The holidays are nearly upon us, which means your stress level is likely starting to climb—especially if you’re hosting a family gathering. But don’t worry—even if you haven’t planned your menu, cleaned your house or wrapped your presents, there’s still plenty of time to get everything done—you just need to be strategic. In Canadian chef Anna Olson’s newest cookbook, Set For the Holidays, she offers plenty of tips and tricks for throwing the ultimate holiday soirée. Here are five things I’ll definitely be doing during the most anxiety-provoking time of the year.
Make a list, and check it twice
While hosting my first big holiday dinner, I didn’t make a plan and tried to do everything at once. Not only was I stressing out (and snapping at my loved ones—a holiday tradition), I nearly forgot to cook an entire dish. Olson recommends making a list organized by prep time: what can you do in advance to save time on the big day? Cross off each task (from chopping herbs to brining your turkey) as you finish them so you feel a real sense of accomplishment.
Set a deadline
There’s nothing worse than frantically getting ready as your last few dishes are cooking, or even as your guests are starting to arrive. To avoid this, Olson says to give yourself a deadline in the kitchen (you can use this deadline to create a work-back list). Actually set a timer so you can get ready in peace.
Do double drink duty
Mulled wine and apple cider just scream Christmas. And along with being easy to make, you can serve them like punch (i.e. let your guests serve themselves) and as Olson says, these fragrant bevvies act as the perfect festive air freshener. So ditch those artificially scented Christmasy candles in favour of the real sweet, spicy and boozy deal.
Last minute gifts don’t have to be lame
As a chef, Olson is a big fan of edible gifts and comes armed with delicious recommendations. If you have mason jars on hand, you can fill ’em with homemade hot chocolate mix or the dry ingredients for your favourite cookies recipe. If you have more time, you can package up chocolate bark, fudge, made-at-home Irish cream liquor or granola. For Olson, gifts from the kitchen are gifts from the heart.
Ditch the giant turkey
Turkeys are daunting. Not only are they enormous, but they’re straight-up hard to cook. If it’s not the holidays without a bird, choose turkey breast instead of the whole shebang. If you’re in a small space, or are hosting a more intimate gathering, you’ll be able to manage better and won’t have to deal with pounds of leftover meat (there are only so many turkey sandwiches you can eat).
How to make mulled wine
Originally published December 2018. Updated December 2019.