The Southern part of the United States was the first region to declare Christmas a legal holiday in the 19th century. Christmas in the South may not be the typical white Christmas most north of us see, but there is a unique charm to our holidays, and we take a great deal of pride in how we celebrate it. From the elaborate décor to the amazing food-filled tables, Southerners sure do know how to make Christmas special even without blankets of snow.
I’ve pondered my Christmas menu a bit – I’m visualizing nostalgic Southern recipes but with a twist. We Southerners are all about keeping with tradition, especially during the holiday season, however, as times change so does our ability to spend hours on end making the dishes that we were raised preparing and eating.
As a mom of a teenager, a tween, and two dogs, my life is a whirlwind of nonstop going. Therefore, I have created a Christmas spread that will satisfy the appetites of your youngest and oldest relatives alike. With the proper décor and this Christmas spread, you will be sure to make everyone at your holiday dinner believe that you spent a day or two creating the perfect dinner for them.
To start, let’s begin with the meat. I’m thinking of something simple but stuffed with all things Christmas. Instead of ham, let’s do a tenderloin. Tenderloins tend to be a bit more inexpensive, and the cooking time is a fraction of what it takes to whip up a big ole ham. The loin would be filleted in half, spread with homemade cranberry sauce, and filled with chopped walnuts, sauteed collards, bacon, and goat cheese. Delicately tied with butcher twine and baked to perfection. Served on a bed of the left-over collards mixture.
2-3 lb pork tenderloin (filleted in half, long ways)
5 thick bacon slices
½ cup chopped walnuts
3 cups shredded collards
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
½ cup of cranberry sauce
2 tbs butter
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Season pork loin with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Set it aside.
• In a large skillet on medium high heat, add bacon and cook until almost crisp.
• Chop bacon and set aside.
• In the same skillet, add butter and collards. Cook until collards are wilted. Add walnuts and bacon. Mix. Remove collards mixture and set aside.
• Place tenderloin in the skillet open faced. Sear each side for 3-4 minutes.
• Let tenderloin cool down enough to be able to manage it.
• When the loin is cooled, spread cranberry sauce inside the loin. Then add enough collards mixture and goat crumble cheese to fill the loin without making it overfilled.
• Close the loin and tie with your butcher twine. Set leftover filling aside for your plating.
• Bake the loin, seams down, for 30-40 minutes or until the loin reaches 140 degrees.
• Allow your masterpiece to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Note: If you have leftover filling, spread the filling on your serving dish then lay the loin on top.
Cranberry Orange Sauce
12 oz fresh cranberries
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup water
1 tbs butter
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ tsp orange zest
• Make sure to clean and pick out the bad cranberries, if any.
• In a medium sized pot on medium high heat, add butter and melt.
• Mix in cranberries and slowly mix in sugar.
• Add orange juice and water. Allow the pot to get up to a simmer.
• You will begin to hear the cranberries pop.
• Once the cranberries are the desired consistency, slowly mix in the orange zest.
Let’s talk simple sides! Traditional deviled eggs with a little finesse and Hasselback sweet potatoes shall do. Deviled eggs are effortless and tasty. When serving them, I top them with sliced pickled okra – the perfect addition and a crowd pleaser. Hasselback sweet potatoes are an easy side that requires minimal preparation. To amplify the taste, you can easily broil marshmallows on top of the Hasselbacks.
Pickled Okra Deviled Eggs
6 boiled eggs (halved)
¼ cup mayo
2 tsp yellow mustard
1 tsp pickle juice
3 tsp dill relish
Pinch salt and black pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika (optional)
A few pickled okra (thinly cut)
• Remove yolks from the egg whites, sitting boiled egg whites aside and placing boiled yolk in a mixing bowl.
• To the mixing bowl, add mayo, mustard, pickle juice, dill relish, salt, and pepper. Mix well until the yolk mixture is smooth.
• Add yolk mixture into a Ziploc bag, cut the tip off one of the bottom corners, make sure the hole isn’t too big, and pipe the yolk mixture into the boiled egg white.
• Top with a little dust of paprika and a slice of pickled okra.
Another simple side to pair with a Christmas loin is most definitely roasted Brussels sprouts. I must admit I was absolutely not a fan of Brussels sprouts until at least my late 20s. The thought of tiny cabbages boiled in water and butter just did not set easy with me. And it wasn’t until my late 20s that I began to live by the motto, “I will try anything once – twice if it wasn’t cooked properly the first time.” Since then, Brussels sprouts have become a staple in my home, even though having them boiled will never grace my tastebuds again. Needless to say, bacon grease and crispy leaves are stupendous.
Roasted Bacon Brussels Sprouts
1 lb Brussels sprouts (ends trimmed)
4 strips thick bacon
Salt (to taste)
2 tbs onion powder
2 tbs garlic powder
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
• In a skillet on medium high heat, cook bacon until almost crisp. Remove bacon from the grease and set aside. Remove skillet from heat.
• In a medium sized mixing bowl add Brussels sprouts, slowly toss in bacon grease until sprouts are well covered. Season with onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. (Remember that bacon grease is already salty so refrain from over salting.)
• Place Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Chop bacon and place the bacon on the sprouts.
• Bake for 30-40 minutes or until you begin to see crisp leaves form.
Hasselback Sweet Potatoes
3-4 sweet potatoes
½ stick melted butter
½ tsp thyme
½ tbs garlic powder
Salt and pepper (to taste)
• Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
• Cut 1/8 inch slices along each potato and slice 2/3 of the way through.
Tip: Use chop sticks to keep yourself from cutting all the way through the potato. Place one on each side long ways and use the chop sticks as a guide.
On an aluminum lined baking sheet, add your sweet potatoes. Bake the potatoes for 40 minutes.
While the potatoes are baking, in a mixing bowl, stir butter, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper together.
Remove potatoes from the oven and brush the potatoes with your butter mixture.
Bake the sweet potatoes for another 10-20 minutes or until done.
Every traditional Christmas dinner includes some type of bread. Sweet cornbread topped with red chili honey butter will completely hit the spot. If I were you, I’d make sure to double up this recipe because it will most definitely be devoured by your family and guests.
2 cups self-rising cornmeal
½ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups milk or buttermilk
1 large egg
¼ cup shortening or oil
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients together.
• Pour mixture into an iron skillet or cake pan.
• Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Serve with Red Chili Honey Butter.
Red Chili Honey Butter
1 stick unsalted butter
½ tsp red chili flakes
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbs local honey
• In a small saucepan on low heat, melt the butter.
• Once butter is melted, slowly whisk honey into the butter and add seasonings.
• Set aside to cool. Taste test and alter to your liking.
To complete this semi traditional Christmas spread, I’ve put together a quick and easy dessert that will have folks coming back for more. Bourbon shines in this dessert, and who doesn’t like a good bourbon taste? Bourbon pecan brie bites are a sweet and salty delicacy that can be served as a finger food. We all know finger foods make for an easier cleanup and quite honestly, I’m all for that.
Bourbon Pecan Brie Bites
2 pkg mini baked phyllo shells(15 per package)
2 ½ tbs bourbon (honey tends to be a crowd pleaser)
½ cup roasted chopped pecans
4 tbs unsalted butter (melted)
½ tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup brown sugar
8 oz round of brie
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• In a mixing bowl, add butter, bourbon, brown sugar, cinnamon, and roasted pecans. Mix well.
• Pull the rind off of the brie (I normally carefully cut it off) and cut the brie into pieces big enough to fit in your phyllo shells.
• On a baking sheet, place your shells in a single layer.
• Fill your shells with the brie then spoon your bourbon mixture on top of the brie making sure not to over fill the shells. Note: Make sure that pecans are in every shell.
• Bake your bites for 10 minutes or until the brie begins to bubble.
Chelsea Gieselmann is a mom, photographer, columnist, food blogger, and home-cook. Cooking has been a passion of hers since she was old enough to cut out biscuits with the mouth of a mason jar. Her great-grandmother taught her the basics and she is ever so grateful to have been able to learn from her. Since then, she has honed in her craft a great deal and continues to. Instagram: @Southrngritskitchen