Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Recipes of Old

As time goes on, we become immersed in the lives we have created for ourselves. Families grow up, children become adults, babies are born, and so on. This has been the case with the paternal side of my family for quite some time. My uncles are becoming grandparents. The family is expanding. The one exception we have to this is the holidays. Each Christmas Eve my dad and his brothers gather their families together to eat and drink and to be generally merry. It gives us a chance to celebrate and catch up with each other. So much happens in one year of life.

My uncles usually host this Christmas Eve event; and they pass the hosting responsibilities back and forth with each year. This year, however, my dad stepped in and offered to host. He hasn't hosted the party in 10 years. Momentous indeed! Of course I offered to bake the cookies, and bake the cookies I did! Dad had in mind a family recipe for cherry cookies that had been handed down to him from my late Grandma Butch. The cherry cookie is like a thumbprint cookie, with lots of butter, a little sugar, and some orange and lemon zest... oh yes, and a bright red candied cherry crown! This recipe, along with her Hungarian Nut Roll, are the only two "secret family recipes" that I know of. Grandma Butch was neither Hungarian nor a cherry; her family's heritage was mainly Polish and Russian... close enough!

So this was my first time making these little guys and the result was a delicate, buttery, citrusy, nutty cherry cookie... if you can imagine ;) And the taste was so freaking familiar! It reminded me of times forgotten. I love and am intrigued by ability of taste and smell to arouse memories and feelings of nostalgia. So many times those senses can say much more than words or pictures. They are unbiased and uninfluenced and they are completely our own.

zest of orange and lemon (LOTS)

chilling the dough (very important)

finished product: delicious

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!!!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Baklava Baby!

It's December, the month when I make trays of divine baklava. 

Baklava is a nut-filled multi-layered pastry that is believed to have originated in Turkey.  My cursory search for the etymological origins of the word baklava resulted in varied and debated answers.  One suggestion is that the word baklava is derived from the Farsi for "many leaves," while Wikipedia documents that Paul Buell argues the word comes from the Mongolian root for "tie up, wrap up, pile up."  

Tie up, Wrap up, Pile up sounds eerily similar to Bell Biv DeVoe's verse in their hit Do Me!, Smack it up, flip it, rub it down. . " Hmmm, Bell Biv DeVaklava anyone?

You won't believe me until you taste it, but my baklava leaves a sweet lacquer on the inside of your mouth that you can continue to tongue hours after eating.  While the flavor gives a coat to your throat, the baklava won't clog your arteries with a waxen fat because I use extra virgin olive oil in lieu of butter.  This oil variation, which is healthier and easier than using traditional butter, is found in Gil Marks' The World of Jewish Desserts cookbook:  "Instead of brushing each layer of phyllo with butter, cut the unbaked baklava into diamonds all the way through, drizzle with 1 cup vegetable oil (I use extra virgin olive oil), and let stand for 10 minutes before baking."

Photos from my endeavors:

Coarsely chopped almonds with a bit of cardamom and cinnamon, but no sugar, comprise the first of two layers of nuts.

While you drizzle the olive oil, pout your mouth as if it's full of plump, ripe olives that will be juiced by the mastication of your large or tiny teeth.

The oil seeps into the creases of the cut sheets of dough the same way that any liquid will find a fold, whether in skin or soil.  The oil drenched pan of baklava is baked at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.
After removing from the heat of the oven, a honey syrup is poured over the baklava.  As the cool syrup hits the hot pastry, a buzz of bees sizzles from the pan and mellifluous unlearned words hive your mind. 

This picture makes my mouth dew.  The transparent pastry with glistening beads of spiced syrup are fodder for poetry and stories that wouldn't be appropriate to post here, but will likely include the words skin, spit, seep, bud, soak, and of course the every-sexy crunch.

Enjoy the sweet nuts of the Season, and tell us your favorite Holiday treat!

~ Trilety

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gatherings Are Great for New Recipes

Trying out new recipes (your own or already existing) is one thing that makes the holidays fun for this bird. Of course we can do this anytime during the year, but this is the time people start gathering and eating and enjoying each other's company. This is that time when our spirits are up and the temperatures are low and there is no better way to satiate these occurrences than with copious amounts of comfort food and confections, warm drinks and libations. 

One recipe that I came across and really just had to try out was Peppermint Merengue Kisses. Oh yes. I did not create this on my own. I found it in a magazine I had purchased but it sounded like a wonderful treat that I could make for my neighbors' party last Saturday; another guinea pig opportunity!

I'm not a huge fan of merengue but of course the photo of the finished product in the magazine I had purchased made the sugary treats look amazing. I fell for it. Also, I have not personally worked with merengue much and thought it might be sort of a pain in the neck. Although I read over the recipe and it seemed simple enough, I remained skeptical. I grew increasingly pleased as I finished each step. What a simple, easy and delicious recipe! Bonus: now I am more confident in my merengue skills.
I looked online and found the same recipe at the magazine website and the link is below. I'll say that it seems like it would be easy to create some great variations on this as well. Also, there is a lot of white sugar in these and if I make them again, I may try cutting the sugar in half or replacing it with a different sweetener such as agave nectar...


Happy holiday baking!!!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Baking & Decorating

We're a few days into the month of December, and this means it's time to bake and decorate for the holidays.  I decorate like I bake; simply and with good taste.  Well, simply at least.  An artificial tree with black limbs and large blue sequin leaves is put up instead of a thirsty cut evergreen, and a nativity scene completes the decorating scheme.  I'm a believer that you don't have to be a believer to enjoy a creatively constructed nativity scene, plus what else am I going to do with the manger that built I in fifth grade?

Each year the manger scene is a little different, and the variations serve as a reminder of the stochasticity of our lives. Here's the 2011 manger scene.

This year, the baby Jesus, or baby purple elephant rather, has two Moms.

But the balance of the characters remains the same, with the three wise men hovering a polite distance from the bathtub cradle, and donkey and horse providing snorts and nays that puncture the quiet like starlight.

Next year, I may follow in the astoundingly imaginative footsteps of Alex Branch, a friend of Richard's, and bake a bread baby for the nativity scene!

Be creative with your decorating and baking! Make cookies that taste of frankincense, knit scarves from hair!  Or, simply slow down, enjoy the season, interact with art, and maybe bake some bread babies!

~ Trilety