It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

December 8, 2009

I don’t remember the first Christmas dinner I cooked, and that’s probably best, but I do remember a turkey that wasn’t done and some oyster dressing that was never spoke of again.

And, I do remember my mother, Lucille Benson’s, no-bake fruit cake. She created the recipe and made it with graham crackers, orange juice, large chunks of nuts and candied fruit. To this day it’s in our family’s “best” category, and its something I’ve never been able to replicate to my satisfaction.

But through the years, as my holiday cooking repertoire improved, a few recipes I’ve collected became popular with my family. And, from time to time, I throw in a new one for them to review.  

Probably our oldest favorite is my sweet potato pecan casserole from the ’70s. This casserole has the texture of a soufflé — it’s a light, melt-in-your-mouth dish with a dash of cinnamon and mace. I’ve found that baking it in individual ramekins makes a nice personal presentation and family members appreciate this special touch. It’s heavenly right out of the oven with a pat of real butter on top.

In 2000, I found a roasted turkey recipe in USA Weekend that has become a tasty favorite. To keep the moisture locked inside, the bird is rubbed with salt and pepper and slathered with butter.

Fresh herbs, thyme, sage and chives are sprinkled on the outside and placed inside the turkey. While roasting, it sets atop a bed of onions, carrots, celery, chopped leeks, bay leaf and peppercorns. It bakes to nice golden brown and you’ll find it’s not difficult to make.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without my mother-in-law, Hazel Cooper’s, cranberry relish. Fresh cranberries, an orange, apple and lemon are ground together, sugar is added, and it is left to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. When Christmas dinner is ready, stir chopped walnuts into the salad and serve.

Another simple salad we enjoy is the standard five-cup fruit mixture. You simply take one cup each of marshmallows, coconut, mandarin oranges, pineapple and sour cream; mix together and leave in the refrigerator overnight. Any of the ingredients can be substituted for your favorite fruit, or nuts can be added if you like.

This salad recipe plus my hot roll recipe came from my first cookbook, “Home Interior Homco Hostess Delights Cookbook.” Simple to make, we never have Christmas without these warm morsels of bread on our plates!  

Pie has always been a staple at our table at Christmas. Our favorites include a double chocolate (with real whipped cream and chocolate curls), lemon meringue, Southern pecan (with extra nuts) and a new one this year — a holiday fruit pie made with cranberries.

This cranberry pie has a sweet-tart flavor and is made with fresh and dried cranberries, golden raisins, orange juice and grated orange rind. Festive Christmas red is created by the cranberries smiling through a golden lattice top.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we have. From our household to yours, Merry Christmas!

Sweet potato pecan casserole

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 can (1 pound, 8 ounces) sweet potatoes, drained

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 mace

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1/2 cup light cream

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Whole pecans, for garnish

In a large bowl, let egg whites warm to room temperature — about one hour. Also, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

With electric mixer at high speed, beat egg whites with salt just until soft peaks form when beater is slowly raised.

In another large bowl, using the same beater, combine sweet potatoes, 1/4-cup sugar, egg yolk, cinnamon, mace and orange peel. Beat at high speed, two minutes, until mixture is smooth.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat cream to boiling. Slowly add to sweet potato mixture, beating until will combined.

With a wire whisk or rubber scraper, using an under-and-over motion, fold sweet potato mixture and chopped pecans into egg whites just until combined.

Gently turn into a one-quart, straight-sided soufflé dish or pour into individual ramekins. Bake 45 minutes or until puffy and golden brown. (Ten minutes before end of baking time, arrange whole pecans on top.)

Serve at once with butter, if desired.

Recipe source: 1973 recipe card from The McCall’s Publishing Company.

Lemon party meringue pie

1 package (four-serving size) lemon flavored pudding and pie filling

2/3 cup sugar

2 1/4 cups water

3 egg yolks

2 tablespoons lemon juice (I like fresh)

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 baked nine-inch pie shell, cooled

Combine pie filling mix, 2/3-cup sugar and 1/4 cup of the water in a saucepan. Blend in egg yolks and remaining water. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a full bubbling boil.

Remove from heat. Blend in lemon juice and butter. Cool five minutes, stirring twice. Pour into pre-baked and cooled pie shell.

Recipe Source: Jell-O recipes 1985 General Foods Corp.


1/2 cup sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup cold water

4 large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a one-quart saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch. Stir in water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute; remove from heat. Cool completely while making pie filling for pie recipe. (To cool more quickly, place in the freezer about 10 minutes.)

In a large bowl, beat egg whites and salt with electric mixer on high speed just until soft peaks begin to form. Very gradually beat in sugar mixture until stiff peaks form.

Spoon meringue onto hot pie filling. Spread over filling, carefully sealing meringue to edge of crust to prevent shrinking. Bake about 15 minutes or until meringue is light brown. Cool away from drafts.

Recipe source: “The Betty Crocker Cookbook, New Edition,” 2005.

Herb-roasted turkey

1 14-pound fresh turkey

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

18 sprigs of fresh thyme

4 medium onions, peeled and sliced

1 large leek, chopped

  (white and tender green only)

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

4 celery ribs, chopped

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon peppercorns

1 1/2 cups butter (three sticks) melted

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash turkey and reserve giblets. Carefully rinse and dry bird inside and out. Rub all surfaces with salt and pepper, including cavity. Place 12 sprigs of thyme in cavity.

Put onions, leek, carrots, celery, bay leaves, six thyme sprigs, peppercorns and giblets on bottom of heavy roasting pan. Place bird on top of vegetables. Cover opening of cavity with foil. Pour butter over all surfaces of turkey. Sprinkle on sage, thyme and chives. Cover loosely with tent of aluminum foil. Roast 2 1/2 hours, undisturbed.

Remove foil to let skin brown. Baste every 20 minutes for an hour. The bird should cook in an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from oven. Transfer to platter and cover with foil. Let rest for 20 to 60 minutes before carving.

Recipe source: 2000 Chef Sarah Stegner, in the “USA Weekend” magazine.

Five cup salad

1 cup marshmallows

1 cup coconut

1 cup mandarin oranges

1 cup pineapple segments

1 cup sour cream

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly, 24 hours ahead of time. Place in the refrigerator to marinate.

Recipe source: 1977, “Home Interior Homco Hostess Delights Cookbook.”

Holiday fruit pie

Double-crust pie pastry of your choice

1 12-ounce bag fresh

cranberries or frozen cranberries, thawed

2 to 3 teaspoons fine grated orange peel

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 to 3 teaspoons sugar

Prepare pie pastry. In a saucepan combine cranberries, orange peel, orange juice, raisins and dried cranberries; bring to a boil over medium heat; cook, uncovered, three minutes.

In bowl, combine sugar and flour; add to saucepan. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly; cook one minute more. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a floured surface, roll one dough portion in a 12-inch circle. Wrap pastry around rolling pin. Unroll into nine-inch pie plate. Pour in filling. Trim bottom pastry to 1/2-inch beyond edge.

On floured surface, roll remaining dough to a 13-inch circle; cut into 1/2-inch wide strips. Weave strips over fruit filling in lattice pattern. Press strips into bottom pastry rim. Seal and crimp edge, if desired. Brush with egg and sprinkle with one-tablespoon sugar.

Cover edge with foil. Bake 25 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 20 minutes more or until top is nicely browned and filling bubbly. Serves: 8.

Recipe source: 2009 Better Homes and Gardens.

Cranberry relish dish

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, thawed and ground

1 medium orange, seeded, but not peeled, ground

1 medium apple, cored but not peeled, ground

1 small lemon or half a large lemon, seeded but not peeled, ground

1 cup sugar or to taste

Walnuts coarsely chopped

Stir together all ingredients, except walnuts. Refrigerate, covered, overnight to allow flavors to blend. Just before serving stir in the walnuts — just to the amount to be used at the time.

Recipe source: Mother-in-law, Hazel Cooper.

Hot rolls

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup boiling water

2 packages of yeast, dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water

6 cups all-purpose flour

Put sugar, oil, salt and eggs in a bowl and mix together. Add the boiling water to the above, then add the yeast mixture; stir in flour three-cups at a time. Mixture with very moist, flour your hands or a large spoon and scoop out onto a floured surface and knead until elastic in consistency, about three to five minutes.

Roll out and cut into rolls. Place on greased cookie sheet and let rise for 45 minutes; bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Makes around 24 rolls.

Recipe adapted by Faith Bemiss from the 1977 “Home Interior Homco Hostess Delights Cookbook.”

  1. It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

  2. It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

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