TikTok Chef Shereen Pavlides' Top Tips For The Holidays - Exclusive Interview

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Shereen Pavlides has been cooking since she was a teenager, after which she graduated with honors from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and then went on to hold a career as a food stylist, recipe developer, and culinary consultant. You might know her best from TikTok, though, where Pavlides teaches her fan base her best "chefie tips," making from-scratch cooking easy and accessible, while also showing home cooks how to level up their cooking game with quick hacks to make things fancy and upscale without a lot of work or cash.

In an exclusive Mashed interview, we asked Pavlides how she applies the same cooking style to the holidays, her top tips for hosting, and what you should make if you're a beginner cook but someone's tasked you with bringing a dish to the holiday shindig regardless. Here are her recommendations, plus a behind-the-scenes look at what the holidays are like at the home of a TikTok chef.

Thanksgiving with a TikTok chef

A lot of [your content] focuses on from-scratch cooking but keeping it simple while still making things look impressive. How does that method translate to what you do for the holidays?

I pretty much cook like that all the time. For the holidays, my portions will be larger to feed my entire family. [There are] more pasta-type dishes, like lasagnas and casseroles, and [there's] indulging a little bit with lobster and rib roast, things like that. With the holidays, we tend to splurge a little bit more for the family.

What does your holiday spread usually look like?

I host Thanksgiving every year. That's my holiday because I have to have the things that I love, and we only eat them once a year. I look forward to them, and a lot of the recipes are my mom's, so it's that feel-good food that we love, that comfort food that we love, every year.

I'll brine a turkey. I'll do my mom's candied yams. We do those twice a year, for Easter and Thanksgiving, because it pairs awesomely with turkey and ham. I'll do a green bean casserole; however, I do mine from scratch, [unlike] the rest of America. Then, usually, I'll do a sage wild mushroom stuffing. I'll do a creamed corn.

Dessert ... I usually will do my from-scratch pumpkin pie and my mom's pecan pie.

I'll do my pumpkin bisque and appetizers. I keep appetizers relatively simple because I'm doing so much. I'll do a huge cheese and charcuterie board. I always do my sangria — always, always, always. I always triple it because everyone loves it, [but] it sneaks up on you. It always sneaks up on me because I have an empty belly because I'm working all day, and then once I get that one glass of sangria, I'm like, "Woo, I feel good."

I recently have partnered with the Almond Board of California, and I developed a bunch of recipes for this holiday season. I did these — and they're so good and they're so easy; people are going to love these — rosemary salted caramelized almonds. They sound incredibly fancy, they taste fancy, [and] they look fancy, but they're so easy. They took me maybe 10 minutes to make, and they're ideal to add to a cheeseboard because [they] will elevate that cheeseboard and it's like a little signature homemade touch.

The secret to staying relaxed in the kitchen

For someone who's maybe not very experienced, your average home cook, what are your top tips or hacks this holiday season?

Everything doesn't have to be hot at the last minute. That is what will send you into a tizzy, and you'll crash and burn. Make everything ahead. It's about the energy that pours into your food, and I promise, it will be delicious.

All my side dishes are done at least an hour before my company arrives for Thanksgiving. It's all in my warming drawer. I know not everyone has a warming drawer, but you can use your oven. With new ovens today, they have that warming feature, but you can drop it all the way down to 170 [degrees Fahrenheit]. All ovens will go down to 170 and that [works as] your warming drawer.

Also, after you've taken your turkey out, it will hold its heat so much longer than people realize. Just don't cut it. If you don't cut it, it will hold its heat for a good 45 minutes, even up to an hour. It's amazing. You're almost blown away because you think, "It's been sitting there for 45 minutes. It should be cold." Then you cut into it and it's still piping hot. Then you can use the oven for [the warming drawer].

So have everything done. Just have it done, because you being relaxed is what's going to make your company relaxed. That energy really does pour into the food because you're chill and relaxed and you've got things together.

Is there anything specifically that you would advise making a couple days in advance? Can people plan that far out?

I prepare a week in advance. I make a list, like I did when I worked in restaurants. You make your detailed list and you check everything off. The cranberry compote — you could make that up to a month ahead if you had a Cryovac machine because you could Cryovac it. If you don't, you could make it a week ahead and tightly cover it. Leave it in your refrigerator. Boom — that's done.

You can make everything ahead. You just have to make your list. [For example,] your pie crusts — you could line them and wrap them up and freeze them. Then you're pulling those out a day before, and then you're making your filling, which is super easy to pull together, and then bak[ing] it. They're done. They're cooling. You don't even have to refrigerate them.

You can do everything ahead. You really can. You just have to pick whatever your menu is, chisel it down, make a list, and chip away at it. Each day, you could chip a little bit here and there. You don't have to be so overwhelmed.

Feeling like a rock star in the kitchen

Do you have any top tips beyond the kitchen, for hosting?

Again, always prep ahead.

I cook from scratch, and a lot of people think it's a ton of work, and it's really not. Here's a little example. Last night, it was just my husband and [me] ... and I made a roasted chicken and I made my homemade pumpkin bisque. I make chicken stock from scratch, and I have it frozen. It's in my freezer in the quart-sized containers. I took one out and let it thaw. I literally came home and I got everything done. My prep for each was maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Then, there's simmering or roasting in the oven. I threw my pumpkin in there to roast and then I just toss it in the pot. Everything took maybe an hour.

Then, I'm eating my soup and I'm like, "Man, this is just insane." It's just that little bit of effort — to have the stock in the freezer and roasting the pumpkin. You cut it, you gut it, and you throw it in the oven. It's easy.

People think scratch [cooking] is difficult. It's really not. If you start with good-quality, fresh ingredients, there's not much you need to do. My pumpkin bisque doesn't have a lot of ingredients in it, but each ingredient counts, and when you're tasting it, it's mind-blowing.

[When] people [know they] can do that, and they scale what they're doing way back in terms of their menu and hosting, it makes them feel like a rock star in their own kitchen. It really wows their guests. I want to encourage people to cook from scratch because, [as] we say, forget about people loving it. It makes you feel good, and [when] someone feel[s] good and build[s] confidence in the kitchen, I truly believe that pours into all the other things they do in their life.

For someone who doesn't have that confidence in the kitchen yet, and now they're tasked with bringing something to Thanksgiving, is there anything you would recommend that's super newbie-friendly?

Desserts. Any dessert. You can make a pumpkin bread, and that could be a dessert, and that is super-duper easy and everyone loves it. You slice it, and you have coffee at the end of the meal.

I've learned through my TikTok followers — and I did [this] as well when I was young and in my teens — that you tend to start off with desserts. You start to dabble in the kitchen with desserts, and then you elevate from there. For sure, desserts — and they travel so eas[ily].

One of my recipes that will roll out for California Almonds is an autumn penne pasta. Everyone cooks their menus differently for the holidays, and maybe they're having more kids or huge [numbers of] family members, but if you want to bring a pasta dish, this is a great pasta dish. Again, this one will be great to travel with, and it's easy — super-duper easy. I incorporate the almonds for that great crunch, and it's super festive and beautiful. That's a good one.

Because you're fancy

Are there any other top pitfalls that home cooks fall into a lot over the holidays?

Less is more, for sure. You don't have to have 30 different dishes. You really don't. Focus on two or three that you feel good and confident with. And it's okay to have your family members bring a dish. Last year, for the first time, I was super overwhelmed because I was busy and working and my plate was loaded. I said to my mom and my brother, "You're bringing these two dishes." "You're bringing these two dishes." I've never done that; normally, I take over. But it helps. You can focus on what you want to focus on and then delegate to the other family members to bring the rest.

If someone goes for the easier stuff when they're in the kitchen, is there any way that they can start to elevate their cooking — make it feel a little fancier or more high-end?

I have this saying, and I don't even know how [it came about]. It literally popped out one day. In the beginning, when I started filming, I would finish a dish with parsley and I said, "Because you're fancy." Something so simple as an herb truly elevates a dish. It makes it gourmet. When people are cooking and they're a little frazzled, they tend to forget about that.

When you come home from the grocery store, wash the herbs first. Store them and get them prepped [so] they're already done. They're washed and cleaned. If you don't wash them from the start, you're never going to use them because you'll be overwhelmed by making the dish, and that's one more thing you skip. But it makes a difference. It's this fresh element that's beautiful. It elevates the flavor of freshness in the dish.

Then, put [your dish] on a pretty [serving dish]. I buy serving platters, and every night, I'll put whatever dish I've made onto these platters and put them on the kitchen island. I always garnish [it] with fresh herbs, and it looks beautiful. If I took those two elements away — the serving dish and the parsley — it would be flat. Something that simple can make it fancy.

Making each ingredient count

Is there anything you've done recently on TikTok that's been a favorite dish or a favorite tip?

I love all of it, but I really, really, really love my cannolis. My cannolis [are] something I worked on for a while. There's a little hiccup to making the filling just right, and I've mastered that over the years. There's a great little — I call them chefie tips — prep-ahead chefie tip to be able to do the cannolis at the holidays. You can actually roll them out, cut them, and freeze them and quickly fry them.

With the filling, I always suggest you do the filling a day ahead or even two days ahead because you have to get rid of the excess water in the ricotta. You always have to make the filling ahead.

They are so insanely good. Again, it's minimal ingredients but good-quality ingredients. That's going to make the difference — good chocolate, a good ricotta. Cooking from scratch is really, really, really simple. There are few ingredients. You just have to make each one count. They have to be good quality.

Is there anything else new or exciting coming up for you that our readers can look out for?

My cookbook. I have my second cookbook coming up, "Cooking With Shereen: Rockstar Dinners! Because You're Fancy!" and I pretty much gave everything in this book. I love to cook, but I love to cook dinners the most. That's my thing. There is everything in here for everybody. Whatever they end up charging for this book will be so insanely cheap because you are getting a ton of my content. ... You don't have to think about dinner again. Just open the book and pick. That comes out in May 2023.

Check out Shereen Pavlides' new cookbook, "Cooking With Shereen: Rockstar Dinners!" and follow Pavlides on TikTok at @cookingwithshereen. You can also watch her website, www.shereenpavlides.com, for new recipes created in collaboration with the Almond Board of California.