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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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THGKH19, Kitchen Hack Ironing Board as Cooling RackTaste of Home

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

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 230°C (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.

Could a hairdryer be the secret to the best-ever turkey?

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Cranberries and orange for making homemade cranberry sauce; Shutterstock ID 164156969; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHZigzag 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 cranberry-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 flavour.

Check out these other fabulous fall recipes!

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Santa Star CookiesTaste 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.

Have more fun over the holidays with these secrets for decorating Christmas cookies.

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Turkey Gravy; Shutterstock ID 7196317; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHMichael-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.

Avoid these cooking mistakes that ruin your food.

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DIY carrier for multiple casserole dishesTaste of Home

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.

Try these healthy winter soups that’ll fill you right up.

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Huge turkey on tableAlexander 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 eight-10 kilograms 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.

Try something new this year with these clever ways to use turkey leftovers.

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

Bake golden brown stuffing

Add some crunch and texture to your stuffing by spreading it on a cookie sheet and baking at 177°C (350°F) for 10 minutes. If it’s still too soggy for your tastes, just stir and repeat.

Here’s what to add to stuffing mix to make it taste homemade.

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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.

Check out these common holiday disasters—and how to fix them.

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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.

Tired of pumpkin pie? Discover these holiday food traditions from around the world.

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Roasted ham food photography recipe idea; Shutterstock ID

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.

Avoid these holiday foods that aren’t worth the calories.

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

Don’t miss these other secrets chefs won’t tell you.

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Slow cooker with bungee cord tied on for safe traveling.Taste of Home

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.

Watch out for these common slow cooker mistakes.

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

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 77°C-80°C (170°-175°F) when a thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the leg.

Don’t miss these genius ways to cook everything faster.

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Mashed Potato Comparisons; How ToTaste of Home

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.

Discover the secret ingredient that totally transforms sweet potatoes.

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TOHDJ20, dessert boardTaste of Home

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 favourite platter or cheese board. Fill small dipping bowls with caramel dipping sauce, chocolate sprinkles or hazelnut spread. Use it as a sugary centrepiece for your holiday party.

Don’t miss these low-calorie options for cheese lovers!

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Sliced roasted tukey breast for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with side dishes overhead shot; Shutterstock ID 735091306Elena 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 177°C (350°F) for 10-15 minutes. This will add moisture to the meat, plus some extra flavour!

Find out how to perfectly roast chicken thighs every single time.

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Tasty turkey gravy in saucepan; Shutterstock ID 670955218Africa 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.

Learn the real difference between broth and stock.

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Woman holding baking tray with golden roasted turkeyPhoto: Shutterstock

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.

Make sure you don’t throw away these underrated cuts of meat!

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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.

Test your knowledge of Christmas words!

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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.

Does turkey really make you sleepy?

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Gingerbread cookies, cookie dough and Christmas decorations on wooden tableShutterstock / 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!

Here’s how to wrap Christmas presents like a pro.

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

Get the recipe for Jamie Oliver’s Angry Bean Salad.

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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 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.

Planning a Christmas cookie exchange? We’ve rounded up the best Christmas cookie recipes ever!

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Jazz up your platter

Add some pizzazz 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 246°C (475°F), stirring at the halfway mark. Then, arrange the carrots and lemon around the sliced turkey for a pretty presentation.

Try these 10+ best turkey recipes.

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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): TOHnadianb/Shutterstock

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 flavour so you don’t have to add too much sweetener.

Don’t miss these dazzling walk-through Christmas light displays across Canada.

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MeatballsTaste of Home

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. Guests won’t believe their tastebuds.

Follow these pro tips to master the art of cooking meatballs.

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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.

Beware of this list of leftovers that can make you sick.

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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 flavours can get even deeper into the meat and those who don’t like skin can simply peel it off.

Get the recipe for gluten-free cranberry walnut stuffing.

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