Who doesn’t love a relish tray to graze on instead of filling up on heavy appetizers? Well, it’s a healthy thought! I do enjoy putting together a creative relish tray that the grandkids will enjoy before we jump into it. This idea popped up on Pinterest and I had to try it. I’ve tried the Turkey Relish Tray and had fun with that. What’s next? Can I sculpt my older women self for Mother’s Day?
Our family stories are filled with memories of great good, many of which are family traditions handed down from our ancestors. Vianočka is a Czech/Slovak Christmas bread, similar to other Christmas breads that I enjoyed in my childhood. My Mother and later myself, would make a Norwegian version Julakake.
Global Slovakia hosted an online cooking class last December taught by Lenka of wanderingsenses.com, walking through the making of this delicious, light bread. This was the first time I ever braided a bread. It wasn’t perfect, but pretty good for a first attempt. As I was making, and later eating, this bread, it made me wonder if this was a bread that my Czech and Slovak ancestors would have made.
500g all-purpose or pastry flour
220-250g whole milk, at room temperature
30g fresh yeasts or 12g active dry yeasts
100g sugar, white
110g butter, unsalted, melted and cooled down
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 whole egg, at room temperature
Zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons rum-soaked raisins, optional
1 tablespoon almond slices
1 whole egg, for egg wash
1 tablespoon powdered sugar, for dusting
1. Start with pre-hydrating your yeasts. In a small bowl combine together 100g of milk with 20g of sugar. Heat it up until warm (not boiling) and stir a couple times to dissolve the sugar. Mix in 12g of dry or 30g of fresh yeasts, cover the bowl with a clean towel/ clean plate and let it rest for ~ 10 minutes until frothy
2. In a meantime, in the bowl of your standing mixer or in any bigger mixing bowl combine together 500g of flour (sift the flour into the bowl), 80g of sugar, 8g of salt and zest from 1 lemon. Mix well with a spoon or whisk. Pour in 120g of milk (eventually you might add another 20-30g of Milk, depending on the texture of the dough), 110g of melted butter, 2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg and yeasts mixture. Start kneading the dough with a hook attachment or with your hand for approximately 8-10 minutes until fully incorporated, smooth, silky and not sticking to your hands or to the sides of your standing mixer. Try to resist from adding unnecessary extra flour to the dough. After a few minutes of kneading you’ll start strengthening a gluten and the dough will become more elastic and less sticky. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or plate and let it prove in a warm place for next 60-90 minutes or until double in size
3. Once the dough is well proved, it’s time to shape Vianočka. Divide the dough into 5 equal-size balls and if you’re using Rum-soaked raisins, divide them equally and incorporate into individual doughs at this stage. Roll each of 5 dough balls out into five equal-length coils (long ~ 40cm/ 16 inch). Braid 3 coils together into a tail and transfer it carefully on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Twist rest two coils around each other and place them on top of the three-coil tail and tackle to hold together. Cover your Vianočka with a clean towel and let it prove for the the second time for ~ 45 minutes to one hour
4. To bake Vianočka, preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit/ 200° Celsius. Brush your bread generously with an Egg Wash and sprinkle your Vianočka with some Almond Slices. Place it into the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 375° Fahrenheit/ 190° Celsius. Bake for ~ 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of your Vianočka Once baked, let it cool down, dust with some Powdered Sugar (if preferred), slice and enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee by itself or with a butter & jam on top
A tangy, yet spicy jelly on top of a mild cheese is such a wonderful appetizer. I’ve enjoyed many of these appetizers through the years but Christmas 2021, I made my own! After the epic fail of Grape Jalapeno jam a few years ago, I was a little nervous. Never fear, this recipe is a winner! Other than cleaning and chopping the jalapenos, this was an easy recipe and yielded 7 half pints of Jelly and a little more to enjoy immediately! It was wonderful on top of cream cheese or brie. It would be marvelous with chicken or fish, too.
It you make homemade Christmas gifts, I would highly recommend this for friends and family!
Cranberry Pepper Jelly
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (I used a 12 oz. package of fresh cranberries)
1 cup jalapeno
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup water
4 cups sugar
6 tbsp. Ball RealFruit™ Low or No-Sugar Pectin
Sort & wash cranberries. Measure pectin and add 1/2 cup sugar to it.
Add vinegar and water to large stock pot.
Chop and remove seeds from jalapenos. 1 cup of jalapenos makes a fairly mild jelly.
Add peppers and cranberries to the vinegar and water to pan.
Bring to boil.
Simmer for about 10 minutes until everything is soft.
Strain out the cranberries and pepper mixture with a slotted spoon to a food processor or blender.
Blend until very smooth. (you can add some of the liquid from the pan to help break up the cranberries and peppers, if you need to)
Return to the saucepan.
Add sugar/pectin mixture. Bring to rolling boil.
Add the remainder of the sugar.
Bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
Fill hot jam into hot jars.
Attach lids. Tighten bands finger tip tight.
Process in water bath canning pot for 15 minutes. Turn of heat, allow jars to sit in hot water for at least 5 minutes.
This flavorful dish is like a burst of autumn in your mouth. Each bite is full of flavor. The addition of raw apple kicks it up a notch. What a wonderful dish to share at holiday gatherings.
This main dish is delicious on its own but, if you prefer more protein, add a bit of pork, chicken or beef. I had leftover pork roast and added a few slices and thought it added even more to the dish. This has become a real favorite and one I’ll be making over and over again.
Roasted Brussel Sprouts Salad with Maple Butternut Squash, Pumpkin Seeds & Cranberries
1 ½ lb butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1-inch cubes (Yields about 4 cups of uncooked cubed butternut squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cups pumpkin seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
2-4 tablespoons maple syrup optional
Optional: Add sliced cooked pork, steak or chicken
Roasted Brussels Sprouts:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease the foil-lined baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Make sure Brussels sprouts have trimmed ends and yellow leaves are removed. Then, slice all Brussels sprouts in half. In a medium bowl, combine halved Brussels sprouts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt (to taste), and toss to combine. Place onto a foil-lined baking sheet, cut side down, and roast in the oven at 400 F for about 20-25 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of roasting, turn them over for even browning, the cut sides should be nicely and partially charred but not blackened.
Roasted butternut squash:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease the foil-lined baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
In a medium bowl, combine cubed butternut squash (peeled and seeded),1 tablespoon of olive oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon, and toss to mix.
Place butternut squash in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once half-way through baking, until softened.
Note: You can roast both Brussels sprouts and butternut squash on 2 separate baking sheets at the same time, on the same rack in the oven.
In a large bowl, combine roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries, and mix to combine. (OPTIONAL): For more sweetness, add 2 or 4 tablespoons of maple syrup, if desired – do not add all maple syrup at once, start with 2 tablespoons, then add more, if desired, and toss with the salad ingredients to combine.
Lemon Bars in the Spring and Cranberry Lemon Bars for the holidays! With a bag of lemons and a large bag of cranberries on hand, I decided to make these delicious bars. I forgot to sprinkle with powdered sugar, but I was too anxious to taste them. They are tart with a burst of flavor from the cranberries. The bars were a real hit!
Cranberry Lemon Bars
FOR THE CRANBERRY LAYER:
1 (12-ounce/340-gram) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
Start preparing the cranberry layer: Combine the cranberries, sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Zest 2 of the lemons directly into the saucepan; reserve the lemons. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the berries burst and the mixture is jammy, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Make the crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with one large sheet of heavy aluminum foil, making sure there are no gaps or holes, then generously coat with cooking spray.
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the vanilla into the butter, then pour over the flour mixture. Stir until the dough comes together in a mass. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown around the edges and dry and golden on top, 17 to 20 minutes.
While the crust bakes, begin preparing the lemon layer: Squeeze the juice from the 2 reserved zested lemons. You should have 1/2 cup. Squeeze the juice from another lemon, if needed.
Whisk the sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the eggs and whisk gently just until incorporated. Add the lemon juice and stir gently with the whisk just until smooth.
Let the crust cool for 5 minutes, then spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust. Carefully and slowly pour the lemon mixture on top to create two distinct layers.
Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 2 hours. Using the foil, slide the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares, wiping your knife between cuts for clean slices. If desired, sift confectioners’ sugar over the tops just before serving.
Megan is the dessert queen of our family. She whipped up this decadent dessert and served it in an antique compote dish of my Mother’s. It was rich, velvety and so wonderful. Perfect for your Valentine’s Day dinner…or anytime you want to spoil your family and friends.
6 ounces (170 g) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons (89 g) unsalted butter, cubed
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream
Sweetened whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and fresh strawberries for garnish, optional
In a small heatproof bow, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir constantly until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat but leave the pot of simmering water on the burner.
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well combined. Set the bowl over the pot of barely simmering water and whisk for about 5 minutes, until the mixture turns pale and becomes slightly stiff. Remove from heat.
Stir in the vanilla followed by the chocolate mixture. Stir for a few more minutes to allow the mixture to cool then set aside until it cools to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks. Whisk 1/4 of the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate mixture. Use a silicone spatula to gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until fully mixed in.
Divide the mousse among four 6-ounce ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 1 hours.
Garnish with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, raspberries, or strawberries if desired.
HOMEMADE WHIPPED CREAM
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
In a medium bowl, whip cream with an electric mixer on medium-low speed just until soft peaks form.
Add vanilla extract and sugar. Continue to whip until the cream forms stiff peaks. Make sure not to over beat, the cream will become lumpy and butter-like.
Valentine’s Day brings back memories of making Valentine’s Day cards, making and eating sweet treats, and enjoying wonderful dinners with those I love. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be an expensive, extravagant day. It’s really about being with or talking to those you love. I often express my love through cooking, as my Mother did.
These colorful cookies were fun to make, to share and to eat. Share a batch with those you love and enjoy the day!
VALENTINE’S DAY M&M COOKIES
8tablespoonssalted butter,melted 1/2cupbrown sugar 1/4cupgranulated sugar 1largeegg 2teaspoonsvanilla extract 1 2/3cupsall purpose flour 1teaspoonbaking soda 1/2teaspoonsalt 3/4 cup Valentine’s mix M&Ms
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (I used a Ghiradelli white chocolate bar, chopped)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until well combined.
Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
Dump in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix until combined. Dough will be soft.
Stir in the candy and white chocolate chips.
Use a large cookie scoop to scoop out 12 balls of dough.
Bake for 10 minutes exactly. Do not overbake. Cookies may look a bit underdone, but they will set up as they cool.
Let cookies set on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before eating.
Who knew there was a National Holiday for Popcorn? I am a popcorn fan from way back. I generally take mine with real butter and salt along with a great movie. Although, I would never turn down a bag of kettle corn at the farmer’s market! I’ve been known to make myself a popcorn birthday cake, too!
Whenever I travel back to Iowa, you can always find a bag or two of local popcorn in my luggage for the trip home.
Researching the history of popcorn, I found popcorn.org to be a great resource of the history and recipes:
Popcorn Dates Back Thousands of Years
Biblical accounts of “corn” stored in the pyramids of Egypt are misunderstood. The “corn” from the bible was probably barley. The mistake comes from a changed use of the word “corn,” which used to signify the most-used grain of a specific place. In England, “corn” was wheat, and in Scotland and Ireland the word referred to oats. Since maize was the common American “corn,” it took that name – and keeps it today.
It is believed that the first use of wild and early cultivated corn was popping. The oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in the Bat Cave of west central New Mexico in 1948 and 1950. Ranging from smaller than a penny to about 2 inches, the oldest Bat Cave ears are about 4,000 years old.
Popcorn in the New World
Popcorn was integral to early 16th century Aztec Indian ceremonies. Bernardino de Sahagun writes: “And also a number of young women danced, having so vowed, a popcorn dance. As thick as tassels of maize were their popcorn garlands. And these they placed upon (the girls’) heads.” In 1519, Cortes got his first sight of popcorn when he invaded Mexico and came into contact with the Aztecs. Popcorn was an important food for the Aztec Indians, who also used popcorn as decoration for ceremonial headdresses, necklaces and ornaments on statues of their gods, including Tlaloc, the god of rain and fertility.
An early Spanish account of a ceremony honoring the Aztec gods who watched over fishermen reads: “They scattered before him parched corn, called momochitl, a kind of corn which bursts when parched and discloses its contents and makes itself look like a very white flower; they said these were hailstones given to the god of water.”
Writing of Peruvian Indians in 1650, the Spaniard Cobo says, “They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection.”
In South America, kernels of popcorn found in burial grounds in the coastal deserts of North Chile were so well preserved they would still pop even though they were 1,000 years old.
The use of the moldboard plow became commonplace in the mid-1800s and led to the widespread planting of maize in the United States.
Although popcorn is typically thought of as a snack food today, popcorn was once a popular breakfast food. Ahead of its time and very likely a role model for breakfast cereals to come, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, popcorn was eaten just as we eat cereal today.
Long before the advent of the corn flake, Ella Kellogg enjoyed her popcorn ground with milk or cream. Although she discouraged in-between meal snacking, she urged others to eat popcorn at meals as popcorn was “an excellent food.” Ella understood, as her husband did, that popcorn was a whole grain. John Harvey Kellogg praised popcorn as being “easily digestible and to the highest degree wholesome, presenting the grain in its entirety, and hence superior to many denatured breakfast foods which are found in the market.”
The Great Depression
Popcorn was very popular from the 1890s until the Great Depression. Street vendors used to follow crowds around, pushing steam or gas-powered poppers through fairs, parks and expositions.
During the Depression, popcorn at 5 or 10 cents a bag was one of the few luxuries down-and-out families could afford. While other businesses failed, the popcorn business thrived. An Oklahoma banker who went broke when his bank failed bought a popcorn machine and started a business in a small store near a theater. After a couple years, his popcorn business made enough money to buy back three of the farms he’d lost.
Popcorn and the Movies
Unlike other confections, popcorn sales increased throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theaters and its low cost for both patron and owner. One theater owner actually lowered the price of his theater tickets and added a popcorn machine. He soon saw huge profits.
The “talking picture” solidified the presence of movie theaters in the U.S. in the late 1920’s. Many theater owners refused to sell popcorn in their theaters because they felt it was too messy. Industrious vendors set up popcorn poppers or rented storefront space next to theaters and sold popcorn to patrons on their way into the theater. Eventually, theater owners began installing popcorn poppers inside their theaters; those who refused to sell popcorn quickly went out of business.
Popcorn sales increase throughout the Depression. A major reason for this increase was the introduction of popcorn into movie theatres.
World War II
During World War II, sugar was sent overseas for U.S. troops, which meant there wasn’t much sugar left in the United States to make candy. Thanks to this unusual situation, Americans ate three times as much popcorn as usual.
Slump and Bump
Popcorn went into a slump during the early 1950s, when television became popular. Attendance at movie theaters dropped and with it, popcorn consumption. When the public began eating popcorn at home, the new relationship between television and popcorn led to a resurgence in popularity.
Whether stovetop popped, fresh from the microwave or ready to eat, Americans love popcorn. In fact, Americans today consume 15 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year. That averages to about 47 quarts per person.
Americans today consume 15 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year.
Hot Mulled Wine reminds me of Christmas, Madrigal dinners, and travel. The aroma of the simmering wine is wonderful and sipping it is even better. While my paternal line is Czech, mulled wine was not a tradition in our home.
Wishing you a Veselé Vánoce (Merry Christmas) andŠťastný Nový Rok! (Happy New Year)
2 bottles of red wine (we use Cabernet Sauvignon)
5-6 cinnamon sticks
6-8 whole cloves
4 whole black peppercorns
4 allspice berries
4-6 star anise
zest of one tangerine (use fruit)
zest of one lemon (discard fruit)
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup raisins
tangerine slices from zested tangerine
2 apples, sliced (we used green apples)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup raw honey
1 cup apple cider (optional)
2 Tbsp. Czech Rum (I used Cointreau)
Combine all ingredients in a simmering pot. Simmer until hot. Serve.
There are folks who ladle it into a cup, fruits and all, but we prefer to strain it and just serve the hot wine with a cinnamon stick in the cup as a garnish.
It is at it’s best when served immediately after mulling but this delicious drink will keep fairly hot even when taken off the heat for about 30 minutes. The leftover mulled wine (if you have any) can be reheated in a saucepan on the stovetop. If you wish to keep some for the next day, allow it to cool completely and then pour into glass bottle or mason jar, closing tightly and refrigerating.
During the Pandemic lockdown, the girls and I joined our local winery, InVINtions, for their Zoom Italian Cooking classes with Chef Lucas. We made many wonderful dishes with Chef Lucas, and Pears in Red Wine Sauce was a delicious surprise. We didn’t have great expectations for this recipe, but trust me, it was one of many fantastic dishes!
When the holidays are upon us and we are tired of dishes that are too sweet or too rich, this is the perfect answer. It is a beautiful dish to serve your guests or to enjoy all by yourself!
PEARS IN RED WINE SAUCE
6-8 Pears 1 Bottle Red Wine 8 Ounces (1 cup) of Sugar 3 Cinnamon Sticks 6 Cloves
In a pan, combine all the ingredients.
Cook over low heat for about 1 hour.
If you desire a thicker sauce, remove the pears after cooked and mix one teaspoon of corn starch with a 1/4 cup water and mix with the wine.
Serve hot or cold. They are delicious warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream! You can store in the fridge for about a month.