This year, I chopped and prepped many of my holiday dinner ingredients ahead of Thanksgiving. I still had plenty to do in the kitchen the day of, but it was more relaxed — my mom and I peeling apples (and sipping champagne) instead of chopping onion after onion. Even if your winter holiday meals aren’t as involved as Thanksgiving dinner, it’s nice to not be completely crazed the day of, especially if you have family staying with you.
That’s why I decided to put together this list of twelve prep ahead holiday cooking tasks that will make holiday feasts a lot easier to pull off. I probably won’t be sipping champagne every time I’m in the kitchen, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
1. Make pie dough. Pie dough needs to chill before it’s rolled out, so why not make it early and freeze until you’re ready to roll? Our easy tutorial for how to make pie dough in 5 easy steps is packed with great tips and a beautiful all butter pie-crust recipe that you can easily make ahead of time.
2. Shred cheese. Quiches and other casseroles typically need a large amount of shredded cheese and buying whole cheese is fresher, tastier, and more affordable than bags of commercially pre-shredded cheese. So instead, grate hard cheeses like cheddar, gruyere, and Parmesan Reggiano at home and store in the refrigerator for one to two weeks ahead of time.
3. Chop mirepoix. Many recipes call for mirepoix, the French term for the combination of chopped onion, carrot, and celery that serves as the base for many soups, stews, and braises. Get this tedious chopping task done early and store your mirepoix in the fridge for up to one week. Measure and label in separate containers, sorted by recipe.
4. Make compound butter (aka your secret holiday weapon). Oh, let me count the ways in which I love compound butter. It’s such an easy, yet totally impress-your-guest ingredient that can elevate everything from a simple holiday roast to a warm loaf of bread. Make it ahead of time in just minutes, and store it in the fridge for up to three weeks.
5. Hard boil eggs. Deviled eggs are always a crowd-pleaser, and if you can get the hard boiling done ahead of time, it’s an easy one to boot. I’m lusting after these Mediterranean Deviled Eggs at our editor Stacie’s site, One Hungry Mama. And don’t forget to follow our tutorial on how to perfectly boil and peel eggs.
6. Toast nuts. Toasting nuts releases their essential oils, resulting in better flavor and aroma. I love adding them to salads, grain bowls, creamy soups, and desserts (although I have a terrible track record for burning nuts — always keep an eye on them). Carefully toast whatever nuts you want to have ready to go, let them cool, and store them in an air-tight container for up to one week before go time.
7. Whip up a homemade vinaigrette. In just a few minutes, a little mustard, vinegar, and olive oil will create a vinaigrette that will be light years ahead of anything that comes in a bottle. Here are the basic steps for how to make a homemade vinaigrette, plus some great ideas for flavor variations. In general, homemade dressings will keep for a couple of weeks. The exception is if you add fresh ingredients like avocado or dairy, in which case you should use your dressing within a day or two of making it.
8. Wash greens. I hate washing greens, but every time I do this task ahead of time (or make my husband do it), my family and I eat more salad. Every. Time. Pre-wash and dry your greens when you get home from the store, make that vinaigrette, toast those nuts, and a hearty holiday salad can be ready within minutes of guests arriving.
9. Pre-cook pasta. If there will be many kids in your house during the holidays, having pre-cooked pasta on hand will be a life saver. Check out our tutorial for how to pre-cook (and cook!) pasta perfectly, that works even if you need a large amount for dinner parties.
10. Make cookie dough. I am a big believer in chilling dough before baking cookies. It helps the dough come together and hold its shape while baking, and more importantly, what’s better than having ready-to-bake cookies on hand? Freeze dough in cylinder logs for slice-and-bake cookies, or if you’re making drop cookies, freeze in individually scooped portions. Keep in mind that frozen cookies will often need an extra minute of baking.
11. Prep pancake mix. I made a double batch of my favorite pancake recipe — Ruth Reichl’s Pancakes — this past weekend and thought about how nice it would have been if the ingredients had been pre-measured. The best and easiest method for this is Nigella’s Homemade Instant Pancake Mix at Nigella Lawson. With a little forethought like this, you can have melt-in-your-mouth pancakes with the ease of a box.
12. Break out the slow cooker. I love the Make-Ahead Slow Cooker Freezer Meals at Hello Glow, because each of the meals’ ingredients can be prepped and frozen ahead of time. That, and the slow cooker. Write the temp and cook time right on the freezer bags and maybe you can even hand off the cooking to someone else! These genius meals are for the times you’re hosting, but would rather park it in front of the fireplace.
Bonus! 13. Chill champagne or wine. You want to have a cold glass ready when things start to heat up!