Need some new holiday recipes? Ideas that inspire or might develop your own “rocking chair memories” for the holidays?
For 25 years, Dr. Chuck and I have been cooking some very easy but delicious recipes for our holiday feasts. In fact they are so classic, easy and wonderful, that we cook them for both Thanksgiving and Christmas!
We learned most of them from grandmothers, master chefs, and our “home away from home” friends in Kentucky (we seemed to have a knack for getting chummy with folks who eat and cook well!), which we’ve since tweaked to our own tastes.
The holiday recipes we’ll share today are so simple that our kids have been able to help prepare them since they were just little tykes, and by the time they were all teenagers, each of our kids had one dish they could fly solo on when it came to preparation of the holiday meal. We turn on the stereo, blast dance music and make the cooking together for hours like a celebration.
The photo below shows (from bottom to top and left to right) the following holiday recipes fully prepared that we’ll explain in full today. Those dishes are:
- Sweet potatoes with a pecan maple syrup sauce,
- Dr. Lynda’s savory citrus/apple/cranberry sauce,
- Gramma Jan’s mashed potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese,
- Paula Deen and Aunt Katie’s Corn Pudding,
- Pat Tzmoku’s green beans,
- And Mary Johnson’s dressing balls.
- Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey
If you don’t have time-tested family recipes of your own, try these.
You can trust Dr. Chuck and I with food: We are the definition of “good eaters”, and many of the good cooks who taught us these recipes learned them from their grandmothers!
So here’s the first secret:
We start all this cooking Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, drinking a little wine while grooving to our favorite family tunes, turned up nice and loud in the kitchen. Have fun with this!
OH! One more thing to note!
We are BIG eaters and love to have enough leftovers for 3 days, so these recipes make a lot of food. You’ll want to have plenty of leftovers to use for my “Holiday Leftover Gourmet Fritters”, so go big on these recipes. (I’ll publish that recipe in a few days too, so circle back! It’s a doozie!)
Sweet Potatoes in Praline Sauce
Most people will love you for splurging on this recipe! The sauce hails from New Orleans, and I give it a Vermont twist by using real maple syrup in place of the corn syrup in the original recipe.
This is a perfect companion to the rest of the items on this list, or to any traditional Thanksgiving meal, because it finishes the complex plateful of savory sides with something sweet, buttery and crunchy. With the measurements below, our sweet potatoes in praline sauce recipe serves 12.
- 6 large sweet potatoes – peeled, cut into chunks a little smaller than the size of a tennis ball
- ½ tsp salt
For the praline sauce:
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup water
- 1 ½ cup chopped pecans
- 3 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla (or to taste)
- Boil the potatoes in salted water until just before they’re tender and ready to eat – about 15 minutes – but before a fork goes in too easily. Drain and set aside.
- Prepare the sauce by melting the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. In a short time, the sugar will begin to turn to a light golden brown. Be sure to stir to prevent burning.
- When a light brown syrup is formed, immediately add the maple syrup followed by the water and mix thoroughly.
- Allow to cool for just a moment, then stir in the pecans, butter, salt, and vanilla. If you wind up with a small sugar lump or two, don’t worry about it; just remove those lumps.
- Place the potatoes in a greased baking dish and pour the praline sauce over them evenly.
- Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
The praline sauce is very rich. I have always been tempted to try this recipe and serve it as a dessert. I can imagine putting a big scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Butter Pecan ice cream in a bowl with a very hot sweet potato chunk or two,.. then the sauce it all with the pralines,… ooooh!… let me know if someone tries that!
The original idea for this recipe comes from one of my favorite cook books, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith.
Sweet & Savory Cranberry Sauce
This recipe usually makes a huge batch that can stay in the fridge for a couple weeks. Eat it as a side dish for other meals. (Pork chops?… sauce a traditional BLT with it?.. oddly enough – how about a polish sausage and sauerkraut with this sauce on the side?) I’ve also frozen half before and used that other portion for Christmas dinner weeks later!
Of course you’ll need to make this recipe in quantity, so you’ll have enough for “Fritter Night…” If you don’t know what that is, you are really missing something. I’ll give you the Thanksgiving Fritters recipe in another article this week!
- 4 bags of cranberries (organic if possible)
- 3 green apples
- 1 ½ cup orange juice with the pulp
- 2 tbsp “Major Grey’s Chutney” (We love this twist…it’s very savory!)
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup pure maple syrup
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¾ tsp salt
- Wash and stem 4 bags of organic cranberries. Put them in a stock pot with a 1 ½ cup of pulpy orange juice and begin to boil.
- Add 3 green apples: cored, washed and cut into small ½ inch cubes, and be sure you leave the skin on as it adds the pectin needed to make the whole thing get a jelly consistency at the end.
- Add ½ cup sugar, ½ cup maple syrup, 2 tsp cinnamon, ¾ tsp salt, 2 tbsp “Major Grey’s Chutney.”
- Quickly give it a taste to see if it’s sweet enough! Add much more sugar if it’s too tart! You have to taste this one a lot.
- The whole thing will continue to boil down to mush.
- Watch carefully, and stop cooking when about 80% of the berries are unrecognizable (but you definitely want some of the berries to be whole still).
- Put it in serving bowl and chill.
Paula Deen’s Southern Corn Pudding
This one is AMAZING… My brother’s wife – we call her Aunt Katie the Joyful One – makes this every year and we fight over it. She took the initial recipe from Paula Deen, so we will give her the credit,.. but Katie’s adjustments really make the dish.
And please note: the following measurements are for one regular sized casserole, but I would triple this recipe when I make it!.. I’d like it to fill out two 9 X 13 baking dishes. I always double or triple this recipe so we have a lot of leftovers! (you’ll need this for the fritter night too!)
- 15¼ oz can whole kernel corn, drained x1
- 14¾ oz can cream-style corn x1
- 8 oz package corn muffin mix (recommended: Jiffy) x1
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ (or 1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 to 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, and melted butter.
- Pour into a greased 9×13-inch casserole dish.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven, top with cheddar cheese, and return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.
- Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.
For 20 years I loved a recipe for corn pudding from the cookbook The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American by Jeff Smith. Get your copy here, or if you have a copy on hand check it out on page 399.
Pat Tzmokus’ Green Beans
Pat Tzmokus was the best old school & old world cook I’ve ever known. She and her husband were Greek, French and then later in life, Canadian. They lived off the land on their small Vermont farm just as they had lived in their youth. They raised their own ducks, chickens, sheep, and milked 30 goats until they were well into their 80’s. Their house was full of dogs, cats, firewood, and books in 5 languages. Strange dried meats hung in the corners of some rooms, and the fridge was full of various homemade cheeses and pickled animal products. The kitchen table was never without a bottle of strong red wine.
It’s fitting that I will give you the simplest recipe she taught me. Because their life really was brilliantly simple. (Over time I’ll share more of her cooking genius.)
- 2 lbs. of green beans (I like the thinner beans and I don’t even cut them up)
- 1 large box of organic beef broth
- ½ of a large yellow onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- A huge skillet or pan with a lot of surface area
- Cut the onion into tiny pieces and saute it until caramelized, soft, and brown, then set it aside.
- Put the entire contents of a large box of organic beef broth in that same skillet and turn the heat on high.
- Let the mixture boil down to half its original amount.
- While the broth is boiling off, wash and stem the green beans (don’t cut them unless you could only find those whopper green beans).
- When the broth is reduced by half, add the green beans, keeping the heat up enough to have the broth at a rolling boil. Let them sit on the stove top and boil/sauté in the broth for about 20 minutes to a half hour (be sure to toss them frequently to make sure all the beans spend some time in the boiling broth).
- The broth will continue to reduce around the beans and it will get to an almost caramel consistently (I usually need no salt; the reduced broth was salty enough, but taste at this point and salt if necessary.)
- Just before that add the caramelized onions and toss a few more times.
- You’ll know you are finished when the beans are glazed in this beautiful, very thick, brown gravy-like sauce.
- Serve immediately.
Now, if you want to take this one more step…just over the top… here’s my twist on Pat’s green beans:
- Have the oven pre-heated to about 400 degrees.
- After the beans are done on the stove-top and covered in a dark, dark, thick glaze, you can spread them out evenly on a couple olive-oiled cookie sheets.
- Put them in the very hot oven for about 10 minutes to get them a tiny bit crispy.
- Then take them out and put them on a beautiful wide open serving dish.
- Lastly, drizzle them with a syrupy reduction of balsamic vinegar (we make that ourselves by boiling down a bottle of balsamic vinegar to a syrupy consistency – like maple syrup thick – and then keep the bottle handy for drizzling over all kinds of good eats!)
Mary Johnson’s Dressing Balls
This is an amazing twist on making the Thanksgiving dressing: it addresses the age old problem of everyone wanting some of the crusty part of the dressing. In our version everyone gets the crunchy part with the tender savory inside!
Mary Johnson and her family were great friends to Dr. Chuck and I during our Kentucky years. (You may know that Dr. Chuck was captain of the Kentucky Basketball team in 1981 and 1982.) She was one of the many amazing Southern cooks (Paula Deen before she was cool) that sharpened my food instincts, and I think they added a whole new region’s range to my culinary interest. The following recipe is taken from some principles that she taught me, upon which I’ve added my own twists (but I can’t remember which ones are Mary’s and which are mine anymore!).
- 3 or 4 loaves of various kinds of bread (seeded bread, cornbread, English Muffin, wheat), cubed and toasted
- 2 sleeves of Ritz Crackers (really!.. I think that comes from Mary.)
- 2 cups Kellogs Corn Flakes (same with this ingredient!)
- 5 hard boiled eggs
- 1 package organic celery
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 pound loose Italian sausage
- 2 to 4 tbsp poultry seasoning
- 20 leaves of fresh sage if you have it. I like to stack the leaves after washing, and then roll them up tight, and then slice through the roll in the thinnest strips I can muster.
- 2 to 4 large cartons of organic low sodium chicken broth
- Optional: one pound of cooked ground sausage.
- Cut the bread into cubes.
My favorite selection of bread types to use are as follows:
- 1 loaf of Portuguese sweet bread (Challah)
- ½ loaf of English muffin bread
- 1 pan corn bread
- 1 loaf of earthy, heavily seeded bread
- Toast in piles on cookie sheets in the oven at 375 degree, stirring/shifting every 5 minutes or so (don’t burn the bread!).
- Put it in the biggest bowl ever made (I happen to have one! Use the biggest you can).
- Cook and 1 pound Italian sausage (crumble it and then strain and toss the grease) and add it to the bread cubes.
- Then sauté (boil) the following in a very large skillet: ½ stick of butter, 2 large onions chopped medium, and 1 entire large bag of celery (including leaves) chopped. Saute these things until some are crunchy and some are browned and caramelized
- Chop the 5 hard boiled eggs into tiny ¼-inch bits and toss into the bowl.
- Add to the bowl:
- 2 cups of corn flakes
- 2 sleeves of very crushed Ritz crackers
- Mix all this thoroughly – very thoroughly! – in the biggest bowl possible (did I mention that this bowl needs to be big? 😉 ).
- Sprinkle over all of this at least ½ of a .65 oz container of poultry seasoning.
- Chop very, very fine and add about 20 leaves of fresh sage (stemless) and 2 tbsp dry thyme.
- Now for the best part: Start adding chicken broth and mixing constantly with your hands, until it will all come together in a ball about the size of a tennis ball and sticks together when you let the ball sit on the flat palm of your hand. When it’s this moist, taste for salt, pepper, and perhaps you might need more poultry seasoning. Add more of the poultry seasoning to taste and keep adding broth and poultry seasoning, mixing the whole batch with your hands and tasting… until it’s JUST RIGHT with regard to seasoning and consistency.
- Form tennis-ball-sized balls and put them into a 9×11-inch pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (don’t pack them in but they can all be touching!).
- Let them sit for 3 to 4 hours so the flavors develop.
- Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes until crunchy on the exposed parts and steamy hot inside.
Here’s the most important tip: make enough so you can have plenty for leftovers and then save some to make post-Thanksgiving Fritters… coming up in an article soon!
Gramma Jan’s Mashed Potatoes
We all know we should cut back on the carbs, lower the fat (and otherwise take all the pleasure out of eating) in our daily diets, but once or thrice a year in our house we splurge and make some mashed potatoes that are almost worth a trip to the doctor’s for cholesterol medication. The recipe comes from my mother, who would not admit to being a fantastic cook, but who knew how to make a few holiday recipes sing! Here’s her mashed potato recipe for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter feasts…
This one’s easy:
- 10 lbs. of Yukon Gold organic potatoes (yukon gold is best for mashing, organic is best if you care about the chemical load that is in most potato agriculture)
- 1 over filled cup Sour Cream
- 1 stick of butter (chopped while cold into slices)
- 1 package of cream cheese
- 1 cup whole milk (or half and half if you’ve completely gone AWOL on counting calories)
- salt and pepper to taste
- First, peel the potatoes and cut into chunks a bit bigger than a golf ball and boil them in salted water until fork tender. (…about 15 – 20 minutes,.. but keep an eye on them. Don’t boil them until they are falling apart.)
- Drain the potato chunks thoroughly and return them to the large pot you boiled them in. Then add the butter, cream cheese, sour cream.
- Mash until fully mixed and add some milk or cream to make them the consistency you like. Taste before adding salt and pepper.
Notes: Remember that you will want plenty of leftover potatoes for the fritters I am going to tell you about later.
Alton Brown’s Brined Turkey
Last but not least, there is the bird! It seems we tried every method under the sun for 15 years before arriving at this recipe. It’s from my favorite science guy/chef, the Food Channel’s Alton Brown.
This recipe is made with 1 (14 -16 lb) whole turkey, frozen.
For the Brine
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1 gallon vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
- 1 gallon water, heavily iced
For the Aromatics
- 1 red apple, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- 4 sprigs rosemary
- 6 leaves sage
- canola oil
- 2 to 3 days before roasting:.
- Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.
- Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
- The night before you’d like to eat:
- Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
- Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.
- Place the bird on rack of roasting pan and pat dry with paper towels.
- Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey’s cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.
- Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.
So there you have it! The entire Thanksgiving feast in recipes that teenagers can make!
Hope you enjoy our version of this important North American feast. (The Canadians hold their own Thanksgiving in October.) For all the EWC readers from around the globe, here’s what a “work of art” plate looks like:
Hungry yet? We are very good eaters and cooks in our family, so we won’t steer you wrong!
Remember to “train those young’uns early!”
To get kids interested, look for cooking tools and particular tasks that might make cooking more of a wonder for kids! Making the preparations fun is also the job of a great cook who wants help. We make the dressing balls with a VERY big bowl that we save for these special occasions…
Sometimes, if you are the chief cook and bottle washer, you have to be just as creative with the atmosphere in the kitchen as you do with your food instincts.
Have a lovely week! Cook together (often), and stay open, curious and hopeful.
~ Dr. Lynda
Now, what do we do after the meal?
Or just scroll down to the bottom of this page where you’ll find a few more incredible articles like this one!