6 Last-Minute Holiday Entertaining Tips From Chef Carla Hall

Photo: Courtesy of ABC/Craig Sjodin
Cooking for a crowd during the holidays induces peak stress levels — whether you're a first-time host or a seasoned chef. Between making multiple dishes at the same time, experimenting with recipes you've never made before, and trying to make the whole thing look effortless — something is pretty much guaranteed to go wrong. Which is why we wanted some expert advice before the next week of festivities officially begins. We turned to chef Carla Hall, a Top Chef alum and current co-host of The Chew for her best tricks for holiday hosting. And we know these tips are effective because Hall shared Go Pro footage of herself preparing a holiday meal to prove it. Check out her hacks and footage of Carla Hall in action, below.
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1. Get Creative/Think On The Fly
When you're prepping and cooking for the holidays, adapting to the situation is key: there's always a forgotten ingredient or a random tableware issue just when you're knee deep in peeled potatoes. Instead of panicking and chucking whatever you're making on the floor, just take a deep breath and start problem solving.
When Hall was prepping for her holiday meal, she realized too late that she didn't have a tablecloth that was long enough to fit the table she was using. So, she got creative and used wrapping paper instead! Since it was cold out she also used her outdoor space as extra fridge storage.
2. Keep Recipes At Eye-Level
It may seem obvious to keep the recipe, whatever its form (printed out on a sheet of paper, on your phone, in a cookbook) out of the way when you're getting messy in the kitchen. But, one tip from Hall that could help tremendously, is actually printing out a paper copy and taping it up at eye-level on your cabinets. That way, when you're running around trying to remember if the peppers go into the pan at the same time as the onions, you can just look up. You'll avoiding making a mess or winging it because you don't want to unlock your laptop while your hands are covered in flour.
3. Let Fridge Storage Be Your Guide
Your fridge is bound to be overflowing on the morning of your dinner or party. Hall suggests that when you start planning out your cooking for the day, try to prep and cook the things that take up the most fridge space first. Making a turkey or ham? Get that meat in the oven, stat. Have an abundance of veggies for stuffing or sides? Get them going early so you can actually see what's going on in your fridge. That way, when you open it, several ingredients won't fly out at once causing you to want to give up and order takeout every time you need an egg or a stick of butter.
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4. Don't Let Dietary Restrictions Get You Down
Dealing with dietary restrictions throughout the holiday season can cause an an unpleasant etiquette dilemma. As a way to avoid having to make a extra dishes that suit certain peoples needs, Hall suggests making all of the sides restriction-friendly. She made all of her Thanksgiving sides vegetarian this year, that way guests who didn't eat meat could build a whole meal using sides — no extra planning for required.
5. Resealable Bags Are Your Best Friend
We've all seen the extremely satisfying blogger photos of frozen meals portioned out in sealable baggies. The same concept can apply to holiday prep when you're trying to save room in the fridge. Carla stores prepped veggies, sauces, and whatever else can be bagged, in flat layers in her fridge to save space.
6. Send Guests Home With Leftovers
If you're throwing a potluck, it's easy to send guests home with leftovers in the dishes they brought over. If you're making the majority of the dishes, and you know you're going to make way more food than you can possibly reheat and repurpose, Hall gives out leftovers in quart containers as take-home gifts for her company.
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