Turkey (or ham, or tenderloin ... ), potatoes, pies and presents — for those of us lacking a sous chef, leaving too many yuletide to-dos for one day can lead to a merry meltdown in the kitchen. Busy UC Beckley Culinary Arts Director Devin Godbey says it’s not only OK but smart to begin preparing now for home Christmas banquets. “You don’t have to make everything fresh on dinner day. You can’t bake a turkey in advance, but there are many dishes you can make ahead and pop in the oven.”
If Sara Lee can do it, so can you. Godbey and mom, Sue Noor, both especially fond of pastry, have taken their time crafting beautiful pies in preparation for a Christmas feast for 25. “We make them, parbake (partially bake) them, then stick them in the freezer,” before placing in the oven either the day before or day of family dinner. “Cheesecake is another dessert that freezes well,” she adds, also suggesting bake-and-serve molds (like those found in craft stores) to make individual desserts and cut out the need for cutting.
A day ahead is enough to check Christmas breads and rolls off the list; by kneading dough, covering and storing it in the refrigerator before portioning and baking fresh the next day, it bears your signature, “I slaved over this” taste with canned dough ease. Stuffing can also be made a day in advance, unbaked, then baked before chowtime.
Godbey shares more helpful prepper principles, with the assistance of fellow instructor Jamie Hamilton-Pritt — a few simple tricks to keeping hectic out of holiday fixings:
- Create a detailed shopping list and borrow a little technique from Saint Nick — use a checklist for ingredients already in your pantry.
- Buy ingredients AEAP — As Early As Possible — to avoid a congested store or sold out ingredients too close to Christmas Eve.
- Anything that can be peeled, chopped and measured should be prepped in advance and stored in airtight containers in the fridge.
- Choose menu items to make the day before, like casserole-style mashed potatoes (see recipe below).
- Select desserts now to make in advance and freeze them — like cheesecakes and fruit pies.
- Roll dough can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight. Portion out the rolls on dinner day, let rise in a warm place and bake.
- Set the table the night before, or even a few days before if it isn’t likely to get disturbed in your home. Let children who are old enough be in charge of setting and decorating the table. A little ownership is added insurance they won’t want to mess it up before Christmas Dinner!
- Get more of the family involved. Most people have that special something — a side dish or dessert they do well enough to call their own. Let others showcase their talents by taking an item or two off the list to prepare and bring.
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Devin’s Holiday Make-Ahead Potato Mash
5 pounds of russet or Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into pieces
More butter (for the dish and topping for baking later)
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Crumb topping (optional):
2 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Peel and dice potatoes. Place in cold water and bring to a boil until tender — about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes and place back into pot. Mash until potatoes are mostly smooth. Add all ingredients and mash to combine. Spread into a buttered casserole dish and smooth the top. Refrigerate covered for up to 2 days. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dot potatoes with the extra butter and crumb topping (if desired). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are hot and golden brown on top.