Christmas dinner at our house was patterned after country Christmas dinners that I remember having as a child: baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, home canned green beans, fruit salad, and biscuits. For our family gathering this year, the ham was from HoneyBaked, green beans were bundled up and wrapped in bacon, fruit salad was several kinds of sliced citrus with pomegranate seeds and spiced honey, and the sweet potatoes and biscuits joined hands and showed up together! We added a family favorite, Cheese Grits. All the side dishes will appear in coming weeks, but today I hope you will be inspired to try Sweet Potato Biscuits. My youngest son, Ben, and 11-year-old granddaughter, Skye helped cut and place all the biscuits on parchment lined baking sheets – we had a real assembly line going! Recipe found in the December 2013 issue of Southern Living.
There are a number of colorful stories about how Chess Pie came to be called that, but however it was named, it remains a quintessential Southern dessert.
One story is that gentlemen were served this sweet pie when they left the table to play chess. Another tale says the name derived from Southerners’ dialect: It’s jes’ pie (it’s just pie). Yet another story is that the dessert is so high in sugar that it kept well in pie chests, also called pie safes, at room temperature and was therefore called “chest pie.” Pronouncing that with a Southern drawl sounds like chess pie. One more possibility: a lemony version of the pie was close to the traditional English lemon curd pie, often called “cheese” pie, and chess pie became its American name.
Chess pie always contains flour, butter, sugar, and eggs and the unusual addition of cornmeal. The South was at one time agrarian, and a farm woman had to cook with what was there. Various other ingredients can be added for flavor, as in the recipe here which calls for lemon juice. Or add a dash of nutmeg, ginger, or cinnamon. Sprinkle in some flaked coconut or toasted chopped pecans. Some believe a splash of buttermilk makes chess pie better; others swear by a tablespoon of vinegar, which is called vinegar pie. You can even add cocoa for the chocolate lovers.
Lemon Chess Pie
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon fine yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice with pulp
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
In a large bowl combine the sugar, flour and cornmeal. Blend well, then add the eggs one at a time. Add milk, melted butter, lemon rind and juice. Pour filling into prepared crust . Foil strips may be used to cover the crust to avoid burning. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes, removing the foil after 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
One cold night this week I made Potato Leek Soup, a variation of Julia Child’s classic recipe. It was perfect and beautifully Christmas served in one of our red bowls with a handful of chopped parsley from the garden sprinkled on top. You can add a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream if you wish.
Potato Leek Soup
4-5 potatoes, peeled
6 leeks, trimmed, sliced, and rinsed.
3 Tablespoons olive oil (I used roasted garlic infused oil)
7 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
sea salt and pepper to taste
Peel and chop potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Prepare leeks, rinsing thoroughly. Heat olive oil in heavy soup pot, and add potatoes and leeks. Saute until they begin to brown. Add chicken stock and simmer until vegetables are very tender. Turn off heat and using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Add 1/2 cup cream and reheat if necessary.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and crusty French bread.
Celebrations for Christmas and our wedding anniversary are always mixed together since Joe and I were married three days after Christmas in 1963. That tells you that this year marks 50 years of marriage for us, so preparations for both Christmas and our anniversary are woven together in very special ways. One of the ways is fondly remembering many of the things we have done together for so many years, and traditions we began to make our own as we started our family. I can’t remember how many years we have made Candy Cane cookies. The Betty Crocker recipe came from a magazine and is clipped and Scotch taped to a page from a small notebook I kept for recipes. It has been used so many times it is yellowed and frayed, even missing some pieces. It reminds me of the skin horse in the Velveteen Rabbit. When our sons were small, they loved mixing and coloring the dough, shaping the balls, and then watching the strips lengthen as they rolled them on a floured tea towel. As years passed, they became more creative and adept at shaping. This is a fun family project!
Candy Cane Cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
red food coloring
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream together softened butter and powdered sugar, then mix with egg, almond and vanilla extracts.
Whisk flour and salt together and stir into butter and sugar mixture. Divide dough into halves. Mix 1/2 tsp red food coloring into 1 half. Working one cookie at a time, take a heaping teaspoon of each color of dough nd shape into balls. Lay the ball of dough on lightly floured tea towel on counter and roll into strips about 4 inches long. Lay strips side by side and gently pinch one end together, then twist like a rope. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove carefully while warm with spatula to wire rack. You may wish to sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or crushed peppermint, but this is optional.