Good Luck Foods and Traditions for 2010

2 01 2010

I’m back from a lovely holiday in California. It was sunny and comfortable and full of family and laughter. And food. Lots of food. Remember all those holiday cookies? Mom didn’t make those, but about a million others, and I certainly did my share of indulging. My sister Kristen made our favorite cookies (made only, oddly, at holiday time): Almond Crescents. This was a Gaga recipe, and for kicks I did a little digging, but was unable to find any information on a traditional almond crescent cookie, at least one that looked like ours.

However, since I seem to be so focused on food these days, I thought I’d share this fun little tidbit I found on Delish: Good Luck Foods for New Year’s Day. It’s a little international inspiration for starting a new year off right. My favorite is the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight, but mainly because it came out of a surplus of grapes one wine harvest.

Some other fun non-food traditions I found:

  • In Venezuela, it’s tradition to enact on New Year’s Eve what you want for the year. If travel is the thing, go out carrying a suitcase, or, even better, if love is what you’re after, you should wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve. Check out this Venezuelan video.
  • In Italy the red underwear is for luck (noticing a trend) and items are thrown out of windows out midnight as a sort of “out with the old…” thing. Sounds like fun, if you watch out for flying nightstands.
  • In Suriname it’s all about loud noises (think horns honking and drums banging) and the burning of effigies to symbolize a fresh start.

And here in New York we have the thrilling tradition of freezing to death and bumping into millions of strangers while we wait for a shiny ball to drop. (And then there are the smart ones of us who just find a warm place to watch thew whole fun spectacle on TV.) It seems there is a little insanity in every culture when it comes to ushering in the New year.





Recipe: Pizelle (Italian Waffle Cookies)

18 12 2009

I’ve been giving some more thought to all those international holiday cookies. Another on that list is one of my family’s favorite traditional cookies: the waffle cookie. Pizzelle is said to be the oldest, most prevalent cookie in Italy. It’s a thin wafer cookie made on a special cookie iron, which gives it the look of a very thin waffle.

Pizelle is the primary cookie in myriad festivals throughout Italy, as well as at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and all holidays. In short, they are so tasty that Italians look for any excuse to eat them.

The name itself simply means “little pizza” (pizza in Italian means “round” or “flat”), but it’s also known as ferratelle (after ferro, the heated iron on which the cookies are baked). The first pizzelle makers were made of iron,and were held over the open fire by long handles. Most bore the family crest and were passed down through the generations.  Today, pizelle irons are made with aluminum alloy and tend toward electric, with floral or snowflake patterns.

The basic recipe is based with eggs flour and sugar, but beyond this, pizzelles are flavored with anything from vanilla to anise to rum. The Russo family version uses orange flavoring:

Pizzelle

6 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup oil

Juice of 1 orange

½ bottle orange extract

1 ½ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Beat eggs, then add sugar, oil, juice and extract. Sift flour, salt and baking powder and add slowly to the egg mixture, mixing well. The batter should be thick enough to drop from a spoon in a ribbon within two to three seconds. If too stiff, add a few drops of water, or if too thin add more flour slowly.

Substitution options for the orange flavoring

1)      2 tsp Vanilla extract and 2 tsp anise extract.

2)      1 ½ tsp anise extract, plus the zest from 1 orange and the zest from 1 lemon

3)      1 shot whiskey, 1 tsp anise extract, 1 tsp vanilla

Before each use, coat your iron with vegetable oil or melted shortening and then heat for a few minutes prior to cooking. Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop sells both types of irons, and in the old tradition allows for the possibility of personalizing them with an etching.





Christmas Cookies Around the World

15 12 2009

A round-up. The season is in full swing and I’m getting more and more excited for my impending trip home to California. My father informed me this morning that he has already stocked up on Peppermint Stick ice cream, my all-time favorite ice cream flavor and a holiday tradition, one, I’ve found to my dismay,  that does not exist in New York I’ve visited countless markets to reach the sad conclusion that the seasonal flavor is not sold here).

And so this week I’ve been thinking about all the yumminess that is the holiday season, namely peppermint stick ice cream, and all the cookies my father and I would turn out year after year, far more cookies than even our massive brood could eat. And so, in honor of our cookie tradition, I thought I’d take a look at some of the Christmas cookie traditions around the world.

I found an extensive  list, and was not surprised to discover that the best cookie of all time, the alfajor of South America (about which, I just discovered, I’m not the only one to write an ode, of sorts), was present on it. I found nine recipes for my favorite cookie, so perhaps I’ll have to attempt  a second go at making them. Some others on the list:

  • Pepparkakor (Sweden):  a ginger-flavored cookie, traditionally cut into heart shapes. One recipe calls these Sugar and Spice cookies, and is very similar to a Russo-family recipe of the same name. Ours, however, are sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, and it was always my happy duty to sprinkle the cooled cookies.
  • Kourabiedes (Greece): each of these powdered sugar-covered cookies is garnished with a clove to add a savory element and recall the wise men and their spices.
  • Zimtsterne (Germany): You don’t get much prettier than these star-shaped cinnamon-nut meringues, also called erstesternen.
  • Nanaimo Bars (Canada): decadent (no bake!) bars with three decadent layers: a crumb base, topped by custard buttercream and finished off with smooth chocolate.
  • Galletas Maria (Costa Rica):I’m not a particular fan of coconut, but the peanut butter in these may just be enough to win me over. They’re named, according to the Food Network, for a grand duchess of Russia (how this correlates to their popularity in South America and Spain is not a question I can answer).

More holiday cookie traditions

Christmas cookie hub





Recipe: Wandi, Guanti, Farfatelle, Etc…

2 09 2009

I decided a little more research was necessary on Wandi. My Google search, it turns out, yielded very little in the way of information, but I did learn that Wandi is an Americanized Italian form of the word Guanti (there is no “w” in the Italian language), which translates to gloves. According to this helpful description/recipe, the cookies were popular at celebrations, from marriages to random festivals. Indeed, another search uncovered this article, about 100 dozen (that’s right 100 dozen) Wandi being made as part of a Sicilian festival in Iowa (if for nothing else, check out the article for the photo).

That, believe it or not, was nearly the extent of what I managed to dig up on these elusive cookies. I did find this: scroll about halfway down and there is a rather poignant (and coincidental) note from a granddaughter who cannot get the recipe from her grandmother, who happens to have Alzheimer’s. The answer here, however, is that the cookies are something altogether different, called Farfallette, though also referred to as Lovers’ Knots and “Bow Ties” and the recipe is relatively similar.

A hunt for Farfallette then unearthed the tradition of St. Joseph’s Table, the same St. Joseph’s Day (March 19, the feast of St. Joseph. In America it’s overshadowed by the beloved patron saint of green beer, but Sicilians feast and recreate the Holy Family) tradition described in the above Iowa article, meaning that bow ties or Farfatelle or Wandi or gloves or whatever else is all one in the same. And, it seems it’s a tradition that needs to little umph from the next generation. And so, in that spirit, The Russo Wandi recipe, as passed down from my father, and from his mother:

Bow Cookies

1-1/2 Cups sifted flour

1-1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tblsp sugar

3 tblsp Crisco

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1 Cup powdered sugar

Oil for deep frying

Sift flour, salt, baking powder and sugar into a bowl. Cut in Crisco until well blended. Stir in eggs and mix thoroughly. Knead on floured board until pliable. Let dough rest for at least one hour.

Divide dough and roll out to an 8×10 rectangle, 1/8″ thick. Cut into strips, 8″ long x 3/4″ wide. Tie into loose knots and drop into hot oil until golden brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Then sprinkle with powdered sugar. (This last, incidentally, was always my favorite part, perhaps because Grandma Russo never re-sprinkled.)

***I add, at this time, that while this blog is usually about the ties of females, and while this recipe was handed down from my grandmother, the bulk of my nostalgia for it should be credited to my father, who spent countless patient hours teaching me this and other recipes. And who never once refolded my bow ties.

cookies

These aren't Wandi, but another Italian cookie, so the sentiment is there...