Holiday Cooking 101

December 1, 2016 | by rebecca stewart 

updated November 27, 2019

Confession: I am 35 years old and I have never been in charge of an entire holiday meal. Not one, not ever. However, I do rock the ol’ green bean casserole like a boss. With an embarrassment of culinary riches on both my husband’s and my side of the family, there hasn’t been a lot of incentive to take the lead. At all. But at some point, the coach is gonna notice me at the end of the bench and put me in, so doing some learning seems like a wise choice. For all the other novices out there, buckle up because we’re going all in with Holiday Cooking 101.

Day 1 – Will you teach me the ways of your magic?

My parents are definitely not newbies when it comes to holiday meal preparing (we’re talking 45 years of ALL the holiday meals), never mind the fact that they have cooked dinner for all 16 of us once a week (except for softball/baseball season) since forever. So, it was a no-brainer to tap into their years of wisdom. Enter Christmas in October.

Sure, they could have just talked me through the how-to of putting together Christmas dinner, but being a visual/hands-on learner it was quickly agreed that literally taking me through the meal was the way to go. An ace in the kitchen, I am not. 

P.S. I think I will need a cute apron for this. 

Day 2 – The main course

It has been decided, if prime rib is what we would normally have on Christmas Day, then prime rib we shall have for Operation: Christmas Dinner for Dummies. Today, we’ve learned, is the last day of the roast special. Must buy today! Tip: This is something to most definitely keep an eye and an ear out for when the time comes because, woo! (Savings are savings, am I right?) 

Day 3 – Menu planning                                         

It’s time to coordinate the grocery list. (In real-time your meal planning can begin weeks in advance). We’ve decided, in addition to prime rib, our menu will include: mashed potatoes (I have made mashed potatoes all of one time and that was for two people, not 16, and I think I called my mom 10 times; clearly I need training), sautéed mushrooms, green bean casserole (of course), veggie tray, and don’t forget the gravy and au jus! 

Day 4 – Training Day

Bright side to Christmas in October: we will be eating at 6:30pm instead of the regular 1pm of Christmas Day, therefore starting at 6am is not a thing and I get the sense I’m experiencing a far more relaxed version – perhaps best for the rookie? 

9:30am - We begin with my mom snagging the recipe card written for her by her mother that details times and temperatures and what to do when with the roast. (This is coupled with my parents’ notebook of all things large meals with notes about what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Brilliant!). After establishing the weight of the roast, it is time for the math. (Math is not my jam; I am deer in headlights at this point. Note to self: husband will be in charge of all future calculations. Gotta play to people’s strengths, right?). 

10am – Since we have hours yet before the meat needs to go in the oven, dad first “marks” the roast (making minute slices in the top to make sure we’ll have enough for everyone), next we (liberally) season the top of the roast with Lawry’s seasoning salt, pepper, and later will add garlic powder (Internet wisdom advises to season all sides, however lack of flavor has never been a problem). Back in the fridge it goes.

10:15am – Normally my parents set the tables the day before the big meal; however, we decided we’d do it together, this morning. As we deliberate over what goes where – according to proper table setting etiquette – mom pulls out her trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, which has handy dandy pictorial examples. 

10:45am – Dad suggests we (me) peel the potatoes. He assures me that once they’re covered in water, they won’t turn a yucky brown. At this point, it’s guaranteed that all of the memories of what it is to have a lone left-handed child come rushing back as he tries to show me a speedier way of peeling the potatoes. It’s fine, slow and steady wins the race? Expert tip: The peeling and slicing can be done the night before. Once you’ve peeled (and sliced your potatoes in half length-wise – for larger potatoes, quarter them length-wise) just don’t forget the water! 

Once all potatoes are peeled, rinsed, sliced, and in the pot, sprinkle salt over top, then fill pot with water until potatoes are covered. Put lid on and set aside until time to boil. 

11:30am – Do a final perusal of Pinterest for fun veggie tray ideas. In creating the Christmas tree veggie tray option, it seems a little…not working. Exit meticulous placing of broccoli, enter dumping and arranging method. Much better. Reality: It’s kinda cute and fun, but we’ll still end up having a traditional veggie platter set out for more variety. Worth it? Maybe not so much. 

2:45pm – After pre-heating the oven, it’s time for the main dish to head to the oven. We’ll sear it at 500° for 20 minutes, and then drop the temperature down for the remainder hours. With the iGrillmini, a Bluetooth Connected Thermometer, Dad can monitor the meat’s temperature from his phone! (Mom and dad recommend cruising the Internet for pertinent temps, times, and various rub/seasoning suggestions). Note: A good thermometer is vital for most holiday main dishes.

5pm – The family is starting to arrive, time to prep the less decorative veggie tray. Theory pre-dinner: Creatively arranged veggie trays are neglected because no one wants to disrupt the image. Post-dinner results: True story.

5:30pm – Time to dash over to my house to make the green bean casserole (note: pre-browned ground sausage is all kinds of fantastic and a taste-perfect addition. Diced ham is also a favorite in my family). I now understand the truth my mother spoke when she said having only one oven makes coordinating all of the dishes one of the greatest challenges of the holiday meal creating.

…Meanwhile back at mama’s: Parents are covering the making of the gravy and the au jus. Potatoes are on hold until my return.

6:15pm – Return with green bean casserole. It’s time to experience the mashing of massive amounts of potatoes (with hand mixer). Most important learning moments: pause frequently to scrape sides of the pot; don’t be shy with the butter, sour cream, and especially the milk. Moral of the story: I could have been a bit more generous on the milk front. 

6:40pm – Meat is out of the oven. As it rests and eventually makes the move to being cut up, a frenzy of activity takes over the kitchen as some of the meat is cooked a bit more in a pan of au jus on the stove for those who aren’t of the medium-rare loving variety and everything else is dished and moved to the table. 

7:05pm – The meal is considered a resounding success! Buzz around the table is that Christmas dinner is at our house this year. That’s fine…As long as mom and dad are game for a Christmas Eve sleepover!

7:30pm – The nieces and nephews (particularly the oldest of the bunch) are crucial to the holiday dinner experience as they quickly and efficiently clear the tables and do the dishes. Rock. Stars.

Day 5 – Hindsight

I was super pooped last night. My dad zonking out in his chair later in the day on holidays is no longer a mystery. I think my mom might secretly be Super Woman. My potatoes could have been fluffier, but overall, it wasn’t quite the terrifying experience I had built up in my mind. The laughter and the one-on-one memory making with my parents were priceless. The greatest take-away would have to be: do what you can, when you can so everything doesn’t pile up all at once (and utilizing a crock pot in lands with only one oven is definitely advisable).

Tips from the Meat Expert:

Jimmer Rogina has 10 years meat experience at Albertsons. 

What to ask when ordering your prime rib (or otherwise)? When you come into Albertsons let your butcher-block associate know what you want to cook and we’ll help you pick out the right cut of meat at the right price. If you come in and tell the butcher-block associate you want prime rib for your holiday dinner, they will help you pick out the right rib roast that will feed everyone at your table. (We generally overestimate so no one goes hungry, and the prime rib is awesome the next week for French dip sandwiches). Generally, you can plan to order half a pound per person for boneless roasts, one pound per person for bone in roasts.

Note: You might be coming in to put in a meat order, but Albertsons butcher block associates will offer tips on how to cook it, recommend seasonings, marinades or rubs, and can even season it for you at no extra cost! These butcher-block associates are certified meat experts, passionate about meat: from picking out the right cut, to cooking it, to side dish and beverage pairings. They even have recipe cards for customers at no cost.

How far in advance should you put an order in? 1-2 weeks out, if possible, but we can cut on the spot as it is ordered, if needed.

When should people be on the lookout for the best deals? Generally 2-3 weeks out from the holiday in my experience.

Anything you wish people could be aware of before heading in to shop for the big holiday meal? I can't say enough about Double R Ranch USDA Choice Beef! It's locally produced, Choice grade (which means more marbling, flavoring, and tenderness), and it's just flat out the best Choice Beef we've ever carried. I stay away from Select Grade beef because it's not a high grade of meat, and you miss out on a lot of flavor and tenderness by using a lesser quality cut of meat. We can also special order the Prime Grade cuts of beef as well, but we do need more notice and it has a higher cost (as anything of great quality will).

Using Albertsons new app to your advantage! It's a fantastic new tool for shoppers to get extra savings and not have to clip coupons. It's very easy to use, customers can make shopping lists based off the coupons and digital specials they've "clicked" in the app, and it all lives in one place. Simply search for the Albertsons app on your google play or apple store, download the app, sign up with an email and phone number, and start saving. It's really slick! Once you’ve used the app for a couple weeks, it starts serving up discounts on the items you buy most, just for you! 

Originally printed in the December 2016 issue of Simply Family Magazine

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