You know how it goes – you plan months in advance for what your ideal holiday feast will be like, and how everyone will fall over themselves with glee at your treats, and how the heavens will burst with candy inscribed with your name… and then the holidays actually come around and you’re still not done with the year and the shops are too full to really stand and then you happened to invite a thousand guests on a whim and now have to feed them.
Sound familiar? These are some last-minute holiday dishes that really are easy to whip up, and some tips for last-minute prep to help you keep your groove and still spoil your guests in a way that won’t ooze stress and panic, but rather shine with cheer and goodwill.
Honestly, not all of us are 100% organized, and that’s ok! Even with the best intentions one can still end up backed into a corner, and that’s really not the mood anyone wants to be in when you’ve got guests or just yourself to keep happy.
These dishes aren’t fake-easy; they’re really easy and can all be made under an hour. With some minimal prep (see tips below) you can totally outsmart the holiday horrors. These may not be the most traditional choices, but I’m honestly not the biggest fan of set rules about what you should or shouldn’t eat on a specific day.
Cauliflower bean mash with roasted parsnips: Cauliflower lasts pretty long in the fridge so you’re bound to have some lying around. Best of all, it’s low-carb which may appeal to the masses trying to be dainty over the holidays.
Fried apple + cabbage salad with peanut pow sauce (GF): Hot or cold, it’s delicious, so whether you’re rocking the Southern or Northern hemisphere, this salad has you covered. It’s filling and you can add some nuts and croutons to make it even more decadent.
Strawberry rice salad (GF): This dish has the benefit of being a hearty side with minimal fuss. Throw in some oven-toasted bread or bruschetta and you’re halfway done with organizing your holiday lunch or dinner.
Gnocchi with homemade apricot spice tomato sauce (GF): There’s no reason why you can’t be different over the holidays – pasta may not seem like the fanciest or most traditional dish but its simplicity and tastiness can save the day and lots of time when you’re on the dash. Sprinkle on some almond Parmesan, fold in some nuts and raisins and you’re gold!
Stuffed tagine peppers (GF): This recipe calls for leftover rice and lentils, which is probably something you have lying around most of the time. Use any pre-made packet sauce you might have in the pantry – no-one will know the difference. Best of all, each person gets their own portion which can be customized according to what you have in the fridge.
Samosa skull pie: Skulls optional! Seriously the easiest pie ever, and you can use any spare time you have to decorate with reindeer or leaves or simply use a basic lattice pattern. Slather in some wheat-free mushroom gravy and you’ve got a dish that’s bound to satisfy.
Chocolate pudding cake (GF): This is super easy to make – it takes less than an hour from start to finish. If you don’t have date syrup on hand for the sauce then just use more or less 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with 1 TBSP cacao. Mix and then pour your batter on top.
Blackstrap carob rice crispy treats (GF): Who says holiday desserts need to be lush and serious? These happy crispy treats are sure to bring cheer to the table and to lightly round off any big meal. You can even wrap them up and send your guests home with a few, and they won’t go “off” quickly so you can even make them a few days in advance and store them in the fridge.
Sweet potato chocolate lemon cake (GF): This cake is done under an hour and can easily be modified to be more festive with dark chocolate chips, glazed cherries, and other dried fruits and nuts folded in, with a side of ice-cream. If you happen to have some date syrup as well…invite me over!
Apple pomegranate strudel: So easy it hurts. Use canned apples or fruit, stuff with any dried fruit and/or chocolate chips, and bake away. You can leave the top clean or blend soy cream and chocolate powder for some crazy decadence to pour over the freshly baked strudel.
10 tips for last-minute prep:
- Plan: take a few minutes to sit down and write a to-do list. Winging it is all very grand but you’ll soon get flustered and forget your brilliant idea for feeding an army. Pin it on the fridge and keep checking that you’re not forgetting anything.
- Don’t go big on everything: no big pot roast, five-layer cake, handcrafted chocolate fountain ducks perched atop a crystallized ginger parfait, and individually brewed mugs of ale. Choose one thing you’d like to spend time on and go easy on the rest.
- Focus on sides: you can whip up a monster delicious salad in minutes with cans of beans, some greens, some tahini and lemon drizzle and nuts. It’s the easiest meal to jazz up in a matter of minutes and can be made last-minute if you feel the spread is lacking. Salads round off any table and make everyone feel like there’s something to fall back on, especially if they’re looking for healthy options. Just be reasonable with oils in your dressing!
- Pie is king: keeping frozen pastry on hand at all times is essential for last-minute deliciousness for any course. Bake your salad cherry tomatoes, greens and nuts on squares of pastry drizzled with balsamic for “starters”, bake a savoury pie for mains, or roll up some fruit for a strudel – it can all happen under an hour, baking included!
- Stock up in advance: keep dry or canned beans, lentils, and canned tomatoes for quick fillers that can easily go into salads, main dishes, and even desserts (well, the beans yes!).
- Delegate to minimize stress: if you can’t manage, forgot the bread, or your soy cream’s gone off, ask for help. You’re supposed to enjoy the holidays, after all!
- Have an emergency stash: it never hurts to soak 2 cups of cashews and a cup of dates, just in case all hell breaks loose, dessert flops, and you need to whip up a cashew cream or make some mini freezer cheesecakes.
- Flavour is crucial: spices and herbs make all the difference. Are you defrosting your peas, corn and all the rest and hoping no-one will notice? They certainly won’t if you quickly toss your ingredients in a pan with some chopped basil, tahini, and other such odds and ends that bring big flavour to sneaky basics.
- Expensive doesn’t equal success: don’t scramble last minute to buy all the fancy pre-made ingredients or dishes because you think it will impress and cover your haste or neutralize stress. Simple, cheap ingredients combined in the right way can make impressive dishes, BUT
- Don’t be afraid to buy pre-made or quick-cook options. Powdered gravy that’s ready under 2 minutes? Absolutely! You can serve it in your best dish and no-one will know, or add some nuts, herbs or other little personalized elements to fool your most knowing guest.