At Just Add Cooking, we’re inspired every day by the food traditions and flavors of other countries and cultures. And while every family has its own food traditions for the holidays – often closely tied to their heritage – Christmas is the perfect time to try on new traditions for size. We’re exploring Christmas food and drink traditions from around the world. Join us!
What IS a traditional British Christmas dinner? It all kicks off with folks wearing paper hats from Christmas crackers and often exchanging tacky gag gifts. As for food, the meal typically begins with a light appetizer of Scottish Smoked Salmon & Dill Sauce or a Prawn Cocktail recipe. From here, recall one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time: A Christmas Carol… and the main attraction, the Christmas goose! While this used to be the go-to roast, it’s now more often a turkey, roast beef, beef Wellington, glazed ham or roasted chicken. And for dessert? Do you remember that episode of Friends where Rachel makes a “traditional English trifle” complete with a layer of beef? Well, that may not be far off from a traditional British Christmas pudding recipe.
France (and other French colonies)
Have you heard of Buche de Noel? Dating back to the 19th century, this “Yule log” has been a symbolic part of French culture in many ways & varies depending on the province. For example, in Provence, the previous year’s log was used to start the new year’s log whereas in Burgundy, parents would hide small gifts like nuts & coins under the log while children said their prayers. The traditional French dessert is typically made with sponge cake and includes some sort of chocolate filling, whether it be buttercream or ganache.
And for the taste of Christmas in Germany? Well that would be Gluhwein, of course! This winter warming mulled wine dates back to 1420 and is made with a variety of spices, including cinnamon, cloves & vanilla while being sweetened with sugar and strengthened with rum or another liquor. Today, Germans often enjoy a mug of Gluhwein while strolling through candy-striped tents found in German Christmas markets.
Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition that began during World War II, when paper was one of few commodities that was not being rationed. Upon gaining independence from Denmark, the people of Iceland began to trade books as other gift options were often in short supply. The tradition still continues today and, in fact, every household receives a published book catalog in mid-November to order books for family and friends. Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, books are immediately opened and individuals enjoy a cup of hot chocolate as they read!
Are you familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes? A popular Italian-American feast, this grand meal is associated with many different Southern Italian traditions. Some say that it commemorates the midnight birth of the Baby Jesus, while others proclaim that the number seven represents the “seven hills of Rome” or the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Either way, the long-standing tradition of consuming seafood on the night before Christmas aligns with the practice of abstaining from eating meat until Christmas Day. Today’s popular La Vigilia meal components range in recipes and contain everything from baccala and clams casino to shrimp cocktail, squid, eel, mussels, octopus salad, baked-stuffed lobsters & much more.
However you celebrate, with whatever dishes, a very happy holiday from us here at Just Add Cooking!
If you find yourself making a beeline for the butternut squash and sweet potatoes at the Winter Farmer’s Market, we’re coming to your rescue! We get it: a long day where it gets dark at 4 pm makes it easy to fall into old favorites. But winter’s produce can be just as exciting as summer’s. Let’s take a step outside your culinary comfort zone and try some of those unfamiliar foods that you usually walk right past!
Winter’s bounty is so much more than potatoes and parsnips–and there are lots of delicious options you can get locally right here in New England. Let’s demystify some of the peculiar produce you’ll see this time of year, and give you a head start with some recipes to check out.
But first, three rules for winter food adventures:
- If you’ve never heard of it, try it.
- If it looks funky to you, definitely try it.
- If you can’t pronounce it, absolutely, most definitely try it right now!
The Latin word for this tomato-look-alike means “food of the gods.” Also a fruit, it originated in Japan where it’s actually the country’s national fruit. Generally deep-orange in color, the most common varieties are the Fuyu and the Hachiya. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried. Make it into a salsa, a savory tart, add it to stuffings and curries, or make it into a jam to serve alongside meat dishes. Check out this simple salsa recipe and grab the chips.
Celeriac (Celery Root)
This is the definition of don’t judge a book (or a vegetable) by its cover. Celery root, also known as celeriac, looks like it should be part of a Halloween display. It has a more concentrated celery flavor that is very appealing as it’s slightly creamier than the upfront vegetal taste of celery. We love making it into a puree with a little cream and butter (well, more than a little butter…), check out this recipe. Celery as we know it grows directly out of the celeriac root. They can be interchanged in most recipes, so stop leaving celeriac out of the winter veg party, it’s feeling neglected.
These funky vegetables look like something from another planet: hard, bumpy bulbs with long stems shooting out of the top that end in leaves. Sounds appealing right? Actually, they are, they’re delicious! This vegetable is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip, which is fitting as the word “kohlrabi” is German for “cabbage turnip.” It is a member of the brassica family (think broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) and it can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s very versatile. Slice it and use it as a vehicle for dip, or add it to salads or slaws for some crunch. It can also be baked, boiled, steamed, roasted, or grilled. Here are two of our favorite ways to use it: one raw, and one cooked.
The Chicories: Radicchio & Belgian Endive
These leaves get a bad rap for their bitterness, but when combined with other flavors they can be a great complement to any cooked dish or salad. Many of us know endive as a conveniently sturdy leaf to scoop up a ton of dip at a party with. While this is an excellent use for it, try chopping it finely and tossing it into a salad for added crunch or get a little fancy and braise it. Radicchio can also be served raw in a salad. It stands up especially well to the sturdiness of kale, but we love it sauteed or grilled. It’s delicious when the leaves wilt and caramelize a bit. Sauteeing it with some honey and balsamic vinegar also tones down the bitterness, check it out here.
While we have the more earthy flavors of root vegetables on our minds in the cold winter months, it is also citrus season! A little zest from a lemon or an orange always brightens up a dish, but let’s stop and smell the kumquats. Really though, they are wonderfully fragrant and add a lovely layer of citrus flavor to any dish. They are native to China but are also grown in Japan and the U.S. Just bigger than an olive, they look like tiny navel oranges, and fun fact – you can eat the entire thing, skin and all. They are quite tart but also a little sweet. Use them in dressings, preserves, stuffings, or any slow cooked dish to add some zing. We love this tagine recipe that incorporates them.
Squash: Honeynut, Kabocha, Delicata
Anything you would do with a butternut or acorn squash, you can do with these unconventional squashes. Roast them, stuff them, make them into soups and purees, the oven is your oyster here.
If Honey I Shrunk the Kids happened to butternut squash, you would essentially get honeynut squash. This mini squash is bright orange on the inside, and while visually similar to butternut, its texture is even more velvety and its flavor even sweeter. Warm spices are a great match for honeynut and we are big fans of stuffing it!
Also known as “Japanese pumpkin,” this squash variety looks lumpy and green and mysterious. But it tastes like a cross between a pumpkin and a sweet potato, so if you’re a fan of those this should be your go-to winter squash. It’s perfect for roasting, stuffing, and pureeing; and you don’t have to peel it (score!). Check out this sweet and spicy recipe.
Squash can get a bad rap for being high maintenance – difficult to peel and tough to chop. This striped squash is no fuss. It doesn’t require peeling and it’s smaller than most winter squash so it’s easy to handle. It’s flavor is sweet, creamy, and mild, so it pairs well with most spices. As with most other squash, it’s delicious when roasted so the edges caramelize slightly.
So before you steer clear of New England’s winter vegetable crops this year, take a moment to wake up your senses and give something new a try!
Looking for the perfect gift for the food lover in your life? How about someone who loves to support small local businesses? Our staff at Just Add Cooking shares these passions and we’re here to help you out with this gift guide! We’ve polled our staff on their go-to gifts this holiday season. They came up with some unique gifts for both the locals and for friends and families outside of town who love to cook or eat (who doesn’t?)!
Jan, Co-Founder & CEO
This is a great stocking stuffer and one of Jan’s go-to’s because it makes cooking fish–one of his favorite foods–so much easier! For a recipient who eats a lot of fish, a fish spatula can be a game changer in making it easier to cook!
Red’s Best Gift Card
At Just Add Cooking, we use Red’s Best to supply fresh, local fish for our recipes, but you can also order it online or buy it in various locations around Boston like the Boston Public Market or local farmer’s markets. What’s amazing about a Red’s Best gift card is that they’ll ship fresh fish anywhere in the continental US, so it’s the perfect way to give someone a taste of what makes Boston seafood so delicious.
One of our Chief Gastronomic Officer’s essential cooking tools, Fredrik loves a rubber spatula as a stocking stuffer for anyone who’s in the kitchen. It makes cooking nearly any recipe easier to cook.
Coffee from 4A in Brookline
An avid coffee lover, Fredrik loves the java at 4A in Brookline. It’s roasted in small batches locally, and a perfect gift for someone who loves to try new and interesting brews.
Amanda, Chief Gastronomic Officer
Sous Vide Machine
This is one of Amanda’s new favorite kitchen tools to use at home. Sous vide is a pro technique that’s increasingly making it into home kitchens and is perfect for a foodie who likes to experiment. It delivers restaurant quality results by using precise temperature control. The process vacuum seals the food into a bag and cooking it in a water bath.
Jam Sessions Jam
As a nod to her previous career in the music industry, Amanda’s selected Jam Sessions Jam, a locally-sourced, small batch jam company for the perfect hostess gift or stocking stuffer. The company’s local owner also has a music career and founded Jam Sessions Jam from her love of all things pickled and preserved. The awesome sweet and savory spreads feature local New England ingredients and for a larger gift you can check out their gift collections.
Dan, Head of Recipe Development & Meal Planning
As the recipe development guy, Dan knows that a sharp knife is a must. Sharpening steel is a perfect way to make time in the kitchen more enjoyable and ensure knife safety too–a sharp knife is a safe one!
This small kitchen tool doesn’t take up a lot of space, but it’s super helpful for making soups and purees. While it’s not a requirement for Just Add Cooking recipes, you’ll find yourself saving time and dishes with it as opposed to using a regular blender. As the name says, just immerse it right into the liquid and go, no separate blender required.
Katie, Customer Success Manager
Another great stocking stuffer, a microplane is a small, inexpensive tool that does unlimited duty in the kitchen. Use it for grating ginger, citrus, cheese and more to add flavor to any recipe without a lot of effort.
You can’t go wrong with this delicious, locally made chocolate out of Somerville. Taza Chocolate is organic, stone-ground chocolate with bold flavor. It’s high quality and a step above your typical “stocking stuffer candy,” and who doesn’t love a hit of chocolate for an afternoon snack? They’ll ship your gift and have some lovely gift sets available.
Kevin, Director of Operations
An avid whiskey drinker, Kevin recommends this bottle as a special occasion gift for the whiskey lover in your life.
Wood Pie Carrying Box
If you’re always toting treats around, these boxes will make life 20x easier (and look a million times better than tupperware). We’re lucky at JAC that Kevin’s girlfriend owns local pie company Pie Curious, and he’s always bringing us samples to the office. For family or friends who are avid bakers, this is a great gift.
Katerina, Chief Marketing Officer
Just Add Cooking Gift Card
As our head of marketing, Katerina is a big believer in spreading the Just Add Cooking love! By giving a gift card, you’re providing family and friends with fresh, local ingredients delivered right to their door, a week off of grocery shopping and fun dinners to bring their family together. Perfect for people who love to cook or those who are learning.
Formaggio Kitchen Gift Basket
Supporting small local businesses is part of the fabric of our staff and Formaggio Kitchen is a great example. With locations in Boston and Cambridge, this local specialty shop ships delicious gift baskets around the country. They’re available at many different reasonable price points starting at $55, but if you really want to go wild, check out their “Formaggio Kitchen’s Best” Luxury Basket ($400) featuring a $100 bottle of wine, high-end cheeses, foie gras, truffle honey, locally made truffles and more.
Rachel, Marketing/Development Intern
Sweet Lydia’s Treats
This local treat maker is one of Rachel’s favorites, particularly the artisanal s’mores and potato chip toffee! These are great for elevated stocking stuffers. Or, try a gift box to give someone a sampler of all Sweet Lydia’s deliciousness.
Bites of Boston Gift Card
For locals who love an experience gift, a gift card for Bites of Boston food tours is a perfect idea. They’ll get to explore the neighborhood, taste food from local shops and restaurants and enjoy a walking tour of the area. (Make it a gift card for two and join them!)
Caroline, Product Development Intern
Caroline’s been testing recipes for a long time, and a kitchen scale is a “must” for anyone looking for precision in their recipes.
Mei Mei Sauce
The Mei Mei food truck is a staple on the Boston University campus, where Caroline is a grad student, and their sauce is the perfect gift for food lovers looking to spice up their recipes. Put together all three–the Apple Hoisin, Cranberry Sweet & Sour and Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce–made with local ingredients, for a great gift pack.
Curry powder is a blend of spices that differ based on the recipe but most include coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chili peppers. It is actually a British invention that closely resembles Garam Masala, a spice mixture used in Indian cooking. Curry powder was created to evoke the essence of Indian food.
Soybeans are fermented with a grain to make this paste found in Japanese cooking. There are three types of miso—white, yellow, and red. The darker the color, the richer the flavor. It can be used way beyond the parameters of soup, while nothing beats a steaming hot bowl of miso soup.
A staple in Korean cooking, this red chili paste is very concentrated, meant to be used sparingly to maximize flavor. It’s