How to Plan a Southern Christmas Dinner

Hint: It has a lot to do with hospitality.

December 23, 2019

Food Network Kitchen’s Christmas Tree Pesto Breadsticks.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

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There’s something seemingly effortless about Southern hospitality, and that host-with-the-most attitude extends to the holiday table, too. But you needn’t have your own blue-ribbon pimento cheese to plan a winning Southern-inspired holiday feast. Here’s how to menu plan a Southern-style Christmas dinner, from apps in a snap to impressive-yet-easy mains.

Opt for Southern Hospitality-Ready Apps

Southern hospitality is the real deal — not only because it’s genuinely warm, but because Southerners have a repertoire of ready-to-entertain recipes at their fingertips. Cheese straws, are a permanent fixture on Southern celebration tables, whether store-bought or crafted from a tried-and-true family recipe. In Kelly Senyei’s Party-Perfect Cheese Straws class on the Food Network Kitchen app, I learned how to twist, scatter and bake my way to host-with-the-most status in no time. Not only can you bake the cheese straws ahead of time and serve them at room temperature, you can prep and freeze a tray or two for impromptu entertaining — the tray goes straight from the freezer to the oven with a few extra minutes of baking time. Plus, the assortment of cheeses and toppings are totally customizable. (Pro tip: Save the rinds from hard cheeses like Gruyere and Parmesan to add a savory creaminess to all manner of slow-cooker dishes and simmered soups.) Or in lieu of cheese straws, craft a festive Christmas Tree of breadsticks (pictured), slathered with pesto, which would be even better dunked into pimento cheese.

If there’s one quintessentially Southern Christmas appetizer, it’s got to be sausage balls. These baked cheesy, meaty and salty bites come together easily thanks to the use of boxed baking mix. Try Trisha Yearwood’s three-ingredient Sausage Hors d'Oeuvres, which are especially irresistible served warm out of the oven but just as delectable at room temperature.

Round out your appetizer spread with Trisha’s festive Holiday Deviled Eggs, Katie Lee’s goat cheese and hot pepper jelly duo (save leftover jelly for slicking on grilled cheese sandwiches or glazing porkchops), a crock of Sunny Anderson’s Easy Pimento Cheese and a charcuterie board anchored with country ham. Country ham is the South’s answer to prosciutto, so really, you can swap it in to add a Southern twist to holiday favorites like Giada De Laurentiis’ prosciutto-wrapped cheese-stuffed dates.

Make Your Mains Meaty

For the main event, you can’t go wrong with ham — especially if it’s glazed. Cook along with Louisville-based chef Edward Lee to make his Spicy Maple-Glazed Spiral Ham in his class on the Food Network Kitchen app (All you need is 11 minutes to learn!). Or follow this Classic Glazed Ham recipe and customize your glaze with flavor combinations such as apple-maple, hoisin-spice or pineapple-apricot.

Other celebration-worthy meaty mains include Ina Garten’s easy-yet-elegant filet of beef, a mustard-crusted roast pork loin baked with onions and dried fruit, or a standing rib roast—try this rosemary-salted roast or up the ante with Alton Brown’s Dry-Aged Standing Rib Roast with Sage Jus.

Count on Casseroles & Classic Sides

Another effortless way to whip up sides for a crowd while cutting down on hands-on cooking time is to transform them into casseroles. Trisha Yearwood’s Grits and Greens Casserole calls for bacon and Monterey Jack to turn collard greens into an irresistible smoky, cheesy baked wonder. Speaking of grits, instant grits (yes, instant!) take a starring turn in this low-country-inspired Shrimp and Grits Casserole recipe (and is one we’re adding to our winter weeknight cooking repertoire). On the starch front, try Ree Drummond’s Perfect Potatoes au Gratin (aka cheesy potatoes) or Trisha’s pecan-strewn Sweet Potato Souffle. Geoffrey Zakarian’s Truffled Mushroom and Cheesy Macaroni Casserole reads like a clever comfort food hybrid that’s equal parts fancy (truffle oil) and retro (canned fried onion topping). And this two-fer Brussels Sprouts-Bacon Stuffing recipe is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that’s worth filing away for next year’s Thanksgiving, too.

Round things out with a few fan-favorite vegetable sides such as Honey Glazed Carrots & Green Beans, Sunny’s Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, or her vegetarian-friendly collard greens, which are bolstered with red pepper flakes and chopped tomatoes.

Finally, serve baskets of bread for mopping and sopping: think, warm dinner rolls, like Damaris Phillips’ Buttery Baked Potato Rolls, or crumbly cornbread squares a la Cat Cora’s Southern Cornbread.

Cakes, Trifles & Pies, Oh My!

Come dessert, traditional Southern pies such as sweet potato and pecan are shoe-ins, but cakes have a place on the Southern holiday dessert table, too—especially layer cakes. For a show-stopping take on red velvet, try Sunny’s Grandma’s Red Velvet Cake, which alternates layers of tender cake, creamy frosting and chopped pecans to striking effect. If it’s good enough to win Throwdown with Bobby Flay, it’s good enough for your holiday table. Bobby’s layered toasted coconut cake doubles down with a coconut filling and coconut buttercream frosting for a memorable bite. For a festive holiday twist on the layer cake, try a Peppermint Layer Cake with Candy Cane Frosting.

You’ll need at least one trifle to complete your dessert spread. Katie’s Black Forest Trifle — which alternates layers of chocolate cake, pudding, cherries and homemade whipped cream in a trifle dish — fits the bill nicely. Best of all, it can be assembled ahead and is a great option if you’re transporting dessert (trust us, it’s much less precarious than balancing a frosted cake on your lap!). If you don’t have a trifle dish, use a glass bowl with deep sides or a wide-mouth vase with straight sides to show off the layers.

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