Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hogmanay -A Nae Year

It's time to celebrate Hogmanay, the Scottish version of New Year's . This is the time when children go from house to house and ask for small presents. it's also the time to take a wee nip of whiskey to toast the New Year's and ring out the old. Shortbread is served as well along with other traditional foods.

The Scottish run high with their traditions and Hogmanay is a great example of that. it's a leftover of the Viking celebration of the shortest day of the year . Christmas was really not a big holiday until the 1950's . New Year's was the time for feasting and merriment (and the Scots know how to rock a holiday). There was always a toast for the first footers or the first people to cross over your doorstep in the New Year. A handsome dark hand man crossing the threshold meant good luck. He would be promptly given a dram to get down along with some shortbread and a black bun, (a fruitcake wrapped in puff pastry). Guests would also settle down to the Scottish version of bubble and squeak or rumbledethumps. This was a fry up of cabbage , kale turnips and mashed potatoes. This could be served with fine Scottish salmon.

The Scots know how to do a New Year's celebration justice. They welcome in the New Year with open arms, good whiskey and good food.Being part Scottish myself (my Dad's ancestors left Inverness in 1745 after the Battle of Culloden Field) I'll try to do my part to ring in 2009.

A good New Year to all my readers here. Think of Robert Burns (who is a distant cousin of mine) tonight when the clock strikes twelve.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Eve's Appetizers

New Year's Eve means a party and every great one has great food. It doesn't have to be celebrate. You can create some really good hors d' oeuvres and keep guests full and happy. The trick is to have just a few. Use ingredients that will appeal to every one's tastes.

Pressed for time? Bruschetta makes a quick and easy appetizer that's filling and tasty. Simply toast Italian or French bread slices then drizzle on olive oil followed by a chopped tomato mix. You can add a slice of salami or provolone cheese.for a different spin. There's also a vegetable bruschetta for a variation. Another hearty appetizer is a mini pizza. Again , use thinly sliced Italian or french bread, add a dollop of pizza sauce and olive oil and cover with shredded mozzarella. Put under the broiler or even in the toaster oven for a few minutes. Any kind of puff is big. serve guest the ubiquitous cheese puff. If you want to give them some spice sprinkle with some paprika or a dusting of ground almonds. Chili is a surprising appetizer especially if you serve it on crackers or in shot glasses with a tiny spoon.

For cold hors d' oeuvres, try cold kabobs. You can put any kind of cold cut on a skewer along with veggies and cheese chunks. Vary the combos. You can have ham , Swiss cheese and pearl onions or chicken, tomatoes and mozzarella. Put out individual dipping sauces for those who want to add something extra to their snack sticks. Plain veggies with any kind o f dip are also a good cold snack. Their also healthier for your guests as well. Small finger sandwiches are another way to go. Use pumpernickel or rye along with flavored mayos and ketchup to give the sandwiches some zing.

Make your New Year's party stand out with tempting appetizers. Create a mix of hot and cold to satisfy every one's tastes. Ring in 2009 with happy, sated guests.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Eve - Get Ready!!!!

This may seem a tiny bit premature but all you foodies should be preparing for New Year's Eve. Noise makers? Check? Fancy or fun outfit? Check? Food? Drink? Uh oh, what to serve? What are you and your guests going to eat?

Hopefully not Christmas leftovers.

Today and tomorrow are the days when foodies all over the world should be stocking their fridges and pantries with party food and drink. Buy stuff that can keep, like pasta for hot dishes along with meats and frozen appetizers. If you decide to go the fresh route, then wake up very early on Wednesday morning and head over to your local grocer's. Fish , fruit and veggies should be served fresh. Go early if you;re buying a popular item like bananas, avocados or tomatoes otherwise you get the picked through rotty produce if you go later. You can buy tomatoes for sauce if you;re making it today to freeze for New Year's Eve. If you're planning on baking , then use today and tomorrow to do all that. Store in the pantry or front porch. Another thing to remember is stock up on breakfast items if you're having a large group staying overnight. Have plenty of eggs along with bacon and ham . You can use the bread from the party to make toast or French toast.

Buy your champagne and other spirits during these days as well. If you wait until the last minute, you'll wind up with a brand you may not like. Shop early and get what is needed. This also includes different kinds of seltzers and sodas for the designated drivers and non drinkers.Another good idea is to have one or two urns of strong coffee around to stop anyone from dozing off. If you're planning on a fancy brunch on New Year's Day, stock up on the orange and tangerine juice along with tomato juice. This way you can make plenty of mimosas and Bloody Marys to accompany brunch.

Be ready for the New Year with the right amount of food and drink. This way you can celebrate without the hassle of trying to get last minute goodies for your party.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Boxing Day Food Fun

Yesterday was Boxing Day in England or St Stephen's Day in the rest of Europe.It's an extension of the Christmas holiday started in the Middle Ages when the alms boxes were emptied on St Stephen's Day. Also in Victorian England servants were given their Christmas gifts the day after the holiday hence the term.

Celebrate a belated Boxing Day by having English treats. Pop open a few crackers (those favors filled with a lame joke, paper hat and toy) and settle down for some plum pudding or the sticky toffee kind. The first is mixture of dried fruit, mostly prunes, nuts and suet. It is usually made five weeks before Christmas and the youngest child is allowed to give the mix a stir fro good luck for luck. Spirits such as brandy or a dark rich ale is added for more flavor.It is then boiled or steamed in a basin and stored in a cool dry place. it is then steamed for a few more hours on the day that it's served , decorated with holly and doused with brandy.It is then ignited for a spectacular show at the dessert table. Sticky toffee pudding, , is a more quieter affair. This is basically a cake laden with dates and then drenched in a homemade toffee sauce. Some add fresh whipped cream as a side to offset the overly sugared taste. You can add some lemon zest to give it a bite. Mince pie, that lovely mix of sweet and suet is also made, usually in tartlet form these days

Candy is big in England during Christmas hols too. It's not unusual for kids to be chewing on wine gums, a jujube type candy with wine and champagne flavors (wines gums are an acquired taste for any Yank, trust me on this one). Chocolates, especially Cadbury's brand are also big . Kids receive chocolate Father Christmases and coins wrapped in gold foil.

Boxing Day and the days after are still gift giving and feasting days in the United Kingdom. Nothing celebrates the festive season like sweet pudding and melt in your mouth Cadbury chocolates

Friday, December 26, 2008

Celebrate The Foods of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa starts today and runs for seven days. Here adults and children learn all about the principles of the holiday and about the Mazao, or the fall harvest , usually in October. Like the many African countries Kwanzza is rich in vegetable diversity.

How to celebrate the holiday. Start with joliff rice which is regular white rice cooked in chicken broth and seasoned with tomatoes and peppers. There are also yams and black eyed peas or hoppin' john. The first t is eaten plain and the second usually cooked with spiced meat Peanuts are also big in the Kwanzaa celebration and are usually served up in a spicy stew. Dessert is usually benne wafers, butter cookies made with sesame seeds. Sesame is a big crop along the western African coast.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of the seven principles that drive life. One is the celebration of the harvest and in turn of the good food that the lands brings to us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas To All My Fellow Foodies

December 25th.

Merry Christmas. Enjoy this holy day and holiday with good food, family and friends and great foodie gifts. Enjoy your new Rachel Ray or Paula Deene cookbook or that new food processor. A favorite writer of mine (and the man who I always thank for introducing me to writing) Charles Dickens had written in his 1843 “Christmas Carol””Keep Christmas in your heart the year long.” Follow his words , today and always.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24th A Foodie's Christmas Eve

While I’m celebrating my German heritage and putting up the tree I’m wishing all my reader s out there a healthy and happy holiday Enjoy your Christmas, Hanukkah and/or Kwanzaa. Celebrate your heritage and your blessings with favorite foods and traditional dishes.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last Minute Goodies

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and that’s when most foodies around the world will be settling down to a sumptuous meal. The problem is do you have what you need to prepare a holiday meal for tonight and tomorrow? If you’re shaking your head right now, then run to your grocery store.

You probably have your main dish along with the sides right now. Do you need anything else? Sea salt? Cracked pepper? These may seem like small things but they add oomph to such party foods as deviled eggs and vinaigrette. Do you have enough cream cheese for the stuffed celery? What About sprinkles for last minute baking? Or the chocolate sauce for the special edition peppermint ice cream? Is there enough cocoa and milk for Santa’s thank you snack? Is there enough egg nog and rum for your own midnight treat when you watch the services from Rome? Make sure you have this and also make sure your stores have these as well. A lot of supermarkets won’t stock up until the 26th or they’ll be closed. Buy everything today.

A good idea is to take stock of everything you’re going to cook and bake and then write a list of what you don’t; have. It makes that last minute grocery shopping easier and you can map out your shopping route when you’re driving over. Bring someone with you to help cut down on shopping time. Don’t quibble if the brand you want is out of stock. Substitute. While you’re at it buy extras of what goes quick, like rolls and soda. Remember to also stock up on breakfast items, like eggs and orange juice if you’re having people stay over.

Christmas is the time of last minute surprises. Don’t turn them into bad ones by being ill prepared in the kitchen. Have everything on hand for the next two days of holiday merriment and feasting. Consider it a gift to yourself and your family.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Candy Land

This is the season for not just presents but also for sweets as well. No matter what faiths we were brought up into, there was always candy during this time of year. There was chocolate. There was peppermint. There was always something that gave the holidays their extra sweetness.

It;s the candy more than anything that forms our most cherished memories. There was ribbon candy., one of my grandparents' earliest remembrances. This was simple strands of colored and flavored hard candy cut to resemble bunched up ribbons. It became one of my favorites as well. there's the Advent Calendar where you would open a date and a small chocolate would be waiting for you. The best gifts were the small bags of chocolate coins, used both as Hanukkah gelt and Christmas stocking stuffers. These were magical and you felt like you were special getting them (a funny story here. I gave these to my friend's daughter when she was four. Hillary didn't know you had to peel off the gold foil and ate them whole. In a split second Deb and I realize d what she had done and four seconds later I had spit covered coins in my hand. We undid the foil and Hillary had her first taste of holiday joy. She recovered nicely. She's 22 now and works in Tiffany's marketing department in Manhattan where she can buy real gold coins for herself) Another fun candy gift was the bubblegum coal where you chewed black gum and wound up with a black tongue. That and Droste's chocolate orange were the best stocking stuffers ever!

Nowadays every candy company has some Christmas tie in. There are Butterfinger bells and holiday Hershey kisses. Cadbury's and M&Ms have red , green and white coatings on their chocolates Even Godiva has joined in with their festive ballotins of bonbons. We have all sorts of neat candies for stockings and as present toppers.

This time of year is a veritable candy land for kids and adults alike. Not only do we receive neat gifts but also neat candy celebrating the season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Comfort Food

Our holidays, whether they be Christmas Kwanzaa or Hannukah are food based. We crave the comforting smells of roast turkey or ham, collards or brisket to get us through these hectic days and frigid nights. The remind us of our pasts and where our families came from. They, more than any present, have given us good memories.

Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners are redolent with robust dishes full of seafood, ham or turkey. Southern Italians have good memories of their Christmas Eves. this is when thirteen different kinds of fish are cooked to represent Jesus and His Apostles. Since it's a holy day , no meats are allowed, hence the plethora of seafood. Usually cod and lobster are the prevailing fish but there's also shrimp, eel and tuna as well. German love Christmas Day when there is a fresh ham to be sliced and served with potato salad. The English love their roast goose and turkey along with their chestnut stuffings and plum pudding.

Kwanzaa and Hannukah also have great dishes. Since Kwanzaa is the celebration of the harvest most dishes have fresh vegetables in them (not an easy feat in some areas of America). There is jollof rice, a dish made with rice tomatoes and peppers along with a turkey gumbo. Spicy peanut soup is made to ward off the chill and sooth the soul. There are also okra and greens. Holiday baking includes benne cookies made with sesame seeds that give the eater good luck.

Hanukkah is a special holiday , filled not only with latkes but also with brisket. This cut of meat from a cow;s lower chest is usually served with onions or a sweeter version is made with plums . It;s the perfect meal on a cold winter;s night. Israelis finish off a good Hanukkah meal with sufganiyot, or fried jelly doughnuts. This, too, celebrates the oil's lasting eight days in the temple. They're made with a yeast dough and a raspberry jam filling. (although you can substitute any kind of flavor in them).

The holidays , no matter which one, always give us comfort food. These are what are favorite holiday remembrances are made from. It's what ties us to our ancestors and their traditions.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hanukkah - The Festival of Food

This time of year menorahs are lit, warming the winter's night. It means that Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights is about to begin. It also means that a festival of eating is also about to start. For centuries mother s and grandmothers have delighted children with all sorts of treats from latkes to brisket. This is the stuff of happy memories even during the bleakest of times.

latkes are an ancient food.They were made to celebrate not just the freedom fighters, the Maccabee brothers who fought the Greco Syrians but also to celebrate the miracle afterwards. After the skirmish, Judah Maccabee had wanted to get rid of the pagan deities the Greeks had se tup. He had also wanted to rid th e temple of the defiled oil used for lighting the menorah. They had found untouched oil, but only enough for one night. The oil lasted for eight nights hence the reason Hanukkah is an eight day festival. The word itself is from Old Hebrew and means to dedicate or possibly educate. For over two thousand years it has been celebrated. Latkes are from this time period however were made with cheese and egg. It was the introduction of the New World potato to Europe that forever changed the latke's basic recipe. The name itself is from Russian, from the Ukranian oldke . This is derived from the old Russian oladya which is derived ironically from the Greek eladia, or little oily thing .

Everyone has their spin on latkes. The best ones are made with starchier potatoes that produce a crunchy, chewy pancake. If you want a more golden latke then use duck eggs which also provide a richer taste. For a different taste use coarsely minced scallions instead of onions. Olive oil is a must for frying. it produces the best results and doesn't burn the way butter does. Latkes can be made up to eight hours in advance of frying if you're busy. Serve with sour cream or applesauce. (this is what this shiksa grew up on).

Hanukkah is the time to celebrate the Maccabees victory over the Greeks and their polytheism. It;s also the time to cherish warm foodie memories of latkes and light on a cold winter's evening.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Panettone - Fruitcake Done Right

Mention fruitcake to anyone and you're sure to get a wrinkled nose or gagging sounds. Let's face it. No one likes a leaden loaf fill with fruit that looks like it was picked during the Neolithic era. However leave it to the Italians to save this culinary reject and turn it into something chic and class. Panettone is the perfect holiday fruitcake. It can be served with everything from breakfast coffee to after dinner wine.

Panettone is a true Milanese invention. The name itself means "large loaf" in Italian but legend has it it was either named for the baker Toni, it or for the an assistant who helped bake it.Legend also has it that it was first served at the wedding of noted Milanse nobleman and falconer , Ughetto Atellani to for Toni's daughter Adalgisa. There's also the Christmas legend that a cook had nothing to give out for the holy day so he concocted a bread full of candied fruit and raisins. Not wanting to take credit he said his assistant Toni made it, hence pan de Toni or panettone. A few centuries later, Angelo Motta , a Milanese baker produced it fro the masses in 1919. Another baker , Gioacchino Alamagna did the same and a rivalry broke out. Motta is credited with giving the bread its' modern look, He let the dough rise to three times the normal height for bread during a period of twenty hours. (usually most bread is left to rise for only twelve. hours before baking). The average panettone is about ten inches high and almost impossible to toast in a toast in a toaster. Every slice has to be halved to have it warmed.

How to eat panettone? My one cousin in Piedmonte's Val Susa, Pat, scoops out the middle and fills it with a sweetened form of marscapone cheese. Sabayon is also used . It is then served as a fancy dessert with after dinner coffee. In the US my family an d I like it plain with butter slathered on the slices, usually for dessert. You can make French toast with any leftover panettone but go easy on the syrup afterwards. It's also a delicious base for bread pudding too.

This Christmas don't settle for the usual fruitcake. Get a panettone for yourself. It'll be the best X-mas gift ever!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Torrone, An Italian Christmas Treat

Christmas in any part of Italy is amazing. There are so many lush varieties of holiday foods that it's like a foodie wonderland. Rome has amazing Hanukkah dishes, while Naples serves up its' traditional thirteen fish dinner on Christmas Eve. Everyone has panetone and pan d'oro. Kids have especially good with a big treat - torrone from Befana, Italy's female version of Santa Claus. This is a wonderful chewy nougat that's eaten this time of year.

Torrone has its roots in ancient Rome where it was literally served up as foods to the gods. It was made and still is made with the basic,s honey egg whites and pistachios or hazelnuts. Squares of it were presented in Roman temples to the various deities for their help or as thanks.Torrone didn't get its' name until 1141 when a pastry chef made it in honor of one of the Sforza's (one of Italy's most powerful medieval families ) married. The marriage was held in Cremona, in central Italy where it was known for its' big tower or torrone. The chef made the candy in the shape of it and guests were impressed with this and the treat's smooth, sweet taste. Nowadays Italians put their own spin on it. Torrone is made with Strega in the Abruzzi region while Sicilians flavor it with orange and lemon.

Torrone can be made at home but it is labor intensive. You have to use egg whites and honey - not an easy combination at times and boil to the soft ball stage. It also requires wafers similar to what is given out in Holy Communion. Like all candy its' best to make torrone on a cool dry day. Make it on a warm humid one and you'll have candy that "weeps" . Clear fluid will ooze out of it creating a sticky mess. Sometimes it's best to stick with the store bought ones.

Torrone is a great treat this time of year. It's a reminder of why the Italians do candy right and produce this amazing mixture of just honey and egg whites.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gingerbread Houses For You And Me

One of the most enduring symbols of Christmas is the gingerbread house. This is every child's fantasy, a yummy house decorated with candy. For adults it brings back memories of simpler times when life wasn't so complicated. Nowadays there are many variations on this theme. You can do a green ginger bread house or even a condo.

The idea of gingerbread itself goes back to ancient times. The Greeks used to travel to the island of Rhodes for spice cakes made with Middle Eastern ginger. The Crusaders brought it back with them during the Middle Ages where it was given to monks for their baking. In turn the holy men used to bake early forms of gingerbread for the sick. The Germans probably were the first to bake it into squares to form houses. Germany had its' own Lebkuchen guild as early as 1637. It was mentioned in Grimm's fairy tale's with Hansel and Gretel visiting the "hexelhausen" or witch's house. Swiss monks made them in the US in Indiana in 1857. From then on, they have become afirm tradition here in the States.

Nowadays there are endless competitions for making the best or the most unusual gingerbread house. Some bakers have even created them to look like Rhine castles or California ranch houses. Other have baked mini houses to hang on trees. Decorating them is a matter of taste. Use a glue like icing such as royal icing to hold walls and roofs together. Also use this when attaching other candies for windows or decorating as well. You can add M&M's , hard candies, mints, gum drops and licorice to create the perfect gingerbread house. For added fun create a gingerbread family complete with cats and dogs.

The gingerbread house is a reminder of all things wondrous this holiday season. It represents fantasy and fun, along with the magic of Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Toast A Holiday Classic -Egg Nog

One of the richest and tastiest of all the Christmas and New Year's traditions is eggnog. This creamy,boozy brew has been around for centuries, delighting generations at the holidays. There's nothing better than a cup of nog and good friends.

Egg nog is one of America's earliest inventions. It was a variation of milk and wine punches served throughout 17th and 18th Century Europe. The colonists decided to add their own spin by substituting the wine with the ever plentiful rum and the milk with cream. Whole eggs were also added in, to give the drink more body. The name started off as egg and grog and over the years evolved into egg nog. Another theory for the name was that it was first served in a wooden cup called a noggin (which held a mix of Spanish sherry and milk or a sack posset. )It was popular not just at Christmas but at any New Year's open house.

Like our ancestors you can make your own version of this rich drink. Unlike our ancestors, don't wind up with salmonella. Heat the eggs up in a gentle bath for a few seconds.Use a bain marie or double boiler. This will kill off any bacteria that could be there and enables you to have a safe drink. As for cream, I'd recommend whole because you want a rich, frothy brew. As for the alcohol , you can go traditional and add rum . It's probably the best choice be cause of its' sweet flavor which lends an almost caramel undertaste to the nog. Some recipes do call for sherry or bourbon. These give a different spin to your nog and may be too strong for some tastes. You can make an non alcoholic egg nog if you want (perfect for Christmas parties ). Just remember to add sugar and vanilla extract for flavoring.

This is the season for a good cup of egg nog. Toast the holidays with this traditional , creamy drink. It's the perfect way to celebrate with family and friends.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holiday Candy Land

Even better than holiday cookies are holiday candies. These sweet snacks are just what you need after a hectic day of shopping or gift wrapping. They're also the perfect companion to a hot cup of coffee or tea and a relaxing book. Homemade candies are easy to make and don't have the hassle of a hot oven or a lot of pans and bowls. You can make up a batch without all the fuss and bother.

Chocolate bark is the easiest to make., It's basically melted chocolate spread over a greased cookie sheet. Swirls are made over the top to give it the appearance of a tree's surface. You can add everything form almonds (a good choice) to broken peppermint candies or candy canes. You can also make a peppermint bark using white chocolate and the swirling red food coloring through the candy to give it a true Christmas look.

My favorite candy to make are haystacks These are one of the staples of Jersey shore candy. They're just simply toasted coconut mixed in with melted chocolate chips and a two to three tablespoons of butter. The mix is then dropped into mound son a waxed paper or a greased cookie sheets. There are several variations on them, with some recipes calling for Chinese noodles and almonds along with the coconut. I prefer making mine with dark chocolate and a pound bag of shredded coconut. It's a perfect blend of dark fudge with chewy shreds. Yum.

My one friend is into making truffles for the holidays. She is a master cook and baker, with a history of creating top of the line treats. Lou uses fresh cream and the best cocoa to create mouth water ganaches. Her truffles are better than those at Lilac Chocolates, one of Manhattan's best chocolatiers. Truffles are a more labor intensive candy but worth the effort. There is an easy recipe out there that requires chocolate chips for those not wanting to get too involved. with truffle making process.

T'is the season for treats. Make up a few for you and your family to enjoy this holiday season.

Liz's Haystack Recipe

1 16 oz bag of semi sweet chocolate chips.
2-3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 12 oz bag of shredded coconut

Melt chocolate and butter or margarine in the microwave for a minute and a half or two minutes (this depends on your microwave) Stir in coconut .until thoroughly blended. Using a tablespoon, drop onto a greased cookie sheet or one covered with waxed paper. You can use two tablespoons to create bigger mounds. Let cool in the fridge or on your porch if you have one. Store in a cool dry place until serving.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Garlic Bread - Comfort Food For The Holidays

Garlic bread has always held a special place in my heart. It was one of the first foods that I truly fell in love with and was a big part of my childhood. It still is. Who can resist garlic bread though? The golden loaf, , every other slice studded with a small slice of garlic clove, each slice a drift in butter and oil. Then you have the crust, well, oiled and salted down. Garlic bread is perfect for the upcoming holidays. It goes well with red meat or with any pasta dish. It's also good cold with a slab of roast beef on top.

When was this treat first made? Probably early on in Italian households. Garlic grows throughout the Mediterranean so it was almost a no brainer to pair it with a long loaf of crusty and rich olive oil. I'm guessing that my Piedmontese grandmother and great aunts added the butter part as an extra (they were also influenced by the Lombards and their many uses for butter). You can add cheese on garlic bread but that's ruining the taste. The one variation that I'll allow is rubbing the crust with seas salt as opposed to regular salt. This gives more crunch to the crust

Garlic bread is the perfect side to any holiday pasta or red meat dish . It will certainly be a part of my holiday dinners.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oatmeal - Your Diesel Fuel This Season

Cold winter mornings are no fun. You have to leave a blissful slumber and a warm bed to face the world. The weather is either bitter cold, snowy sleet or all three. What's going to keep you from crawling back under the covers?

A nice hot bowl of oatmeal.

It's no wonder that next month, January is designated oatmeal month. We'll be needing this age old breakfast staple until the spring thaw. It's not only beneficial but also a balm to comfort us on these meat locker cold mornings. Rolled oats are a good way to start a day. They perfect for those on a diet as well as being good for arthritis. It has complex carbohydrates as well as much needed fiber to keep us all happy and healthy. It's much less greasier than eggs and bacon and not full of calories like French toast or pancakes.

Oatmeal has been a staple of Scottish cooking from the time of the Celts. It's used not just for breakfast but for desserts (oatmeal cookies came about in the 1800's) and used as thickener for soups and stews. There are the uncut hulled oats, or groats which takes five minutes to cook and the cut ones which take only a minute. You can use the e cut ones in baking and thickening. The Scots also use it for their blood puddings and as poultry stuffing. it can also be cooked with butter and cream to create a type of porridge called brose. In the US, we see it on any thing healthy from granola bars to all natural cookies.

During these mornings, treat yourself to a hearty and healthy bowl of oatmeal. You'll be able to face that sleeting rain and crabby boss feeling fortified and full.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Special Delivery

Even though Christmas is two weeks away you can still have food delivered to yourself or family and friends. The question is do you? Some companies do make a tasty product. Others make you wonder why they stayed in business in the firs t place. There's really no trick in finding the
best company with the best product. Sometimes it's good to go n recommendations while with others just cross your fingers and just click.

One of the safest foods to choose is fruit. Apples and oranges won't disappoint (unless they come rotten or wormy). Any kind of nut is good as is popcorn. You know what to expect with these. Cakes and cookies can be a little dicey. The catalog or online description may say one thing. The actual taste may be other. Luckily I've had good luck with the cakes I've ordered from .They came moist and redolent of cinnamon and butter. They were never stale and never crumby or dry. I've also had luck with all sorts of candy and vegan products (this last is from a great website . I have yet to order regular meat and cheese on line. Sauces are another item that won't disappoint. The web site, Ginger People, has provided me with some yummy ginger laced barbecue sauces along with marinades, cookies and candy. I can't buy their stuff in my local A&P so I have to rely on their shipping.

What websites will work for you? That's your decision on what you like to eat and to give. Again sometimes it's a trial and error , sometimes it's best to read what people have to say about these products. If you want togive any food for X-Mas, order now and press guaranteed Christmas delivery. Also popular items may be sold out and the company may wait until after New Year's to restock. (this rarely , if ever happens, yet some companies feel the need to reorder after January 1st).

If you want a special treat this holiday then go to the web and find it. It should arrive to you just in time to give to yourself or to family and friends.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Southern Christmas

The American South is known for its' variety of different dishes. This also means Southerners have a large choice of what they eat for Christmas. There are all sorts of meats , sides and of course desserts. The cuisine is a mix of African, Creole, English, Cajun and Spanish cooking. It is full of down home love with local ingredients. All this makes Christmas a special holiday a true feast for the senses.

Most Southerners appreciate a good ham to cook. This tradition has gone back to Colonial times when farms had plenty of pigs and hogs to spare. Fried turkey is another meat that;s on everyone;s dish on Christmas Day. There;s also that odd and bizarre creation of turducken where a chicken is stuffed inside a duck that in turn is stuffed inside a turkey. Of course there are home made biscuits to either dip in gravy or spread with butter. Sides usually consist of yams , okra, collard greens and green beans.

For Christmas parties there's always egg nog and non alcoholic punches.With this come a variety of sweets from pecan pies to snowflake pudding, a vanilla pudding riddled with coconut flakes. There is also the usual fruitcake. soaked in bourbon or whiskey as well as small butter cookies. Thanks to the French traditions. Louisianians have buche de Noel, a traditional holiday cake baked in the shape of the Yule log. There are also pralines for the kids to nibble on as they play with their new toys.

Christmas in the South is a unique experience, full of native foods and centuries old recipes. They make Christmas not only fun but full of tasty treats.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pfefferneuse A Christmas Treat

Germany and Holland practically invented Christmas. Thanks to them we have the Christmas tree and plates of sweets. They also gave us pfefferneuse or pfeffernusse, the staple of many a cookie tray. What would the holiday be without them?

Pfeffernusse means peppered nuts because there are ground walnuts and almonds in them. They originated in Holland where they were called pepernoten. Germans also loved the richly spiced taste of these cookies and incorporated them into their holidays sweets.They were brought here in the mid 1800's when waves of German immigrants flooded the US. They are a cookie not for the faint hearted. Pfeffernusse are richly spiced with cardamon, black or white pepper and cloves. They may taste too medicinal for the average shortbread or butter cookie lover.

If you do love these spicy little rounds the question is to bake or to buy? Pfeffernussesare about as labor intensive as any other spice cookie. Only German bakeries really carry truly authentic kinds. If you do get the mass produced store bought variety, then you're stuck with hard little lumps that have an unpleasant taste and glue like icing. (although Target has a chai spice cookie sold year round that actually comes very similar in taste to real homemade pfeffernusse) . The best bet is visit your local bakery if there's a good German or even Dutch one in your area. If not bake up a batch for the holidays.

Pfeffernusse is a holiday treat that can't be missed. Have a few for a very old fashioned Dutch or German Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Peppermint Twist

Nothing says Christmas like the bracing, yet sweet taste of peppermints. The air is redolent with them.We long for a taste of candy cane or those striped discs so popular at this time of year. We lace our hot cocoas with shard of the hard candy version. We practically swim in soothing peppermint tea when these days and night get too hectic.

Peppermint is one of the world's most ancient plants and one of the first hybrids. It is a cross between the water mint and spearmint plants. Ancient Greeks Egyptians and, Romans used it for medicine, probably in treating stomach problems. Suck on a few peppermints or the mother of all mints, Altoids, after dinner to calm a full or upset tummy. Peppermint teas is also good for this as well as calming a stressed mind.

The holidays scream for anything peppermint. A fun minty holiday treat is the candy cane cake. Bake a chocolate one in a candy cane shaped pan, Decorate with red and white icing that has crushed mint (you can use canes or the hard round pastilles). It's a fun way of uniting two flavors that belong to each other. Another fun dessert is peppermint ice cream with chocolate syrup drizzled over it. Add chocolate whipped cream and crushed mints for more decadence.

Make your holidays snappier with peppermint. This mint can jazz up any dessert as well as soothe any upset stomach or overworked mind. Keep in on hand during this month.

Holiday Gifting

This was supposed to be published yesterday, December 5th. The $%$##% site wouldn't let me publish this!

What to get a foodie for Christmas?

There are so many things. One we love to cook so gadgets, and even small appliances wouldn't go amiss. Personally I'd love to have some silicone bakeware and a small panini press. There are many who would love Caphealon skillets and frying pans.

Food gifts are always perfect. There are some new items out there like absinthe lollipops or red velvet cupcakes. Sometimes the old school stuff like homemade fudge or a pecan kringle are also good gifts.Cookbooks are another good idea. There are so many out there that it's fun to pick and choose. There are also blank recipe books where you can fill in favorite recipes (see Borders Bookstore for this)

No matter what you give us , it'll always be appreciated. Actually the best foodie gift of all is donating your holiday time to a sou p kitchen or giving money to a food bank.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Caribbean Christmas

The Caribbean has always been known for winter getaways but it;s also known for its' rich tradition of holiday foods. There are so many culture from the Spanish to the Dutch that celebrate Christmas and New Year's with many different dishes.Some follow their European orgins, while others take from the land and the sea. All in all it makes for delicious holiday cuisine that appeals to all the senses.

Some island people celebrate with roasted turkey, however it's not like the US roasted one. This one is redolent of spices and peppercorns, The meat is also rubbed with olive oil and cider vinegar as opposed to be rubbed with salt , pepper and butter before cooking. Other meats include goat and pork which predominantly figures on any island Christmas menu. Barbadans or Bajans (such as the singer Rihanna) make a spicy stew called jug jug, full of simmered beef and pork. Vegetable dishes reflect the islands wealth of greenery too. Many dishes employ native peas and tubers, cooked or stewed to accompany the main meal.

The Caribbean is also known for its' lush desserts and they come out in full force during the holidays. Since some of the islands like Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands were part of the British Empire, there is a strong leaning towards traditional puddings. The Trinidadians call it black cake and infuse it with rum. Coconut and guava are also big in holiday baking , serving as the filling for many cakes. Of course there is rum punch and sorrel tea (this from Jamaica ) which everyone drinks to toast health and a good New Year.

The Caribbean has its' own holiday recipes that span back several centuries. They represent the varied landscape that make up these colorful islands.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Champagne Wishes

Nothing says celebrate and party time like a good bottle of champagne. It' makes the dullest parties pop. The crisp tastes adds extra flavor to any party food and make sit special. Everyone should have a bottle at the ready during these happy holidays.

Champagne first came about in the mid 1600's a result of a container mishap. It seemed that a second fermentation happened to a type of wine known as vin gris or grey wine. Bubbles appeared and a kind of fizz occurred. Noblemen and wealthy French men fell for this new kind of wine and thus began France's love of champagne. We also have two abbes , the famed Dom Perignon and the lesser known, Frere Jean Oudart who created the first mass production of champagne (named for the region) in their respective monasteries. Two centuries later in 1836, there was a treatise published and research done on how sparkling wine got to be just that. It deals with the amount of extra sugar added or left over. This produces CO2 which is responsible for giving champagne its' sparkle.

Now every winery has their own champagne. What's the best. In my opinion Asti Spumante from Piedmonte (of course I'm prejudiced here.) is the finest. It's light, sweet and doesn't have some of the slightly bitter after taste that other champagnes possess. (another factoid - only sparkling wines produced solely in the Champagne region of France can be classified as champagne. All others have to be called sparkling wines).Asti is the perfect with hors d'ouevres as well as with cakes. There are others such as Freixinet from Spain that are also very good but in a dry white wine kind of way.

This season , remember to be well stocked up on your bottles of bubbly. Buy whatever you like , open a few bottles and toast a fantastic gift or a year well done.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pears The Perfect Winter Fruit

If you think you can't get any decent fruit during the colder months ,think again. There are plenty of different kind of harvests to be found. Of course there's the citrus fruit being shipped in from Florida and California. There's also that winter classic- the pear. It's been around for millenniums , enjoyed from everyone from ancient kings to modern day techies . It's even been mentioned in the popular carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas". After all it's not a rosebush the partridge sits on.

Pears have been around since ancient times, even garnering a mention in literature of the day. They were cultivated throughout the ancient world where the Chines and Romans were the biggest consumers. It's a member of the Maloideae family a sub genus of the Rosacae the genus that apples derive from. in fact apple and pear blossoms resemble each other in color and number of petals. The word pear come from the west Germanic pyra and first the Vulgar Latin . Any Anglo Saxon place name with Perry refers to an area where pears were grown . Perry also refers to pear wine as well.

Pears are not only the perfect low calorie snack. they're the perfect curative as well. Eat them to lower blood pressure or to relieve arthritis. They're also beneficial in preventing colon cancer and gout. A simple pear is only 96 calories and loaded with Vitamin C. Add a few to your weekly winter diet to stave off colds and flus. The best way to eat them is just fresh although you can have the ones packed in syrup for a dessert or snack too.

Don't fret about the lack of fruit that comes with winter. There is always the pear and this is the season to get stock up on them. Have them for a quick snack at work or when your holiday shopping.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Plans

Now that it's December first , it's time to start thinking about how to plan out this busy , food filled month. Remember to start writing down your game plans. After all this will be a hectic four weeks. There's holiday shopping along with [present wrapping, parties to go to and parties to throw. Toss in a day spent on baking and you're well stretched.

The first thing to do is think about what kind of meals you want to have for the big holiday. Do you want the traditional ham (if you're German) or turkey? Are you going to be celebrating Christmas Eve with thirteen kinds of fish (like the Neapolitans of Southern Italy) or will it be Hanukkah with latkes and sour cream? Also will these celebrations include friends and family? The immediate family? Coworkers and boss? In the meantime how do you feed yourself and your family good food that's healthy yet quick to make?

Once you have that conundrum worked out, then it's time to arrange shopping trips. Of course, buy fresh meats ,fruits and veggies the day of the party or at the very soonest the day before. Stock up on holiday themed napkins, plates and utensils along with table decorations when your stores have big sales. If you have an extra freezer or a pantry , buy canned goods that you can easily heat up. Also stock up on frozen hors d"ouevres because this is the season when they'll go quick.

If you're having your parties and dinners catered, now is the time to contact the caterers. Sit down with them and explain what you want and when. It's also a good time to go over to your local liquor store and take a look at their various wines and champagnes. If there are sales there , then buy one or two cases. Alcohol will keep and it's better to be overstocked than under any day. Pot luck dinners require planning as well. After all you don't want five trays of baked ziti and no Swedish meatballs. Talk with your guests and ask what they want to bring.Avoid duplicates and assign courses to them. (such as appetizers, salads, main meal, desserts, etc).

This is the time to start mapping out your holiday cooking battle plans. Make sure everything is done to the letter. It'll make for easier kitchen time and memorable feasts.