here and there

Friday, January 16, 2015

Christmas Eve Dinner emails

One of cousin uses her mom's letters as the bases for some of her blogs, as I was writing one of my cousin I realized that although I miss the handwritten letters, email correspondences are wonderful too.  It was fun to correspond with my Dad's side of the family and find out what they had prepared for their Christmas Eve Dinner and discuss recipes.  The emails are below:

So how did your Ukrainian Christmas Eve go?  What dishes did you have? 

I had pisney borscht for the first time with the dumplings, my baba used to make this soup but not my Mom. I have fond memories of this soup mainly because of the little dumplings. I do think she served plain beet broth with these dumplings. 

I find that I am not happy with any of the fish I get here!  Never as fresh as it could be.  I remember Mom buying frozen white fish from the back of a white truck that came from Winnipegosis the week before Christmas.  She would make Fish Aspic, I loved it but none of my family likes it.  In looking at Ukrainian Christmas Eve videos for this year across Canada, baking fish that has been breaded seems to be the way to go for a large number of people.  Not sure how this would work as it would take up your oven space and also not sure how long it would take to bake a large amount!  What do you have for fish?   My Aunt fries her fish in "copious" amount of butter.  Her grandson does find pickerel so it is wonderful.  I made fish ball this year, which I use to make for the kids that were also fried in butter, but this year decide to bake them and will bake them again as less mess and faster!  

Sergi my cousin from Ukraine does a dish called oseledets' ped koshooh or Herring under fur coat. 

It is very nice as adds some freshness to this very heavy meal.   The first time I saw it, I thought it was a dessert as it was made in a pie plate and looked like  whipped cream topping.    Yes, the presentation deceived me!  Although this Herring under Fur Coat recipe calls for herring, my cousin did it with mushrooms instead.

HI, good to hear from you. Christmas Eve was great except for the fact that it was cold (typical) and most had to leave early because of school next day. My sister and her family got in and for a change we did the"Yardunn". The crosses get onto the windows and doors. First course is Kutia,  then borstch, and then the rest, ...cabbage rolls, pyrohy, pedpenky in gravy, fried pickerel, herring, smoked salmon, oysters , mussels in sauce,etc.  We don't use any milk products or,meat products. I didn't do the sauerkraut and peas this year. Instead I sauted up some store mushrooms with lots of garlic. Of course there is also the very garlicy "mashed" beans, and vegetables and pickles.  That dish your cousin makes, what is it? Tomorrow is our Church Christmas dinner. Oh goody, more turkey. 

Thanks for sharing your menu.  I remember the Ukrainian Christmas Eve that we spent at your Grandmother's place.  There was tons of food and carolling. There were carollers that came by a horse drawn sledge.  For some reason, I remember the  Mandarin orange that were huge and tasted liked like oranges.  I bought some this year and they were dried out and tasteless.    For me it is a great memory to have been part of this.  Mom never did beans or sauerkraut for Christmas Eve that I can remember.  We are off to church, still dark, but should be warm again today.  Enjoy the turkey dinner.

We do the carolling after the meal, everyone has a copy of the song book and each in turn picks a carol to sing. Once the caroling is done the young children recall what the hay under the table is representing and them they dip in to find the "gifts" usually candy and money.  Did your Mom cook the compote?

No my mom didn't do the compote, but my Baba did.  I really liked it as a kid, I don't know why I don't do it!  Maybe next yearJust finished reading Festive Ukrainian Cooking by Marta Pisetska Farley and I wasn't impressed.  It is suppose to be scholarly yet her authentic recipes are not so authentic.. The Recipes for Christmas Eve meal are not dairy less at all as they initially were and the recipes use ingredients that were not around, ie cream cheese, tomato paste.   Her Compote recipe uses apple cider.  I remember my baba making it  with just spices and water.  Do you make it? Also difficult to visual some of the stuff in her book without pictures.  It was written in 1990 so pictures were costly in print. She talks about a Poppyseed Torte which sound great but would be nice to see a picture of it.  I remember poppyseed cake at your Mom's funeral! 

Yes I make compote but my husband and I are the only ones who eat it. We like it so more for us. I use the mixed dry fruit...apples pears, peach,apricots. If I can find prunes with the pits in, I add those, if pitted I cook them separately other wise they get mushy. I also throw in a handful of raisens. I use water only, no sugar and I don't like any spices.I don't know how long compote lasts in the fridge, maybe a week and then it would change to wine...yum. It doesn't stay long here. For the sauerkraut and peas I would also add sautéed button mushrooms. The peas I would add at the last minute ...just the regular peas.

Good Morning, thank you for this..
When I look at these recipes of preparing for this feast, it sure makes me wonder where my baba stored all this food before all her family showed up on Christmas Eve.  She had no electricity or refrigeration (or bathrooms) in that house in GP.

I read a blog where the writer of Mary's Country Kitchen said they would just cover the leftovers on the table with a tablecloth for the next day.. Adding no one got sick!! LOl

I came across this blog for Compote where she adds Jello to her Strawberry and Rhubarb compote for the kids, I think it would be way too sweet for me.  But I do like the looks of it. 

Have a good day!

I don't know how long compote lasts in the fridge, maybe a week and then it would change to wine...yum. It doesn't stay long here. For the sauerkraut and peas I would also add sautéed button mushrooms. The peas I would add at the last minute ...just the regular peas.

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 Ukrainian Christmas Eve wrap up across Canada

As the winds howl and the temperature drops, Jan 6th is looked forward by many as a special day wrapped in tradition, family gatherings, spiritual and religious beliefs.

Traditions and spirituality are at the heart of Ukrainian Christmas and there is less of an emphasis on gift-giving than in a traditional North American Christmas celebration.

Preparation begins early for this feast, my Mom started this preparation a week before, where as I usually start much earlier by making and freezing Pyrohy and Holopchi's

For the last four years, we have been spending this time in Northern Manitoba and celebrate with my 92 year old aunt and her family.  The 12  traditional dishes were prepared for around twenty people by my aunt with the help of her sister and daughter in law for a couple of weeks before the celebration.

This year, with the holiday being in the middle of the week, we spent Ukrainian Christmas at home

My Brother who normally also attends the celebration at our Aunt's spent Ukrainian Christmas in Winnipeg at friends.



A small bale of hay was placed under the table to symbolize the manger.

Looking across Canada, here are some of the links I found about this celebration in other provinces

From Edmonton, 
Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, with the help of her sister-in-law Irene Miskiw, Luciw-Andryjowycz spent most of Tuesday preparing an elaborate vegetarian feast for Christmas Eve featuring kutya — cooked wheat with honey and poppy seeds — sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, pickled herring and other traditional dishes, brought out one by one. 

 Thirty two family members were welcomed into her home in North Edmonton, the smells of simmering red borscht and sounds of Ukrainian Christmas carols filled the room. 

Only when the first star was spotted in the sky did the family sit down and eat.

Two tables adorned with embroidered tablecloths, and garlic at each corner to ward off evil, were set side by side in the home to accommodate the large crowd and 12 traditional foods. 

Nearby the family is a sheaf of wheat, a reminder of the farmlands where the Ukrainian family came from.
Luciw-Andryjowycz’s parents were just one of the many families that move to Alberta from Ukraine in the late 1940s and 1950s. 

When the first star appears and the family sits down to eat, they share blessed leavened bread, wishing each other good health, prosperity and happiness. But for most, the turmoil in their homeland isn’t far from their minds. “We will say quite a few prayers for Ukraine this year,” Luciw-Andryjowycz said.

In Saskatoon, – A celebration rich with tradition is underway in homes throughout Saskatchewan.  Families gathered  to celebrate Ukranian Christmas Eve, according to the Julian calendar.
Pat Hawryliw’s grandparents moved from Ukraine to Saskatchewan 115 years ago.  Three generations later, the traditions of their homeland remain deeply rooted.  “It’s just a thing, engrained in you that you feel that you have to do,” said Hawryliw, seated at the kitchen table where a candle burns at the center of three loaves of bread, representing the Holy Trinity.
Christmas Eve afternoon, the head of the family will place a sheaf of wheat in a corner of the residence.  Traditionally it is placed under the table to symbolize the manger.  When the first star is spotted, a feast begins with a wheat grain pudding.
“That dish is called kutia and every meal starts with it and it is a symbol of Jesus and the last supper.”
Hawryliw has spent three days preparing food for Christmas Eve.  In total, 12 meatless dishes will be served signifying the end of fasting during 40 days of advent.  Borsht, cabbage rolls (holubtsi) and perogies (varenyky) are part of the meal along with several other dishes made from harvest grains, garden vegetables, and orchard fruits.
Focus on family and religion keeps the traditions strong, “We don’t have the commercialism involved in it as much.  It’s more of a spiritual thing. Gifts are not given out,” Hawryliw said.
In Regina
For Barb Dedi, the days of work that goes into preparing 30 dishes for a Ukrainian Christmas Eve feast is all worthwhile when she can share those traditions with people from around the world.

“We started back in the 70s first just with the family, but then about 20 years ago we started to open up our home to invite many different cultures including Chinese, Mexican, Sudanese, Caribbean, First Nations, Metis, Polish, German and Turkish, so they can experience Ukrainian Christmas,” she said.

Dedi prepares a total of 30 meatless dishes including 12 traditional dishes starting with kutia made of wheat and honey, plus borscht, nachinka (corn meal), stewed fruit, multiple kinds of cabbage rolls, garlic beans, sauerkraut, fish and pickled fish to name just a few.

Although Dedi didn’t grow up with traditional Ukrainian food as "My dad and his ancestors when they first came to Canada didn’t like being Ukrainian because there was a lot of discrimination against Ukrainian people.” 

 She was determined to learn all she could about the Ukrainian culture and other cultures from around the world. Her kids grew up immersed in Ukrainian cultural traditions including dance and language classes.

This year, Dedi’s daughter is also sharing with different cultures by making Ukrainian Christmas feast in Guatemala, just like she did when she spent four years in Kuwait.

This Christmas will be particularly significant for their family as they mark the passing of her ex-husband with a small table set in his honor as part of the tradition to set an extra place for those who have passed on. 

“The hay by the window is for good luck and it’s also to represent the animals – the animals on the farm would always get part of the meal,” she explained.  “Also we put a candle in the window to welcome the homeless.  At the front door when you come in there is salt to keep illnesses away and also garlic.”

Traditional bread called kolach sits on every table, but it cannot be eaten on Christmas Eve because it a symbol of Christ.

Some of the other traditions like throwing the wheat mixture on the ceiling and leaving all the leftovers out all night have lapsed a bit because they aren’t very practical, but Dedi does leave some dishes out all night.  But they do maintain the tradition of making sure every guest tastes every single dish – even those that aren’t too popular.
Ukrainian Christmas Eve. 
At 81 years old, Jenny Mysak still host the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for her family every year.
"I think it's a very nice tradition. My mother brought me up, and I try to maintain it for my daughters and my granddaughters and the family. It's a lot of work, but it's a beautiful tradition."
It takes Mysak two weeks to prepare enough pierogis and cabbage rolls, which are big favourites.
She gets help from her son-in-law, Greg Bedik, to handle the fish, as meat is not allowed at a nativity supper.
He prepares it by breading the fish in an egg yolk and milk batter, but "I don't fry it, we just bake it and it's one of the 12 traditional dishes that we make for the evening."

Mysak's family begins their meal with a prayer and then an entree of borscht soup.

Her granddaughter, Natalia Bedik, says she loves spending time with her family and finds
"Ukrainian Christmas is all about the traditions"

The most heartwarming story for me was from Vancouver Chinese seniors usually don’t eat a lot of perogies. But they got their chance on Tuesday at the Vancouver Second Mile Society, which served up a special Ukrainian Christmas lunch. “(The) food is good,” said Harry Lee, 78.
“I like this (cabbage roll), and this (kielbasa). Excellent. Thank very much whoever thought of this, thank them very much. Okay?”
The lunch was conceived by volunteer coordinator Judy Chartrand, who was looking to do something different at the Downtown Eastside seniors centre.

There are several turkey dinners in Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood at Christmas. But Ukrainian Christmas is celebrated according to the old Julian calendar, which means Christmas Day is Jan. 7, not Dec. 25.
So she decided to throw this year’s Christmas dinner a couple of weeks later, when people might really need it. And to serve Ukrainian food, not turkey.
“Everybody’s kind of turkeyed out,” she reasons.
“So (serving) all the Ukrainian foods — the cabbage rolls, perogies, sausages and stuff — we thought would be a good thing.”
Ukrainians traditionally have a big meal on Christmas Eve, so at about 11:30 a.m. Chartrand and several volunteers started serving approximately 100 seniors. 

The food went down well with a table full of elderly Chinese ladies, who quickly devoured the meals served in Styrofoam containers.  But trying to interview them proved fruitless — they spoke little to no English.

James Pau explained there are typical of many Chinese seniors in Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside.
“Some think (all) Chinese people are rich,” said Pau, a volunteer for  four decades.
“Actually no, many are poor. Especially this group — they have very little or no education at all. They’re from Mainland China mostly, from the southern part.
“Now the Chinese (immigrants) come from the north, where they speak Mandarin, but this group is mainly from the south, where they speak Cantonese.”

In any event, Pau said it was easy to see why the ladies enjoyed the Ukrainian food.
“It’s similar to Chinese cooking,” he said. “Perogies are similar to Chinese dumplings.”

The Ukrainian Christmas festivities will wrap on Jan. 19, with the Feast of the Epiphany.

Borscht for Christmas Eve (pisnyy borscht) with dumplings (Vuška), take two

This is the simplest recipe going without any fancy ingredients but look at the beauty of this vibrant soup with the little white dumplings floating in the broth.

Fill a stock pot with water and start chopping! 

Julienned Carrots

Sautéed onions in Olive oil

Soften dried wild mushroom in warm water

Simmer Vegetables until cooked

Check out recipe for Borscht for Christmas Eve (pisnyy borscht) with dumplings (Vuška) that I made on the 24th.

Yes, in this case the dumplings were boiled in water first and added to the cooked soup before serving.  Therefore they did not take on the dye of the beets if cooked in the borscht! 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Raclette for New Year's Eve

Platters of food for Raclette 

 Raclette is a perfect way to welcome in the New Year sitting around an electric raclette with sizzling food on the grill and sipping on Prosecco, a sparkling white wine from Italy. The dogs at one's feet, adding to the intimate feeling!

Looking for Crumbs 

The best part is you can set up your food platter with an assortment of sliced vegetables such as mushroom,  zucchini, peppers, mini bok choi, onions, fresh pineapple slices, etc.  This year, I added Romaine lettuce hearts which were delicious. The choses are endless and fun to try out.

The meal began with Shrimp and large Atlantic Scallops, followed by grilling Beef  Tenderloin.   

An assortment of pickled vegetable, olives and pickled mushrooms were used to cut the richness of this meal.

Small baby potatoes were parboiled 

Cheese was sliced for the Raclette for melting under the grill and dropping this sizzling hot melted cheese on potatoes, vegetable or meat. 


Our neighbor at the end of the block set off fireworks to welcome in the New Year.

White Fruitcake and Port

Fruitcake and a Christmas gift of port ended the meal.  A perfect combination!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cooking Soup!

Yes, it is January and it makes me think of Carole King's song Chicken Soup with Rice

In January it's so nice
While slipping on the sliding ice
To sip hot chicken soup with rice
Sipping once, sipping twice
Sipping chicken soup with rice

Rarely does an article one reads resonate so loudly as did the article about common mistakes one makes in cooking soup in Good Housekeeping.   I have included the tips from the article in blue.  My Mom loved making daily soups and one of my sons has fond memories of her soups.  Many of the points discussed by the article, I have discovered over the years and continue to learn.  Most recently was making Borscht for Christmas Eve. 

This year, I had decided to make my grandmother beet soup for Christmas Eve dinner, which was meatless and dairy less. I remember loving the looks of this soup as a kid as I liked the tiny dumplings called little ears floating on the broth.  

I picked a recipe that I felt was most authentic that she may have made for Christmas Eve.  I often wonder where her food was stored during this mammoth preparation of this meal as this was before electricity in her village, although she did have a root cellar and it was winter. 

The recipe used water, no measure just fill the pot and add the vegetables to the water.
Yes, I was skeptical as although I rarely if ever use a prepared broth, I do start my soup with simmering meat, pork, beef or chicken in water with aromatics.  I totally agree with the article that using broth may not give you the flavour you may want.  I often wonder what was used in making the particular broth and when did recipes start using prepared broths in them. My Mom never ever used prepared broths! 

However in preparing this beet soup, I was not sure how much flavour a few vegetables would give the broth, so I did caramelize the onions and added dried wild mushrooms that had been soften in warm water.  The recipe did not require this step.  I did keep tasting the broth and to my amazement, the flavour developed beautifully! 

 Ignoring water 
Think you can’t make a delicious soup because you don’t have broth? Just use water instead. Trust me on this one. In fact, you’re better off using water than an inferior broth. Before you dump in a can or container of broth, taste it. If you wouldn’t eat it as is, why would you want to add it your soup? You may even find you prefer soups made with water, which really let the ingredients shine. Just be aware that when you use water, it’s particularly important to add the right amount of salt. One of my personal tricks is to throw in a rind of Parmesan cheese to help flavor the soup as it simmers.

What is that expression "a watched kettle never boils"?  In this case, with my focusing on the flavour of this broth, I did add too much salt as the broth was a bit to salty as it cooked down, I should have added more water at the end.  Generally I do have to remember to add salt as I lived with a grandmother who was on a low salt diet, I still prefer food unsalted.  I like to use fresh herbs and seasoning instead. 

Not using enough salt 
Nothing is as crucial as seasoning correctly. Taste as you go. While you can use a recipe as a guideline, learn to trust your own tastebuds.

In making the Borscht, I did boil the water first and add the vegetables to this, but decreased the temperature immediately to simmer the vegetables.  The vegetables in broth were cooked until still firm but tender.  

Boiling instead of simmering
You want a small bubble or two to rise to the surface of the liquid every few seconds. More than that and your meat and vegetables will come out dry and overcooked.
As mentioned above, vegetables will dry out and overcook if boiled.  When I assemble, my Asian influenced chicken noodle soup, I usually cook the root vegetables in the broth, but add the leaf green parts of Baby Bok Choi, Shanghai Bok Choi or Spinach to the bowl chopped without cooking. The hot broth will cook the greens.

Overcooking the vegetables 
Let’s say you’re making white bean soup. Start by sautéing onions, garlic, maybe celery, then adding the water and beans, and simmering. Add the carrots in the last half hour or so or when the beans are close to tender. That way the carrots will come out cooked but not mushy. Ditto, for other veggies…add them according to how much time they need to cook.
Although, I did not add tomatoes to the recipe, Tomatoes also do turn acidic if cooked for a long time.  This is something you may find happens when making tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes, just add a bit of sugar. 

Adding tomatoes at the beginning 
The acid in tomatoes can keep beans and vegetables crunchy. Don’t add the tomatoes until the final 20 minutes when all of the other ingredients are close to tender.
In assembling Asian influenced chicken noodle soup; Fish sauce, Hoisin sauce, soya sauce chili garlic sauce and hot sauce are left for individuals to garnish their own soup! 

 Neglecting to garnish 
A handful of fresh herbs, freshly-ground pepper, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and crunchy croutons add the finishing touches in terms of both flavor and texture. When I make lentil or split pea soup, I like to add a splash of balsamic vinegar or squirt of fresh lemon juice to each bowl to brighten the flavor. Other good last minute add-ins: a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, or a spoonful of pesto.
I have never used a pressure cooker, although my Mother in law did.  These pressure cookers terrify me.   I also can have a soup ready in an hour.   Filling a pot up with water, add aromatics such as herbs, chopped onions and chicken pieces, bring to boil, skim off the impurities that rise to the top and reduce the heat, let simmer until the chicken is cooked.  Add chopped vegetables and serve with noodles. 

Not trying a pressure cooker
If you’re afraid of using a pressure cooker, it’s time to get over it. With multiple safety features, today’s models are fail-proof. Why use one, you ask? When your hubby calls to tell you he’s coming down with a cold, if you pick up a chicken, you can have homemade soup on the table in under an hour.
There are two things that were not mentioned in this article in making soup. My Mom was very particular with the clarity of her broths.  I find that I still have difficulty eating a muddy looking soup. I do remember her straining the broth through cheese cloth to improve the clarity.

The other point that I have found is that Pasta added to the broth does cloud the broth or leftover noodles in the soup will absorb all the broth.   I usually add the cooked pasta to the bowl when assembling the soup.  For Hot Pots, I added a bowl of cooked noodles to the side for people to add to their broth. The leftover cooked noodle is stored separately from the broth. 

The article did not mention that a delicious soup can still be made using Vegetables in your crisper that look a little sad!