31 recipes to cook during the busy holiday season

During the busy holiday season, we turn to our tried and true back-pocket recipes

Published December 12, 2021 5:30PM (EST)

 (Ty mecham / Food52)
(Ty mecham / Food52)

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With all the recipe planning, grocery shopping, and hosting, the holidays can begin to wear on even the most avid of holiday enthusiasts.

In these times, we turn to our tried and true back-pocket recipes — and by recipes, we mean ones that require just some know-how to throw together and are adaptable to whatever you have on hand. These are the not-quite-holiday foods that will save your soundness come dinner. They offer freedom, a respite from all that incessant planning (even if it's just for one meal).

Here are 31 weeknight-friendly, make-ahead dishes to prepare in between the turkey buying and pie crust making and gift wrapping.

1. Simplest Chicken Noodle Soup

During the holiday season, you're short on time, you're short on patience, and you're short on fridge space. That's where this two-ingredient (OK four, if you count salt and water too) chicken noodle soup is perfect.

2. Weeknight Chili

Chili is notorious for taking hours to cook, but this beef and bean version only takes an hour, which is ideal for dinner in the middle of the holiday season. Plus, it simmers for a good 40 minutes, which gives you plenty of time to tackle the rest of your to-do list.

3. My Favorite Bolognese

Pro tip: Make a big batch of bolognese sauce over the weekend and use it for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Mix it with cooked rice for an instant stuffed pepper filling, swirl it into fresh pasta noodles, or serve it over polenta.

4. Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Garlic Powder and White Pepper

This quick and easy mac and cheese recipe will appeal to your entire family for a weeknight or weekend dinner, and it won't take you any time at all to prepare.

5. Lentil and Sausage Soup

"This hearty one-dish-supper soup is in my regular fall-winter rotation, and has been a family favorite for quite a long time. That means three things: it tastes great, it's not complicated, and I usually have on hand everything needed to make it," writes recipe developer Antonia James. In our book, that is a recipe for the ideal holiday season meal.

6. Baked Ziti

The beauty of baked ziti is that you can make it ahead, it's guaranteed to warm you up on a cold winter's night, and it feeds a crowd, which is perfect for when your in-laws show up a week early for a holiday surprise.

7. 3-Ingredient Veggie Burgers

These veggie burgers are easy, and we mean really easy, to make. All it takes is chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, and marinated artichokes for a more flavorful vegan patty.

8. Miso Soup

On a cold winter day, nothing quite hits the spot like miso soup. This recipe serves one, which is perfect for a lunch at home, but you can also make a big batch and reheat it anytime a craving strikes.

9. Barbara Kafka's Simplest Roast Chicken

We're all for roast chicken for dinner year-round, but especially during the holidays. It's apt for an impromptu dinner party with family or friends, but we also recommend roasting it on Sunday and repurposing it for chicken noodle soup, pot pie, and an easy salad topping throughout the busy work week.

10. Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas

Enchiladas may seem like a labor of love to make, but these veggie-packed tortillas are quite simple. The payoff is a flavorful combination of bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, and jalapeno peppers in a family-friendly cozy casserole dish.

11. Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Galette

You can make this cheesy butternut squash galette in two parts. Make the pastry dough in advance then store it in the refrigerator for a day or two. When you're ready to use it, roll it out, top it with roasted squash, roasted garlic, and ricotta and fontina cheeses.

12. The Tiniest Meatballs

Make a big batch of these petite meatballs, then keep them on hand for speedy sandwiches and simple pasta dishes. What they lack in size, they more than make up for in flavor, tenderness, and ease in cooking.

13. Crispy Cheesy Broccoli Soup

There's no way that a three-ingredient recipe for broccoli cheese soup that takes less than an hour to come together is good, right? Wrong! Food Editor Emma Laperruque made a game plan that highlights broccoli, grated cheddar cheese, and yellow onions in a way that you'll have to taste to believe.

14. Olive-Brined Chicken with Garlicky Croutons and Parsley

For a more flavorful roast chicken than you can deliver any night of the week, marinate bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs in olive brine a day in advance.

15. Nancy's Chopped Salad

A chopped salad is equally good for lunch as it is for dinner, and is nourishing enough to keep you going for hours on end. This recipe calls for pepperoncini, Genoa salami, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, radicchio, iceberg lettuce, and red onions.

16. Vegan Slow-Cooker Tomatillo Stew

The slow-cooker always delivers big time flavor for a crowd in a low-fuss cooking method.

17. Speedy Shrimp with Horseradish Butter

"A simple, scampi-inspired dinner that needs neither a lot of time, nor a lot of ingredients," writes Food Editor Emma Laperruque. All it takes is a cooking extra-large shrimp with lemons, butter, prepared horseradish, and fresh dill.

18. Lazy Ratatouille with Pork Chops

Lazy doesn't mean lackluster when it comes to the flavor found in this ratatouille recipe. Roast a bounty of veggies together, add some dried herbs, and bone-in pork loin chops for a dinner that will make everyone say, "how do they do it?"

19. Instant Pot (or Not) Soy-Ginger Pork with Noodles and Greens

We love cooking with the Instant Pot because in just one hour, you can do what would otherwise take hours on the stovetop or in the oven. In this case, we're talking about tender pork that's cooked in an umami-rich, satisfying combination of soy sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and chile-garlic sauce.

20. Overstuffed Chicken and Broccoli Quesadillas

"Give me a quesadilla with height and weight over a delicate wedge any day. These are jammed with a medley of vegetables and a generous amount of shredded chicken, and then it's all bound together with a pile of cheese," writes recipe developer Katie Workman.

21. Ruth Reichl's Diva of a Grilled Cheese

Some nights, especially chilly ones where you're feeling mentally drained, all you want to eat is a grilled cheese sandwich. I know I do. Make this sturdy, savory, spectacular version with sourdough bread and sharp cheese.

22. Pesto Brown Rice Bowl with Quick-Pickled Radishes

"A grain bowl is the perfect meal solution, giving you a little bit of everything (salty and creamy and crunchy and acidic) all in one dish. The recipe is easy to customize by adding extra protein or swapping in toppings you have on hand," writes recipe developer Posie (Harwood) Brian.

23. Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli

We're all about slow-cooker recipes during the busy holiday season because of their "set it and forget it" ethics. This creamy, tomato-heavy soup cooks for five hours, which gives you plenty of time to tackle your to-do list.

24. Tangy Baked Salmon with Calabrian Chile

"This 10-minute baked salmon recipe is fall-apart tender (thanks to a bath in olive oil — don't we all wish we could take one!), tangy (thanks to white wine vinegar), garlicky (thanks to, well, garlic), and, if you like, just the right amount of spicy (thanks to fiery Calabrian chile paste)," writes Assigning Editor Rebecca Firkser.

25. Chicken Salad

For a hearty, nurturing lunch, look no further than this perfect chicken salad. Our test kitchen team meticulously tested the best type of chicken, the right ratio of celery to herbs to lemon juice, and the right amount of mayonnaise and mustard. The result is a well-balanced, flavorful mixture for a sandwich or salad.

26. J. Kenji López-Alt's 15-Minute Creamy (Vegan) Tomato Soup

Yes, you can make homemade soup, yes you can do it in less than fifteen minutes, and yes it can be vegan too!

27. Cream Cheese Omelet with Everything Seasoning

Breakfast for dinner is often the move, especially when I'm craving something comforting and fast. An omelet hits the spot again and again, but to make it feel a little extra special, I'll fold in cream cheese and sprinkle everything seasoning on top, just as Emma Laperruque has done here.

28. Pasta with Basil Cashew Cream

Could you believe that this vegan creamy pesto pasta is made with only three ingredients? Could you believe that it comes together in just 35 minutes? Could you believe that you don't need any fussy equipment or hard-to-find ingredients? If you can believe it, then you'll fall in love with this recipe.

29. Bacon Ramen with Egg

At the end of a cold, stressful day (which, let's face it, is most days during the holiday season), turn to this easy homemade ramen that uses store-bought or premade chicken broth, ramen noodles, bacon, eggs, and a few buzzy aromatics.

30. Ranch Chicken Cutlets

Instead of salad dressing, repurpose Ranch — or in this case, a homemade herby buttermilk brine — as a marinade for chicken breasts. Marinate the chicken the night before so that for a speedy dinner the next night, all you have to do is bread 'em and fry 'em.

31. Instant Pot Risotto

The Instant Pot is a lifesaver during the height of the busy holiday season. It cooks food fast and doesn't require you to use the oven or stovetop, so you can do double duty in the kitchen (and bake a few pies while you're at it).

By Kelly Vaughan

MORE FROM Kelly Vaughan

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