janradder: (Default)
It is the eve of Christmas Eve and at this point nearly everything (with the exception of the fish, which I'll take care of tomorrow) is done and either waiting to be reheated (like the soups), baked (like the mushrooms), or boiled (like the pierogi). I've been cooking the supper in bits and pieces since just before Thanksgiving and tomorrow night I'll be juggling what feels like several dozen balls while trying to time each dish so that it is ready exactly when it should be. Before that, though, there's still work to be done.

In the morning, I'll go to the fish store to pick up the walleye and tilapia, and then when I get home I'll prepare the walleye right up to the point of baking (I'll leave the tilapia in the fridge until an hour before dinner when I'll dredge it in flour and put it back into the fridge until it's time to fry it). Later in the day, [livejournal.com profile] haddayr , the boys and I will get the Wigilia table ready.

First we'll spread hay on the bare table (to represent the manger)

and then cover it with a plain, white tablecloth (to represent Mary).

We'll then set the table, leaving an extra place setting and seat.

The extra spot is for both the unexpected guest (who the Poles say is Christ) and the spirits of departed relatives who may wish to join the family. In the center of the table, we place the opłatek, which is sort of like a communion wafer except much larger, and it's usually printed with a Christmas scene.

Afterwards, I'll start getting the dinner ready while the boys look for the evening's first star to appear. When it does, we go the table and take the opłatek. Each person at the dinner breaks off a large piece and then we go around and offer one another a piece of our opłatek while wishing them Merry Christmas ("Wesołych Świąt," in Polish). Once everyone has shared the opłatek, we sit down for our meal.

As to the meal, it is tradition to have an odd number of courses (either seven, nine, or eleven), and it should contain things from the fields (poppyseeds, wheat, rice), forests (fruit, nuts, mushrooms) and rivers (fish). It also features many dishes made with honey to symbolize the hope for a sweet new year. Because it is such a large meal, it is extremely important to pace one's self. Here is my menu, complete with links to all the recipes:

To drink with the meal:
Both white and red wine
Sparkling juice for the boys

1st Course: Barszcz with uszka

2nd Course: Creamed herring (śledź w śmietanie) with rye bread and an assortment of pickled vegetables (cucumbers, beets, and bolete mushrooms)

3rd Course: Stuffed mushrooms (pieczarki nadziewane)

4th Course: Noodles with poppyseeds (kluski z makiem)

5th Course: Fried fish fillets with horseradish sauce (filety rybne smażone z sos chrzanowy) and carrots polonaise (marchewka po Polsku)

6th Course: Almond soup (zupa migdałowa)

7th Course: Pierogi and sauerkraut and mushrooms (kapusta z grzybami)

8th Course: Dried Mushroom Soup (zupa grzybowa czysta) with yeast fingers (drożdżowe paluszki)

9th Course: Cabbage rolls with mushroom filling (gołąbki z grzybami)

10th Course: Poached Pike (gotowany szczupak na gorąco) with potatoes with dill (kartofle z koperkowy)

11th Course: Fruit compote (kompot), poppyseed Roll (makowiec), chrusciki, chocolates, nuts, tangerines, cognac, and raspberry cordial

After the kids are in bed, we'll wash dishes for what could be hours, get ready for Santa, and then sit and relax in front of the tree while sipping krupnik. The next day, all I have to do is heat up the bigos (and the Christmas pudding that I decided to try making because I wasn't doing enough this year).


Dec. 19th, 2009 11:02 am
janradder: (Default)
After going an entire day without meat (a traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner is "meatless," meaning there's only fish), what you really want -- no, what you need is meat. Lots and lots of meat. Well you're not gonna find it here, though if you want to substitute the real mccoy for the fake-meat ingredients, feel free to go ahead and do so (just make sure to cook them before adding them to the stew).

Bigos is also known as Hunter's Stew, and it uses a variety of meats (chicken, veal, beef, sausage, ham, bacon -- pretty much anything you can think of). It's known as the official dish of Poland -- there's even an official recipe, though each person who makes it seems to have their own version. I make make it about a week or so before Christmas so that it can sit in the fridge and the flavors can mix and meld even longer. It also makes Christmas dinner a hell of a lot easier than Christmas Eve -- all I have to do is get out the crock pot at about noon, stick the bigos in, and let it heat up. Unlike most stews, which tend to use one pot, bigos uses a few, and because of the number of ingredients, it really can't be made in small quantities. This is my very own recipe, adapted to be meat-free. To make it, you need:

1 qt. sauerkraut
1/2 a head of cabbage, shredded
3 onions, chopped
2 tart apples (like Granny Smith), peeled and chopped
4 prunes, also chopped
2 oz. dried mushrooms
2 cups dry red wine
2 bouillon cubes
2 bay leaves
1 can tomato puree (or diced tomatoes that have been crushed)
about 1 T or so of allspice
salt and pepper to taste

Meats (thawed):
2 1/2 pkgs. Morningstar Farms bacon, diced
2 pkgs. Morningstar Farms chicken strips, cut into small pieces
1 tube of Lightlife Gimme Lean sausage, crumbled and lightly browned
8 veggie brat-like sausages (I used to use Boca, but they were discontinued. You can also use Field Roast, or Tofurkey brats), sliced into smaller pieces

1. Drain, rinse and coarsely chop sauerkraut. Add to pot and add 2-3 cups of water (not enough to cover it, but just shy of doing so). Bring to boil, turn heat to low, and cook for 1 hour or until no longer crunchy.

2. While the sauerkraut is cooking, re-hydrate the mushrooms (if they are not already in small pieces, cut them up so they are) and shred the 1/2 head of cabbage. In another pot, melt 3 T of butter. Add the cabbage and sauté for i minute, then add the mushrooms -- liquid and all. Stir it up, then cover the pot and turn heat to low. Cook until the cabbage is well done (about half an hour to forty minutes).

3. While cabbage and kraut are cooking, chop and sauté onions in 2-3 T of butter until they are soft. Then add the chopped onions and prunes and brown them. Once they are lightly browned, add the bacon and cook (while stirring periodically) for 3 more minutes.

4. Add bouillon cubes to the sauerkraut, stir until dissolved, then add the cabbage/mushroom mixture and the onion/apple/prune/bacon mixture. Stir will and add tomatoes, meats (cut up), bay leaves, allspice and 1 cup of wine. Stir well again and turn heat to low. Cook slowly for at least 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste, cook half an hour more (slowly), remove from heat and refrigerate. Before reheating, add 2nd cup of wine.

Serve over small boiled potatoes and with rye bread and chilled vodka.

janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Worst Christmas Songs Ever
They are the songs that each year make you question your belief in God and the goodwill of humankind. They are the songs that had Ebenezer Scrooge had them at his disposal, would have enabled him to turn every one of his relatives, acquaintances, and business associates against the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future -- yes, even Tiny Tim. Without further ado, cover your ears and shut your eyes -- here are the worst Christmas songs ever.

1. "Wonderful Christmas Time," Paul McCartney
One of pop music's laziest songwriters writes one of the most horrid holiday songs of all time. Despite his insistence that we're "simply having a wonderful Christmas time" (and he insists it again and again and again and again and again and again, ad infinitum), with this as your Christmas soundtrack, your Christmas time will be anything but. Listen and weep, for upon hearing it once, it shall be stuck in your head for now and evermore.

2. "Funky, Funky Xmas," New Kids on the Block
Just by the album's cover you know it's gotta be both fun and funky, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

3. "Happy Holidays," Andy Williams
Because the abomination that is Andy Williams is a gift that keeps on giving, it's hard to pick just one Andy Williams Christmas song for this list. This takes the title if only because of that droning, tuneless "Happy Holidays" that both starts and ends this horrible Christmas dirge.

4. "Carol of the Bells/ Jingle Bells," Barry Manilow
As with Andy Williams, there is a special place reserved in hell for Mr. Barry Manilow, and his contributions to the Catalog of Christmas Bad Cheer are bountiful. Here, Barry decides to step away from his comfort zone of all-things-bland and "jazz" up his take on this Christmas staple with something that might be either his attempt rapping or a sort of homage to Twiki from Buck Rogers and the 25th Century. Here it is, accompanied by a tap dancing mother and son.

5. "Feliz Navidad," Celine Dion
Looking for a way to suck all the joy and Christmas spirit out of room? Celine is more than happy to oblige. "Okay! Let's do it!"
janradder: (Default)
Top 5 Non-traditional Christmas Songs

1. "Just Like Christmas," Low
Between the jingling bells, the loud booming drums and chugging acoustic guitar, I can't help but feel happy each time I hear this song.

2. "Snoopy's Christmas," The Royal Guardsmen
I had this song on a Peter Pan 45 and listened to it over and over again. Even so, it was always a thrill to hear it on the radio each year.

3. "Father Christmas," The Kinks
The best rock-n-roll Christmas song ever. And socially conscious to boot.

4. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," The Chipmunks
According to Dr. Demento, Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. (aka Dave Seville) wrote this song when a Christmas display went up in his town a couple months early and his kids started freaking out in anticipation of December 25th. Whether that's true or not, having my own five year old who's been on the verge of exploding with excitement for Christmas since the middle of August, I can totally understand.

5. "O Holy Night," Unknown
Forgive me for this one. I know it's a traditional Christmas carol, it's just that this version is so damn beautiful it makes me cry each time.
janradder: (Default)
In the Netherlands, speculaas are a traditional cookie made each St. Nicholas Day. To make them, you need something called a speculaasplank, which is a hand-carved wooden mold. This is mine:

It belonged to my Dutch great-grandmother, and I believe it could be close to a hundred years old now (though I could be wrong -- either way, it's old). If you don't have a speculaasplank, you can use a ceramic mold or even roll the dough out and use a cookie cutter. Anyway, here's how to make them:

1 cup softened butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 t grated lemon zest
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 T cinnamon
3/4 t ginger
1 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t cloves
1/8 t baking soda
2/3 cup finely ground blanched almonds
vegetable oil for molds
flour for dusting molds

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients (except oil and flour for dusting molds, of course). Slowly beat in dry ingredients until just blended. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

And now is where you start to wonder why you ever started making the damn cookies . . . )
janradder: (Default)

(The picture isn't mine, by the way, but this is how they should look)

Of all the dishes and cookies I make for Christmas, chrusciki (hroos-CHEE-kee) have to be the biggest pain of ass of them all. Mixing up the dough for the cookies is easy enough. It's rolling them out thin enough that's the problem. But when you make them right and the chrusciki literally melt in your mouth, it makes all the trouble almost seem worth it. This recipe comes from my grandmother, who got it from her mother, who got it from their next door neighbor in Union City, CT, Mrs. Karaba.

6 egg yolks
6 t sugar
2 t sour cream
1-1/2 oz. apricot brandy (or plain brandy if that's all you have)
2 cups flour

Beat yolks and sugar, add cream and brandy. Add flour and mix until workable. Cut the dough in half. Leave one half under a damp cloth and put the other on a board dusted with flour.

Now here's the hard part: roll it to within an inch of its life and then keep rolling it some more. Don't stop until it is as close to paper thin as is humanly possible (leave it too thick and they're no good).

When the dough is as thin as you can get it, cut it into long thin strips (about 3 inches long). Cut a slit in the middle of each strip and pull one end all the way through it so that you have something that approximates wings. Fry the strips in fat (or vegetable shortening) about 5-10 seconds on each side (don't let them brown). Drain the cookies on paper towels. Right before serving, dust them with powdered sugar.

Jan Hagels

Nov. 22nd, 2009 01:56 pm
janradder: (Default)
No,not a person -- a Dutch cookie. In Dutch, they mean (loosely) Johnny Hail. They were my Opa's favorite, and are quite easy to make.

1 c butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 c flour
1/2 t cinnamon
1 egg white
1 t water
8 oz. sliced almonds
rock sugar

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Beat butter sugar and egg yolk until fluffy, then stir in flour and cinnamon. Spread the dough across the bottom of a jelly roll pan. Beat egg white and water until frothy and spread over the top of the dough. Sprinkle almond slices and rock sugar on top of the egg whites. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, slice into small squares or diamonds while still hot, and let the cookies cool in the pan before removing.
janradder: (Default)
It took me years to perfect (seriously!) and now I'm sharing it with the interwebs. Here it is:

4 c. flour
4 eggs
3 T oil (the secret ingregient -- it will make rolling the dough so much easier)
1/2 c. cold water

Mound the flour on a large cutting board and make a big well in the middle. Add the eggs, oil and salt to the well then use a large chef's knife to cut them into the flour. Keep cutting until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and slowly pour the water in while you stir with a fork (sort of like you'd mix water when making pie crust), then knead until the dough is firm (but don't knead too long or else the dough will become too elastic). Wrap the dough in a damp towel, put it in a warm bowl, and let it sit for 10 minutes. While you're waiting, make the filling:

(this is a cheese filling -- there are plenty others, though)
2 c. white farmer's cheese (Baltic style, otherwise use the driest cottage cheese you can find)
Couple dashes of salt
2 t lemon juice
2 T sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks (set aside the whites for later in the recipe)

Break up the cheese then mix the rest of the ingredients.

Now, cut the dough into quarters. Take one quarter (leaving the rest wrapped in the towel so they won't dry out) and roll it out as thin as you can (about 1/16th of an inch or less) and then use a 3 1/2 inch biscuit cutter to cut out circles. Put a dollop of filling in the center of each circle (a little less than 1 tablespoon). Now here's the big trick -- get a pastry brush and brush the egg white you set aside around the outside edge of each circle (but just do one at a time, otherwise the egg dries out). Fold the dough in half and pinch it shut. Viola! You have a pierogi. You should have enough dough and filling to make about 72 of them.

Now, you can either freeze them or cook them right away. To do the latter, drop the pierogi in a pot of salted boiling water and boil them gently for 3-5 minutes. They may stick to the bottom, so us a slotted spoon to knock them off. When they float they should be done. If you want to eat them like that (with a little butter) go ahead. Otherwise, fry them in a pan with butter and onions and enjoy.
janradder: (Default)
Today the boys and I mixed up a batch of pfeffernüsse dough. It's currently chilling in the fridge -- we'll bake them tomorrow. This is always the first of the Christmas cookies I make since they get better with age (they're kind of hard at first, but they soften as they sit in the canister, and the spices get a bit stronger). Here's the recipe (from a book called Christmas Cookies: Classic Recipes):

3 1/2 c. white flour
2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. ground cardamom
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1 c. softened butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg
powdered sugar

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl and set it aside. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, mix the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the molasses and egg. Slowly add the flour/spice mixture and beat at a low speed until the dough forms (you'll have to scrape the sides a lot -- the dough is fairly dry. Also, you'll have better luck with it the slower you add the flour mixture). Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (you supposedly can leave it for up to 3 days but I've never tried).

Preheat oven to 350˚F and grease the cookie sheets. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls (if you've left it in the fridge for longer than 30 minutes, let it warm up for about 10 minutes before rolling them into balls -- the muscles in your hands will thank you) and place them about 2 inches apart on the greased cookie sheets (you'll have enough dough to make about 5 dozen cookies or more)

Bake 12-14 minutes (or until golden brown). Cool cookies on racks and dust them with sifted powdered sugar.
janradder: (axe man)
I prepare an eleven course meal for Christmas Eve each year, and because it's eleven courses, I usually start cooking it at the beginning of December. This year, though, I've decided that I'd like to enjoy some of my December and not spend it cooking the entire month, so I've started making some of the various holiday treats early. Also, because I've started early, I thought I'd post the recipes. Tonight I made Krupnik, a honeyed vodka drink that is traditionally served warm (though it can be served cold as well). Since I posted this recipe last year, I'll just provide a link to it here. If you like it a little sweeter feel free to add more honey. Likewise, decrease it if you don't. You can do the same with any of the other ingredients as well (I often add a little more lemon peel than the recipe calls for. Same goes for the cloves.)


janradder: (Default)

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