Wonderful and Terrible Holiday Food Traditions
When the holidays roll around, we roll out the red carpet for junk food.
Photo by Phaedra Cook
As my husband and I were doing our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day grocery shopping, I apologized to him. “I’m sorry. I just have to do this.” Into the cart went a big package of “little smokies.”
In the wild, these tiny, meaty, nitrate bombs are often found hiding in chafing dishes and camouflaged by barbecue sauce. The domesticated version is often found pan-fried with two eggs over easy.
It’s not just me, though. My online confession of my annual junk food craving inspired dozens of friends and readers to share their own Christmas food traditions. The result: a compilation of some of the most wonderful and terrible holiday foods ever.
Health consciousness? Calorie conservation? Bah, that’s for humbugs! Check out the list and you might be tempted to try one of these ideas out yourself.
Anything From Hickory Farms: Our own editor-in-chief, Margaret Downing, reminded me of the Hickory Farms stands in the malls. They’re harder to find now than they used to be, but if you get a hankering for a cheese log rolled in pecans, a big summer sausage or a smoky cheese ball, you can order online! Isn’t technology great?
Roll It and Slice It: Reader Bronwyn Noyes says her guilty delight consists of cream cheese, lunch meat and olives rolled into tortillas and sliced crosswise. “It’s like the '70s returned,” she wrote. Pastry chef Jody Stevens of Jodycakes likes the meaty kind, with cream cheese and green onions rolled up in slices of ham.
God Bless Jimmy Dean
"Spicy Jimmy Dean sausage roll cooked with Velveeta, spread on little pumpernickel toasts and baked." — Jay Jerrier, owner of Cane Rosso
"Sausage balls: Bisquik, shredded cheese and Jimmy Dean sausage. Bake until golden." — Mary Newberry Lamb
"My family makes a Christmas Breakfast Casserole with eggs, crumbled sausage, cheese, etc." —Michael Humphrey
And Other Pork Products: "'Holiday Bacon' - bacon dipped in egg and sprinkled mightily with Parmesan cheese and some nutmeg, then baked until crispy. THIS IS WHY WE'RE FAT BUT I DON'T CARE BECAUSE HOLIDAY BACON." — Chris White
From salmon cream cheese spread to bananas and Nutella, Houston Press freelance restaurant critic Nick Hall demonstrates many potential uses for Pillsbury canned croissant dough.
Photo by Nick Hall
Refrigerator Dough Wonders
Monkey Bread. “Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough cut up into chunks and placed in a bundt or angel food cake pan, with chopped nuts and a cinnamon sugar glaze, then baked.” — Jim Crider
"Pillsbury crescent rolls filled with semi sweet chocolate chips and/or marzipan, then dusted with powdered sugar." — Nick Hall, freelance restaurant critic, Houston Press
“For as long as I can remember, we've had a tube of the Pillsbury orange sweet rolls on Christmas morning before we start to open presents.”— Hal Brock, bartender, Bad News Bar (His mom quickly responded, "It's in my frig!")
Or, Use Won Tons
“My famous salami rolls are so easy and you can eat them all day at room temperature. Just take the small wonton skins, lay a thin slice of hard salami on it and roll it up diagonally. Spray lightly with olive oil just to moisten. Lay on sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees until crisp. Turn as needed. You can add seasoning or a hard cheese too. Delicious. — Kerry Stessel, Hot Line Pepper
“My killer sausage wontons disappear first.” — Brooke Candalaria
These Are Not Really Salads
"That horrible pistachio pudding/Cool Whip "salad". I love that stuff." — Tish Ochoa, Melange Creperie. (This is known as “Watergate Salad,” according to Houston Press freelance restaurant critic Nick Hall.)
"Five-Cup Salad: Sour cream, sweetened shredded coconut, Mandarin orange segments, pineapple chunks and marshmallows."—Nick Hall
Chips & Dips
“New Year’s Eve always calls for tortilla chips and canned bean dip.” — Nick Hall
"Velveeta and Ro-Tel in a Crock Pot. Done, son." — Phaedra Cook
"With my family, the snack to get you through to dinnertime is Velveeta/Rotel cheese dip with big Fritos. I can't stand Fritos normally but it's a family thing and this particular combination is pretty good." — D.P.
"Killer Dip consists of softened, full-fat cream cheese, blended with milk to dip consistency, with chopped pimentos and thinly sliced green onions. White dip with red and green bits in it looks very holiday-esque. With Lay's potato chips, it's deceptively, stupidly, like crack cocaine. You have to exercise extreme restraint to not eat the whole bowl by yourself, or beat up a family member to get the last scoop out of the bowl." — Kirsten Skinner
That Texas Tamale Tradition: “So many tamales this week. So many.” — Kyle Nielsen
Best Eggs Ever: Readers recommend these deep-fried, sausage-wrapped eggs at Petrol Station, Queen Vic and Izakaya. “SO MANY SCOTCH EGGS.” — J.B.
Cheese in a Can: "Celery with spray cheese. Only at Thanksgiving & Christmas though." — Season Paquette
Spiked, Store-Bought Egg Nog:
“Supermarket egg nog. I can't get enough of it on December 24th and 25th. It's like drinking food thickener that tastes vaguely of nutmeg, but I don't care.” — Chris White. (Check out his recipe for spiked store-bought egg nog. Also, we agree that Promised Land is probably the best brand on the market.)
“YES. I go even dirtier, though. For me, it's Oak Farms or bust.” — Nick Hall
“My family drank it plain, no booze, which kinds of kills the only true redeeming quality of drinking milk laced with eggs and sugar. But I still crave it, along with frozen pizza on Christmas Eve, but that is another whole story.” — Doug Wong
Balls Balls Balls!
Ultimate Lazy Swedish Meatballs: "Store bought frozen meatballs cooked in cream of mushroom soup." — Cheryl Gibbs, menu consultant for Republic National Distributing Company
“Rum or bourbon balls, snowball cookies, cheese balls, sausage balls. Round food that mimics Christmas ornaments, basically.” — “Connie” (no last name given)
"As a chef I am risking everything—but those meatballs in the barbecue sauce with grape jelly... (and that IS the recipe)." — John H'ausen
(Responding to J.H. above) "You meant to finish that with, 'Are the best things EVER!!' Right?? I use the Heinz Chili Sauce instead of barbecue." — Leslie Ross, beverage director, Treadsack
Christmas is also a time for sweets, and our readers have plenty of ideas.
Photo by Mattie Hedgehorn via Flickr Creative Commons
Sweet, Sweet Sin
“Pumpkin pie three meals a day. My mom claims it's healthy enough for breakfast, but only between Thanksgiving and Christmas.” — Kaitlin Steinberg, former Houston Press food critic
“My mom makes the marshmallow cream and eagle brand milk fudge, Texas Trash aka Chex Mix, and Hello Dolly Cookies, where you crush up Nilla wafers and butter as crust, add chocolate and butterscotch chips, coconut and pecans. Drizzle with sweetened condensed milk and bake. — Leslie Ross
"Fantasy Fudge! I'd give you the recipe, but it is on the Marshmallow Fluff jar." — Christine Tremoulet
"Oh yeah ... my Magic Cookie Bars, but with graham crackers instead of vanilla wafers. And dried cranberries too. These are the only cookies I bake that The Man Of The House asks for in the middle of summer." — Mary Newberry Lamb and also recommended by Kirsten Skinner. The basic Seven-Layer Magic Cookie Bar recipe can be found online.
"The thing my mom always makes that is totally not good for you and I think is gross is her grandmother's Yulekaga, a Norwegian Christmas bread. It has a ton of butter in it, lots of cardamom, raisins, and candied red AND GREEN cherries, covered in a powdered sugar glaze. It weighs about as much as a cinder block. In our house, it wasn't officially Christmas until someone started a fire in the toaster from the Yulekaga frosting." — Name withheld to protect from Mom
"My mom always makes stölen for the Feast of the Epiphany. Chopped nuts and dried fruit (must have red and green cherries) and marzipan. There’s always a lucky coin baked inside. Surprisingly few dental emergencies." — Nick Hall.
"My holiday weakness is the Hershey Pie: melt two giant almond Hershey bars with a tub of Cool Whip, pour into already baked pie crust, refrigerate for a few hours, then gorge yourself on it." — Erin Nies Healy
"Rosetta cookies - Fry batter on a Rosetta iron. They pop off light as air and you sprinkle powdered sugar on them. Best served fresh." — Christine Tremoulet
"My mom makes old-fashioned caramel corn (from the Orville Redenbacher recipe from the 70s or 80s ), presser cookies, Russian tea cookies and Kiefli cookies. The Kieflis are a pastry stuffed with a pecan and walnut filling topped with powdered sugar. They look like Cheech & Chong joints. They are AWESOME!!!" — Nena Reith Lamb
"The night before my cousin and I would go to the store and buy processed pie, cake, cookies and icecream to eat for dinner since we had no patience waiting to dig into my grandmothers hand made desserts." — Chelsy Magee, bartender, State of Grace
Ellie Sharp's family Christmas Breakfast Rolls may actually BE a heart attack on a plate, but they look filling and tasty.
Photo by Ellie Sharp
Paula Deen Would Be So Proud
"The Annual Christmas Breakfast Rolls: a pound of butter melted in a pan with lots of chopped onions, a few tablespoons of poppy seeds, and a good kick of mustard (the classic French's!). Spread generously onto both top and bottom of tray of Parker House rolls split in half. On top, lay thick layers of super thin high quality ham, super thin high quality Swiss cheese, top with tops of rolls and bake until oozy, gooey and hot. We generally use a pound of ham, half a pound of cheese, and good pound of butter for each tray. The theory is if you have to ask "Does it need more butter?" then it ALWAYS needs more butter. You want these babies DRIPPING. Recommendations for December 26 include making a cardiologist appointment and skipping any drug tests." — Ellie Sharp, freelance food writer
Vegetables Aren't Always Redeeming: “Broccoli casserole made with Ritz crackers, butter and Velveeta.” — Holly Eaton
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