Holiday Goodies

cheeselog.jpgThis is a fantastic and easy recipe from my friend Pat Loud which was passed down from her mother. She serves it at nearly every party that I’ve attended and it’s always a big hit.

As with most good recipes, the amounts are somewhat flexible – in other words, feel free to use more or less of any of the ingredients. Key to success, however, depends upon quality sharp cheddar cheese. I used Cabot Private Stock Extra Sharp Cheddar.

Any favorite bleu cheese will work – Roquefort, Danish Bleu, or English Stilton. Make sure that the cheeses are not too cold, or the mixture will not blend in the food processor.

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blackeyedpeasoupNew Year's would not be complete without the traditional foods that celebrate the start of a new year in a somewhat superstitious way. Many cultures eat foods that are symbolic of luck, progress, prosperity, and wealth. Ham and pork are often eaten because pigs root forward with their snouts. Stay away from chicken, because they scratch backward. Legumes double in size when cooked and thus represent prosperity. Lentils look like tiny coins. Leafy greens resemble paper money and symbolize wealth. Even if these food customs seem superstitious, they are rooted in culture, tradition, and history.

In the American South especially, black-eyed peas have a history that is important to remember. The legume has been grown in the South since Colonial times. It was originally domesticated thousands of years ago in Africa and arrived in America on slave ships. Black-eyed peas are a staple in soul food. Typical Southern New Year's foods include such dishes as black-eyed pea cakes and Hoppin' John, which is a combination of peas and rice with smoked pork. Boiled ham hocks and cooked greens, such as collard greens, mustard greens, or kale are also eaten. This simple soup holds true to tradition to include a bit of each symbolic food.

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wild-rice-003.jpgThanksgiving may be my favorite holiday. Families gather. And as they surround the dining table they celebrate and give thanks for all blessings, including the bountiful meal before them.

When my mom was living, she prepared most of the Thanksgiving meal herself. Trying to please everyone, she’d make baseball-sized dumplings and sauerkraut for my German dad, lump-free mashed potatoes for the grandchildren, sweet potatoes with a crunchy topping of melted marshmallows for her daughter-in-law, stuffing for her son-in-law, and lentils for herself and me. My brother wasn’t hard to please. I think he ate everything. And, of course, there was always a huge turkey. I am not kidding when I say there was hardly room on the table for our dinner plates.

Not to be forgotten was the wild rice. In Minnesota, where wild rice is plentiful, most cooks have favorite ways to prepare this “gourmet grain.” It seems my mom could never come up with a recipe that lived up to her expectations. Too dry, too mushy, not enough flavor, too much sage or thyme…just never quite right. Her wild rice challenges may have been due to the fact she had been transplanted in Minnesota from Indiana, where she had never even heard of this aquatic grass seed, the only grain native to the North American continent.

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festiveguacI first tried this exotic guacamole a couple of years ago at my good friend Robert’s Christmas party. His mother was in town that year and helped prepare some most of the incredible food on the buffet table.

His mother Anita is the kindest woman and has had an extraordinary life -- a true treasure and absolute delight. We bonded at that party by sharing recipe secrets and continue to correspond to this day about favorite foods and cooking techniques. When I asked if she would tell me how to prepare her famous pomegranate guacamole, she graciously emailed me the instructions, explaining that it was a recipe from her mom´s hometown, Guanajuato.

I’ve taken the liberty to list some precise measurements, but in full disclosure, Anita sent the list of ingredients and just put “to taste” after each item (she wrote, “No real amounts, but you are an excellent cook and I am sure you can eyeball it perfectly”.)

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rugelachMy husband has been begging me to make rugelach for years now.  They are the favorite cookie of his youth and he has always raved about his mother's rendition of them.  I've just never gotten around to making rugelach happen.

About five years ago, my husband attempted to make his own batch of rugelach.  Oh my goodness, they were these horrible little petrified pieces of doodoo.  They were so hard and burnt they exploded when you took a bite.  Of course I laughed and didn't think about making them for a long time. 

About a year ago, this recipe was published in my local paper and I held on to it until now.  It belongs to Margaret Hasson from Portland, Oregon whose rugelach is sought out by friends whenever she is baking.  I truly believe it, because these little bites are pretty much heaven on a plate. 

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