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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cooking Using the Basic Crepe

The recipe for crepes isn't all that different from making pancakes except you expect a crepe to be thin and you don't use baking powder.

I remember when my children were in their teens and my oldest stepdaughter, Lisa, who God called home this past Christmas, would stand in front of the old gas stove and make crepes in the small cast iron skillet until she got them right.  Lisa was born to be a Italian chef but just never got the chance to do it.

Crepes Ala Orange

Crepes have always been a signature dessert in French cuisine.  I remember that the owner of the first company I worked for was something of a Gourmet Chef.  Even though he was Jewish, he treated the employees to a Christmas Party which was a gourmet meal that he would cook himself at a famous Pittsburgh restaurant.  The dessert was a Crepe Ala Sch......  This was his own crepe filled with fruits and and orange liquor sauce that he flambeed at the table.  It was a sight to behold for an awe struck 18 year old.

The Italian side of my life was filled with crepes that were also used for desserts but they were fruit filled according to the season, rolled up with whipped cream on them.  They weren't fancy but they were always deliciously light at the end of a filling meal.

Another use of the basic crepe in the Italian household is to make ricotta stuffed specialties such as manicotti.  You can use the basic ricotta and egg mixture to fill these or you can make the filling with spinach along with the eggs.  I prefer the ones with spinach because not only do they make a better appearance they are more healthy to eat.  The crepes are laid out on a greased glass dish and then covered with a marinara sauce and grated cheese sprinkled over the top before they are put into the oven.

As I think about it, I don't see why you can't use your basic crepe as a start for your Cannoli.  After all what is a cannoli except a rolled up shell with delicious sweet fillings and powdered sugar.

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 8, 2016

Christmas Cookies - Ricotta Cheese Cookies

I first tasted these Ricotta Cookies when I was visiting my oldest stepdaughter, Lisa, a few years ago for Christmas.  Today's blog is a tribute to Lisa.   Lisa was another Nunny in the making because she loved to cook and bake.  She got her love of baking from her grandmother and was forever trying new recipes such as this one.  Her mother was also a very good baker and cook so Lisa was double blessed in the kitchen area.

Ricotta Cookies with colored sugar for Christmas
Of course, I had to have the recipe and I've made them ever since.  They have a softer consistency than the Knot Cookies.  They tend to melt in your mouth with that ever so popular cheese flavoring.

Cookies fresh from oven cooling on wire rack

I've been making these cookies now for about five years and they get better with every attempt.  It is important to let the cookies set and cool completely because they are very soft and my recipe calls for dipping the cookie in the thin icing.

Mixing the Thin icing.

Once they are dipped in the icing let the excess drip off.

Ricotta Cookie with Chocolate Icing

Then you can either dip them into a a bowl of colored sugar, sprinkle the sugar or

iced with sliced almonds
decorate with sliced almonds or

iced with candied cherries

cut pieces of candied cherries on them.

Ricotta Cookie garnished with Strawberry Slices

These cookies can be used as a dessert by adding cut strawberries onto the icing.

Lisa has joined Nunny and her Dad.  All three loved to bake but these cookies have joined the list of my favorites for Christmas.  They are a Wedding Cookie favorite as well.  As Nunny used to say, "Try them -- you'll like them."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Cookies - Italian Love Knots

This simple cookie doesn't take a lot of ingredients but the consistency of the dough is essential to making good Italian Love Knots.

Italian Love Knots with Icing and Sprinkles
This cookie was a favorite of my Italian husband and his mother made these year round.  Although the cookie calls for a glaze icing, my husband preferred them without any icing.  After his mother passed, and the children were teenagers, he would hold cookie making sessions and we all got involved in making these cookies.

Love Knots fresh from the oven.
We all love them and when we lived in Aspinwall, we were spoiled because we could walk around the corner to Labriola's Italian Store and buy a bag of these in the back of the store.  They had that homemade taste and you almost couldn't tell that they were bought in a store.

Italian Love Knotts from Labriola's
I am not really good at making Love Knots, but my daughter became an expert and knew exactly when the consistency was right.  She gets the job of making these for any family function.  Since I'm not good at these, I called her last week and told her she was in charge of these again this year.

Love Knots ready for the oven
As much as I used to bake at Christmas time, this daughter and her husband make dozen after dozen of cookies and my only request for a Christmas present is to have them give me a tin of their cookies.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Cookies - Kruschiki or Beer Bow Ties

Before I met my Italian husband, I worked in a Polish neighborhood and the traditional Polish cookie is Kruschiki which is almost like a cake doughnut twisted into a bow tie.


These are deep fried the same as a doughnut and then sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Slit cookie and pull end through slit

The recipe for these is fairly simple to make and the trick is to cut a slit in the dough and pull one end through the slit.
Fry cookies on both sides
Deep frying these can be done in a large skillet or in the deep fryer.  I suggest using a slotted spoon to turn the cookie in the oil so that it is cooked on both sides.  You don't want to prick the cookie which will cause it to be saturated with your oil.

Kruschicki draining on paper towels
Once the cookie has started to cool  it can be placed in a brown bag with powdered sugar to coat the outside of the cookie.
Shaking cookies in bag with powdered sugar
My daughter makes these better than I do because I can't seem to get the hang of pulling the end through the dough.  I love eating these simple and plain cookies with their cake doughnut flavor.