Prepare as much as you can in advance

Mary Dugan, innkeeper at The Lyttleton Inn in Lyttleton, Massachusetts, extols the many values of planning ahead. "Our absolute foolproof 'best cooking tip' here at the Lyttleton Inn is to do a majority of work in advance so that the big day is relatively stress-free," says Dugan. "Our prep work begins about seven days before."

Dugan's preparation involves everything from bottling homemade cranberry applesauce in mason jars to making wild-rice stuffing and freezing it. "Then when the big day arrives the remaining work is communal and fun, and it’s a simple matter of putting it all together! The nicest part of the prep work is that I always make too much, and I love sending guests home with baskets packed with goodies."

Nicole Brayton of Brayton B&B in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, tells us, "Staying focused and stress free around the holidays when cooking for a large crowd like we do on a regular basis does take a little practice. We have figured out that doing as much ahead of time as possible cuts back on the stress immensely."

Brayton suggests, "Make a list, and go the store days in advance so you will not have to throw down that apron and run to the store for more salt. There are also certain things that can be prepared a day or two in advance, such as mashed potatoes, baked beans and pies. The key here is to have enough refrigerator space to store your goodies before throwing them in the oven when ready."

Nancy Gates-Douglas, innkeeper at Auberge de Seattle in Woodinville, Washingon, further stresses the importance of early preparation. "Time management is so important when you have so much going on," says Gates-Douglas. "Even our French petite dejeuner breakfast [dough] is frozen and proofed overnight, so that in the morning it has puffed up. We bake our croissants and petite pain aux chocolate every morning individually for our guests. They go crazy over them.

Make these simple, delicious dishes

"The easiest and most satisfying dish to make is roasted red potatoes with rosemary and Vidalia onions," says Mary Spring, innkeeper at Marshall Slocum Inn in Newport, Rhode Island. "Slice the potatoes very thin and toss them with rosemary, diced onions, olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Roast at 450 degrees until starting to brown and then broil for 3-5 minutes. These are basically gourmet French fries."

"We have so many amazing recipes for the holidays that everyone loves," says Brayton B&B innkeeper Nicole Brayton. The baked potato quiche is great since you can prepare the night before and throw it in the oven in the morning kick off the day with a great breakfast. Click here for the recipe.

Or maybe you just can't wait for pumpkin pie. Why not have pumpkin pie oatmeal for breakfast. We make them in individual ramekins but when serving a large crowd, making this in a large casserole dish works great too Click here for the recipe.

Who doesn't love hot chocolate? This recipe is a given since you make it in the crock pot and just ladle it out when you're ready. Make a big batch so everyone can enjoy. It heats up great the next day, too. Click here for the recipe.

Innkeeper and professional chef Steve Konopelski of Turnbridge Point reveals, "Stuffing is my absolute favorite thing to make. I like to use a variety of leftover breads, from focaccia to corn bread. I think it gives it more flavor if there are many kinds and textures. Dice them up into bite-size pieces. I have even added crushed butter or Saltine crackers into my bread mix."

Konopelski's stuffing secrets are as follows: "Sautee diced onions, celery and carrots in a large skillet until soft and tender. Liberally season with salt and pepper. Add dried parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme to taste. (It's as easy as a trip to "Scarborough Fair.') To this mixture you can add sausage, dried fruits or nuts, cooked giblets … the world is your oyster. Pour the sautéed mixture into a large bowl filled with your diced bread selection. Mix it all together until everything is well seasoned. In a separate bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, crack 4 large eggs and add 3 cups of half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper and whisk until combined. Add your custard to your bread mixture and toss until everything is moist. There should be some remaining custard on the bottom of the bowl; this is good. Pour everything into a greased 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to absorb all the remaining custard. When you're ready, bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Enjoy yourself!

Marshall Slocum Inn's Mary Spring shares her strategy for keeping cool in the kitchen: "The key to a stress-free holiday is preparation and a few nice bottles of wine for the chef. [Another] way to make holiday cooking more enjoyable is with good music. Download some of your favorite songs and make a playlist for your cooking day."

Steve Konopelski encourages home cooks to remember the reason for the season. He says, "Cooking for a crowd can be very overwhelming. I like to remind myself why I am doing it. Every human being needs food to survive, so when I am cooking for the people I love, I am in fact helping to give the gift of life. I remind myself of this anytime I feel stressed in the kitchen. We all need to eat to survive. Anything made from the heart helps feed the heart."

—by Caroline Costello