It’s the holidays, and throughout the land you can hear the familiar cry: “how do I get it all done?” Lament no more. With these 12 tips, trick and hacks, we’ve got your back. These tips – some very specific, some broad strokes – cover it all. Typical advice for this time of year includes: “plan ahead!” Or “make a list!” Certainly solid advice, but we dig deep with specific ways to solve problems. Forgot to chill the wine and guests are arriving? No prob. Not risking a lumpy gravy and turning to canned? We can fix that, too. This list is all about helping you manage time while creating a festive atmosphere and most important: an enjoyable holiday season.

1- Baking Tip: Create Dry Mixes

Red Stick Spice Company chef Matt Stansbury leans on dry mixes for pastries in SoGO Tea Bar. When we were chatting with Matt about his dry mix prep, cooking class staffer Sammy chimed in, “I make these at home, too.” Dry mixes are the dry components of baking recipes – flour, salt, leavener (baking soda and baking powder) plus the spices. Pre-measure these items and store in ziptop bags. When it’s time to bake, your prep time is easily cut in half (if not more.) Preheat your oven then grab sugar, eggs, butter or oil and you’re off! Think about those cookies, quick breads and cakes you make during the holiday season, and pack up the dry mixes now. Here are two recipes that are perfect for pre-prepped dry mixes:
Snowdrift Coca Cola Cake
Moravian Spice Cookies

2- Sanity-saving Tip: Decide your “I made it” versus “someone else made it” Ratio

There’s a saying in the world of small business owners and entrepreneurs: work, friends, family, fitness, sleep. Pick three. Meaning, when it comes to running a small business, you can’t do it all. It’s the same with entertaining – you won’t be able to do it all. Decide, in advance, what you’re having someone else prepare – maybe it’s the turkey or the charcuterie board – and then work your menu and timeline around that.

3-  Don’t go into a task hungry

You can’t run a team on hungry. That’s the thinking behind the tradition of staff or family meal in restaurants. It builds camaraderie, but it also means better focus and a better product. Not only does hunger decrease your focus, everything tastes good when you’re hungry. Eating a balanced meal before tackling a big baking or cooking sesh means a better dish in the end. With your tummy full, you’ll eat more slowly, taking smaller bites and your tastebuds and brain will give you reliable feedback on how to correct a dish. Fuel your body first, then get down to cooking. Here are two recipes perfect for banishing hunger:
Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Open Faced Avocado Sandwiches

4- Baking Tip: Preheat Your Sheet Pans

You wouldn’t put a steak in a cold cast iron or a pizza on a cold pizza stone. The same goes for your sheet pan. For those big pans of roasted veggies or pressed sandwiches, preheat your sheet pans. Pop them in the oven while it’s preheating and you’re prepping your ingredients. While some sheet pans are lightweight and don’t retain heat for very long, USAPans are heavier and more substantial – the perfect pans for preheating. Here are two sheet pan wonders that benefit from a preheated pan:
Sheet Pan Pizza Chicken with Pancetta, Mozzarella & Spicy Tomatoes
Sheet Pan Italian Sandwiches

5- Warming Tip: Use your Slow Cooker

Sure, your slow cooker can get you to a great brisket or big pot of soup, but consider this gentle, low and slow heat source as just that: another heat source. And when you’ve got lots more dishes than burners or oven space, your slow cooker is ready. Some dishes that are perfect for holding in slow cooker are a big batch of Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Mac & Cheese or a Holiday Ham. Oh, and did you say leftover holiday ham? Put it to use in these delicious sandwiches:
Baked Ham & Cheese Sliders

6- Gravy Hack: Grab some Balsamic

Homemade gravy is certainly worth the effort, but if it’s not in the cards, a can of store-bought gravy is perfectly fine – especially with this hack. Add a teaspoon of Dark Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar to a can of gravy. The acidity and sweetness will boost the flavor and add a bit of tang and lots of depth. Three vinegars to try:
18 Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Cabernet Sauvignon Red Wine Vinegar
Honey Ginger Dark Balsamic Vinegar

7- Store bought is Fine

Ina Garten has said it many, many times over, and she’s right: Store bought is fine. We quizzed staff about their holiday-specific, store-bought go-to’s. Here are the top four mentions: 1- Cheesecake – then make delectable homemade toppings like this Salted Butterscotch Sauce or Blueberry Ginger Sauce. 2- Carton stock – simmer with parmesan rinds, onion, celery and Bay Leaf to give it depth. 3- Pie Crust – both full-sized crusts and the mini tart-sized crusts. 4- Puff Pastry – is there anything that isn’t good wrapped in puff pastry? Be sure to read our blog about Store Bought Standouts. Then grab some puff pastry and make this Apple Strudel!

8- For Pie Crust Purists: Vodka

So we just told you to buy store-bought pie crusts in the previous tip, but we also know there are purists when it comes to pie crust. And we are here for both! Want to make that homemade pie crust even flakier? Sub out the water for vodka. The vodka is liquid but it’s in a form that does not develop gluten (like water.) Water binds to the proteins and causes the to get stronger – tougher – which isn’t always a good thing for a pie crust. Vodka doesn’t encourage gluten growth, so you get tender, flaky crusts. SCIENCE! Ready to try it? Check out these recipes:
Flaky Pie Crust
Chinese Five Spice Pecan Pie

9- Chill Wine FAST

What’s colder than ice? Ice water! Forgot to chill the wine? No problem. Submerge the wine in a container with ice and water, and the temp will drop significantly and quickly. In 13 minutes, you can serve a chillable red. In 25 minutes, you’ll be pouring a crisp white or bubbly. Chill your wine and make these fun sips:
Honeycrisp Apple Sangria
Earl Grey French 75

10- Create a Signature Cocktail

Don’t make yourself crazy trying to make sure every guest has their favorite sip. Offering all those options is expensive and takes up tons of space in your fridge and coolers. Consider stocking one choice of beer, white and red, and then offer a signature cocktail. Pre-batch it or set out the ingredients and print the recipe for guests to get in on the fun as they play mixologist and measure and shake their drink. Try these fun cocktails sure to make the barkeep’s job easy:
The Bee’s Knees
Violet’s Revenge
The French Horse

11- Incorporate a Hands-on Cooking Activity

This tip is proven. We’ve proven it over 556 times in our Teaching Kitchen (that’s how many cooking classes we’ve taught…and counting) – getting your guests involved in part of the cooking is not only helpful, it’s a fun, memory-making activity. This isn’t about last-minute “how can I help” hands. We’re talking carve out a portion of your meal that requires that your guests get their hands dirty. Whether it’s folding Spanakopita or firing the Baked Alaska, you get free labor and your guests get a photo-worthy, memorable meal. Try these dishes for big-time, hands-on success:
Moroccan B’stilla with Harissa Mayo
Mini Baked Alaskas
Steamed Shrimp Dumplings

12- Offer Help and Be Specific

Sometimes the easiest tip is the hardest to do – hosts often have a hard time asking for help. Most often, they’re so overwhelmed, they don’t know what to even ask for. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone struggling, harried or “in the weeds” as the restaurant industry dubs it. Offer to help, but be specific. “How can I help” doesn’t always land. Check to see if the garbage needs taking out, then change out the liner. Take a look to see if the table needs to be set, then take charge. Ask about uncorking wine, then grab a corkscrew. Even tidy the bathroom – really! Store owner Anne’s mother always arrived at events with an always-useful bag of ice. She never asked. Just simply arrived and stashed it in the freezer or ice chest. Get specific and read the room. The host will thank you!

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