pumpkin pie slice
Photo by Amy Gaw

When cooking or baking for the holidays, why not make a little extra to share with a friend or neighbor?

As we break bread with family and friends this holiday season, and give thanks for all the goodness in our lives, ‘tis also the season to share our culinary abundances with others who might benefit from a little extra food-love.

It is easy to make extra portions if you are already cooking, so why not make enough to share? Neighbors, friends, co-workers and complete strangers will be uplifted by your generosity and a fringe benefit is that your heart will be touched, too. A traditional turkey dinner with sides is a cost-conscious way to feed a lot of people and that is even before you start to break down the carcass for soups and broths. Plan your menu, figure in a few extra portions, then pass it on to make someone’s day.

If you are dining out for the holiday season, ask your server to add a meal or two, to-go, onto your tab. Sharing doesn’t get much easier, if your bank account allows.

Put your gift of food on a pretty plate or platter from the thrift store and cover it completely with foil and add a ribbon. Or fill a new or upcycled to-go container with your dinner or dessert offering, wrap it in brown paper and finish with a simple twist of red and white butcher twine. Everyone loves to unwrap a gift and whimsy is good for the soul, both the giver’s and the receiver’s.

Whatever you decide to share and however you do it, as long as it is from the heart, gifts of food will always be appreciated. I’ll help by sharing a few cost-conscious recipes that feature twists on seasonal ingredients. Give yourself the gift of an easy new side dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Fresh Cranberries and Pecans

Ingredients

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, rinsed, trimmed and halved

2 tablespoons coconut oil

12 ounces (3 cups) fresh cranberries

1 cup orange juice

8 ounces raw pecan halves

3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon local honey

Sea salt

Cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat a cast iron skillet until hot, but not smoking. Add coconut oil and Brussels sprouts. Toss sprouts to coat with oil and continue cooking on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Move the sprouts around, and get them a bit brown on the edges. Add cranberries and cook for another 10 minutes. Add orange juice to deglaze pan. Cover and steam-finish the sprouts, about 5 minutes. Add pecans, turn heat off and toss. Leave in hot pan for a few more minutes to bring out oils from the nuts.

While the sprouts are cooking, make your glaze in a bowl large enough to hold all of your ingredients. Combine balsamic vinegar, honey, salt and a grind or two of black pepper. Whisk to combine. Add ingredients hot from the pan and toss to season. Serve dish hot or at room temperature.

Fire-Kissed Collards

Ingredients

1 bunch local collards

2 cloves minced garlic

Olive oil

Sea salt

Directions

Wash collards and fold each leaf in half and remove the stalk. You can do this with your fingers or with a knife. Leave the leaves folded together. Select six to eight leaves at a time and roll them up like you were rolling a big cigar or sushi roll. You will then cut the collards like a giant julienne, or like you were cutting a slice off of a roll of sushi. When you are finished you will have nice long strands of slightly wet greens.

Heat a cast iron skillet until hot then add a tiny bit of good olive oil. Immediately add the greens and move them around quickly in the pan to wilt. Turn off the heat and add the garlic and salt. Continue to move the greens around the pan until they are all wilted. This is a super fast dish. Do not overcook.

North Carolina Sweet Potato Surprise

Ingredients

6 large sweet potatoes

9 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

½ cup heavy whipping cream

2½ cups North Carolina pecans, chopped

1 teaspoons cinnamon

Sea salt

¼ cup water

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Cook the Sweet Potatoes

Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and add to a saucepan filled with enough water to cover potatoes. Bring to simmer and cook until potatoes are soft. Remove from heat, drain and return to the stove top. With potato masher, mash potatoes with 3 tablespoons butter and a pinch of sea salt.

Make the Caramel Sauce

Have everything ready before you put the pan on the stove. This recipe progresses quickly.

Using a 3-quart saucepan, heat 1 cup of sugar on moderately high heat. As the sugar begins to melt, stir constantly. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. As soon as all of the sugar crystals have melted, immediately add 6 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter has melted.

Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Wait a few seconds, then slowly add the whipping cream to the pan and continue to whisk to incorporate. When you add the butter and the cream, the mixture will foam up considerably. This is why you started with a 3 quart pan. Whisk until caramel sauce is smooth. Cool, then pour into a glass container and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Make the Candied Pecans

Toss pecans in 2 teaspoons of melted butter, then roast in 300° F oven 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, salt and water in a saucepan; cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Boil to 236° F, the soft-ball stage. Remove from heat; add vanilla and pecans and stir until mixture is creamy. Turn out onto waxed paper and use a fork to separate pecans. They will be very hot. Wait for them to cool before you pop one in your mouth. At this point you can hit them with another pinch of sea salt if you are feeling extra salty.

Serve

For service, use individual portion cups or a pretty serving dish. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the cooked sweet potatoes and drop the salty candied pecans on top or serve the toppings on the side and let folks determine their sweetness. If you do serve the caramel on the side, use a warming tray, small heated serving dish or a warm water bath wrapped in a pretty napkin to keep the caramel sauce servable.

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