The most wonderful time of the year brings with it the most labour-intensive meal of the year for those who celebrate Christmas with a traditional turkey dinner. But the big day doesn’t have to be a big drag. The trick to making December 25 less stressful and crazy busy in the kitchen is to do as much as you can ahead of time. Here are a few tips from local culinary pros that will help make your Christmas merry.
For one, prepare your mise en place the day before. “Mise en place is a French term meaning ‘set in place’, and it basically means preparing all your ingredients before you start cooking,” says certified nutritional practitioner Erika Weissenborn, founder and CEO of Fresh in Your Fridge, a weekly in-home meal service. “Get all your chopping done, your sauces premade, and make sure you have all the ingredients needed to get started. Chopping typically takes the most amount of time during preparation and can be done days in advance.
“Instead of your classic mashed potatoes, opt for roasted root vegetables instead,” she adds. “Use veggies like beets, squash, yams, parsnips, onions, and carrots. You can prep all of these the day before and easily roast them the day of your dinner with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and rosemary. They are nutrient-dense and more colourful than potatoes.”
To save even more time, you can put veggies—cut and oiled—on a parchment-lined baking tray the day before and store them in the fridge overnight, says chef and registered holistic nutritionist Ana Arenas, culinary operations manager at Cook Culture and the blogger behind The Bella Life. (She’s known as Ana Bella.) In addition to the aforementioned vegetables, she suggests turnips and celeriac chopped into batons (“French-fry size”), drizzled with avocado oil until just covered, and seasoned with sea salt and pepper and any other spices you like, such as smoked paprika, cumin, or turmeric.
The two side dishes Arenas always makes for Christmas turkey dinner are honey-glazed roasted root vegetables and roasted Brussels sprouts. “They are always a hit at the dinner table,” she says.
To make the root-veg dish ahead, prep the vegetables as above. Then all you need to do is pop them in a 400° F oven for 30 minutes, tossing the veggies midway through. For the optional honey glaze, melt two tablespoons coconut oil and add two tablespoons honey; heat until mixture sticks to the back of a spoon. Drizzle the glaze over the root veg as soon as it comes out of the oven.
For the Brussels sprouts, clean them, slice them in half, and toss with a drizzle of avocado oil, sea salt, and pepper. Layer evenly on the prepared tray with lemon slices and smashed garlic cloves. When you’re ready to roast, put them in a 400° F oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until the Brussels sprouts are golden brown and a little bit charred. Squeeze the roasted garlic and get rid of the peel, then mix together with lemon juice.
Other tips? “Premix salad ingredients without the dressing,” Arenas says. “Place it all in a bowl and cover with Saran Wrap. Make the dressing ahead on the side, and let the guests add it themselves. Then it’s ready to serve.”
Make the gravy and cranberry sauce ahead of time, too. “They can be made weeks in advance and kept in the freezer,” Arenas says. “Just be sure to thaw them out a day or two before the dinner. For making gravy ahead, you can make a roux, equal amounts of butter and flour, then just add chicken stock—either homemade or store-bought—herbs, and salt. Add the turkey drippings to the premade gravy when reheating it the day of the dinner.”
Stuffing is another dish that can be prepped ahead of time. Follow your favourite recipe and chop up onions and celery; cook in melted butter, add in bread pieces, seasoning, herbs, and broth (chicken or vegetable), then spoon into large resealable bags. These can stay in the fridge for up to three days. Then the day of, you just need to reheat in the oven in a greased casserole dish.
Desserts are a make-ahead no-brainer. Any Christmas cookies made between now and then can be frozen and put on a platter. Instead of a pie, make a crisp or crumble. “It’s easy to make and there’s no pastry preparation,” Weissenborn says. “Just a simple fruit mixture on the bottom and an oat-and-flour topping. This can also easily be made gluten-free or vegan for those guests with dietary preferences or allergies.”
A dessert that sounds difficult but is in fact fairly easy to make ahead of time is a trifle. “We actually feature this in our Christmas Feast classes,” Arenas says. “The cake, custard, berries, and whip can all be done ahead of time—the day or two before—and assembled on the day of the dinner.”
The cake can even be store-bought if time is feeling too tight. Look for a yellow cake.