Kitchen Hacks and Tricks for Making Traditional Holiday Favorites
It’s that time of year in which many of us spend double the amount of time in the kitchen and of course on Pinterest looking at all the gorgeous holiday decor and recipes. This year I had to live vicariously through you for Thanksgiving (since my kitchen is going through a BIG remodel), but as you can imagine, the second the kitchen is finished I’ll be going bananas with the candy canes and Christmas decor. The fact that my dream kitchen will probably be ready just in time for Christmas makes it all the more exciting, since it will be the first time I’ll be cooking for the many holiday gatherings we host in a kitchen that has space for all my culinary adventures. Finally!
There are so many delicious holiday recipes out there, and following a recipe will of course give you amazing results. You can even check out our collection of Holiday recipes here! Today however, I wanted to give you some quick hacks, tricks and tips for those of you who are getting adventurous and want to add a holiday twist to everything you’re making. You may have that yummy vegan roast covered, but how can we transform simple ingredients into the perfect dish for the Holidays? If we’ve got some veggies lying around, how can we give them that beautiful cozy winter and Christmas feeling? That’s what I’m going to give you today, a list of some cooking tricks and tips for making delicious vegan dishes for the Holidays.
Kitchen Hack No. 1: Use different vinegars to make roast veggies pop
Are you roasting carrots? Onions? Squashes? Pumpkins? Sweet potatoes? Green beans? Adding a few splashes of a good quality vinegar to toss your veggies with, along with any oil and herbs and seasonings you’re using, will give you the most delicious treat. Vinegars, similar to when we cook with wine, have natural sugars in them that will help foods caramelize, but the tang and acidity they also provide will give this caramelization HUGE depth of flavor. My favorites are apple cider vinegar (great when roasting acorn squash, parsnips, onions and shallots), balsamic vinegar (delicious with roasted green beans, red or golden beets, sweet potatoes or fennel), and red wine vinegar (delicious with pumpkin, Brussels sprouts and carrots).
Kitchen Hack No. 2: Think hearty winter herbs
Although a good spring onion carries the perfect season to use it in, in its name, there are particular herbs that just scream fall, winter and the Holidays. Try using what I call the Holiday trifecta: rosemary, thyme, and of course sage. Parsley should always be in your kitchen and works amazingly well too.
Kitchen Hack No. 3: Let the colors of the holidays lead the way
Anything can be transformed into a holiday favorite by adding a pop of orange or red in the fall, or bright red, burgundy, brown or green for Christmas.
These goodies will come in handy for these purposes:
Dried cranberries and/ or goyi berries, great in rice pilafs or stuffed pumpkins.
Red grapes, delicious when roasted with Brussels sprouts, pumpkin or braised onions or shallots.
Pecans, toasted and tossed with pilafs, to top pies or cakes, or added to roasted vegetables.
Toasted hazelnuts, delicious when added to a dressing, a salad, a rice pilaf, or as a topping for cakes, pies and especially on pumpkin cheesecake.
Use rosemary sprigs to decorate your serving platters. They look just like pine needles and you’ll feel like a bit of the Christmas tree fell on your plate.
Likewise, use red currants on the vine for a very Christmas-y feel.
Make a festive platter of roasted veggies by making different columns on the baking tray with the colors of the season. For example, a column of thinly sliced red beets, next to it a column of sweet potatoes, next to that some golden beets, next to that some parsnips, then some carrots, you get the idea. Sometimes roasting trays make beautiful serving platters, just think about the design and colors a bit before you put it in the oven.
Use two small mint leaves and two dried cranberries or fresh currants to make an edible holly to top iced mini cakes or frosted cupcakes. Change the mint to basil to top mini pot pies or mini shepherd’s pies.
Decorate desserts with crushed candy canes, or whole mini candy canes.
Slice figs (the kind that have a bright red or magenta color in the center), and add to salads, on top of quiches or to decorate a festive vegan cheese platter. Take a look at our leek mushroom and fig tart here!
Use crushed pink peppercorns and crushed pretzels to top vegan cheeses or cheese spreads. Ditto with chopped chives for adding a pop of green color.
Use cherries, raspberries, cranberries and pomegranate seeds to add a touch of red to dishes or to the table.
Anything drizzled with maple syrup or a rich toffee sauce (like our sticky toffee sweet potato cake) will be amazing. They both offer a perfect golden color that is gorgeous this time of year, and they add delicious sweetness.
Kitchen Hack No. 4: Gratin it up!
Something you make all the time can be jazzed up by turning it into a gratin or festive casserole. That means you can add some vegan béchamel or cheese on top and make that casserole cheesy and bubbly. You can also add the crunchy toppings below for an even better result!
This is also a little trick to make any vegetable very fancy and elegant, from the simple leek (great in a gratin with some potatoes and shallots), to sliced potatoes, asparagus, broccoli and of course cauliflower (dreamy in a gratin).
Kitchen Hack No. 5: Add some crunch
Satisfaction is very important when you’re cooking a nice comforting holiday meal, and what is more satisfying than that good old crunch. When in doubt this holiday season, top casseroles, salads and pilafs with something crunchy.
Foods that provide great crunch are:
Crispy fried onions
Crispy fried leeks
Panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs) or regular breadcrumbs
Toasted pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds
Toasted pine nuts
Crushed candy canes
Potato chips, pretzels and other crunchy savory goodies
Kitchen Hack No. 6: Add smokiness
When cooking things like mushrooms, tofu, seitan roasts, sausages, etc., adding a bit of a smoky flavor will make your dish have so much depth, as well as that Holiday flare. You can do this by adding liquid smoke (you can find this in any supermarket near the barbecue sauces or buy it online), by adding a bit of barbecue sauce to marinades or sauces, by using a smoked salt.
Kitchen Hack No. 7: Make a gravy or a sauce to serve on the side
Is it just me or is gravy the best part of a Holiday meal? Even the simplest dishes can shine with the addition of a gravy or sauce. This can be made even cuter by giving each person their own individual little bowl of gravy.
Kitchen Hack No. 8: Make it woodsy!
A woodsy theme will never let you down around the holidays. Besides our hack of adding the colors of the seasons, you can also use things like:
Star anise (I mean a spice that is already the shape of a star?! What could be better?!)
Thyme, rosemary or dill sprigs as decoration for cakes with some frosted cranberries or red currants, or used to decorate serving platters
Make edible pine cones by sticking toasted slivered almonds on chocolate truffles or energy balls, on an angle to make it look like a pine cone, and place them over pies, cakes or on a plate for people to grab. Place some thyme or rosemary underneath for the ultimate woodsy theme.
Include whole grilled or roasted mushrooms as part of your meal, they always feel like Christmas and the holidays to me, and they are straight up woodsy! They’re great in gravies too.
Think of adding accents to your holiday table and decor. Use things like pine cones, whole walnuts, hazelnuts and pecans in their shells, use pine needles, whole cranberries, holly leaves, branches or sticks and of course some candy canes at Christmas time on your table or around the serving dishes.
Kitchen Hack No. 9: Don’t forget about inspiration
People always forget about getting in the mood for cooking and making it just as much part of the fun as the meal itself. For me, nothing beats Christmas carols or the typical music of your holiday celebration if you don’t celebrate Christmas, or watching a Holiday movie, before or while you work!
I’ve watched so many Christmas films through the years, but of course I’m going to tell you what my favorites are, in my opinion, the sillier the better:
You’ve got Mail
The Family Stone
Dan in Real Life
Home Alone 1 and 2
Christmas with the Kranks
Deck the Halls
The Secret Garden
Don’t forget you can listen to our podcast too while you cook, or any of your favorite shows, and even listen to an audiobook!
Kitchen Hack No. 10: Little Menus for Big Fun
You know me and all my Holiday decor, one thing that’s never missing in any gathering I’m putting together is menus! That’s right, just like in a restaurant. It doesn’t mean people have to pick what dish they’re going to eat, it just means they have a little list to see what goodies are in store during the yummy meal you’ve prepared. This makes even the simplest meal the most special treat ever. You can print out individual menus for each place setting, or just a couple to place throughout your table, or even write the menu on a cute little blackboard. Making up fun names for each dish or getting creative with the descriptions is a ton of fun. It makes any meal special.
I hope all these little tricks and hacks help you realize that you can make any dish, any veggie, any simple preparation, a yummy and festive celebration this time of year. Ultimately it’s the people on the chairs that’s important around the holidays, even more so than the delicious goodies you’ll surely have on your table.