Monday, January 2, 2012

Bloggers' Bites: Holiday Traditions

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appetit's blog staff. This Winter Break, we celebrate both holiday traditions and glorious time off from school.

The question: What food tradition are you most excited for this holiday season and why?

Nicole Woon: I can't remember a time when I didn't go to my aunt's house on Christmas Eve to prepare the classic Mexican Christmas fare: tamales. We'd wake up early in the morning and head to my aunt's house, ready to become part of the tamale-making crew. As soon as we stepped in the door, we were met with a blast of warm air and a kitchen table overflowing with corn husks and gigantic bowls of masa, a sauce-based beef/pork/chili mixture, and olives. The process is simple: select a large husk, spread masa on the surface, add a generous dollop of meat, accent with an olive for flair (and flavor), and fold it up! Tamale-making requires manpower, so family members of all ages would crowd around the table and share stories and laughter while we mass-produced. Tamales would be done by the afternoon, where we'd munch on them with Spanish rice, tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole, and a plethora of multicultural desserts. This year went off without a hitch, and I'm already looking forward to the pockets of deliciousness the next holiday season.

Abigail Koffler: Every holiday season, I look forward to the mail. While I anticipate gifts and holiday cards featuring adorable children, I wait for one particular tin. This wonderful tin, an annual arrival from our family friend, features a tempting collection of holiday sweets. Opening the festive tin yields layers of lace cookies, gingerbread, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, and chocolate buttercreams, my personal favorite. Her candies are perfectly textured, coated in not too sweet chocolate. We are in awe of her skill and the time she commits to these treat boxes. While it would be easy to devour these sweets in one sitting, my family opts to savor them, using a ration system of one treat per day. The box usually expires around new years, leaving us plenty of time to anticipate next year's package.

Elliott Brooks: The smell of quaresimali baking is one of the most comforting reminders of being home during the holidays. Every December, my mom makes batches upon batches of these Italian biscotti loaded with almonds and cinnamon. And each year, despite my self-assurances that I don't really like quaresimali, I find myself sneaking one cookie... then another, and another. Despite the fact that they are crumbly and dry (two traits that I avoid in most cookies), quaresimali taste like Christmas. Furthermore, they are downright delicious when dunked in coffee, hot chocolate or wine (I discovered the latter at a young age, much to my parent's chagrin).

Laura Sluyter: Every Christmas since I can remember, my family has turned up the Christmas music, tied on our aprons, and gathered around the kitchen counter to decorate gingerbread cookies. With pastry bags of red, green, yellow, and white frosting, we make Christmas trees and Santas, Rudolphs and bells, my brother's meticulously symmetric stars and my gingerbread girls with fancy dresses. When we were younger, we always set aside our most prized designs for Santa Claus but even as that mission has faded, our love for decorating gingerbread cookies has not. This was the first year that my brother was working and living in another state, but we still made time for decorating gingerbread cookies - my favorite of all traditions.

Alex Marcus: My family and I started a new Hanukkah tradition this year, based on a typical food eaten on the holiday. At my sister's prodding, we made our own jelly doughnuts, which are traditionally eaten to signify... I don't know, a sweet year or something. The food's the important part, and we executed it well. It started with a basic recipe for doughnuts, found online, with plenty of yeast to ensure an airy, doughy final product and not a dense, cakey one. We threw some vegetable oil in a pot on the stove, fried em til golden brown (though we found that taking them out more golden and less brown resulted in a better tasting product). Once the doughnuts were out of the pot, we dredged them in cinnamon sugar (who needs the messy powdered stuff?), and took some kind of mini-turkey baster-like thing to stuff raspberry jelly into their still-steamy centers. We even made doughnut holes that were better than the commercial variety, and boasted a higher jelly-to-dough ratio. Hanukkah or not, any tradition that tastes this good is sure to remain in my family's stable.

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