January 25th is Burns Night, a yearly celebration of poetry and food to celebrate the beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns (held on his birthday). I covered a complete Burns Supper menu previously, but for this week’s Pastry Post-Doc I will be featuring the best part of any meal – the dessert. One of the tastiest Scottish desserts to grace any Burns Supper table is Cranachan. Cranachan is basically a Scottish trifle made with toasted oats, honey, raspberries, whisky and whipped cream. Simple to make, but very delicious. Here are traditional cranachan recipes from the Telegraph and BBC Good Food. Jamie Oliver has a modern riff on the traditional cranachan with a raspberry cranchan influenced cakee.
Happy New Year! Even though it is almost 2 weeks after the Gregorian calendar marks the new year – January 13 is celebrated as Malanka – “Old New Year’s Eve” – in the Ukraine. The holiday marks the Julian calendar’s new year and is one of the most festive days in Ukraine, full of caroling door-to-door, costumes, dancing the Kolomyjka, merry-making and of course food. We are novices when it comes to Ukrainian desserts, but we have found a holiday recipe for pampushky – fried donuts filled with poppy seed or prune. These seem to be a cousin of the paczki, another Eastern European donut (this one popularly eaten on Shrove Tuesday). You can find pampushky recipe from Claudia’s Cookbook (below) and Ukrainian Classic Cuisine. Who doesn’t love something indulgent and fried as a perfect cap to the holiday season?
The neighborhood of Astoria in Queens, NYC is known for its huge Greek population (which is still growing today), and accordingly, you can find some of the best Greek food in the city (and country) in this one neighborhood. It also means that a diversity of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine not seen elsewhere abounds. We were happy to find that one of the few Cypriot restaurants in the US was located in Astoria, Zenon Taverna (34-10 31 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106 ).
Cypriot food is similar to what most Americans think of as typical Greek food, but with more Middle-Eastern influences, given its history and location. The menu at Zenon is staggering, with a huge option of cold and hot meze appetizers including favorites like hummus and tzatziki as well as more unusual options like quails and stuffed mushrooms. For entrees, there are dozens of pitas; chicken, lamb and fish platters; as well as meat and veggie samplers. Each day, there are also upwards of 6 specials including: Keftedes Kypriaki ($10.50 S / $17.99 L) pork and potato meatballs; Louvia me Lahana – blackeyed peas with Swiss chard ($6.50 S / $12.50 L)and pastitsio (a lasagna-like layered lamb dish). We didn’t really know what to pick, so we went with 2 samplers to share among our group, along with an appetizer of char-grilled octopus ($17.95) and Cypriot rabbit stew on special for the day- Kouneli Stifado ($19.95).
The Cyprus Meze sampler ($24.95 a person) came with a total of 16 meze – 8 hot and 8 cold. Everything was bright, fresh and delicious, but there were a few standouts. Zenon did a great job with classics like tzatziki and hummus, but we really loved some of the more unusual choices like the tarama – carp roe with potatoes and the fresh, vinegar-y pantzarosalada – beet salad. In terms of the hot dishes, there was a heavy emphasis on fish and pork. We highly enjoyed the smoked pork loin – lunza, the loukaniko spitisio – Cypriot pork sausage cooked in wine – and the keftedes arnisia – garlickly lamb meatballs. Of course another winner was the baked sheep and goat milk cheese halloumi, doused with lemon juice. The octopus appetizer we ordered was another favorite, and the special-of-the-day rabbit stew cooked in red wine was tasty, if a little game-y.
If you leave room for dessert, there is baklava and semolina desserts like siamali and halouvas, which you can wash down with a traditional frappe or Greek coffee. Alas, we did not leave room, since our Cypriot Meze order was so huge! We are a big fans of Greek food, and we really enjoyed trying something a little different at Zenon. One caveat – they are cash only! This is not a super-cheap place, so we went to the ATM in advance instead of testing our luck with the ATM around the corner. We recommend you come to Zenon with a crowd – there are so many dishes and mezes to share – the more, the merrier!
Today is Three Kings Day / Epiphany – which officially marks the end of the Christmas holiday season! In addition to Epiphany (Epifania in Italian), the eve of January 6th is also when La Befana arrives in Italy. Similar to St. Nicholas Day in other parts of Europe, La Befana (who takes the appearance of a witch on a broom) leaves presents and candy for good children and coal for bad ones. In honor of La Befana and Epifania, we are heading to Sicily, where the holiday season is celebrated with a myriad of sweets including the fig and raisin-filled cuccidati cookies.
We have made cuccidati before, but we have recently learned that there is a similar holiday dessert that is basically a giant version of a cuccidati – a Buccellato ring cake. To add another layer of potential confusion, it seems that sometimes in Sicily buccellato refers to small-sized ring-shaped fig cookies, too. Now I am not really a huge fig or raisin fan (though M is) and even I like cuccidati cookies (which I guess are the distant ancestor of the Fig Newton). There are tons of cuccidati recipes with slight variations in filling according to region, family and personal taste so I will only include a few: A vintage Milwaukee recipe from 1965, Washington Post, Brown Eyed Baker and Savoring Italy (seen above). If you want to go all out, Cooking with Rosetta has a traditional buccellato recipe, as does L’Italo-Americano (seen below).
One of our favorite Thai dishes is the Northern Thai specialty Nam Khao Tod. It is a more unique dish that is pretty hard to find at most neighborhood Thai restaurants in the US, but we happily found that there are two places in Chicago on a stretch of Western Avenue that both serve Nam Khao Tod – Spoon Thai (4608 N. Western Ave., Chicago, IL) and Rainbow Cuisine ( ). Spoon Thai is a longtime favorite for more authentic Thai dishes in Chicago, and Rainbow Cuisine is a relative newcomer on the scene, but is producing great Northern Thai specialties. In an interesting twist, the chef from Spoon Thai, Wanpen Phosawang, actually left to open Rainbow Thai with her husband (and we have been using the recipe from Spoon Thai at home). Since Nam Khao Tod is so hard to find – we knew we had to try the two Chicago contenders head to head.
The Challenge: Nam Khao Tod is a complex dish made with a great combination of clean flavors: Northern-style nam / naem sausage, red onion, red curry, chili peppers, fresh ginger, limes, peanuts, fish sauce and cilantro. However, making the dish itself takes some finesse – especially when making the crispy rice – which requires deep frying rice croquettes, discarding the soft bits and breaking apart the crispy exterior. The mix of textures and sweet-sour-salty-acidic flavors is what makes Nam Khao Tod so special.
The Winner: The dishes were about the same price and size – Spoon Thai’s ($9.95) is on the left, and Rainbow Cuisine’s ($8.95) is on the right. The dishes both had all the key elements of nam khao tod, however Spoon Thai’s also had the addition of carrots, and was served on a bed of lettuce. When comparing the two, we agreed on a clear winner: Rainbow Thai. The rice was much crispier (a necessity) and the flavors were all melded together much more coherently. The nam sausage in Spoon’s version was also somewhat undercooked. Though both Nam Khao Tods were delicious we have to say that Rainbow Cuisine handily won the Nam Khao Tod face-off. If you want to try a new Northern Thai dish, make it this one.
We are starting the year with a tip about what may be the best brunch place in Toronto. Karelia Kitchen (1194 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6H 1N2, Canada) is dedicated to all things Scandinavian for brunch, snacktime and dinner. Karelia’s brunch is a mix of continental, Canadian and Scandinavian flavors with dishes like Pitti Y Panna ($14) Swedish-style potato hash with dill, bacon and eggs; Herring Two Ways ($14); and a grilled cheese made with Canadian Oka cheese ($12). For something more savory, there is also a huge variety of smorrebrod – open faced sandwiches in varieties like salmon, shrimp and beet ($10-12). In true Scandinavian fashion, coffee is a major feature of the cafe, and there is also a wide assortment Scandinavian pastries for a true Swedish-style fika coffee break. It can get pretty crowded for brunch, so reservations are recommended. But even if you don’t have a reservation, you can order at the counter to go.Even with all of this selection, our favorite thing about Karelia Kitchen is that they have Pulla Bread! Pulla bread is a traditional Finnish cardamom bread, which is particularly hard to find pretty much anywhere in North America, and this quest is what initially led us to Karelia. Pulla is a relative of the Swedish cardamom bun, kardemummabullar, and may be found in braided loaves like brioche, or in smaller rolls (as seen below). Served with clotted cream and lingonberry jam, a pulla roll is a prefect not-too-sweet accompaniment for fika or breakfast (or a snack). If you have the chance head over to Karelia to sample the excellent pulla bread and more!
We love this Japanese candy advertisement wishing us a happy new year (in 1956) – we hope you have a Happy New Year, too!
One of our friends’ mothers recently gifted us a large Vasilopita cake in the shape of a fish (which seems to be one-of-a-kind)! Fish or not, there is a long tradition of having Vasilopita – an orange-flavored cake topped with nuts – on New Year’s Day for good luck. Much like a king cake, there is a hidden trinket or coin in the cake that is said to bring luck to the person that finds it. Vasilopita is popular in Greece and the Balkans, and I have seen several permutations of the cake: some including multiple tiers, or a vanilla glaze. Here is a two-tiered Greek version from Epicurious, a glazed version from My Greek Dish, and a Vasilopita with a more bread-like consistency from Bowl of Delicious. Happy new year! Ευτυχισμένος ο καινούριος χρόνος!
We visited Fat Rice a while ago, and since then they have opened up The Bakery at Fat Rice (2951 W. Diversey Ave.) serving unusual Macanese-inspired treats. The Bakery at Fat Rice has a cute retro pink logo and an inviting handpainted wooden “Pastelaria” sign featuring an egg tart in a starburst (swwn below). The inside is brightly colored, with big windows, and brightly-colored floral oilcloth seats. What could be more inviting?
The main draw is the pastry selection – and there is a large pastry case filled with goodies taking up one wall. They also have tasty coffee, juice and tea drinks, plus the hard-to-find chocolate Milo drink that is ubiquitous in Asia. On our first visit, we wanted to try some of the sweet and savory dishes. We ordered a Pork Floss Pig bun ($6) – an interesting combination of savory and sweet topped with shredded dried pork. Plus, it is shaped like a pig, who could resist? We also sampled a coconut-topped sweet roll filled with bright purple ube yam paste ($5). Both were delicious. However, this is only scratching the surface – if you really want to go savory you can get a corned beef or hot dog roll. Other sweet options include a guava bun and a bolo menino: a pine nut, almond and coconut cake.
Finally, we get to the main event – the egg custard tarts. Known as pasteis de nata in Portugal, these came to Macau through Portuguese explorers, where they then found their way into China to become the ubiquitous egg tart. At each stage of travel, these tarts are somewhat different. The Portuguese egg tart is more custard-y while the Chinese variety is less sweet and heavier on the egg. The Macanese variety tends to fall between the two. Though tasty, the Fat Rice Bakery version ($3) reminded us more of a Chinese egg tart. We prefer the Portuguese sweetness, but truth be told, we have had many better, cheaper egg tarts.
Everything we tried was very good, but the $4-6 per-pastry prices struck us as a little steep. However, the originality of these pastries in the Chicago bakery scene is really what makes them stand out. We will keep The Bakery at Fat Rice in mind for special occasions!
There is a major tradition around eating fried food for Hanukkah, since oil is such an essential part to the Hanukkah story – a miracle that allowed one day’s worth of oil to light a menorah for eight days. Though we love the traditional fried donuts sfenj and sufganiyot – there is also another Hanukkah tradition we have just learned about – eating cheese! The origins of eating cheese on Hanukkah begins with the story of Judith, who is said to have given an enemy general salty cheese to make him thirsty, becase of this he became drunk, allowing her to later kill him. So that may be a little morbid… but the importance of cheese to the story has led to delicious cultural traditions of enjoying cheese at Hanukkah time! Though the tradition is not as big in the US – it has a stronger foothold in Europe. Popular ways to enjoy cheese on Hanukkah are tasty Italian ricotta latkes, cream cheese rugelach and cheese blintzes.
Cheese Blintzes by Eliza Adam
Tomorrow is Christmas – and here it is blustery and cold – but imagine if you could go to beach! In this vintage Australia Christmas video, you can!
We first saw these show-stopping Lithuanian Christmas tree cakes – Šakotis – for sale by the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland at a cultural fair. Though you may see Sakotis for other special celebrations in Lithuania, they are associated with Christmas – especially since they look like Christmas trees! The cake is made by pouring batter over a rotating, horizontal spit over a heat source. The batter is simple – just sugar, eggs, flour and sour cream – and as the batter is poured over the spit, tree-like layers begin to form.
Other cakes made on a spit are found throughout Central and Eastern Europe with different names: like the German Baumkuchen, Polish sękacz, Czech Trdelník and Hungarian Kürtőskalács. Unless you have all this special equipment, you probably won’t be able to make Sakotis at home – but you can buy them straight from the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland online.
Looking for a beverage to serve at your holiday feast, and wanting something a little different than Eggnog? Try some Chilean Cola de Mono – literally “Monkey Tail.” Cola de Mono is similar to a White Russian and contains milk, coffee, aguardiente, spices and and sugar – served chilled. No one is quite sure where the name “Monkey Tail” comes from, but theories abound: it will have you swinging around like a monkey, it was originally bottled in discards from the Spanish Anisette brand Anís del Mono, or another apocryphal story that it is a morphing of the name of former president Pedro Montt (who had the nickname “Monkey”). Here are simple recipes from Eat Wine Blog and All Recipes. Salud!
It is Christmas season again, and we have cake on the brain! In Nicaragua, Christmas means Pio Quinto cake (which may or may not be named after Pope Pius the 5th). It is similar to tres leches cake, but instead of being soaked in milk, it is soaked in rum! Pio Quinto is topped with a vanilla and cinnamon custard – called atolillo (which can also be served alone) and sprinkled with raisins and other dried fruits. You can find recipes for Pio Quinto from Serious Eats (seen below) and Leaders from the Kitchen.
Today is St. Lucia Day, one of the most important holidays in Scandinavia, and Christmas is right around the corner! We have covered some Swedish holiday cakes and cookies here on the blog previously, but did you know that candy canes may in fact have their roots in Sweden? In Sweden these striped candies are called Polkagris. Polkagris was invented by a female entrepreneur, Amalia Eriksson, in 1859 in the town of Gränna, Sweden. At a time when few women were allowed to be entrepreneurs, the widowed Amalia created the candy as a way to support her family (and the recipe was kept as a secret until her death). The traditional polkagris color is red and white with peppermint flavor, much like the candy canes we know in the US. However, there are a few differences – Polkagris is made with vinegar, which makes it softer and chewier – and creates a shorter shelf life.
We recently dove into Liberian food in Philly, and we were excited to find Sumah’s Sierra Leonean restaurant on our visit to a major hub of international cuisine – Washington DC. Sumah’s (1727 7th St NW, Washington 20001) is located just south of Howard University in DC, and is a simple mom and pop place with a bustling take-out counter, bright green walls and only a few tables. Sumah’s menu is fairly simple: you can either order a medium ($14) or large size of any dish with beef or chicken ($16)- you just choose the sauce. It also appeared that you could potentially choose the starch for your dishes: including jollof rice, fermented cassava fufu and gari – cassava mush – but there was only jollof rice on the day we were there. You can also get a small cup of sauce as a side order ($8) if you really can’t decide, and you can choose multiple sauces for medium or large platters for a surcharge.
When we entered Sumah’s we were given a complimentary tasting plate of all of the sauces by the affable owner- some of which we had before and some that were totally new to us. It was a good thing he introduced us to all of the sauces or we would have never known what to pick from the simple descriptions alone. Here are the sauce selections:
- Peanut butter sauce – similar to other west African peanut sauces with tomatoes and palm oil
- Spinach – The greens dishes all seemed pretty similar, though the spinach was the lightest and least oily of the three, and was seasoned with garlic and fish.
- Cassava leaves
- Potato Leaves
- Okra – Great non-slimy okra preparation, which is a rarity
- Krain Krain – krain krain leaves with palm oil and fish
- Tola – a seed unique to the region, with palm oil
- Egusi – a colorful stew with squash (egusi) seeds
We ordered a side of the spinach sauce, and a medium platter with a mix of tola and egusi sauce and chicken. The medium alone was more than enough for 2 people (or more), as you can see from the filled container on top. The stews were delicious and hearty, and definitely good for those of us who like palm oil. We also received a free order of fried plantains for dessert, which we gobbled up of course. We also recommend the super strong and delicious house-made ginger drink. We definitely recommend Sumah’s for a taste of the hard-to-find cuisine of Sierra Leone. The dishes at Sumah’s reminded us of Liberian food, but other than the jollof rice, it seemed pretty distinct from other West African countries like Ghana or Senegal. We’d definitely go back!
If you live in the freezing Midwest like us, the winter holiday season may not immediately get you thinking of tropical recipes, but the Caribbean has huge tradition of delicious Christmas foods worth sampling. One emblematic Caribbean food that is a holiday staple is the simply named Black Cake (it gets its name from its rich molasses color). The cake itself is filled with figs and dried fruit soaked in wine, rum and is flavored with cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Caribbean Black Cake is a descendant of British plum pudding, and has an special stronghold in Caribbean countries that were former British colonies such as Trinidad and Jamaica. However, you will find it throughout the Caribbean and in most Caribbean-American communities around holiday time with assorted named like Christmas Cake, Black Christmas Cake, West Indian Fruit Cake, Caribbean Christmas Cake, etc. A unique ingredient that is essential to the rich taste of the cake is burnt sugar syrup, or “browning,” that is available in Caribbean markets (or you can make your own). Here is a recipe for Jamaican Black Cake from the Cooking Channel (below), Trinidadian Black Cake from Cooking with Ria and Caribbean Black Fruitcake from Chowhound.
We love Indian food, though to be honest we do not make it as often as some other cuisines. However, that is something we are looking to change! We recently came across a recommendation to check out Manjula’s Kitchen for demystified Indian recipes. Manjula makes awesome, easy-to-follow recipe videos, using appliances and ingredients typical to an American kitchen (though of course you will need some special ingredients). Did you know that you could make a naan on a pizza stone if you do not have a tandoor oven? Now we do. Check out Manjula’s super simple recipe for naan below. We can’t decide what to try next – her YouTube channel is a treasure trove of recipes.
When I think winter holiday foods, my mind turns immediately to the sweets – I can’t help it – who wouldn’t love spice cookies or a bûche de noël? However, I know that everyone doesn’t have a sweet tooth, and that savory dishes are just as important on the holiday table. For St. Nicholas Day we encountered mainly sweet treats – but Bulgaria, where the holiday is called Nikulden, has their own savory spin on the day. In Bulgaria, St. Nicholas is associated with fishing and fishermen, so it makes sense that his signature dish, Ribnik, is carp stuffed with walnuts, and wrapped in a pastry dough. This striking dish is then the centerpiece for St. Nicholas Day feasts. Here are recipes for two versions of Ribnik from the St. Nicholas Center, and another from Eclectic Cuisine (seen below).