Hanukkah — for Kids & Cooks!

Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated in December. The traditional Jewish Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah, is held this year from December 21-29. We have several books on the subject, many of which would prove helpful in explaining the subject to children.

I Have a Little Dreidel by Maxie Baum is a colorful example. Not only does it tell you how to play the dreidel game, it also has the sheet music to the simple song repeated throughout the story. Plus, there’s an easy recipe for potato latkes as well- yum!

Tastes of Jewish Tradition: Recipes, Activities & Stories for the Whole Family by Jody Hirsh (and several other authors) is a compendium of crafts, games, stories and menus for many Jewish celebrations, including Hanukkah. It is handily organized in an appealing spiral notebook, which also makes it easy to use.

If you’re more interested in the culinary aspect, I would recommend Jacques Pepin’s Chanukah Celebration, a dvd with many traditional favorites prepared with a sophisticated French flair. It’s always fun to try a new recipe!

The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook

It’s just exactly what you’d expect from Martha and company – traditional recipes presented in fresh ways, exquisite photographs, impeccable directions. The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook has something for every taste, from simple to extravagant. Recipes cover the gamut of holiday food from breakfast to supper, drinks and hors d’oeuvres to desserts and cookies. A series of themed menus (Italian, Vegetarian, Swedish, Southern Open-House) simplify party planning and tips and techniques are scattered throughout. You’ll find plenty of ideas for the holiday season and beyond.

Turkey Time!

It’s Thanksgiving and it’s your turn to cook! What to do? It can be especially unnerving if this is your first time cooking for all the relatives. Relax — it’s actually easier than you think. Here are a few tips:

1) Delegate. Have each guest (or family unit) bring a dish to share. Not only do people really want to contribute, but it also makes them feel needed and appreciated. And, as you know, Thanksgiving is all about showing gratitude!

2) Plan Ahead. Set the table the day before. Designate which serving dish you’ll use for each item on the menu. Peel the potatoes, bake the pumpkin pie. Anything that you can prepare ahead of time will make your job on Thanksgiving day that much easier.

3) Laugh at Your Goofs! Keep a sense of humor — it helps you and your guests. Plus, it won’t be the first time someone left the bag of giblets inside the turkey!

4) Call a Hotline. When all else fails, here’s who to call:

USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline: 888-674-6854. Food-safety specialists will answer food preparation questions from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Butterball Turkey-Talk Line: 800-288-8372. A team of home economists will answer bird-related questions on Thanksgiving Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Crisco Pie Hotline: 877-367-7438. Get advice from pie pros from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

5) Have a glass of wine. Relax! Enjoy yourself. You may think it’s all about the food, but it’s really about the company you keep. Now, go out and have a happy Thanksgiving!

The Spice Merchant’s Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy

Open your kitchen and cooking to the spices of Malaysia. You’ll quickly discover that exotic flavors such as star anise, turmeric and saffron add a new level of complexity that the whole family will enjoy – and incorporating them into your meals is simple and straightforward.

In The Spice Merchant’s Daughter, Christina Arokiasamy shares her story of growing up in Kuala Lampur where her mother ran a spice stall. She also shares the secrets of her family’s spice recipes and advice on how to build flavors layer by layer. While Arokiasamy trained as a corporate chef (she currently runs a cooking school in Seattle), she also understands the daily task of cooking for a family using American ingredients.

Though many of the 100 recipes are dense with flavor (such as Braised Pork in Caramelized Soy Sauce or Rice Noodles with Seafood and Basil) they are also relatively easy to make. Arokiasamy is an excellent teacher and offers tips and guidelines, including make-ahead spice rubs, pastes and other seasonings and a discussion of essential pantry items.

What makes The Spice Merchant’s Daughter especially wonderful though is Arokiasamy’s evocative memories of growing up surrounded by the sights and smells of her native country. You’ll want to checkout this book for the recipes, but you’ll also want to read it for it’s window into another, exotic world.