99 Genius Tips that Will Make Your Holidays So Much Better

From grocery shopping to cooking to using up the leftovers, we've assembled expert tips to help you through the holiday season.

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Turkey in Oven.; Shutterstock ID 1269477514; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH

Crisp Up Your Turkey

Is your turkey up to temperature but doesn’t have golden-brown skin yet? Stop basting and crank the oven up to 450°F to crisp up the skin. The bird will brown in just a few minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on it. Cook a more flavorful turkey this holiday season with these 15 helpful hints.

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Cranberries and orange for making homemade cranberry sauce; Shutterstock ID 164156969; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Try a New Spin on the Sauce

Add some holiday spirit to your cranberry sauce with a splash or two of orange liqueur, spiced rum, port wine or cran-raspberry juice. Just stir in the liquor or wine at the same time as the juice, sugar and cranberries of your go-to recipe. And don’t worry, cooking the sauce will burn off any harsh alcohol taste, and the alcohol itself, but leave some amazing flavor. Try this tip with one of our favorite cranberry recipes.

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Santa Star Cookies
Taste of Home

Repurpose Cookie Cutter Shapes

Think outside the box with your cutouts. Many shapes can be repurposed to make seasonal designs. Stars can become Santas, diamonds can become elves, gingerbread people get new life as yetis and much more. Get more genius ideas here.

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Turkey Gravy; Shutterstock ID 7196317; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Michael-John Wolfe/Shutterstock

Nix the Gravy Lumps

When the lump won’t dissipate no matter how much whisking you do, transfer your gravy to a blender. Pulse the gravy until it’s nice a smooth. Then, use that gravy to cover these tasty Thanksgiving turkeys.

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DIY carrier for multiple casserole dishes
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Build a Double-Decker Carrier

Bringing multiple goodies to the holiday party? Go you! Here’s a great way to transport them all at once. Grab your cooling rack and a storage bin that’s slightly larger in size. Place one of your dishes on the bottom of the bin, set the cooling rack on top, then set another dish on top. Now you can make a double batch of one of our favorite 13×9 dessert recipes.

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Huge turkey on table
Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

Stay Away from Mega-Birds

If you’re having lots of people over, it might seem counter-productive to get two smaller turkeys instead of just one huge one. But birds over 18-20 pounds are much more likely to have been treated with chemicals. Plus, massive birds also take quite a bit longer to thaw and cook and tend to cook less evenly.

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Traditional stuffing side dish for Thanksgiving in a baking pan; Shutterstock ID 1178196673; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Bake Golden Brown Stuffing

Add some crunch and texture to your stuffing by spreading it on a cookie sheet and baking at 350°F for 10 minutes. If it’s still too soggy for your tastes, just stir and repeat. Here are 40 stuffing recipes that are so good, you’ll want to make a double batch.

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Get Creative with Packaging Goodies

There’s more to gifting food than cookie tins (though there are some really cute ones!). When wrapping up holiday treats this year, get creative. Recycle waxed paper boxes and turn them into cookie containers, fill mason jars with homemade treats, wrap rolls of cookies in parchment and much more.

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Disguise Cracked Pumpkin Pie

Got a big crack in the top of your pumpkin pie? Don’t worry. You can solve this problem with simple and tasty disguises. You can top with a simple chocolate ganache, a praline pecan topping or even a generous dose of freshly whipped cream. No one will ever be the wiser and your pie will taste delicious.

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Roasted ham food photography recipe idea; Shutterstock ID 1200725638

Make Juicier Ham

Keep your ham nice and juicy with some help from a glaze. You can go with a molasses, sweet mustard, cranberry or bourbon glaze for an extra-special ham. Get the recipes for these glazes here.

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Thanksgiving table with roasted turkey, sliced ham and side dishes; Shutterstock ID 1178474017; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Know Exactly How Much to Cook

For a smaller gathering, you’ll want to plan on getting a bird that serves 1 ½ pound per person. For a large dinner, however, grab a turkey that serves 1 pound per person. The extra sides and fixings will help round out the meal. Hosting a big party? We did the math on exactly how much food and drink to serve.

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Slow cooker with bungee cord tied on for safe traveling.
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Secure Your Slow Cooker

Nervous to place that steamy slow cooker chili in the passenger seat as you drive to your holiday get-together? We were, too, until we found this genius trick to keeping the lid on tight: Grab a small bungee cord hook each end onto the slow cooker’s side handles then wrap it around (or thread it through) the lid’s top handle. Give it a wiggle to be sure it is good to go. Grab yourself a bungee cord ($5) to keep handy in the kitchen.

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Dinner: roasted turkey legs with vegetables, potato and herbs; Shutterstock ID 1302584431; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH

Cook the Bird Evenly

Not all areas of a turkey cook at the same time. If you find yourself with legs that aren’t quite done when the rest of the turkey is, there’s an easy fix. Remove the legs and thighs from the bird and place them in a roasting pan. Place the pan back into the oven (at whatever temperature it’s already set at) and let the pieces continue to cook until they reach 170°-175°F when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the leg. Not sure at what temperature (or for how long) you should roast a turkey? We have the answer.

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Mashed Potato Comparisons; How To
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Avoid Gluey Mashed Potatoes

Though it’s much quicker to make mashed potatoes in a food processor, overworking potatoes can give them a dense, unappetizing texture. Stick with a potato masher, potato ricer or even just a fork for fluffy mashed potatoes. Here are some ideas for taking your mashed potatoes to the next level.

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TOHDJ20, dessert board
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Build the Sweetest Dessert Tray

This sugar bomb dessert board will add instant fun to your next get-together, and it requires almost zero prep. Raid the candy aisle and load it onto your favorite platter or cheese board. Fill small dipping bowls with caramel dipping sauce, chocolate sprinkles or hazelnut spread. Use it as a sugary centerpiece for your holiday party. Stay up to date on the lastest candies (and other fun treats) worth buying.

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THGKH19, Kitchen Hack Ironing Board as Cooling Rack
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Break Out the Ironing Board

The holiday season is when many of us home bakers are in the kitchen nonstop. With so many Christmas cookies and holiday pies coming out of the oven, settling for small cooling racks is out of the question. Instead, grab an ironing board, remove the cover and use it as a cooling rack. You’ll be happy for the extra space and how it leaves your counters and tabletops free for other baking prep.

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Sliced roasted tukey breast for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with side dishes overhead shot; Shutterstock ID 735091306
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Make Sure Your Bird Is Moist

If your turkey comes out dry or tough, slice the meat and place it in the pan forming a single even layer. Cover the meat with either turkey or chicken stock, then bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes. This will add moisture to the meat, plus some extra flavor! By the way, here are 10 turkey mistakes almost everyone makes.

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Tasty turkey gravy in saucepan; Shutterstock ID 670955218
Africa Studio/shutterstock

Get Silky Smooth Gravy 

Sometimes gravy can come out with lots of lumps. Banish them by whisking in a tablespoon of turkey or chicken broth at a time into your simmering gravy. Be sure to whisk until all the broth has mixed in before adding more to prevent the gravy from getting too runny. Here are some of the most common mistakes when making gravy (plus how to fix them!).

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Serving a roast turkey

Check the Shape of Your Turkey

Look for a turkey with a well-rounded breast—it’s juicier. Beware of flat spots, which can indicate thawing and refreezing. This raises the risk of food-borne illness.

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TMB Studio

Give Double-Crust Pies Extra Crunch

It’s easy to give double-crusted pies extra texture. Just brush the top crust with water and sprinkle with sanding sugar or turbinado sugar. When baked, it’ll give your crusts an extra crunch.

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Make Your Own Pumpkin Pie Spice

No need to buy a special jar of pumpkin pie spice just for one or two pies. Instead, you can make up your own spice blend. Just combine four teaspoons of ground cinnamon with two teaspoons of ground ginger, a teaspoon of ground cloves and a half teaspoon of nutmeg. You can always adjust to your taste, too.

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Huge dinner

Tailor the Turkey to Your Guests’ Tastes

Do you have guests coming that are particular about their turkey? If most or all of the people you’re feeding prefer white meat, consider buying an extra bone-in turkey breast in addition to (or even instead of, if your guests really can’t abide dark meat) a regular turkey. The same goes for lovers of dark meat: Get a smaller turkey and an extra drumstick or two. If you do end up with more than your guests can finish, try one of these delicious recipes for turkey leftovers.

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Gingerbread cookies, cookie dough and Christmas decorations on wooden table
Shutterstock / Vladislav Noseek

Use Parchment Paper to Transfer Cookies

One of the hardest parts of baking gingerbread men or other holiday cutout cookies is transferring the shapes to the baking sheet without stretching them out. Make your life easier by rolling the dough directly on a piece of confectioners’ sugar-dusted parchment paper. Use the cutter to create the shapes and remove the excess dough. Then, slide the parchment onto the baking sheet and bake away!

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Close up of salad spinner with lettuce on white table; Shutterstock ID 229211386; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Devrim PINAR/Shutterstock

Save Over-Dressed Salad

Revive an over-dressed salad by transferring it to a salad spinner or colander and shake the excess moisture off. Add the greens back to the bowl and toss with some undressed greens for crunch. Salads don’t have to be boring, and these holiday salads prove it.

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Prep Cookie Dough in Advance

You don’t need to do all your holiday baking the week before the big day. Most cookie doughs—these recipes in particular—can be prepped in advance and stashed in the fridge for two days or the freezer for several weeks. For cutout cookie doughs, form the dough into a log or round and wrap in plastic wrap. For drop cookies, you can either freeze the dough in an airtight container or pre-portion the dough and then freeze. Be sure to label them with the date and cookie type.

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Jazz Up Your Platter

Add some pizzaz to your turkey platter with some lovely roasted veggies. Simply toss a pound of small carrots and two halved lemons with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast them for 20 minutes at 475°F, stirring at the halfway mark. Then, arrange the carrots and lemon around the sliced turkey for a pretty presentation. While you’re at it, take a look at these gorgeous Thanksgiving table ideas.

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Cranberry sauce or cranberry jam with orange and rosemary. Top view on light stone table.; Shutterstock ID 1318144853; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH

Sweeten Up the Sauce

You don’t have to turn to sugar to sweeten up homemade cranberry sauce. Alternately, stir in some maple syrup, sweet wine or sweetened fruit juice (like apple or orange) and a pinch of salt. The salt will intensify the flavor so you don’t have to add too much sweetener. If cranberry sauce isn’t your jam, make these tart cranberry desserts, instead.

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Dress Up Frozen Meatballs

This last-minute holiday appetizer couldn’t be easier to put together. Simply cook frozen meatballs according to the package directions and toss with a homemade sauce. A jar of grape jelly and chili sauce come together for this fantastic Chili and Jelly Meatball Sauce recipe. Or try heating up a jar of orange marmalade, 1/4 cup orange juice, chopped green onions and chopped jalapeno for these delectable Orange-Glaze Meatballs. Guests won’t believe their tastebuds.

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Homemade Leftover Thanksgiving Sandwich with Turkey Cranberries and Stuffing; Shutterstock ID 334602803; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of Home
Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

Send Guests Home With Leftovers

Stock up on special (yet disposable) to-go containers so guests can take leftovers home so you’re not stuck eating the same thing weeks after the big day. Here are 10 adorable food packaging ideas for inspiration.

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Season Under the Skin

Don’t lose a single sprinkle of seasonings by adding your seasoning under the turkey skin. Gently lift the skin and rub the butter or oil, spices and herbs all over the bird. That way, the flavors can get even deeper into the meat and those who don’t like skin can simply peel it off. This cranberry-orange turkey recipe will help if you’re new to this technique.

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Use Corn Syrup for Decorating

If you’re decorating cutout cookies or even spritz, you can use corn syrup to keep your sprinkles in place after baking. Just brush the cookie with a bit of warmed up syrup and sprinkle away. The sprinkles will stay in place once cooled.

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Easy bagel brunch
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Host an Easy Bagel Brunch

When you’ve stressed over dinner for weeks, the last thing you want to do is wake up the next morning and fuss over breakfast. Luckily, this fancy bagel brekky comes together super quick, and can totally be prepped in advance (kind of like these genius 30-minute breakfast recipes). To make your “gourmet” bagel spreads, simply soften cream cheese and add favorite ingredients. Here are a few of our fave combos:

  • Raspberry chipotle sauce and honey
  • Cinnamon and sliced apples
  • Blue cheese crumbles, butter and garlic salt

Garnish with nuts, fruits or olives for an Instagram-worthy look. Have someone pick up bagels and you’re ready to host!

Editor’s Tip: If you want a sauce to stay on top of a block of cream cheese, pull the tines of a fork lengthwise on top. The ridges will keep the jam in place and look oh-so-fancy.

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Green bean casserole; Shutterstock ID 1115920352
Elena Trukhina/Shutterstock

Experiment with Green Bean Casserole Fixin’s

Rather than sticking to cream of mushroom soup for your green bean casserole, switch things up by mixing and matching the condensed soup. Consider cream of chicken, cheddar, celery or broccoli for some added flavor. Once your flavorful green bean casserole is ready, serve it with these quick holiday sides.

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Cooking Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey in a roasting pan with lemons and herbs overhead view; Shutterstock ID 737627689; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Thaw Correctly

Every 4 pounds of turkey needs 24 hours to thaw, so make sure you’re planning ahead of time. For example, a 14-pound turkey should be transferred to your fridge 5 days before you want to cook it. If you forgot to take your turkey out of the freezer until the day of, here are some tips for roasting a frozen bird.

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Foil-Covered Crust Trick; How To
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Keep Pie Crust from Burning

Sometimes pie crusts bake more quickly than their fillings. To prevent the crust from over-browning (or burning) while the filling cooks. make yourself an easy pie crust shield with foil. We’ve got a simple DIY that ensures you get the right fit for your pie pans.

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Turkey in the oven

Buy the Bird Early

Purchase your turkey far enough in advance to allow it to thaw properly: One day for every four pounds. But try to avoid shopping on the worst day of the year to buy your Thanksgiving groceries.

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Sweet Pea Pesto Crostini
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Grab a Bag of Frozen Veg

Remember that bag of frozen peas that’s been sitting in the back of the freezer since who knows when? Turn that bad boy into a stunning last-minute party appetizer. Thaw the peas, then give them a whirl in the food processor along with garlic, olive oil, rice vinegar, Parmesan cheese and S&P. Schmear the spread on toast for easy (and healthy!) crostini dish everyone will enjoy. Get the full recipe here.

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Use a Warm Knife to Slice and Serve

A warm knife cuts through cakes, cheesecakes and bars like butter. Before serving, dip your knife into hot water and dry it. Then slice away. Repeat as needed.

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Cute turkey-shaped cheese appetizer
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Craft an Easy Turkey Treat

This kid-friendly appetizer might just be the cutest snack of the season. All you need are crackers, cured meats, cheese and a little handiwork to make this cheery gobbler come to life. Get more kid-friendly snack ideas here.

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Close up of turkey gravy in a gravy boat.; Shutterstock ID 65015092; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock

Liven Up the Gravy

Pump up the flavor of your gravy by seasoning it with a bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in a tablespoon of white wine (or a splash of vinegar, if you want to keep it alcohol-free) and let the gravy simmer for 3-5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and transfer the gravy into a holder to be served.

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Create a Design with Cardstock

You don’t need to break out the piping bags to create a pretty finish on cakes and brownies. With just a sheet of card stock—or even a doily—you can create an impactful visual. Simply trace and cut out the design of your choice. Press this onto the top of your bake and then dust with powdered sugar. Carefully remove your template to reveal a gorgeous finish.

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THGKH19, Kitchen Hack Chilling Wine Bottle
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Chill the Bubbly Quickly

You can chill a bottled beverage in a mere 20 minutes by filling a pitcher with ice water and a handful of salt. Fully immerse the bottle, turning it 2-3 times. This tip works well with wine or soda. Here are more kitchen hacks you’ll wish you knew sooner.

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Overhead view of brown creamy turkey gravy with a white spoon in the food.; Shutterstock ID 1299945853; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
BW Folsom/Shutterstock

Thicken Your Gravy

Sometimes, gravy turns out a bit too soupy. Thicken it by mixing some cornstarch with cold turkey or chicken broth. Stir the slurry into your simmering gravy, whisking until it reaches your desired consistency. Make sure your gravy comes out perfectly every time with these tips from grandmas across the country.

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Freeze Baked Cookies

Pro tip: You can freeze baked Christmas cookies. Once your cookies are cooled, place them on a cooling rack or sheet pan and pop in the freezer until cold. You can then stack them and arrange them in an airtight plastic storage container with layers of parchment or waxed paper between the layers. Thaw as normal. You can always refresh them in a low oven (300-325ºF) for a few minutes. All of these recipes freeze particularly well.

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Preparing bechamel; Shutterstock ID 48788257; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH

Make Shortcut Gravy

Shave a few minutes off your cooking time by making the roux beforehand. It’ll give you a jump start on your dinner and ensure your gravy is nice and smooth. Get our full guide here. Don’t stop there! These recipes will let you make your entire Thanksgiving meal ahead of time.

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Thanksgiving plate with turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce; Shutterstock ID 735091315; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Keep Food Warm

We all have that family member who tends to show up fashionably late. Anticipate tardy arrivals by keeping your prepared dishes warm in an oven set to 200°F. This temp won’t dry your dinner but will still keep it piping hot. Throw the perfect holiday party, or a regular ol’ dinner party, with some advice from Ina Garten.

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dipped fruit
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Dip It Good

Chocolate dipped fruit may sound time-consuming, but it’s way quicker than baking that decadent layer cake. Pop a bowl of melting chocolate chips in the microwave for 20 seconds and stir until smooth. Dip fruit (we love apples, but strawberries, pears and pineapples work) and garnish with odds and ends you can find in the pantry. Hello, crushed pretzels! These delish treats will be ready by dessert.

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Delicious fresh cooked mashed potatoes in the pot, vegetables and spices on the white table; Shutterstock ID 1411764926; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Piece of Cake/Shutterstock

Heat Up the Spuds

If you made your mashed potatoes ahead of time, keep them warm in a slow cooker or in a covered heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water. When you’re ready to serve, stir in a little warm cream to get the potatoes extra fluffy. Here’s our step-by-step guide to perfect mashed potatoes.

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Green beans casserole, traditional side dish for Thanksgiving; Shutterstock ID 1178196694; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

Use Up French Fried Onions

Don’t throw those extra French fried onions away! Pull them out of your pantry and add them to a Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich or pizza. Here are some more ideas for repurposing your holiday dinner leftovers.

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Soften Butter Quickly

Every baker’s been there: You’re ready to start baking a batch of cookies and realize you forgot to take out the butter in advance. The good news is you don’t need to delay your baking. You can easily soften butter a handful of ways. Our favorite way to do this is just by cutting the butter into small cubes and letting it sit for just a short time. In about 15 minutes your butter will be ready.

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Roast turkey

Go Generic with Your Turkey

When shopping for turkey, go for store brands. They are cheaper than well-known ones, and both birds may even have come from the same place. One of the main differences: Some brands use a unique seasoning on theirs. Check the ingredients to see if it’s something you might like. Check out this step-by-step guide for how to cook a turkey.

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TOH Bakeware, blueberry muffins and baking pans
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Switch Out Pan Sizes

When the kitchen is in full-on production mode, you might find the pans you need aren’t clean or are already in the oven. While using the pan mentioned in the recipe is always recommended, there are a few practical swaps you can make. Here are some common conversions:

  • One 9×5″ loaf pan = three 5-3/4x3x2″ loaf pans
  • One 8×4″ loaf pan = two 5-3/4x3x2″ loaf pans
  • One 9″ round baking pan = one 8″ square baking dish
  • Two 9″ round baking pans = one 13×9″ baking pan
  • One 10″ bundt cake mold = one 10″ tube pan or two 9×5″ loaf pans
  • One 13×9″ baking pan = two 9″ round pans or two 8″ square pans
  • Regular muffin pan (12 muffins) = mini muffin pan (36 mini muffins)
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Get Room Temp Eggs Quickly

When baking, it’s important to use room temperature ingredients (unless otherwise specified). If you forget to take your eggs out of the fridge in time, don’t fret. Just place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

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via Amazon.com

Use Cake Wraps for Level Layers

Making a showstopping layer cake this holiday season? You might want to invest in cake pan wraps ($11). These reusable bands help your cakes bake up nice and level for stacking—no trimming needed. Members of Taste of Home’s baking club, Bakeable, love them. Join in on the action here.

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Injecting turkey

Look for Basted or Self-Basted Turkey

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a bird labeled “basted” or “self-basted” has been “injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances.” This can add flavor and moisture to your turkey. If you prefer to do things yourself, avoid those basted labels.

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Use Dried Beans as Pie Weights

If you’re blind baking a pie or tart crust, you’ll need something to weigh the pastry down. You can use pie weights, but if you don’t have any on hand, you can use dried beans instead. Just fill the crust with parchment or foil and then fill with the dried beans. You can reuse them infinitely, so stash them away in a container for future baking.

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DIY salad kit for make-and-take potlucks
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Make a To-Go Salad Kit

Here’s how to make a quick, party-ready salad, hassle-free: Prep all of your ingredients separately in reusable containers (we love these silicone storage bags from Stashable) and place them in a large serving bowl along with a bag of greens, a bottle of dressing and your serving tools. When you’ve reached your destination, simply toss everything together and serve.

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Classic Pumpkin Pie
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Use Cookie Cutters to Create Gorgeous Pie Crusts

One of the easiest ways to finish your pie crust is to break out your favorite cookie cutters. Cut out crust into shapes to form an edge or top crust for pies. Use a bit of water to get the pieces to stick and bake as normal.

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Skip the Homemade Pie Crust

Do we love flaky, buttery homemade pie crust? Absolutely. Do we always have time to make it? Nope! When pressed for time, it’s perfectly OK to reach for the store-bought stuff. In fact, our staffers tried all of the most popular refrigerated pie crust brands and found one that tasted like homemade.

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Raw turkey

Don’t Be Afraid to Buy Frozen

There’s no real quality difference between fresh and frozen turkey, says Norma Farrell, a consumer-education specialist at the National Turkey Federation, since the latter are flash-frozen after processing to preserve them. “Fresh” turkeys can be many days old by the time you buy them—and can cost up to 50 percent more. If you forget to defrost your turkey—don’t worry! Here’s how to cook your Thanksgiving turkey from frozen.

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tomato or butternut squash soup shooters on buffet table

Pour Elegant Soup Shooters

Soup shooters may look elegant but come together in a moment’s notice. To make: Thin a carton of tomato soup with vegetable broth and top with crème Fraiche. Add a sprig of fresh dill for garnish. Get more easy appetizer recipes here.

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Lazy Susan on Counter

Break Out the Lazy Susan

Decorating Christmas cookies can be messy business. Wrangle all your decorating supplies on a lazy Susan to keep everything within reach. Here are a few cookie decorating supplies you’ll use forever.

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Use Food Coloring Pens for Easy Decorating

Piping decorations onto cookies can be tedious. You can speed up the process and get detailed results with a basic coat of royal icing and some edible ink pens ($7). All you have to do is frost a cookie, let the icing dry and sketch on any design you choose—you can get the full DIY here.

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Cookie garlands
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Dress Up the Table

Is your table feeling a little blah before the party? Break out a box of cookies for this easy (and edible) craft. Simply thread ribbon through each treat, then place loosely on the table as a sweet centerpiece. Here are a few more ideas for how to decorate for Christmas.

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Think Three-Ingredient

When time runs out before the holiday soiree, do the dip! This Baked Asparagus Dip calls for only three ingredients: asparagus, cheese and mayonnaise. Just place in an ovenproof bowl and bake at 375° until heated through. Serve it warm with pita chips.

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Try a New Cookie Press

Spritz cookies can be tough to master, especially when you’re using a vintage cookie press. If you love spritz but hate the fuss, invest in a new press. These new machines make uniform cookies every single time with just the pull of a trigger. You can see the difference right here.

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Keep Cookies Soft with a Slice of Bread

Need to keep soft and chewy cookies, well, soft and chewy? It’s easy. All you have to do is pop a slice of bread into the container. It’ll give the cookies the moisture they need. And this trick works if your cookies have gotten a bit too crispy or have dried out.

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Use a Tea Towel to Get a Perfect Cake Roll

Keep your yule log from breaking by rolling it in a tea towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Rolling the cake while it’s still warm keeps it from breaking and helps train the sponge to curl the right way for when you fill it. Here’s our complete how-to.

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TOHDJ20, charcuterie cheese board
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Put Together a Classic Cheese Board

Don’t have time to cook but have an upcoming celebration to attend? Pick up some cheese, meats, and crackers from the store and check out how to assemble a beautiful cheese board that’ll make your friends and family say, “Wow!”

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Thanksgiving spread

Know that Size Matters

Smaller turkeys tend to be more tender. Consider cooking two small birds instead of one larger one. Turkey come out dry? Here are other turkey mistakes you might be making—plus how to fix them!

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baking soda into the bowl with wooden spoon
Shutterstock / al1962

Test Your Baking Powder and Baking Soda

Before you dive into the baking season, be sure to check on your baking powder and soda. These products do have a limited shelf life, so if they are expired or ineffective, you won’t get the right rise and lift on your favorite baked goods.

To test baking powder, measure a teaspoon into a cup and add a third cup of hot water. If it bubbles, the baking powder is ready to be used. To test baking soda, measure out a quarter teaspoon and add two tablespoons of vinegar. If it bubbles, it’s ready for baking.

And remember: Baking soda and baking powder are not the same and cannot be used interchangeably. Here are the big differences.

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Overhead view of savory marinara, slow cooked all day in an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.
Aimee M Lee/Shutterstock

Fake Homemade Tomato Sauce

While Nonna had hours to babysit her famous red sauce, we’re guessing you might not. Stir in a pat of butter or a splash of half-and-half to make canned pasta sauce taste homemade. Try adding minced fresh herbs right before serving. “I also add Better Than Bouillon to make it taste like it’s been simmering forever,” explains reader Angela Lively. Get more tips for how to upgrade a jar of pasta sauce here.

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Use Cranberries as a Garnish

Need an easy finish for your favorite bundt cake or cheesecake but don’t want to fuss with finicky finishes? Try sugaring cranberries. In about five minutes you can turn this seasonal fruit into a jewel-like topper worthy of any holiday dessert. Follow our how-to to make it happen.

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Prep Easy Party Sandwiches

Roundup a few deli salads and slider buns from the store, and cocktail sandwiches for your party will be ready in no time at all. Draw menu inspiration from this list of stunning small-bite sandwich recipes.

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Use a Glass (Not your Fingers) for Perfect Crumb Crusts

Crumb crusts—be the made of graham crackers, cookies or pretzels—are an easy base for cheesecakes, pies and tarts. While you can press them into the bottom of these dishes with just your fingers, using a glass or measuring cup with a flat bottom helps you get a nice even layer on the bottom and sides. Get the full how-to right here.

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Put a Swirl in your Cheesecake

Cheesecakes are a wonderfully decadent dessert. Put the presentation over the top with a pretty (and simple) swirl design. With just a skewer, you can create all sorts of gorgeous designs like this jam spiral.

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Make Whipped Cream Fast

A warm mug of hot cocoa just isn’t complete without a dollop of homemade whipped cream, however dragging out your big mixer (or whisking by hand) doesn’t always seem worth it. But you can make whipped cream quickly and easily in your immersion blender. Just add heavy whipping cream, a touch of confectioners’ sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract to a tall container. With just a few pulses you’ll have a terrific topping for any dessert and minimal dishes to wash.

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Free range turkeys
Svetlana Turchenick/Shutterstock

Consider Free-Range Turkey

If you see “free-range,” “free-roaming” or “cage-free” on a turkey label, this means that the turkeys had access to the outdoors and could move around in a yard. These turkeys tend to be more muscular, and therefore have more flavorful, and often leaner, meat. This shows in the price, but the better flavor is worth it for some consumers. But keep in mind that, despite what many people think, “free range” is not the same as organic and doesn’t necessarily mean that the bird was raised without growth hormones. Put together the ultimate spread with every Thanksgiving recipe you’ll ever need.

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Use the Right Pan for Gluten-Free Goods

Gluten-free bakes can be tasty (especially this chocolate bundt cake), but sometimes they can lack that pretty golden color. Get a richer color on these treats by using dark metal pans. Start experimenting with these recipes.

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Check If Your Bread is Kneaded Correctly

Making rolls for the holiday season? Make sure that you’re kneading the dough well enough with a quick test. After kneading for a bit, stretch a small wad of dough between your fingers. If the dough stretches to form a windowpane, your job is done. If the dough tears, keep kneading until it passes the test. Here are our best roll recipes for the season.

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party franks
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Help Little Smokies Shine

Cocktail sausages are great on their own, but make sure they go above and beyond for your holiday buffet. Dress ’em up with barbecue sauce,  or try these other cocktail weenie ideas for your next celebration.

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Use Your Oven to Proof Bread

Need to proof a gorgeous holiday bread but it’s too chilly inside to get a good rise? Don’t fret. Instead, turn to your oven—but don’t turn it on! You can use your oven as a proofing box. Just fill a glass baking dish with boiling water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven. Then place your dough on an upper rack and shut the oven door. The steam will create heat and humidity—bread dough’s best friends. Get more proofing tips here.

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Use Cooking Spray for Clean Cuts

To create precise knife cuts in cinnamon rolls, twisted breads and other decorative doughs, spray a serrated knife with cooking spray before cuttin

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Mini Caramel Rolls
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Save the Day with Crescent Rolls

Crescent roll dough is magical in a last-minute situation. Skip all the kneading and try these Mini Caramel Rolls that come together in a flash—perfect for holiday brunch!

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Man lining the trunk of a car with shelf liners
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Prep Your Trunk for Travel

Bringing lots of treats to the party? Make sure your car is prepped. Collect your yoga mats or extra drawer liners before you place any dishes in your car. Line a trunk, or back seat, with these non-slip materials to keep food from slipping and sliding when you hit the interstate.

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Salad kit over empty bowl
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Enhance a Salad Kit

Salad kits are an excellent starter for your next potluck salad. Simply grab one or two from the produce aisle and add a few ingredients to give it homemade flair. (Think shredded chicken, walnuts, or whatever else you have on hand.) No fussy chopping necessary.

Psst! Try these easy salad recipes when you have more time on your hands.

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Close-up three tasty oatmeal cookies laying at the green checkered textile kitchen towel at wooden surface of bakery, cafe or kitchen table in the morning during the breakfest in cozy atmosphere
Parfenteva Tatiana/Shutterstock

Keep Cookies in Place

Cookies (like these quick, chewy maple cookies) are notorious for sliding off plates. Luckily, there’s a simple fix. Line the plate with a pretty kitchen towel or napkin and place your baked goods on top. Cover with plastic wrap, and your cookies won’t budge!

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Bake Shortcut Apple Pies

Don’t have time to bake a whole pie? Here’s the next best thing. Our recipe for Bite-Sized Apple Pies goes from kitchen-to-table in 20 minutes, plus, it’s fun for the kids to help make. Simply wrap strips of pastry around apple wedges and shake on some cinnamon-sugar. Then just bake and watch them disappear.

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Use a dab of frosting to keep a cake in place
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Prevent Cakes from Sliding

Before assembling the cake, place a dab of frosting in the middle of the cake plate—as well as on the cake board, if you are using one. The frosting acts as a glue to prevent the cake from slipping as you decorate, as well as staying put in the car. Psst! Here’s how to frost a cake the easy and elegant way.

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Antipasto Kabobs
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Assemble Quick Antipasto Skewers

This mini antipasto kabob recipe can be made using items you pluck right from the deli counter. All you need is olives, pepperoni, salami, cheese tortellini and some Italian dressing. Skip the marinade step to serve up in a flash.

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Fresh cupcakes are on a black pan on the table, cookie sheet, cupcake
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Utilize Your Baking Sheets

Disposable foil pans are super useful, but they are prone to caving in under heavy bakes. (Case in point: This hefty lasagna recipe.) Instead of risking it, slide a baking sheet underneath for extra support.

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Stack of newspapers on table

Insulate with Yesterday’s Headlines

News flash: Newspaper makes a great insulator. Next time you need to keep something cold, line a cooler with your weekly paper and tuck it around and over your dish. This tip works great for cool, crisp dishes like this colorful spiral pasta salad.

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Reusable plastic container in the larder; Shutterstock ID 114016396

Reuse Containers

Give tubs, like ones for sour cream, butter, yogurt or salad mix, an extra live! Rinse out used plastic containers and keep them on hand for future side dish duty. Up next: These 15-minute sides will save your sanity.

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Dipped Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
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Choose Crackers over Cookies

When you don’t have time for your fave slice-and-bake cookies, these chocolate-dipped, peanut butter-stuffed crackers are the next best thing. Add colored sprinkles for a festive touch that comes together in minutes.

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Cakes and cookies recipes in a recipe box
Shutterstock / Karin Hildebrand Lau

Make a Meaningful Hostess Gift

You made a dish to pass but totally forgot about getting something special for the host. Before you walk out the door, grab an unused recipe card from your box and jot down the recipe you’re bringing or a holiday recipe you know your host loves. Here are 50 of Grandma’s secret holiday recipes to get you started.

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Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast
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Don’t Count Out Popcorn

You might think of these tiny kernels for movie night, but popcorn (especially our Test Kitchen’s favorite brand) is a great snack to have handy when surprise guests pop over this holiday season. Add cinnamon sugar, smoked paprika, Parmesan—or nutritional yeast for your DF friends—to step up the flavor. Find more of our favorite flavored popcorn ideas here.

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Baking cookies with embossed rolling pin
Shutterstock / ranniptace

Use an Embossed Rolling Pin

If you want picture-perfect cutouts every time, consider using an embossed rolling pin. It’s a super-easy way to create a high-end look. From snowflakes to Christmas trees, there are a variety of patterns that are perfect for your holiday cookies.

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Fruit and Cheese Board
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Assemble a Fruit Platter

A fruit platter makes a healthy addition to any holiday spread. Be sure to use in-season ingredients like pomegranates and tangerines for best flavor. Learn more with this guide to what fruits and vegetables are in season when.

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Country Thanksgiving Main Beauty
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Outsource Dinner

If you love hosting but are trying to avoid Turkey duty this season, there’s no shame in ordering out! Companies like Cracker Barrel ($100), Boston Market ($120), Whole Foods ($80, $120) and more offer delicious Thanksgiving meal orders. Less stress means more time enjoying what’s most important: the family and friends you’re with.

Have reservations about cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Make reservations instead. These restaurants are open on Thanksgiving.