Iron Chef Cat Cora Shares Her Top Holiday Cooking Tips - Exclusive

If there's anyone who can stand up to the pressure in the kitchen, it's Cat Cora. She's the first female Iron Chef and first woman admitted to the Culinary Hall of Fame, and she's built a renowned culinary career in an industry once thoroughly dominated by men. You've seen her on TV, and there's a good chance you've eaten in one of her restaurants. She's also a mom, putting food on the table every day for hungry teenage boys.

It's safe to say that when it comes to the pressure of holiday cooking, Cora's got things under control. The chef and mom spoke exclusively with Mashed and shared some of her holiday traditions, which include a whole lot of food and family. She also revealed her top tips for getting everything on the table as stress-free as possible, so you can get it all done without losing your holiday spirit along the way.

There no such thing as over-planning, according to Cat Cora

You might be surprised to hear it, but mastering your holiday meal like an Iron Chef doesn't really involve any magic tricks or superhuman cooking. It really just comes down to some planning and preparation, according to Cat Cora. "The simplest tip that I can give is plan ahead, plan your menu ahead, shop ahead," she told Mashed, adding that the easiest way to get started is by writing it out. "Literally, the biggest thing is just making lots of lists ... I still make lists all the time, I'm going to the grocery store or planning a holiday meal."

After you've started planning ahead, Cora says to start making as much ahead of time as you can. "I try to prep ahead if I can." And even if the whole meal or a whole dish can be completed early, you can at least prep some of your ingredients to help make things not only more efficient, but enjoyable, on the day of. "Anything that I can chop or cut or dice or slice or anything that I can make ahead of time, I make ahead of time," says Cora, "so that, when the day comes, or the evening or the meal, that I actually get to enjoy it and I'm not just in the kitchen cooking everything from the very beginning."

Cat Cora says use labels to stay organized

The holidays are for going all out, especially when it comes to the food. That usually means an extravagant meal featuring lots of side dishes, sometimes a salad, hopefully some bread, and many desserts, of course. That's a lot of plates to juggle, not to mention try to get on the table hot and ready all at the same time. Luckily, Cat Cora has a little tip to help make the mad dash a little easier. Cora says to "pull all your plates out ahead of time [and] put little sticky notes in them...this is for the turkey or the ham or the leg of lamb or whatever, this is for the stuffing, this is for the mashed potatoes, whatever you're making, and just label them...that's a real quick way to just keep it all together and organized." Cora says she still uses this trick herself, saying it's "super helpful, especially when you're trying to plate everything at the same time."

Once you've got your dishes and platters labeled, Cora says her next step for staying ahead is to pre-set her holiday table. "If you can do it in phases, it's always more enjoyable." And finally, Cora says you will never regret it if you "clean as you go as much as you can."