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Category Archives: Feasts

Geography Studies: Iceland

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Iceland was the last European country that we studied before our school year ended right before Christmas.  It is also a regularly forgotten member of the continent.  Sometimes it isn’t even included on maps of Europe while you’re looking for one to print for school.  Even better is the fact that my mother lived there for a while because my grandfather’s job moved them there.

While we did listen to the national anthem online and read books from the library, this study ended a bit differently than our others.  Grandpa lent us his slide projector and boxes of slides from their road trips through Iceland.  We set up a screen made from a white blanket for our slide show.  It was lots of fun to watch the kids try to guess which family member was which, not to mention the great pictures of the Icelandic countryside.

My aunts and uncle insisted that we must try to find pylsurs, Icelandic hot dogs made of pork, beef, and lamb.  However, I never found a place to buy them in the States, and I imagine they’d be expensive anyway.  Another option mentioned in our books was hamburgers, but though it may be a regular option in Iceland, it didn’t seem to be a memorable option for our schooling.  So with that in mind and other unique options such as puffin, walrus, and whale equally unattainable, we decided to go with lamb.

We seared lamb chops in my cast iron skillet with salt and garlic.  Then I served it with salad, rhubarb compote, and Icelandic potato salad.  Rhubarb apparently grows very well in Iceland.

Rhubarb Compote

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup frozen chopped rhubarb (fresh would work)

Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small sauce pan.  Add the rhubarb and simmer until reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes.  Serve warm or chilled.  It also makes a good jam for toast, or warmed as a thick syrup on pancakes.


I used the last of out Hungarian Dill Pickles for the potato salad.  Click on the links below for the recipes for the mayonnaise and sour cream that I use.  I simply substitute vinegar for the lemon juice in all the recipes.  Not everyone in the house can have eggs.  Instead of mixing them in, I sliced them to top the potato salad of a select few in the house.

Icelandic potato salad and Lamb chops with rhubarb compote

Kartoflusalat (Potato Salad)

1 3/4 lbs red potatoes
3 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
2 pears, cored and chopped
1/4 cup chopped pickles
1/4 onion, small diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup soy-free, vegan sour cream (scroll to the last recipe in the post)
1/2 teaspoon Ruth’s Special Blend Curry Powder
salt, to taste

Boil the potatoes until tender.  Cool and cube the potatoes.  Chop the rest of the ingredients as noted above.

Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and chill for at least six hours before serving (At least the original instructions said to chill the dish.  I didn’t plan that far ahead, but our slightly warm potato salad was good!  The leftovers were even better).


The Tenth Day of Christmas – Fried Chicken

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I only make fried chicken twice a year.  Once after Pascha and once after Christmas, so it is a treat for everyone.  You see, there are no chicken nuggets in our house, not even the gluten free varieties from the store.  At the very least they all have some pepper in them, so Buster would be left out if I bought them.  Since he struggles with feeling left out of “special” things in general because of his allergies, I don’t like to do it inside the house unless it is unavoidable.

I originally planned to prepare this meal during the Christmas celebrations, but a rescheduled church party pushed it to Tuesday instead.  In lieu of this meal the children helped make sugar plums as our festive contribution.  Buster pitted dates; Snuggle Bunny measured the fruit; Little Man added the nuts; and I added the spices.  I substituted allspice for the cinnamon.  Then I only had ground fennel, so I didn’t bother with the toasting step.  Everyone helped roll the sugar plums in coconut, then we were off to the party before I thought to take a picture.  They were so good that there were no leftovers after the party; Little Man may have single handedly finished off a third of the batch himself, as I remember him having one in each hand most of the time.  The party was lovely, but as always we left right when the guitars came out with a sobbing two year old–the sign of having too much fun.

Fast forward a few days and I finally made the fried chicken.   While the oil was hot, I also whipped up a pepper free batch of Sev with the sev maker I received for Christmas.  It took less than ten minutes and was very tasty.  Much was eaten for snacks, but we did manage to get one breakfast of Poha out of this batch.

Moreover, I have a hard time throwing away good food.  So every time I make fried chicken, I make frybread out of the leftover flour and almond milk from chicken coating.  I have no actual recipe.  Each time I add about a half teaspoon of baking powder, mix the wet ingredients into the dry, and whisk together until smooth.  The batter should be a little bit thicker than pancake batter.  Sometimes I have to adjust by adding a little water or additional flour depending on the given consistency.   Then I fry the mixture about a tablespoon at a time in the oil after the chicken is cooked.  I think this may be as close to Navajo Frybread as my family will ever be able to get.

Fried Chicken
Oh, those little potato looking things to the side are really taro root.  I got both taro and malanga when I was shopping for the pasteles.  I wasn’t sure which one was the correct choice, so I bought both determined to find a way to use the incorrect one.  I roasted them according to this recipe.  I left out the peppers and used the optional curry leaves, since I had some on hand.  They were very good and the children would have eaten twice as many.

I served honey mustard for dipping.  It’s nothing fancy–just half Dijon and half honey whisked together.

Fried Chicken

1lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into nugget sized pieces
oil for frying

Dry Ingredients (more in similar proportions if necessary)
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca  starch
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
1 cup water or nondairy milk of choice (I use almond milk)
1 1/2 tsp egg replacer powder

Whisk dry and wet ingredients into separate bowls.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot or skillet (this cast iron is my favorite).  You will know when it is hot enough because a drop or two of water sizzles gently in the pot; if the water causes the oil to spatter violently, decrease temperature.

Dip the nuggets into the flour and the milk and then the flour again until evenly coated.  When you have 8-10 nuggets ready, you may start the first round frying assuming that the oil is hot enough.  Cook for 5-8 minutes turning regularly.  You will know that the chicken is done when it is golden brown and cooked throughout if you cut through the middle of a nugget.  It’s always the chef’s prerogative to sample the first nugget for quality assurance.

Continue until all the chicken is cooked.

Make frybread if desired.

Serve with your favorite sides.

The Ninth Day of Christmas: Pasteles

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I’m one of those people that asks questions of other shoppers while in ethnic food stores.

“What is this?  What is your favorite way to cook it?”

Most times I get a cursory answer or someone who doesn’t speak my language any more that I do of theirs.  Sometimes, though, I meet that friendly person who is delighted to share their culinary knowledge.  Right before Christmas was one of these times.

I asked about an herb that was right next to the cilantro.  It was called recao (or culantro).  This lovely lady was using it to make Recaito (Puerto Rican sofrito) for Pasteles.  She spent time telling me in detail about Pasteles.  She gave me enough information that I was able to go home and track down a recipe.

Pasteles are very similar to tamales, only the masa is made of quite a variety of tubers, gourds, and green bananas.  Then you boil the pasteles submerged in water rather than steaming them like tamales.

I didn’t think that I was going to manage to make these this year seeing as I was out of fresh pumpkin and didn’t have plans to acquire any.  However, I ended up bringing my mom’s last pumpkin home from our Christmas festivities as she wasn’t going to manage to use it before it went bad.

Since I was already shopping for tamale supplies, I simply got enough banana leaves for this process as well as the few extra ingredients.

I followed this recipe using the food processor instructions.  I simply substituted pureed Mexican zucchini for the peppers and tomatoes in this recipe and the recaito.  I froze the extra recaito in an ice cube tray to use another time.

I found annatto seeds at an ethnic grocery store.  To make annatto oil infused 2/3 cup canola oil with about 1 1/2 teaspoon annatto seeds on low for about 20 minutes.  This way I could season the meat and infuse the oil without having the rest of a bottle of annatto oil hanging around my pantry.

For the sazon packet I sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, annatto seeds, and garlic powder into the pot with the meat along with the other ingredients in the recipe.

Also, yautias are tubers called taro or malanga at the grocery stores near me.  However, taro is also a name given to a smaller tuber.  Yautias are larger than baking potatoes, while true taro is smaller than a red potato.  I read that either will work, but the malanga is the most traditional.

John and I liked the pasteles.  We though they were a fun derivation from our tamales.  However, of all three children only Little Man liked them.  I guess we’ll have to stick to tamale making in the future.

The Eighth Day of Christmas: Corn-Free Tamales

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Most tamales are gluten free, while many are dairy free; you can also make them vegan with a seasoned black bean filling.  They are a big project, but well worth your time (if you are a fan).  Making them yourself cuts the cost dramatically, and they freeze successfully for up to a year.  It is a Mexican tradition to make tamales for Christmas.  While they can be made at any time of the year, it makes the most sense to me to make them at Christmas when all of the ingredients go on sale at the ethnic markets.  It’s also the only time of year that you can easily find banana leaves.

I started making tamales when we found out that Buster couldn’t eat peppers.  Trust me when I say that the only way to find a pepper free tamal is to make it yourself.  (Language nitpicking: Tamal is the proper Spanish singular, while tamale is the American misunderstanding of the word.)

We hit a hitch last year after we discovered Little Man’s corn allergy.  Tamales are a staple of our almost-everything-from-scratch diet.  What would I do without this emergency meal?  That’s when I found out that some tamales are steamed in banana leaves instead of corn husks.  With that hurdle passed, all I had to do was tackle the masa.  What other gluten free flour would produce comparable results?  After my experience baking, I knew sorghum reacts similarly to corn in baking.  I decided to try it.  A little tweaking later and now Little Man (and my mom) can eat tamales!

Each year I spend two days making a large batch, and then they serve as a quick meal straight out of the freezer many times throughout the year.  The first day you simply simmer the meat until it’s tender and season it for the next day’s work.  Don’t forget to save the broth too.  The second day you mix the masa, assemble the tamales, and steam them.

This website is the one I used to learn how to prepare tamales.  I simply leave out the spices that contain peppers and follow the rest exactly.  Well almost exactly…  I now skim the lard off the top of the chilled broth from the first day’s meat preparation.   Then, I use that as the fat in the masa.  I only use cooking oil after the lard runs out.  Waste not, want not.

The only special piece of equipment you need is a steamer pot.  You can buy big fancy pots just for tamales, but I just use my pasta pot with it’s large insert.

Before I get to the recipe, I must point out that tamal making is a big job.  Be sure to have at least one helper, but many hands make light work.  This year we invited friends for cooking and eating on New Year’s Day, and afterwards we sent them home with leftovers.  Thanks for coming, Patrick and Heather, we had a great time!

When I make vegan tamales, I soak and cook 3 lbs. of black beans, drain, and season them with the same spices as described in the aforementioned linked recipe.  You can also add fresh corn off 4-6 cobs to the blend for added texture–unless you are making corn-free tamales.

Also take a look at the flavor options on this site.  They even have dessert tamales.  I see experimentation in my future!

Corn-Free Tamales

1 package fresh banana leaves
prepared meat or bean filling (1.5-2 cups for this amount of banana leaves)
Warm broth

Masa (start small, you can always make more if necessary)
2 cups sorghum flour
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/3 cup lard, canola, or safflower oil
Warm broth (quantities vary by day and humidity)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and dry the banana leaves.  Cut them into strips about 8″ X 10-12″ and remove the tough spine if necessary.  Kitchen shears make this job go quickly.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cut in oil until well distributed.   Add warm broth about 2-4 tbsp at a time until the masa is a thick peanut butter consistency.  The masa should spread well without cracking too much.  It is very forgiving at this stage, so you can add more flour if you get it a little too thin.

On a cookie sheet warm 3-4 cut banana leaves in the oven for 2-3 minutes.  Be careful not to over warm them or they will dry up at the edges.  This process keeps them from splitting when you fold the tamales.

Spread about 1/4- 1/3 cup masa (to taste) in the middle of the leaf.  Spread in a circular motion or press down with your fingers.  Fill with about 2 Tbsp of meat or beans (to taste).

Gently fold the banana leaf around the fillings to make a long tube, then fold the ends towards the seam to make a small rectangular envelope.  Now many recipes will tell you to tie the package with cooking string, but I simply let gravity help the process and lie them on their flaps to keep them closed.

Place the tamales in your steamer and steam for one hour over medium heat.  Check the water level periodically to make sure that you don’t scorch your pot.  Don’t ask me how I know this little tip.

The Seventh Day of Christmas: Hamburgers

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Not only is it the seventh day of Christmas, but this day also marks the end of another calendar year.  I have been reading peoples musings on the past year and their goals for the coming year.  I have no grand thoughts or life changing goals.  I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  I like to make small goals for myself throughout the year as needs arise instead of large goals once a year.

Our family is also the one that never makes it to midnight awake.  John’s schedule has us early to bed and early to rise.  We’ll be lucky to make it to 10pm.  So, Happy New Year, ya’ll!

Our day was filled with searching for banana leaves for meals these next few days.  We’re making tamales with friends tomorrow and trying pasteles on Thursday.  The meat is cooked and broth has been made from yesterday’s turkey.  With all those pots simmering together, I kept dinner simple. We ate hamburgers.

I rarely do buns with our hamburgers.  The kids disassemble them anyway when I try.  Tonight I tossed in some oven fries and cooked slider sized burgers in the cast iron skillet.  The burgers were served on a bed of lettuce with some honey mustard on the side.  I might normally add an additional vegetable side to this meal, but I didn’t buy anything this week since I thought I had more vegetables in the freezer.

My honey mustard is nothing fancy.  I simply whisk together Dijon and honey in eyeballed equal parts and adjust to taste.

I also planned to slice an avocado, but when the neighbor kid showed up for dinner I forgot that detail.  Pray for his family because tonight they were waiting for his grandfather to arrive for hospice care.

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Turkey with Trimmings

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I bought turkeys on sale in November, and they’ve been waiting in the freezer for the Christmas feast to come.  I defrosted one and roasted it for today’s meal.  I actually got everything ready for Monday’s lunch, which turned out to be a great impulse because my car’s battery died after an errand later in the day.  I’m so glad I had leftovers to feed everyone after we made it home.

Special thanks to my neighbors who helped John get my car running and back home again after work last night.  You really are the best neighbors ever!

Turkey with Trimmings

With the turkey I served:

mashed potatoes (mashed with broth)
sweet potatoes with marshmallows (I kept some plain for Little Man who can’t have the corn)
green beans
cranberry sauce (recipe on the bag)
gravy (turkey drippings, millet flour, broth, and salt… sorry I didn’t measure)

The Third Day of Christmas: Philly Steak Sandwiches

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Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!

I haven’t posted in the last two weeks.  Life got busy, as I’m sure yours did too.  It was wonderfully busy and no time was left for blogging.  We even saved some of our giving for today, since last week didn’t include enough hours for everything.  I’m glad that John reminded me that we had twelve whole days of Christmas to finish everything; otherwise, I might not have made it through last week.  I do have a couple of meals from last week that I still want to share, but I’ll have to catch up another day.

Last week was packed with finishing Christmas presents and completing our last few bits of our homeschool year.  We stick to a different schedule than most, but it works for us.  Now we have three months break to have a change of pace.

The kids and my nephews helped make a Santa Hat Party Mix for gifts, but we didn’t get to try it because most of the ingredients are on our naughty food list.  Sometimes it’s nice to live vicariously through others.  We did try one batch of a homemade allergy friendly almond bark for my sister’s birthday.  It did taste good, but it was only solid in the refrigerator, so the recipe needs tweaking before we share it.

Santa Hat Mix
I also got to finish sewing three dolls.  One was for Snuggle Bunny.  Another was for our only niece, and the third was for my youngest cousin.  Making these dolls was very special for me, because my grandmother started them years ago, but never finished them.  The dolls were mostly done, but the dresses were only cut out and needed assembling.   One Christmas many years ago, Grandma made me one of these pillowcase dolls.  Mine has a lavender dress and is quite well loved.  She even traveled with me to Girl Scout Camp one summer and has my name in Sharpie marker on the back hem of her dress.  Now she spends most of her time in Snuggle Bunny’s doll carriage, just as Grandma would have liked.  Today she has a new sister to share the ride.   Hopefully one day these three dolls will show the wear of time and love.  It would be a shame if they weather the years with a layer of dust instead of experiencing the messy love of some sweet little girls.  Oh, and what of the one in the middle with the extra color in her dress?  That is the product of Little Man’s handy work.  He quietly got his hands on my sewing scissors and started the remodeling process.  After a little rummaging through my quilting scraps, I’m happy with the results.  Though if I ever make a modified skirt again, I’d rather it happen before I gather the skirt and attach it to the bodice.

Pillowcase Dolls
The weekend before the Feast of the Nativity is when we celebrated with our families.  Saturday was for my family, and Sunday after church was for John’s family.  It was great family time and my children were thoroughly spoiled by grandparents, aunts, and uncles.   Meals were provided by the hosts and they all did a wonderful job with our holiday fare.  My mother-in-law surprised us with a treat from a local gluten free bakery.  My mother and I made Better Balls with almond butter.  We omitted the rice puffs and rolled the balls in unsweetened coconut instead of dipping them in chocolate, but every last one was gone in no time.  I used to make a peanut and dairy laden version of these as a child, so it was a very nostalgic dessert and oh so easy to make.

Christmas Day found us at Church in the morning.  I think celebrating the feast at Church on Christmas is one of my favorite Orthodox Traditions.  It really is wonderful to focus on the true meaning of this holiday with our Church family before we break the fast and open our family presents.  After Church we completed our last Advent reading before we opened presents.

Christmas Day

This year I took meat laden meal requests from each family member for celebrating the feast.  I promised to make them all sometime during the twelve days of Christmas.  Snuggle Bunny’s request was California Rolls.  That meal was lunch on Christmas day for many reasons.  One being that we were headed out to a Christmas party in the afternoon, and it was a meal that could be prepared in the allotted time.  The second reason is because it was a meal that John is adept at preparing, so I got a day off from cooking.

John also made pancakes and bacon for yesterday’s breakfast.  I assembled them into the festive arrangement you see below.  The eyes are carob chips, the buttons are raisins, the mouth is banana, and the snow is coconut oil.

Buster’s meal request was Honey-Mustard Chicken Tenders which easily used the last of the bacon.  This time I served it with roasted broccoli, oven fries, and yellow squash.

Today’s lunch was John’s request.  He doesn’t often request dairy, so I was happy to buy him a few slices of provolone from the deli.  When I buy cheese, it is often by the slice–just enough for John.  This time we had some leftover soft goat cheese from John’s mom’s dinner, so those of us who can tolerate small doses of goats dairy indulged for this one meal.  I was planning to make cashew sauce, but opted out at the last minute when I remembered the goat cheese.

I discovered that the steak purchased this time was much thicker than I originally realized, so I chopped it rather than shaving it as I normally do.  The bun is an onion dinner roll from Local Oven.  They still have egg in them, so Little Man and I cheated a little bit.  It’s all for a good cause and we don’t do it often, so today I think it was worth the convenience and the flavor.  Tomorrow may be another story.

I also would have liked to add mushrooms to this sandwich, but I forgot until I was cooking.

Philly Steak Sandwiches
about 1.5 lb thin steak, lightly salted on both sides
1 large onion, thinly slice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
salt to taste
cheese or substitute (optional)
condiments of your choosing

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the oil, onion, salt, and garlic to the pan.  Saute until the onions caramelize.  Reduce heat as necessary to keep the onions from burning.

Remove the onions from the pan and raise the heat back to medium.  Sear the steak on both sides until the steak is cooked to your liking.  Times will vary depending on the thickness of your steak.

Slice the steak thinly and toss in the pan with the onions to warm them and mix well with the meat.  Serve on buns with your choice of toppings.

Merry Christmas!