Try these family friendly foods this Christmas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It wasn’t a hard decision to combine my column and the food article for this week. It’s impossible to talk about Christmas without talking about food and family, my two favorite subjects.

For most people, the holidays are a time of traditions sometimes those traditions have to be altered a little because of circumstances beyond our control — a loved one passes away, children move, grandchildren need to open presents at home or someone has to work.

In the Hall family we have dealt with all of those, and this year is no exception. My mother-in-law, Joyce Hall, passed away in August. Added to the loss of my husband several years ago, our already small family has gotten smaller.

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When I think of Joyce and the years she has been a part of my life, it is hard not think of Christmas Eve. Out of respect of Santa coming on Christmas morning and often David’s work schedule, we would always gather at her house on Christmas Eve to open family presents.

In the early years of my marriage, she and Bobby would drive to Jackson to see us for Christmas as either David or I was always working or on call. Some things you could always count on Joyce to have on Christmas Eve: her Chex mix, a garlic cheese roll and peanut clusters. The Chex mix was extra special because Bobby always picked the pecans up out at the hunting camp and shelled them himself. The other two recipes are easy to make and I hope you enjoy them as much as we have over the years.

Peanut clusters

1 – 12 ounce package semisweet chocolate chips

6 squares of almond bark

1 small can Spanish peanuts

Melt the chocolate chips and almond bark in the microwave for 3 minutes, stirring halfway through. Then mix in the nuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls on wax paper.

Garlic cheese roll

1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

1 – 8 ounce cream cheese, room temperature

The juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

2 cloves of garlic, chopped very fine

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. It is easiest to do with your hands. Cover two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper with paprika. Divide the cheese mixture in half and place have on each piece of paper. Roll into a log shape in the paprika. Keep these in the refrigerator for about two weeks and they also freeze well.

This next recipe is one of the most versatile recipes I have ever had. Joyce gave it to me many years ago and it is always on my table at Christmas time.

Broccoli casserole

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 stick butter

3 packages of frozen chopped broccoli

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 roll of Kraft garlic cheese, cubed

1 can of mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds

1/2 cup bread crumbs

Sauté the onions in the butter until soft, not browned. Add the broccoli and cook until tender. Add the soup, cheese, mushrooms and 1/3 cup of the almonds. When the cheese has melted, pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining almonds and bread crumbs. Bake on 300 degrees until bubbly.

If you want a quick one-dish meal take this recipe and add cooked rice and cooked chicken to it before baking. It makes a great casserole. Also, I have added a half of a block of Velveeta Cheese to this and served in a chafing dish as a hot dip with Fritos.

This next recipe is my favorite sweet potato casserole in the world. It came from the mother of my best friend in high-school. Ms. Becky would make it for Thanksgiving and Christmas every year and gave me the recipe when I got married.

Sweet potato casserole

3 cups of mashed cooked sweet potatoes (I use the canned ones)

1 cup of sugar

1/2 stick of butter, melted

2 beaten eggs

1 can of coconut (optional)

2/3 cup Carnation evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix well and pour into a buttered dish and top with the topping below.

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup flour

1/2 stick butter melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all of this together and crumble over the sweet potato casserole. Bake on 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

And then there are the rolls on Christmas Day. Warm from the oven and add a little pat of butter; these are just so good. Most of us have gone to frozen rolls for saving time. But I promise if you can just take a minute on Christmas Eve to mix this dough you will be a big hit at lunch on Christmas.

Refrigerator rolls

4 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast

2 cups of warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup shortening

6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Take a large metal or glass bowl and rinse with hot tap water. Place your warm water and yeast in it and let it proof. You will know it is working when you see little bubbles coming up from it.

In a separate bowl, mix together your sugar, salt, shortening, and egg with an electric mixer at low speed. Add mixture to yeast, and stir in flour. The last 3 cups of flour will have to be mixed in by hand. Cover the dough with a damp cloth, and place in the refrigerator. Punch down occasionally as dough rises, I do this at least twice no more than three times. You can leave the dough in refrigerator overnight. About two hours before baking, shape the dough into rolls. Place on a greased pan or in muffin tins and let rise for 2 hours. Bake at 400 degrees for eight to 10 minutes and enjoy!

Christina Hall writes a weekly column for The Democrat. She can be reached at