Before it's time to jump into action, it's a good idea to prepare your kitchen. An unorganized, cluttered HQ can seriously hamper cooking efforts and burn a lot of time. Plus, if you have a fridge full of food that's unnecessary for the occasion, you'll have a lot of trouble squeezing everything in and keeping it safely refrigerated before serving. Assess the fridge, pantry and counter space to determine what's pertinent and what can get out of the way.
Buying some items pre-prepared also helps save time. It may feel like cheating, but it can really take a lot of the tension out of days that should be spent enjoying the company of family and friends. Lots of Web sites offer a range of holiday fare such as smoked turkey, peppered ham, green bean casserole, butternut squash, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, caramelized yams, apple pecan stuffing, pumpkin pie and desserts galore.
You can always purchase some items and still prepare others yourself. Maybe your turkey and casserole recipes are to-die-for, but you don't want to deal with all those side dishes. Just order whatever you don't feel like spending time on in the kitchen. If you don't want to shell out all the cash, ask guests to pitch in and bring a dish.
Washing the dishes as you go along is another major timesaver. Not only does this free utensils for later use, it saves a ton of effort at the end of the meal so you don't find yourself alone in front of the sink with Mount Everest staring you down. There are always pockets of downtime sprinkled throughout a mammoth cooking session, so wash a pot here and a bowl there, and you'll be amazed how much quicker after-meal cleanup takes.
Last, but certainly not least, get some help from your holiday guests. No reason for you to slave away all by yourself. Assign an early arriver to door duty and set others to work putting out the place settings. It can help to appoint someone as bartender so people aren't constantly coming in and out of the kitchen for drinks. And speaking of a crowded kitchen, it's not a smart idea to recruit more helpers than the space can handle. One or two is usually a good bet -- you can orchestrate preparations better if they handle some of the many easy, yet time-consuming small tasks available, such as stirring vegetables or mashing potatoes.
Of course, when it really comes down to it, the biggest time saver of all is to simply eat at other people's houses over the holidays. Not always the most tactful perhaps, but there's no question it would save you loads of time. For more tips and tricks on saving time and surviving the holidays, hurry over to the links on the next page.