holiday food

Food Friday: Food Traditions and People

Winter is here and Christmas is upon us. Our family and friends are assembled. The serious cooking has begun. 

Christmas and Hannukah coincide this year, which is nice for our family. My husband has Lutheran roots, and I am Jewish. We have learned to be inclusive, and both holidays hold real meaning for us. Plus, we get all the good foods ! 

While we partake of many traditional holiday dishes, some treats have taken hold in our tribe. Each dish has a champion and ... a relationship to go with it.  Here is how it is playing out. 

One friend presides over the mass creation of decorated gingerbread houses every year. Another friend is the undisputed pie expert and can always tell what you are doing wrong. My son in law is the grilling king. My sister in law reliably arrives with snickerdoodles. My brother in law is a master of soups and chilis. Two nieces could go pro with cake decorating, and like to do their work here, in my kitchen. Great Grandmother roasts lamb. 

My husband is all about a fancy breakfast. He is one of those Nords who gets up early with a smile on his face. He makes waffles with fruit. Even at dinner we " give him a job he likes" which is making fruit salad. 

The youngest is starting to correspond with me from college about main dish recipes, usually with deer or elk, our red meat of choice. I owe him a custom cookbook, but have been slacking. Last week it was pot roast, and I got pictures. I think our culinary relationship is still forming. 

Our middle child cooks all the time. We have several dishes that bind us, but the most fantastical is our Buche de Noel. We also make fancy non-traditional Latkes. No mere white potatoes for us. We use sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, scallions and the like. I think this year we will fry in coconut oil. 

Our oldest is a skilled self taught chocolatier. This is what she and I do for the holidays. It is epic. We make moulded chocolates filled with ganache. I make the ganache, she makes the molds. Facebook and Instagram light up. So I though I'd share this little slice of our holiday with you. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hannukah. 

Food Friday: Holiday Food Preparation

This was going to be a post about Holiday Cookie Exchanges, and how I was going to make mine paleo, but then I realized there was so much more to do than that. There is so much more to do with holiday food on this, the 10th of December ! The time is now to get prepared. I share my list with you ! 

First things first: Make a list of all the food requirements that must shortly be met. 

  • Determine donation at the door for upcoming holiday party- canned goods ? T-1 day 
  • Order turkey from the organic people so I will not have to worry about them selling out. ASAP
  • Order fruit boxes for gifting.( Make fruit box list !) ASAP ! 
  • Raid pantry for homemade jams for neighbors on Christmas eve or Christmas day. Decorate jars. T-10 days 
  • Decide on thank you gifts for office- tea and chocolates in gift bags. By Monday 
  • Decide on thank you gifts for “ helpful people” list: ( First review the helpful people list for this year, i.e. UPS man, insurance lady, dentist, eye doctor, etc. ) Maybe also tea and chocolate depending. By Monday 
  • Try to pull together people who are interested in a Paleo cookie exchange. Tomorrow 
  • Decide what cookies I would like to make for the cookie exchange. Next Wednesday 
  • Decide menu for office holiday party, and see what I can get purchased before the rush. This weekend.
  • Buy decorations for homemade chocolates. ( Amazon !) Tonight ! 
  • Assess the current collection of stocking stuffers for family members and what still needs to be obtained. Be sure to get the correct chocolate percent to each of the kids (Chocolate snobs-all of them ! ) This weekend 
  • Plan the baking and assembling of the “ Buche de Noel” or Yule log, in chocolate and buttercream with piped meringue mushrooms. - Talk to my sous-chef son Forest : ) - Do the Saturday before Christmas. 

It seems like a lot, but I do it because it’s fun and because it brings people together. 

Take at look at your fun list for this holiday season, and have some fun with food. Just make sure to keep up with your workout in the event that there are a few extra calories on the holiday menu. 

Food Friday: Planning the Easter Feast

I am fascinated by traditional holiday foods from around the world. Each dish has a fantastic story that embodies the history, agriculture and joy of the people who produce it. Let’s check into some of the lovely choices. Every holiday table should have the tried and true family favorites. But there should also be some well rehearsed culinary adventures to sample as well. 

I have noticed that many traditional Easter foods involve a sweetened and decorated yeast bread. Examples would be Kulich, from Eastern Europe. This baked in a tall tin and decorated with icing. The Mexican Easter Bread is called Capirotada, and is a baked bread pudding flavored with raisins, cinnamon cloves and cheese. England of course is famous for its hot crossed buns.

There are a couple of versions of sweet yeast breads which are decorated with colored eggs. They are Mona de Pascua from Spain and Tsoureki from Greece. The first looks like a donut topped with a hardboiled egg. In the second case, the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Columba di Pascua ( The dove of Easter) is a Italian bread with candied citrus peel much like Pannetone eaten for Christmas. 

Stacked Pysanky.jpg

It is important to remember that Easter occurs in spring. Historically, one would have to rely on the pantry or garden to make meals. Greens would barely be beginning to come into gardens. Perhaps there were new potatoes, peas or onions ifone were lucky and Easter was late. Thus breads from stored wheat, eggs from chickens just starting to lay again, and meat, either fresh or cured was accessible, and figured prominently in the Easter menu. Accordingly we see the observance of “ Gründonnerstag” in Germany on Maundy Thursday, when a soup of greens is eaten. In Naples, bread, cured meats and cheese were combined in a tortano for Easter day picnics. In Greece, lamb was traditional, cooked as a stew, with greens and an egg and lemon sauce.

Eggs of course, figure strongly into Easter menus throughout Christendom. Most traditions provide for them to be decorated. Did you know that this tradition of egg decoration predates Christianity by thousands of years? The custom was sanctioned early on by the early Christian church as the egg was declared a symbol of the risen Jesus. This custom was raised to high art in the Eastern European arts of Pysanka, with complex deeply colored geometric patterns, and ultimately to the jeweled eggs of Fabergé. While I would love to see and touch a Fabergé egg, I would prefer to have a fanciful design made in chocolate. 

Did you know even the making of Easter baskets has roots in the church ? In Poland decorated baskets are filled with decorated eggs and special foods, and are blessed collectively by the town priests. Modern children whose baskets are filled with toys should remember that in days gone by, the special foods given in baskets were a great luxury. 


I hope this gives you a little inspiration as you prepare your celebration. Remember to plan ahead and involve every one in the preparations for the festivities. 

Food Friday: Holiday Menu Planning 

I don't know about you, but right now I am trying to figure out the menu for not one but several holiday dinners to come in the fairly near future. To try and minimize stress with these events which are supposed to be fun, I've decided to do a little advance planning and let you in on it too.

Sometimes it's best to stick to tradition, and include menu items you know are family favorites. But particularly when you have more than one meal to present during the holiday season, you can afford to be a little bit creative. Let's take a quick look at four different cuisines which you might consider. Christmas is really big in each of the five countries which I will present, but you can probably think of many more countries that cherish the holiday as well. You can explore their cuisines too. Suddenly there is no shortage of menu ideas when you consider it in this framework. The challenge will be choosing what to leave out ! 


A Mexican inspired Christmas “ Navidad” 


  • Virgin Margaritas
  • Quesadillas with fresh salsa for starters 
  • Ponche - a hot fruit and cider punch 
  • Mexican Christmas Eve Salad _ this is colorful salad mixture of lettuce, beets, apple carrot, pineapple, jicama, pecans and pomegranate seeds. 
  • Tamales with a chocolate chili mole sauce. 
  • Rosca dee Reyes- A sweet spicy fruity bread containing assorted dried  or candied fruits. 


A French Inspired Christmas “Noel” 


  • Champagne, Perrier
  • Amuse bouche ( hor d’oeuvres) - olives, seasoned nuts, vegetable platters with dips etc. 
  • Boeuf (beef) Bourguignon ( A thick stew made all day with red wine and meat cooked until fork tender eaten with crusty baguettes. ) 
  • Haricots Verts ( green beans roasted with olive oil) served with lemon 
  • Salade Nicoise - Tomatoes, boiled eggs, and tuna on a bed of greens 
  • Diverse fruit and cheese platter 
  • Buche de Noel- An amazing rolled chocolate sponge cake filled with mocha cream, frosted with chocolate buttercream to look like a log and garnished with meringue mushrooms
  • Sorbet 


An Italian Christmas “ Natale” 


  • Pellegrino 
  • Antipasti- tuna, fresh salmon, cured meats, olives, cheeses, bruschetta, crostini, Caprese salad- with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes
  • Pasta, such as ravioli filled with extravagant fillings, such as meat, spinach, ricotta, figs, and even chocolate and candied citron. 
  • Parmesan chicken in red sauce 
  • Lemon tart 
  • Gelati


Scandinavian Christmas recipes “ Yul” 


Glogg- spiced mulled wine 

  • A “ julbord” , meaning a smorgasbord especially for Christmas
  • Cold foods like Gravlax ( salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill), cured meats, cheeses, pickles, beet salad, breads and butters
  • Warm foods like meatballs in berry sauce, potato dishes and cabbage dishes. 
  • Desserts like Pepparkakor ( gingerbread cookies) and saffransbullar ( sweet buns)



One traditional Christmas in America, with some twists


  • Turkey
  • Mash potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Green salad 
  • Asparagus
  • Pie À la mode


Turkeys is front and center at Christmas time as well as at Thanksgiving. But this time give it a little twist. Consider encrusting the bird with herbs, or having it smoked. For the stuffing, go beyond simple breadcrumbs and try wild rice stuffing. Try a twist on traditional cranberry sauce and add orange. For your salad, add every favorite salad ingredient you can think of from olives to capers, dried cranberries, two colors of tomatoes, and even candied nuts. For the mashed potatoes, consider the very exotic purple potato, or for a very healthy twist, sweet potatoes. If you really want some color on your table try all three. And whatever you do with the potatoes, flavor them well with olive oil, butter, sour cream, salt, pepper and even herbs, garlic, or cheese. Regarding your traditional pie, consider one two fruits not one. Great combinations are apple raspberry, or rhubarb strawberry.

Warning: Each of these menus require several days preparation and several people to accomplish. But, as I read through all my material about holiday and meal traditions the world over, I realized that the affectionate time and extra effort spent preparing these magnificent celebratory meals together is the essence of the holiday. 

Merry Christmas all week long to all the cooks ! 




Food Friday: Special Holiday Food

Holiday food is not just the food on the holiday table. It is two weeks from Christmas and in many families and in many workplaces it is like one long holiday. Food is front and central in many places at this time of year. Make yours special. 

Here are are some categories of holiday food to think about: 

  • Office food
  • Cookie exchanges 
  • Food Gifts
  • Hospitality Gifts to bring to a party
  • Potluck food to bring to a party 
  • Foods for the stocking 
  • Foods for the holiday table. 


Office Food

Office food at the holidays can be overwhelming. From deli and cheese plates to commercial thank you baskets to homemade confections and baked goods, it can really pack on the pounds. The best thing to do is to make sure to keep a good list to write thank you notes, have a small sample of one or two treats, then cover the rest up and put it in the office fridge until the end of the day when the food can be taken home to someone’s hungry adolescent horde. 


Cookie exchanges

These take the advance planning of someone with an MBA. The key is a good freezer. The other key is a source of good freezer friendly cookie recipes. For example, anything based in shortbread is good, whereas meringue cookies are right out, unless they are baked same day and carefully transported. Remember that there is good gluten free flour that is widely available that will bake up just like regular wheat flour. You may not know who you are feeding, and you want to be inclusive.

The idea is this: You bake a good sized batch of cookies every couple days starting a couple weeks before Christmas. You freeze each batch. You do at least 3 types of cookies but 5 is better. You make sure to vary the flavors and form factors, so they will look interesting on a gift platter. On the day before the exchange, or whatever activity demands batches of festive cookies, you bring them out and arrange assorted cookies on said gift platter, making sure to package and decorate them well. Voila, now you know you could run at least a small company. 


Food gifts

These have been addressed previously HERE.


Hospitality Gifts

When you are choosing your party outfit, chose your party gift. Some people call them hostess gifts. Think of it as an accessory to your outfit. It’s good form, breaks the ice, and makes everybody feel good right away at the front door.

If you are attending a potluck and are bringing a dish, it does NOT count as your hostess gift. Classic gifts are a wrapped bottle of wine or champagne, but can just as easily be Pellegrino, Perrier, or sparkling cider. Another route is cut flowers, but I myself prefer a live plant such as an orchid. 


Potluck food 


First rule is to ask the host what they would like you to bring, smile, say yes and do it. Second rule, is make an extra special version of whatever it is. Third rule: try to steer clear of common dietary intolerances. Fourth rule: make enough. Fifth rule: present it well. Sixth rule: observe standard food safety practices. 


Foods for the stocking


Filling stockings is one of my favorite things to do. I bet if you thought about it, you could list the favorite treats of everyone in your family, and maybe a few of your friends. Think a bit more broadly and cover spices and condiments; then consider food related items like pretty toothpicks, and soon your “ foodie “ stockings will be overflowing. Here are some ideas: Hard candy in pretty small tins, actual high end natural cough drops, favorite gum, of course chocolates, but make sure they are not crushed, candy canes or licorice (but only if people actually like them), bottles of culinary extracts for cooking like vanilla or lemon, exotics like pomegranates, star fruit, cumquats, fancy nuts, and their nutcrackers. Capers, tiny jars of indian chili paste, colored peppercorns, teas, tea infusers, jams, and hot sauces. You get the idea. Just troll through a nice organic store and santa’s little helper will find lots of stocking sized treasures. 


Foods for the holiday table

I have covered this a bit before, but the essence is this: Bring people together in a spirit of wonder, gratefulness and congeniality. If your cherry pie can help with this, by all means make it. As far as healthfulness is concerned, yes, there is a healthy hack to every traditional recipe. I would like to write a bit more about this, and so this will be my topic for next’s week’s Food Friday. 

My best wishes to all the busy elves.