7 Make-Ahead Christmas Dishes for a Happier and Less Hectic Holiday

Christmas is a special day that should be spent socializing with family and friends. But if you’re hosting the holiday, you may find yourself spending more time sweating over a stove and less time relaxing with your loved ones. A great way to prevent this from happening is to prepare some of your dishes days in advance. These seven make-ahead recipes can be prepared before Christmas arrives, ensuring you have delicious and stress-free dishes to serve your guests.

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1. Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce

Fine Cooking’s Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce is an elegant and easy-to-prepare entrée. If you’d like to make this dish ahead of time, you can season the beef with the spice rub up to 36 hours in advance — place it on a rimmed baking sheet, loosely covered with plastic, and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake it. You can also make the sauce up to two days in advance; make sure you let it cool to room temperature before storing it in the fridge.



  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
  • ½ teaspoon caraway seeds, coarsely ground
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 (2½ pound) beef butt tenderloins, trimmed


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
  • 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (1¾ cup)
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced shallot (1 medium)
  • ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry, hearty red wine
  • 2 cups lower-salt beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, thyme, fennel, caraway, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1½ teaspoon pepper. Pat the tenderloins dry with paper towels and coat them with the spice mixture, using your hands to spread it evenly; it will sparsely cover the meat. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the thyme, peppercorns, and half of the wine. Simmer briskly until the wine reduces and just covers the solids, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining wine and reduce again until the wine just covers the solids, 10 to 12 minutes more.

Add the beef broth and simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve set over a 1-quart measuring cup, pressing lightly on the solids. If you have more than 1½ cups liquid, return the sauce to the pan and simmer until reduced to 1½ cups. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a 1-quart saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking often, until smooth and light beige in color, about 1 minute. Slowly add the wine reduction, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you’ve seasoned the beef ahead of time, remove it from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about an hour before roasting.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the roasts on a flat rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 120 degrees for rare, 125 degrees to 130 degrees for medium rare, or 135 degrees for medium, 40 to 50 minutes. If the sauce was made ahead, heat gently in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking a few times, until barely simmering. Meanwhile, let the beef rest for 15 minutes before carving crosswise into thick slices. Slice only as much as you plan to serve right away. Spoon the sauce over each serving or pass at the table.

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2. Layered Mashed Potato and Mushroom Casserole

Eating Well’s layered casserole works well as a fancy replacement for mashed potatoes or as a vegetarian main dish. If you’re planning to make it before Christmas, you can assemble the casserole, cover it, and refrigerate for up to one day. To bake, put it in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven, uncovered, for 50 minutes to 1 hour. The recipe yields 12 servings.


  • 3½ pounds potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1½ pounds cremini or white mushrooms, halved
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup nonfat buttermilk
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup chopped shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups trimmed and finely chopped chard or spinach
  • 1 cup mushroom broth or reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a large pot. Place potatoes in a steamer basket, cover and steam over medium-low heat, replenishing the water as necessary, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, working in two batches, place mushrooms in a food processor and pulse, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed, until the mushrooms are coarsely chopped. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Add butter and mash until chunky-smooth.

Gradually stir in buttermilk, egg and egg white and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they release their liquid and the pan is almost dry, 10 to 12 minutes. Add chard and continue to cook, stirring, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Whisk broth and flour in a small bowl.

Add to the pan along with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper, and rosemary. Cook, stirring, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 1 minute. To assemble, spread half of the mashed potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle half the Parmesan over the potatoes. Spread the mushroom mixture on top and spread the remaining potatoes over the mushroom layer. Top with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until hot throughout and the top is golden brown, about 35 minutes.

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3. Cranberry-Pecan Bread Pudding with Bacon

Filled with flavorful ingredients and a custard-like texture, Food & Wine’s bread pudding will be a holiday hit. This stunning side dish can be made one day in advance and refrigerated overnight; for best results, bring it to room temperature before baking. The recipe yields 12 servings.


  • 2 (1-pound) loaves of cranberry-pecan bread, bottom crusts removed, the rest of the loaf cut into 1-inch cubes (12 cups)
  • 1 pound thickly sliced bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped sage
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme
  • 4 cups turkey stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a shallow 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread the bread cubes on a large baking sheet and bake until golden and crisp, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally until browned, about 7 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a plate and pour off all but ¼ cup of the fat in the pan. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the sage and thyme.

Scrape the onion mixture into a large bowl and stir in the toasted bread cubes, bacon and turkey stock. Season with salt and pepper, then add the beaten eggs and stir well. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish and brush the top with the melted butter. Cover the cranberry-pecan bread pudding with foil and bake for 45 minutes, until just set. Remove the foil and bake until golden, about 40 minutes longer. Let the bread pudding rest for 15 minutes before serving.

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4. Easy Parmesan-Fennel Rolls

Put a fun spin on classic dinner rolls by flavoring them with Parmesan cheese and fennel seeds. You can make Better Homes and Gardens’ recipe up to three days in advance, storing the cooled rolls in an airtight container at room temperature. When you’re ready to serve dinner, reheat the rolls in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 to 6 minutes.


  • 1 (16-ounce) loaf frozen white or wheat bread dough
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons yellow cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Thaw dough according to package directions. Grease a large baking sheet. In a small bowl stir together Parmesan cheese, cornmeal, and fennel seeds; set aside. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape dough using one of the shaping options below.

Cover with waxed paper and let rise in a warm place about 30 minutes or until nearly double in size. Gently brush with melted butter and sprinkle with cheese mixture. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Transfer rolls to a wire rack. Cool slightly before serving.

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5. Divinity Frozen Fruit Salad

About.com’s Divinity Frozen Fruit Salad is a great make-ahead side dish to serve on Christmas. It must be frozen for at least 3 hours, and can be made days in advance; just make sure to keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to serve dinner. If you’re tired of making the same old salads, this unique dish is a Christmas dinner must!


  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup finely chopped dates
  • 1 (10-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well drained
  • ½ cup heavy cream, whipped

Directions: In small bowl, soften gelatin in lemon juice. When softened, heat in microwave on low power for 30 to 50 seconds, or until gelatin is dissolved, stirring once during cooking. Set aside. In large bowl, combine mayonnaise, cream cheese, salt, and sugar and beat well with a mixer until smooth and fluffy. This can take some time. Be sure the cream cheese is very soft before you add the other ingredients.

Then stir in the dissolved gelatin/lemon juice mixture. Fold in dates and pineapple. Then fold in the whipped cream. At this point, taste the mixture. You may want to add more lemon juice or more sugar to get the flavor balance you prefer. Pour into an old fashioned ice cube mold, or an 8-inch square glass pan. Cover and freeze until firm, 3 to 4 hours. Cut into squares to serve.

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6. Baked Alaska

Your family and friends will love indulging in Food Network’s layered ice cream cake, which consists of fruit sorbet, wafer crumbs, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and a marvelous meringue topping. You can prepare this cake, minus the meringue, up to two days in advance; make sure to cover it with plastic wrap and store in the freezer. The recipe yields 12 servings.


Ice Cream Cake:

  • Vegetable oil, for brushing
  • 1 pint raspberry, passion fruit or other sorbet, softened
  • 1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
  • 1 quart chocolate ice cream, softened
  • 1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs (about 17 crushed wafers)
  • 1 loaf pound cake


  • 1 cup egg whites (about 6 large), at room temperature
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 cup sugar

Directions: Make the ice cream cake: Brush a 3-quart metal bowl with vegetable oil; line with plastic wrap. Fill the bowl with scoops of the sorbet, vanilla ice cream and half of the chocolate ice cream, alternating small and large scoops to create a mosaic of colors and shapes. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the ice cream; press down to close the gaps between scoops and even out the surface. Remove the plastic wrap, sprinkle the ice cream with the wafer crumbs and re-cover with the plastic wrap, pressing gently. Freeze until set, about 30 minutes.

Remove the wrap and spread the remaining chocolate ice cream in an even layer on top of the crumbs. Cut the pound cake into ½-inch-thick slices; completely cover the ice cream with the slices, trimming as needed; you’ll use about two-thirds of the cake. Cover with fresh plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. To make the meringue, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until foamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar on high speed until the whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Remove the top layer of plastic wrap, then invert the cake onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Remove the rest of the plastic wrap and cover the ice cream completely with the meringue, making the dome-shaped top slightly thicker than the sides. Form swirly peaks in the meringue using the back of a spoon. Freeze for at least 3 more hours. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the cake until the meringue peaks are golden, about 4 minutes, or brown the meringue with a blowtorch. Let the cake soften at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. Freeze any leftovers.

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7.  Bittersweet Chocolate Cheesecake

Taste of Home’s Bittersweet Chocolate Cheesecake must be made a day in advance and refrigerated overnight, ensuring you have an already-prepared dessert dish to serve your family and friends. The recipe yields 16 servings


  • 1 cup chocolate wafer crumbs
  • ½ cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • ⅓ cup butter, melted
  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • Dash salt


  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream and toasted hazelnuts, optional

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the crumbs and hazelnuts; stir in butter. Press onto the bottom of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add chocolate. Add eggs; beat on low just until combined. Add sour cream, extracts, and salt; beat just until blended. Pour over crust. Place pan on a baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 to 65 minutes or until the center is almost set. Cool pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate for 3 hours. For glaze, in microwave, melt chocolate with cream; stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Spread glaze over top. Refrigerate overnight. Garnish with whipped cream and hazelnuts if desired.

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