It’s that time of the year again! Thanksgiving is coming up on the horizon, but if you’re already starting to stress over the holiday, don’t worry about it — expert Ree Drummond is here to help. If you don’t already know her name, that might be because you recognize her as The Pioneer Woman, the home cook who’s made a name for herself with her blog, her Food Network show, and her many cookbooks. She’s all about making recipes accessible and easy, but this holiday season, she’s even busier than normal.
She just put out a new book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It! after its brief few year hiatus. (Want to enter? You can do so here.) Luckily, she was able to spare a few moments to talk to us and share her insider tips, tricks, and recipes for how to have a successful holiday season — without working up too much of a sweat.
Her number one tip? Always plan ahead. “If [I’m] planning for a big dinner, like Thanksgiving, I start in my mind on the day of Thanksgiving and I work my way backward,” Ree shares. “I say, ‘What could I possibly do on Wednesday? What could I possibly do on Tuesday?’ And I mean, on Sunday, I’m chopping onions and celery and carrots… [I love] having things prepped ahead of time these days.” If you have an ingredient you know you’ll be using in a couple of different dishes, you can prep it all at once. “If I’m chopping an onion, I might chop three and bag up the rest. Just ‘cause so many things require onion in my house… Why get out the cutting board and the knife twice if you know you’re going to use it?”
Her second biggest tip? “Don’t go for perfection, and have fun in the kitchen.” Sometimes, things burn or get overcooked or just don’t end up looking as pretty as you want them to — and that’s perfectly okay. Your family will be happy to eat what you’ve made no matter what, and sometimes the messy stuff tastes even better than the dish that looks just right. “Don’t feel like you have to set any world records,” Ree says. “It’s about the fun of cooking, as well as feeding — feeding people in your house.”
But if you have burned something, well, Ree’s got advice for that, too. “I burn things,” she admits with a laugh. “Timers are your friend… But I think [managing everything] comes with experience, certainly. You learn to multitask with every job you have, the more you do it… But things are gonna go wrong, and you’re gonna ruin recipes, and it’s okay. That’s the good stuff. That’s the fun stuff.” And when something goes off course, you can always repurpose it. “If there’s an obvious charred out crust, that’s easy. Just dig out the good stuff. If something’s overcooked, like a piece of meat, you can chop it up and make sort of a salad out of it. I’ve done that before — roast beef salad is delicious if I ever accidentally overcook something like prime rib.”
Just because something doesn’t turn out how you expect, it doesn’t mean it’s ready for the trash can. “If a cake falls or doesn’t look great, chop it up and it’s a trifle,” Ree jokes — but she’s done it. “Put it in a bowl with some fruit and, you know, put whipped cream on top and decorate it and people think you meant to do it.” As for her favorite recipes to make during the holidays, she highlights pretty much any apple dessert you can think of. “I always think of apples as holidays, even though it’s really a year-round thing,” she admits. But there are simple recipes and expert level recipes perfect for any baker, whether that’s a caramel apple coffee cake she saw on the Bake-Off in the ’80s, a simple pear tart, her mom’s apple puff pastry which you can find in her new book, a fancy tarte tatin, or her signature flat apple pie which you can slice up and eat like a pizza.
Apple scents are good for making your home feel like holidays, too. If you don’t want to run out and buy a bunch of decorations, scents make for great spirit-raisers at home. “You can make mulled apple cider,” she shared. “Or you can just buy a mulled apple cider candle, which I love to do!” Living out in the country, Ree says they don’t typically decorate the outside of their house. “No one would see it!” But they bring the holidays inside with simple, natural decorations. “We have cake stands with treats at all times and greenery around it. What you can do is just incorporate some elements of [the holidays], whether it’s greenery or florals that you like or pinecones, around your regular meals. It just gives a little hint of something special.”
But Ree’s favorite way to celebrate is just to kick back with her family, and that sometimes involves baking. “I have just so many memories of making cinnamon rolls with my mom on the holidays… That’s [one of the reasons] that the Bake-Off resonates with me so much. Pillsbury wants to emphasize the family memories in the kitchen, and the family memories centered around baking.” For Ree, her mom, and her kids, that’s the cinnamon rolls. And whether you make them from scratch with years of experience or with some store-bought Pillsbury dough because you’re pressed for time, both can be special. “That’s how I’ve always cooked and baked.” And it seems to have worked out great for Ree.