chef_ann_profile_picThe smell of smoke coming from a crackling fireplace is a wonderful addition to the holiday season.

The smell of smoke coming from your oven is not.

Ann Nolan, culinary training chef at Whirlpool Corporation’s Institute of Home Science, says the holidays should be a time of making memories, not piling on the stress.

She offers the following tips for avoiding some common holiday kitchen disasters:

–   Not having enough food for guests: Avoid running out of holiday classics like turkey and mashed potatoes by planning ahead. For turkey, plan on one pound per guest. When making mashed potatoes, use one large potato per guest.
–  Cooking every dish at once: Prevent chaos by making desserts and some side dishes the day before, assembling sides in the refrigerator for easy access.
–  Burning the dessert: If you’re trying out a new recipe, be sure to give it a test run (or two). Ensure your oven is in working order and run the self-clean cycle more than a day in advance.
–  Serving food cold: Keep serving dishes warm to help insulate food when you pull it out of the oven. When you’re finished cooking the main course, turn the oven off and place covered side dishes inside to keep warm while the meat rests.
–  Serving too many appetizers: Many people make the mistake of serving so many appetizers that guests are too full for the main event.
–  Making guests sick: Avoid the worst-case-scenario of hosting a dinner party by taking precaution against air-borne bacteria. Guests may want to graze on leftovers later in the night, but bacteria can begin to grow on food that’s been sitting out too long. Play it safe and wrap food, chilling it in the refrigerator until it’s ready to be eaten again.

Get kids involved

Kids and holidays go hand-in-hand, but how can you keep them involved in a safe way?

Nolan has more than a few ideas up her sleeve.

“I always like to have them set the table,” she said. “They learn how to set the table and put their own spin on it so they feel like they are contributing and being creative.”

Nolan said kids can learn to fold napkins in a unique way or make personalized placecards for the dinner table.

If you want to get them involved in the kitchen, Nolan suggests putting them to work peeling potatoes or vegetables — “keep them away from the hot stuff.”
“You can also have them garnish the dishes. Tell them ‘I want you to make this look pretty.’ They get so into it and do a really nice job.”

Another option is making traditional holiday cookies.

“There’s not one child that doesn’t love making cookies,” Nolan said. She suggests having a few dozen cookies already made and ready to ice while kids cut out others. You can set up a table with different frostings in pastry bags and toppings in bowls so kids can get creative.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect. Some look like Picasso, different or unique. You’re making your own memories and traditions.”

Keep it simple

“We’re under a lot of pressure,” Nolan said. “People have access to everything, Instagram, Facebook, magazines, online. ‘I have to decorate, I have to flock the windows so it looks like there’s snow, I have to make my own napkins.'”

She offers the following ideas to prepare, slow down and enjoy the holiday season.

–  Make a list of what you want to accomplish: “Pinterest will make you feel like a failure,” Nolan said. She suggests finding the things that are truly important to you and sticking to the list. “You want to be able to come home and spend time with your family,” instead of stressing over holiday obligations that may not mean as much to you.
–  Hold a cookie exchange: If you get together with a group of friends, and each brings four dozen cookies and containers, you can easily exchange and end up with a nice variety of treats. “You get together with fiends, have holiday cheer and come away with cookies so you don’t have to worry about making them,” Nolan said.
–  Host a chili party: “Have a stock pot of chili and have a toppings bar, with different bowls like cheeses, jalapenos, chopped up tortillas, olives, extra meat. It’s really fun, but it’s simple enough.”
–  Choose a recipe you’re comfortable with: Find something you enjoy and have successfully made before. “If you choose a recipe you’re comfortable with, you’re much more at ease when everyone comes over and when you prepare it. You’re not going crazy trying to make a beef wellington for the first time when everyone is coming over.” Nolan says if you find a recipe that you can really make your own, every year people will come back to you and it becomes your own tradition.

Nolan suggests a list of staples to have on hand in case guests drop in, or any other holiday surprises come your way.

–  Puff pastry. “You can take puff pastry out and put it on your countertop for 30 minutes and it’ll be thawed out. When you take it out it’s a square. You can literally cut those out, put a piece of chocolate inside. Fold it together with egg wash and put it in the oven. You can put it around brie or cheese or make breadsticks.”
–  Cream cheese. You can add different jellies and mix it together and have it with crackers.
–  Cheese and crackers, cold meats.
–  Frozen shrimp. You can take it out it, thaw it and whip up a cocktail sauce easily.
–  Salsa and chips. You also can mix salsa with cream cheese for an innovative spread.
–  Fruits. “People can like keeping it light. Cut up apples, people love it, people will snack on it.”
Above all, remember this is the time to make memories, and it’s often the little things that have the biggest impact.

“We just set the standards so high,” Nolan said. “I have memories of being with my mom cooking. I barely remember Christmas presents, I just remember the time being with my family, all of us being together. That’s really what makes the holidays.”

Ilana Keller: 732-643-4260; ikeller@gannettnj.com;Twitter.com/IlanaKeller

Read Original USA TODAY here.