16 tips to for ‘no worries’ cooking this thanksgiving & christmas

pecan crusted sweet potato

I love this time of year.

Here in Oz, the garden is growing like it’s on drugs. Green shoots (and broad beans) everywhere you look.

Summer is just around the corner and the lure of long lazy days on the horizon. Yay for holidays.

Even though we don’t officially celebrate Thanksgiving here in Australia, I love the concept of this holiday. Actually my Irishman and I have adopted a bit of a ‘thanksgiving every day’ habit.

No, we’re not on some weird turkey-only diet.

Pretty much since last thanksgiving we’ve taken a few minutes when we sit down to dinner to say what we’re thankful for that day. It’s a really lovely thing to do.

But the holidays can come with their fair share of stress. Yet it doesn’t need to get unbearably hot in the kitchen.

Here are 16 tips to keep you cool in the kitchen this Thanksgiving & Christmas..

1. plan ahead
If there’s one thing you take away from this list this is the biggest game changes. Make sure you plan ahead. While it can be fun to wing-it when you’re cooking for one or two, nobody needs the stress that goes along with keeping the hungry hoards waiting while the turkey takes forever.

2. think big
Make the most of having heaps of mouths to feed and choose large pieces of meat or fish. A whole salmon or a glazed leg of ham can look seriously impressive and much easier than having to get the timing right for cooking 10 individual serves.

3. choose a simple menu
Less is more in so many ways. Not only does a simple menu mean there will be less types of food, it also means less for the cook to juggle, making it easier to cook the dishes you are serving to perfection.

4. skip the starter
If you must serve a starter, go for something super simple like a bowl of perfectly marinated olives or some excellent quality bread and extra virgin olive oil. With such a massive main course and dessert on the way, it’s best to save your guests appetites for the main event.

5. keep the sides simple or outsource them
It can be tempting to keep adding to your side dishes but this is where things can quickly get out of control. I’d aim for one starchy side, like potatoes and something green, like a simple perfectly dressed green salad or some fresh green beans. If your family has a tradition of extreme multiple sides, this is a good opportunity to take up any offers to help and get some of your guests to look after this.

6. choose dishes that can be served at room temperature
Even if it’s Winter where you are, it doesn’t mean that every single dish needs to be served hot. When oven (or fridge) space is at a premium, having dishes that can be kept at room temperature can be a life saver.

7. allow enough time
I find when I cook, things always take longer than anticipated. Best to allow way more time than you think you’ll need. I’ve been there – stuck in the kitchen, still not in my party outfit, trying to get things done while everyone is enjoying themselves – it’s no fun.

8. delegate
It isn’t the end of the world if things get a little out of hand. Just recruit a few willing sous chefs and you’ll have company and things done in record time.

10. serve family style
Large platters in the middle of the table not only take the pressure off having to find enough space in the kitchen to line up 10 individual plates, it’s interactive and fun to share.

It also means that everyone can load up on things they love and skip out on anything not to their taste without having a guilty pile on their plate at the end of the evening.

11. designate a wine master
You’ve got enough official duties with the food. Nominating a wine master means you don’t have to worry about what to open next or if everyone’s glasses are kept topped up.

12. appoint a dj
Another easy job to outsource. With the added bonus that it can be so fascinating what people dig up from your itunes.

13. stock up on bread
This may seem a little strange from someone who recently wrote about why she ‘doesn’t eat grains’. The thing about having rules is that it’s great fun to break them! When it’s time to celebrate, I say bring on the sourdough.

Judging the right amount of food for a crowd can be tricky, even for experienced cooks. My insurance policy is to have plenty of great sourdough bread on hand. That way you know that no one will leave hungry, and if there are heaps of leftovers you can slice and freeze for later.

14. outsource dessert
There aren’t any prizes for making every item from scratch all by yourself. People love to contribute and dessert is a great way to get others to help.

15. or choose a do-ahead dessert
If out-sourcing is not an option, choose a dessert that can be made a few days ahead so you have one less thing to worry about on the ‘big day’. A personal favourite is my toblerone ice cream cake. If you feel like making it a bit more festive, stir in a few handfuls of roasted chopped pecans and/or some dried sweetened cranberries (craisins).

16. set the table first
A final trick I’ve picked up over the years. Make sure you have the table set and looking lovely before the guests arrive, that way no matter how chaotic things actually are in the kitchen, at least the front of house will have an aura of order and calm.

pecan crusted sweet potato

Pecan Crusted Sweet Potato with Sour Cream

serves 4
takes 5 mins prep + 45mins baking

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi.

These little treats smell completely amazing and festive as they bake away in the oven. And they taste even better. Just remember to be quite generous the the seasoning as the sweetness of the sweet potato and the toasty nuts can make it feel a little ‘dessertish’. Not that that’s a bad thing.

It’s a good idea to make some extra of these so any carnivores can have a little ‘taste’..

1 large sweet potato
100g (3.5oz) pecans
2 large handfuls freshly grated parmesan cheese
small bunch thyme
30omL (1.5 cups) sour cream, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

2. Scrub sweet potato and slice into 8 rounds, about 1cm (1/3in) thick. Discard the small ends.

3. Place slices in a single layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle generously with olive oil.

4. Finely chop the pecans leaving a few chunky bits. Combine pecans with cheese and about 1 tablespoon thyme leaves and 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil to moisten. Season.

5. Divide pecan mixture between the sweet potato rounds, pressing gently but not to compact it too much. Sprinkle with remaining thyme sprigs.

6. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the crust is deeply golden and the sweet potato is tender. Check after 30 minutes and if it’s browning too quickly cover with some foil.

7. Serve hot with sour cream passed separately so everyone can add their own.

budget – replace all or part of the pecans with coarse soft breadcrumbs and use a cheaper parmesan style cheese such as grana padano.

vegan / dairy-free – replace the cheese with soft breadcrumbs and be more generous with the olive oil. Serve with a tahini sauce (equal parts lemon juice, tahini and water) instead of the sour cream.

pumpkin / winter squash – replace the sweet potato with thin slices of butternut pumkin (squash)

different nuts – swap the pecans for almonds, brazil nuts or walnuts. Or choose a mixture of these.

carnivore – serve draped generously with OR serve as a side to a glazed ham.

less decadent
– serve with a good quality natural yoghurt instead of the sour cream.


video version of the recipe

Have fun in the kitchen!

With love,
Jules x


  • These look delicious, and I look forward to making some. But I’m really writing because I wanted to say a big thank-you for all your variations at the end of recipes; what a thoughtful addition. I’d just started subscribing to your blog and trying out your recipes when we realized my daughter and partner can no longer eat dairy. It is SO helpful, when I look at a recipe like this and think “looks great, but wouldn’t be much without the cheese,” to see an expert’s advice on how to make it yummy anyway.

  • Thanks Jules – some good tips. We’re hosting Xmas again this year (brunch – easier or harder??) so let’s hope we can learn a thing or two about keeping it simple. (We’re not very good at that…)

  • Detective Chow
    Good question on brunch… for me it’s harder because I’m not really a morning person… but am sure if you have a plan.. it’s actually about the same

  • May I add to your list, Jules? I would like to suggest that the menu need not have the straight-up traditional item. For example, I find pecan pie pretty fussy to make, but pecan bars are easier in my opinion. Someone may be disappointed in not having exactly the dish that is traditional, but I’ve found that if you substitute an easier dish with the same main ingredient for the more difficult, traditional dish people actually don’t mind and might even be pleased to see their favorite reinterpreted.

  • @Rachel- I love your idea- My in-laws host Thanksgiving every year. The food is lousy but I enjoy our time together. When all is said and done it is really only one meal.

  • Great point Rachel!
    And can’t believe I missed including it… great minds… one of my favourite recipes in my ebook is the ‘no bake pecan pie’ which sounds similar to your pecan bars…
    Great minds :)

  • First of all: Appoint a DJ might be my most favorite Thanksgiving Tip I have found in my mad and furious (and perhaps a little bit too last minute) search for Thanksgiving tips and tricks. (This and http://www.mattsmix.com/recipes/thanksgiving-advice/ are the two best ones I have found thus far.) Second of all, that sweet potato with sour cream looks divine. Any suggestions for making it vegan? Soy yogurt perhaps?

  • Yummy, Jul! You recently introduced me to the joys of leaving skins on and roasting veggies- time saver and I can’t believe how delicious they are. Can not wait to try this recipe.

    Luv u xoxo

  • Happy belated Thanksgiving from the States! I made the sweet potato dish for my family yesterday – we all loved it. Thank you so much for sharing it!

    P.S. I run a website at http://www.IndependentClinician.com One of my upcoming articles is on “mind, body and health.” I’m going to be including you in the health segment! I’m so excited to let others know how awesome TheStoneSoup.com is!

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