Food & Drink: December 2023

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Holiday Traditions to Last a Lifetime

When our kids were younger, they were in Gayle Lintz’s Sunday school class at Calvary Baptist Church where she taught for 40 years. In one conversation with Abby, they were talking about something that our family had done for one or two Christmases in a row and Gayle had some good advice:
Whatever tradition you start, make sure it’s something you like, because you’re going to be doing it for the next 50 years.

She was right.

There are holiday traditions in the Tankersley family that date back as long as I can remember. Christmas Eve was always spent at the home of my parents, Gran and John T, even as us four kids got married. Pretty much every Christmas Eve, from 1971 until 2009, was spent at 4329 Gram Lane in Bellmead.

Abby and I and our kids have some traditions of our own now. On New Year’s Eve, dinner consists of lettuce wraps — made from a recipe in the cookbook “Entertaining Asian Style” — green onion pancakes, potstickers and egg rolls. We don’t remember exactly when this became our go-to meal to ring in the new year, but it’s something we all look forward to, whether it’s going to be just the four of us celebrating together or if we have a house full of folks.

We’ve talked about our family food traditions over the past eight years that we’ve been writing this column: Overcooked Chex mix. Canned cinnamon rolls. Sausage balls. Four-layer delight. Hot chocolate. When we put out a call on Facebook for holiday food traditions, my sister Kara Tindell replied, “There would have been an absolute revolt without hot chocolate, even if it was 85 degrees!!!” And then a couple of days later, she texted me a picture taken Dec. 24, 2009 — our last Christmas in our parents’ house — and it was of Mom and Dad opening presents. Behind them can be seen the front door of the house, and it was open, because it was always hot in their house.

That crowdsourcing effort prompted nearly 50 replies, with sausage balls being the most popular holiday food. But others jumped out due to their uniqueness. Jonathan Grant’s lobster mac-and-cheese. Jacquelyn Kellar-Davis’ homemade ravioli. Cheese sauce as “gravy” for ham and turkey from Nikki Wilmoth. Amy Davis’ pre-meal deviled eggs, and then a back-up supply served with the meal.

Alec Tefertiller, my co-worker at Baylor, sent me what his family simply calls The Recipe.

“I’m not sure the origin of it, but I know it was something that was in the freezer during holidays for most of my childhood,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t get to enjoy it until we were much older, but it was kind of shared in our family.”

The drink is a pleasing combination of sweet and tart, he said.

Sam Wilson said that nobody is certain where his family’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea Chowder originated. It may have come from a cookbook, or maybe someone shared it with his mother-in-law, Patricia Green. He does know that it was in the cookbook “Justified Temptations,” which was published in 1991 by Richardson Heights Baptist Church, now simply The Heights Baptist Church.

Sam’s wife Barbara has made the dish for New Year’s Day gatherings for years, and it pairs well with other holiday dishes such as a cranberry salad with chopped apples. And this one tastes even better the next day, Sam said.

Also best made a day or two ahead and kept in the refrigerator to “wallow in all the delicious flavors” is Debbie Ucci’s Holiday Cranberry (Merry) Salsa.

“We eat this with dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas and also as a topping on fresh tamales any time of year,” she said. “It also freezes well to use later at New Year’s on cream cheese with crackers.”

Ucci said the cilantro can be left out and the mint is also optional, “but not in my opinion,” she said.

Tequila? Also optional, “but this is the merry part,” Ucci said.

Denise Childs, whom I’ve known since we were both in second grade, said that it’s not Christmas without her mother’s barbecue meatballs. Her mother made turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but made the meatballs just for Denise, who wasn’t a fan of the traditional holiday meal.

“Mom made these for me, then everyone seemed to eat them,” Denise said. “Then we started having them for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.”

Denise and her family — her brother Doug and her parents Danny and Claudine — lived less than a mile from us. Danny was a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, and he and Claudine together ran Childs’ Studio, a photography and framing business. They’ve both passed away, and I miss them like I miss my parents.

We made a meal recently of Black-Eyed Pea Chowder, focaccia bread and The Recipe, but our chowder wasn’t exactly the same as the recipe from Sam Wilson. His calls for stewed tomatoes, and I’m not a tomato fan, so we made a cream-based version. We’ve included both recipes along with Ucci’s cranberry relish, which we will definitely be making this holiday season. The Recipe — it’s a really good drink, by the way — is below.

The Recipes

The Recipe (aka Cran-Raspberry Slushie)

  • 1 bottle (64 ounces) cranberry-raspberry juice
  • 1 can (12 ounces) frozen limeade or pink lemonade
  • 2 cups rum

Pour the juice, limeade or lemonade and rum into a large pitcher or plastic container with a lid and place in the freezer overnight. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer and let thaw for a few minutes.

If desired, run a lime slice around the rim of the glass and dip in sugar. Scoop the frozen mixture into glasses and serve. Makes about 12-16 servings, depending on glass size.


Abby’s Black-Eyed Pea Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 2 cans (14 ounces each) cream corn
  • 1 bag (16 ounces) frozen black-eyed peas
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 24 ounces chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook for 5 minutes, or until the sausage begins to brown, stirring occasionally.

Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic and celery. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Then add the Cajun seasoning, corn and black-eyed peas. Pour in the broth. Cover and cook until the potatoes soften, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat.

Use an immersion blender to puree the chowder, but still leaving some whole vegetables and peas. Add the remaining black-eyed peas and stir in the cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place over low heat and keep warm until ready to serve. Makes about 6 servings.


Patricia Green’s Black-Eyed Pea Chowder

  • 1/2 pound bacon, diced
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 2 cups green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups onion, chopped
  • 2 cans (10.5 ounces) beef consommé
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces) stewed tomatoes
  • 4 to 5 cans (14 or 15 ounces) black-eyed peas, drained
  • Salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce to taste

In a Dutch oven, sauté the bacon, celery, bell pepper and onion until the bacon is crispy.

Add the consommé, tomatoes, black-eyed peas and seasonings and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Makes about 12 servings.


Deb’s Holiday Cranberry (Merry) Salsa

  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  • 2-5 jalapeno peppers, depending on heat level preferred, halved (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 2 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large lime, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 orange, zested
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional; add for some smoky flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tequila, optional

Place cranberries, jalapeno halves, green onion, cilantro and mint in a food processor and pulse several times until coarsely chopped but not mushy.

Pour into a large bowl and add the sugar, lime juice and zest, orange zest, cumin, chipotle powder and salt. Stir all together until well blended. Add tequila, if using, and stir again.

Pour into a large container and keep in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before serving. Makes about 8-10 servings.


Claudine Childs’ BBQ Meat Balls

  • 2 pounds ground beef, or 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground pork
  • 5 cups finely-ground bread crumbs
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 5 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 cups apricot preserves
  • 2 cups barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together the meat, bread crumbs, eggs and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and form into small balls.

Heat oven to 350.

Heat some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs in the skillet, then place into a baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the apricot preserves and barbecue sauce, then pour the mixture over the meatballs. Bake for about 30 minutes. Makes about 8-10 servings.