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Holidays in a Large Family - Favorite Recipes

What would the holidays be without the smells of cinnamon, apples, and a turkey or ham cooking? Through 30 years of marriage and 11 kids, I have developed a holiday menu that I make for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter (with slight variations in each) that has become a tradition for our family. One year I wasn't going to make the poppy seed cake to go with the bacon and eggs for breakfast, and I thought I was going to have a riot on my hands, so I quickly went back to the plan, made the poppy seed cake, and all was well in Cimorelli-Land again. I have found that following these traditions also helped ease our transition whenever we moved; they bring familiarity and makes anywhere suddenly feel like home. I like to cook everything from scratch, and I have gotten numerous requests for the recipes, so here goes!

Here is the menu for the big day:

Breakfast is bacon, eggs, fruit salad, and the poppy seed cake made the night before.

Ingredients for Veggie Scramble and Fruit Salad

Using both ovens to cook all the bacon

Lunch is more of an informal snack (because breakfast and dinner are so big), so it's usually the quick breads made the day before, a cracker, cheese, and meat platter, and maybe some egg nog or spiced cider.

Dinner is either Turkey with Stuffing or Ham, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, Maple Sweet Potatoes and Apples, Holiday Salad, Grandma's Crescent Rolls, Wine (for the adults), Sparkling Cider (for the kids), Hot Spiced Cider, and Pumpkin Pie (sometimes also an apple pie; on Easter an Easter Bunny Cake, and on Christmas, usually Christmas cookies and fudge)

Holiday Salad, Mashed Potatoes, and Gravy

Maple Sweet Potatoes and Apples, Cranberry Sauce, Turkey, and Stuffing

It's way too stressful to make all this stuff in one day, so I like to break it up. The first four dishes I make the day before the holiday (for Easter, I omit the first two dishes):

Pumpkin Gingerbread with Chocolate Chips

3 cups sugar

1 cup softened butter

4 eggs

2/3 cup water

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 9x5 inch loaf pans.

  2. Using your mixer, beat the egg, butter, and sugar. Beat in ginger, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. Then add water, pumpkin puree, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

  3. Add flour, and beat slowly until just barely mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips. Transfer to the loaf pans.

  4. Bake in the preheated oven 65 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted at center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove to wire rack and cool completely before serving.

Orange Cranberry Nut Bread

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 egg

3/4 cup orange juice

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8x4 inch loaf pan.

  2. Using your mixer, beat the egg, butter, and sugar. Add orange juice, orange zest, baking powder, salt and baking soda.

  3. Add flour, and beat slowly until just barely mixed. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts. Transfer to the loaf pan.

  4. Bake in the preheated oven 65 to 70 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted at center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove to wire rack and cool completely before serving.

Quick Breads

Pumpkin Gingerbread with Chocolate Chips and Orange Cranberry Walnut Bread in the oven. Smells heavenly!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

2/3 cup soft butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp vanilla

2 1/4 cups flour

1 small jar poppy seeds

6 drops lemon essential oil (I use Doterra brand - you can also use a Tbsp of grated lemon peel instead)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.

Using the mixer, cream together until fluffy the butter, sugar, and eggs. Beat for 4 minutes. Mix in the salt, baking powder, milk, and vanilla. Add the flour until mixed thoroughly, then add the poppy seeds and the lemon essential oil (or grated lemon peel). Pour into prepared pans, and bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool for 10 min, and then carefully flip cake out of pan onto cake stand. Cool for at least 2 hours before sifting powdered sugar over the top.

Note: I added poppy seeds and lemon essential oil and substituted butter for shortening in a recipe for Rich Yellow Cake in Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, which is a cookbook that was given to my mother as a wedding present. I've been making recipes out of this book since I was a little girl.

Making the poppy seed cake with my Kitchen Aid mixer.

Poppy Seed Cake in the oven

Poppy Seed Cake

After the poppy seed cake cools, use a sifter to sprinkle some sifted powdered sugar over the top, and display in a pretty covered cake stand.

Cranberry Sauce

4 cups (16 oz) fresh cranberries

1 cup apple juice

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Put all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer for 15 min. Remove from heat, cool, transfer to covered bowl and refrigerate. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh cranberry sauce cooking on the stove. So easy to make, so much tastier than canned sauce!

Minestrone Soup with Smoked Sausage

3 medium carrots

3 stalks celery

2 medium onions

1 large potato

1/4 pound green beans

2 medium zucchini

1/2 pound cabbage

1 medium clove garlic

1/3 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons butter

3 1/2 cups beef broth

1 1/2 cups water

1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon each salt and dried basil

1/4 teaspoon each pepper and dried rosemary, crumbled

1 bay leaf (optional - I leave this out)

1 can (1 lb) cannellini beans

1 lb Polska Kielbasa or other smoked sausage

1. Chop all vegetables into bite-sized pieces.

2. Heat oil and butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft but not brown. Add carrots and potatoes, and saute for 5 min. Stir in celery and green beans; saute 5 min. Stir in zucchini, and saute for 3 min. Stir in cabbage and garlic, and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add broth, water, and liquid from tomatoes to pan. Stir in salt, basil, rosemary, pepper, and bay leaf. Cut sausage into bite-size pieces and add. Heat to boiling, reduce heat to low. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 hours.

4. Rinse and drain cannellini beans; add beans to soup. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until soup is thick, 30-40 minutes longer. Remove bay leaf.

Note: I like to make this soup with homemade beef broth. I get a couple of packages of beef bones from the butcher, put them in a large pot of water with about 1/8 cup of apple cider vinegar and a quartered onion, cover and simmer all day the day before you want to make the soup. The vinegar and the onion not only add a nice flavor, they also help leach all the healthy stuff out of the bones.

The smoked sausage is my addition to the Minestrone Soup recipe from the Italian Cooking Class Cookbook

Minestrone Soup with Polska Kielbasa

I like to serve this soup for dinner the night before the holiday. For Christmas and Easter, we often go to church for the Vigil Mass (the night before), so it's nice to have the soup made ahead of time and ready for us when we get home.

Here are the recipes that I make on the Big Day:

Spiced Cider

1 jug apple cider

1 cup orange juice

4 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp whole cloves

Place all ingredients in slow cooker in the morning on Low setting. When it gets hot, turn it down to Warm, and let it simmer until bedtime. It will make your house smell heavenly, and it's a nice warm treat throughout the holiday, after dinner, or after the family walk in the brisk, cold air!

This not only tastes delicious, but it will fill your house with the scents of apple, citrus, cinnamon, and cloves all day!

Grandma's Crescent Rolls

2 cups lukewarm milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 pkg dry granular yeast

2 eggs

1/2 cup softened butter

7 to 7 1/2 cups flour

Mix together milk, sugar, and salt. Add yeast, and let sit for 5 minutes. It's very important that the milk is lukewarm, not too hot and not too cold. It should feel barely warm to the touch (otherwise the yeast won't activate properly). Stir in eggs and butter, then the flour in 2 additions so it's easier to handle. Use enough flour so that the dough is soft and elastic when kneaded into a nice ball. Grease the bowl and the top of the dough, cover with a wet towel, and place in a warm room (80-85 degrees) until the dough doubles in size, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, pull in the edges, turn the dough over in the bowl, and cover again with damp cloth. Let rise until double again, about 30-45 min.

Take half the dough and roll it out into a 12 inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Using a pastry brush, spread soft butter all over the dough. Cut into 16 pie-shaped pieces, and then starting at the outside, roll each piece up, place on greased pan, cover the whole pan with damp cloth, and let rise again. Do the same with the other half of the dough.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake for 12-20 min, until lightly browned.

My mother made these rolls for every holiday until she passed on last year. These have been a family favorite since I was a little girl. The recipe comes from Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, which is a cookbook that was given to my mother as a wedding present.

Holiday Salad

Spring Salad Mix

Fresh Berries - Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries

Candied Walnuts

Dried Cranberries

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Lightly toss all ingredients in large bowl. Keep the dressing on the side so the salad doesn't get soggy.

Sweet Potatoes and Apples

3 pounds sweet potatoes, baked

2-3 apples

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons dark rum

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange an oven rack in the highest position. Butter a 14x9x2-inch gratin dish.

Let the potatoes cool slightly, then cut off the ends, pull off the peel with a dull knife, and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices.

Peel and core the apples and cut lengthwise into eighths. Toss in a bowl with the lemon juice. Combine with the sliced potatoes in the gratin dish, making an arrangement of alternating slices.

In a stainless steel or enamel-lined saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, maple syrup, rum, cinnamon, and mace, and stir over moderate heat until the sugar is dissolved. Pour slowly over the apple-potato mixture so that the top is uniformly moistened. Bake in the upper third of the oven, basting frequently, for 25 minutes, or until the apples are tender, the sweets have a nice glaze, and the edges of both are browned lightly. If this last does not happen, run under the broiler for 20 seconds. Serves 8.

(I double this recipe and make two pans!)

Extra dishes of Maple Sweet Potatoes and Apples and Stuffing for the turkey (for our large group, we need two dishes of each!)

Turkey with Stuffing

Plan ahead for this; the turkey will take at least 4 days to thaw, so be sure to take it out of the freezer at least 4 days in advance. I usually make about a 16 pound turkey, which takes about 4 hours to cook in a convection oven at 325 degrees (5 - 5 1/2 hours for conventional oven).


1 1/2 cups chopped celery (with leaves)

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup butter

9 cups soft bread cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground sage

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cook and stir celery and onion in butter in Dutch oven until celery is tender; remove from heat. Stir in remaining ingredients. Stuff turkey, and put remainder in ungreased rectangular pan, cover, and refrigerate. When turkey is done pour some turkey drippings over the stuffing, and bake covered at 350 degrees for about 30 min, or until thoroughly warmed. Take the cooked stuffing out of the turkey and mix it in with the stuffing in the pan. Serve warm.

Note: I double this recipe for my crew. This is the stuffing my mother made every year for as long as I can remember. The recipe is in Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

Peel 6 large potatoes and place in a Dutch oven full of water. Cover, bring to boiling, then simmer for 30 minutes, until potatoes are soft when poked with a fork. Drain the water (save some for the gravy!), add about a half stick of butter, milk and salt to taste. Mash with a potato masher, and top with gravy.


Put about 1/2 cup of flour in a mug and stir in enough cold water to dissolve it without any lumps. Add drippings from the turkey and some boiling water from the potatoes, stir and boil until thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pumpkin Pie


3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

2 large eggs

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin

1 can (12 fl oz) evaporated milk

Beat eggs with a mixer. Add sugar, salt, and spices, then pumpkin. Slowly add evaporated milk, and then pour into pie shell.

Note: This recipe is from the back of a can of Libbey's canned pumpkin; they've run the same recipe for as long as I can remember. It's delicious!

Crust - 10 inch

1/2 cup soft butter

1 1/3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3-4 tablespoons cold water

Cut butter into flour using 2 knives until particles are the pea-sized. Add water a tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until all flour is moistened and pastry almost cleans side of bowl. Gather pastry into a ball, roll out on flour-covered wax paper into a nice round about 2 inches bigger than the inverted pie plate. Take any extra crust and place it in a separate pie plate; bake it separately with sugar and cinnamon for an extra special treat for the cook!

Transfer pastry into pie plate, fill with pumpkin filling, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 min, then 350 degrees for another 45 min, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, serve topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note: The keys to delicious flaky pie crust are: 1. don't add too much water - it should barely hang together, and 2. don't overhand the dough; the more you knead it, the more the gluten threads form, which makes the crust more chewy and doughy, as opposed to light and flaky.

This is the crust recipe my mother made every year for as long as I can remember that won her many prizes in baking contests at the fair. The recipe is in Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

pumpkin pies

Pumpkin pies fresh out of the oven!

I hope you enjoyed reading our traditional recipes for the big Holiday feast here at the Cimorelli house. Feel free to try these recipes at your next Holiday feast, and be prepared for the compliments to roll in!

What are your favorite holiday meal traditions?

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