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

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.