Cooking with Lady Smokey: Holiday Traditions

Some of our favorite family holiday keep-sakes.

Some of our favorite family holiday keep-sakes.

Here we are in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the holiday stress. I am afraid many years in retail and customer service work has turned me into somewhat of a Grinch this time of year. The best way for me to deal with it and try to find meaning in the true spirit of the holiday is to keep it simple so I can focus on what is really important to me and remember the aspects of the holidays I cherish the most. I love the family traditions. For me, this includes lots of baking, eating with friends, making gifts, and holiday music.

One of Grant’s family baking traditions is making Texas Tandies! These are so yummy that we make them for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and sometimes even the New Year’s celebration.

Texas Tandies

Texas Tandies

  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 stick chilled butter
  • 1 cup of flour
  • pinch of sea salt to taste
  • pinch of cayenne to taste
  • ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • Pecans

Cut chilled butter into small pieces and mix with flour until grainy. Add cheese, salt, and cayenne.  Mix liquids and sprinkle into mixture until dough just holds together.  Form into two balls and wrap with plastic.  Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Pre-heat oven to 350 and roll out dough onto a floured surface.  Cut out with a small round cookie cutter and gently press a pecan onto each cookie… Bake at 350 for 12 minutes or so. Let them cool for about ½ an hour (if possible). Good served with ice cold beer or bubbly!

Thanksgiving Day repeat

In my family, it has always been the tradition to have a repeat of the Thanksgiving turkey dinner again at Christmas. I’m not sure why we did this and it seems many families do this. In case you are one of those people- and by the way, we are planning for to prepare something similar to our Thanksgiving meal we had with friends for family- I wanted to share Grant’s recipe for Smoked Turkey. It was delicious! We served it with tomato gravy, which was excellent with the smoked flavor of the turkey.

Smoking Turkey

Big Smokey’s Smoked Turkey

  • 1 10-12 lb bird, thawed 3 days in advance

for brine:

  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 gal (or so) water

for dry rub:

  • ½ cup raw sugar
  • ½ cup sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Mix Ingredients thoroughly.

for smoking:

  • hard wood charcoal
  • Hickory chips, soaked in water for 1 hour

for the mop:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1 cup Apple Cider

Heat ingredients in a saucepan until butter is melted and mop is hot…

Mix 1 cup sugar, salt with water and place turkey in to brine for 2 days. Remove the turkey and pat dry completely. Thoroughly rub the turkey with the dry rub mix all over in all cavities and under skin. Let sit overnight.

Prepare your grill or smoker as directed by your specific brand, trying to keep a temperature of 275 degrees. (If you using a grill, keep the heat source indirect.) I prefer hardwood charcoal and soaked hickory chips, adding a large handful at a time every 30 minutes for three hours. Replenish charcoal as need to keep the temperature constant.  After three hours of direct smoke, the turkey should be a deep chestnut brown. Remove turkey from smoker and lay it onto several sheets of foil,  add the mop over the top and in the cavities of the turkey. Wrap tightly in the foil and put back into the smoker until the turkey reaches 175 degrees with a meat thermometer.  (I like to leave it in longer until the turkey falls off of the bone and can be pulled like pork shoulder (185 degrees).  Reserve the mop juices and pour over the pulled smoked turkey.

Turkey 1

Smoked Turkey 2

Having just returned from a quick trip to New Orleans, we were really obsessed with the idea of turning our leftover holiday turkey into a smoking good gumbo! It was amazing with the smoked turkey. Here is exactly how Grant did that…

Smoked Turkey Gumbo

  • 1 smoked turkey carcass
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 5-10 okra pods, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp bacon fat
  • 4 spicy pork Andouille sausages, sliced
  • ½ stick butter
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups left over smoked turkey mean, finely shredded
  • 3-5 Tbsp file gumbo powder
  • 3 Tbsp sea salt
  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Turkey stock

Take your leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcass (skin & bones) and all remaining juices and place in a large stock pot with 12 cups water. Bring to a rapid boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and simmer 12 hours. Remove bones and let cool. Skim off excess fat. Place stock in a Dutch oven or crock pot over low heat. In a skillet, saute up all the vegetables except the okra in the bacon fat. Add the veggies to the stock. Saute the sliced Andouille in the skillet and add to the stock. Add turkey and all spices except the file powder.

Clean the excess fat out of the skillet and then add butter to melt. Add the flour and stir constantly over medium heat to make a roux. Roux should be a chocolate brown color but not burnt. Add to the gumbo. Gumbo should now simmer for about 2 hours for flavors to combine. Add the okra and file gumbo. Add more salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Serve over a helping of rice or leftover Thanksgiving dressing.  Season with your favorite Cajun hot pepper sauce.

Turkey Gumbo

One of my most treasured Christmas gifts ever was a book of hand-written family recipes my Mom made for me and for my Sister. Included are many recipes for my favorite foods from my childhood. One of them is for Mom’s Apricot Bread. Mom always makes this for her neighbors and for us when we go home or a visit. I remember as a kid, she once made a loaf just for the two of us (which was a special treat considering my Mom, Sister, and myself all love the heal of the bread but being the youngest, I rarely ever got it) and we ate the entire loaf in a day.

Mom's Recipes

Mom’s Apricot Bread

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar (I just use 2)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ⅓ cup cooking oil (I use 1 cup apricot applesauce + ⅓ cup olive oil)
  • 1 ½ cup cooked dried apricots (cook in a little bit of water until apricots are mushy)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and then flour loaf pans. Combine all dry ingredients. Add eggs and oil (and/or applesauce). Beat until smooth. Add apricots. Mix thoroughly and then add nuts. Pour into prepared loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done.

Another childhood baking memory of mine is making Gingerbread Men with my Mom and Sis. Mom would make the men and then we would decorate them to look like our friends and then give them as presents. In calling my Mom for the recipe (as it was not in my family recipe cookbook!), I realized she didn’t have just one and she often tried new ones for this so I experimented, too, and came up with this one which was pretty delicious. I was too lazy to decorate them (and I didn’t find a natural recipe I was excited about) so I sprinkled them with raw sugar instead. I also couldn’t find my gingerbread man cookie cutter but I was really excited to use my star cookie cutter!

Gingerbread stars

Gingerbread Stars

  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 cup unsulphered molasses
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ tsp baking soda


Mix butter and sugar together well. Add eggs, one at a time. Add ginger and molasses. Mix well. Add in remaining ingredients and mix. Divide dough into two portions and spoon dough out onto a couple sheets of plastic wrap and wrap tightly into a ball or disk. Refrigerate for a couple hours. Heat oven to 350. Dust surface with flour and roll dough out to about ¼” and cut out stars using a cookie cutter. Sprinkle with raw sugar and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Bake 9-11 minutes, depending on the size of your stars.

Cookie stars

Another favorite holiday cookie for me as a child is the recipe below. Marge Idol, my Mom’s good friend would always bring these over. I loved these. I eventually asked my Mom for her recipe and some of the measurements ended up a little off in the translation but I have since tweaked it some and figured it out. She always piped the dough so it looked like pretty wreaths. I chose to roll the dough out so I could make more stars!

Marge Idol’s Spritz Cookies

  • ½ cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup raw cane sugar
  • 1 egg (at room temperature)
  • 1 tsp almond or vanilla extract (I use 1 tsp of both!)
  • 2 ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • dash of salt

Mix butter, oil, and sugar well. Add egg. Mix. Add extract and continue mixing. Add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours. Preheat oven to 375. Roll out onto a floured surface. Cut with a cookie cutter. Place cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes.

baked star cookies

We also LOVE holiday music, every kind. I like the religious and spiritual hymns, the goofy stuff, and all variations.

Santa Guitar

We buy a new Christmas cd or album every year and have quite a collection now. This year we found Christmas with Marty Robbins. And right now as I type, Willie Nelson is serenading me with Pretty Paper. I LOVE this song! Willie Nelson wrote it and Roy Orbison first had a hit with it. Randy Travis, Glen Campbell, and many others have recorded it but Willie’s version is still my favorite.

And one of my favorite youtube Christmas moments from the movie Nashville Rebel features Loretta Lynn and the Wilburn Brothers…

Happy Holidays from Nashville!

Nashville Christmas Tree

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