When the dining room is filled to capacity night after night, or catering jobs are keeping you maxed out, it’s time to seek some backup assistance.

Speed-scratch ingredients were made for the holidays. “There are many things operators can look at to help them cut corners, save on labor and still produce a premium plate, all without cutting quality,” says Neil Doherty, Sysco’s Senior Director of Culinary Development. “Many of these can work well across day parts and dishes.”

Some ingredients, such as cranberries and chestnuts, have a narrow window of availability but bring a lot of distinctive flavor and utility to the table. They also tend to spur chefs’ creativity to maximize use of these seasonal products. During the holidays, these nine timesavers and versatile seasonal ingredients can help save the day.
1. Eggnog

Eggnog, a quintessential holiday staple, is a kitchen chameleon.

• Add to cheesecake mixes
• Purée into milkshakes
• Freeze into ice cubes for cocktails or into semifreddo
• Use in place of milk in French toast batter and bread pudding
• Thicken slightly into crème anglaise for dessert plates
• Blend with powdered sugar for dessert glaze
3. Chestnuts

Another seasonal standout, chestnuts turn up the flavor in numerous menu items.

• Use to flavor veloutés (classic French sauces made of chicken, veal, or fish stock and cream, thickened with butter and flour)
• Roast and simmer in stock, then purée into cream soups
• Purée and add to pancake and muffin batters
• Incorporate into savory dishes like mashed potatoes
• Dehydrate and grind for gremolata
• Add to compound butter, whipped cream and buttercream
• Roast, chop, and mix into stuffings
• Fold into chocolate ganache for truffles
4. Gravy Mix

This timesaver eliminates steps and intensifies flavor.

• Use to enrich stuffings
• Prepare with a 50/50 mix of water and cream for poultry sauce
• Blend with additional liquid for chicken and dumplings
• Cook with Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard to create beef gravy for Swedish meatballs
6. Pie Crust

This all-purpose dough can help speed up production of several applications.

• Use for quiches, empanadas, crostadas, pot pies, or breakfast bakes
• Shape and fill to make hors d’oeuvres

7. Puff Pastry and Phyllo

Spread with sweet or savory fillings.

• Roll into palmiers or fleurons, or cut into cubes
• Use as a base for cinnamon rolls
• Wrap around spanakopita and other fillings for appetizer trays
9. Precut Vegetables

Precut root veggies and winter squash can be used in various holiday dishes.

• Pickle or candy
• Cook down into butters
• Roast until caramelized, finely chop or purée, or fold into mashed potatoes
• Roast and rough-chop for flatbreads or pot pies
• Fold into quiches