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(all of the recipes are at the bottom of this post, much cleaner that way)

Ah, Christmas.  Easily my favorite holiday growing up.  As I have mentioned before, I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents, and every Christmas the family would gather at their house for an annual celebration.  By the time all was said and done, there would be my grandparents (2) their kids and spouses (9) and all of the grandkids(16), bringing the total number of people up to 27.  That is QUITE the family gathering.

First of all, we always had our big celebration on Christmas Eve.  I recently found out from my aunt Cindy that this dates back to her grandparents, and lived on with her parents.  According to family tradition, first we’d eat in a buffet style (my grandmother called it “cowboy” style, living in eastern Montana explains that, heh heh)  All of the “kids” (my aunts and uncles) and their spouses would get to sit at the big table in the dining room, while the grandkids were exiled to smaller tables set up in the kitchen and sometimes the living room.

Sidebar: It was quite the event when, as one of the older grandkids, I got to make the ascension to the big table…no more eating Christmas dinner with all those little kids, I was a BIG boy now!

Anyway, we’d eat this fantastic feast, with the grandkids getting always done first, and begging the grown-ups to hurry up…we have presents to open!!!  Once all the food was eaten and put away; the dishes were done, and everybody got settled in, then the opening of presents began.  My grandparents always had a Christmas tree that was, to my childhood memory, simply enormous.  There would be this gigantic pile of presents there…and who got to distribute this mound of treasures to their rightful owners?  Why the grandkids, of course!!  This absolutely mad rush of kids taking presents to their owners would whirlwind through the living room, and not until ALL of the presents were distributed were they able to be opened.  With wrapping paper flying in every direction, gasps of astonishment from all of the grandkids at their new toys filling the air…just great memories.

However, those are not the memories that stick with me the most as an adult.  First, I remember the family that gathered for this annual celebration.  I was extremely lucky to have this connection with my family growing up…and now know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have.  Aunts, uncles, cousins…not something everybody gets to enjoy.

Second, I remember the food…ohhhhh, the food!!  Lovingly prepared by my grandmother with the help of my aunt Cindy, my mom, and some wives of the male kids.  The preparation and service of the food really sticks with me…from the lefse made by my grandmother, aunt and mom, to the veritable feast of delicacies available to enjoy…and more importantly, my grandmother’s “service heart”.  The term “service heart” wasn’t something I heard until I was in culinary school, but the moment I heard it, I knew THAT was my grandmother, in a nutshell.  After this Christmas feast was being enjoyed by everybody, you’d still see my grandmother going around, checking to see if anybody needed anything, grabbing whatever anybody was short on.  One of her sons would almost always have to sit her down, telling her to enjoy herself, and just relax…she would, eventually, but her dedication to helping others is something that I’ve definitely picked up from her.  I’ve made it a rule that when I cook for a group that I’m eating with, I sit down to eat last…because that’s what my grandmother did.

Now, let’s get to the main event…the food!  I reached out to my aunt Cindy, and my mom to find out some of the usual items that were made, and now I want to share them with you.  First of all, we always had a main protein…it varied from year to year.  I remember a turkey some years, and eventually a beef entree…but since I had such great success with my turkey at Thanksgiving, I figured I’d use that as the centerpiece. 😉  I have a picture of my Thanksgiving turkey as the featured image, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.  In fact, it was SO good, that I didn’t finish eating it until yesterday evening.

The next item on the Christmas feast list was the Kanimi crab dip.   This was a family favorite, that usually had to be made multiple times in the days leading up to the actual Christmas Eve dinner, and is something I really find myself missing.  Over the years, this family favorite was the subject of a few changes.  First, both my cousin Clark and I voiced our displeasure with the texture of the celery and onion in the dip.  It was meant to be eaten with crackers, and the vegetable crunch would contrast strangely with the crunch of the crackers.  One year, we tried making it without the vegetables…and it was awful!  After that, we relented, much to the relief of the rest of the family.  It wasn’t until I went to culinary school, that I realized that we could negate this problem by first sweating the veggies in some butter, to take away that texture problem.  Also after doing to culinary school, I realized that adding some dill to the recipe would really brighten it up…and now my mom has commented that whenever she makes it, she adds some dill as well. 🙂

The other two items that really stand out for me were some finger foods that have become a regular part of my menu…stuffed mushrooms and bacon wrapped water chestnuts.  Whenever I eat them, I feel this warm feeling, like I’m back in my grandparent’s house, and a feast is about to be enjoyed…it really brings me back to those childhood memories.  The recipes for those items that I’ve found taste exactly like what I remember growing up, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are the same recipes…and that makes me very happy.

Finally, after talking to my aunt Cindy, she brought up a dessert that we had, that I had completely forgotten about.  I make it a point to tell customers that I really have no game in the dessert side of the kitchen…because it’s true. 🙂  That part of the meal is just not my strong point…but now I have a go-to!  I had completely forgotten about the raspberry pretzel salad that we had at Christmas…but now that I have a recipe, I guarantee I will make this for myself, every year.

I hope that you have memories like I have of Christmas…and if you don’t, it’s not too late to make them!  Christmas is a wonderful, giving time of year, so let’s make sure and enjoy it. 🙂

Recipes below:

Thanksgiving turkey recipe

 

Ingredients:

 

Large roasting pan

One large turkey, neck and giblets removed

1 head of garlic, halved on the horizontal axis

1 onion, cut into wedges

5 stalks of celery, cut into large pieces

2 T fresh Oregano leaves, minced

2 T fresh rosemary, minced

4 T fresh Sage leaves, minced

1 stick of butter, melted

Salt and fresh ground black pepper TT

 

Procedure:

 

  • Set up a rack in the lower 1/3rd of the oven, and preheat to 400F
  • Put the onion, celery and garlic into the cavity of the turkey
  • Pat turkey dry with paper towels, and stuff the herbs under the skin of the turkey, attempting to distribute as evenly as possible
  • Brush melted butter over the turkey, and season generously with salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Put turkey into a large roasting pan, and insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey breast, which should be facing up, set to go off at 160F
  • When temperature reaches 160F, remove from oven, turn off, and rest in the pan for at least 15 minutes, then remove all of the vegetables from the cavity, and begin to carve.
  • My suggestion after my Thanksgiving experience is to leave the turkey in the roasting pan. You will find this turkey very juicy, and a LOT of liquid will be available for a fantastic gravy to go with your mashed potatoes.  Make sure to save any leftovers for some delicious turkey sandwiches. 😉

Kanimi crab dip

8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 T. lemon juice
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped celery
1 c. mayonnaise
8 oz imitation crab, flaked or shredded
(Optional) 1 T fresh dill

Mix first five ingredients until smooth.  Then stir in the imitation crab (and dill If using)

Serve with Ritz crackers

Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

30 crimini mushrooms, medium sized
8 oz package cream cheese
8 oz loose sausage, preferably andouille

Procedure

  • Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
  • Separate caps and stems while cleaning the mushrooms, If cleaning with water, let them drain for a bit.
  • Start cooking the sausage in frying pan, at a medium to medium/high temperature.
  • While the sausage is cooking, put the cream cheese into a mixing bowl so it can soften and mince the stem pieces.
  • Spice the sausage to taste.
  • Just before the sausage is done, add the stem pieces and finish cooking.
  • Drain off the excess grease and add the sausage/stem mixture into the cream cheese.
  • Mix together well using a large spoon/mixer.
  • Fill the caps with the cream cheese/sausage/stem mix and set the caps into a 13×9 pan (or larger) with sides.
  • Add a small amount of water to the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover the bottom.
  • Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the tops are crusty and the mushrooms have turned dark.
  • Scoop them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and arrange them on a plate.

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

Ingredients
1 cup ketchup
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
16 ounces sliced bacon
2 (8 ounce) cans water chestnuts, drained

Procedure:
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2) In a saucepan, combine ketchup, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce; heat just to boiling. Pour sauce over bacon and water chestnuts.
3) Cut bacon slices into thirds. Cut some of the bigger water chestnuts in half. Wrap chestnuts in bacon andsecure with toothpicks; place in a 9×13 pan.
4) Bake in preheated oven until bacon is completely cooked, about 45 to 50 minutes, serve warm

Raspberry Pretzel Salad

Ingredients

6 oz package Raspberry Jell-O
2 cups boiling water

2 1/2 cups salted pretzel sticks (before crushing)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 stick (8 Tbsp) butter
1 (8oz) package cream cheese – softened to room temperature
1 (8oz) package Cool Whip – thawed in the refrigerator
3/4 cup granulated sugar
12 oz bag frozen raspberries – thawed in refrigerator

Procedure:

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Boil water, and combine with the 6 oz packet of jell-o, let cool to room temperature
  • Crush the pretzels in a bag with a rolling pin
  • Melt the stick of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the ¼ of sugar and stir well. Add crushed pretzels and mix well to combine
  • Lightly press the pretzel mix into a 13×9 dish and bake at 350F for 10 minutes, then let cool to room temperature
  • While pretzel mix is cooling, combine the cream cheese and ¾ C sugar together and stir very well to combine
  • Next, add the cool whip to the cream cheese and stir again very well to combine
  • Spread mixture over cooled pretzels and go all the way to the edges of the dish to create a seal, so no jell-o leaks into the pretzels. Refrigerate for 30 minutes
  • Place raspberries evenly on top of the cream filling and pour the jell-o over the raspberries and refrigerate until set.
  • Once ready to eat, cut well with a sharp knife and serve with a spatula