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!