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Last Minute Ideas to Make Christmas Meals Merry

Christmas has crept up on me and most of the people I know. We have just a few days to finish making treats for friends and family. Most haven’t even started planning for the holiday dinner. To help us all, here are a few ideas to check off remaining food gift and holiday meal items on our list.

Without fail, there’s always a last-minute invitation to a party or informal holiday gathering. Instead of taking spinach dip or a cheese ball, try this festive Christmas fudge wreath. You can be out the door with this crowd-pleaser in less than 30 minutes.

To make it, add a 12-ounce bag of semisweet chocolate morsels and about 3/4 of a 12-ounce bag of butterscotch morsels and a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (save the can) to a heavy saucepan. Stir well over low heat until everything is melted together. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, stir, and remove from heat. Stir in two cups of chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup of dried chopped cranberries or dates (your choice).

To make the wreath, cover the can with plastic wrap and place in the center of a platter that’s been lightly greased with butter. Spoon fudge mixture around the can, shape into an even ring, and decorate immediately with “holly” made from sliced candied red and green cherries (if desired.) Chill covered in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving.

Looking for a delicious old-school salad or dessert that’ll take you back to your childhood? My friend’s mother makes this flavorful salad for every holiday. Infused with a delightful dose of Coke, it’s on my list to make for a Christmas gathering this week.

Pour a six-ounce box of cherry-flavored Jell-O into a bowl and cover it with a cup of boiling water; stir until dissolved. For the piece de resistance, stir in 10 ounces of regular Coke. Refrigerate about 30 minutes, or until slightly firm, but not fully congealed. Check and stir every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t congeal all the way.

Next, pour of can (14.5-16 ounces) of red pitted cherries and the juice into a food processor or blender and pulse lightly to chop cherries. Stir cherries and juice into the slightly-congealed Jell-O mixture, followed by an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple and the juice. Add a cup of chopped pecans and stir everything together.

For the final step, pour into a gelatin mold or large Pyrex bowl and refrigerate until set or overnight. Remove from mold by inverting onto a serving platter.

My friend’s mother tops her molded ring with a mixture of cream cheese and sugar. If she’s serving it in individual bowls, she adds a dollop of the cream cheese/sugar mixture to each one.

Finally, there’s always the dilemma of the leftovers from Christmas dinner. I made Turkey and Wild Rice Soup from Thanksgiving’s turkey bones and leftover meat and was happy with the results. The thick soup is a great alternative to turkey sandwiches.

On December 26, let the soup simmer and fill your home with the wonderful aroma of the Christmas turkey being recycled into a delicious meal. Until then - Merry Christmas, everyone!

After-Christmas Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

4 tablespoons butter

2 carrots, finely diced

1 onion, finely diced

2 celery stalks, finely diced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

4 tablespoons flour

4-5 cups turkey or chicken stock (can use store-bought; for homemade, see note below)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup uncooked wild rice (I used a package of wild rice, minus the seasoning packet)

3 cups shredded cooked turkey (can use shredded chicken)

1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream (optional)

Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Add carrots, onion, and celery to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add flour and cook about 3-5 minutes.

Add four cups of turkey or chicken stock, thyme, rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, and rice. Bring to a simmer and then cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add turkey or chicken and simmer, uncovered, another 15-20 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Stir in the half and half or heavy cream for a creamier soup. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Note: To make homemade stock: Place turkey carcass (slice off large pieces of meat and reserve for soup, but it’s okay if some meat is attached) and boil in a large stockpot with four quarts of water or enough to cover the carcass. Add two teaspoons of salt, tablespoon of black peppercorns, and two bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to low, stirring occasionally, for about two hours. Remove carcass from pan and let cool, then pick off any meat on the carcass and from the stock. Drain stock with a mesh strainer to remove peppercorns and bay leaves. Use stock and meat in the soup.

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