6 tips for cooking a stress-free holiday dinner

Follow these tips to create a tasty and stress free meal this holiday season.

Planning, early prep are crucial, says Hamilton restaurateur

You too could have a delicious holiday meal, if you follow these tips. (iStock)

There are few things in the world as heartwarming and satisfying than a lovingly-crafted holiday dinner.

There are also few things in the world as stressful as a poorly planned holiday dinner.

But don't fret! CBC Hamilton has consulted Shane McCartney, the owner of McCartney and Son, an old-school gourmet soup, salad bar and deli, to help you out. Before he opened his shop on James Street North, McCartney was working as the head chef at Blazing Kitchens in Toronto — where he fed the likes of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, folk icon Bob Dylan and actor Samuel L. Jackson.​

So listen up, experienced and first-time at home chefs alike, and take these tips to heart. These six easy steps will help you concoct a culinary hit this Christmas. 

1. Write your menu out with all ingredients for easy shopping

This might seem like common sense, but it's a necessity, McCartney says. There's nothing worse than buying everything you need before realizing that you're out of nutmeg.

So to save yourself the hassle of a mad dash to the grocer or the corner store on Christmas Eve, write out everything you need before you shop, and then each item off as you go.

That way you'll be prepared and not panicking.

2. Do as much preparation as possible

You absolutely do not want to leave everything to the last minute and then try to throw your meal together, McCartney says. "Cut and peel everything the day before," he suggests.

Shane McCartney is the owner of McCartney & Sons on James Street North, and has cooked for the likes of Bob Dylan and Samuel L Jackson. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Get out your best knife and chop those spuds, onions and carrots the day before so they're all ready to go.

And a pro tip for anyone who finds they tear up while chopping onions: chill your onions in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before dicing them. This reduces the amount of the enzyme released into the air that makes you cry. And use a sharp knife, as a blunt knife will crush more than cut, making things worse.

3. Make sure you bring your turkey up to room temperature before cooking

Don't just pull a turkey out of the fridge or freezer and chuck it directly into your oven, McCartney says. Instead, leave it to thaw and come up to room temperature first. "This will give you more accurate cook time and even cooking throughout your bird," McCartney says.

Cooking a turkey that's stone cold in the centre means that, in order to get the bird cooked through, the outer layers of meat will be tough and dry.

So get that turkey up to room temperature first for a succulent, juicy main course.

4. Give your self a one-hour buffer before serving dinner

Procrastinators, take note: the last thing you want to do is take everything down to the wire so you have no time to spare in case something goes wrong. Give yourself at least an hour in case there are problems, McCartney says.

"This will give time for the turkey to rest as well as some to make up for mistakes," he said.

And as Murphy's Law suggests, anything that can go wrong absolutely will go wrong (sometimes). So give yourself plenty of time.

5. Use your oven to keep things warm, not just to cook

"Once your turkey comes out of the oven, drop the temperature to 180 C and you can use it to keep everything hot and ready for serving," McCartney said.

So unless you have a massive kitchen with several ovens and hotplates — or you've somehow mastered the art of perfect timing so everything is done at once — heed this advice and use your oven to keep things warm until you need them.

6. Give yourself plenty of time and ask for help from people around you

Sure, you love your family and all that — but that doesn't mean they get to stand by, open gifts, watch TV and gorge themselves on eggnog while you lose your mind in the kitchen. Get other people involved, McCartney says.

Get the kids washing some dishes as you cook, so you're not searching for the last clean spoon to mix something. Con the relatives into the kitchen with a drink or two, and then casually mention you need a hand pulling the giblets out of the turkey. This is a good gauge to see if the spirit of the season does truly make people more giving.

In the end, make sure you have fun, and enjoy yourself. Happy holidays!


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