Bless Your Spoon: Soup, salads, and sides of a busy holy season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 15, 2022

By Stephanie Williams Dean

The Advent season is upon us, which means less than a month to prepare for Christmas. Once again, I planned to simplify but make one small change. I promised myself there’d be no artificial decor except my skinny indoor trees. No more fake greenery, roping, or wreaths — I’d decorate using all fresh greens clipped from the yard. For the most part, I’ve kept that promise. My goal was to keep things simple, but why? It’s a process I go through each year, to free up more time to focus on what the holy season is all about — the birth of our Savior.

The lyrics to a traditional, old English Christmas carol, “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” keep dancing around in my head. So I retrieved my church hymnal and read all the verses. Great messages can be found in our traditional songbooks and let’s make sure they stay relevant. The fourth stanza of the hymn reads,

“Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace; this holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface.

O tidings of comfort and joy.”

Embracing one another in brotherhood and with true love — isn’t that what Jesus stood for? What better reason to simplify than to be more like Jesus and genuinely care for and love people?

Weeks ago, the Holy Spirit prompted me to call an elderly friend in my garden club. As far as I knew, she was in good health. But I got busy and didn’t make the call. It’s not that I didn’t have time, I didn’t make time. And the next week, I found myself reading her obituary in the newspaper. Then I realized a small window had closed and it was too late to reach out to say hello, offer comfort, let her know I cared or could be of support if needed — the behaviors of a servant. Now I ask myself the question we all need to be asking — is the main course being served at Christmas? Or are we only preparing side dishes?

These are the days when I feel no peace in Christmas preparations. I’m torn between upholding our family’s Christmas traditions or being available for someone who needs me. It’s everything on the side that drives us crazy. In other words, Christmas has become a frenzy of sideline busyness — decorating, cleaning, cooking, putting up lights, watering trees — there’s no end to it. While I’m getting my decorations out and up, buying and wrapping gifts, my focus should be on serving people. We need to embrace the holy tide of Christmas together.

I resolved to conduct one good deed each day of the season: call a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, drop in to visit with someone homebound, bake something for a neighbor, and end each day with a prayer for a different person.

Satisfying a craving for peace comes from knowing we’re doing the right thing, focusing on the main course — the message. Fundamental to the season is maintaining a spirit of hope, peace, love, and joy while engaging in simple celebrations of a supernatural birth focused on the magnitude of the true meaning of Christmas. Those of us who know Jesus understand the importance of His birth and truly feel the joy to the world.

These delicious sides, soups and salads were chosen to tide you with comfort and joy while enjoying holiday dinners at home. No Southern sideboard would be faithful to its calling without at least one tasty casserole or congealed salad.

Serving includes entertaining loved ones at your table and strangers, old and new friends alike. Be sure to serve the main course — share the birth of our Savior and the true meaning of Christmas. Jesus had to be born in order to die.

Relish the time, your tribe and celebrate the reason — God’s everlasting love for us.

Beets with Orange Sauce

• 1/3 cup sugar

• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 1/8 tsp. salt

• 1 cup fresh orange juice

• 1 Tbsp. salted butter

• 3 cups cooked diced fresh beets

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add orange juice and butter. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat. Add cooked, diced beets and allow to stand for several hours. Serve hot.

Green Pea Souffle

• 16 oz. green peas

• ½ sliced onion

• 1 cup heavy cream

• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 3 beaten egg yolks

• 2 stiffly beaten egg whites

In a saucepan, simmer peas with onion for 30 minutes. Remove onion and drain peas. Mash peas and add cream, flour and beaten egg yolks. Beat egg whites until stiff. Then fold the stiff egg whites into the cream mixture. Pour into a well-greased mold. Bake in a 250-degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until the knife tests clean.

Cherry Coconut Fruit Ambrosia

• 1 quart drained mandarin oranges

• 1 cup sliced bananas

• ½ cup drained pineapple bits

• ½ cup flaked coconut

• ½ cup maraschino cherries

• ½ cup chopped pecans

• 1 cup sugar

In a mixer bowl, combine well-drained mandarin oranges, sliced bananas, pineapple bits, coconut, well-drained cherries, pecans and sugar. Gently mix thoroughly. Refrigerate.

Kale-Cranberry-Apple Salad

• 1 lb. torn-up curly kale

• 1 cored, quartered, sliced Granny Smith apple

• 1 cored, quartered, sliced red apple

• 1 cup unsweetened dried cranberries

• 1 cup toasted pecans

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Brown Sugar Bacon Dressing

• 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar

• ½ cup apple cider vinegar

• 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

• ½ lb. cooked, chopped bacon

For the salad, in a large bowl, combine the kale, apples, dried cranberries and toasted pecans. For toasted pecans, spread nuts out on a baking sheet and bake in a 375-degree oven for 6 minutes and then chop. For the dressing, in a skillet, cook bacon for 8 minutes or until crisp. Drain well on paper towels and crumble. Set aside. To the remaining bacon fat, add brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in vinegar and mustard. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm over green salad. Sprinkle bacon crumbles over the top of served salad. You can use any favorite green to make this salad.

Artichoke and Rice Salad

• 3 cups cooked long-grain or wild rice

• 15 oz. undrained, chopped, marinated artichokes

• ½ cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper

• ¼ cup sliced ripe olives

• 2 Tbsp. chopped red onion

• 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

• 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil


• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

• ½ tsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 minced clove garlic

• ¼ tsp .salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the salad, in a bowl, combine rice, artichokes, red pepper, olives, onions, parsley and basil. For the dressing, in a processor, combine the olive oil, white wine vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour dressing over the rice mixture and mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Keep refrigerated.

Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Soup

• 1 ½ cups half-and-half or whole milk

• 1 cup fresh chicken broth

• 1 condensed cream of potato soup

• 1 condensed cream of chicken soup

• 2 cups cooked turkey or chicken

• 1/3 cup chopped green onions

• 11 oz. undrained Mexicorn-Sweet corn

• ½ cup fresh or undrained canned mushrooms

• ½ cup fresh or drained canned chopped green chilies

• 1 ½ cups shredded cheddar or other melting cheese

In a large saucepan, combine cream, chicken broth, potato and chicken soups. Mix well. Stir in chicken, green onions, corn, mushrooms and chilies. Use fresh when you can. Mix well. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat while occasionally stirring until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until it melts.

Fruit and Nut Soufflé Salad

• 1 envelope unflavored gelatin

• 2 Tbsp. sugar

• ¼ tsp. salt

• 1 cup hot water

• ½ cup premium mayonnaise

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

• 1 tsp. grated lemon rind

• 16 oz. whole cranberry sauce

• 1 peeled, diced green apple

• ¼ cup chopped walnuts

Sour Cream Dressing:

• ¾ cup dairy sour cream

• Fruit juice

In a bowl, combine gelatin, sugar and salt. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil and add gelatin mixture. Stir until gelatin and sugar have dissolved. Add mayonnaise, lemon juice and rind. Beat with a mixer. Pour into a glass dish and quick chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or until it begins to set at the edge. Beat the mixture until fluffy. Then fold in the cranberry sauce, apple and nuts. Pour into a single or individual molds and chill until firm. Unmold on lettuce and top with a cream cheese dressing. Individual molds are pretty at the holiday. You can use fresh cranberries, but if used, put 2 cups fresh cranberries through a food chopper with ½ cup sugar and allow to stand for 15 minutes. For the dressing, blend sour cream with orange or other fruit juice. Serve over a congealed salad.

Scalloped Asparagus

• 1 Green Giant can of asparagus

• Cheese sauce

• ¾ cup chopped toasted almonds

• ½ cup buttered cracker/bread crumbs

Cheese sauce:

• 3 Tbsp. salted butter

• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• 1 cup whole milk

• ½ cup grated cheddar cheese

For the cheese sauce, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add flour and stir to form a paste. Add milk and mix well. Cook while it thickens. When thickened, add cheese and stir until melted. In a baking dish, arrange in layers: first, the asparagus, then cover with cheese sauce, then sprinkle nuts evenly over cheese sauce, and finally, evenly sprinkle bread crumbs over the top of all. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Good Lima Beans

• 1 medium chopped onion

• 1 chopped green pepper

• 2 Tbsp. salted butter

• 1 cup cooked tomatoes

• 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 tsp. salt

• ¼ tsp. freshly grated black pepper

• ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

• 2 cups cooked//canned, drained limas

• 1 ¼ cup grated butter cheese

In a skillet, fry onion and pepper in butter. Add tomatoes and simmer all for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire, seasonings, and well-drained beans. Mix well. In a butter-greased casserole dish, alternate layers of bean mixture with layer of grated cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Old-Fashioned White Bean Soup

• 1 lb. great northern dry beans

• 2 quarts cold water

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2 ham hocks

• 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

In a large saucepan, cover beans with salted water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 2 hours. Add ham and return to a simmer without stirring for at least 3 hours. Add more water as needed during cooking. Before serving, remove ham hocks and remove all fat. Chop the meat and add to the soup. Good with any chopped onion relish on the side as a condiment. Season to taste.

Buttermilk Stuffed Potatoes

• 8 potato halves

• ½ stick softened, salted butter

• 2/3 cup buttermilk

• Salt and freshly ground pepper

• Grated cheddar/other cheese

• Paprika

Bake 4 large baking potatoes until done. Half each potato lengthwise. Scoop out center of each, leaving skin intact. In a mixer bowl, add the scooped potato, butter, buttermilk and salt and pepper to taste. Whip until creamy and smooth. Spoon potato mixture into potato shells. Top with grated cheese and sprinkle of paprika. Bake in a preheated 275-degree oven for 25 minutes or until cheese begins to get toasty.

Basil Tomatoes

• 8 small, ripe tomatoes

• 8 Tbsp. fine dry bread crumbs

• 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil

• 8 tsp. melted, salted butter

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• 1 cup grated Swiss cheese

Cut tomatoes in half. Season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, basil, melted butter, cheese, and salt and pepper, to taste. Pile lightly on top of tomatoes. Broil until toasted on top.

Green Rice Casserole

• 2 ½ cup cooked white rice

• 2 beaten eggs

• ¾ cup whole milk

• 3 Tbsp. grated cheddar cheese

• 3 Tbsp. softened, salted butter

• ¾ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 ½ tsp. grated onions

• ¼ cup minced parsley

• 10 oz. pkg. frozen, thawed, chop spinach

• 1 ½ tsp. salt

Cook and drain the rice. To the rice, add beaten eggs, milk, cheese, butter, Worcestershire, onions, parsley, and thawed chopped spinach. Blend well. Add enough salt to taste. Pour into a butter-greased casserole or ring mold (pretty at the holiday). Bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Favorite Green Pea Casserole

• 1 can drained, thinly sliced water chestnuts

• 1 large can drained bean sprouts

• 2 cans drained button mushrooms

• 2 cans condensed mushroom soup

• 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise

• 20 oz. cooked, frozen peas

• 1 can fried onion rings

Only use frozen peas — cooked. In a mixer bowl, combine water chestnuts, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and soup. Mix well. I like to use a little less condensed soup and add in a little mayonnaise to cut the soup taste. Sometimes I use different soup flavors instead of mushrooms, such as celery, etc. Gently fold in the cooked peas making sure not to smash them. Mix well by hand. Pour into a butter-greased casserole dish. Top with onion rings. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.