Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eat, Drink, Cook: Setting the table for the new year

Country singer Trisha Yearwood has a new follow-up to her first cookbook, Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, featuring more simple, home-style Southern recipes. One recipe that caught my eye was the grape salad... whole seedless red and green grapes combined with a dressing made of cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla, pressed into a square pan and chilled in the fridge, then topped with a sprinkling of brown sugar and chopped pecans. (I have seen U.S.-origin grapes at the grocery store lately, although labels have to be checked carefully. I concede this dish might be best saved for when grapes from the Western Slope are in season again.) But such a refreshing salad/dessert combination (it can be served either way) sounded good this time of year.

I was intrigued to learn that grapes are eaten at New Year's for good luck in Spanish cultures. It is best to eat at least 12... one for each month of the year.

When I think of food to serve at the dawning of a new year, I think of a traditional shrimp linguine pasta, although I'm not sure why. As it turns out, seafood is considered a popular choice in many cultures.

Another food closely associated with New Year's is oranges. It's an important symbol of prosperity and luck in Asian cultures. I personally think the abundance of citrus is one of the food highlights of our year's coldest months. (Ranch Foods Direct will be featuring citrus recipes in our January newsletter, provided by Marcy Nameth of nearby Greenhorn Acres. It's such a pleasure to be the beneficiary of her great recipes and cooking ideas.) For new year's, we had planned on roasting a duck (not the most auspicious choice apparently), but on a more optimistic note, I'm also thinking about making citrus collard greens (after all the holiday cooking and eating, isn't everyone craving leafy greens?) and fluffy muffins studded with bits of real chopped oranges (which are great for brunch or can do double-duty as a dessert when topped with whipped cream or orange buttercream frosting... as an alternative, some type of orange bundt cake would also be seasonally appropriate.) For some reason, visions of sweet potato pie have danced around in my head. (Turns out that Yearwood's new book includes a sweet potato pudding that makes a decadent side dish or doubles as a dessert. It is made with cornmeal, eggs, milk, sugar and salt and topped again with pecans and brown sugar.)

And of course I've always heard that black-eyed peas and other lentils bring good luck. (Here's an article talking more about these traditions and including a recipe for "Hoppin' Juan," a southwestern variation of southern Hoppin' John.) So perhaps a good strategy would be to make a simple bean and sausage soup for New Year's Eve to serve by the glow of a fire. Or for something casual and festive, here's a recipe for a hot cheesy black-eyed pea dip for setting out with the last of the holiday treats and champagne.

It looks like this New Year's Eve will be a cold one, and it might even be a white one. Snuggling up at home might be the best bet, but take care if you plan to be out. Wind chills will dip dangerously low to mark this winter passage from one year to the next.