Skip the store-bought food; here are 5 easy recipes to bring to a holiday feast

You set the table a day in advance, with cloth napkins folded and flowers arranged in heavy vases. You even hauled and polished grandma’s flatware out of storage for the occasion.

You rose early and picked thyme leaves off a stem and sliced potatoes at exactly one-eighth of an inch. You separated whites from yolks and beat a meringue until your bicep burned, then pulled turkey guts and a neck out of a carcass and bathed the bird in saltwater for three days.

And when the desserts have cooled, the food is warm, the table is set, that one guest will inevitably arrive holding a paper bag from Ralphs and present to you a plastic carton of cupcakes that are slathered in food dye and icing that is way too sweet, or a warm bucket of chicken from KFC.

Please, don’t be that guest. I’ve honed over the years the art of the passive aggressive “thank youuuu,” and through deft skill learned from my mother—a homemaker’s homemaker—I will edge your store-bought victuals toward the trash.

It’s not hard to make something from scratch—honestly. It takes a little bit of planning, a little bit of work, and you get the satisfaction of bringing something from you, for someone else, instead of a frantic stop at a chain grocery store.

Here are a few simple recipes to get you started.

No-knead bread (this version has thyme leaves mixed into the dough). Photo by Melissa Evans.

No-knead bread 

I’ve adapted my instructions on this one slightly, after the feeble effort of my colleague, Tim Grobaty, who attempted this recipe while hunkered down at home during the pandemic. (Yes, I yelled at him.)

You’re going to need three cups of all-purpose flour, a quarter teaspoon of dry active yeast, one and one-quarter teaspoon of salt and one and two-thirds cups of warm water (120 to 130 degrees).

Gently combine all the ingredients. Use a wooden spoon; do NOT put this in a stand mixer. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter undisturbed for two to 24 hours.

Dust a cutting board with a few tablespoons of flour. Use a cake scraper or spatula to gently turn the dough out on the cutting board (it will be very sticky and bubbly). Gently fold in about five tablespoons of additional flour.

Grease a Dutch oven or cast iron pot or skillet with butter. Form the dough into a ball and place in the pan, covered, for one to two hours.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Bake bread, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until browned.

Recipe from “Better Homes and Gardens.” 

Pecan sandies 

These are my absolute favorite cookies. They’re buttery, not too sweet, and always a hit. But like the bread, you’ll need to plan ahead a bit and make these in stages:

Beat one cup of butter in an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add a half cup of powdered sugar. Beat until combined, scraping sides of the bowl. Beat in one tablespoon of water and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Stir in two cups of flour, and one and a half cups of chopped, toasted pecans (don’t skip this part, which should be done ahead of time: spread pecans on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for five minutes; let them cool, then chop them).

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30-60 minutes. Divide dough in halves, then roll each into the shape of a log (about 4-5 inches thick or slimmer for smaller cookies). Wrap in plastic wrap and let chill for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut logs into quarter-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

After they cool, the recipe says to douse them in powdered sugar, but I prefer dipping them (bottom side) into a dark or white chocolate (place on wax paper and refrigerate after).

These cookies also last forever in the fridge or freezer.

Recipe from “Better Homes and Gardens.” 

Green bean casserole

Here’s a recipe that’s low-effort, sort of “homemade,” but does involve opening cans, which I generally frown upon. I’m including it, however, in honor of my colleague Jackie Rae, who I recently learned is a declarative fan of crispy onions. (And you can listen to the two of us talking about holiday feasts on The Word podcast, here.)

Combine one can condensed cream of mushroom soup, a half cup milk, one teaspoon soy sauce, four cups cooked and cut green beans and two-thirds cup crispy onions.

Spread into a casserole dish, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle the top with another two-thirds cup crispy onions, and bake for another five minutes.

From the back of a Campbell’s soup can.  If you’d like a more advanced and homemade option (and experiment with frying your own onions), this recipe from the New York Times is fantastic.

Bourbon pecan cranberry sauce

I haven’t tried this recipe, but it comes with the recommendation of Lindsey Dobruck, a fantastic cook and baker and wife of Post breaking news editor Jeremiah Dobruck—and that’s good enough for me.

In a medium saucepan, combine one cup sugar, a half cup water and a half cup bourbon, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add 12 ounces of cranberries (whole, real berries; not gel from a can, just to be clear) and return to a boil. Stir every few minutes, for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries start to pop.

Remove from heat, and let the cranberries cool for a while, then add another half cup bourbon. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, add one cup of coarsely chopped pecans.

Recipe from “Southern Cooking for Company.” 

Good Good Green Beans

What would a list of recipes in Long Beach be without a selection from Snoop Dogg?

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, add two pounds of trimmed green beans and cook three to four minutes. In a large skillet, melt six tablespoons butter until it browns, then add the green beans to the skillet. Stir and sauté for three to four minutes. Add salt and lemon zest to taste.

Recipe from “From Crook to Cook: Platinum Recipes from Tha Boss Dogg’s Kitchen.” 

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.
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