Vegetarian pilaf from a mixture of wild and white rice.

Rice pilaf with cranberries is a welcome change from roast potatoes as a side dish. 

Christmas will soon be here and the countdown has begun for all the final preparations. What will be served for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day may have been decided several weeks ago. Perhaps you have some family food traditions that are always followed, such as oyster stew for Christmas Eve or prime rib for Christmas dinner. Traditions help tie families together and preserve their heritage.

I will have to confess I don’t carry on any of the food traditions I grew up with, such as making rosettes or having cooked red cabbage for every holiday meal, but I have developed other food traditions with my children. The important thing is to take the time to enjoy being together and sharing the food and any traditions that go with the holidays. Following are some food selections you might enjoy trying if your meals have not been determined yet. Perhaps they will become some of your holiday favorites.

Holiday brunch casserole

You will enjoy having this hearty brunch dish ready and waiting in the refrigerator, all set for baking on Christmas morning. Rather than using bread, which is popular in the overnight brunch casseroles, this one combines frozen hash brown potatoes, sausage, bacon, chopped vegetables and cheese. Serve with fresh fruit to make a welcoming brunch. This casserole also is appropriate for an evening supper meal.

Servings: 8 - 9

Ingredients:

4 cups frozen shredded hash brown potatoes

1 pound bulk pork sausage, cooked and drained

½ pound sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese, divided

3 green onions, chopped

1 cup reduced-fat biscuit/baking mix

½ teaspoon salt

4 eggs

3 cups milk

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine hash browns, sausage, bacon, green pepper, 1 cup cheese and onion. Transfer to a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish. In another bowl, whisk biscuit mix, salt, eggs and milk; pour over top. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30–35 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Source: Taste of Home “Best Holiday Recipes,” 2010.

Garlic-herb Cornish hens

Preparing a prime rib beef roast or a crown roast of pork is popular for Christmas dinner, but how about selecting Cornish game hens instead? They can make an attractive presentation when served and are delicious, especially when marinated and served with this garlic-herb sauce. As an accompaniment, serve with roast potatoes or a rice pilaf.

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

12 cloves garlic, peeled

¾ cup packed fresh mint leaves

¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves

½ cup red wine vinegar

⅓ cup soy sauce

¼ cup packed fresh tarragon leaves

2 serrano chilies, stemmed

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ground cumin

½ cup plus 3 tablespoons oil

4 large Cornish hens (about 1½ lbs. each)

3 lbs. baby new potatoes, cut in halves

Herb sauce (recipe follows)

Directions:

In food processor or blender, puree garlic, mint, basil, vinegar, soy sauce, tarragon, chilies, sugar, cumin, ½ cup oil and 1½ teaspoons salt until smooth. Place hens in 2-gallon resealable plastic bags and add marinade. Seal bags and turn over a few times to distribute marinade. Refrigerate at least overnight or up to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On rimmed baking sheet, arrange hens breast-side up; discard marinade. Tuck wings behind hens; tie legs together with twine. Roast 45 minutes or until hens reach 165 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, on another large rimmed baking sheet, toss potatoes with remaining 3 tablespoons oil and ¾ teaspoons salt. Roast 45 minutes or until tender and browned, stirring once. With kitchen shears, cut each hen in half. Serve with potatoes and herb sauce.

Herb sauce: In food processor puree 1 cup sour cream, 6 tablespoons lime juice, ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup mint, ½ cup basil, 2 tablespoons tarragon, 2 cloves garlic, 1 serrano chili and 1 tablespoon salt until smooth. Makes 2 cups.

 Source: “Good Housekeeping Magazine Holiday Issue,”  2014.

Wild rice with cranberries

Make the switch to a rice pilaf from the standard potatoes as a side dish to serve with your holiday roast or poultry. The combination of brown rice with wild rice adds to the flavor and texture, and cooking the rice in chicken broth also enhances the flavor.

Makes about 10 servings

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped carrots

½  cup chopped celery

1 (16-oz.) package wild rice and whole-grain brown rice blend

4¾ cup chicken broth

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions:

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add carrots and celery; cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften. Add rice: cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir in cranberries; cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Source: “Christmas Cottage Cookbook,” 2013

Pear citrus salad

The heavier entrée of a holiday meal calls for a lighter salad. Citrus heightens the flavors of other foods eaten and the citrus fruits also add color. This colorful and refreshing salad is a great selection for your Christmas dinner.

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

8 cups torn salad greens

2 oranges, peeled and sectioned

1 large grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

2 pears, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Directions:

Whisk together first 4 ingredients. Place greens in bowl. Add orange sections, grapefruit sections and pears. Drizzle with dressing, tossing gently to coat. Sprinkle with walnuts, if desired. Serve immediately. Source: “The Spirit of Christmas, Creative Holiday Ideas,” Book 19, Leisure Arts.

Bernie Mason writes the Local Flavor column for Lee Montana Newspapers. She was a Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry.

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