Friday, December 29, 2017

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.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Raised Doughnuts Made With Yeast

Let's tempt our taste buds with one of my favorite doughnuts, a raised donut made with yeast.  They can be made in any shape or size but I prefer these doughnuts to the cake doughnuts.



While most recipes for this doughnut call for a dollop of honey, I can't make these because my daughter is allergic to honey.  In place of the honey, I use maple syrup.  It doesn't alter the taste that much but does give you the sweetness that comes from the honey.



To make these doughnuts, you combine 2 cups of warm water, a package of dry yeast and 1 teaspoon of maple syrup in a large mixing bowl.  Cover with a linen towel and let raise until bubbly.



Add 2 eggs, beaten, 3/4 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon lemon extract and 1 stick melted butter to the yeast mixture.  Add flour until the mixture is no longer sticky.  Cover with your linen towel and let raise.  Punch down.



Roll out the dough and cut with doughnut cutter.  Place doughnuts on cookie sheet, cover and let raise.  Fry in your deep fryer placing the raised side down first.  Turn over when the doughnut raises to the surface.  Place doughnuts on brown papered surface and coat with sugar or glaze.

This is the same dough that you would use to make the Polish version of doughnuts, Paczki for Shrove Tuesday.

These doughnuts can be frozen and eaten at a later time if you make too many.


Friday, December 22, 2017

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.

www.delallo.com

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.

www.jumpei-mitsui.com


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.

www.godfish.no
www.holisticfamilia.wordpress.com
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.







Thursday, December 14, 2017

What's for Dessert?

I have to admit, I've been pretty lazy when it has come to baking.  My sweet tooth is smarting something fierce and the store-bought goodies just are not cutting it even though the lemon meringue pie from Eat 'N Park came really close in the tart versus sweetness test.

I guess I have to pull out some of my recipes and see what I can come up with to ease the hunger pangs.


Let's start out with a cake that my mother-in-law made almost every time there was an occasion to need one.  She called it the Yum Yum Cake and it was chocked full of so many goodies that it was hard to not to like it.



Even though I'm lactose intolerant, I'm a big fan of whipped cream and had a favorite bakery that made Whipped Cream Puffs every Wednesday.  I was so fond of them, I would buy two and eat those for lunch instead of having anything else.  What's even nicer is that these don't take a lot of ingredients.  The hardest thing about them is making sure that all of the moisture beads have baked off giving you that great crusty shell to be filled.


Of course, if you are making cream puffs, you just need to add chocolate icing to the top to make it an Eclair.  You can use custard filling or any whipped filling to give it some variety.

Apple cake ready to pour the caramel glaze

If you have more time and energy, my very favorite cake is apple cake with caramel drizzle poured over it.  This cake is even more decadent than Death by Chocolate.

Now that I have made myself totally hungry, I need to decide which it's going to be for tonight.  How about a vote from the audience.  Which would you make today?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Apples Fresh or Baked in Your Favorite Recipe

There are so many delicious apple varieties.  My Mom preferred Macintosh.  I like Northern Spy and Gala.  I find the apples with the best taste are the ones that are white spotted reds.  Just cut up and eaten by themselves is the healthiest way to enjoy an apple.

Apple juice is okay but I never acquired a taste for it and apple cider is way too pungent for my taste.  A glass of apple juice is also healthy.

Waldorf Salad is a fresh fruit salad that uses chunks of fresh cut apples. My Mom always kept apples in the house and loved this salad.   She would make this salad any time she had extra apples that were starting to go soft.



Jarred Apple Slices

When apples are plentiful, I would buy three bushels and then put up my own apples for the winter season so that I could make my favorite recipes.  Yes, the supermarkets now stock all your favorite brands of apples year round but I preferred to just make my own when they were falling off the trees.




Baked Apple
My Mom made baked apples but not the traditional way wrapped in pie crust like apple dumplings.  She would take the whole apple and core it.  Then she would place the apple on a pie pan and drizzle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon into the cored out space.  The house smelled so wonderful as she baked these in the oven. 




Apple Dumpling
Over the years, I have come to like the apple dumpling style that you can buy in most bake shops or at fine restaurants.  These apples are cored, wrapped in a pie shell dough and then baked.  These are served with a dollop of whipped cream or in a bowl with cream poured over them.  Again , being a plain Jane, I like these served by themselves so that I can enjoy the pie crust flavor and the apple.


Apple Fritters
My mom also made apple fritters,  These delightful little crisps were so delicious after a beef stew dinner or as a breakfast treat.






Glazed Apple Turnover
From my childhood, I remember the Duquesne Bakery Truck that would come around once a week.  apple turnovers.  These delightful apple pastries were also filled with a whipped cream to give it that extra flavor.  The quick recipe for these that I use from time to time is to make them using frozen puff pastry dough from the supermarket.
My favorite from their baked goods was

Making Apple Strudel
At Christmas time, I would pull out a jar of my apples I had preserved and make an apple strudel using either my sweet bread dough or puff pastry dough from the supermarket.  Admittedly, the puff pastry dough made a much better tasting strudel that had vanilla glaze drizzled over it.



There are so many different ways to use apples and so many different tastes.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Making Biscotti

My father-in-law was a dunker.  He loved dunking his cookies in his coffee to eat them.  Biscotti is one of the cookies that can get hard if you aren't careful.  They can also be spongy and easy to eat.  This is one of the easiest cookies to make and one that is good no matter what time of year.  I know my father-in-law loved these and the honey cookies that also get hard if not stored in an airtight container with a slice of apple.

Continuing on with my Cookie stories, I spent a lot of time in the grocery store last year deciding whether to make Orange or Almond Biscotti for Christmas.

Orange Biscotti made right
I was torn between the flavors and since I don't have another orange cookie on the list, I decided to make the Biscotti orange. 

If you remember, I made Peppermint Biscotti a few years ago but I wasn't happy with the end product.  I think the color turned me off since it came out pink from the ground up peppermint sticks.


Peppermint Biscotti
Everything started out fine as I followed the steps in the recipe.  I used the spatula attachment to mix the margarine, sugar, eggs and orange extract.  Once I was ready for my dry ingredients, I switched over to the dough hook and proceeded to mix in the dry ingredients a little at a time in my Kitchen Aid mixer.  The dry pour attachment is a big help in keeping the dry ingredients from flying out of the mixer.



Another use for having the right tools to do the job.  After using the dough hook it was time to roll out the dough into logs.


Next the logs were put into the oven for 35 minutes.  Following the directions, the logs were then cooled before cutting into slices and putting back into the oven for an additional 15 minutes.

The results was that I misjudged the size of my logs and my Biscotti are the size of what they are named for biscuits.  Next time I need to keep the dough a little wider and not so round.  That's the lesson for today.  Time and trial are the best cooks or bakers.  Even though they taste wonderful, the next time they should turn out more like small cake slices instead of round.


Almond with chocolate

Biscotti with chocolate drizzles
For weddings though you need to be more creative and garnish you biscotti with nuts or even chocolate drizzles.  Almond slivers in an almond biscotti is a favorite for weddings.






Almond Pistachio
Chocolate with Nuts

Almond pistachio is another taste that I like since I'm partial to any baking done with pistachios.  My personal favorite is a chocolate biscotti with nuts.  Today is my birthday and chocolate with nuts would be a great selection for toasting my special day.


That's my baking story for today.  Happy baking.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sesame Chicken: Bake It Without Shaking It.

A few years back, there was a product called Shake and Bake.  It was the lazy man's way to coat chicken parts for baking in the oven.  It involved pouring the mixture in a bag with wet chicken parts and shaking the bag until the chicken was coated with the crumbs.

Shake N Bake Chicken parts for the oven




Now I ask you, "Is this the way to make good chicken?"  True it is healthier to bake your chicken rather than frying it in oils.

My sister-in-law made a recipe that called for mayonnaise to coat the chicken and a bread crumb mixed with sesame seeds for a shower that she was hosting.  I'm not fond of any chicken except roasted chicken with stuffing, but this recipe for Sesame Chicken was one of the best that I've ever tasted.

Sesame Chicken from the Oven

The breading is moist and flavorful and not dry like you would expect since it was baked on an open sheet pan in the oven.

Sesame Chicken with Broccoli
In this day of thinking heart healthy, this recipe is one that I would recommend for your Sunday dinner menu.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

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.




Saturday, December 2, 2017

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Cookies - Ricotta Cheese Cookies

Even though these are first on my love of cookies for Christmas, they make a wonderful Wedding Cookie as well.  The consistency is great and they can be dressed up with almonds, nuts, sprinkles or candied sugar in the colors of the wedding party dresses on the icing.

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."