Monday, December 26, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Nochebuena

The Holiday: Nochebuena(Spain, Latin America, the Philippines)
Nochebuena, or "Good Night," is the celebration of Christmas Eve in Spain and other countries who have been colonized by Spain. It usually consists of a gigantic family meal, after Mass, depending on the country. The country I focused on for this holiday, was the Philippines. The traditional food for this meal is roast suckling pig, but that was a bit much for one person in an apartment to deal with, so I picked some other traditional Filipino foods that I have always wanted to try, but never had a chance to. Researching through the internet and speaking with one of my coworkers led me to feel confident that I had picked out appropriate foods for this meal. 

The Food: Lumpia, Pancit, and Suman Malagkit
All of my recipes come from the internet, so I am going to post links to them and share pictures and explanations, rather than type out the recipes here.
First up, is Lumpia.
Lumpia is the Filipino version of eggrolls, and it shows the influence China has had on the Philippines. I have heard about the amazingness that is lumpia for years, but have never had a chance to try it, so I was really excited to make these. I had planned on doing the Philippines when I was doing my Countries of the World project I scrapped, so I had purchased a package of lumpia wrappers several months ago when I was at one of the local Asian markets and they've been in my freezer ever since.

My simple camera doesn't have a panoramic setting, so here are a couple pictures showing the grand total of ingredients used in all the recipes! As you can see, it's a lot! This is what I have noticed about most Asian recipes. They utilize a lot of ingredients and require a lot of prep work. Based on the time and effort it takes to put into it, I can see and understand why it can cost so much money to buy it at a restaurant.

 This is the lumpia filling. It's missing the onions because I forgot to add them. I did remember the green onions, though.
 Here is a pre-rolled and rolled version of the lumpia. They are bigger than they should be because the wrappers were freezer burned and they all stuck together. Each lumpia has about 3 wrappers for each one because I couldn't get them apart. They're more like egg rolls or miniature burritos, but lumpia should be much more delicate and small than mine ended up being.
 Here they are frying in the pan. Technically they should be deep-fried, but I found pan-frying in a lot of oil worked just as well. These have been turned over but should be a little darker than this.
Here is the delicious final result. They are as amazing as they were promised to be! I feel sad that it's taken this long for me to have these in my life. I will hopefully have lumpia much more often now! I might try out some of the varieties I've seen in the frozen section of the grocery store.

Next up is, Pancit.
Pancit is akin to chow mein, but generally it uses rice noodles instead of wheat noodles. According to my coworker, this dish is pronounced "Pahn-sit," and I'm glad I asked because I was saying it differently. So, now you know too!

This dish cooks in several steps. First is the meat and vegetables. It starts out like a basic stir-fry. Then you add the liquid and seasoning and simmer for a while. The meat and vegetables are then removed from the pan and you add the soaked noodles to the liquid to continue cooking over heat. I found the best way to soak the noodles, which as you can see in the very top picture, the package with the shrimp on it, are very tall, is the cut the top of the package off, fill the package with cold water and let it sit in the dish drainer for a while. Every few minutes, I pushed down on it to get the top of the noodles to get them into the water too. This worked really well.
 Once the noodles have soaked in the cold water, you remove the vegetables and meat out of the liquid and put the drained noodles into it. Let them cook until they turn translucent and then add the meat and vegetables back to it. Most of the liquid absorbed into the noodles and I found I would have liked a bit more. I halved the recipe, but if I make it again, I'd probably do 2/3 of the liquid instead of half.
This is what the final product looks like. This is a nice one for people who need to have a gluten-free diet. Most noodle dishes are prepared with wheat noodles, but this is just rice. The flavor and texture is awesome and I couldn't stop eating it!

Those two dishes made a filling and delicious meal and I was running late that night, so I held off on the dessert until the next day. My choice for dessert was Suman Malagkit. This looks really complicated, but it's actually quite simple. The most complicated step is finding the ingredients. The banana leaves can be found in the freezer section of most Asian markets and I had some leftover from my cities in America project, so I didn't have to buy more. The cool thing is, because they're a byproduct, they're super cheap. They are also gigantic, so be prepared when you work with them that you will be dealing with a leaf that is nearly as tall as you are.
 Here is the rice and coconut mixture on the stove before it's heated.
 Here it is after it's been cooked and has absorbed all the coconut milk. It's not fully cooked at this point.
 I cut down the banana leaf to a reasonable size and used small strips of them to tie it up.
 The rice sticks together really well, but I tried to spread it out a bit.
 Folded up like a little present.
The strip has been used to tie the package together and keep it from opening up in the steamer.
 Here they all are in the steamer.
 You can see how the leaf gets darker as it steams. It imparts a slight banana flavor into whatever food you cook in it.
The finished product. You can see it's akin to a tamale, except it's made of rice instead of corn. The texture of the rice is great and I liked the flavor, except it was too salty for my tastes. I think if I was to make this again, I would either cut the amount of salt in half or leave it out altogether. I liked the coconut flavor mixed with the slight banana flavor. The rice is very tender, sort of like a rice pudding. This is also gluten free.

I have never had Filipino food before, and this just makes me want to keep exploring it. I love learning about new cultures through the food they eat. It's a very intimate way to get to know people. Maybe next year I'll have to make some of this for my family's Christmas Eve dinner...! We can call it Nochebuena too!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Holiday Soiree: Hanukkah

The Holiday: Hanukkah(Worldwide)
So, it's early to be celebrating Hanukkah, but this year, it falls on the same day as Christmas, and those both fall on a weekend, making it difficult to do anything for this blog project on that weekend. Instead of skipping it this year, I am doing it early. So, Happy Hanukkah, everybody!

For those of you who are not familiar with this holiday, it is a Jewish holiday celebrating a rebellion in 200 BCE of the Jewish people against their oppressors. In this case, it was Antiochus III, of Greek-Syrian origin. It turns out that Antiochus was a jerkass, and made life unlivable for the Jewish people there. They rose up in protest, and what ensued was a seven year series of battles between them and Antiochus III. The famous story about the temple with the oil lasting eight days is a wonderful story, but it is also possibly within the realm of myth/legend. It's a fun story, and probably has some basis in a true historical event that has since been embellished upon.

The Food: Rugelach and Buñuelos/Bimuelos
Because of the traditional story about the temple with the miraculous oil, it is customary to eat fried foods at Hanukkah, and who am I to question tradition?!

Rugelach is a cookie that looks like a crescent roll, but with stuff inside it. It's amazing, if you've never had them before, you should try them out! I don't have a source for this recipe.

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1(8oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened(I used the 1/3 reduced-fat kind)
1 cup sugar, divided
2 egg yolks, room temp.
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup seedless raspberry or apricot jam
1 cup raisins, divided

1.) Whisk flour and salt in bowl.
2.) Beat butter and cream cheese in mixer bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup sugar, yolks, and vanilla until combined.
On low speed, beat in flour mixture until dough holds together. Gather dough into a ball and divide into 4 equal pieces; shape each into a 6" disk. Wrap each disk; refrigerate overnight.
3.) Line a sheet pan with foil. Remove dough disks from refrigerator; let stand 10 minutes.
Combine walnuts, remaining sugar and cinnamon in bowl; set aside 1 cup in another bowl for filling. Roll one disk on cutting board between 2 sheets of waxed paper into a 10" circle about 1/8" thick. Remove top sheet, but leave on the bottom sheet.(I only did 1/4th of the dough. I froze the rest for Christmas/Hanukkah Eve with my family. I think replacing the bottom sheet of wax paper is a good idea because this allows you to make the mess of spreading stuff on this and cutting it and rolling it up on something you can just throw away when you're finished. It really cut down on the mess.)
Spread 2 Tbsp. jam evenly onto circle.
Sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup nut filling. Cut dough into 16 wedges; sprinkle with 1/4 cup raisins over top.(I spread everything on it and then made the cuts, but do what works best for you.)
Tightly roll wedges up from outer edge to form a crescent. Gently toss in remaining nut mixture to coat.(I didn't do this, I sprinkled a little bit on top but didn't toss it in there. It was just so messy I didn't want to do that.) Arrange seam-side down on pan so that sides touch. Repeat process with remaining dough, and jam.
4.) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 33-35 minutes(This is what the recipe says, but I found that alarmingly too long. I think I did mine for closer to 25 minutes, but test them at 20 and add time from there,) until golden. Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer cookies to wire rack.
Makes 5 dozen. I sprinkled powdered sugar on these to make it look festive.

These are amazing!! I used leftover cranberry sauce that I made at Thanksgiving that still needed to be used up. The ones I will make for my family in a couple weeks will have strawberry jam, because that's the kind I have on hand. I have never made dough with cream cheese in it before and I think it's really tasty! The cookies are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. I hope the dough I froze will work ok when I thaw it out. Because I've never made it before, it's a risk, but it's been my experience that when a dough recipe has the refrigerate step, it can be frozen at that point and thawed out at another time. Time will tell, I suppose! I have a few of these to take to work for my coworkers to try, and I also gave some to my parents and grandparents too.

This was a fun cookie, but there's no frying involved. I have done latkes before and even made apple fritters once for Hanukkah, and needed something new and exciting. You may not know this about me, but I have a fascination with Jewish cuisine. As a history major with a focus on food, it's a match made in Heaven for me! I have never run across a people whose history is so steeped in everything they eat, more than Jewish people. Every dish seems to tell the story of who they are, and their past. So, because of this, I actually have several Jewish cuisine cookbooks, in spite of not being Jewish, myself. I looked through all of them, and found just the right thing in a book called, "A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews," by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.

Did you know there is a group of Jewish people who settled in Spain? They are called Sephardic, and have a long history in the Iberian Peninsula. Once upon a time, the Muslims settled in the Iberian Peninsula, and ended up ruling there for over 800 years. During this time, they brought with them a lot of ingredients and cooking techniques that the region is still known for to this day. Also during this time, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in a sort of peace. When the Christians eventually took over the region, they were less kind and expelled the Jews from the region. To work around this, many of them converted publicly to Christianity, but kept their own beliefs and traditions in their homes. Unfortunately, the Inquisition was at this same time period, and friends and family members were encouraged to turn each other in if they suspected them of heresy. Jewish traditions were considered a heresy. A lot of the recipes from this book come from people who were turned in and tortured by the Church. Many of them were burned at the stake.

This is why food is important. It tells a story after people are long gone and can no longer tell it for themselves. It keeps their history alive. Enjoy it, love it, have fun making, eating, and sharing it, but always be respectful of it. This is not my history, and the people who had to hide it from the world didn't have the luxury of being able to share it with others. So, enjoy the food, remember their history, and share both for them.

Buñuelos/Bimuelos(Found on page270-272 in the paperback copy of the book)
These are also popular in Mexican cuisine. The reason? Because the cultures blended over the years, a lot of what the Jewish people ate ended up being what the larger Christian population ate as well.

1 pkg. dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
3 cups unsifted white flour
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil

3 cups honey
1/4 cup water

Olive oil(enough to cover a deep pan to a depth of 1")

Powdered sugar

Mix the dough:
1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/3 cup warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Place the flour into a medium bowl. Stir the yeasted water, the beaten eggs, salt, and olive oil into the flour all at once. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup water to make a slightly tacky dough.
 3. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour until doubled in bulk.

Make the syrup:
4. Mix the honey and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a hard boil. Reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 5 minutes and then turn down the heat to its minimum setting so that the syrup remains hot but does not boil again. (I used less honey than it called for. I actually didn't measure it or the water.)

Fry the fritters:
5. In a large deep skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil to approximately 375 degrees or hot enough for a drop of water to sputter.
6. Dip a tablespoon into the oil to coat it. Dip out a scant teaspoon of the dough and drop it in the boiling oil.

You can fry several buñuelos at one time as long as you do not crowd them in the pan. (I did four at a time.) As they fry, turn them several times until they puff up and become golden in color, about 8 minutes.
 7. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels.

Serve the fritters:
8. Place the fritters on a plate. Drizzle the hot honey syrup over them and sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Note: These are best when eaten fresh. In a pinch, or for a crowd, the fritters can be made ahead, and then dipped into the honey syrup just before serving.
Variation: Sephardic cooks would have used olive oil to fry the fritters. We suggest a mixture of 1 3/4 cups vegetable oil and 1/4 cup olive oil.(I used a blend of all the oil I had in the house. Olive oil is a really heavy oil and I didn't want to use too much of it for a dessert.)

In keeping with the story of the temple and the oil lasting for eight days when there was only enough for one day, I had my own Hanukkah miracle! I used up most of my oil to make these, and ended up having just enough to fry the entire amount of dough without having to make an emergency trip to the store to buy more!

So, these were like little pillows from Heaven. They taste like waffles! My apartment smells like a fish fry now! But it was worth it to taste these little nuggets of joy. I drizzled them in all the toppings and then stirred them around. You might need to use a spoon or a fork to do this because that honey is molten, but if you're more seasoned, you can use your fingers like I did. In the restaurant business, the term is "asbestos fingers" to describe when you can touch hot things and not burn yourself. It comes with time and practice and is not for the faint of heart!

Also, be careful with the honey, it's currently on everything, including my water bottle. It's sticky as heck! I have some of these to take to work tomorrow too. Hopefully they'll reheat decently for people to try them out.

Well, hopefully my family will get to try the rugelach in a couple weeks when I see them for Christmas! This was a fun set of recipes. I recommend them both very highly. For those of you who celebrate, I hope you have a most wonderful and joyous Hanukkah this year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Soiree: St. Nicholas Day


The Holiday: St. Nicholas Day(Countries all over the world)
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in western European countries and on December 19th in eastern European countries, but it is celebrated all over the world as well.

Santa Claus, the man, the myth, the legend, was actually, apparently, an ordinary man who did exist at one point in time. He was a Greek man, born in what is today known as Turkey. He lived in the 3rd century CE. He was orphaned at a young age, and raised in the Church by his uncle who was a bishop. He was said to have lived his life helping the poor and downtrodden. Over the years and centuries, several miracles were attributed to him. According to this, he was canonized well before the current practices for canonization were introduced. No actual date for his canonization is known, it seems as though, he just always has been a saint.

I know there is currently some "controversy" about a particular mall in America that has hired an African American man to portray Santa this year, and some people are even calling for a boycott. When I learn more about St. Nicholas, the more I am convinced that he probably wasn't white. A man of Greek heritage, raised in Turkey? He probably looked Middle Eastern more than anything. Although, I'd like to imagine he looked like this guy:
I think my point is, does it really matter what Santa Claus looks like, when we're supposed to follow his example to be kind to one another and to help each other out? Maybe Santa will bestow us all with open hearts and minds this year for Christmas, I think that's the gift the world truly needs right now!
The Food: Cookies 
I looked for meals to make, but nothing stood out to me. What I came across over and over again, however, is cookies! In many countries, St. Nicholas Day is the day children leave out cookies for Santa Claus, and the night he delivers presents. I'm not sure if they do this again on Christmas Eve, or not, but whatever you generally do for Christmas Eve, is fine to do for St. Nicholas Day! I picked out two recipes to try. One of them I loved, one of them, not so much. I will post the link to the recipe I didn't care for, so you can try it out for yourself if it interests you.

Pineapple Cookies
This is the recipe I didn't care for. There was nothing wrong with it, I just found it too sweet for my tastes. It sounds odd to describe something sweet as "bland," but this is how I found it. It was just sort of one-note. I don't know if I had cut down on the sugar if that would have helped, but it just didn't work for me.

I have a pineapple that I was trying use up. Between that and the pineapple macadamia nut bread I made on Friday(another fail, sadly,) I am having to conclude that baking with pineapple is just not meant to be for me. Cooking with pineapple might work for some things, but baking just doesn't seem to turn out right.

And now, for the one that did work! You know them, you love them! They're called Snowballs or Mexican Wedding Cookies or Russian Teacakes, or in this case, Hungarian Holiday Butter-Nut Cookies. It seems as if every nation claims ownership of these cookies, but they can't all have invented them. I did some research on these cookies, and the consensus is this: Nobody knows where these cookies originated, or when. So, call them what you will, just make sure you make them and eat them!

Hungarian Holiday Butter-Nut Cookies(source unknown)
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup ground pecans(Actually ground, not chopped. I used a food processor to get it as finely ground as I could without it turning into nut butter.)
Powdered sugar

1.) In a large bowl with electric mixer, cream butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and egg yolk until smooth.
2.) In medium bowl, combine flour and pecans.
Gradually beat into butter mixture. Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate 1 hour or up to 2 days. (Please note that if a cookie recipe like this says to wrap and chill, it can also be frozen at this point. Just thaw it out when you're ready to finish the process. That's what I did with this. I made one dozen and froze the rest of the dough for Christmas.)
During this time, the flavors blend and develop, bringing out the butter flavor of the dough.
3.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1" balls. Place cookies 1 1/2" apart on ungreased cookies sheets.
4.) Bake 12-15 minutes. Immediately place in a bowl with powdered sugar and roll cookies in it to coat thoroughly.
(I didn't take a picture of the finished product by itself, but if you scroll back up to the pictures of the pineapple cookies, the last picture has a shot with them in it.)
Makes about 4 dozen

I had leftover ground pecans and rather than use it for something else or forget I had it until it went bad and then composted it instead, I mixed it in with the powdered sugar that I rolled the cookies in. It gave it a darker color than the usual pure white, but it did make it taste extra pecan-y. I really liked it that way and so did my sister.

I don't know about you, but I think cookies is one of the best parts of Christmas. I usually do a few types, a blend of tried and true, and brand new. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't! But it's fun to try them out, regardless! Make sure to make some this year for Santa! He'll enjoy them for sure!

Until next week!