Christmas

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms1Happy Holidays! One of our favorite quick appetizers are these Italian Stuffed Mushrooms. They usually show up on the holiday table because they are so easy to make and serve.

You can even throw them together early in the day and bake them off right as guests are arriving.

Having a hot appetizer that is so easy to make is a godsend on party day. I often double the recipe because they disappear so fast.

I hope you have a great day, have to get back to cooking as I am going to be making my Lobster Bisque, it’s just not Christmas without it.

Read more ...

ImageI’m nervous. I’m not sleeping well. The greatest challenge of my life is one month away and I have yet to start planning it: Christmas dinner. Everything will be riding on it. Not just my self-respect; the respect of my gender – every man who has ever said to his stay at home wife, “Hey, I’d take your job in a minute.” Well, she gave it to me. It’s all mine. And now I’ve got to deliver. Put a stunning meal on the table this Christmas; one that lets my hard working, career-driven wife know she married the right …well …wife.

Let me be frank. I’ve survived these last few months on nothing but moxie, a crock-pot, and a copy of Cooking for Idiots. And now I’m staring at one hard cold fact: not only have I never cooked a Christmas dinner, I can’t recall having eaten one. I’m a Jew: a Jew, who pompously volunteered to cook for his Cuban wife and her family on their most important Holiday of the year. What the hell was I thinking? If some couch potato wants to firm up, you don’t tell him to enter a marathon. You tell him to walk a little, then jog a bit, see if he can eventually work himself up to a mile. Yet here I am, a couch potato running a marathon, a culinary novice planning the mother of all meals: Christmas Dinner. Yikes!

Read more ...

fruitcakeeI've never been able to understand why Christmas fruitcake is hated so much. What makes it such a dreaded gift, one that gets passed about or relegated to the back of the fridge? I must say I'm not the biggest fan of the cake, some are rather good, but others are just too dense and way too boozey. But this year for Christmas, I was willing to make a better fruitcake. So when a friend suggested I try making the cake from a recipe she loved just to see if I could possibly love it, I decided to give it a wholehearted try. I usually love other cakes that contain dried fruit, so what could be so bad about fruitcakes? And if they turned out better than expected, I'd have something more traditional to hand out as gifts to my fiends and neighbors.

First, I set myself some ground rules: I would under no circumstances use bright technicolor candied fruit, but instead use naturally dried fruits. And I would not soak the cake in booze and age it for days as most recipes suggest; I would only soak the fruit in booze. I simply don't like a soggy cake and I don't intend to preserve it for years to come, which in the medieval past was the reason why these cakes were so laden with alcohol. I wanted a lighter cake that had the likeness of a good nut bread but with a holiday flair. And I believe I was able to achieve that and more.

I was surprised by the results. The cake was dense but had a nice texture. The dried fruit was very flavorful from my combination of rum, a traditional ingredient, and vermouth, a fortified wine flavored with herbs and spices. The many ground spices also contributed to a fragrance and flavor reminiscent of pumpkin pie. For a beautiful cross-sampling of colors, I used dried papaya, cranberries, pineapple, golden raisins, dark raisins, and dates. A bit of crystallized ginger added hot spiciness.

Read more ...

blizzard.jpgOn December 24th, 1963, Philadelphia was hit with a rip-roaring blizzard.  I’ll never forget it.  By evening, the drifts were well past knee-high.  Snowflakes swirled in the halos of streetlights.  Driving anywhere was out of the question.  Wrapped up in coats, boots, gloves, hats and scarves, and loaded down with bags of presents, my girlfriend Bonnie, my mother and I set out on foot for Aunt Tilda’s house.  What would have been a 7-minute drive turned into an hour trek.   I remember laughing so hard we could hardly walk.  We knew we were crazy to be slogging through such a storm, but we were determined to reach our destination.  It was Christmas Eve, and Aunt Tilda had prepared the traditional Italian Feast of Seven Fishes.

Tilda’s house was decorated to the rafters.  Twinkling lights outlined every window.  Tiny red and green Christmas balls hung from each curtain ruffle.  Swags of tinsel garland draped the mirrors.  The huge tree was covered with hundreds of ornaments she had been collecting for decades.  At its top perched a gossamer angel.  And beneath its bedecked branches, nestled the white and gold 30-piece Nativity set that Tilda had stayed up into the wee hours painting on many a sweltering summer night.

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 ...