Thursday, December 29, 2016

Happy New Year - Superstitions and Traditions

Congratulations, we have almost made it to another passing in the right of time, New Year's Eve.  Off with the old and on with the new.  Let's go over some of the superstitions that I've been exposed to over the years.
See a Penny, Pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck.

As we celebrate there are some old wives tales that have to be brought into action.  The first is geared at wealth and riches.

For wealth and riches put pennies on the window sill at New Years

It was the custom of putting pennies on a window sill so that the new year brought wealth with it.

A new broom sweeps clean -- off with the old so to speak

Another was the buying of a new broom.  This was to sweep out the old misfortunes to leave room for new and exciting experiences.

It's good luck to have a man enter a house first on New Years

Let's talk about New Year's Eve and the passing of the midnight hour.  It was the custom to make sure that the first person to enter a household was a man.  It was considered good luck to have a man be the first to enter the house.

There are several food traditions linked to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
from Oakmont Bakery, Oakmont, Pennsylvania

The New Year's Pretzel is supposed to bring good luck to everyone who shares it and is to be eaten New Year's Eve or New Year's Day before breakfast.  This stories behind this tradition are varied.  Some believe that the shape stems from the monks who folded their arms across their chests and again some attribute it to the winter solstice shape of a circle with a dot in the middle and the central cross was added later to represent the four seasons.

Pork and Sauerkraut to luck on New Year's Day

Last but not least, is our tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  This tradition stems from the belief that whatever you do on New Year's Eve you do the rest of the coming year. If you eat pork you will enjoy the blessings of the year and have bounties of food to feast upon instead of peck in the dirt to find your food if you were to eat chicken.

Whatever you believe, whatever your traditions, the true meaning of the holiday is to look to the future with open arms for family and friends.  If you have any of your own, comment here so that we can appreciate your traditions.  Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Eve - Feast of the Seven Fishes

In the traditional Italian household, Christmas Eve is the night of the seven fishes or in our house the night we place thirteen different foods on the table.  None of the foods can be meat.

The table may be set up for a sit down dinner such as the one above

Or set out as a buffet.  The above buffet boasts mostly fancy dishes but in our house the buffet was made up of Anchovy Pasta, Breaded Fried Smelts, Bacala Stew, Tuna Fish Casserole, Shrimp Cocktail, and Crab Cakes.  Much plainer dishes but always enough to serve both family and any guests who might come to the door.  It is a night to feast and rekindle family ties and friendships.

It was always a challenge to bread the smelts and fry them.  More recently, I found the smelts already breaded in the frozen section of Labriola's Italian Store.  Even if you don't live in Pittsburgh, you can find this store online for easy purchasing.

Anchovy Pasta

The Anchovy Pasta, was never a favorite of my children but my father-in-law loved it and until he moved to North Carolina, I continued to make it just the way Nunny showed me the first Christmas that it was my turn to host Christmas Eve.  I later replaced the Anchovy Pasta with pieces of fried fish.

Speaking of Nunny she told many tales of making eel for the feast as well as other delicacies from the sea.
Bacala Stew startd with a piece of cod that has to be soaked in water to get the salt removed and tenderize the fish. We first tasted this dish when it was brought to the house by my son's grandmother-in-law as a donation for the Christmas Eve Feast.

My husband's family set out thirteen dishes on the table, seven of which were fish, to signify the Lord and Disciples at the Last Supper.  We have changed what we serve over the years since my husband passed but we still celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and don't eat meat.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Cookies: Santa's Whiskers

Santa has whiskers.  They are long and form a beard.  These cookies are named for Santa's beard but the whiskers are represented by coconut in which the cookie is rolled.   If the cookie is done  right the coconut stick out from the finished cookie and it suggests that Santa got too close to the open hearth and singed the ends of his beard.

Santa Whisker Cookies made from a log

Santa's Whiskers, a colorful cookie, not only has coconut but is full of green and red candied cherries that are diced into small pieces.  Because of the red cherries the cookie takes on a pink coloring.  Adding to the richness of the cookie are diced pecans.  With the coconut, pecans and cherries the cookie has a unique taste that begs to be added to the Christmas Cookie Table.

Diced Green & Red Candied Cherries & Pecan Bits

Mixing the dough takes less than 15 minutes using the spatula tool on my KitchenAid Mixer.  Then it is divided into logs and rolled in the coconut flakes before placing in the refrigerator to get the log ready for cutting.  I left my cookies in the refrigerator about a half an hour and the log was set enough for me to use my two handled cheese block cutter to make the slices.

Dough log rolled in coconut

Once the cookies came out of the oven I left them on the pans to cool before placing them in a Tupperware square keeper with wax paper between the layers.  These cookies will keep well because of the candied fruit that is in the cookie.

I've made my Santa Whisker Cookies this way year after year.

Santa Whisker Cookies made into Balls

Recently when I was looking at a cooking site I found a variation of this same cookie but the recipe called for making the dough into balls and then rolling the balls in coconut.  You then bake the balls for 15 minutes at 350 deg to get a slightly browned effect on the coconut.  I think I'll give this variation a try this year.

That's our Christmas cookie for today.  The link to the recipe can be found above.  Come back tomorrow when we will be making another of my favorites for the holiday.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Cheese Soup or Chowders

I saved these two recipes for a separate post because they are among my favorite soups when the weather is blustery.  We are experiencing a particularly colder snap so these would be so welcome to heat up those chilled bones.

Cauliflour Cheese Soup
The first one a blend of cheese and vegetables is a hearty soup.

If you visit Eat 'n Park for their broccoli soup, you will want to try your own since it takes so few ingredients and is so simple to make The Cauliflower Cheese Soup is the same recipe for the Broccoli Cheese Soup.  This recipe makes a wonderfully aromatic and filling soup.  A few Parmesan cheese croutons floating in the bowl give it a fuller flavor.  You can make these recipe with fresh produce or you can start with frozen cauliflower or broccoli.  It makes no difference to the taste.

The second one can be used for many other flavors and varieties of chowders.
Shrimp Bisque

This Shrimp Chowder which I really enjoy even though I have to be careful not to exceed my cholesterol level.  This creamy concoction is a tasty blend of cubed potatoes and salad shrimp in a creamy base.   I've made this several times and I really enjoy it by itself.  The potato/shrimp blend is just enough to satisfy any soup lover.  Of course you can make it without the shrimp and just add a few more potatoes to have a creamy potato soup.

Corn Chowder

And we can't forget the farm favorite, Corn Chowder.  I make this one using the Shrimp Chowder recipe and substituting corn nibblets instead of the shrimp.  You can cheat and add a can of cream style corn, but I prefer the nibblets.

That's all for chowder style soups for today.  Happy eating.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Cookies: Sour Cream Date Drops

At Christmas, I had to go out to the store to buy some of the ingredients I needed for my Sour Cream Date Drops, one of my favorite Christmas cookies.  I had the dates and nuts, but I didn't have the sour cream or the nutmeg.   Since this cookies is so full of delicacies, I decided to add it to my Wedding cookie list.

Sour Cream Date Cookies

This cookie recipe is a newer acquisition but it has passed up some of the favorites with it's fruity, nutty and spicy flavors.  I only started making these a few years ago when I stumbled upon the recipe.  Before that I had made date bars with oatmeal because my Mom had always made those.

In my childhood years I would go into the pantry where my Mom kept her baking supplies and just help myself to those things that caught my eye.  I remember taking a piece of the chocolate baking bar and the surprise I got when I found out it wasn't sweetened chocolate.  My very favorite from the pantry were the dates I would pinch and eat before my Mom started to make her cookies.

It was supposed to be a rainy day in the Burgh that would be turning to snow, so I did my shopping early and started making cookies as soon as I got home.  First on my list were the Sour Cream Date Drops.  I started out putting the margarine and brown sugar into the Kitchen Aid Mixer using the paddle. 

As I followed along with the recipe I didn't change the mixing tool this time.  I continued to mix the dry ingredients and the sour cream into the batter followed by the chopped dates and chopped walnuts.

Cookie Scoop

I wasn't sure if I wanted to use iced tea spoons to drop these or my trusty cookie scoop.  I decided on the scoop and I continued to drop my cookies onto my insulated cookie sheets covered with parchment paper instead of greased pans.

Cookies ready to go into the oven

The recipe makes about 4-1/2 dozen and takes approximately and hour and half to drop, bake and remove the cookies to wire racks for cooling.  My cookie sheets are larger and I got two and a half batches into the oven placing 13 cookies on each pan.

Removing Sour Cream Date Cookie from pan

Of course, I had to test the cookies.  All in all I got 4 dozen packed away in my Tupperware Bread Keeper that I use to store larger batches of Wedding or Christmas cookies.

As always, let's pretend we are in Nunny's kitchen where she always said, "Try it -- You'll Like It."  Happy baking.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making Decorated Cookies for Christmas

There are so many Christmas cookie favorites but it doesn't take a lot of skill to make decorated cookies for Christmas.  In fact, you can buy your cookies and then ice them yourself.

Decorated Christmas Cookies 

You can also take a basic cookie and decorate them.  Just start with the basic decorator cookie icing recipe.

Mix Icing
Make your colors in bottles so that you can squeeze the ends of the cookie with the icing.

outline your cookie and

then fill in with the color you want.

Walla!  Your decorated cookie.

Christmas cookies are so much fun and fun to decorate.  They can be used for a Christmas Cookie Tree.

Have fun baking for Christmas

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Holiday Spending: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas

I know Halloween is long past, but this subject has always been one that I stress when it comes to spending money for the holidays.

peanut butter cookies
Halloween is where I start as I look for the best treats for the least spent.  Before home baked treats were banned, I would bake brownies and peanut butter cookies for the gremlins and hand out special cookies to each child that came to my door.

As a young adult with children and a small budget, the holidays were always stressful for me because it meant buying presents for nieces and nephews with money I didn't have.  It took away from what I could spend on my own children.  That situation didn't matter to my husband's siblings because we were given a list of extravagant toys that were just not within my budget.  We were looked down upon if we didn't come up with those presents and similar ones for the adults in the family.

Don't get me wrong.  We were not struggling financially but my first husband could only be described as a miser when it came to money.  He made a good salary but I was only allowed to spend what he thought was appropriate so that he could miser away what was left over.  This side was never seen by the family.  My point in revealing this fact is that this is not the true meaning of the holidays.  If you resemble this miserly person, take heed and read on.

china tea set
I know it is better to give than receive and I was brought up that way but to a different extent.  As children we were given hand-me down presents among various smaller bought games or toys.  Mine was a doll that wore clothes that were kept from when I was a baby and a real china tea set that were my mother's and her mother's before that.  My big present one Christmas was a desk that my grandfather had made in the basement.  I had that desk until after I had married but never got to pass it on because it was tossed out in one of my first husband's clean out campaigns.

The best Christmas I can remember was the one that I had with my second husband when we were trapped by a deep freeze into spending Christmas Eve into Christmas Day at one of our homes where we didn't actually reside because the presents for all seven children were hidden there to be brought up after the children had gone to bed.  It was so cold we had to pack the children up hoping that the car would start in the freezing temperatures to get them to where the present were.  Each child got something special and some smaller things but nothing extravagant.  But it was the happiest Christmas of my life being able to give with no expectation of receiving in return.

cookie tray for the holidays

So in the coming Thanksgiving and Christmas season, be thankful for what you have been provided by God and share it with your loved ones within your means.  If that leaves some left over for others go for it and give that donation or bake those cookies to give to your friends and neighbors.  You don't need to spend money to feel bountiful and happy.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christmas Cookies: Spiced cutouts

I remember my mother making this cookie but she didn't bake it.  She would cut them out and then cooked them on the pancake griddle.

Spice Cutout Cookies iced

This recipe was lost because my mother never shared the actual recipe for Spiced Christmas Cookies.

cutting out the cookies

Years later when I was raising a second family, I found a recipe that sounded interesting.  I baked it an to my surprise it was the same tasting cookie as my mother.  I made them plain that year with no icing and tested my memory on my brother by having him try the cookie.  Afterwards I asked him if he remembered Mom making those.

Spice Christmas Cookies with simple icing

This cookie is so festive and similar in taste to a Pfeffernusse and I love making them now with different types of icing.

Decorative Spiced Cutout

Happy baking.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas Baking For Me is Black Friday Without Shopping

Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't do the shopping thing on the day after Thanksgiving but I prefer to shop leisurely and not be pushed and prodded because someone else wants that one item that is left on the retailers cut-price list.  Instead, I have bought my ingredients for Christmas Cookies and I'll begin making some of those today.

On today's list are the ever popular chocolate chip.  This one can be made from scratch or just cheat and drop the premade dough onto a cookie sheet.

and maybe some of the peanut Blossom cookies. These you can cheat and mix up a batch of peanut butter dough from the package and then add the candy kiss to them as they come out of the oven.

Both are easy to mix and bake.

The No bake Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookie is so easy to make that it's almost sinful to call making them baking.  This is another one that you can start the holiday with and keep making it between other batches to keep those stealthy fingers of your children or grandchildren satisfied before the actual holiday arrives.

The point is I don't believe in taking the meaning out of the holiday by dangling prizes in front of the world in unheard of price slashing.  It makes you wonder what the actual cut off price is for that "I can't live without it" item you have left your home and family to run after.

Maybe I'm just old school but this is just something that I have refused to become a part of.  The younger members of my family do go merrily off to seek their prizes and that is their right to which I will not hold against them.  They have families and perhaps that is the means by which they can afford to show their children a happy holiday to come.

But, as for me I'll be at home baking my little heart out.  Besides I need a couple of dozen cookies to share with the Veteran's at their Christmas Luncheon  at the Oakmont Elks.  So whatever you choose to do with Black Friday, I wish you and yours a wonderful day while I get out the flour and sugar.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Thanksgiving: Favorite Recipes From My Childhood

I'm still taking my trip down memory lane.  I think everyone has an Aunt Sal, who wasn't your blood relative but the aunt of a friend.  Some of life's fondest memories come from those experiences.  I grew up in a family that only had one other living relative and their family which gave me exactly 3 cousins.  So I adopted my next door neighbor's family and all of their many aunts, uncles and cousins.  That family knew the meaning of family and visited often.  I don't remember my friend going to visit that often but I remember the various parties and holidays spent with the Aunt Sal's and Uncle Dave from next door.

My friend and I moved into our homes when she was 2 years old and I was almost 1.  We grew up together and shared more than just toys and fun times.  She passed away two years ago but I still make Aunt Sal's Apple Cake.

I diverse from my reason for today's article.

Square of Aunt Sal's Apple Cake

My favorite fall recipe or maybe just one of my favorites, because thinking back there are many, is Aunt Sal's Apple Cake with Caramel Drizzle Icing.  This cake was different because it was made with chunks of apples instead other means of making the cake moist.   Moist was an understatement for this cake because it oozed of sweetness and goo.  It was full of apple and walnut goodness along with that syrupy caramel drizzle.  Being a sugar freak when I was younger I gobbled up this cake like there was no tomorrow but one piece at a time.  That was more than enough with all that sweet, sweet and more sweet.

Sage dressing made on the side in a pan. 
Another of my Favorites for Thanksgiving was my Mother's Sage Stuffing.  She would save heels of bread in a brown paper bag and my brother and I would break them up into pieces for my Mom to cook over the stove the night before Thanksgiving.  she mixed it in a skillet lined with Crisco and added chopped onions, green pepper and celery.  She would keep on making it until there was enough to stuff the turkey the next day. The stuffing was stored in the roaster until my Dad would stuff the turkey in the morning.

When there was leftover after the turkey was stuffed, we made stuffing balls.  This idea came from a neighbor who never stuffed her turkey but made the stuffing balls on the side.  Since it is no longer suggested to roast your turkey with the stuffing inside it, I now make more of these in a casserole with just enough turkey stock poured over to keep the stuffing moist.

The dessert for Thanksgiving was always made by my grandfather, who made the best pumpkin pies on earth.  He would also make a mincemeat pie but I wasn't fond of that pie.

You need to know that I judge a pie by it's crust rather than the filling so I'm very particular about my pies.  My grandfather taught me that you needed to be sure to have it right the first time you rolled it out because rolling it more than once made the crust tough.

Turkey Dinner with Cranberry Jelly, Stuffing and Ambrosia 
Whatever you serve as sides on Thanksgiving with the turkey, you need to have at least the stuffing and pumpkin pie to make my Thanksgiving perfect.  I love mashed potatoes, corn and cranberry sauce with my turkey, but these three recipes are my all time favorites.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thanksgiving Day Favorite Dessert Recipes

In our house as I was growing up, we always had a pumpkin pie and a mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving Day.  My grandfather always made the pies and his crust skills couldn't be beat for being flaky.  We didn't vary from those choices.  But, as the world says move over to the traditional pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving Day, I suggest that you include it even if you are preparing some of the other pumpkin dessert recipes.

One of the current favorite for pumpkin desserts is the pumpkin cake roll filled with cream cheese frosting.  This recipe has been a favorite in the supermarkets in the past few years.  It's really not a new idea because I remember one of my neighbors making this when my now grown children were toddlers.  There is a skill needed to make this without breaking the cake.

My favorite recipe that I made for my family is a Pumpkin Chiffon Bundt Cake.  This recipe is so simple and one that I've made over the years.  It can be served plain with powdered sugar and with a whipped cream icing.

Another favorite of my children is a recipe that my friend's mother made in the fall.  This little German lady was quite a dessert baker.  She made pumpkin cookies that simply melted in your mouth.  For that matter, anything Mrs. T made from custard pies to Christmas cookies was a real treat indeed  Mrs. T's pie crust was always sprinkled with sugar and could rival my grandpap's.

For those of you who prefer your cakes in the form of a loaf, there is the ever popular Pumpkin Bread.  We made this often for the holidays and used it both for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When I would attend an Elks District Meeting at McKees Rocks Lodge, they always served a variation of pumpkin pie in squares, which was a graham cracker and nut mixture base with a pumpkin pie filling.  They always topped it off with just a dollup of real whipped cream.

Whatever you serve for dessert for Thanksgiving, be it pies, cakes, cookies or breads, you really need to have a pumpkin flavor along with the turkey, stuffing and other sides.