Monday, December 29, 2014

Grandma's Cheese Ball with Julie

Watch out Julie, there are some very hungry humans who want a shot at that cheese ball!

And wrapping up this year's holiday features is a family favorite recipe that I, personally, have never really been into, but has been a staple of our Christmas and end of year holiday traditions for at least fifty years. The cheese ball is an appetizer that has almost taken on a ritualistic importance to us, something that's hoarded from outsiders and devoured almost as soon as it's put on the table. We're like vultures, circling the coffee table and diving in as soon as this gooey wonder is put on the table. It can be spread on pretty much any kind of cracker or bread, and I know some people who would argue it tastes just fine even if you just want to take a spoonful of it and go to town. This is the one thing everyone agrees needs to be on the menu at Christmas, and there might be riots if it wasn't served at some point.

According to everyone else, anyway. Again, I'm the outlier in my family, because this particular treat doesn't do too much for me.

But that doesn't change that it's an important part of our holiday traditions and has been for way longer than I've been alive, so when I was thinking of what else I wanted to do this holiday season on the blog, I knew this had to be one of the features. It was fun to go back and discover the origins of such a popular family treat and learn how to make it myself, just in case it's a tradition I want to continue years down the line. And who knows? Tastes change. Maybe I'll become a cheese ball convert after all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Josefina's Bizcochitos

A New Mexican favorite that's perfect for the holidays!

While this isn't anything close to the Christmas cookies we usually have in our house at this time of year, I've been curious about what a bizcochito actually is and what it tastes like pretty much since Josefina came out over ten years ago. While I've got access to a diverse range of food and goodies in my neck of the woods, I'd never seen or heard of one except in the context of her books, and already, I've found out some neat trivia. Did you know there's such thing as a state cookie? I didn't before doing research for this post! I also discovered that most people I've seen since making these cookies had never heard of them before.

Fair enough, really, because even if they are the state cookie of New Mexico, they really only seem to have huge ties to that specific part of the world, and other places are a little less familiar with them. When I tried to explain that they were basically a sugar cookie with anise seeds and cinnamon sugar on top, my taste testers were convinced to give them a chance, and were surprised to discover they tasted like old fashioned Italian cookies they'd tried before! Who would have thought.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Felicity's Trip to Colonial Williamsburg!

A Peek into the Pantry went on a field trip!

I first went to Colonial Williamsburg when I was nine years old, and it's all American Girl's fault. Or, well, more accurately, I probably would have found my way down there eventually, because my mom and her family made it a quasi frequent stop on a number of summer roadtrips during her childhood, and she's always had a soft spot for the place. I've been a couple times, but we've never gone during the one time of year everyone says is really special to visit: Christmas! So this year, we decided to change that and go see what all the fuss is about.

This isn't going to be a traditional blog post from me because I didn't actually cook anything, but since we were visiting such a great historic site that's well known for its food - I've used recipes from their official food blog History is Served several times in the history of A Peek into the Pantry - I figured it might be fun to do a spotlight on what we ate while we were in town!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rebecca's Mandelbrodt

A twice baked cookie that's perfect for dunking!

I faced a major problem in figuring out what to do for Hanukkah this year. While last year's latkes and applesauce turned out pretty darn tasty, the mess they caused in our kitchen (the day before Thanksgiving...) made my mom put her foot down pretty quickly about any Hanukkah adventures we did this year: no frying anything in oil.

Unfortunately, that's a pretty big part of the Hanukkah story. Like, the part, so a lot of Hanukkah recipes involve things being fried in oil, whether they be doughnuts or potato pancakes. I was pretty stumped on what to do, and was resigned to spending a lot of time ferreting around on the internet trying to find something that was both period accurate and didn't involve frying anything.

But then Food Network saved me during the first episode of their Holiday Baking Championship, where one of the bakers made a Jewish cookie called mandelbrodt, and I knew I had found my feature for this week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kit's Potato Puff Balls

Kicking off the holiday with a somewhat untraditional side dish!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out finding really Christmasy recipes from the Depression? Is actually pretty difficult. Or at least reasonably difficult when you've been told you're already making too many cookies this month, find something else to make!

Which, to be fair, is a good argument. I keep saying that I want to turn this blog into something other than a chronicle of my various baking adventures, except then I go right back to making cookies and cakes instead of figuring out how to prepare a meal for myself and others. Fortunately, after poking around a lot of different websites and through a couple cookbooks, I discovered a relatively easy appetizer that - while not necessarily very holiday seeming on its own - was apparently a popular visitor to tables across the country during the Depression. It's not surprising! Potatoes are cheap, you can grow them yourself, and they can be stretched or used to stretch other ingredients you've got in your pantry.

And hey, maybe Christmas needs more simple, easy to make appetizers. Might cut down on the amount of stress the holiday creates for some people!