These Tips Will Make Your Holiday Stress-Free

With the holidays around the corner, we have compiled a list of tips and tricks to making your holiday stress-free this year. Below, you’ll find a list of tips that will not only help you plan a party on a budget, but will have your guests asking for the recipe to your desserts and main dish.


Catherine Anderson, JJC hospitality management professor, has years of experience in the hospitality industry. She’s been a catering/event manager at a country club in California, a manager at the Ritz Carlton, Chicago, and a corporate trainer for Lettuce Entertain You restaurants.

Here, Anderson shares her 10 favorite tips and tricks for easy holiday entertaining at home, gleaned from years of doing and teaching what she loves. “My favorite part of hosting is creating an environment that allows everyone to feel comfortable in my home, from décor, to food and drink,” she said.

1.) Ditch the old tablecloths: If you’re like me, every holiday season you pull out your tablecloths only to find them stained, or find yourself bored with them because they are same ones you’ve used for years.  This season, think outside the box: use a sheet, a plaid blanket or go to the fabric store and get fabric to place down your table.  For the kids table, go to the painting section of your home improvement store and buy rolls of brown paper.  Let the kids color and draw on their tablecloth!

2.) Simplify your buffet prep: Stick Post-it notes on empty platters and bowls, indicating which finished dish goes where.

3.) Add some fresh décor: Style a centerpiece with branches – bring the wintery outdoors indoors!

4.)  Think about the music: Create a playlist of holiday music ahead of time.

5.) Get work done ahead of time: Have your table set before guests arrive.  It will make them feel welcome and spare you last-minute stress.

6.) Keep it casual:  A low key vibe is more comfortable for both you and your guests.  Remember, your guests are likely to enjoy themselves if you do.

7.) Use candles: Few décor elements have the visual impact of candles, and they’re cheap!

8.) Mix and match: Don’t be afraid to mix up your look.  Not everything has to match-y match-y.  Have fun with different patterns and textures; mix up old and new.  Try to keep a theme going so it doesn’t look too messy (all clear glassware etc.)

9.) Don’t make everything from scratch:  Take store-bought items and jazz them up by adding some fresh herbs or simply place them in a pretty container and everyone will think you made it!

10.)  Plan ahead: There are some great free holiday planner printables on the internet.  By staying organized you make it much less stressful on you and your family and friends.  Remember – this is a time of celebration!



From baking cookies to preparing the main dish, holiday cooking will be easy this year, thanks to advice from Joliet Junior College culinary arts professors. Several chefs have teamed up to share their best tips and secrets for cooking and baking at home during the holidays.

JJC Culinary Arts Professors suggest:

1. When roasting a turkey or chicken, or making a pork roast, let the meat rest in a homemade brine for 6-8 hours before cooking.Brining allows the protein to absorb moisture and retain it during the roasting process. The moistness, tenderness and the flavor will be far superior to the same item not brined.— Chef Michael McGreal

2. Make all your cookie dough ahead of time and put it in the freezer. Take the cookie dough out a day prior to baking. Let it thaw before cutting and baking. The shopping, scaling, and mixing can be done weeks prior making the actual baking day a lot less stressful. — Chef Michael McGreal

3. When selecting a holiday wine, mirror the body, weight (or overall intensity) of both the wine and the food to ensure neither one overwhelms the other. Heavy or rich foods should be paired with heavy or rich wine, just as light or delicate foods should be paired with light or delicate wine. Ask yourself: How does the wine feel in your mouth? If it feels like water, it is a light body wine. If it feels like 2 percent milk, it is a medium body wine. If it feels like whole milk, it is a full body wine. —Professor Eric Bell

4. When making sweet potatoes or squash, roast them in their skins. Wait for them to cool before peeling. To use them in a pie or side dish, roasting them in their skins brings much more natural sweetness into the potato, and then you don’t have to add as much sugar and unwanted calories. —Chef Kyle Richardson

5. When making fresh mashed potatoes, boil or steam the potatoes until just tender. Then use a ricer or food mill to mash the potatoes while warm. The texture will be notably smoother. Pre-heated milk and butter can be added to keep the mashed potatoes smooth. —Chef Kyle Richardson

6. Give a homemade baked gift during the holidays. Pick something that is your specialty or that you take pride in and it will mean so much more than a store bought gift. —Chef Mark Muszynski

7. Weigh out and measure ingredients a day ahead of time and the job won’t seem as time consuming. The next day, you’ll be off to a much quicker start. —Chef Mark Muszynski

8. For a flavorful and lump-free gravy, take the drippings from a roasted item and add them to a heavy bottom saucepan. Let the drippings simmer over medium heat until the juice evaporates and only the fat remains. At that point, add an equal amount of flour to the fat to make a roux and cook it until it is nutty smelling and smooth (2-3 minutes).  Whisk in the broth, while also cleaning the edges of the pan with a rubber spatula to remove any roux that gets caught in corners. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes. Season and strain. —Chef Tim Bucci

9. Remember to prepare food safely and use a meat thermometer for proper internal temperatures.Poultry and casseroles should be 165 F; hams should be 155 F; beef, pork and lamb should be 145 F. Store your meats properly in the refrigerator and never in a garage, on a porch, or on the counter at room temperature. Raw meats should be at a constant 41 F or lower. —Chef Keith Vonhoff

10. Try using red cranberries for more than just Thanksgiving dinner. The beautiful color and flavor make cranberries a wonderful addition to all the Holiday meals.  Here is a simple but very flavorful recipe:

  • 1-bag of fresh cranberries
  • 6-granny smith apples, peeled, cored and diced into 1-inch cubes.
  • 1-cup of organic apple juice
  • 1/4 cup of organic honey
  • 2-T. Coconut oil
  • 1 tsp of pumpkin spice

In a non-reactive SS pan over medium heat, place the coconut oil and full bag of cranberries. Lightly cook until the cranberries begin to split. Add the apples and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Add the pumpkin spice, honey and apple juice. Simmer and stir occasionally for 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold to your preference. —Chef Paul Bringas

For more information about the JJC Culinary Department, log on to, or contact Mike McGreal, department chair, at 815-280-2639 or e-mail

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