Are you ready for Valentine's Day?

Next Thursday is Valentine's Day, and restaurants wll be a hot mess. Don't just take my word for it; Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, and The Huffington Post all agree with me that if you really love someone, you should not take them out for a romantic meal on the actual Valentine's Day holiday. The wiser course of action is to plan a quiet dinner at home. 

Rhubarb and strawberry tart

You might be tempted to go all out and try to make a fancy, multi-course meal, but that can lead to feelings of rage instead of love. Serious Eats assemble some advice  to make your Valentine's Day meal the best it can be. The most romantic dish is the one that your significant other really loves, even if it's just mac and cheese (my husband has a thing for fried bologna sandwiches, so my meal prep is absurdly easy). 

The KISS principle seems well-suited to Valentine's Day. Instead of trying to make "wow" dishes for each course, focus on what you do best. If you have a sweet tooth, put your effort into an impressive dessert. If savory is your thing, concentrate on making the main dish shine. Another tip is that anything that can be made in advance should be - you don't want to waste your romantic evening doing prep that could have been done a day or two before. This goes for everything from cocktails to dessert.

Deciding what to make can be a challenge, but the EYB Library is up to the task with an entire category of recipes specifically for Valentine's Day and romantic dinners. You can also look farther afield, as Australian Gourmet Traveller has assembled their best Valentine's Day recipes (I'm making the Rhubarb and strawberry tart with candied pistachio and fennel seeds pictured above to go along with the fried bologna sandwiches). You can't go wrong with an Ottolenghi recipe, and The Guardian features several Yotam Ottolenghi recipes perfect for the day. And if you are just too tired at the end of a workday to make a special meal, Delish has a list of all of the places (US) where you can order a heart-shaped pizza.  

Get ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year

February 5 marks the beginning of a very special time for the Chinese and several other cultures, as it is the beginning of the lunar new year. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is based on the sun, the lunar calendar uses the moon to set its dates, which means that the lunar new year doesn't land on the same day each year and can range from January 21 to February 20. You will find out this tidbit and many more interesting facts in a website dedicated to this important holiday, celebrated by 20% of the world's population. 

Dumplings

Although many facets of the Chinese New Year celebration are unique (check out the legend behind the practice of lighting fireworks during the hollday for a fascinating example), one thing is has in common with many other holidays is the substantial food tradition that accompanies it. People in the northern part of China celebrate with dumplings, while in the South they are more likely to nosh on spring rolls or tangyuan. For sweets, Nian gao, also known as "rice cake" or "New Year cake" in English, are a must for Chinese New Year. Many of the traditional New Year's foods are symbols of good luck and prosperity in the coming year. 

If you want to celebrate but need a head start on recipes, check out these from the EYB Library:

And don't forget to enter our Chinese New Year promotion!

Get ready for a day of "super" food

Tomorrow brings the second largest food holiday for people living in the United States. According to the US Department of Agriculture, food consumed on Super Bowl Sunday is second only to food eaten on Thanksgiving. Over  1.3 billion chicken wings will be devoured, along with other party foods like pizza, nachos, chili, and potato chips.

chicken wings

This year's matchup pits a young team against one that everyone (outside of the Northeast) loves to hate, but who cares about the game? The food is the important part!  Even people who don't watch the game (like me) will be using this an excuse to celebrate, because nothing beats gathering with friends, eating high-calorie foods, and perhaps imbibing a spirit or two.

If you haven't planned your snacking day in advance, indexed blog The Kitchn has a dozen recipes that take almost no time to prepare. Naturally, the EYB Library also contains a plethora of ideas, like these quick and easy recipes:

Tips for making the perfect pavlova

It's Australia Day today (it's already January 26 there), and many Australians will be celebrating with a traditional dessert - pavlova. It can be intimidating to make a pavlova if you are not a seasoned baker, which is why Sydney baker Nadine Ingram of Flour and Stone has put together a primer on how to make a perfect pavlova

cherry pavlova

First Ingram offers a rundown of the equipment needed to make the dish: a whisk (one that is attached to a stand mixer is preferred but not absolutely necessary), a rubber spatula, a baking tray, and an offset spatula for spreading. Then she dives into the technique, pointing out the tips to achieve a light, fluffy meringue, and how to shape it on the baking tray. 

Then it's on to the toppings. One mistake people often make is to overload the pavlova. Ingram says "don't overpile, and remember you'll need to cut the pav, so distribute fruit and other toppings evenly." With these tips and accompanying illustrations, you'll be on your way to pavlova nirvana in no time. 

Photo of Cherry Ripe Pavlova from Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine

Celebrate National Pie Day

Today, for reasons I will never understand, is National Pie Day (I believe the logical choice for the day is March 14). I've noticed in my Twitter feed that people from all countries seem to be celebrating this "holiday", so perhaps it should be renamed as International Pie Day. Regardless of where it originated, I am happy to join in the celebration because, well, it's pie. 

coconut cream pie

The great thing about pie is that there is so much variety: fillings can be savory or sweet, creamy or chunky, filled with custard or fruit or vegetables or meat. No matter your dietary preferences or restrictions, everyone can enjoy a slice of pie. Every meal can feature pie, from breakfast to dinner and beyond (there's no shame in having a piece of pie in your pajamas in front of the refrigerator at 2 am). Whether you are celebrating one of life's little victories or comforting yourself after a disappointment, pie is the perfect food choice. 

A few notes on our favorite pie cookbooks. Jenny recommends Pie & Tarts a beautiful title which is covered in her review and giveaway post. Also, look for an  interview with the award winning authors of The New Pie coming soon which includes a look into their cookbook collection. Lastly, Tarts is a book for bakers who wish to level up their game - find out more in Jenny's  earlier review.

If you want to celebrate National Pie Day but need a bit of inspiration, the EYB Library offers endless ideas for every type of pie imaginable, with over 5,300 recipes available online. Here are a few Member favorites to get you started:

New Year's Eve drinks - with and without alcohol

There is one more big party left before we begin our resolutions for the new year, and many of us will be celebrating with champagne flute in hand as the clock strikes twelve on December 31. There are plenty of excellent cocktails that incorporate champagne or other sparkling wines to make the celebration special.

Twinkle cocktail

While bubbly will be imbibed at countless parties the world over, a growing number of people are choosing not to consume alcohol. This trend has fueled renewed interest in "mocktails", but today's non-alcoholic drinks are a far cry from the same Shirley Temples of yesteryear. The new breed of mocktails have sophisticated flavor combinations that rival the best mixed drinks. Not only do they taste great, they can be enjoyed all evening long without any fear of the dreaded hangover. Companies like Seedlip are even developing distilled non-alcoholic "spirits" for this purpose. 

Whether you are ringing in the new year with alcohol or not, the EYB Library is full of recipes for drinks both bubbly and still that will please you and your guests. The list below is a small sampling of drinks that would be perfect for a New Year's Eve bash:

Cocktails

Mocktails

The origins of favorite Christmas foods

Although it seems like Christmas food traditions have always existed, that's far from being the case. While some foods have been associated with the holiday for hundreds of years, often these traditional foods only date back a few decades. How did these traditions begin in the first place? That's a question answered in an enlightening article from indexed blog Great British Chefs

Christmas pudding

Turkeys are the meat most often consumed at Christmas dinner in the UK. Why turkey and not chicken or beef? Frugality seems to be the answer here. Before turkeys became the go-to bird for the main feast, geese featured as the main course. That's because while chickens produced eggs year-round and cows produced milk, geese only laid eggs seasonally and were therefore more expendable. Additionally, a goose goes a lot further than a chicken, and it's impractical to slaughter a cow just for one meal. The switch to turkeys came about in the mid-20th century, as people started buying birds instead of raising them and imported turkeys from the US became widely available.

Christmas pudding is another dish that has undergone a transformation from its origins in the late 16th century. Back then it consisted mainly of beef shin combined with spices, sugar and fruit, boiled in a broth until gelatinous. Fast forward to the mid-19th century and we first see something that resemble today's pudding, made with flour, fruit, sugar, and spices, with beef suet being the link to the original version. 

Photo of Christmas pudding with citrus & spice from BBC Good Food Magazine

Edible gift ideas and tips

A lot of us will be making gifts from the kitchen to give to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and others on our gift lists (don't forget the host/hostess of that great holiday party!). While many people give baked goods including cookies, quickbreads, and candies, there are savoury options, homemade liqueurs, and other easy yet impressive items that make excellent presents. 

apple cider caramels

Gourmet salts are both unique and easy to make. You can try citrus infused salt or a rosemary, orange and thyme version. Indexed website The Kitchn offers a great tutorial on making various flavored salts, featuring all manner of flavors from herbs and spices to chile peppers,  edible flowers, tea leaves or powder, mushrooms, and  dehydrated fruits and vegetables. 

Keeping with the easy-to-make theme (which equals less holiday stress), Sam Worley of Epicurious offers tips and tricks to make edible presents easier. The key, says Sam Worley, is to "think big." He's not talking about the size of the gifts, but rather about items that can be made in large batches, optimally with minimal efforts. Ideas that fall into this category include homemade granola, chocolate truffles (a big win for their low effort-to-reward ratio), and caramels.  

No matter what type of edible gift you choose to make, the EYB Library is chock full of DIY recipes. You'll find thousands of recipes for jams, jellies and preservescookiescandies; and homemade liqueurs. My favorite homemade gift to give is English toffee, similar to this recipe - what's yours?

Photo of Apple cider caramels from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Love for latkes

Latkes are among the many traditional foods that will make an appearance on tables during Hanukkah, which began today. Epicurious offers tips on how to make perfect potato latkes to ensure that each one is light, crispy, and delicious. Follow these steps and your friends and family will be asking for this classic holiday treat year-round.

latkes

After testing different types of potatoes, Epicurious found that russets work best. Their high starch content means they are less watery and don't require a binder. Speaking of water, you want to make sure you squeeze as much as possible out your latkes before frying to make sure they achieve maximum crispness. 

After you have shaped your potato mixture, the next crucial step is frying. Using the right amount of fat is important so that the latkes don't stick to the pan or become too greasy. Epicurious recommends a  combination of vegetable oil and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to boost the flavor of your latkes.

The EYB Library has plenty of latke recipes both traditional and innovative. Here is a sampling to get you started:

Latkes from Jerusalem by  Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Potato latkes with apple-date chutney and cinnamon sour cream from Leite's Culinaria

Parsnip-celery root latkes from EatingWell Magazine (pictured above)
Crispy potato latkes from 'The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home' by Michael Zusman and Nick Zukin
Herb and scallion latkes from The Kitchn
Sweet potato latkes with spiked applesauce from Crossroads by  Tal Ronnen and Scot Jones and Serafina Magnussen

A vegetarian holiday table

As more and more people choose to eat less meat or no meat at all for health and ethical consideration, planning holiday meals gets increasingly complex. It can be a challenge to find hearty, festive dishes that will be an appropriate substitute for what is often a meat-heavy meal and that will also please everyone including the omnivores. However, recipe websites are responding to these constraints, including Australian Gourmet Traveller, which has assembled a collection of vegetarian recipes that will be right at home on your Christmas table. 

beetroot mezzalune

The collection includes hearty recipes that will stand in for main dishes, such as Roast pumpkin wedges with almond, goat's cheese and tahini dressing and a Cauliflower and saffron gratin. There are also many salads that will satisfy everyone, including a colorful and refreshing Watermelon fruit salad with ice-cream and raspberry-pepper salad, and the vibrant green Blistered kale ribs with kale-leaf and quinoa salad. One recipe that really appealed to me was the gorgeous Beetroot and carrot mezzalune with leek, hazelnut and poppy seeds pictured above. 

The holidays aren't complete without sweet treats to round out the meal. You'll find plenty in this list, like the Dessert wine sabayon with cherries and pistachios (also appropriate colored in red and green), and the Masala carrot cake that puts a new twist on an old favorite. 

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!

Archives