Holiday Goodies

chinese-dragon.jpgChinese New Year or the spring festival celebration lasts for 15 days starting with a parade headed by a large size red dragon dancing its way through the streets and businesses of Chinatown. In Boston, the New Year started with a bang! Firecrackers were exploding loudly echoing on the narrow street, lettuce leaves and orange peels were littering the pavement in the wake of the dragon,tossed to symbolize prosperity and good fortune.

The date for the new year changes every year. It is based on a combination of the Chinese lunar/solar calendar. Chinese New Year is always celebrated on the second moon after the winter solstice. That is why the date is never the same. Chinatown is decorated with red lanterns (red for good luck). Bright red packets with gold writing hang from all the trees outside and plants in restaurants symbolizing lucky money and everyone has been sweeping and cleaning their houses, sweeping out any bad luck from the past year.

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ImageMy first taste of goat’s cheese was at a tapas restaurant in Chicago many years ago. The soft, creamy cheese with a fairly mild, salty taste was topped with pine nuts. At the time, the flavors were so different from what I was accustomed to eating. During the years since that first introduction, I’ve become quite fond of the full, rich flavor of goat cheese.

One of my favorite ways to serve goat cheese is to spread the room-temperature cheese on a platter and top it with sliced sundried tomatoes in oil, smashed kalamata olives and slivers of fresh basil. I drizzle some of the oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes over the whole platter and serve it with baguette slices. Guests cover the bread with oil-soaked cheese and then top it with the tomatoes, olives and basil. The whole thing can be assembled right before guests arrive. It’s not a concoction I developed myself. Mary Risley, of Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco served it at the first class I ever took from her.

This holiday season I’ve combined those same ingredients and baked them in tiny little cream cheese tart shells. The rich custard holds all the ingredients together in a flaky cream cheese cup.

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applefritters.jpgHomemade, doughnuts and fritters are the absolute best. They far surpass any "donut" shop doughnuts. When I'm in the mood for doughnuts but don't have the patience to wait for dough to rise, I like to make fritters. They fulfill my craving as fast as I can fry them. Their crispy fried exterior and fluffy interior are what make them a favorite sweet treat for many people. A batch of fritters is very easy to put together and they are great for any occasion. But they make a special treat for Hanukkah, which is celebrated with fried foods like latkes and fritters.

The interesting thing about fritters is that you can find versions of them in many cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. Greeks have Loukoumades, which are balls of fried dough doused in honey syrup. The French have beignets. Italians have zeppole. In Spain and Latin America there are buñuelos. In India there are gulab jamun, balls soaked in spiced sugar syrup. In the United States you can find apple fritter rings, which look just like doughnuts. I'd like to think it possible that the original recipe for fritters made its way through all the different cultures, who then adapted it to their liking.

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seafoodpates.jpgI always hated how it got so dark, so early in the winter. One day, a friend told me I just needed to manage until December 21st because that was the shortest day of the year and from that day on it would get lighter a minute earlier each day. Growing up and working in Pittsburgh, anything that could help us through the cold and gloomy winter days was motivating, so I decided we needed to celebrate the day.

As a supervisor in a call center, I was always trying to find fun things to do with the team to keep them motivated.  I love trying new dips so I thought it would be a good idea to put the two together and officially make December 21st "Dip Day."  Everyone would bring in a different dip and it often included sharing the recipe because they were so good, garnering me a wide assortment of different recipes to use at parties and family get togethers.  I moved to Florida in 1995 and although I do not have those wintry days to put up with, I still continue to celebrate "dip day" and the extra light it brings. 


Hot Artichoke Spinach Dip

Baked Mexican Layer Dip

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Cider Cheese Fondue

Clam Jam Dip

Jumbo Lump Crab Dip

Ina Garten’s Roasted Eggplant Spread

Fig and Walnut Tapenade with Goat Cheese

Lila’s Guacamole

Baked Vidalia Onion Dip

Reuben Dip

Retro Pistachio Cheese Ball

Smoked Salmon Dip

Shrimp, Spinach and Goat Cheese Dip

Spicy Black Bean Dip 

From the L.A. Times

marshmellows.jpgConsidering everybody on your holiday gift list – friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, your kids' teachers – you might be needing a stimulus package before you even get to the big-ticket items this year. So why not take a page from your grandmother's playbook and make the smaller gifts yourself?

Not only are homemade gifts less expensive, they also capture the spirit of holiday giving in a way that purchased gifts simply can't. And if you consider the ubiquitous traffic and holiday crowds, a leisurely morning spent baking breadsticks or whipping up a batch of homemade marshmallows seems positively Zen-like by comparison.

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