Monday, December 26, 2011

New Years Dinner {Pasta with Green Lipped Mussels}

Has the hype of 2012 fallen upon you yet?  Me? Ummm, not so much. Every year I find myself secretly looking for ways to avoid masses of people (and the crazy amateur pyrotechs among them...seriously almost said good-bye to a kneecap one year!) In the Czech Republic it's quite popular for anyone who no longer sees the appeal of rivers of cheap bubbly in the city center bars to hide away in a cottage in the mountains with friends. Good food and drink are brought, and games are played.
Wherever and however you bring in the new year, if you are looking for an easy and elegant New Years Eve meal, simply pick up a few ingredients that are a titch out of the ordinary, but keep the preparation and number of flavours limited. This guarantees a special dinner, without sweating in the kitchen for hours before a new beau arrives, or lugging multiple grocery bags up to the mountains for one dinner. 
Fish has such a history when it comes to New Years dinners, it's hard to want to pull away from it. Hunting down some New Zealand green-lipped mussels from your fishmonger (or in the Czech Republic, look in the Asian markets, like on Olomoucká street in Brno) makes for a definite treat. Using Italian squid ink pasta (spaghetti al Nero di Seppia) creates a striking visual contrast, and adds to the subtle depth of seafood flavour. I took the easy route and used already dyed spaghetti, but it's only a little bit more effort to buy a jar of the black dye from an Italian import shop along with some fresh pasta for a little DIY.

After the mussels and squid ink pasta are procured, the rest is a cinch. Garlic, shallots, tomatoes, white wine, and a hint of chili peppers make this a New Years dish that practically cooks itself! 

Another variation - with fresh fish and basil:

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas! {with Eggnog Recipe}

Merry Christmas from the Czech Republic! Or rather, Veselé Vánoce! 
We celebrate it all on the 24th over here, so my 25th is reserved for my 'American' Christmas...mainly a skype date with my family in Wisconsin for their Christmas morning, and then an evening spent with another expat. 
Yesterday, however, I witnessed one of my finest Czech Christmas days yet with a Canadian-Czech couple and their family. Of course, my friend and I had to toss in our heritage a bit. For this spirited Canadian, that means eggnog. I remember her 'nog well from years ago, my first holiday season in Brno. This year, I finally got to catch some of the action (and the recipe!)

Fresh eggs are a must. As is the cream. The booze gets a bit of wiggle room. Rum, whisky, or a bit of both. And freshly grated nutmeg on top..mmmm...

Careful on the mixing. It is a drink, i.e. liquid. And it can, and will, fly everywhere if not careful! Use a combination of electric mixer for the eggs, and hand whisk for the rest.

Czech Christmas usually starts with decorating the tree in the morning, and preparing the food for later. A light meat-free soup (often lentils for luck and prosperity) can be had for lunch, that is, IF you don't want to see the golden pig. There are many, many Czech Christmas traditions associated with one's future. A widespread one is to fast all Christmas day until dinner so that one sees a golden pig. I think this hallucination should bring money next year.

After the soup, we warmed up with the eggnog before heading out for an afternoon walk through a gorgeous woods that had the exact amount of snow sprinkled about to make it wet enough for the dogs to get good and muddy.

Permission to roll in the mud turns out to be exactly what my Saffi wanted for Christmas!
After the walk, we arrived back home for some mulled wine and Christmas dinner of salmon and potato salad. It did take me awhile to get used to the Czech holiday dish of fish (traditional is fried carp, but most families seem to be substituting salmon these days), but I now find myself looking forward to it.

The potato salad is one which I adore. Not at all cloying and sweet like some American ones I've had, but light and tangy with the addition of pickles. With the fish, sensational!

As soon as everyone had savoured the last bite, a bell is rung to signify the arrival of Ježíšek (baby Jesus) who has just brought the presents under the tree. Gift opening, laughing, and more eating closes out the rest of a very special evening. 

More holiday libations:

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolate Pavlova with Caramely Bananas & Mascarpone Cream

Christmas morning is the perfect time to justify a leisurely dessert-like brekkie. And it seems to me that the messiness of pavlova certainly mirrors the disarray of little ones rushing down the stairs Christmas morning. I don't know about you, but for me, Christmas mornings are as relaxed and comfortable as a holiday gets. No one minds if they don't look their best in front of mom's camera when there are gifts to unwrap and gasps of surprise to be heard.

While Pavlova is usually thrown together with summer berries (as in last summer's strawberry-basil pavlova) it can take a winter turn as well with the addition of chocolate in the meringue base. Sauteed bananas are coated in caramel and a sprinkling of nutmeg, and a mascarpone cream sweetened with maple syrup simply resounds of breakfast.

And did I mention it's all spiked with a wee bit of Baileys Irish Cream? Good Christmas morning!

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

How to Poach an Egg {and Eat it with Gouda and Tarragon}

So I've been poaching lately. Eggs, that is. And if anyone has not yet delved into this kitchen territory, let me beseech you to do so. When you've got the time in your morning to start a pot of water boiling (it's the first thing I do, before starting my coffee), you've got the means to make the softest, most beautiful and flavourful egg breakfast ever.

Now, I wasn't intending to blog about this, as I had changed my mind on my earlier consideration of making a hollandaise for it. I figured, no hollandaise, no blog post (which means no photos of the process, which, anyways, is actually so easy it doesn't even require any. Really, I promise.)

No sauce required a little improv on dressing up the eggs - topped on rye toast with gouda and a scattering of tarragon over top. And this, if I do say myself, was genius. Simple, easy, cheap...and sensational. My stomach was doing a happy dance while I ate the first one. I paused for a moment to snap a photo of the second before he was gobbled up in turn.

Eggs. Incredible, and oh so very edible.

More egg recipes:
Asparagus and Eggs with Parmesan
Classic Egg Salad Sandwich

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

My (Strawberry) Morning Milkshake

Looking for more ways to get your calcium? I know I am. Thought I'd quickly share what has recently become my morning milkshake routine.

Now that we are facing the winter dearth of fresh fruit, I've been buying frozen berries again. And one of my fave, and healthiest, ways of partaking is sucking down a blended bevvie. In the warmer months I'm all about smoothies with juices and ginger...but in winter, I dream of cream.

This milkshake is an incredibly simple version that doesn't use ice cream, or heavy cream. Full fat milk, of course, but the key is using berries that are only half frozen. I take out the berries the night before, stick them in a glass in the refrigerater. The next morning, they are perfectly soft without being too watery. It gives a smooth, creamy consistency without as much fat in a traditional ice cream based shake. A bit of powdered sugar is used instead of granular, as it dissolves easier. And ground flax seed is thrown in for those happy omega-3s and a smidge of fiber.

And a good morning it will be.

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