Christmas

charliebrowntree11.jpgChristmas is only three days away, and I’m beginning to think I did it wrong. I am not panicked, abject, or guilty; I am simply enjoying a relatively light workweek with the promise of family and a great dinner on Friday. Outside of my mellow sphere, however, there are signs that we are waiting not for a holiday, but for the end of the world, as we know it. The guy in the Sherlock Holmes hat at the Post Office talking loudly to himself about how he “didn’t need this aggravation,” the parents searching frantically for the last few gifts, the women with jobs and children beating themselves up because they haven’t gotten their cards out yet…it’s out there. Are they crazy or am I a flake?

I have had Annie’s Very Hysterical Christmas (followed by Annie’s Very Bad Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but this year I decided to let the red & green chips fall where they may. We got a tree and a wreath, but when the day came to get the tree and Sam was busy at a friend’s house I chose not to have a fit and gnash my teeth because it was not our tradition and it was all RUINED. Rob and I went and had a lovely time, and we now have a lit and decorated tree and a wreath on the front door. The process of bringing the Christmas decorations was marred by the fact that approximately 700 squirrels have taken up residence in our attic, and at least one of the boxes didn’t make it down the ladder, as a result of which we are missing the nativity scene, several angels and some snowmen, all of which are probably far above my head providing bedding and snacks for the bushy-tailed enemy. I declined offers from Sam to shoot the offenders with his airsoft guns, and from Rob to set the cats on them; why shouldn’t the squirrels enjoy Christmas, too?

Read more ...

duckbreast.jpgGrowing up eating roast duck often, especially during holidays, stoked my love for all things duck. Foie gras, pâté, or duck confit, I love it all. It's a rich food in more ways than one. But for the holidays it's worth a little splurge. Most of my family's Thanksgivings were always about the juicy roast duck and not the dry turkey. As the years passed we've held to American tradition and dined on turkey for Thanksgiving, but we always have duck on Christmas day. Roasting is a great technique, but sometimes the breast tends to get dry since it cooks faster. I find the best way to cook it is by searing, which renders all the fat and crisps the skin, leaving behind a very flavorful, medium-rare cut of meat. Any steak lover would be pleased with the result. Plus searing is a fast and simple technique that does not have to be limited to holidays.

Duck always pairs well with something sweet, tart, tannic, and astringent. All of those lip-smacking aspects work to cut the richness of the duck. A good tart, tannic wine is also a must. But I knew I had the perfect pairing in pomegranate juice, pressed from the jewels or arils of pomegranates. The red, hexagonal pod fruit is readily available in the markets in the winter season. I had already been planning on developing a recipe to feature this duck-pomegranate pairing when POM Wonderful contacted me to see if I was interested in taking up a challenge of cooking with their juice. I agreed and was sent a box of juice bottles to experiment with. From that juice I was able to create the feature sauce and a complementary vinaigrette for the salad.

Read more ...

lattdad.jpgI associate mail order food with my father.  When I was growing up, he and I had very few connections.  He took me to only one professional football game.  He never came to Back-to-School Night and had no interest in any of my hobbies.  I remember him as dour, not very talkative and disapproving.  I was part of his second family and he was, I’m certain, just a bit too old to have a young kid running around. 

Added to that, my father was burdened by tragedy.  He was the eldest son of a prosperous Jewish family in Odessa on the Black Sea.  Unfortunately when the Russian Revolution swept across the country, Bolsheviks rampaged through his neighborhood, lining up and shooting many people, including my father’s family.  Being Jewish and well-to-do were two strikes too many at a time when “line them up against the wall” was taken literally.

Luckily for my father, when all this happened, he was studying at the University of Kiev.  He learned later that his mother had survived because she had very thick hair.  When she was shot at point blank range, the gunpowder was apparently so weak that the bullet merely lodged in her hair, knocking her unconscious and otherwise leaving her unharmed. My father never returned home to Odessa, having been told that he needed to flee the country, which he promptly did.

Read more ...


kcc6_candy_canes.jpgCandy Canes

Legend has it that in 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany handed out sugar sticks among his young singers to keep them quiet during the long Living Creche ceremony. In honor of the occasion, he had the candies bent into shepherds' crooks. In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce with paper ornaments and candy canes. It wasn't until the turn of the century that the red and white stripes and peppermint flavors became the norm.

In the 1920s, Bob McCormack began making candy canes as special Christmas treats for his children, friends and local shopkeepers in Albany, Georgia. It was a laborious process – pulling, twisting, cutting and bending the candy by hand. It could only be done on a local scale.

In the 1950s, Bob's brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, a Catholic priest, invented a machine to automate candy cane production. Packaging innovations by the younger McCormacks made it possible to transport the delicate canes on a large scale. Although modern technology has made candy canes accessible and plentiful, they've not lost their purity and simplicity as a traditional holiday food.

From The National Confectioners Association

 

I've always wanted to make a yule log or Bûche de Noël for Christmas. This year I vowed I would. Here is my updated version of the traditional holiday cake. Instead of the more common génoise made with eggs and sugar beaten over a bain marie, flour, and melted butter, I decided to make a flourless cake. Simply made with sugar, eggs, and ground walnuts, this recipe results in a light and nutty sponge cake. The filling of chestnut purée and a little bit of rum is my favorite kind. And the frosting is a traditional chocolate buttercream.

Hungarian in nature, this recipe is loosely inspired by the logs my great aunt used to make whenever we visited her in Hungary. I think you will find this cake to be highly irresistible. One thing to note: Since the cake is flourless, it does shrink after baking.

buchedunoel.jpgWalnut Yule Log with Chestnut Filling and Chocolate Buttercream

6 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
1-1/4 cups ground walnuts
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and butter again.

In a small bowl, beat egg yolks by hand. In another small bowl, stir together dry ingredients: ground walnuts and baking powder.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites, adding sugar a little at a time, until soft peaks form. On low speed, drizzle in egg yolks. Fold in dry ingredients by hand until just combined.

Spread mixture evenly into prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Immediately turn cake out of baking sheet onto a linen towel. Remove parchment paper and flip cake so that bottom is in contact with towel, and roll cake with towel. Set aside for at least 20 minutes, so that cake takes on rolled shape.

Read more ...