fed there won’t be much) and then gently reheat.

Remove the ribs from the liquid and set aside, keeping warm. Bring the liquid to a boil for several minutes until it has thickened slightly. Adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Return the ribs to the pot.  

Serve over a bed of polenta or mashed potatoes. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano to garnish at the table according to taste.

Plate of roast tenderloin with steamed asparagus and carrots and side of potatoes with two glasses of red wine and lit candles

Holiday Chateaubriand

This is a traditional French dish originally prepared by grilling the tenderloin, which is quite lean, between two fattier pieces of meat that were then discarded. Today, we’ve learned to quickly sear the roast and then finish in a hot oven to rare or medium-rare. It works best in a cast iron skillet, but any oven-proof skillet will do in a pinch. Serve it with Bernaise sauce, or keep it simple with this easy red wine and mushroom sauce. Add a side of Chateau potatoes, new potatoes cut into coins and roasted in butter. It’s a simple, yet elegant meal for any special holiday.

Serves 3-4

  • 2-pound grassfed tenderloin roast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • ½ cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Remove the roast from the refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pat dry, then sprinkle all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 450°.

Heat the oil until it shimmers in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the roast and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes per side. When the roast is brown, place the skillet in the oven and allow the roast to come to an internal temperature of 135° for medium rare.

Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Make the sauce. Add the shallot and mushroom to the hot skillet and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits. Simmer the wine until it reduces and becomes slightly syrupy. Whisk in the butter and pour into a gravy boat or serving bowl.

Carve the beef into slices about ¾-inch thick and top with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Bowl of rotini pasta with filet steak tips, pesto sauce, and parmesan cheese with basil garnish and bowl of shredded parmesan cheese on side

Filet Tips al Pesto

Filet tips are cut from the ends of the tenderloin, so they offer all the tenderness and flavor of filet mignon but without the hefty price tag. This is a simple and quick preparation that will please both meat lovers and pasta afficionados. If you’ve got a supply of basil in your garden, make your own pesto, but if not, prepared pesto from the grocery store is a fine alternative.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 pound grass-fed filet tips, cut into 3/4 -inch pieces
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound short pasta, like rotini or farfalle
  • ½ cup pesto
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan

Pat the filet dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil to shimmering in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat in batches and stir to brown on all sides. The meat should be just browned, but still rare inside. Remove each batch to a plate.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, remove any excess oil from the skillet and return the meat. Add the pesto, and over low heat, stir just until the meat is coated. Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water, and add to the skillet. Stir until everything is coated in pesto. Add a little of the pasta water, if needed, to thin the sauce slightly.

Remove to a serving dish and sprinkle the grated cheese over all. Serve immediately.