Christmas Comes Twice in Ukraine!

Recently, I was chatting with my charming Instagram friend Olya who lives in Ukraine; she’s a nature lover, very much into cooking, and the inspiration for the Ukraine corner of my website.

We were exchanging information about American Thanksgiving and Orthodox Christmas foods and I was surprised to learn that Christmas is officially celebrated on two days in Ukraine. The Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore its Christmas celebration falls on January 7, thirteen days behind the Gregorian calendar. But backlash against the Russian invasion has prompted Ukrainians to look westward, distancing themselves from the Russian Orthodox Church, and now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine allows worshippers to observe the holiday on December 25 as well. So that makes it doubly special!

Olya provided me with a stocking full of info regarding traditional Ukrainian Christmas foods – and there are many! Here are a few, in no special order:

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Kutya (кутя) – Best described as a sweet porridge, it’s made from wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, and customarily includes chopped walnuts and raisins. The wheat berries symbolize immortality and hope, the honey and poppy seeds represent happiness, tranquility, and success. Here’s my homemade version, served in my grandmother’s dish.

Holubtsi (голубці) – Stuffed cabbage rolls are filled primarily with rice, minced vegetables, and sometimes mushrooms; they are prepared without meat on Christmas Eve, the Ukrainian tradition, and with meat on Christmas Day.

Kholodets (холодець) – A savory meat aspic; chilled meat stock gels naturally because of its high collagen content although gelatin is sometimes added to double down on the texture. Chicken, pork, and vegetables come to the party and it’s often served with red horseradish or mustard.

Fish (риба) in many varieties and styles including fried, baked, stuffed, jellied, or marinated (like this herring) is usually a part of Ukraine’s Christmas dinner because it is associated with Jesus.

Varenyky (вареники) – These dumplings are one of Ukraine’s national dishes; they can be found in a pair of divergent guises: sweet, filled with cheese and/or fruit; and savory, stuffed with meat, potatoes, or cabbage, and customarily crowned with fried onions, occasionally bacon, and almost always accompanied by a dollop of sour cream.

Borshch (борщ) – This popular red beet soup has Ukrainian roots. Again, in keeping with tradition, Christmas Eve borshch is meatless and dairy-free. I’ve added a few fresh herbs, parsley, dill, and scallions to this version.

Pampushky (пампушки) – Ukrainian yeast-raised rolls that can be sweet or savory (these are topped with garlic and dill), baked or fried, and are a perfect accompaniment to borshch.

And although I don’t have photos for these dishes, they are an important part of the Ukrainian Christmas dinner table as well:

Kolach (колач) – Ukrainian Christmas Bread. A slightly sweet, braided yeast bread.

Uzvar (узвар) – Ukrainian Winter Punch made from dried fruits and warming spices simmered until your kitchen smells like heaven!

And there are many more. Thank you so much for your help, Olya!
З Різдвом Христовим!

Dos Leches y Uno Rompope Cake

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There’s a delightful couple who live in my building whom I’m privileged to regard as especially close friends. Their toddler recently celebrated his second birthday and they graciously saved a piece of cake for me. Since we are all hardcore foodies, we often pass goodies along to each other.

Now, if you read me, you know that I’m a fan of neologisms; I’ve even created a few such as: to “doorknob” (verb) – the act of hanging a bag containing a tasty treat on the recipient’s doorknob to be retrieved upon their arriving home (or waking up). Example: “I just doorknobbed you some homemade chocolate chip cookies.”

This action is often accompanied by a text message containing relevant details. In this case, my friend wrote, “Just doorknobbed you a piece of birthday cake. The bakery called it Tres Leches Cake; it really wasn’t very wet, but that’s what they called it.”

The cake and its icing, custard and strawberry fillings were wonderful, but there was not uno drop of leche to be found, let alone tres of them.

Fortunately, I had a little sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream left over from baking Thanksgiving pumpkin pies but no evaporated milk to complete the trio. I did, however, have eggnog in the fridge and since I’ve raised lily-gilding to an art form, I decided to go for it. I added a few fresh strawberries and the result is what you see here.

Another win for Team Eggnog! See why we need to have it year-round?

A Chanukah Miracle in Brooklyn

(Originally posted in 2021.)

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its destruction in the second century B.C. The ceremony involved the lighting of a menorah, an oil lamp, but there was only enough oil to last for a single day. By a miracle, the menorah glowed for eight which is why Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for as many days. In Jewish households, a nine branched menorah is used; a single candle is lit on the first night and an additional candle is added each consecutive night, with the ninth position reserved for the shamash, a helper candle used to kindle the others.

Since the Chanukah miracle revolves around oil, tradition involves eating oil-centric fried foods. Sufganiot, jelly doughnuts, are the go-to sweet treat in Israel while Eastern Europe brings latkes to the table, potato pancakes customarily served with sour cream and apple sauce; here, we happily indulge in both.

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My homemade latkes: shredded potatoes, minced onion, beaten eggs, baking powder, S&P, plus a binder like flour or matzo meal, shaped and fried in plenty of peanut oil and/or schmaltz (chicken fat) if you’re the decadent type 🙋‍♂️; they’re plated here with the requisite sour cream alongside chunky apple-strawberry sauce topped with sweet crystallized ginger. (You know me: I hadda be different.)

The recipe calls for salting and draining the potatoes; I simply set up a colander in the sink, squeezing out the liquids from time to time. But this year, I noticed something I had never witnessed before: the intricate patterns made by the drained, wet potato starch were as beautiful and mesmerizing as snowflakes! A present day Chanukah miracle!

The photo enlarged.

Now, look very, very closely and you can see a tiny, perfect Chanukah menorah in the pattern. Go ahead, keep searching. Stay focused. Take your time. Don’t pay any attention to me. I’ll just, um, finish off these latkes while you’re trying to find it….
!חַג חֲנוּכָּה שַׂמֵחַ
Happy Chanukah!

It’s Thanksgiving: Merry Christmas!

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For many folks, Christmas season officially begins the moment Santa Claus floats down Sixth Avenue (sort of a horizontal chimney, I guess) at the finale of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And as if a holiday miracle had occurred, somehow stores were already flaunting a plethora of Christmas goods even before he chortled his final “Ho!” All the fall décor had vanished like the Ghost of Thanksgiving Past to be replaced by a full complement of Christmas merchandise. Or did they just leap from Halloween to Christmas skipping over Thanksgiving entirely because as holidays go it’s just not profitable unless you’re a food market?

Leaping and skipping aside, I decided to get a jump on the festivities and dash away to the newly opened Wegman’s at Astor Place in Manhattan – for all intents and purposes a take-out restaurant disguised as a supermarket – to check out the “first fruits” of the season. I was eager to see if they too had begun to display Christmas wares like eggnog, eggnog ice cream, and other eggnog infused desserts.

Nope. Not a jot or a jingle.

I asked a helpful staffer and he replied, “We don’t sell that here.”

A modern upscale supermarket that doesn’t sell eggnog at Christmastime? Heresy! He suggested that I try their Brooklyn store. Bereft but undaunted, I took the two subways and one bus required to get there.

Now, the Brooklyn store keeps its holiday items sequestered away from their conventional cousins – eggnog has its own display far from the milk – but I couldn’t locate its frozen creamy counterpart. I found a helpful staffer. “Hi! I bought some eggnog ice cream here last year,” I began, “but I don’t see it in the ice cream case.”

“We don’t sell that here,” she replied helpfully. “Try the Astor Place store in Manhattan.”

“They…sent…me…here,” I intoned, parsing my words.

But at least they were offering their panettone (which I covered last year in my “Panettone” story) as well as the marzipan stollen you see here. It was only okay.

I’m hoping to post more treats as we dive further down the holiday rabbit hole. But it’s still early and like any sweet fruit, the season needs time to ripen.

When Life Gives You Oranges, Make Marmalade

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Ever heard of a trifoliate orange? Me neither until a few weeks ago when my friends at Prospect Heights Community Farm were generously offering them, and since I never refuse anything even remotely edible, I accepted.

They’re about 1½ inches in diameter, slightly fuzzy, at once both sour and bitter, and contain more seeds than pulp – the very definition of a culinary challenge. I decided to try my hand at improvising marmalade. Since that’s a task I had never attempted, I reasoned that no one could criticize me if the result was less than stellar.

I sliced the peels, added the purported pulp, orange juice and sugar, and repeated the procedure using some sweet Valencia oranges (actual pulp!) to offset the aggressive components, and tossed in a handful of dried cranberries because I had some in the pantry (the reason I incorporate many left-field ingredients into my experiments) then cooked the mixture until it reached a marmalady consistency.

The outcome was surprisingly tasty for a first effort and complemented toasted English muffins and wedges of brie with equal appeal (no pun intended).

BUT: given the frequency of repeated tests involving a touch more of this and a lot more of that, I have quite a bit left over!

So what’s your favorite way to use orange marmalade?

Happy Diwali!

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Dear Friends,

I can no longer keep this to myself. I am an addict, hooked on mithai. What’s that? You don’t know about mithai? Mithai are Indian sweets and since Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is upon us, I can think of no better time than now to tell you my tale. So gather round your diyas and check out my post “Indian Sweets 101: Meeting Mithai” right here on!
दिवाली मुबारक
Happy Diwali!

Creamed Bacalhau

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To follow up on my last post, no trip to any Seabra’s is complete without a visit to the bacalhau department. Bacalhau (pronounced ba-kal-Yow) is dried, salted cod that’s used in purportedly thousands of recipes in Brazilian/Portuguese cuisine and I recommend that you try it even if you’re not a fan of fish (an afishionado, as it were). As a rule, the larger the Seabra’s, the bigger the seafood department, hence the wider the assortment of bacalhau varieties, provenance, and sizes from small chunks to whole fish. It goes without saying that it has a seriously long shelf life.

I generally purchase enough to make a few dishes like brandade and the creamed bacalhau shown here. It’s simple to execute, doesn’t require much time in the kitchen (i.e., not including a 2–3 day soak in the fridge to rehydrate and desalinate the fish), and is deliciously rewarding.

Here’s an oversimplification of what I did after soaking, rinsing, and draining the fish: Simmer the cod in water until it’s tender (it will break up). While that’s going, sauté chopped onions, garlic, and bell pepper in butter and set aside. Cook the softened cod a bit in more butter – it doesn’t take long. Add some half and half and continue to cook as the fish absorbs the liquid; you may need a few additions until it’s nearly saturated. The idea is to completely soften the fish and have no liquid remaining.

Add the aromatics back to the cod along with some thawed frozen peas and enough heavy cream to reach the consistency you desire. Add freshly ground black pepper, a bit of salt and any other seasonings you like as the spirit moves you. Cook to heat through.

I garnished it with chopped scallions and petits poivrons and plated it with glazed carrots on the side.

Sometimes I think that I could do an ethnojunket to the Ironbound just for Seabra’s, Nasto’s Ice Cream, and Teixeira’s Bakery (all posted on my website if you’re curious). Just a thought. 😉


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I recently returned to Newark’s Ironbound district, the mecca for all things Portuguese and Brazilian. The area is host to six suburban-sized Seabra’s supermarkets all within walking distance of each other – the mother lode of Portuguese and Brazilian food cravings! Since I was traveling solo that day, I and my OCD decided to hit every one in order to compare and contrast.

And it was absolutely worth the exercise, because I struck gold in the form of Brazilian prepared food.

I’ve written here about churrasco, Brazilian style grilled meat; churrascarias often offer rodízio where waiters parade an assortment of meats impaled on formidable skewers directly to your table. So I was more than pleased to see that a couple of the Seabra’s I visited had continually replenished extended steam tables and refrigerated counters brimming with a diversity of grilled meats, seafood, authentic Brazilian dishes and the best pão de queijo I’ve had in a long time.

Item by item, I filled my containers, hastily scribbling notes between each addition in order to subsequently identify and further research it.

I arrived home with my treasures and piled them onto the three plates shown here – not for serving purposes but so that you could see the sheer variety and abundância; obviously, there are considerably more than three meals represented here. Everything was delicious and, more important, a fraction of the cost of venturing out to a churrascaria a few times.

So it wasn’t quite rodízio because I had to serve myself, but it was close enough, hence the title of this post.

And yes, I’m going to do this again. Soon.

Día de los Muertos

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You’ve heard it before: “Oh, Día de los Muertos is Mexican Halloween, right?”

Wrong. Día de los Muertos is decidedly not Mexican Halloween any more than Chanukah is Jewish Christmas – and if any unenlightened soul tries to tell you that, please disabuse them of that fallacious notion inmediatamente!

The Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead, is celebrated from October 31 through November 2 (dates may vary depending upon the locality) – and “celebrated” is the proper word: families congregate to memorialize loved ones who have passed away, but it is seen as a time when the departed temporarily revivify and join in the revelry rather than as a sorrowful occasion. Additionally, these days Día de Muertos, as it is also known, serves as a paean to the indigenous people with whom it originated in pre-Hispanic times.

In the year 1 BC (Before Covid), I headed out to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to get myself into the Día de los Muertos spirit. Sequin-eyed, neon icing-coiffed calaveras (sugar skulls) are relatively easy to find in the neighborhood; this one came from Panadería La Espiga Real, 5717 5th Avenue. Although spirits don’t eat, this one seemed particularly interested in the pan de muerto I picked up at La Flor de Izucar, 4021 5th Avenue.

This bread of the dead is customarily embossed with bone shapes, sometimes crossbones, sometimes in a circle, and other traditional embellishments such as skulls and a single teardrop. It’s a barely sweet, simple bun (like so many Mexican panes dulces), light and airy with a tight crumb, and topped with sesame seeds or sugar (like this one) with hints of cinnamon, anise, and orange flower water.

Above: A view of the inner sanctum.

Goblin’ Futomaki on Halloween

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Halloween is just around the corner and I wanted to indulge in something that didn’t involve Reese’s Cups, M&M’s, or Kit Kats, so I’ll be goblin’ futomaki that’s decked out in an All Hallows’ Eve costume – I guess that makes it both a trick and a treat. (But, not gonna lie, I’m waiting for the post-holiday sales: just as leftover Thanksgiving dinner tastes better the next day, so does leftover half-price Halloween candy.)

In obeisance to the official black and orange Halloween rubric, the black monstermaki (futomaki means thick or fat roll) is wrapped in nori, its conventional costume, and its orange sidekicks are swathed in soy wrappers that come in five flavors/colors: original soy, sesame, spinach green, turmeric yellow, and paprika orange.

I filled them with kani (krab sticks), avocado, cucumber, strips of sweet kanpyō (dried gourd) and most important, eel because – in keeping with the holiday spirit 👻 – it’s only one letter away from EEK!

And in case you’re wondering – no, I’m not handing out these spookomaki on October 31; the kids are supposed to scare me, not the other way around!