Celebrity Chefs Tell Tasting Table Their Must-Know Holiday Cooking Tips - Exclusive

No time of year is more stressful for the average home cook than the winter holiday season. You often have to host large events with family and friends (and maybe even your judgy in-laws) and you have to cook way more food than you're used to. And of course, you want it all to be perfect — nobody wants to be the one who "ruins Christmas" this year.

If you're freaking out about the holiday cooking you have to do or just want to find some new ideas to switch up your usual routine, we have resources for you. One of the joys of working for Tasting Table is getting to sit down for exclusive interviews with some of the best chefs, bakers, food scholars, and cookbook writers in the world. These eminent figures have an untold amount of culinary knowledge they can share with home cooks, and it's always amazing to see what they say when we ask them for tips. 

We've collected some of the best, most interesting, and most useful tips from our interviews with food celebrities. Let them guide you toward the best holiday meals you've ever cooked.

Emeril Lagasse's roulade solves a turkey cooking conundrum

Everyone has a vision of a perfectly-roasted whole turkey coming out of the oven for their holiday dinners. However, a whole turkey has a big problem: It's two totally different types of meat that cook at different rates. As Emeril Lagasse tells Tasting Table, "Everybody complains that the turkey's always dry, right? Because they're trying to cook the legs at the same time as they're doing the breast and the breast dries out but the legs, are they really cooked?"

His solution to the problem is to cook the breast and the legs separately, using two completely different methods. He makes a boneless turkey roulade with the breast meat to carve at the table. To do this, he pounds the turkey breast thin, rolls it up with homemade stuffing inside, and then roasts it in the oven. Don't worry, dark meat lovers: He doesn't waste the legs. "I take the legs off and you can either simmer them and then you have turkey stock for your gravy," he says. "Then the legs are really nice and tender, or you can slow roast them in the oven."

Padma Lakshmi's chutney ideas will enliven your holiday charcuterie boards

A lot of the holiday meal tips you find online focus on dinner dishes, but people want stuff to nibble on while the feast is being prepared. Sometimes you need to prepare hors-d'oeuvres for a holiday cocktail party too. This is where Padma Lakshmi's charcuterie board tips will come in handy.

Her homemade condiments take this grazing staple in a fun direction. "I make a chutney with dried Angelino plums, which are red. They're not prunes," she tells Tasting Table. "I mix that with a couple of chipotle peppers in adobo and grind it, and you put a little olive oil to make it mix." This chutney adds spiciness, sweetness, and fruitiness to the cheese on your board. Another option is to cook onions down with balsamic vinegar and a bunch of black pepper. Lakshmi likes this with cured meats as well as cheese.

Marcus Samuelsson recommends glögg to take the chill off

The holidays are the perfect time for hot booze. While cold cocktails may be the default option, there's nothing quite as warm and comforting on a chilly day as some mulled wine or a nice hot toddy. With its long, icy, winters, Sweden is a place that knows how to do cold-weather comfort. Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who grew up in Gothenburg, likes to make glögg (Swedish mulled wine) for his holiday dinners. "We always serve Swedish glögg, this warm red wine," he tells Tasting Table. "The whole room smells like cloves, cinnamon, and allspice, which is great. You get this warm cup in front of you."

If you'd like to recreate that experience at home, Marcus Samuelsson's glögg recipe is almost like a hybrid between mulled wine, sangria, and hot buttered rum. It starts out by infusing wine with spices and spiking it with extra alcohol, and then each mug is mixed with fruit, nuts, and a little melted butter. Glögg is a winter cocktail and a snack rolled into one.

Paul Hollywood loves a Christmas trifle

"Great British Baking Show" judge Paul Hollywood knows how to make intricate, fussy, Christmas desserts, but he also has a great idea for people who might not be so confident in their baking skills: trifle. While this layered dessert made with broken cake, custard, cream, and other toppings may not be a traditional holiday treat, Hollywood believes it deserves a place on your Christmas table. "At Christmastime, it's nice to have something slightly different, away from a pudding, and you want something like a trifle," Hollywood tells Tasting Table. "A trifle is not just for summer; it's for Christmas as well."

As for flavor, Hollywood says "You can play with lemon curd, you can use meringue in there, sponge, and then top it with more lemon cream onto the top," but really, you can play with whatever ingredients you like. He doesn't mention this, but if you really don't feel like baking, you can even make a trifle with store-bought cake to save yourself some trouble.

Prue Leith's fruitcake will win over the skeptics

Fruitcake is perhaps one of Christmas's least-loved traditions. While there are still plenty of fruitcake fans out there, not everyone is crazy about the classic dense, dark loaf packed to the gills with multicolored mystery fruit. Prue Leith of "Great British Baking Show" fame is not a fruitcake hater, however. "I like all kinds of fruitcake," she admits to Tasting Table. "I like the really solid kind, which would probably be the stodgiest." She's also a big fan of an Italian confection called panforte, which is sort of like fruitcake without the cake.

Although she loves the traditional Christmas cake that so many people detest, she also makes a lightened-up version that she's hopeful might convert some fruitcake skeptics. According to Leith, "It's an ordinary cake recipe with lots of fruit in it, dried fruit, but I make it with all white or light dried fruits — sultanas rather than raisins, and pineapple, and apricot." She says that "The light-colored fruit tends to be a bit more acidic and less sweet, and that makes it delicious for fruitcake haters." However, this recipe can't accomplish miracles — if you're baking for people who just don't like dried fruit, no fruitcake will make them see the light.

Or maybe you'd like to try Prue Lieth's Yule log

If you're swearing off fruitcake or perhaps want to make something a little bit easier (yet still impressive), Prue Leith offers several Christmastime baking tips to Tasting Table. "To make a proper Christmas cake, it takes ages — lots of fruit, you need marzipan and decoration and icing, and it's a whole performance,"  she insists. A Yule log, on the other hand, is relatively simple. You just need to make (or even buy) a chocolate sponge cake in a thin sheet, spread whipped cream on it, and roll it into a log. She frosts hers with chocolate buttercream frosting that she roughs up with a fork to simulate tree bark. Then, for the final touches, "Stick a piece of holly in the top, or any Christmas decoration — it could be fake if you like — and shake some icing sugar all over it, and it'll look like a Christmas log.

If you'd like to mix it up, you can forego the chocolate cake and make a white bûche de Noël (which is Yule log in French). This version uses white sponge cake, white chocolate ganache, and cute mushroom-shaped chocolate cookies.

If you're a beginner, Jet Tila says to spatchcock your turkey

Just like Emeril Lagasse, Jet Tila thinks turkey comes out better if you don't simply roast it whole. If you're feeling ambitious, you can try his idea for a Turkey Ballotine, which is a whole, deboned turkey rolled up with stuffing and roasted. If, however, your butchery skills aren't up to that task, he offers Tasting Table a great tip for turkey novices too: "I believe that your first few turkeys should be spatchcock turkeys. [You] should be cutting the backbone out and flattening them."

Spatchcocking improves the turkey-cooking experience in several ways. For one, it evens out the cooking times between the breast and the legs. "When you spatchcock a turkey, as it sits flat in the roasting pan, the thighs are on the outside and the breast is in the middle," he says. "You're also kind of guaranteeing you're going to have a moist thigh and a moist breast."

In addition to ensuring nicely-cooked white and dark meat, spatchcocking will also save you time in the kitchen. According to Tila, you won't have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get the turkey ready for your holiday dinner. "Spatchcocking a turkey makes a 12- to 20-pound turkey cook in three to four hours."

Jacques Torres warns you not to confuse hot chocolate and hot cocoa

Renowned pastry chef, chocolatier, and "Nailed It" judge Jacques Torres takes his hot chocolate very seriously, and he thinks many people are doing it wrong — or at least not making it as tasty as it can be. "The first thing is most people don't understand that hot cocoa is not hot chocolate, and hot chocolate is not hot cocoa," he tells Tasting Table. Cocoa is just the solids from ground cacao nibs, while chocolate contains cocoa butter. In Torres' opinion, "Hot cocoa is not as good as hot chocolate or hot nib chocolate." He would much prefer that you melt real chocolate into milk rather than using cocoa powder.

As for mix-ins, Torres is fine with putting creative spins on hot chocolate as long as you don't take it too far. "If you put mint candy cane, if you put spices, whatever you're going to put in it — be careful of the balance of flavor. You don't want to be overpowering, but you still want to feel it." If you want to add a Torres-approved flavoring to hot chocolate, try spicing it up with some chiles — just don't put in too much.

Jacques Torres also encourages getting creative with chocolate bark

Chocolate bark is a fun thing to make for holiday gatherings because guests break off as much or as little as they want. Among the chocolate tips and tricks Jacques Torres discloses to Tasting Table is his recommendation for serving the holiday treat. "I love the fact that we break it because it's a little bit like sharing bread ... Spanish family, Italian family, French. We love to share bread."

In addition to the joy of sharing chocolate bark with loved ones, it is also a great platform for experimentation. The classic topping is nuts, which is a crowd-pleaser. Torres says "I like the one with the nuts. I like classic flavors." But he also makes one with mint and pretzels and endorses putting dried fruit of all kinds into chocolate bark. "If you use raisins — if you use dry apricots, dry mango, dry peaches — that brings some sweetness to it, but also extra flavor, which is always good." Just remember to be mindful of how sweet and/or sour the fruit is and to cut it into small pieces if it's something large like an apricot.

Kardea Brown's holiday cocktails will put you in the spirit

Sure, the winter holidays might be the time when hot cocktails, mulled wine, and eggnog reign supreme, but there's no reason you can't wet your whistle with something cool, fruity, and refreshing too. Kardea Brown, who shares Gullah and other Southern recipes on her Food Network series, "Delicious Miss Brown," knows this, and she has a couple of nontraditional holiday cocktail recommendations for Tasting Table: a Lowcountry Mint Julep and a cocktail she invented called Swamp Water.

Swamp Water sounds like something Shrek would sip on, but it's a delightful drink that you can serve with or without alcohol. Per Brown, "You get some sweetened tea, lemonade or freshly squeezed lemon, and ginger beer. Then you mix it all together; it's super simple. Then spike it with an ounce of bourbon, or you can even use dark rum."

If you're looking for a knockout dish to pair your Swamp Water with, try Brown's surprising stunner of a side dish: seafood mac and cheese with shrimp and crab. Just remember to add enough milk or cream to the sauce so your mac doesn't come out dry.

Gail Simmons loves potlucks for no-stress holiday entertaining

"Top Chef" judge Gail Simmons really enjoys the flavors of fall and winter. "I love things like ginger and cardamom, and smoky flavors that really mean fall to me, like smoked paprika or a smokey urfa pepper, like a smoky chili," she tells Tasting Table. "I love fall squash and winter squashes. I love things like honey nut or butternut squash." And though she's an incredibly accomplished chef, she likes to share cooking duties during the holidays. "I love a potluck because it relieves a lot of stress, and I like the idea of everyone contributing and that means that there's a diversity of food."

If you're really into cooking, there can be a temptation to be a control freak around the holidays and put pressure on yourself to cook everything. Ultimately, though, the holidays are about spending quality time with your loved ones, which is hard to do if you're cloistered in the kitchen. As Simmons says, "The key is the gathering and the enjoyment of being able to be together again more so than anything else. It's whatever makes your life easiest in the kitchen."

Melissa King's turkey congee turns holiday leftovers into something special

For many people, the best meals around the holidays aren't the big dinners themselves — they're the creations cobbled together from leftovers in the subsequent days. But if you eventually get tired of microwaved plates and the same old turkey sandwiches, "Top Chef" champion and "Tasting Wild" host Melissa King offers Tasting Table a genius way to transform your old turkey into something completely different: hearty, warming congee.

Congee is a savory rice porridge often served with meat and other toppings. King says, "A good foundation to a congee starts with onions, garlic, and ginger ... I sauté that. I sauté the rice, and then I layer it with the broth." For turkey congee, use turkey or chicken broth, then add some leftover turkey. Once your congee is done cooking, you can personalize it with the toppings of your choice. Peanuts, scallions, shallots, chili crisp, and cilantro would all taste great, but feel free to experiment with your own flavors.

If you want another way to combine rice with leftover turkey, turkey fried rice always hits the spot. As King notes, "Fried rice is a very great way to repurpose any leftovers. You have your basic pantry staples from rice to garlic and onion, and you can sauté that all together with scrambled egg or any other vegetables that are in your fridge to make a nice leftover."

Christina Tosi's last-minute holiday recipes will get you out of a jam

Celebrity baker extraordinaire and Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi is, unsurprisingly, full of good ideas for the holidays. She has a couple of dishes to can toss together last minute with minimal effort if you need something quick to bring to a party. While Tosi is known for her mouth-watering desserts, one of the dishes is a savory side she calls "cornbake." This Tosi family recipe is "somewhere between a cornbread and a corn pudding." According to the chef, "If you're assigned to bring something to a potluck or otherwise, it always slays."

On the sweeter side of things, Tosi recommends milk flake crisp, which is a sweet-salty mishmash of Ritz crackers held together with marshmallows and butter and flavored with milk powder plus whatever mix-ins you want. Per Tosi, "You could use any cracker, you could use any sort of seed or seasoning."

Christina Tosi has great cookie swap ideas too

Given that Christina Tosi has a cookbook called "All About Cookies," you can guess that she has many great recipes to include in your holiday cookie swap boxes. Cookie swaps are a big part of her holiday routine. "In the Milk Bar family tradition, we always do a giant cookie swap," she tells Tasting Table.  

According to Tosi, her cookie swap contributions never fail to include two recipes she inherited from her family: "One is called the Greta, which is a very humble, under-baked sugar cookie bar that is sort of legendary in the Milk Bar universe."

Tossi also makes classic cut-out cookies frosted with decorative icing, as they're a nostalgic treat for her. "One of my grandmas would just always make cut-out cookies, frost them, decorate them," she reminisces. Nothing says Christmas more than a tin packed with colorfully decorated sugar cookies, and making them can be a family activity. Per Tossi, "It's just a fun way to spend time together, to get cheesy, put on the holiday tunes, and just spend time creating something together."

Michael W. Twitty's Louisiana latkes bring Southern flair to the Hanukkah table

Author, historian, James Beard Award-winner, and food scholar Michael W. Twitty is one of America's preeminent experts on the cuisine of the African diaspora. He's also a convert to Judaism, and his unique Hanukkah spread draws on the knowledge he's gained in his years of research.

Hanukkah is, in part, a celebration of oil, so fried foods are a big part of the holiday. Twitty makes a special Hanukkah fried chicken breaded in matzo meal. This year, he's also trying a new twist on latkes. He starts with grated potatoes, then adds in some Louisiana flavors. "For Louisiana latkes, I throw in a little chopped celery, a little bit of grated yellow onion, chopped scallions, and red pepper," he tells Tasting Table. "So, I put the trinity in it, a little creole spice, a Cajun spice in it." He'll use these latkes as the "buns" of a collard green sandwich inspired by a traditional dish from the Lumbee, who live in Robeson County, North Carolina.

Twitty also makes a brisket for Hanukkah, and he puts a West African twist on the American-Jewish classic. "One secret ingredient that I tend to use in my West African brisket that is not in the recipes is country onion," he says. "Country onion is really not onion. It's a byproduct of a tree from West Africa that has more of an onion taste than an onion."