Make time to share some family traditions this holiday season. It’s what makes the season memorable after all. Years from now, your kids probably won’t remember the toy of the week, but they will remember that every Christmas Eve the family gets together, attends midnight Mass, sings the traditional songs and then retires to eggnog and cookies around a sizzling fireplace.
Your traditions can be unique to your family or friends and may have been handed down for many generations or years ... or you can make up your own. A tradition simply is something that has established meaning for itself by being replayed time and again. It’s the people around you as you are participating in the tradition that give it the meaning.
The Christmas season seems to be unique among the holidays because of the emphasis we place on the past, our heritage and the traditions those things entail. I had some wonderful grandparents who used to regale my childhood with stories of the past. The Old Country was imbedded in who they were, even as they tried to erase the idea of immigrant from their persona.
Food, you see, is a very difficult custom to change. If you grew up eating one thing, you still probably are eating it. This is a habit that is especially fun to indulge in this time of year. But it also is fun to try out other tastes.
So, be tolerant and accepting of other traditions — you may come across one or two to make your own.
— My grandmother and mother made this every Christmas. Now Imake it and serve up leftovers dipped in eggnog for the best French toast you’ve ever tasted.
1/2 cup warm water, 110 F
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
2 Tbsps. sugar
1-1/2 cups butter
Additional 3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm milk
7-1/2 cups flour
Additional 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup candied fruits, minced
1 cup almonds, chopped
Additional 1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsps. water
In a small bowl, whisk the water and dry yeast with the two tablespoons sugar. Let this work until it is light and foamy. Meanwhile, in a large bread bowl, cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar. Add the eggs, salt, and warm milk. Mix together well.
Add flour and stir together until mixture forms ball of dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead to form a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in bulk.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter again; flatten the dough slightly with the palms of your hands. Mix the raisins, fruits and almonds together and sprinkle the additional 1/2 cup flour over this mixture to coat. Sprinkle a bit of this raisin mixture over the dough and work in by kneading. Continue to incorporate the mixture this way until all is worked into the dough. Divide dough in half. Roll out each half to an 8-by-15-inch oval. To the melted butter, add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Brush half the butter mixture onto each oval of dough. Roll the dough up into a loaf, sealing the seam underneath. Place each loaf on a cookie sheet and let rise until almost double in bulk.
Beat the egg with the two tablespoons of water to form an egg wash. Brush the top of each loaf with the wash and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes.
Swedish meatballs recipe
— Lingonberry jam is the traditional ingredient, but you could substitute red currant, cranberry or raspberry jam.
2 Tbsps. butter
1 onion, diced very fine
2/3 cup milk
4 slices white bread, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 lb. ground pork
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
2 tsps. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 tsps. black pepper
6 Tbsps. butter
1/3 cup flour
1 qt. beef stock
1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream
4 Tbsps. lingonberry jam (or substitute raspberry)
Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent and softened. Set aside to cool.
Place bread cubes in a large bowl and mix with the milk. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes for the bread to absorb all of the milk.
Stir the cooled onions into the milk bread mixture. Add the eggs, ground pork and beef, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cardamom. Mix everything together until well combined.
Form 1-inch meatballs and set aside. This recipe should make about 40 meatballs.
To make the sauce: Heat six tablespoons of butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add meatballs to the pan, working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove meatballs from pan, keeping the butter and fat in the pan.
Heat the pan butter and juices; whisk in the flour. Stir until smooth. Continue to stir, allowing the flour mixture to cook, several minutes, until the roux is lightly browned. Whisk in the stock.
Return the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and lower the heat to low. Cover and cook on low for 10 minutes. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your pan.
Just before serving, stir in the sour cream and jelly.
Swedish Pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies)
—This recipe makes a crisp cookie that doesn’t need frosting — unless you like them sweeter. Dust them with powdered sugar before serving or use your favorite butter cream icing recipe.
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsps. dark corn syrup
Sift the flour together with the baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom in a mixing bowl.
Beat the butter together with the white and brown sugars in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg and corn syrup until smooth. Gradually stir in the flour mixture until evenly blended. Divide the dough into four equal portions and wrap tightly each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Lightly grease baking sheets.
Using one portion at a time, work on a floured surface and roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter, and place one inch apart on prepared baking sheets.
Bake in preheated oven until set, about five minutes. Cool completely. Store in covered tins.
Chesnica — traditional Serbian Christmas bread
— Use a clean silver coin like a half dollar and place it inside the bread dough before baking. Do not use plastic coins! Tradition says whoever finds the coin will have a great success in the year ahead.
2-1/4 cups milk, lukewarm
1 packet (2-1/2 tsps.) yeast
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
7-8 cups flour
Silver or gold coin — make sure it is metal, not a plastic, fake coin
Additional egg mixed with one tablespoon water for egg wash
Dissolve yeast in a little lukewarm milk. Beat one egg and add to yeast. Add salt and stir, gradually adding the flour and pouring the remaining lukewarm milk until you get a smooth dough.
When the dough is stiff enough, start kneading it. Cover well-kneaded dough with a clean cloth and let it rise.
As soon as you notice the dough rising, place it onto kneading board and gently knead again. The dough should rise only partially.
Chesnica is shaped as a round flat bread. While shaping, place a coin inside the dough. If you do not have a silver one, you can put a coin made of some other stainless metal.
Place chesnica into a greased 9-inch round baking pan.
Traditionally, a small twig is used to make some patterns along the top surface of the loaf.
Beat one egg and one tablespoon water together for an egg wash. Brush on top of bread dough.
Bake in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes, then turn down to 300 F and bake until bread sounds hollow and is nicely browned.
Wrap bread in a clean white napkin and bring to the table while it is still warm.
Baklava (It’s Greek to me)
— This is so delicious, I try to find an excuse to make it a couple times a year. It keeps really well — if not eaten immediately.
2 lbs. phyllo dough (in the freezer section)
1 lb. sweet butter, melted
1-1/2 lbs. walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
2 cups water
1 lemon or orange rind
Combine chopped walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Brush baking tray (12-by-16-inch) with melted butter. Place 15 phyllo leaves at bottom, brushing each with melted butter. Spread one-third of walnut mixture on leaves. Place five to six buttered leaves on mixture and spread an additional one-third of walnut mixture.
Add another layer with five to six buttered leaves using the remaining walnut mixture. There must be 15 to 17 leaves to place on top layer. Brush top layer of leaves with remaining melted butter.
With a pointed sharp knife, score top sheets in diamond square shapes in sizes you desire. Bake in 350 F for 45 minutes to one hour or until golden brown. Let cool.
To make syrup: Bring all syrup ingredients to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Pour warm syrup evenly over baklava.
When cool, cut baklava, following the lines you scored into the pastry. Store tightly covered.