My Holiday Kitchen Tips (that you can totally steal)

Last week I spent the better part of a morning in my pajamas and slippers, leaning on the kitchen counter, where a sprawl of cookbooks, notebooks and post-it notes were scattered. I’ve learned that when a planning mood strikes, I need to ignore everything else and jot down my flow of ideas as they tumble out:

“–make & freeze pie crusts.

–set up a photo booth for cookie swap fun.

–order copies of Desserts in Jars for B, A & M.

–new shortbread flavor???

–check on homemade vanilla.

–stock up on baking supplies…”

My coffee grew cold, and the kids tore apart the playroom in the meantime, but when I looked up an hour or so later, I was better organized for the next two months of kitchen planning. Yep, right through New Year’s Eve and into 2013. Teacher’s gifts, holiday baking, Christmas dinner, a cookie swap, freezer meals and more were more or less sketched out on paper.

Not every detail was planned in that blitz, mind you; I’ll still spend hours on Pinterest adding to boards such as My Christmas Party and Holiday Baking, but the quick brainstorm was helpful to set the holiday planning in motion. Once I gathered my notes and did a quick cross-check with a calendar, it was plain to see I had my work cut out for me, but with planning, everything was doable.

Why plan ahead? Many of our favorite holiday foods – like Tourtière or mincemeat – can easily be made 6 weeks in advance, and some, like the mincemeat, actually improve with age. Guess what? 6 weeks before Christmas is today.

It’s not too early to send out those cookie swap invites, stash a few meals or rounds of gingerbread dough in the freezer, or make those edible gifts for the school teachers.

Here’s what else is on my agenda for the next few weeks; grab a pen and paper and make your ‘To-Do’ list while you read.

Meals to Freeze

Before Christmas I rely on freezer meals to keep us fed up while we barrel along at top speed toward the holiday. Then between Boxing Day and the return to school, I slump into such a lazy, post-holiday haze, that those wholesome dinners save our family from consuming nothing but shortbread and eggnog for supper.

Should you find yourself busy (or lazy, like me), it’s always handy to have a few heat ‘n serve meals in the freezer. Jessica has a wealth of inspiration in her new cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook, which I wholeheartedly endorse in a recent post on batch cooking.

After my aforementioned planning blitz, I got busy stocking my freezer. First up was Chocolate Chip Chili, a double batch, pictured above, which I loaded up with beans and added a cup or so of pumpkin, so it really is better for you than it sounds.

This week I’ll follow up with my French Onion Soup base recipe which requires 10 lbs of onions to be sliced with the help of my trusty Magimix food processor and slowly cooked down into a rich, golden stock. The onion soup base freezes well, and, with the addition of crusty bread and cheese, will make for many a delightful Sunday supper sometime in the future.

A few more of my freezer favorites for this time of the year are:

Pantry inventory

I hate to beat a dead horse, but stocking your pantry for success is crucial for surviving the holidays, especially if you entertain often. Rather than having to bundle up three kids and brave the snow every time I need a box of powdered sugar or bag of lemons for baking, I tend to do one or two big expeditions where I stock up on the essentials.

Two years ago I created The Ultimate Holiday Baking Pantry Checklist, a digital list that I can print, bring on my shopping rounds with me, and be sure to stay organized for Christmas baking. If you’re a serious baker, you’re going to want to have a fully stocked pantry with everything from dried fruit to cake flour.

Of course, the great shopping expedition is always best preceded by a quick pantry clean and purge to make some space. It also may be time for an upgrade on items like nuts, which can quickly go rancid if not stored in the freezer, ground spices (again, best stored in the freezer), or musty flours. Check expiry dates on temperamental ingredients such as yeast and flours (which can go stale quickly).

Get the recipe for this Christmas Shortbread

Holiday Baking

I’ll get super serious about Christmas cookies in another few weeks, as I like my treats as fresh as possible, but there are still some favorites that can be made in advance. Like rolled gingerbread cookie dough, for example. We already have a double batch in the freezer (recipe coming soon) as the dough can be frozen for up to 6 months before it is thawed, rolled and baked.

Making and freezing raw cookie dough in advance is my preferred way to get a jump on holiday baking. Then when guests show up, all you have to do is preheat the oven, and voila, fresh cookies! You can freeze the raw dough of pretty much any drop cookie, as well as most slice and bake types. You can get started with these favorites:

Lastly, don’t forget to send out invites for your cookie swap! Chocolate, Charity & Cheer: Tips for Hosting a Christmas Cookie Swap

Teacher’s Gifts & Edible Gifts

Edible treats are the only kind of handmade gifts that I know how to do, so I try to stock up on items for pretty packaging before the holidays. I find that if I already have what I need on hand for presentation, it’s much easier to dress up a jar jam or bag of cookies.

A few suggestions for decorating and packaging an edible gift: tins, cellophane bags, ribbon, labels, tape, paper bags, brown paper, felt-tipped pens, tissue paper, clear cellophane wrap, burlap garden twine.

This year, we’re getting our teacher’s gifts out of the way as soon as possible by making multiple batches of Pumpkin Spice Granola with Toasted Pepitas, sealing it in bags and freezing for four weeks. I’ll have Noah cut and decorate some hand made labels and voila, it’s off the to-do list.

Inspiration on Pinterest:

Kitchen Organized

While my good intentions for deep household cleaning might not get carried out, the kitchen is one area where I must be organized before heading into December. If the heart of the home is clean, uncluttered, well-stocked and in top working capacity, then anything is possible.

Last year’s post on How to Organize Your Kitchen for the Holidays is a must read, and covers my 9 simple steps to getting your act together before the rush of the holidays.

Holiday Meal Plan

You don’t have to iron out every detail of your Thanksgiving (if you’re in the States) or Christmas dinner this far in advance, but it is a good idea to sketch out the basics.

Do you need to pre-order a free-range turkey? Should you source a reputable butcher who can order you a holiday ham? Do you need to brush up on your bread skills so you can serve these adorable whole-wheat buttermilk rolls? Making a holiday meal plan will help you answer these questions and more.

Here is some menu-planning inspiration. Have fun!

 On Pinterest:

More resources for holiday planning:

What are you doing to plan ahead for the holidays?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. What a great list! I clicked over to your French Onion Soup recipe (which looks delicious and is now on my to try list) but I have a question. Is the base you freeze just the carmelized onions or is it everything but the broth and water? I wasn’t sure what exactly was the “base”.
    marcella’s last post: Bouchon Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies

    • Sorry if that was not clear. Yep, it’s the whole soup base recipe, steps 1-4. Instead of serving it, though, I cool it down and freeze in 4 cup portions.

  2. I have been menu planning like crazy. Our holidays start this weekend with our “mocksgiving” with my husband’s family, then regular Thanksgiving and then too many holiday parties to count :-) I am glad we have so many because it allows me to create a lot of different recipes that we just don’t have time for in one specific day. My baking list seems to get longer every year…I might have to cut a couple items this year :-) I never thought to make pie crust ahead of time, but that is an excellent idea that I need to do!
    Heather’s last post: first winter CSA share!

  3. I love lists at holiday time! Some things I do to make holiday cookie baking easier are to pre-chop large amounts of nuts in the food processor, toast them in the oven and then keep the chopped nuts in the freezer. I usually spend two or three days making multiple cookie doughs, and refrigerating the doughs in ziploc bags (which stack really nicely if you spread the dough out). Then throughout the season I can pull out several bags and bake just a few cookies of each variety for fresh cookie trays. And then I have one big baking day when I am ready to assemble gift trays for friends. No more stale cookies.

    I also always put together a planning schedule to tackle Thanksgiving, so that I don’t have to skimp on all of our favorites. Here is a link to one I used a couple of years ago:
    http://noemptychairs.me/2010/11/18/thanksgiving-meal-prep-planning/
    Kelly’s last post: Pumpkin Sheet Cake

  4. I have jumped on the Holiday Preparedness bandwagon too! I have planned what I am making for teachers, friends, neighbors etc., stocked up on pantry staples & finished a batch of Caramel Pear Butter. This week I’ll finish a batch of Candied Apple Jelly & I have cookie dough in the frig. Phew! Christmas-I’m ready!
    Melissa @ Baking For The Boys’s last post: The Smallest of Thanksgivings (Recipe: Parsleyed Potatoes)

  5. Wait a minute… you mean to tell me that eggnog & shortbread isn’t a balanced meal?!? But but but… it’s got eggs in it… and milk… and flour… and if you make orange shortbread it’s even got fruit, for heaven’s sake!
    GeekKnitter’s last post: Many Thanks

  6. Aside from the links that you provided, do you have any other suggestions or will you be providing more recipes for Christmas cookies? I become very frazzled in the weeks leading up to Christmas with cookie planning and baking. I tried too hard last year, and my cookies suffered. I’m hoping to do much MUCH better this year.

  7. Robin from Frugal Family Times says:

    Thanks, Aimee! Wow, I feel more prepared already…now for a quiet moment to do my own planning. 6 weeks you say?
    Robin from Frugal Family Times’s last post: DIY: a Reclaimed, Built-in Welcome Mat

  8. Holy crap, Aimee. You literally had me smacking my forehead as I read.. 6 weeks from TODAY?!
    I better get cracking.
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies’s last post: Golden Plum, Port, and Mushroom Pork Chops & Giveaway

  9. A girl after my own heart… I have sticky notes attached to my laptop, notebook and kitchen cupboards with reminders of what I need to do, buy and make in the coming weeks. This year I’m scaling back the homemade treats by limiting myself to just a few tried and true favourites. As for edible gifts, I grabbed 4L of popcorn kernels at Costco yesterday and am making caramel popcorn for the teachers, aunts and uncles, music instructors, hockey coaches and neighbours.

    • So smart. And whoa girl, that is a lot of homemade gifts. Have you posted your caramel corn recipe? Curious minds (and hungry tummies) want to know. =)

  10. 6 weeks!! I can’t believe I just read that…. :) This is a great post and you gave great ideas on how to organize–I need to try some of them!

  11. Planning for Thanksgiving &Christmas (and parties, cookies & treats/snacks) along with regular menu planning is how I spent my Sunday afternoon. I love having a “master plan” even if every detail isn’t ironed out!

  12. Luckily I won’t have to be the master planner for any of the holidays this year, but I will certainly use some of these tips to make it easier for those who are! Wonderful post as always!
    Lauren’s last post: Anniversary Part Deux

  13. I’m a big believer in freeze and bake cookies, but never thought of using Pinterest to organize the holiday madness! ( I prefer to use it as a way to procrastinate at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, eyes glazed over, with cookie #3 in my hand…but this sounds much more productive) Thanks for the amazing tips – I’ll be pinning this entry for sure :)

  14. Super inspiring post! I’m going to check out the french onion soup and chocolate chip chilli recipes. Looking forward to the gingerbread cookie recipe too! I’m really good at stocking my freezer with homemade soups and chillis. What I’m not good at is actually using them up. I love knowing that I have a big stash in there all labeled and ready to go. I’m a homemade freezer-food hoarder. Is that weird or what? :)

  15. I read this yesterday and it gave me a much-needed spark to just sit down and start listing things as you’d done. Wow, what a mental relief that was. I still have many steps before I feel more organized for the holidays, but now I’m no longer trying to carry it all in my head. Thank you!
    Katie B. of HousewifeHowTos.com’s last post: Link Party: How To Tuesdays #2

  16. Great guide to holiday planning, Aimee! I do most of the things you talked about regarding gifts and such already, but I’ve never really put time into freezing meals ahead for the post-holiday haze. :-) I definitely need to make that happen this year! Thanks for all the links to great meal ideas!
    Tracy’s last post: Keurig K-Cup Ambassador Vermont Trip

  17. I read somewhere that a woman’s work is never finished. Good with you because I can see that you’re skillful in organized planning the fact that you can think of these “do ahead dinners”. I would like to try your Tourtière, but with some variation. Would you advise using tuna in lieu of pork?

  18. Thanks. Your tips help me lots!
    I’m very busy in each Christmas, so I’m very thankful for your kitchen organizations and plans – very helpful.
    I also love the idea of freezing some foods.
    (Maybe I should have this Jessica’s cookbook, too.)

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