Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Tis the season

Christmas is my favorite time of year. And Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the season. I love all the parties leading up to it, but when I sit down in my Aunt's little living room, crowded together with all my relatives (around 40 of us this year), I hear the noisy conversation and I smell the special food, but I feel the spirit of the holiday. I feel peace.

Our Christmas Eve meal is Scandinavian, including Lefse and the marzipan tower cake, Kransekake. My Aunt Barbara prepares Lutefisk, even though few people actually eat it. My only opposition is that it tastes like nothing. In Norway, our relatives eat it with bacon gravy, garlic mashed peas, and lefse on the side. My aunt is vegetarian and gracious enough to allow seafood products at Christmas, but bacon isn't permitted. Thus, I am heavy with the butter, salt, and pepper when the lutefisk comes around.

I've been in a bit of a cookie coma. I hadn't participated in a cookie exchange before this year. I never understood the appeal. What does one person do with 5 dozen cookies? But this year, I did two. And thanks to my coworkers, friends, and family, the cookies were consumed. They were beautiful cookies. And now I have the recipes...

Wassail is a little easier for me to get through. My friend Laurie made this for her holiday party. The picture makes the apples look sinister, but there were no complaints by the wassailers. We actually went out into the icy streets, warm and ready to carol. Perhaps we were a bit too jolly. One man turned off his porch light when we came around. We sang for him anyway.

Wassail (from Epicurious)
  • 10 small apples
  • 10 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon
  • 2 cups superfine sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Combine the sherry or Madeira, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat without letting the mixture come to a boil. Leave on very low heat. Beat the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored. Beat the whites until stiff and fold them into the yolks. Strain the wine mixture and add gradually to the eggs, stirring constantly. Add the brandy. Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples on top and serve in 8-ounce mugs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Not for the faint of heart

Or perhaps, not for the faint of palate. I love blue cheese and I have been known to put some Maytag Blue or creamy Fourme d’Ambert on just about anything. (Pasta, eggs, soup, vegetables, baguette, fruit, other cheese…) Last night I made pasta with sardines and olive oil, which tastes good with some grated Parmesan or Ricotta Salata. But I didn’t have those. I just had Maytag – or Jarlsberg. I went with the blue, even though it meant pairing a strong flavor with another strong flavor. But somehow it worked - though I’m partial.

I usually buy sardines canned in olive oil. They also come in tomato sauce. For those hesitant about sardine consumption, please remember they are not nearly as intensely flavored as their anchovy cousin. If you like canned tuna, you can handle sardines. Cook your preferred pasta, per directions. While pasta is draining, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over M - M/H heat. Scoop your deboned sardines into the pan – ~ ½ tin per person . Add the hot pasta and stir a few times. Remove from heat. Mix approximately ¼ tsp lemon zest into the pasta. You likely don’t need salt when using canned sardines and salty cheese, so salt and pepper with that in mind. Turn onto a plate. Top with grated or crumbled cheese. And greens, if you are feeling healthy. I used arugula, which is a bit zesty and tasted nice with the slight lemon flavor. Today, I used the second half of the sardine tin to make a “sardine melt,” using wheat bread and the Jarlsberg cheese. It tasted like a grown-up tuna melt, with the olive oily fish and rich nutty cheese.