An Uncomplicated Life Blog: Holiday Hostess Hacks

Monday, November 18, 2019

Holiday Hostess Hacks

If you're hosting a get-together during the upcoming holiday season, be sure to check out these hostess hacks so that your guests are comfortable and enjoy themselves

This post is sponsored by McCormick® but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Since my mid 20's, I've hosted at least one of the major holidays. I love to cook and I love to make a whole bunch of food for people. Now that I have four kids, I ask my family to come to us for the holidays, because who wants to deal with flights and flight delays with four kids age five and under?! Not to mention the expense of traveling with a family of six. And all our family is a flight (or two) away. So! I'd much rather host my family and friends than travel to others. Especially since I'm a decent cook. I've learned some great hostess-ing hacks in the 10 or so years I've been a hostess, and want to share some of my best cooking and hostessing tips with y'all so you can host with confidence too. Here are my best holiday hostess hacks to ensure everyone (even you!) have a great holiday season.

If you're like me and live in Texas, you've got to check out H-E-B for all your holiday shopping. Now, I hadn't previously been to an H-E-B because the closest one is about 45 minutes from my North Dallas home. But I ventured out to Waxahachie (which is about the most fun name of a town to pronounce ever) to visit the store closest to me, and I was so pleasantly surprised! They have EVERYTHING. Organic produce, conventional brands, a pharmacy, they even sell clothes! The aisles are clearly labeled so even if you're new to the store like I was, you can easily find what you're looking for. I was able to get in, get what I needed and be back on my way to Dallas in less than 15 minutes. I really appreciated the way they organized and labeled their McCormick® spices, too - it's alphabetical, so whatever you're looking for is easy to find. Holiday hostesses, if you're in Texas, you've got to get your goods at H-E-B.

Preparing the bird:
I think one of the most daunting tasks of hosting is preparing the bird. Hams are easy - just throw them in the oven to warm them. Maybe add a glaze if there isn't already one on there. But a turkey?! Or a whole bunch of Cornish hens? You have to take the neck and gizzards out of the body cavity. You have to position the legs for baking. You've got to season it right and bake it correctly. It's intimidating! I've made a few bad turkeys in my life. Well, not bad, just cooked wrong. Here is the absolute BEST way to roast poultry for the holidays, that I've learned via trial and error over the years:

You want to get the bird in the right position in the pan for the best baking result. Now, my method isn't the prettiest! You won't land the cover of Food and Wine Magazine with this method. But you will have a fully cooked bird, with the white meat staying moist and the dark meat fully cooked. I happened across this method on complete accident. I put my bird in upside down and didn't realize it until I went to carve it, and saw that the breast meat was on the bottom. It was the juiciest bird we had ever had! So, from there on out, I cook all my poultry upside down. As the skin and the other meat roasts, the fat drips into the white breast meat, which is notorious for drying out. It dries out because it cooks the fastest. When you put it on the bottom of the roasting pan, therefore cooking it upside down, it cooks slower and also gets all the drippings running through it as you bake it. This keeps it moist and delicious as the other parts of the bird, typically the thighs, take the longest to fully bake. It's recommended that you cook poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Stick your meat thermometer in the hip joint. When it says 160, pull your bird out of the oven and cover it in foil. The remaining five degrees will come up from residual heat and your bird won't be over cooked. That, along with putting your bird upside down, will result in some of the best and juiciest poultry you could hope for.

I like to keep the seasoning of the bird super simple. Especially with other holiday side dishes, that tend to dominate the flavor dynamic of the meal. There are heavy flavors in holiday foods - lots of sage, rosemary, butter and salt - so I like to keep my poultry light. I'm a big fan of stuffing the body cavity with a quartered onion, a stick of celery that's been quartered, a carrot that's been quartered, and then a lemon that's either cut in half or quartered. The citrus provides a fresh taste that cuts the entire stick of butter I recommend rubbing all over the skin (to help it brown and provide additional fat for the gravy) then sprinkle it with a light coating of kosher salt and McCormick® Poultry Seasoning all over the skin.

Perfectly Baked Bird:
- 1 stick of room temp butter
- 1/2 a medium onion
- 1 stock of celery, cut into large pieces
- 1 medium carrot, cut into large pieces
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon McCormick® Poultry Seasoning
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Cover the skin in a stick of room temp butter (rub it all over!) Fill the body cavity with the onion, celery, carrot and lemon. Sprinkle McCormick® Poultry seasoning and kosher salt on the skin of the bird. Bake at 350 (for a chicken) or 325 (for a turkey) for 10 to 15 minutes per pound, or until your meat thermometer reads 160.

Baking time:
The key to baking a bird is that it needs to be defrosted in order to cook evenly. The range is 10-15 minutes per pound. If you have a convection oven, you'll be more like 10 minutes per pound. If you have an old school electric oven, you'll be closer to 15, provided your oven has even heat. I'm not a fan of adhering too much to TIME, but rather using it as a guide to watch the meat thermometer you use, and being sure to pull your bird at 160 degrees. If you didn't buy a turkey in time to fully defrost it, you're looking more at 20 minutes per pound of baking time, but beware! Your bird won't cook evenly unless it's totally unfrozen. It's best to have a completely thawed turkey.

A few more tips:
  • For the first few hours, bake it under a tinfoil tent so that it doesn't get too brown too fast
  • Baste your turkey in the juices that run in the pan every 20-25 minutes. A turkey baster is the easiest way to do this, or a food/cooking brush can be used to rub the skin with the pan juices.

Easy appetizer for holiday get-togethers
One of the things about being a hostess is having all your guests' needs met when they arrive (or shortly thereafter). I like to have drinks already made, wine chilled, the table already set, essential oils diffusing and a few snacks out upon the arrival of guests. This way nobody is thirsty, hungry, my home smells great and I don't have to waste my time setting a table when I'm already maxed out with cooking. And I like to do as much of this ahead of time (aka the night before) as possible! A snack we always had out growing up was seasoned and candied pecans. They're easy to make ahead of time, they sit out well (no refrigeration needed), they're easy to eat one or a handful at a time, and they've got a surprise kick to them.

Spicy Candied Pecans:
- 1 12oz bag whole pecans
- 3 tablespoons of salted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 teaspoon McCormick® Pumpkin Pie Spice
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Ground Red Pepper (depending on how spicy you or your guests like it)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat, then add the seasoning, extract, sugar and salt. Cook until the sugar bubbles for a minute or two, then add the pecans. Coat the pecans with the mixture evenly, then pour out on to wax or parchment paper to cool and harden. Break up any large pieces and place in a bowl where your guests can easily snack on the nuts while they wait for the main meal. Enjoy!

Hosting for the holidays can be stressful. Use these tips to ensure your bird is cooked perfectly every time, and put out some spicy candied pecans for your guests to enjoy as they wait for the main meal. Fellow Texans, make sure and do your holiday meal shopping at H-E-B for great deals and one-stop shopping! Their variety of products and organization of their spice aisle will make your life so much easier.


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