Whether hosting a house full of out-of-town family and friends or simply creating meals and décor for your own home throughout the season, the impetus for warmth, comfort and reflections of the season increases as the weather plummets.
If you’re needing inspiration for your fall, winter and holiday meals, the Scene staff shares some favorite holiday dishes that can go from Thanksgiving to Christmas and even weeknight meals in between. And, to make the table look as good as the food tastes, we called in two Abilenians with an eye for décor and design to show off ideas for seasonal tablescapes.
Feast your eyes and your taste buds on this holiday collection.
PORK TENDERLOIN & CRANBERRY SAUCE
3.5-pound pork tenderloin, unseasoned
fresh garlic olive oil
Cavender’s Greek Seasoning
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Cut 1/2” slits all over the tenderloin – about a dozen. Put a peeled clove of garlic in each slit.
Pour extra virgin olive oil all over the tenderloin. Season generously with Cavender’s Greek Seasoning.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the meat internal temp is 145 degrees. After cooking, let rest for five minutes.
1 bag of fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup of water
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of orange juice
Boil water and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium, and add cranberries. Stir until cranberries burst and sauce thickens. Add orange juice, and stir.
Cook until desired thickness and the amount of whole cranberries you prefer in the sauce.
“This is our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. For the extra ‘comfort food’ qualities, we serve with twice-baked potatoes. Super simple, always good.” – Bob Nutt, Zachry Associates vice president and Abilene Scene special consultant
ROASTED GARLIC STUFFED PASTA SHELLS
15 pasta shells
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Asiago cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped, plus extra for garnish
15 garlic cloves
pasta sauce (recipe below)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Separate and peel all your garlic cloves. Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt over cloves, and place them in a foil pouch. Make sure your pouch is sealed well. Bake 30-40 minutes, until the garlic is tender and golden. Check periodically to make sure it’s not getting too dark. Remove from the oven and set aside.
In a large pot, boil pasta shells for about nine minutes or until al dente. Drain, and let them cool.
While the pasta is boiling, mix ricotta, grated Asiago cheese, basil, and a pinch of salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as you go.
Pour a little of your marinara sauce into the bottom of a 9” by 13” baking dish – just enough to coat the bottom. Take each shell and fill it with about one tablespoon of your cheese filling, then place one clove of roasted garlic in and top with a little more filling until the garlic is hidden and the shell is well-filled. Place the shell in the pan, and repeat.
Top each shell with a spoonful of sauce, then sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top.
Cover your pan with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove and top with a sprinkling of fresh chopped basil.
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz. can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
14 leaves fresh basil, chopped (adjust to taste)
Add carrots, onion and butter to your skillet, and sauté until they’re tender. (Don’t rush this process or your sauce won’t end up nearly as smooth.)
Add your crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, and stir everything together well. Tear basil into small pieces, and add to the mixture.
Use an immersion blender to puree everything together. If you don’t have an immersion blender, (carefully!) pour the mixture into a blender or food processor to puree.
Chef’s note: I roast two full bulbs of garlic when we’re entertaining because roasted garlic is great spread on bread, mixed in with green beans, or on its own, so I like having plenty on hand.
“Italian food has a special place in our family. Every Christmas we forego turkey and ham, and instead we make homemade pasta. It’s a tradition we love, and I hope one day the kids will cherish those memories of making pasta together, and of the sauce simmering on the stove all day.” – Christi Stark, Abilene Scene art director
ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH ROSEMARY
sweet potatoes, sliced to ¼ inch thickness
olive oil for drizzling
crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons butter (optional)
3 tablespoons honey (optional)
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Drizzle a large cookie sheet (with sides) with olive oil and place the sliced sweet potatoes over the oil in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes (depending on desired level of crispness).
Flip each slice over and top with fresh rosemary. Roast on this side for another 20-30 minutes.
Sprinkle with crushed red pepper.
Optional: Melt honey and butter together and drizzel over the hot sweet potatoes.
“This recipe has become a bi-weekly dish for my family. I do not prefer the traditional sweet potato mash with marshmallows – desserts should be desserts, and side dishes should not try to play a double role. However, I love that the salt, pepper and crushed red pepper make this dish more savory to complement the sweet. The rosemary takes all the flavors to a new level! We will have these sweet potatoes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas… and several times between now and then.“ – Lauren Stafford, Abilene Scene account executive (Adapted from a recipe at Buzzfeed.com.)
BETTY CROCKER YEAST ROLLS
1 package active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 cup unseasoned lukewarm mashed potatoes
½ cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening
1 ½ teaspoon salt
6-7 cups of all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl. Stir in potatoes, sugar, shortening, eggs, salt and 3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth.
Mix in enough remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover bowl tightly and refrigerate at least 8 hours but no longer than 5 days.
Punch down dough; divide dough into equal parts. Shape into dinner rolls. For clover rolls, form 1-inch balls, placing three in each well of a muffin tin. Let rise for 1 hour.
Rolls can be baked for use right away at 420 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until brown. Alternately, rolls can be baked at 275 for 20 minutes and then stored for 8 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer. When ready to serve, brown for 8-12 minutes at 400 degrees right before serving.
“This is a Betty Crocker recipe, it’s no family secret, but we’ve used it so consistently at almost every major holiday that it feels like a family staple. My mother likes to use the ‘brown-and-serve’ option for when the ovens are occupied with other holiday treats.” – Bailey LeRoux, Abilene Scene digital asset manager
6 large boiled eggs
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1-2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
salt and pepper to taste
paprika and chopped chives for garnish
Peel boiled eggs. Slice eggs in half and remove yolks, setting aside the whites. In a mixing bowl, mash yolks with a fork and add mayonnaise, mustard, relish, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper.
Spoon yolk mixture into egg whites. (You can also use a piping bag to create a pretty, swirled finished look with the yolk mixture.)
Garnish with paprika and chopped chives
Chef’s note: You can boil eggs in water on top of the stove, or I understand the oven is a great way, although I have never done it. My favorite way, however, is with an Instant Pot. It takes 5 minutes of pressure, 5 minutes of pressure release, and 5 minutes in ice water. I have never damaged the outside white of the egg, the shell comes off easily, and the egg yolk cooks perfectly.
“I always make deviled eggs for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. When I visited Whitney, our oldest daughter, in New York for her second Thanksgiving, she asked me to teach her to make deviled eggs. Now when a group of her friends get together for the holidays in the City, Whitney always brings deviled eggs.” – Maxanne Little, Abilene Scene account executive
APPLE, PECAN AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD WITH DRIED CHERRIES
Start to finish: 15 Minutes
12 ounces salad greens (spring mix)
2 whole apples, cored and sliced very thin
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup dried cherries
6 ounces blue cheese, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon (heaping) dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup (more to taste)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (more to taste)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Add greens, apple slices, pecan halves, dried cherries, and blue cheese chunks into a large salad bowl.
In a small jar, mix Dijon mustard, maple syrup, vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake well to mix.
Pour a little salad dressing over the top of the salad and toss to combine. Taste salad and add more salad dressing to taste.
(Recipe from Ree Drummond at thepioneerwoman.com.)
Chef’s note: You can easily vary this recipe according to taste or what you have on hand: substitute dried cranberries for the cherries, feta for the blue cheese or other nuts instead of pecans.
“With the fall/winter flavors of maple, dijon and apples, this salad is great to serve at a Christmas or Thanksgiving meal as a lighter, greener counterpart to the rich holiday comfort foods.” – Wendy Kilmer, Abilene Scene editor
HIDDEN SURPRISE HOLIDAY BUNDT CAKE
Order of operations: prepare the vanilla cake and cutouts, then work on the chocolate cake. While the chocolate cake is cooling to flip over, make the frosting.
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 ½ tablespoons pure vanilla extract (not artificial vanilla)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
Red food coloring
Green food coloring
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan.
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add in the vanilla.
Combine flour and baking powder in a separate bowl, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Add in the milk slowly until batter is smooth.
Divide batter into two bowls. Add red dye to one bowl and green to the other. Mix well.
Using a large spoon or measuring cups, layer the red and green batters one over the other and repeat until all batter is used. The bottom of the pan does not need to be fully covered with each layer. Do not mix the two – you want two distinct colors. (Think of making a tie-dye project.)
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, but do not turn it off.
Let cake cool and turn over onto a piece of parchment paper. Using a cookie cutter, cut out enough cake to fit into a Bundt pan in an upright circular pattern. (Note: test the size of your cookie cutter in the pan before cutting to ensure the pieces will fit.)
Chef’s note: Need to speed up the process? A box of vanilla cake mix works too.
Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups water
Grease your bundt pan with butter and dust with cocoa powder to ensure an easy release of the cake from the bundt pan.
Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Add in the eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and water. Beat until smooth.
Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the bundt pan to about ½ – 1 inch.
Arrange the cut-out cake pieces in a circle around the Bundt pan. If you are using a shape that has a distinct top and bottom (such as a heart or gingerbread man) make sure you put the pieces in upside down so when the cake comes out they’re right side up. You will have some gaps, but that’s ok. Just fit them in as best as possible while lining up the shapes.
Pour remaining chocolate batter over the vanilla cake pieces.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.
Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before trying to remove from pan.
(Recipe adapted kingarthurflour.com.)
Chef’s note: Need to speed up the process? A box of fudge or devil’s food chocolate cake mix works too.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
red food coloring
green food coloring
Combine sugar, butter, milk and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy.
Divide into three bowls. Add red coloring to one, green to another, and leave one white.
Put one bowl in the microwave at a time for no more than 10 seconds, just long enough to make it runny.
Using a spoon drizzle the warmed frosting over the cake in a back and forth motion. You’re not trying to cover the whole cake. You just want to add some color over the top.
Repeat with next two colors. Only warm the frosting just before you’re ready to use it.
Top with sprinkles or other garnishes if you desire.
(Recipe adapted from tasteofhome.com.)
Chef’s note: Need to speed up the process? A store-bought can of vanilla frosting works too.
“Desserts are my favorite part of preparing for the holidays. Baking with my children reminds me of learning to bake with my great-grandmother, which is a memory I still cherish. Seeing the joy on my three year old’s face when someone loves what she’s baked is worth every bit of the mess.” – Sarah Lazarowitz, Zachry Publications project manager
2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 (8-ounce) carton sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup butter
1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
1 (12-ounce) jar caramel topping
1 cup chopped pecans
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Combine first 3 ingredients; stir well. Firmly press mixture in bottom and one inch up sides of a lightly greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack.
With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese until creamy; gradually add 1¼ cups sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping sides and bottom as needed. Stir in sour cream and vanilla. Pour batter into prepared crust.
Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes. (Center will not be completely set.) Turn oven off, and partially open oven door; leave cake in oven 1 hour. Cool completely on a wire rack; cover and chill at least 8 hours. Carefully remove sides of pan; transfer cheesecake to a serving plate.
Melt ¼ cup butter in a small heavy saucepan; add chocolate morsels. Stir over low heat just until chocolate melts and mixture blends. Spread warm chocolate mixture over cheesecake; chill 15 minutes.
Combine caramel topping and pecans in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, over medium heat; boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool 5 minutes. Spread over chocolate; cool completely. Serve immediately or cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving.
(Recipe from Southern Living magazine.)
“We make this at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some of the more traditional holiday dessert recipes are not a favorite with my kids, so we decided to make it our tradition to have our absolute favorites at the holidays.” – Laura Seaton, Abilene Scene production coordinator.