My first Christmas as a young bride I didn't know anything about cooking a turkey dinner, but I was excited to try...and crushed when my bird was still mostly raw after hours in the oven. That was the night I discovered that the oven in our rental unit needed new elements. We had to drive our mostly raw turkey across town to my in-laws to finish the job!
If that defined my every holiday cooking story since then I probably wouldn't have chosen anything related to food as a business and I really wouldn't enjoy cooking large dinners. Thankfully, it was the only time my oven chose to break down during a major event.
It took me a few years after that to cook another big dinner again. It was sometime after the birth of our first son that we decided to start cooking our own Christmas Dinners. In honour of Thanksgiving in America tomorrow, here are a few tried and true suggestions to move your cooking mood from frazzled to fantastic so you can enjoy your holiday cooking (and eating!) a little bit more.
1. Enjoy People
If you know someone who will be alone on the holidays, invite them over. They may not want to participate, but it feels good to be wanted and you might be the only one who took the time to ask.
2. Plan Ahead
Make sure you know you have all the groceries and supplies you need! No surprises are good surprises when you are out of time and realize you are missing a big part of your meal.
3. Play it Safe
It's so much fun to try new foods! But unless you're willing to go hungry if it's not as edible as you imagine it will be, a big holiday dinner on the "larger than life" scale they tend to be is NOT the time to try an entirely new spread. Instead, limit new things to appetizers and desserts.
4. It Doesn't Have to be Perfect
Give yourself room to breathe. I know what it's like to feel the stress of cleaning up every little thing to make it perfect. But I'm beginning to realize that it just can't be perfect at this time in my life with young kids and a small house, and that's ok. Focus on your guests' enjoyment and your delicious meal and you will have more joy in your dinner.
Yesterday morning after we finished breakfast and exchanging gifts, I went back to bed to the calm and quiet to "plan my day", as I call it. My first son came to find me and apologized for waking me up, but I wasn't asleep. I was thinking about what we were doing, where were going, when to put the different parts of dinner on, and how to get everything hot at the right time before serving. That planning is as much an essential part of meal preparation as the actual standing in the kitchen and cooking.
I find if I don't take a few minutes to order my thoughts and my day, chaos ensues.
We settled on this menu:
Stuffing (dressing- cooked in the slow cooker)
Roasted sweet and russet potatoes
Roasted orange and red peppers
Steamed carrots and celery
Homemade apple pie
Vanilla ice cream
If you'll look at the plate, there are lots of vegetables. Portion sizes over "the holidays" is something most of us forget to think about, but it's never too late to start eyeballing your plate. If half your plate is vegetable and/or fruit, you're off to a good start. I did actually add some carrots and celery after I took this picture :) Imagine a hockey puck, and that's your protein. Stuffing, being mostly bread chunks, count as your breads/cereals- the amount of stuffing pictured was about 2 slices of bread.
I designed my own spice blend for the turkey and stuffing this year, and it was definitely most enjoyable. Over the next day or two I'll be posting a few recipes for what we ate on Christmas day. I'd be happy to hear how your meals turned out! Did you try anything new? Discover a new favorite? Is there anything you'd like me to post about over the next few days?
Enjoy your weekend, friends.