In the Kitchen with Nina: Christmas treats, from simple soups to comforting casseroles to extravagant entrees

Spinach is added to finish preparing Christmas Eve Italian Sausage and Potato Soup, photographed at the home of Nina Swan-Kohler in Robins on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Spinach is added to finish preparing Christmas Eve Italian Sausage and Potato Soup, photographed at the home of Nina Swan-Kohler in Robins on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

What are your favorite Christmas food traditions? Christmas always conjures up memories for people of their favorite foods from Christmases past. Perhaps you always go to your grandmother’s house or a favorite aunt’s house on Christmas Eve to celebrate with family.

Lots of people are choosing to simplify the Christmas Eve meal. They are serving a favorite holiday soup or even chili, partially due to its easy preparation and the ability to feed a crowd, if a few extra relatives show up. For many the “hustle-bustle” of the season feels especially so on Christmas Eve. There may be last minute shopping (grocery and gifts), wrapping and food preparations.

Many people plan their family celebrations around Christmas Eve services at their church. I know, we always do. Most of my Christmas Eve’s have been spent in my home town of Pocahontas, Mo., with my family. The last several years, I have served one of my favorite soups which we now fondly call “Christmas Eve Italian Sausage and Potato Soup.” This dish can easily be doubled for a large family gathering. And you can make this flavor-filled soup from start to finish in about 30 minutes. My family loves it and I love preparing it for them. After all, preparing foods for those we love is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

Another popular way to prepare for large family gatherings is to make a great-tasting and satisfying casserole or lasagna. Once again, much of the preparations can be done ahead, leaving just the baking to be done just prior to serving. Some people put their casseroles in the oven and head off to church for Christmas Eve services. The casserole will be hot and ready to serve when they arrive home after church.

One of my favorites is my “Comfort and Joy” Christmas Casserole. I make it ahead and the chill it until I’m ready to bake it. This Mexican-flavored casserole uses herbs and spices along with salsa to create a comforting taste that is sure to bring joy to those you serve it to. Your family is sure to enjoy this Mexican-flavored chicken, cheese and rice casserole.

If your family likes to do everything “extra-special” because it’s Christmas, then why not “pull out all the stops” and prepare Roasted Beef Tenderloin with a Cranberry Wine Sauce.

I recommend searing all sides of the beef tenderloin in a heavy skillet before roasting it in the oven. Searing the meat creates an incomparable flavor with a rich, brown crust. Once the beef is seared, then place the tenderloin on a shallow rimmed baking pan, preferably on a rack, to allow the air to circulate all around the beef while it’s in the oven. I prefer using a convection-roast feature on my oven for more even-browning and roasting. Be sure to use an accurate meat thermometer to test for doneness. See my guide in the recipe directions below. While the tenderloin is roasting in the oven, make my Cranberry Wine Sauce to serve alongside the beef.


Sometimes, my family prefers this very special entrée prepared and served on Christmas Day, instead of Christmas Eve, but anytime you serve it, you’ll make people happy. It’s truly one of my favorite foods to have on special occasions. And Christmas is the most special occasion of the year. Merry Christmas everyone... make your family happy and blessed this year by preparing special foods for them to enjoy.

Christmas Eve Italian Sausage and Potato Soup

(This recipe can be easily doubled for a large family gathering.)

1 tablespoon extra light olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

1 cup chopped celery

1 lb. bulk lean Italian pork sausage (sweet and mild or hot and spicy)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 carton (32 oz.) low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

4 cups frozen hash brown potatoes

1 can (14½ oz.) Italian-style diced tomatoes with garlic, oregano and basil

1 teaspoon chicken flavored soup base

1 package (2.75 oz.) country gravy mix (Pioneer Brand recommended)

2 cups milk

1 cup (4 oz.) finely shredded Cheddar cheese

1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained or 3 to 4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach

In large saucepan, cook and stir onion and celery in oil over medium heat until onion is tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add sausage and garlic; cook and stir until sausage is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add broth, water, potatoes, tomatoes and soup base; stir and heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Return to boiling. In 4-cup glass measure, dissolve gravy mix in milk; stir into boiling mixture. Cook and stir until thickened. Stir in cheese and spinach; reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and spinach is wilted and heated through. Makes 8 to 10 servings. Serve with an Italian salad along with bread or rolls.

*To retain bright green color, add spinach right before serving and heat through. Continued cooking turns the spinach dark green.

Source: Nina Swan-Kohler

“Comfort and Joy” Christmas Casserole

2 1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups jasmine rice

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)

1/2 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 medium zucchini, grated

1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper

2 cups dairy sour cream

1 can (15 ounces) corn, drained

1 1/2 cups chunky salsa (mild)

2 cups shredded Colby-Jack cheese

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

In a medium saucepan, measure water, butter and salt to a boil over high heat. Add rice; stir and cover with a lid. Reduce temperature to simmer. Simmer for 18 minutes. Meanwhile, in large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and zucchini; cook and stir until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chicken, cumin, oregano and salt. Cook and stir over medium heat for 5 to 6 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink; set aside. Layer ingredients in a greased 13x9x2-inch baking dish as follows: 1 cup sour cream, 2 cups cooked rice, half of chicken-vegetable mixture, 1/2 cup corn, 3/4 cup salsa and 1 cup Colby-Jack cheese. Repeat layers. Cover with aluminum foil. Chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. Remove from refrigerator while you are preheating the oven to 350 degress. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until heated through. Remove foil and top with 1 cup Cheddar cheese; bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Makes 10 to 12 main-dish servings. Serve with a tossed green salad and fresh fruit for dessert.

Source: Nina Swan-Kohler

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Cranberry Wine Sauce

If you like a lot of sauce, double the sauce recipe.

1 tablespoon extra-light olive oil

1 beef tenderloin (about 3 lb.)

Kosher Salt and coarse-ground pepper to taste

Cranberry Red-Wine Sauce

3 tablespoons butter, divided

1/3 cup shallots

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup 100% Juice Cranberry Juice

1 cup beef broth

2 to 3 teaspoons cornstarch

5 sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat oven to Convection-Roast 400 degrees. In a large skillet, brown beef on all sides in oil over medium-high heat. Place beef on a wire rack in a shallow roasting pan coated with nonstick spray; season with salt and pepper. (Reserve drippings in skillet; set aside.) Roast at 30 to 40 minutes or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a meat thermometer should read 145 degrees; medium, 160 degrees; well done, 170 degrees). Meanwhile, in same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup shallots; cook and stir 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Add wine, cranberry juice, broth and thyme; increase heat to medium. Cook and stir 10 to 15 minutes to reduce liquid in half. Strain to remove shallots and thyme. Return the sauce to the skillet. Make a slurry by combining cornstarch with a tablespoon of water to dissolve; pour into wine sauce. Whisk and cook to thicken slightly. Reduce heat to medium; add remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk until smooth. When beef reaches the desired doneness, remove from oven; cover with aluminum foil and let rest for about 15 minutes. Slice beef; serve with the sauce. Garnish with fresh thyme. Makes about 10 servings. Serve with roasted potatoes, steamed green vegetables and hot rolls.

Source: Nina Swan-Kohler

l Nina Swan-Kohler is a home economist, culinary professional, recipe developer, cookbook author and cooking school director/instructor. She teaches cooking classes and corporate team-building cooking classes in her Robin’s home. To get a copy of Nina’s cooking class schedule or for more information, email or visit

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