Thursday, December 17, 2009


We've gotten to where we like to eat this with practically every meat dish I prepare. So delicious and good for you!


* 2 cups plain full fat yogurt (high-quality, without gums and thickeners)
* 2 teaspoons pureed very fresh garlic
* 1 teaspoon sea salt
* 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and grated on large holes of grater
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* Dill leaves, for garnish


Drain yogurt for 1 hour in a cheesecloth-lined strainer to remove some of its water. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt over the grated cucumber and drain, 10 to15 minutes, to extract excess water. Add drained cucumber to yogurt, along with pepper, and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with mint leaves. Serve with pita triangles or grilled fish.

St. Lazarus Corpses

For St. Lazarus Feast day this year we decided to make something that would resemble the wrapped-for-burial body of the saint. We found this recipe for the occasion, sheets of buttered or oiled phyllo, enshrouding cooked, well-spiced ground beef, the oil and spices reminding us of ancient Jewish burial customs:


2-1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1-1/4 pounds lean ground beef
1-1/4 cups canned crushed tomatoes,
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2-1/2 (16 ounce) packages phyllo dough
melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Cook ground beef until it loses its pink color and begins to brown. Drain fat from skillet. Add tomatoes, cinnamon, cumin, paprika and allspice. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture reduces slightly, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove one phyllo sheet from package and keep the rest covered with a clean cloth until ready to use. On a flat work surface, cut the phyllo sheet into 2 14x9-inch rectangles. Brush the first half-sheet with melted butter, place the 2nd half on top of it and brush again with butter. Place a generous teaspoon of the meat mixture near the narrow end of the dough. Fold dough over the top of the meat, fold in the sides of the dough, and roll into a narrow tube (cigar) shape. Repeat until all the meat has been rolled up. Arrange "deceased" on prepared baking sheet.

4. Bake in preheated oven until lightly browned, about 25 minutes.

I'm serving these with tzatziki and Moroccan eggplant salad.

Hope this isn't too morbid for you!

Chocolate Pepper Cookies

I started making these cookies every Christmas back when I was a newlywed and my brother-in-law gave me Martha Stewart's Christmas. They are the one cookie about which John asks every year, "Hey, are you going to make those cookies with the pepper in them again?" To which I always reply, "Yes dear, again."


* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
* 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper, plus more for sprinkling
* 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon good-quality instant espresso powder
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened
* 1 cup granulated sugar
* 1 large egg
* 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* Coarse sanding sugar, for rolling


1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, pepper, espresso powder, and cinnamon into a large bowl; set aside.
2. Put butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined.
3. Turn out dough onto a piece of parchment paper, and roll into a 2-inch-diameter log. Roll log in the parchment. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove log from parchment paper. Let soften slightly at room temperature, about 5 minutes. Roll log in sanding sugar, gently pressing down to adhere sugar to dough. Transfer log to a cutting board, and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 1 inch apart. Sprinkle each round with freshly ground pepper.
5. Bake cookies until there is slight resistance when you lightly touch centers, about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 days.

Christmas Bread



by Helen McLoughlin

THE LITURGICAL PRESS St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota


Christ, the Bread of Angels, has been honored by special
"Christmas Bread" in every European country. Most delicious of
these are "Brioche" or French Christmas bread, the German
"Christstollen" whose criss-cross shape reminds us of the Child
in swaddling clothes, and "Melachrino" or Greek spice cake. The
latter our children call Hidden Jesus Bread, because of the
Infant baked in it. Recipes for all three are from Mrs. Berger's
"Cooking for Christ." Her family like ours is large. One half of
her recipe is usually sufficient for a small family. Margarine
may be used in place of butter.

"Brioche," a very light rich bread, is best mixed on Christmas
Eve so the dough can stand before it is baked. Use a very hot
oven on Christmas morning to make the dough rise quickly. The
crust is crisp and brown, the center soft when the dough is
handled lightly.

1 yeast cake 1 tblsp. sugar
1/4 cup warm water 6 slightly beaten eggs
4 cups flour 1 cup butter
1 tsp. salt 1/2 cup milk

Mix yeast with warm water and one cup flour. Cover and set aside
to rise. Mix remaining dry ingredients. Work in butter with your
fingers. Add eggs. Add milk very slowly. (The dough should be
softer than bread dough.) Mix in yeast combination and let rise
one to two hours. Punch down and keep in a cold place until ready
to use. Then shape in loaves. Place in two 6x10 loaf pans. Put in
warm place until dough rises about one third more in size. Brush
with beaten egg. Bake in hot oven (450 degrees) until brown. This
recipe will make two loaves.

Early Christians brought their bread to the altar at the
offertory procession. Some of it was used for the Sacrifice; the
rest received a special blessing after the consecration, but was
not changed into the Body of Christ. It was taken home as Blessed
Bread. Whenever we attend the Byzantine Liturgy at Fordham's
Russian Center, we take part in a similar custom.

The mother of the family may use her powers as a member of "the
royal priesthood" to which St. Peter refers in his First Epistle.
She may sprinkle holy water over the newly-made bread, and pray
Holy Mother Church's official blessing:

Mother: Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, Thou the bread of angels,
Thou the living bread of eternal life, graciously deign to bless
this bread as Thou didst bless the five loaves in the desert that
all who partake of it may have health of body and soul. Who
livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

Eating blessed bread makes such an impression upon children that
no scrap of it is ever wasted "because it is God's special food."

Christstollen needs plenty of room so that the shape of the Child
in swaddling clothes will be surely seen in the folds of dough.

1 cake yeast 1 cup shortening
1 tblsp. sugar 1-1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water 2 eggs
6 cups flour 1 cup raisins
1 tsp. salt 1 cup currants
1/2 tsp. nutmeg 1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 cups scalded milk 1/2 cup chopped citron
1-1/2 tsp. lemon extract

Dissolve yeast and tblsp. of sugar in warm water. Cover and allow
to rise. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and scalded milk
cooled to lukewarm. Alternate with flour sifted with salt and
nutmeg. Add yeast mixture. Knead until smooth. Add fruits and
flavoring. Cover and let dough rise to double its bulk. Knead
dough again. Shape dough into ropes about one and one half inches
in diameter. For each large stollen make one rope three feet long
and two that are two and a half feet long. Braid the dough. Bring
the braid to a point at either end. Place the braid on a greased
cookie sheet. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 25 minutes or
until brown. This recipe will make two large Stollen.

After we have received the Eucharistic Bread at Christmas Mass,
we like a favorite sweet bread or spice cake which Mrs. Berger
calls "Melachrino." In Greece it is customary to hide a silver
coin deep in its crust; we bake a tiny figure of the Holy Infant
in the dough.

3/4 cup butter 1/4 tsp. mace
1-2/3 cups sugar 1-1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup milk 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-3/4 cups flour 1/3 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tblsp. lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs. Add milk alternately with
sifted dry ingredients. Stir in lemon juice. Pour batter into a
greased 9x14 loaf pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for
45 minutes. While the cake is still hot, ice with:

2 cups confectioner's sugar
5 or 6 tblsp. water
1/2 tblsp. lemon juice

From the Italians comes a quick dessert for that busiest of days,
"Vigilia di Natale," the Vigil of Christmas. It is a "Cassata" or
Cream Tart which may be made with store sponge cake to save time.

10 inch sponge cake 1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups cottage cheese 2 tsp. almond extract
2 chopped squares of bitter

Cut cake into three layers. Beat cottage cheese, sugar, almond
extract and chocolate together. Spread this filling between
layers. Chill cake in refrigerator. When cake is set, ice with

1 egg white 1 tsp. almond extract
1-1/2 cups confectioner's 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
sugar Candied fruits

We go to great lengths in Christmas cooking, but there are two
shortcuts which we take. One is the use of store cake in the
Cassata above and the other the use of prepared mincemeat, and,
on occasion, prepared pie crust.

Mincemeat pie at Christmas was originally made in an oblong
baking pan to remind us of Christ's birth in a manger, while the
richness of its ingredients and the spices remind us of the gifts
of the Magi. We use a standard prepared mincemeat and a standard
pastry recipe for a two crust pie. A 7x11 cake pan utilizes the
dough and leaves enough scraps after the pie is trimmed for a
pastry Infant Jesus. This is cut from a Nativity cookie cutter,
baked separately and placed on the manger-pie. The gingerbread
boy had Baby Jesus for his original model.

As Christmas approaches, the house smells of baking; presents are
wrapped; and the wreaths are hung. The children unveil the
Christ-Candle and set up their cribs. It is then that their Daddy
covers the fireplace mantle with evergreens--Oregon holly when we
can afford it--and centers a Madonna and Child with many vigil
lights as the focus of the room. A spray of evergreen is placed
across the top of every picture in the room; and a piece is wound
around a huge white candle placed on the dinner table to
symbolize the Light of the world for whom we have made these
elaborate preparations. As is the Irish custom, the candle is
lighted by the man of the house after the Angelus on Christmas

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Lucia's Day Cinnamon Buns

This is a Cook's Illustrated recipe Rachel tracked down. We liked it because it was quick to prepare in the morning, having mixed up all the dry ingredients the night before. We didn't have any buttermilk, so she used John's Kefir instead.

Makes 8 buns. Published May 1, 2002.

Melted butter is used in both the filling and the dough and to grease the pan; it’s easiest to melt the total amount (8 tablespoons) at once and measure it out as you need it. The finished buns are best eaten warm, but they hold reasonably well for up to 2 hours.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter , melted, for pan Cinnamon-Sugar Filling
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed, 5 1/4 ounces)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter , melted Biscuit Dough
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus additional flour for work surface
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted

2 tablespoons cream cheese , softened
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup confectioners' sugar (4 ounces)


1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Pour 1 tablespoon melted butter in 9-inch nonstick cake pan; brush to coat pan. Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. To make cinnamon-sugar filling: Combine sugars, spices, and salt in small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon melted butter and stir with fork or fingers until mixture resembles wet sand; set filling mixture aside.

3. To make biscuit dough: Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Whisk buttermilk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in measuring cup or small bowl. Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until liquid is absorbed (dough will look very shaggy), about 30 seconds. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead until just smooth and no longer shaggy.

4. Pat dough with hands into 12 by 9-inch rectangle. Following illustrations below, fill, roll, cut, and arrange buns in buttered cake pan. Brush with 2 tablespoons remaining melted butter. Bake until edges are golden brown, 23 to 25 minutes. Use offset metal spatula to loosen buns from pan; without separating, slide buns out of pan onto greased cooling rack. Cool about 5 minutes before icing.

5. To make icing and finish buns: While buns are cooling, line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy cleanup); set rack with buns over baking sheet. Whisk cream cheese and buttermilk in large nonreactive bowl until thick and smooth (mixture will look like cottage cheese at first). Sift confectioners’ sugar over; whisk until smooth glaze forms, about 30 seconds. Spoon glaze evenly over buns; serve immediately.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

St. Nicholas Speculatius and Spiced Wine



by Helen McLoughlin

THE LITURGICAL PRESS St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota


St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6, is one of the highlights of
the Advent season. It is on this eve that our children hang their
stockings. From babyhood they learn to love the kind bishop with
his mitre, staff and bag of gifts--whose name has become parodied
as "Santa Claus" and whose memory is tarnished by commercialism.
In addition to the toys received on this feast, the Christ-Child
and His angels bring other gifts on Christmas Eve; and the Magi a
few more on Epiphany.

Placing less exclusive emphasis on December 25 as the day of
presents and also curtailing its gifts somewhat makes it easier
to place more emphasis on the religious aspects of that great
holy day. Do other children think ours are queer? Not at all. If
anything, they are a bit envious of children who receive Yule
gifts so early and who enjoy such a happy feast as our
traditional St. Nicholas Day party. Having an early gift day also
makes it possible for the children to give some of these gifts as
Christmas presents to other less fortunate children.

Treats of the St. Nicholas party are the exchange of gifts,
genuine Dutch cookies and Bishopwyn (bishop's wine). For children
the wine is grape juice. But the grownups who face the high
December winds along the Hudson River to pick up their children
at our house always welcome the mulled Bishopwyn. Its recipe is
from our favorite cook book, "Cooking for Christ" by Florence

1 bottle of Claret 6 cloves 4 inches stick cinnamon

Break cinnamon into small pieces. Simmer wine and spices for
about five minutes. Strain wine. Serve hot.

The Speculatius, a spice cookie from the Netherlands, like all of
Mrs. Berger's recipes, is foolproof.

1 cup butter 4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup lard 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups brown sugar 1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 cup sour cream 4-1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. soda 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Cream the butter, lard and sugar. Add sour cream alternately with
sifted dry ingredients. Stir in the nuts. Knead the dough into
rolls. Wrap the rolls in wax paper and chill them in the
refrigerator overnight. Roll the dough very thin and cut into
shapes. Bake in moderate oven (375 degrees) for 10 to 15

The dough may be cut into St. Nicholas shapes, or into the shape
of birds, fish or animals. We also like to cut out stocking
shapes and ice them in honor of St. Nicholas, patron of school

During the party we light the Advent wreath candle, and the
children sing Advent hymns. All classes at Corpus Christi School
have wreaths, but some of the children do not have them at home.
We have found that parents, enjoying their Bishopwyn, have become
interested in the wreath and have integrated the Advent program
of school and home as a result of the St. Nicholas Day party.