All posts tagged: Christmas



The question is not whether I’d sing to an apple tree, but rather where I can find an apple tree to sing to. My Oklahoman neighborhood just doesn’t deliver the crimson fruit. Regardless, I will tipple this wassail with a cheer (wassail literally means “wes hail”, or good cheer)- after all in 2014 I’m learning about celebrations around the world, a suitable follow-up to completing our first adventure: eating one meal for every country in the world. January is all about wassailing. What is wassailing? Wassailing is the Southern English art – yes, art – of cooking up some of last year’s apple crop with cider – sometimes with a flush of orange peel, warm cinnamon stick, flecks of nutmeg, or maybe allspice. To make it… just… Roast some apples. Click on the burner and clank on a pot of cider and spice. In a moment, heat shimmers through the pot and those first bubbles pop the surface. Seconds later, sweet apple and spice billows through the house. The roasted apples are whipped into a froth, then stirred to …

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Almond Stuffed Date Balls

When I made the amazing Pistachio Date Balls for Iraq, I thought I’d seen the easiest recipe in the world.  It only uses two ingredients (third if you feel like getting extra fancy), and there’s no cooking. Well, today’s date balls are even easier: they don’t require a food processor. Boom! Even as simple as they are, the flavor is amazing – as though from a much more complex recipe. There’s a sweetness from the dates that transports me straight to Yemen… I mean, forget it. Let’s just lay under some Yemeni trees for a while, before we get around to making this recipe. Okay? Now, maybe this sunny afternoon in Yemen has you wondering: why include almonds and sesame seeds? Why not just eat straight dates? Well, you know how good peanut butter is with jelly? The balance of the nuttiness with the fruity date in this dessert is similarly satisfying. And addicting. Before I knew, I ate three of these. And to think. When I started this adventure, I (thought) I hated dates. …

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Peanut Brittle with Coconut & Cardamom | Kashata

On the simmering streets of Uganda, you can walk up to a street vendor and satisfy your sweet tooth with a big bite of Kashata. Loosely speaking, Kashata is East African brittle.  It’s most popular in Uganda and Tanzania. It’s hard, sweet, and all kinds of delicious. I’ve seen Kashata shaped as cubes, balls, and diamonds. Some are flat, some are thick. Just like people, the shape doesn’t matter; it’s all about what’s on the inside. The most glorious Kashata are a blend of peanuts, shredded coconut, and either cinnamon or cardamom. You can also find Kashata made from all coconut or all peanuts. Moreover, sometimes you simply dump in whatever nuts you have on hand. Easy. Makes enough to share. 1-2 dozen (depending on how thin you spread the mixture) Ingredients: 2 cups sugar 1 1/2 – 2 cups peanuts 1 1/2 – 2 cups dried coconut (unsweet) 3/4 tsp ground cardamom (or cinnamon) pinch salt oil, for greasing Method: Let’s go to Uganda, where electricity is optional… because, truth be told, this entire …

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Lamb Plov with Dried Apricots & Raisins

I’m an awkward girl; I’m not up on fashion trends, my slang is two decades passe, and I’d rather drink wine at home than be surrounded by 100 people I don’t know. Dinner parties can really put me to the test, especially when I’m the hostess. I want everyone to have a good time, but I’m never entirely sure how to bring everyone together. That’s where Tajikistan can help. You know that moment, right as everyone sits down to eat? I refer to it as the calm before the storm. It’s a little bit awkward; there’s a pause while everyone gauges the mood of the room. What follows this quiet determines the success of every dinner party. In Tajikistan, where there’s a crowd, there’s Plov. Pulling up to a giant communal platter of rice brings a natural closeness.  By forcing yourself to dip hands into a communal platter breaks down any barriers and is a natural conversation starter. If your guests are unfamiliar with communal eating, the best thing to do is to give them …

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Sudanese Cinnamon Tea

Under the pulsing noonday sun, Tea Ladies line the streets of Sudan. They soak up what little shade they can find. Water simmers over charcoal stoves. They swirl a mishmash of ingredients through the steam, into the pot. You can pick your combination. Will it be mint? Or what about ginger? The most popular option for many patrons is cinnamon tea, a blend of black tea steeped with cinnamon sticks. Many patrons like to hold a sugar cube between the teeth while drinking to sweeten the brew. When business is good, men sit and talk at the edge of their Tea Lady’s makeshift stall. They sip her healing brews on metal chairs, a wooden box, or on their haunches. They don’t rush. They soak in the warmth. The might nibble some Zalabya, a.k.a. sugar dumplings, to go with it. Others rush by and drink on the run. When their too busy at home to make tea, this is their version of Starbucks or perhaps Dunkin Donuts. Makes 3 cups Ingredients: 3 cinnamon sticks 3 cups …

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Pork braised in Milk & Fresh Herbs | Maiale al Latte

It’s fun to let a recipe go “wrong” on purpose.  Maiale al Latte is one of those dishes: pork braised in milk for hours, until the milk gives way to tender, nutty, herb flavored curds. Some will tell you this “curdled milk” is a mistake. I’m here to tell you what everyone in San Marino and Italy already know – this is homemade cheese ripe for the snacking, an epic byproduct of an already amazingly tender roast, soaked with sage and rosemary, garlic and bay leaves, milk and wine. Outrageous. Once strained out of the sauce, I’ve read accounts of the curds being spread on toast. What a guilty pleasure. Yum. But let’s back up a moment. This isn’t about cheese. That’s just the cherry on top. This is really about a braised, tender pork shoulder… fit for any gathering of happy friends. The Sanmarinese and Italians love milk-braised pork. And today, we’re about to see why. Let’s dive in, shall we? Recipe adapted from Gourmet. Serves 10-12 Ingredients: 1/4 cup olive oil 5 lb boneless pork shoulder, a.k.a. …

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Fig & Honey Apple Polenta Cake | Bustrengo

Sometimes life calls for  a little something extra-ordinary. A toothy smile on a cloudy day can be enough. A favorite pair of fuzzy, polka-dotted socks can even do the trick. But on other days I want something a smidge bit … well… gourmet. I want something that says this day – this meal – this time – is more special than you know. That you’re more special than you know. And so, it’s not without a little irony that Bustrengo fits the bill. You see, this Fig and Honey Apple Cake is traditionally made in San Marino (and Italy) after dinner chatter dies down, while sitting around the embers of a dying fire. In this way, she’s a real casual sort of affair. Something to satisfy that sweet tooth, without going to too much of a fuss. As easy as a smile but as tasty as good love. Inside you’ll find all manner of diced apples, dried figs, golden polenta, olive oil, and pools of honey. Oh, and curls of orange and lemon zest. No biggie. These …

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Samoan Steamed Spice Cake | Puligi

When Samoans want to bite into the holidays, their kitchens fill with the warm scent of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. If you try to peer under the lid to see what’s cookin’, you’ll more than likely get a full steam facial, so watch out. Within that foggy cloud of vapors, you’ll find cocoa brown puligi, a steamed bundt cake made dark with the unusual addition of “burnt” sugar. The cake is traditionally steamed in an underground oven known as an imu, although many now steam it on the stovetop, or as I have done in the oven. We ate this treat one early morning, as part of a Samoan Saturday breakfast which included our Koko Rice (a.k.a. chocolate and coconut rice pudding). I was so bleary-eyed from my too-early wake up (thanks to my ever-eager Miss Ava) that I completely forgot to serve it with the traditional accompaniment – vanilla custard – and instead passed around some softened butter. It was only days later that I remembered what I’d read, cut myself a new slice, …

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Chocolate & Coconut Rice Pudding with Sweet Orange Peel | Koko Rice

I used to say I wasn’t a chocolate girl but, as the year’s go by, I’m realizing that it’s really more about finding the right time to eat chocolate. After dinner? Certainly. At 3pm? I’m game. For lunch? Maybe. Midnight? Definitely. 3 am? No way. I’m sleeping for goodness sakes. But breakfast? Am I game for a chocolate breakfast? Let’s just say it’s an arrangement I’m willing to get out of bed for and I know of at least two other people who are as well. After all, who couldn’t use a jolt of dark chocolate goodness to start the day out right? Which brings us to today’s Koko Rice from Samoa. I originally dubbed it “choconut” because I thought I was clever. Unfortunately, Google quickly informed me that I had not, in fact, invented a word so I had to go back to the much simpler, but wordier expression “chocolate and coconut.” Whatever you decide to call it, koko rice is a rich and creamy blend of chocolate and coconut milk with just the lightest hint of orange zest. Each …

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Caribbean Black Cake

Sometimes I think the holidays would go a lot smoother if everyone was handed a shot of rum and a slice of cake. How could conversation not go smoothly after that? Turns out, that’s what they do in the Caribbean… with great success. Black cake is a cousin to the British Plum Pudding and is made with an expensive array of dried fruits, like cherries, raisins, and prunes and topped off with a bit of nutty crunch (almonds for me). Before baking  – sometimes for months – the fruit soaks in rum and cherry brandy until it’s so plump and intoxicated, that only good things can come from it. What version of the cake ends up on your fork depends on what island your plate rests on, although most will agree that – unlike with American fruit cakes – grinding up the boozy fruit is a must. This, along with a dose of molasses and brown sugar give the cake it’s deep brown coloring (while some also like to add a local ingredient called “browning”). …

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Cocoa Tea

When I told Ava that the fine people of Saint Lucia like to wake up in the morning and drink Cocoa Tea, she squinted her eyes, titled her head, and said “what mama?” “It’s like hot cocoa,” I smiled, “but richer, and seasoned with cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.” Her eyes instantly popped open in recognition and the corners of her lips curled impishly. I showed her my mound of chocolate chips and added that in Saint Lucia they use cocoa sticks and balls to make their Cocoa Tea, but we’d be making it with chips since that’s all we can get in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Don’t worry,” I added, “It’ll still taste amazing and feel completely snuggly.” Truth is, the end result is a rich, thick blanket of goodness… each sip is almost like dreaming underneath a giant bar of ooey-gooey warm chocolate. This is the kind of drink you want after a chilly walk or sledding. After a breakup. Or an engagement. It’s the exact right statement for any sentiment, in fact. A giant mug …

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Russian Potato Salad | Olivier Salad

Winter doesn’t just bite in Russia. It eats you alive. In the far east of this great nation, temperatures can actually drop to -95F. In the west, things are nearly so dire – winter might only drop to -22F (!), with occasional warm spurts in past years reaching 50F. 50F isn’t so bad. But the rest? Yikes. By the time New Year’s Eve comes, Russians are ready to break up the monotony with a blast of soul-warming comfort food. Major. Everyone tells me New Year’s Eve in Russia wouldn’t be complete without a scoop of Olivier Salad (and the same goes for weddings, Christmas, and just about any other festive occasion). It’s the “go to.” And by New Year’s Eve, I mean both of them. There’s the classic December 31/January 1 New Year’s Eve. Then, two weeks later is round two, a.k.a. “Old New Year’s Eve” on January 14th, which hails from the Orthodox calendar. P.S. Between the two? Russian Christmas falls on January 6th. Don’t think of it as complicated. Think of it as …

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