Choose your own Christmas adventure: Holiday sides for you and yours
We don’t have much of a recovery period between Thanksgiving and the whirlwind Christmas season. The holidays are similar in that they’re both centered around food and family, but we’ve always felt Thanksgiving is the purest holiday because it’s about food and togetherness, and you can’t misconstrue that. Christmas is a holiday centered around kindness and giving, which can make it prone to over-exploitation.
We’re all acquainted with many families whose food traditions are pretty much the same for Thanksgiving and Christmas, except maybe they swap out turkey for ham. A lot of folks in our community celebrate on Christmas Eve and have a meal, go to a special service, and exchange gifts around midnight. Come morning, they’re usually pretty exhausted, and in many houses, Christmas day is always a lazy day. We watch Christmas specials with my kids, and avoid changing out of our pajama bottoms for as long as possible. Sometimes, we fill the house with the aromas of bacon, butter and pancakes, making an elaborate bone-warming breakfast for the family, and having it late. That way, you can have all of those traditional holiday side dishes and your ham at dinner, allowing you to laze around and bask in the glory of family time for most of the day. You may have certain traditions you hold close to your heart, but perhaps you’ll be inspired to also try a new tradition this year. Whatever you do, make sure you savor this all too fleeting season.
My Christmas Morning Menu:
- French Toast
- Liver Pudding
Country Sausage Strata
- 1 pound bulk country sausage
- 2 ½ cups chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 4 tsp salt (or to taste)
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped garlic
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups half & half cream
- 1 tbsp dried parsley
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- 4-6 slices white bread with crust cut off
- 1 cup grated white cheddar cheese
Crumble sausage in a heavy bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until cooked halfway. Add onions and celery and continue cooking and stirring until there is no pink left in meat.
Add salt, cayenne pepper and garlic; combine well and then remove from heat. Meanwhile whisk eggs well in a large bowl; add half & half cream and combine thoroughly. Add parsley and sage; fold together with spatula until well combined.
Using pan spray, grease a 9” X 13” dish. Line bottom of dish with bread. Top with sausage mixture. Pour egg mixture over all and top with cheese. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The following day, bake in 350 degree over for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serves 8-10.
Bourbon Apple Baked French Toast
- 1 pound softened cream cheese
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 each fresh eggs
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 8 slices ciabatta bread
- 1 cup Bourbon Stewed Apples (see recipe)
Beat softened cream cheese in mixer with paddle attachment until smooth. Add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla; mix well. Add eggs one at a time, while mixing. Scrape down sides of bowl and mix again. Slowly incorporate milk while mixing. Place two slices of bread in each of 10 casserole dishes, flat sides to the center. Top bread with 3 ounces of custard mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and top each portion with ¼ cup of bourbon stewed apples. Serves: 4.
Bourbon Stewed Apples
- ¼ pound Bourbon Butter (see recipe)
- 1 cup Apple Pie Filling (see recipe)
Heat apple pie filling in a sauté pan. Add butter in chunks. Stir until butter melts. Makes 1 cup.
Apple Pie Filling
- 2 ½ pound apples – peeled, cored and sliced
- ¼ cup apple cider
- 1 ½ tsp corn starch
- 1/8 pound butter
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 1 oz granulated sugar
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
Dissolve corn starch in apple cider. Melt butter in skillet. Add apples and sauté until coated in butter. Add sugars and cinnamon and cook until syrup is thick. Add corn starch – cider mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. Makes 1 cup.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, ¼ lb)
- 3 tbsp bourbon, Jim Beam
Allow butter to come to room temperature, and then combine with remaining ingredients in a mixer. Using a rubber spatula, remove mixture to a sheet of wax paper and roll into a log. Place in freezer until set. Slice off a coin as needed. Makes ¼ pound.
From our family to yours: Christmas reflections from the folks behind the blog:
Lee Healy, culinary attaché: “My family gets together on Christmas Eve for a traditional meal, but Christmas day is a different story. We get up and have coffee, open presents and then have breakfast at 10am. We always had a large open house for family and friends on Christmas afternoon with BBQ. Breakfast was country ham (in a black skillet, with red eye gravy—made with cold coffee poured into hot pan of drippings), grits, scrambled eggs, cooked apples (sliced Granny Smiths with a little butter, cinnamon and sugar – cooked until they’re caramelized), biscuits (out of a can because mom did not bake), served with butter and molasses.”
Hayley Teater, food blog sidekick : On Christmas eve my family and I stay up all night making my great grandmother’s yeasted Hungarian coffee cakes. The recipes are a bit painstaking but there’s lots of cocktails and laughter involved, and it’s just become this fun tradition. There’s nothing like waking up Christmas morning and devouring them fresh out of the oven, along with some coffee, while we listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.
Brussels Sprout Choucroute
- 2 tbsp bacon drippings
- 2 tbsp duck fat
- ½ pound yellow onions, julienned
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half
- 1 ½ cups chicken stock
- 2 tbsp Gulden’s mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- ½ pound small new potatoes, cooked and cooled
- ¼ pound bacon, rendered to yield above drippings and rough chopped
Melt fats in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and sweat until golden. Increase heat and add Brussels sprouts and sauté until edges are browned. Add stock, mustard, salt, pepper and thyme. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the sprouts are tender. Add potatoes and cook until hot. Turn off heat and stir in bacon. Serves 4.
Recipe: Creamy Grits
- 1 ½ quarts Heavy hipping Cream
- 3 quarts Water
- ¾ pound Butter
- 1 tbsp Salt (or to taste)
- ½ tbsp Cracked Black Pepper (or to taste)
- 4 ½ cups Grits, Yellow (Old Mill of Guilford)
- 1 ½ cups Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
Add cream, water, butter, salt and pepper to sauce pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and stir in the grits. Stir with wire whisk continuously to keep grits from clumping up. Once all the grits are blended, continue to stir for 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat and cook for about 15- 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Makes: 1 Gallon.
Cranberry Orange Sauce
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup Apple Cider vinegar
- 3 cups dried cranberries
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 fl oz ginger puree
- ½ cup orange juice
Add sugar, apple cider vinegar and cranberries to a sauce pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Makes 3 cups.
Beans & Greens
- 2 pounds kale
- ½ pound dried black eyed peas
- 5 tbsp canola oil
- 3 tbsp chopped garlic
- 1 ¼ tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 ½ tbsp rice wine vinegar
- salt & pepper to taste
Soak peas overnight and then drain. Cook peas in salted water until tender, turn off heat and allow to sit until needed. De-stem, chop and wash kale. Heat oil in large sauce pot over medium heat. Sweat garlic and pepper flakes until aromatic. Turn heat up to medium high and quickly add kale. Stir rapidly to wilt down the kale. When kale has reduced in volume to 1/3 its size, add drained beans and vinegar. Cover and simmer until kale is tender. Adjust seasoning to taste. Makes 1 ½ quarts.
Tips for Cooking Ham:
- If you’re roasting a city ham or heating up a country ham, it’s important to remember that salt is an essential ingredient in the ham process. You don’t generally need to season a ham, but it behooves you to be aware of its moisture content.
- Let your ham sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking, and be careful not to cook it too high or for too long.
- A lot of times, you’ll encounter hams with a thick sweet glaze, which helps to balance the salt. If you choose to glaze your ham, make sure you don’t glaze the ham until the last hour of cooking, so the glaze doesn’t burn. While some like a good glaze, if you spend good money on a country ham, you might want to opt for the less is more route and leave it unadorned. When all else fails, serve a glaze or sauce on the side so everybody’s happy.
- If you buy a bone-in ham, be sure to save the bone for stocks and soups.
Other Tips for Easy Christmas Meals:
- If you’re planning on cooking a big Christmas dinner, make a strata, and/or a french toast casserole the night before, refrigerate and then bake them in the morning while your kids are opening their presents so you don’t have to spend the whole day cooking.
- If you’re doing a big dinner, a lot of your sides can be prepared at least a day or two in advance. Knock out whatever you can before the day of, so you won’t have as much to do and you can enjoy more time with your family.
What are your favorite Christmas traditions?