Holiday Tips and Tricks from the School of Hard Knocks

My Best Holiday Tips and Tricks Learned through the Prestigious Cooking School of Hard Knocks. Click for my favorite ideas! #Cooking #holidaytips #foodtips #lifehacks #holidays

After hosting family holiday celebrations and graduating from the prestigious School of Hard Knocks, I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to make your life easier. Read on for some unique cooking ideas so you can relax and enjoy entertaining.

A smokey trick.

When my husband and I first married, we lived on the 37th floor of what was the Embassy Suites Hotel and Apartments. Now it’s the more impressive, Ritz Carlton. Anyway, I broiled a steak one night. Smoke rolled out of the oven and set off the alarm. The high pitched beep hurt my ears. “How do you turn it off?” I asked Danny.

“It goes off by itself,” he said, smiling since he knew what would happen next.

The problem? In a high rise building, the smoke detectors are connected to the fire department. When the beeping stopped, the fire truck’s siren could be heard from hundreds of feet below. Sooner than I thought possible, there was a knock on the door. Two firemen stood in full hard hat and waterproof coat regalia.

“Is there a fire in here?” asked the man, craning his neck to see around me.

The only fire burned in my cheeks. “No, I was cooking steak for dinner.”

He laughed and I apologized. “We would rather find smoke from dinner than an apartment fire any day.”

This became the joke around our house.

Where there's smoke there's dinner. Cooking tips and tricks to make your next gathering enjoyable. Click for ideas! #Food #holidays #lifehacks #holidaytips #funny

Flash forward a few years.

I’m a pie baker, but not an oven cleaner. Several times, I’ve heated up the oven only to fill the house with smoke from a blueberry pie that bubbled over the month before.

We still don’t have normal smoke detectors. Ours are connected to the house alarm and sprinkler system. A lovely loudspeaker is mounted inside and OUTSIDE of our home.

It sounds like this:

“FIRE! FIRE! YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE! GET OUT OF THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY!” This insistent message is blasted along with a siren, wait for it, to the entire neighborhood. I envision my neighbor across the street saying, “The Lindaus burned something in the oven again.”

To avoid abject humiliation and sounding the alarm, I would shut off the smokey oven. Then I would run and open all the doors and windows no matter how frigid the temperature.

smokey oven

Not anymore.

A few years ago, I forgot about another one of those dang pies. Smoke filled the kitchen, but guests were due to arrive any minute. That’s when I had an AHA moment.

I turned off the oven, opened the doors, and windows. Even with a cold blast of air and the the oven shut off, smoke poured into the kitchen from the top of the oven door.

So here’s the secret. 

I soaked two kitchen towels in cold water and wrung them out. Then I lay them on the counter where half of the wet cloth hung over the oven. It covered up the smoke pouring out of the vent. It worked! I let the smoke collect in the towels until the oven cooled. Then I pulled tinfoil from the bottom of the oven which was covered in burned syrupy overspill. I threw it out and started over. My guests never knew what happened. Whew!

Turkey stuffing tip.

We live in high altitude so cooking can be a challenge. One year, I made my poor mother-in-law sick when the turkey wasn’t cooked all the way through. That was the last time I stuffed a bird.

The following year, I worried about baking my mom’s famous stuffing in a casserole. Surely, it would be a disappointment. I love its turkey flavor absorbed inside the cavity.

Right before I served it, I eyed the drippings in the pan. Oh, yeah, baby! I poured some of it over the casserole and voila. No one knew the difference. It tasted great.

Dry turkey? I have an easy fix for that too.

Coming from an illustration background, the Norman Rockwell painting called, Freedom from Want, is one of my favorites. It graced the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Even though it was published in March of 1943, the image embodies our ideas of Thanksgiving. The turkey, of course, is the centerpiece of the meal. See how the turkey looks? That’s a perfect way to serve it.

Holiday Tips and Tricks. Click for my life hacks so you can enjoy the holidays with your family like a Norman Rockwell painting! Food, Tips, Life hacks and DIYS, Holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas ideas #food #Thanksgiving #Holidays #tips #hacks

Yeah, well, forget about roasting it in that position.

If you want a moist bird, then simply place it breast side down. I keep it covered in a roasting pan and NEVER baste it. I let it cook in its juices in the bottom of the pan. During the last 30 to 45 minutes, I take the cover off to let it brown. It is delicious every time.

Do not baste thy turkey.

Repeatedly taking the lid off dries it out. Instead of checking the temperature or if the little plastic button has popped, I use an electronic thermometer. I plunge the pointy end into the middle of one of the breasts or deep inside the thigh. A long wire connects it to an electronic timer and temperature gauge. It beeps with the turkey reaches 165 degrees.

Holiday Tips and Tricks! I share my favorites after many years of hosting. It will make Thanksgiving and Christmas more enjoyable! Tip, hacks and DIYs, Food, holidays, Christmas ideas, inspiration #lifehacks #holidays #tips #tricks #Christmasideas

I look a little overheated, but happy. I flipped the turkey over to carve it, of course. Then I let the Norman Rockwell celebration begin!

Will you be cooking over the holidays? Do you have any tips to share?

Here’s a turkey safety and roasting sheet from the FDA.

Related stories:

Dear Holiday Diary, The concept of time escapes me…

Dear Diary, Please make it stop!

10 Life Hacks in Time for the Holidays!

48 thoughts on “Holiday Tips and Tricks from the School of Hard Knocks

Add yours

  1. Thanks for all the good ideas, Susie. I like the tin foil in the bottom of the oven for catching pie drippings. I tried it last time (before you posted this blog) but didn’t think of it until just before I put the pie in and the oven was already hot. I couldn’t get it into place properly with the element already glowing red. Next time I will put the tin foil in before I turn on the oven. It is definitely the way to go to save on having to clean the bubbling syrup that turns black and smokey in the bottom of the oven.


  2. This is all great – my wife and I have to put together our Thanksgiving menu this weekend so we can make sure we have everything we need well in advance….lots of pressure and as you show, so many things that can go wrong!


    1. Totally. The worst is when I find something in the microwave on Friday! It’s a big meal. When my son worked at Best Buy, I had to bust out dinner super early. That was tough! I know some cooks who get up at 4:00 AM to start. I would fight exhaustion all day and would screw something up for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually hate gifs (probably because people use a ton of them for everything they write), but that one of Robin spraying the oven to death makes me smile.

    We let the fine folks at Cracker Barrel handle our food (THANK YOU FOR WORKING ON A HOLIDAY!), but I don’t get the turkey. Probably my usual: meatloaf (such a big slice!), a double helping of their hashbrown casserole, and I usually let my dad have the third side. (I see they have cornbread stuffing, but I hate that. It has to be regular stuffing, or it doesn’t get eaten.) Biscuits are included, of course. There’s always so much food that we eat leftovers for supper. xD


    1. That sounds so stress-free, Daya and a wonderful way to celebrate with your family!

      I cracked up when I saw that Gif and had to use it. I know a lot of people can’t handle the motion. It’s a hilarious way to deal with smoke. LOL!

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The best part is when there’s a marathon running, like M*A*S*H or NCIS. (*checks*) Not for lunch, but there’s a M*A*S*H marathon running through supper! Hurrah!


  4. My biggest tip is to spread out fixing the feast over a few days. I chop onions, celery, etc. 2 days before. I make my dressing (I bake it the day of, but I assemble it and put it in a casserole dish in the fridge), cranberry sauce, pies, etc. the day before. I don’t like to have to run around like a crazy person trying to fix every single thing the day of. I’m a frazzled hot mess by the time it’s time to sit down to dinner if I do it that way.

    And, we started cooking our turkey in our BBQ outside. It frees up the oven and cooks nice and slow and gets a delicious smoky flavor. My husband has to keep adding charcoal to keep the temperature right, but it’s so much easier and tastes so much better. And we don’t baste either.

    So, those are my tricks. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt


    1. Woohoo! Thanks so much for the tips, Patricia! I always make the croissants and the pie, sometimes the salad dressing ahead of time, but will make the cranberries and chop the veggies too! Anything to enjoy the day short of hiring someone. LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So, our oven in the UK had this amazing feature where it would clean itself. You basically remove anything flammable from near the oven, then it heats itself up super hot and incinerates anything on the inside of the oven, leaving just ash for you to sweep out.

    I think next time you buy an oven, you need that feature!


  6. Thanks for the tip I think I’ll try the upside down trick, and then turn it right side up to brown for the last hour?

    Sent from my iPhone



  7. I skip Thanksgiving and go camping. No worries about smoke when you have a campfire! And for Christmas, I’m the one people can count on for the veggie tray. But I will definitely remember your tips on smoke control because that is inevitable other times of the year!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The best way I can think of to make sure that you don’t cause a fire when cooking is to not cook! Not that I do that, mind you. I mean without cooking + party mishaps, I’d have even less to blog about than I do already. Happy Turkey Day, susie.


    1. Hahaha! That’s one way to avoid disaster! My mom is an excellent cook and hostess so she set the bar really high when I took over. After all these years, I’m finally getting the hang of it. LOL!
      Happy Thanksgiving to you, Ally!!! We’re some of the few who are still blogging. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Onion Goggles and wooden Clothes pins, in Great Remembrance of the Free Tainted exploding Smurf Blue Tom Turkey.

    I am stone deaf to high pitched screaming, to include activated smoke alarms and kitchen timers. So I just usually see frantic crazy women fairy leaping and arm slapping at little device stuck upon the high walls. And yes we have unloaded Fire Extinguishers in our kitchen, and hand scrubbed the stink of fire smoke off the walls and ceilings (Pot Holders). In fact we have a rolled up and ready to be grabbed fire escape latter up stairs and not one, but six fully charged and ready properly hung fire extinguishers in many rooms of our home, and a fire escape plan and back up plan.

    I have came up and have seen the worst situations. be prepared.

    Happy Thanks giving and thank you as always for sharing of your wonderful Blog Susie.


    1. Thanks for the advice, Brock! Sounds like you speak from a lot of wild cooking experiences! Unfortunately, we have built in water sprinklers which could do more damage than a stove fire. LOL! It’s my worst nightmare! Changing the batteries on our smoke detectors has left my ears ringing!
      Happy Thanksgiving to you, Brock and for stopping by! You always make me laugh out loud with your visual descriptions!
      I’ve been in the throes of knocking out a book this month for Nanowrimo (800 measly words to go!) and I’m just catching up!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank goodness I can’t cook! I leave all the preparations for my partner, but I do my bit by doing the clearing up and serving the wine. 😀
    I’ve seen a few smoke-filled kitchens, and then panic trying to get the smoke-detectors to stop, but another glass of wine usually helps.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you, Danny and the family, Susie.


  11. Pyrolytic oven. That’s what you want! Detects grime build up then tells you to whack on the pyrolytic cleaning cycle which literally burns everything to ash. Once a month I use it to trigger a washing machine and tumble drier clean too. No more smoke pouring out and that accursed oven scrubbing. Obviously I figured this out after a windows and door open occasion or two!!

    Bonus is three clean white goods 😂


      1. You really should! Flipping life saver wrt the hated scrubbing of oven stains. So used to hate it which is why I had smoke issues lol. Other one to look out for are induction hobs. Totally brilliant and really safe. No red hot rings or flames. How domestic am I !!


  12. Pyrolytic oven? im asking google.. though my oven is brand new! so cant really go and buy a new one.. that was a massive turkey.. im pleased you enjoyed it… nice post… well done for an effective way to get a fireman at you door quickly!


    1. Thanks so much! Yep. As a newlywed, I embarrassed myself several times. That next year we were out garage saling and Danny found that saying in a mirrored sign. It’s been our, his, joke ever since!!
      I’ve got a new oven in the mountains too and have never heard of it. Must be brand new!

      Liked by 1 person

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