My father worked in a lab with scientists from around the world, and every Christmas Eve, we’d open our home to folks from a variety of countries and faiths. It was a wonderful example of what the holiday season was all about. What made it even more delicious is that much of the good cheer occurred over an impressive spread of food (as well as the highly potent Walker Family Eggnog, but that’s another story).

The recipes for this holiday column are the kinds of dishes that create lasting memories. Especially Marie Wallace-Usry’s Maryland White Potato Pie, which I had to double-check to make sure it was a dessert and not a side dish. “I grew up in Maryland, and it was a good way to use up leftover mashed potatoes,” she says. “My grandmother always made these at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it disappeared fast! It is a family favorite now, and my kids and grandkids love it!”

Miriam Bracero’s Puerto Rican Style Vanilla Custard, which is a fancy way to say “Flan,” is more than a recipe. In Puerto Rico, where Miriam grew up, “It is a tradition to have Flan during the holidays,” she says. “My dad taught me the recipe. I grew up with this tradition, and I am making sure I keep it going with my family.”

Then there’s Kelsey Allen’s Chocolate Cream Pie with Marshmallow Meringue. She nabbed that recipe from her days working in a bakery. “It reminds me of all the years I spent at the bakery. I love making it for my family at Christmas. And they love it, too!”

Dessert may be the spotlight on holiday party buffets, but the assortment of appetizers that were sent in are perfect party foods, like Jacqueline E. Lewis’ Bourbon Whiskey Meatballs. She came up with this recipe because she was “bored with the same old recipe and wanted to change things up a bit.” Jessica Wyatt’s Ranch Cheese Ball is such a family favorite that she has to make at least two at a time. And Cindy Light’s Mexican Chicken Dip is just ridiculous easy. “What’s not to love?”

And then there’s Diana Whitt’s Smoked Pork Belly, a nicely seasoned chunk of slow-smoked bacon. She had me at “Burnt Ends.”


Smoked Pork Belly “Burnt Ends”
Dana Whitt

INGREDIENTS

For the pork belly burnt ends:

  • 5 pounds pork belly, sliced into cubes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry rub of choice

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Preheat smoker to 225-250. Use a fruit wood to give the burnt ends a sweet flavor.

Trim excess fat from the pork belly. (I have the butcher take off the thick skin on the back.) Slice into 2-inch cubes, and place in a bowl or plastic storage bag. Add olive oil, dry rub liberally and be sure all meat is coated. Place pork belly on a wire rack or directly on the smoker. Smoke, uncovered, 3 hours.

Remove the pork belly cubes from the smoker, place in a foil pan, then add barbecue sauce, butter and honey. Stir. Cover with aluminum foil, and place back in smoker for 1.5 hours until the internal temperature is about 200-203 degrees.

Remove the foil, and continue to smoke for another 15-30 minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove from the smoker and serve.

(I use an electric smoker and these turn out wonderfully!)


Bourbon Whiskey Meatballs
Jacqueline E. Lewis

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound regular meatballs
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup bourbon whiskey (I use Makers Mark for a sweeter flavor.)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Set slow cooker to high heat. In a small bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, bourbon whiskey, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Place meatballs in crockpot and pour mixture on top, coating meatballs thoroughly. Cook on high for one hour, stirring occasionally. Then turn crockpot to low heat, cooking for one hour, stirring occasionally. Serve with toothpicks and enjoy!


Mexican Chicken Dip
Cindy Light

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
  • 1 package Fiesta Hidden Valley dry seasoning
  • 1 16-ounce package cream cheese
  • Tortilla chips

Spray bottom of crockpot with nonstick spray. Place chicken breasts flat to one side of the crockpot, and cover with fiesta seasoning. Pour black beans, corn and Ro-Tel in sections in crockpot. Place cream cheese on top of all ingredients. Cook on high for 4 hours or low 6-8 hours. Mix together all ingredients. Serve with tortilla chips.


Ranch Cheese Ball
Jessica Wyatt

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 8-ounce block cream cheese
  • 1 package Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Mix together all ingredients in a bowl, then form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour or, for best results, overnight. Serve with crackers, preferably Ritz Crackers.


Corn Casserole
Darlene Rigby

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 can whole kernel corn, undrained
  • 1 can cream-style corn
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 3 eggs, beaten well
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ cup green bell pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour into a baking or casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown on top. Add more cheese, if desired.


Mom’s Country Cube Steak
Whitney Addington

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package cube steak
  • 1 package of Lipton Onion soup mix
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups water

Preheat over to 350. Preheat a skillet with the oil. Lightly flour cube steak on each side. Place cubed steak in the pan, and cook each side for just 1 minute each to brown. Place cube steak in a casserole dish. In a separate bowl, mix soup mix and two cups of water. Pour over cube steaks and place in the oven. Cook 45 minutes to one hour.


Chocolate Cream Pie with Marshmallow Meringue
Kelsey Allen

INGREDIENTS

  • Premade Pie Crust or Cookie Crust

Chocolate pie Filling:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Meringue:

  • 3 fresh egg whites
  • 7 ounces marshmallow cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate pie filling: In a large saucepan (not on heat at this point), whisk together egg yolks and milk. In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa powder. Whisk dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in the sauce pan. Turn heat to medium-high. Whisk continually until mixture begins to thicken and bubble, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the butter and vanilla. Mix well. Cool for a few minutes, then pour into baked pie crust. Chill for 4 to 5 hours.

Meringue: Using a stand mixer on 4-6 speed, whisk egg whites until thick. Add marshmallow cream and beat for 2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat for 2 more minutes.

Should form peaks and be glossy white. Spread to edge of pie, making sure to seal all edges to crust. Peak with spatula. Brown with baking torch.


Puerto Rican Style Vanilla Custard (a.k.a. Flan)
Miriam Bracero

INGREDIENTS

For the mix:

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the caramel:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar

For the mix: Mix everything in a bowl including milks, eggs and vanilla extract.

For the caramel: Boil water and sugar until brown in color, pour hot into baking pan, and move it around to cover the entire pan. Pour the custard mix into the pan. Get a bigger pan half way with water put your pan inside make sure water is not too much so it doesn’t get in your custard mix. (I call it Baño de Maria). Bake for about an hour on a temp of 375 or until slightly brown. Then refrigerate for about 3 hours. After it has cooled, it is ready to serve.


Maryland White Potato Pie
Marie Wallace-Usry

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled and mashed
  • ⅔ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 9-inch pie shells

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine potatoes, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Mix well. Gradually add whipping cream and milk, stirring until well blended. Stir in lemon rind, juice, vanilla and nutmeg. Add eggs, mixing well. Pour into pie shells. Bake at 350 for 55 minutes until knife comes out of center clean.