Christmas goodies and side dishes

Cooking with Cathie

Cathie CampbellDecember 13, 2012 

When I was a kid (Oh boy, here we go, another trip down Memory Lane!), some of the common holiday treats were candied citrus peels and sugared walnuts or pecans.

For my family, it was more likely to be walnuts because there were a lot of walnut trees on my grandparent's ranch. And at least one orange tree. There were lemon trees, too, but I only remember the candied orange peels.

I learned how to make the candied peels and nuts because I wanted to recreate my Nana's tradition of preparing trays of homemade goodies to give away to family. She had lots of special cookies and even popcorn balls. Maybe even fruitcake slices, if I remember correctly. I am baking my third 5-pound fruitcake as I type this. I will give some of my fruitcake treasure away, but most is staying home!

Now onto getting ready for the big Christmas Day dinner. Everyone loves a holiday feast, and sometimes all the attention isn't reserved for the main dish, such as a turkey, ham or roast. More often than not, it's the side dishes that attract a lot of ohhs and ahhs and second helpings.

I used to serve only the same things, wanting to make holiday meals strictly traditional. But being that I am almost constantly immersed in collecting, creating and testing recipes, I love to find room for new ones to add to the holiday table.

Some people like to serve crab at Christmas time, and I must admit that if I ever try that, I won't care all that much for the side dishes. I love crab that much! But alas, crab isn't on the menu this year. I am not even sure what I am going to fix, but perhaps a pork loin roast.

No matter what is going to be the star of your holiday feast, I'm sure you will serve some tasty side dishes, so I'm also including a few of those ideas if you are looking for something different. Let the parade of Christmas goodies begin!

Candied citrus peels

  • 2 grapefruits, 3 oranges or 4 lemons
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups sugar, plus more for rolling
  1. Using a paring knife, make 6 cuts along curve from top to bottom of each citrus fruit, cutting through peel but not into the fruit. Carefully remove peel, saving the fruit for another use. Slice each piece of peel into 1/4 -inch wide strips. Cut away any excess pith (the spongy white part) from each strip of peel and discard.
  2. Place strips in a large saucepan and cover with cold water (not the measured water in the recipe, but just extra water). Bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat twice.
  3. Bring the 4 cups water and sugar to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and wash down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Add strips to boiling syrup, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently until strips are translucent, about 1 hour. Remove from heat and let strips cool in syrup. At this point, the strips in syrup will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for about three weeks.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire rack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Wipe off excess syrup with paper towels, then roll strips in sugar. Arrange in a single layer on a wire rack and allow to dry for at least 30 minutes. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Holiday citrus peel

The corn syrup in this recipe is supposed to prevent sugar crystals from forming when you make the syrup. Works for me!

  • Peels from 3 oranges, 2 grapefruits or 6 lemons
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. Remove the inner pith. Cut the cleaned peel into strips.
  2. Blanch the peel in salted boiling water for 15 to 20 minutes. Empty and blanch again in fresh water for 15 minutes. Blanching serves two purposes: it tenderizes and takes away bitterness. It also changes the cellular structure so that the sugar will be accepted into the peel.
  3. Bring the sugar, corn syrup and water to a boil. Add the blanched peel. Simmer until the peel is translucent. This will take about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit overnight in the sugar syrup.
  4. The next day, reheat the sugar syrup before removing the peel. Drain the peel on a rack and let sit for a day to dry.
  5. Toss the peel in granulated sugar. It is now ready to use or it can be dipped in tempered chocolate, if desired.

Candied walnuts

I skip the roasting part of this recipe. Unless you are using what I call "green" walnuts fresh from a tree and they haven't dried yet, I don't see a need for the roasting.

  • 1 pound walnut halves
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or desired amount)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons milk (I like to use evaporated milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Spread nuts in a single layer over a baking sheet. Roast for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until the nuts start to turn brown and the smell of roasting nuts fills the kitchen.
  2. Stir together sugar, cinnamon, salt and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage of 236 degrees. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla immediately.
  3. Add walnuts to sugar syrup, and stir to coat well. Spoon nuts onto waxed paper, and immediately separate nuts with a fork. Cool, and store in airtight containers.

Sugar-coated pecans

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 pound pecan halves
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 250. Grease one baking sheet (one with sides). In a mixing bowl, whip together the egg white and water until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt and cinnamon.
  2. Add pecans to egg whites, stir to coat the nuts evenly. Remove the nuts, and toss them in the sugar mixture until coated. Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring about every 15 minutes.

Au Gratin potatoes and leeks

I hope you have better luck than I did finding some Swiss cheese that doesn't cost a small fortune. Not sure what's going on with that.

  • 8 cups sliced peeled potatoes (1/4 -inch slices)
  • 3 medium leeks (white portion only), cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 1 block (4 ounces) Gruyere or Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Crumb topping:

  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  1. Place potatoes in a Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Add leeks; return to a boil. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper until smooth; gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in Gruyere or Swiss cheese and nutmeg until cheese is melted. Pour over potato mixture. Toss bread crumbs and butter; sprinkle over the top.
  3. Cover and bake at 325 for 40 minutes. Uncover; sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Makes 12 servings.

Baked creamed onions

This is one my very favorite side dishes, but I use small, pearl onions that I boil and peel. I also leave out the allspice, or sometimes add just a very tiny pinch. Some people prefer to use nutmeg.

  • 5 medium onions, sliced and separated into rings
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 can (5-oz.) evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
  1. In a large skillet, sauté onions in butter for 5 minutes. Add water and allspice; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
  2. Combine flour and evaporated milk until smooth; gradually stir into the onion mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in sugar and salt.
  3. Transfer to a greased 1-quart baking dish; sprinkle with cheese and bread crumbs. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 5 servings.

Beets in orange sauce

  • 8 whole fresh beets (or 1 can [15-oz.] sliced beets, drained)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Dash pepper
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 medium navel orange, halved and sliced, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  1. If using fresh beets, place them in a large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool slightly. Peel and slice; place in a serving bowl and keep warm.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and pepper; stir in orange juice until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat; stir in orange slices if desired and peel. Pour over beets. Makes 8 servings.

Cheesy broccoli rice casserole

This recipe uses some convenience food.

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 cups frozen, chopped broccoli, thawed (or equivalent of fresh, steamed broccoli)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 jar (8-oz.) processed cheese sauce
  • 1 can (10 3/4-oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (5-oz.) evaporated milk
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  1. In a large skillet, sauté the onion, celery and broccoli in butter for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in the cheese sauce, soup and milk until smooth.
  2. Place rice in a greased 8-inch square baking dish. Pour cheese mixture over rice; do not stir. Bake, uncovered, at 325 for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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