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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Traditions

This holiday season, I saw it all. I enjoyed a beautiful Hanukkah celebration with my  fathers side, a traditional Christmas meal in Fergus Falls Minnesota with my husbands family and a second Christmas dinner with my mother's side of the family. It dawned on me while feasting on all of these treats

that people rarely stop to ask themselves why we eat certain foods on certain days of the year. I am always curious about food traditions in various cultures, so I decided to dig a little deeper. Let's start with the traditional Scandinavian Christmas. I had the pleasure of eating ham at both Christmas dinners. Every year for me anyway, it's always been ham! But WHY HAM?... it began way back when the Germanic people wanted to pay tribute to their Pagan god, Freyr. Freyr was associated with boars and in order for the people to receive blessings for the New Year, they needed to sacrifice a boar to please Freyr. As Catholicism began to rise, people began increasingly cooking ham for Christmas as a statement of polarity and hostility toward the Jewish people who traditionally do not eat pork. Lefse on the other hand has not always been a Christmas tradition. Lefse has been a traditional Norwegian dish for centuries. Lefse has gained a place at the Christmas table from the large Norwegian population throughout Minnesota and the midwest. Lefse is a flatbread cooked on a griddle made of potatoes, cream and flour or lard. Lefse can be served with butter, sugar, cinnamon or even savory foods. Other Christmas classics in my family have always been some sort of potatoes gratin, candies carrots, rolls and maybe even a salad :).

Now moving on to the Hanukkah dinner table. As always, latkes are a staple of any Hanukkah table. Latkes are a variation on the potato pancake, eaten all over Europe. Latkes in the Hanukkah tradition are used to remind us of the oil which lit the ancient temple in Israel for eight days and is believed to be the Hanukkah miracle. Latkes are usually made of shredded potatoes, egg, seasoning and a bit of flour for binding. Latkes are usually eaten with sour cream and apple sauce. This year we combined sweet potatoes, Idaho potatoes and zucchini for our latkes. As taboo as it may seem, I am in love with ketchup, so I made up a BBQ ketchup for my latkes along with a cilantro, lime and chipotle sour cream which was a hit! My dad, as shown in the photo, is and has been the fryer guy ;). 
At our table we also had a lovely green salad, dill roasted salmon and my mom's delicious spinach and cheese soufflĂ©. For dessert, I made some fabulous maple pecan bars as shown below. I will share with you my top secret recipe, so consider yourself lucky!! 

Rachael's Famous Maple-Nut Chocolate Bars
(makes about 20 2inch bars)

3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar 
1 cup brown sugar 
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp maple flavoring
2 large eggs, 1 egg yolk
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cups diced chocolate bits, 1/2 cup for melting on-top
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, cinnamon and stir with a whisk to combine. Place sugars and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer until well combined. Add maple flavoring and eggs; beat until combined. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined. Stir in pecans, coconut and chocolate. Spread mixture evenly into 3/4 of a cookie sheet, so that the dough rises about 3/4 inch in the pan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack. When bars have cooled, melt remaining chocolate and drizzle on top. When chocolate has hardened, cut into bars and store in airtight containers at room temperature. Enjoy!!

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