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Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Food Traditions

I wrote the following for my January 2011 newsletter, but thought it was appropriate for today.

Like most holidays, New Year's Eve/Day has a number of traditions associated with it.  And like many traditions, food has a starring role.  Interestingly, cultures around the world see many of the same foods as lucky while heading into the New Year.  Here are just a few.

Grapes:  In 1909, grape growers in Spain started a tradition in order to get rid of a surplus of grapes.  At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, it's customary to eat 12 grapes--one for each stroke of the clock and month of the year.  If your 5th grape is a little sour, for example, then maybe your month of May won't be so great.  The custom spread to Portugal and to Spanish and Portuguese colonies and continues today.  It's said to be especially lucky if you can eat all 12 grapes before the clock is done chiming.

Legumes:  Beans, peas and lentils are considered lucky at the New Year all over the world because of their resemblance to coins.  In Italy, Germany, Brazil, Japan and many other countries, eating things such as Lentil or Split Pea Soup or Sausage and Green Lentils at midnight brings good luck.  In Southern US, Hoppin' John, a dish made with black-eyed peas, is eaten.  Most believe that eating 1 pea for each day of the year brings the most luck.

Fish:  Since the Middle Ages, cod has been a traditional New Year's dish--probably because it was easily salted and preserved for eating during the winter.  The Danes eat boiled cod; Italians, baccala (dried salt cod); Poles and Germans eat herring and carp at midnight.  The typical Swedish New Year's feast is a smorgasbord of fish dishes.  In Japan, lucky fish dishes include herring roe (for fertility), shrimp (for long life) and dried sardines (for a good harvest--dried sardines were once used as fertilizer in rice fields).

Pork:  The meat most associated with New Year luck is pork.  Cultures around the world see the pig as representing progress--since the animal moves forward as it roots for food.  The rich, fatty meat also is symbolic of wealth and prosperity in some cultures.  Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Germany and Italy all have traditions of eating some sort of pork for the New Year.  Of course, we of Pennsylvania Dutch persuasion know all about eating pork and sauerkraut for luck on New Year's Day.

Greens:  Greens are considered a sign of financial fortune in the New Year--simply because the leaves look like paper money when folded up.  Again, many cultures eat greens for luck--kale with sugar and cinnamon for the Danes; collards in the Southern US; sauerkraut for the Germans (and PA Dutch).  Many believe that the more greens you eat, the bigger your fortune will be in the coming year.

Cakes/Baked Goods:  Like most celebrations, baked goods are a part of the New Year's festivities all over the globe.  Donuts, pastries, special breads and cakes--too many to mention--hold special meaning for the coming year.  Many traditions hide trinkets, coins or whole nuts in a part of the treat.  Whoever gets the piece with the prize in it gets the most luck.

Of course, there are some foods that you shouldn't eat at New Year's.  Stay away from lobster, which swim backward and chicken, which move backward as they scratch for food.  (Sort of the "anti-pigs" in New Year's superstition beliefs.)  In fact, avoid any winged fowl because your good luck could fly away.

Whatever foods you eat for your New Year celebration, I hope it's tasty!  Have a fun and safe holiday.  And I wish you a healthy, happy and delicious 2012.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Hi everyone!  I hope you all are having a tasty holiday. 

We hosted Christmas dinner this year and everyone enjoyed the nice mix of food.  I grill-roasted a turkey.  Not only does it give you a juicy, smoky turkey in a relatively short time, but it frees up oven space.  (See this post for how to do it for your next turkey dinner.)  Along with the turkey, we had one of Blooming Glen Pork's delicious spiral honey-glazed hams. 

Me after 4 straight days of holiday eating.
Sides included Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Sweet Potato Casserole, Lettuce with Hot Bacon Dressing, Green Bean Casserole, Waldorf Cranberry Relish, MB's Stuffing, Mom's Applesauce, broccoli and corn.  Everyone ate so much they didn't have room for dessert.

But that didn't stop us from eating dessert: Chocolate Cream Pie; some sort of dessert with pound cake, pudding and cherries; Apple Crisp, Pumpkin Pie, ice cream.  MB made some of the best cookies I've had in a long time--Ginger Snaps made with fresh ginger--spicy and crisp and Pine Nut Cookies flavored with ground fennel seed.  Unfortunately, she forgot to put them out with the desserts.  Fortunately for me, there's more for me to eat.

So that was our Christmas dinner.  If you're interested in any of the recipes, let me know and I'll share them. 

I hope you've been eating well and continue to as we move into the new year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's almost here.  (For our Jewish friends, it's already here!) 

The constant Christmas music on the radio and decorations in the stores since October makes you feel like it will never come, but it's just a few days away.

The other night, Jacob was talking about Christmas and I said, "In less than a week, it'll be Christmas".  And then it hit him--"This week?!"  The look on his face was priceless when he realized that all the waiting was coming to an end.

I'm not sure when I'll be writing again, so I want take this time to wish all of you a wonderful holiday--whichever holiday you celebrate.  May it be filled with food, friends, family and fun.  Enjoy the end of the wait and look around at what makes the holidays so special.  And savor it!

All the best from us here in Blooming Glen...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Edible Stocking Stuffers

A candy cane sticking out of the top of your stocking is a classic image of Christmas.  Growing up, other foods made up a big part of what was stuffed into our stockings.  And it still is both here at home and at our parents' houses.

Of course, as you might expect, all sorts of chocolate plays a big part.  Traditionally, it was Reese's, Hershey's, M&M's, etc.  And, thankfully, they still show up.  These days, however,  Santa's tastes have expanded a little bit and he treats us to Godiva, Ghiardelli and Lindt (that, I assume, was on sale at the North Pole CVS). 

In days gone by, fruit--especailly citrus fruit--was a much-anticipated stocking stuffer.  And fruit still makes an appearance in our stocking sometimes--mostly clementines since they're small and don't take up too much room.

If you've read my blog for a while, you probably have read somewhere along the line about my favorite Christmas morning snack that would be found in our stockings--Slim Jims.  It just wasn't a Christmas morning for my sister and I without munching on a stick of meat.  It still hits the spot.

Last night, we were out at Luberto's and Jake was enjoying some red cabbage from our salads.  I told him that if he was good, Santa might fill his stocking with cabbage or cole slaw.  He said, "Hey--if you're bad, you get coal.  If you're good, you get cole slaw!"  Guess you had to be there, but it was kind of funny.

What are some of your favorite things to eat from your stocking?  Could be things that Santa brings now or things that make you reminisce about your childhood.  Send a comment and share!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Healthy at the Holidays?

As crazy as it may seem--with the way we can so easily overeat at holiday dinners and parties--holiday food can be healthy.  All it takes is a little bit of smarts, self-discipline and moderation.

If you have a choice between something fried and something baked or sauteed, choose the baked (although fried food done correctly isn't as bad as you might think).  Still, shrimp sauteed in olive oil is better for you than fried shrimp. 

Try to avoid pre-made dips and salsas.  Dips and the like that are pre-packaged usually are loaded with sodium and preservatives.  And they don't taste all that great either.  It's so easy to whip up some hummus or some other dip with fresh ingredients (I just made a red bean dip for a party in literally less than 5 minutes).  Better taste, healthier and less expensive--why wouldn't you make it yourself?  Eat them on whole-grain breads, chips or crackers and it's even healthier!

Choose things like salmon, chicken or shrimp for a low-fat option (not to mention the anti-oxidants in the seafood).  Beans, cheese and nuts have protein.  Even dark chocolate and red wine are said to be healthy.

The common factor in all this is moderation.  A few pieces of cheese provides some good calcium and protein.  Eating a pound of cheese throughout the evening provides fat and cholesterol that outweighs the benefits.

So control yourself and know what you're eating!  Life's too short to deprive yourself of great holiday food--just be smart!

Thanks to this USA Today article for some information on this subject.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finger Food Help

This time of year, most of us are trying to find quick and easy foods for entertaining--whether it's for a party or for when people unexpectedly drop in.

Yes, having cheese and crackers on hand is helpful.  But doing just a little bit more can make a great impression--and create some tasty treats.

The New York Times' Mark Bittman always seems to come up with some great templates for how to make delicious food (see some of the other items I've posted in the past using his articles). 

This time, Bittman lays out a flow chart for creating great finger food with little prep time.  Most of the ingredients he uses might just be in your pantry or fridge when you need them. 

He divides good finger food into 3 parts: The Base--crackers, celery, etc that will hold other ingredients; The Spread--something to spread on The Base that will be flavorful and hold The Finishing Touch--something with flavor and texture.

Check out his chart here.  Then just wait for guests to show up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Martha's Cake

Most Christmas food traditions are handed down from previous generations.  Our Christmas dinners contain many of the dishes that have been part of the feast for years and years.  And often, we enjoy starting new traditions with our kids--ones that might be around long after we're gone.

Here's a recipe (of a sort) that was emailed to me.  It's from none other than our first First Lady, Martha Washington. 

Martha's Christmas Cake was apparently an annual tradition at Mount Vernon--and from the look of the recipe, it must have fed a load of people.  I did a little bit of Internet surfing to see if I could find out any more about it and found that there are some modernized recipes out there for the cake.  But I find Martha's original interesting.  It's fun to think of her or her servants throwing all of this stuff together for their holiday celebration. 

These are supposed to be the exact words that she put in her recipe for a "true Virginia Christmas":
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth, start to work four pounds of butter to cream and put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well worked. Then put four pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same way, then put in the yolks of eggs, and five pounds of flower (sic), and five pounds of fruit. Two hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace, one nutmeg, half a pint of wine, and some French brandy.
Somebody better have a big pan!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gift Certificates

I'm going to use today's blog for shameless self-promotion.  I'm allowed to do that.

There's always one or two people on our holiday gift lists that are just impossible to buy for.  They don't really have hobbies.  They don't read much.  They have pretty much everything that they need.  For these hard-to-buy-for folks, may I suggest a Dinner's Done Personal Chef Service gift certificate?

You can buy gift certificates for a certain dollar amount, which the recipient can use as they wish.  Or you can buy a certificate for a specific service.  Check out my website for more information about the services that I offer and how much they cost. 

A Dinner's Done gift cert is a unique and fun gift that the recipient will remember and enjoy for a long time.  Interested?  Just give me a call (215-804-6438) or send me an email!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Say Cheese!

I love cheese. 

Sharp or mild, goat or cow, soft or hard, blue or white or yellow or green, stinky or um...not stinky.

But I know that, being someone with slightly high cholesterol numbers, I shouldn't eat too much of it no matter how yummy it is. 

Alas!  A new survey has me thinking that Danish researchers are geniuses!  (And not because I like to eat Danish, too.)

According to a recent Danish study, cheese may not be so bad for cholesterol after all.  OK, they compared it to eating butter--but it shows that in moderation, cheese isn't as bad as you might think.

According to an article from the Chicago Tribune, here's how the tests were conducted:
The group surveyed about 50 people. Each person was put on a controlled diet and added a measured amount of cheese or butter daily.

Throughout, each participant was compared against his or herself, to follow changes in the body caused by the foods. Researchers gave each person cheese or butter, both made from cows milk, equal to 13 percent of their daily energy consumption from fat.

During six-week intervals, each person ate the set amount of cheese or butter, separated by a 14-day cleansing period which they returned to their normal diet. Then they switched, and for six weeks those who had eaten the cheese before, ate butter, while the butter eaters in the first phase ate cheese.
While eating cheese, the subjects showed no increase in bad or overall cholesterol, while when they were eating butter, their cholesterol increased by an average of 7%.

According to the article, it could be the calcium and/or protein in cheese that helped these results to occur.  Whatever the reason, I'm all for it. 

So does that mean that on a grilled cheese sandwich the cheese and butter cancel each other out and it's just like eating toast? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blooming Glen Christmas

Here in our little village of Blooming Glen, we had a nice tree lighting celebration yesterday. 

Earlier in the year, the Blooming Glen Garden Club started and worked hard at tidying up the one-room schoolhouse and the grounds surrounding it.  And for the Christmas season, they planted a tree and decked it out in all sorts of ornaments--many of them handmade by the club members.

It seemed like most of the village showed up (it's a pretty small village) for hot cider, home-baked cookies, carol singing and getting to know their neighbors.  Young and old, long-time residents and newcomers--all together to celebrate the season and our community.

It was really nice--with a real old-fashioned feel.  We need more stuff like that. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Traditions

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, you know that food holds a pretty central spot in many of our holiday customs--candy canes, cookies, the holiday feast, sugarplums, etc. 

If you read my December newsletter, you learned a little bit about how important the Pennsylvania Dutch are to many of our Christmas traditions.  (If you didn't get my newsletter, send me an email and get on my list!)

Long-standing historical traditions are great, but what makes many of our holidays really special are those traditions that have been created by our own families--maybe by our great-grandparent, maybe by our parents, maybe by us. 

Lynne Goldman (of Bucks County Taste) has written an article for Bucks Life magazine that discusses the family holiday traditions of local chefs (me included!).  From Jell-O to stuffed cabbage, from eggnog to Slim Jims, these chefs have lasting memories about the food that represents their holiday to them.

Read Lynne's article here.  And it would be great if you would share any fun or meaningful food memories that make your holiday special.  Just click below to comment!