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lucy waverman

No one wants to be a harried host, anxious and too tired to enjoy the festivities. Follow my tips for a relaxing and pleasurable Christmas Day.

Don’t over plan or overcook

Decide on your menu a week ahead, and use tried and true recipes. Turkeys are in short supply this year, so order yours ahead and pick it up a couple of days before Christmas. To improve its taste and texture, try a dry brine. Use ¼ teaspoon salt per pound of turkey, rubbed all over the turkey and throw some in the cavity, too. Use Kosher salt as the grain is bigger and it is less salty. Diamond Kosher is the chef’s choice. If you only have table salt, use ¼ teaspoon per 2 pounds turkey. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours. To make life even easier, have your turkey butterflied (the backbone taken out) and remove the breastbone for easy carving. You can place stuffing underneath. It cooks much more quickly; 90 minutes for a 12-pound to 14-pound turkey at 400 F. Use a thermometer to test the inner temperature.

Ask about food restrictions

Check with your guests for any dietary concerns and make sure to have something they can eat. A gluten-free stuffing is always good. For vegans, I usually make stuffed portobello mushrooms with a vegan gravy, or I buy something.

Choose side dishes that can be made ahead

If oven space is an issue, include some that can go in the microwave. Plan out your oven heating space ahead of time, including any dishes others may be bringing.

Plan out the turkey timing

The turkey needs 20 minutes to sit when it comes out of the oven. Use that time to reheat other dishes if you only have one oven. Set the oven to 400 F so food warms up quickly. Any vegetables that need roasting can be cooked ahead of time. Leave them on the sheet pan for a fast reheat.

Reheat mashed potatoes

To reheat mashed potatoes, leave them in the pot, mashed, and beat in hot milk over medium heat when ready to serve. Mashed potatoes can also be reheated in the oven, although they are slightly drier than the hot milk method.

Reheat vegetable side dishes

Most green vegetables, including green beans, are great in the microwave, just don’t overheat them. Any squash purees reheat best on the oven.

Prepare the salad beforehand

Make a salad dressing up to a week ahead. Don’t refrigerate it unless it uses eggs. Have the salad prepped in a salad bowl, and refrigerate. Toss at the last minute.

Make dinner a buffet

Set up a buffet so people can help themselves, and lay the dining table as early as possible.

Keep dessert simple

For after dinner, make a terrific cheese board with crackers, chutneys and honey. Get help from a cheese store to plan what you need. Dessert boards are also popular, and unless you love to bake, this is a great opportunity to buy cookies, pastries and Christmas cake to put out. If you are making dessert, choose something that keeps well and can be made ahead. I like sticky toffee pudding.

Plan for drink options

Decide on your drinks. Will it be wine and beer only, or mixed drinks? A house sparkling cocktail is a good celebration drink. Make up a pitcher. Remember to make or buy extra ice.

Add a natural scent to your home

Finally, in the morning, simmer a pot of orange peel, cloves, cranberries and cinnamon sticks in water for 30 minutes. This seasonal potpourri gives your house a Christmas-like scent. Happy holidays.

Need some advice about kitchen life and entertaining? Send your questions to lwaverman@globeandmail.com.

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