Cooks Exchange

These are few of my favorite Christmas things

Is it the holidays? Then South Mississippi restaurants that will be open on Christmas have a pot of gumbo simmering.
Is it the holidays? Then South Mississippi restaurants that will be open on Christmas have a pot of gumbo simmering. KRT

As my office/junk room is overrun with Santa’s toy shop, I’m squeezed into the corner with only one way in and one way out.

“Elbow room,” cried Daniel Boone.

I can commiserate, but Santa will be here soon to put these presents under the tree.

Christmas is a mere four days away, and we are still wrapping gifts. Shopping is done, except for buying shrimp and crab meat for gumbo and pusharatas from the Slavonian Auxiliary.

Christmas is a time for favorite traditions, food and fun. Today, I thought I would share a few of my favorites.

Pot of gumbo

A pot of gumbo is a tradition since I married into the Yeager-Bramlett clan some 31 years ago today. Growing up with my family, Christmas dinner centered around ham stuffed with cloves, cherries, brown sugar and pineapple. Gone is the ham in favor of gumbo.

I will be cooking gumbo on Christmas Eve. My father-in-law wants that tradition to continue. My daughter does, too.

Christmas Eve party food after Communion is my favorite, something I have enjoyed since I was a child and brought into the Yeager family. We never fail to celebrate Jesus.

Work interferes

However, retail careers play havoc with this tradition.

My daughter is working and cannot attend Christmas Eve service, so Lilly and I will go.

Snack supper is still on, though, and I will cook up some of my favorite foods, especially miniature jalapeno corn muffins topped with pimento cheese, baked brie with honey and pecans, chicken salad finger sandwiches and tamales.

Perhaps the tamales seem out of place, but tamales and Christmas Eve go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I take the easy way out and buy them at my favorite Long Beach Mexican restaurant. These tamales take me back to Texas.

French toast

For Christmas morning, I like to serve baked French toast as we sleepily watch Disney’s Christmas parade.

Friends Bidwell and Hope Redmond shared the recipe included here with me several years ago, and it is always a hit. This casserole is done the day before, so all that is required the next day is to put it in the oven.

Sonja Sheffield was thinking of one of her favorites when she shared her white chocolate pecan recipe.

“I have been asked several times for my white chocolate pecans recipe, so I’m sending it in again for those who have a sweet tooth,” Sheffield said.

Her recipe is a goodie.

Pimento cheese muffins

The pimento cheese muffins recipe is a combination of my shortcuts and former Food Network show host Gina Neely’s pimento cheese.

I use Martha White’s Mexican cornbread mix for the muffins. It saves time and has just the right amount of spice. The frosting makes more than the muffins, but use leftovers for sandwiches.

I hope you enjoy these favorites and may you have a blessed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

JALAPENO MINI MUFFINS WITH PIMENTO CHEESE

1 package Martha White Mexican cornbread mix (follow package directions for ingredients and baking)

Gina Neely’s Pimento Cheese Frosting:

4 strips bacon, for garnish

12 ounces extra sharp white Cheddar, grated

1/4 cup grated extra-sharp yellow Cheddar

1 (7-ounce) jar pimentos, drained and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon Neely’s BBQ Seasoning (recipe follows)

4 chopped scallions, for garnish

Neely’s BBQ Seasoning:

3/4 cup white sugar

1 1/3 cups paprika

3 3/4 tablespoons onion powder

Cook muffins according to package directions.

For frosting, mix cheeses, pimentos, peppers, mayonnaise and barbecue seasoning. Spread on top of corn muffins. Add scallions and bacon for garnish.

For seasoning, simply mix spices together and add required amount to pimento cheese.

BAKED FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE WITH MAPLE SYRUP

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)

8 large eggs

2 cups half-n-half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dash salt

Praline topping (recipe follows)

Maple syrup

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9-by-13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-n-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread praline topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes until puffed and lightly golden. Serve with maple syrup if desired. (I don’t think the syrup is needed.)

Praline topping:

2 sticks butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Mix well.

Submitted by Bidwell and Hope Redmond

White Chocolate Pecans/Toasted Pecans

3 cups pecan halves

1/3 stick butter

Salt

1 cup white chocolate (either discs from Sweet Stuff or

Ghirardelli if you can find it at Sam’s Club or a supermarket

Toast 3 cups of pecans in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes, checking after the first 10 minutes. Stir. Check again after 20 minutes. It might take a few minutes longer.

Melt 1/3 stick of real butter in the microwave in a deep bowl. Dump pecans in butter and swirl around with a spoon until they are evenly coated. Salt to taste. Use a little more salt than you would use if making only toasted pecans.

Melt 1 cup of white chocolate in the microwave. I try 40 seconds, then 20 seconds more until the chocolate is melted. Use the back of a spoon to press on them to see if they are melting.

Take a handful of salted pecans and stir them into the melted chocolate. Drop them by teaspoons onto wax paper. I put about 2 pecan halves in the piece of candy.

Can be made a couple weeks before using. Store in air tight container.

Submitted by Sonja Sheffield

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