Hints for stress-free Christmas cooking

5 Tips to actually enjoy holiday celebrations

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If you’re like most of us, the thought of hosting holiday celebrations starts to fill you with dread in October. We want to see our friends and family, but are we really spending quality time with anyone when we’re fretting over whether the turkey will be done on time? Stop stressing over your Christmas menu (and the time it takes) by following these tips to stay organized and relaxed.

Get organized early

The mistake most people make is planning their menu and doing their shopping the week of Christmas. You have a lot last-minute gifts to buy, sudden changes of plans (your own and your guests) and you have to fight the crowds of stressed-out people who are in exactly the same position you are.

About a month before Christmas, start your planning. Write every event you plan to host or cook for (even if it’s just a single dish) on the calendar. Then plan the menu for each.

Plan your menu carefully

Write down every dish you’d like to make for each occasion on your calendar. When you’re done, go back and highlight any must-haves. These will be ingrained family traditions you just can’t have Christmas without. Then look back through your menu to find things you can cut. If there’s a dish that only one person really likes, maybe you should skip that this year. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring a couple of dishes, too.

Look for recipes online that might be easier to make than your usual. You’re looking for things that can be made ahead, things that make use of pre-made ingredients to save you time and things that can cook in countertop appliances (like a slow-cooker).

Make a list and check it twice

Write your shopping list out to the last detail. Include cookware you may need to purchase, wine and liquor and special tableware. Go over the list at least three times before you shop. Buy as much nonperishable food ahead of time as possible. Look online for great deals from places that will deliver (one less errand to run!). Buy perishables several days before the event and store them properly.

Cook with a battle plan

Remember those make-ahead recipes you looked for previously? Make them as far ahead as you can and refrigerate or freeze them. Many casseroles can be put together, frozen, then defrosted and cooked the day before. Make (or even purchase) your desserts as far ahead of time as possible. A pumpkin pie will be just as good in three days. In many recipes, even the turkey can be prepped the night before!

Make use of countertop appliances the day of. The turkey or ham will take up your oven for hours. Borrow appliances if you need to. Having three slow-cookers working will save you from last-minute scramble-cooking and will make sure dinner starts on time.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

There’s no such thing as a perfect dinner party. And nobody really cares if you burned the potatoes. In three years, they’ll remember the great laughs they had with you.

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Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.