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The ultimate 3-hour guide to cooking a holiday meal

Marnely Rodriguez-Murray is the author of the food blog Cooking with Books. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she has worked as an overnight bread baker in Colorado and a chocolate maker in Virginia. She currently resides ...

Who says you have to spend all day slaving over a hot stove? Three hours and you're set!

We've all been there — that Christmas weekend that we were planning on staying home with the kids and just enjoying the holidays in a quiet and relaxed setting. All of a sudden your in-laws decide that they'd love to come over for Christmas dinner, and your cousin and his girlfriend text you that they're thinking of "swinging by for some Christmas nosh." Fear not — we've got you covered with some ideas on how to start cooking at 4 p.m. and have dinner on the table by 7 p.m. on the dot.

The menu

Pumpkin coconut soup with basil pesto
Shredded Brussels sprouts, cranberries and walnut slaw with lemon sage vinaigrette
Apple, fennel and pecan stuffing
Sriracha honey glazed carrots
Rustic buttermilk potatoes
Citrus maple glazed chicken/duck/pork tenderloin
Citrus fruit freeze

The countdown

3 Hours before

  • Set the table with utensils, napkins, salt, pepper, butter and any other seasonings you prefer.

2:45 Before

  • For the soup: In soup pot, melt butter and sauté onion and celery together until translucent. Add and whisk together pumpkin puree, coconut milk and chicken stock. Let simmer for 30 minutes and blend soup until smooth. Set aside until ready to serve.

2:30 Before

  • For chicken/duck/pork tenderloin, make a compound butter by whisking together unsalted butter, real maple syrup and fresh orange zest. Season the butter with salt and pepper to taste. Slather half the compound butter on your protein of choice, saving the rest for later. Let protein rest at room temperature until ready to cook.

2 Hours before

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
  • For the carrots: Lightly peel medium carrots (leave the tops on) and whisk together Sriracha, honey and olive oil. Toss the peeled carrots with this mixture, season with salt and set aside.
  • For the stuffing: Tear Italian bread into medium chunks, chop Granny Smith apples and dice fennel. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and half-and-half together; season with salt and pepper. Add the bread, apple and fennel until coated, pour into baking pan and sprinkle with crushed pecans. Bake until golden brown.

1:45 Before

  • Put the protein in the oven.

1:30 Before

  • For the dessert: Whisk together a jar of lemon curd with a splash of Grand Marnier. Fold into softened vanilla bean ice cream. Serve layered in fancy glasses with fresh orange slices and chill in the refrigerator while you have dinner.
  • Start boiling a large pot of salted water for your potatoes.

1 Hour before

  • Throw Yukon Gold potatoes in boiling water until tender. Remove water and place potatoes back in hot pot. Salt and, using a wooden spoon, mash potatoes while drizzling with buttermilk. Add butter and keep hot until serving.
  • Make salad dressing by whisking 3:1 ratio of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Season with fresh lemon zest, chopped fresh sage and salt and pepper.
45 Minutes: 
  • Throw carrots in the oven and cook until tender but not mushy.
  • For the salad: Thinly shred the raw Brussels sprouts, crush the walnuts and toss everything with dried cranberries and dressing.

:30 Minutes

  • Check the protein for doneness — slather the other half of the compound butter 10 minutes before pulling out of oven to rest. Let rest for 10 minutes and carve.
  • Reheat the soup and serve alongside store-bought pesto that guests can swirl into their soup individually.
  • Check the temperature of the other dishes and reheat if needed.

Grocery list (serves 6-8 guests): 3 cans pumpkin puree, 2 cans whole coconut milk, 2 medium sweet onions, 4 stalks celery, 8 ounces basil pesto, 3 pounds raw Brussels sprouts, 8 ounces dried cranberries, 8 ounces walnuts, 4 large Granny Smith apples, 2 large bulbs fennel, 2 loaves of Italian bread, 8 ounces pecans, 2 lemons, 2 oranges, 1 bunch fresh sage, olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, 5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, 1 quart buttermilk, 2 sticks unsalted butter, 2 large chickens/1 large duck/2, 8 ounces pork tenderloins, maple syrup, 5 pounds medium-sized carrots, Sriracha, honey, 2 quarts vanilla bean ice cream, 8 ounces lemon curd, 1 cup Grand Marnier.

Check out this easy reminder timeline.

Who says you have to spend all day slaving over a hot stove? Three hours and you're set!

See all of our holiday articles

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Baked Brie with homemade red pepper jam makes for a decadent snack

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