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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December's Celebration of Life

December brings with it an annual celebration that the whole world joins in. As Christians we celebrate with decorations, gifts and food. Many non-Christians around the world join in with the holiday spirit, the brightly decorated trees and dazzling wrapping paper. One such example may be seen in retailers world over who may come from either side of the spiritual fence yet find the chorus of ringing cash registers purely divine music of inspiration.

Today Christmas may have found a little too much commercialism attached to it. Yet the tradition of celebration with family and friends has remained at the centre of it all. On a spiritual level Christmas is a birthday celebration, the birth of Jesus in the city of Bethlehem. For many this is a time to celebrate the rebirth of their faith and a new beginning for the year ahead.

As with any celebration, decorations are a major consideration. The practice of special decorations at Christmas has a long history. In the 15th century it was recorded that in London the custom at Christmas was to decorate parish churches and homes with holm, ivy, bays and whatever was available at the time of year. Our most famous and loved symbol of Christmas, the Christmas Tree was first recorded in 1835.

The Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century. Later, this custom was introduced to Britain via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. By the 1870's this tradition had found its way to the United States and the groundwork was set for the eventual artificial tree, and who can forget the white tree. Design and decoration of the traditional Christmas tree is only limited by one's imagination today.

Christmas decorations begin popping up as early as mid November in our malls and stores. Together with the brightly coloured balls, tinsel and a variety of trees comes the never ending sound of Christmas carols. In every corner of every mall, in every store whether it is a toy store or a grocery store, no one can escape the Christmas music. Christmas music can come in many different languages, it can be jazz or modern pop, sung by the greats like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Elvis, or the current crop of popular artists. Regardless of who sings it or in what style, it is everywhere, but where did it all begin?

Christmas 'Prose' or 'Sequence' was introduced in monasteries throughout Northern Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries, and under Cleric Bernard of Clairvaux developing into a sequence of rhymed stanzas. By the 13th century a strong tradition of then popular Christmas songs in each native language developed in France, Germany and particularly Italy. John Awdlay, a Shropshire chaplain, whose list of twenty-five carols first appeared in England in 1426 followed in the steps of Francis of Assisi. Now it is Bublé, Bieber, Carey, Gaga and the Chipmunks who come softly floating from every corner of every shopping mall and every store. Excuse the repetition, I thought I could hear what's his name singing something about balls or decking halls.

Music, whether it is spiritual or festive, often denotes a celebration is on the way. Food equally provides an air of grandeur to any festive occasion even if it is dinner for one. Although traditions had developed around the world such as the one in Sicily where twelve kinds of fish are served at the dinner table, today it is a philosophy of anything goes. Turkey and goose together with ham lead the charge for the supermarkets, at the same time a nicely marbleised slab of beef can be as tempting as ever. Whatever the main course one tradition has remained for centuries. It has always been a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate life together. No one can deny that our modern times have not seen a growing number of people who cannot feed their families, who seek some form of help for the most meager of meals. Yet it is with hope and faith that we celebrate life itself.

Most of the hooplah seems to be about Christmas, and true there are a growing number of countries who are not predominately Christian but who celebrate Christmas. Japan is one such example; as one travels the large cities such as Tokyo, brightly lit Christmas trees and decorations are seen in abundance, as is the tradition of gift giving. Still one can't forget that mid-December brings other traditional and spiritual celebrations.

For the Jewish faith Hanukkah begins with an eight day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The festival is observed by the kindling of lights on a unique candelabrum called the Menorah. Tradition is that one light is lit on each night of the eight day celebration. As with any tradition or custom food finds its way to be a party of the celebration. Here a custom of eating foods that had been fried or baked in oil stems back to the small flask of oil which kept the flame alight for eight days in the Holy Temple.

Among African Americans Kwanzaa has become a major celebration since its creation in 1965 by Maulana Karenga. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through to January 1st with its principles of unity, creativity, faith and gift giving. Not far removed from the basic ideals of Christmas, many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa also celebrate Christmas.

For me as a chef, a father and husband the celebration of life comes daily. The recipes here not only present the last week's work at my station but also provide some ideas whether it is a few friends who stop by for a visit or the family for dinner. Remembering that, on the day after Christmas we will be hungry again.


3 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp brandy extract
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp ground clove
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rum or brandy
1 cup 18% cream
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine milk, vanilla and brandy extract, cinnamon, cinnamon stick and clove over low heat.
Once combined raise the heat level to a slow boil.
Remove from heat after 1 minute, remove cinnamon stick and allow to steep.
Separate eggs, combine egg yolks and sugar, whisk together till pale and fluffy.
Pour hot mixture into egg yolks.
Put on heat at medium and cook approx. 5-6 minutes, stirring till mixture thickens and is creamy.
Stir in rum or brandy, the 18% cream and nutmeg.
Refrigerate over night.

Eggnog Dip

8 oz cream cheese – room temperature
1/2 cup eggnog
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp brandy extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese till it reaches a smooth consistency.
Blend vanilla and brandy extract, cinnamon and nutmeg with cream cheese.
Add eggnog and powdered sugar, blending till the mixture reaches a smooth consistency.
Allow to cool over night in refrigerator.

Deep Fried Chicken Logs

4 cups oil for deep frying
1 lb ground chicken
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, plus another 1 1/2 cups
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely

Mix the ground chicken, chopped parsley, egg and 1/2 cup breadcrumbs well.
Taking a small amount of chicken mixture roll and form 1/2 inch thick
and approx. 2 inch long logs.
Place these on a sheet of parchment paper.
Mix 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs with seasoning in a bowl.
Heat oil in a pan for deep frying.
Roll the chicken logs in breadcrumbs and drop into hot oil.
Cook till the breadcrumbs turn golden brown and then drain on a paper towel.

Mini Quiche

18 Tenderflake shells
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup 18% table cream
1 cup cubed ham
1/2 cup cooked spinach (baby spinach)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup smoked gouda cheese
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano for garnish

Beat the eggs and cream together.
Add cubed ham and cooked spinach.
(I use the baby spinach as it is smaller and there is no need to chop it up)
Prebake tart shells and let cool down completely.
Add gouda cheese to egg mixture and pour even amounts into tart shells.
In a preheated oven at 350° place the mini quiche on a cookie sheet and bake
for approx. 10 minutes or until egg sets and becomes golden brown.

Salmon Beret

1 baguette cut at an angle into slices
1 tub ricotta cheese
2 tbsp jar of Red Chili Jelly
1 lb smoked salmon slices
balsamic vinegar for drizzle

Cut the baguette at an angle into 1 inch thick slices and lightly toast.
Blend together ricotta cheese and Red Chili Jelly.
Smear a generous portion of cheese mix over bread then add a portion of smoked salmon.

Horse Lobster

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayo
2 tbsp bottled drained horseradish
1 lb lobster meat
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup chives, finely chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

In a bowl whisk together sour cream, 1/4 cup mayo and horseradish.
In a bowl combine crab meat, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs,
green onions, chives, cayenne, salt and pepper.
Shape into patties and coat with remaining breadcrumbs.
Heat oil in frying pan, fry the patties till golden brown, turn over and fry again till golden brown on the other side.

Sambal Pork

8 pork chops
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 yellow Asian pear, chopped and cored
1 bag mini bok choy
228 g shiitake mushrooms, chopped

Sauce Mix:
300 g Kalbi marinade
3 tbsp Sambal Oelek
2 tbsp sweet green relish
Combine all ingredients and set aside.

Prepare sauce mix and set aside.
Heat oil in pan and cook pork chops till golden brown, set aside and cover to keep warm.
Begin with onions, as the onions soften and turn translucent add chopped peppers.
Cook another 3 minutes.
Add mini bok choy and allow to wilt a little.
Now chop the pork chops into small pieces and add to vegetables, mix through.
Pour the Sambal sauce mix over everything, mix in the sauce, cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Mozza Fish

1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
salt and pepper
3/4 cups breadcrumbs
1/4 cups parmesan, grated
1 lb tilapia or white fish
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp basil
4 oz (120 g) mozzarella, sliced

On one plate season flour generously and on another mix breadcrumbs with parmesan.
In a bowl beat eggs with a little water.
Coat fish fillet in flour, then egg mixture and then breadcrumbs.
Place on baking sheet & brush with melted butter.
Cook 5-7 minutes at 450° and turn over, cook another 5-7 minutes.
Mix tomato sauce, capers, lemon zest and basil.
Cover fish with sauce and top with mozzarella slices.
Bake 5 minutes or until cheese is golden.

(Serves 4)

Chermoula Salmon

1 lb salmon fillets
Chermoula sauce
3 ripe tomatoes
1/2 lemon
olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp Italian parsley
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice

Score tomato at base and place in boiling water for 20 seconds, drain then cover with cold water.
Drain and peel away.
Grate zest from 1 lemon.
Heat oil, add onion and cook approx. 5 minutes.
Add garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper, cook stirring for 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and lemon zest.
Season and cover, simmer for 15 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and add lemon juice.
Cook for another 5 minutes.
Pan fry salmon fillet till golden brown leaving the centre a little pink.

(Serves 4 - 6)

Creamy Teriyaki Salmon

1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup 35% cream
1/2 cup green onions, sliced on an angle
1 lb salmon fillet
salt to taste
1 tsp ground black pepper

In medium saucepan heat oil, add garlic, ginger and cook for approx. 1 minute.
Add mushrooms, cook for 2 minutes stirring.
Add water and teriyaki sauce, cook for approx. 2 minutes.
Add cream and green onions, cook till sauce reduces and thickens.
(If the sauce thickens too much add small amount of water to loosen)
Set aside.
Season salmon with salt and pepper,
place the salmon first skin side up and sear for approx. 4 minutes.
Then turn to skin side down again and sear till skin is crisp and salmon is cooked through, or if you wish till the centre only is pink.
Serve with sauce on a plate and a fillet of salmon floating on top.

(Serves 4)

Garam Chicken

1 each red, orange, & yellow pepper chopped
400 g mushrooms, chopped
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
4-6 chicken breasts

The Rub:
1 tbsp coriander
2 tbsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp tumeric
1 tsp dried mint

Mix spices for rub well and set aside in bowl.
Heat oil in pan and begin with onions, cook till soft, about 5 minutes.
Add mushrooms, peppers and cook 5 more minutes.
Add fresh cilantro and parsley and lemon juice.
Stir well and season with 1 tbsp of rub mix.
In a bowl pour 1 tbsp of oil and roll chicken breasts to coat lightly.
Press the oiled breasts into rub mixture and cook.
Serve breast over vegetable mixture.

(Serves 4 - 6)

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