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Prepping your kitchen for the holidays? Looking for a simple way to elevate gravy or seasonal gingerbread cookies that will wow your guests and show off your culinary skills? You’re in luck. Save precious time — and energy — with these holiday cooking tips and baking hacks straight from celebrity chefs and Food Network stars, including Giada De Laurentiis, Robert Irvine, Geoffrey Zakarian and more.
From preparing and freezing desserts to keeping cutting boards clean, these helpful tricks will make your holiday entertaining dinner prep and cleanup easier than ever. That’s one more thing to be grateful and cheerful for during the holiday season.
Giada De Laurentiis
Elevate Your Holiday Gravy
Revive any gravy by adding a teaspoon of good-quality balsamic vinegar. It lends incredible depth, flavor and a richer color that you didn’t know the gravy needed!
— De Laurentiis, former Food Network star and creator of lifestyle site Giadzy
Carve Meat, Mess Free
Whether you’re carving up a roast, turkey or ham, you’re going to have a lot of drippings as well as some waste. Some carving boards come with a built-in gutter for this purpose, but it’s easily overwhelmed during the heavy-duty work that goes on at a big holiday meal. That’s why I like to put my carving board in a sheet pan before I get to work; it catches all the mess, and you’re not mopping up your counter after you’re done carving. You can just sit down and eat.
— Irvine, host of Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible
Keep Boiling Water from Boiling Over
Place a wooden spoon across the top of a pot of boiling water to keep it from boiling over, or you can throw in one ice cube as it starts to bubble up too much. This helps to keep the stovetop and the outside of your pan clean!
— Zakarian, chef and TV personality on Food Network
Soften Brown Sugar
If your brown sugar gets exposed to air and is hard as a rock, you can bring it back to life by putting it in a microwave-safe bowl and draping a damp paper towel over the top. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between until it’s nice and soft again. Voila!
— Kristen Tomlan, CEO and founder of DŌ
Keep Gravy Hot
Nobody likes cold, congealed sauce or gravy! I like to keep my gravy, sauce or any type of jus in a smaller-size thermos when serving food on a buffet table to ensure the sauce or gravy won’t get cold. Just make sure you boil it right before you put it into the thermos. Screw on the top of the thermos, label it and place it right on the buffet table. You will always have hot sauce to put over your holiday turkey or roast beef for the holidays.
— Ed Cotton, executive chef-partner at Jack & Charlie’s No. 118 in New York City
Elevate Premade Cookie Dough
Don’t have time to make your own cookie dough? Roll a premade cookie log in sugar or nuts. Then, slice and bake. They will look prettier! You can also mix chocolate chips or chocolate candies into the dough, roll into balls and bake. People will never know!
— Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network star and executive chef at Butter in N.Y.C.
Use Apple Cores for Apple Cider
Use waste from apples to make your own cider. Take the peels and cores of all your apples and throw them in a pot with a few oranges and fall spices. Cover with water and simmer for three to four hours; sweeten to desired taste, and you’ll have homemade cider. Bonus: Add a splash of Calvados for the adults!
Store Your Turkey Outside
For me, the most common challenge I think home cooks face is the storage issue that comes along with prepping a large meal (especially when you have items like a large turkey). Where I live in the northeast, the weather normally dips into the 30s at night during the holiday season. I like to sit my turkey in a brine overnight outside. It’s mother nature’s refrigerator! It opens up tons of space in the fridge to accommodate other ingredients.
Prep and Freeze Desserts
Pie doughs can be rolled into circles, layered between parchment, and frozen the week before. They’ll defrost very quickly and be ready to flip into your pie pan within a few minutes. Make your cookie doughs and scoop them onto parchment, so all you have to do is pan them up and bake when needed. Cake layers can be baked and frozen and are a lot easier to handle when they are cold and firm. Use the freezer to temporarily harden items like brownies, pie dough for lattices or rolled cookie dough before cutting to get clean lines. Lastly, be sure to wrap anything that goes in the freezer very well so you don’t pick up any unwanted flavors.
Give Spices Extra Flavor
Always toast your spices prior to using them. You can throw them in a sauté pan for a quick minute on medium heat or even pop them in a mid-temp (325 degrees -350 degrees) oven for a few minutes. You will smell the aromas as they come alive. Most spices have essential oils in them. When gentle heat is applied, it allows for the oils and flavors to be awakened. You will be sure to have a more pronounced and flavorful product.
Prepare Tender Steaks
Let steaks air dry in the fridge for a day or two before cooking. This draws out moisture to give the steak a nice brown crust when cooking and helps tenderize [it].
— Marcus Woodham, executive chef of The Bower in New Orleans
Make Homemade Chicken Stock
In the time leading up to the holiday, buy your favorite rotisserie chicken (mine is from Costco!). But, instead of just enjoying the juicy, tender meat, make sure to use the bones to make a quick chicken stock and put it in your freezer. When it comes time to make your favorite holiday gravy or soup, you will already have a delicious stock to use in place of water. Using roasted chicken stock will add depth and flavor!
Upgrade Premade Cupcakes
Purchase premade vanilla cupcakes from your local grocery store and then make a variety of chutneys to elevate them. I love a pumpkin spice chutney, but some other options are apple chutney and pecan chutney; add a spoonful to the top of the cupcake, then finish them off with a sprinkle of granulated sugar with pumpkin spice. These are a perfect alternative for those who aren’t fans of pie.
— Maneet Chauhan, judge on Food Network’s Chopped
Keep Cutting Boards Clean
Lean into parchment paper! Use it to line all your baking pans and trays for easy cleanup. Also, use it on your cutting board to alleviate color and flavor stains.
Use Avocado for Smooth Soup
Add a few pieces of frozen avocado into the blender with other ingredients to maintain the consistency, like in a soup or puree (it’s also a great substitute for yogurt!).
— Sujan Sarkar, executive chef at Baar Baar N.Y.C.
Tony and Cathy Mantuano
Use Grappa for Crispy Turkey Skin
For extra brown and crispy skin on your bird this holiday season, rub the skin with generous amounts of grappa before seasoning. Grappa is a fragrant, grape-based Italian spirit. The residual sugar in it makes the skin extra crispy. Don’t worry! The alcohol is completely cooked out by the time the bird is done!
Make Cleanup a Breeze
If you don’t plan to deglaze your roasting pans that you use for all your vegetables and side dishes, I always layer the bottom with tin foil, then lay parchment paper on top. Cleaning after yourself is already a burdensome task, the last thing I want to be doing is scrubbing off food remnants. By layering your roasting pans in this method, you save yourself 10 times the work.
Take Gingerbread Cookies to the Next Level
Brighten the flavor and infuse a couple of twists to gingerbread cookies by adding fine ground black pepper to the dry ingredients. The pepper will give a subtle lift to the dried ginger and add a little nuance that will make your cookies stand out.
Cut Onions Without Crying
Hold an unlit match between your teeth while you chop onions — it’s the true secret weapon. Whether the sulfurous end of the matchstick stops the fumes or breathing out of your mouth does the trick — whatever the reason, it makes chopping onions a breeze.
— Ali Rosen, host of Potluck and author of the cookbook Bring It!: Tried and True Recipes for Potlucks and Casual Entertaining
Bake More Evenly
Rotating baking sheets and pans is a necessity in every home oven. There’s almost always uneven airflow or a hot spot. Rotate them 180 degrees halfway through each bake — even for savory foods — to get the best results.
— Kelly Fields, owner of Willa Jean bakery in New Orleans and author of The Good Book of Southern Baking
Keep Turkey Warm After Carving
The most important thing to my Thanksgiving is having [a pot of] hot chicken stock on the stove to reheat the turkey. I break down and slice the breasts and take the meat off the legs and thighs so it’s a pulled, dark meat, like carnitas. I put it all on a tray. Then I just hit the meat with the hot chicken stock, and it brings it back to life.
— Bobby Flay, star of Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay
Help Dough Rise Faster
Proof bread dough by placing it in the oven and putting a bowl of boiling water underneath. The steam heats the oven and creates a makeshift proofer. Change the water every 30 minutes, and the dough will rise in half the time it takes at room temperature.
— Emily Yuen, executive chef of Bessou in N.Y.C.
Soften Hard Butter
Heat a short glass of water in the microwave for about a minute. Dump hot water out, turn the glass upside down and cover the cold, hard butter. The heat trapped inside the cup will soften the butter quickly.
— Jonathon Sawyer, chef de cuisine of Adorn at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago
Remove Garlic Odors from Your Hands
Rub your hands against a stainless-steel spoon under cold water for 30 seconds, and then wash with soap and water. A chemical reaction takes place that removes the smell, which you can’t get rid of with basic soap.
— Stefano Secchi, chef of Rezdora in N.Y.C.
Prevent Pasta from Getting Cold
Serve it in a soup bowl! If you use a wide plate and spread it out, your pasta will get cold, and that’s the end of it. It’s also important for the bowl to be warm, because a cold bowl will cool everything right away. Mound the noodles in the center so the pasta continues to stay hot as you eat it.
— Lidia Bastianich, author of the cookbook Felidia
Serve Prettier Deviled Eggs
I love making deviled eggs during the holidays. My mom taught me to flip the raw eggs over the night before. They’ve been sitting in the carton as they’ve transported, so the yolks settle on the bottoms. If you turn them over, then the yolks aren’t skewed to one side.
— Trisha Yearwood, country star and host of Food Network’s Trisha’s Southern Kitchen
Keep Stuffing Moist
Add chopped fresh fruit to your stuffing to stop it from drying out while it cooks in the oven. Apples, in particular, really do the trick to add moisture. They also bring a depth of flavor as well as great texture.
— Tanya Holland, Top Chef star and chef-owner of Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif.
Get a Head Start on Your Baking
One task you can cross off your to-do list is pie crust. Make the dough, form it in a pie tin, cover it tightly in plastic wrap, and throw it in the freezer until needed. It stores beautifully for up to six months. The best part is you can even bake it from frozen, saving even more hassle. Pack the crust with your filling of choice, pop it in the oven, and you’ll have a hot, fresh pie when you want it.
— Aaron Hutcherson, food blogger of The Hungry Hutch
Make Cleanup Easier
I save myself a lot of grief by putting a big plastic container on the counter, filling it with soapy water and dropping in plates and silverware as I clear the table. That way, I don’t have to wash dishes when I’d rather have another glass of wine or go to bed. In the morning, I have dishes that just need a quick rinse and wash rather than a pile of plates encrusted with dried food.
— Amanda Cohen, chef and co-founder of Lekka Burger in N.Y.C.