Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today, December 6, is Saint Nicholas Day and is celebrated all over the world, but seems to have been overlooked by most of the U.S. However, if it wasn't for Saint Nicholas, there would be no St. Nick aka Santa Claus. 

But who is Saint Nicholas?   In short, he was a bishop who was orphaned at a young age and inherited the family fortune. He shared his money with the needy, particularly children.  Among the many legends of Saint Nicholas, he is said to have brought three children back to life, calmed the seas for sailors and rescued a kidnapped child from Pirates. It is said that he heard of a poor man who was very sad he could not provide for his three daughters. In the dark of night, St. Nicholas tossed three bags of gold down his chimney. The stories of this charitable man spread throughout the world.  After his death on December 6, AD 343, a liquid appeared on his grave that was said to heal; manna.  The anniversary of his death became a celebrated holiday called Saint Nicholas Day. He is regarded as the Patron Saint of Children, Seaman, Brides, Hungry, Scholars, and more.
Over hundreds of years, what was a red robe and bishops hat has evolved into the round red Santa suit and hat that we know today.

Like the American children who hang stockings on the mantle on December 24, European children leave shoes out on December 5 for the arrival of St Nicholas. St. Nicholas travels on donkeys, horses and sleighs, by himself and with associates, depending on where you are in the world, but he always brings treats like candy and toys to the good boys and girls and twigs, sticks and hay for the naughty. He keeps careful records in his book on attendance and behavior at church, school and at home.

As St Nicholas Day is celebrated as a children's holiday, Christmas is kept religious and a celebration of Jesus Birthday.

The Eve of Saint Nicholas and The Feast of Saint Nicholas is filled with delicious foods and drinks that you can include in your December celebrations.

Smoking Bishop (Mulled Red Wine with Port) Recipe
On the eve of the St. Nicholas party the treats served are the exchange of gifts, genuine Dutch cookies and Bishopwyn (bishop's wine). For children the wine is grape juice. But the grownups welcome the mulled Bishopwyn. With the people of the Netherlands, let us toast his memory with Bishopwyn and tell the beautiful legends of the charity of St. Nicholas. To give gifts in secret so that people would render him no thanks was surely a saintly act.

  • 5 medium oranges
  • 1 medium grapefruit
  • 36 whole cloves
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle medium-bodied red wine, such as Pinot Noir
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle ruby port

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Place the oranges and grapefruit in a baking dish and bake until the bottom of the fruit is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Using tongs, flip the fruit over and continue baking until the second side is lightly browned, about 20 to 35 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly in the dish. When cool enough to handle, remove the fruit from the dish and stud each piece with 6 cloves; set aside.
  2. Place the red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a large saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the clove-studded fruit, submerging it in the wine mixture as much as possible (not all the fruit will be covered). Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
  3. The next day, remove the fruit from the saucepan. Slice each piece in half and juice the halves into a strainer set over a medium bowl. Discard the seeds, cloves, and any large pieces of pulp in the strainer. Add the juice and port to the wine mixture and stir to combine. Place over low heat until the mixture is hot, being careful not to let it boil. If desired, remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks. Serve hot.

Stuffed Pork Shoulder Roast
The fruit stuffing in the roast symbolizes the good works of St. Nicholas--some done in secret, hidden from others' eyes, and some done openly.


  • 4–6 lb. pork shoulder roast Stuff with:
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh cranberries
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 2/3 cup prunes cut into bits
  • 1/2–2/3 cup raisins
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup apple juice

  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking pan with heavy duty foil or have a large, heavy Dutch oven with a lid ready to go.

    Place the deboned pork shoulder roast fat-side up on a cutting board. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Turn roast over and again sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. You may need to add a few cuts so that it lies open and flat.

    Poke holes in the meat with a sharp knife and insert garlic slivers into the pork.

    Pack mixed berries/fruits on top of the open pork roast. Roll one side to the other, lengthwise, to enclose the stuffing and secure with kitchen twine. Place roast seam-side down in baking pan or Dutch oven. Pour chicken broth and apple juice around the bottom. Cover with a layer of heavy-duty foil and seal edges to the rim of the pan or cover with a tight-fitting lid.

    Bake about 2 hours. Remove foil and bake an additional 30 minutes until skin is browned. Center should read at least 170 with a meat thermometer. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing to serve.

    Note: Some butchers will debone the pork shoulder roast at no extra cost, while others will charge a higher price. It's easy to debone the roast yourself in about 15 minutes. (See step-by-step instructions with photos.)

    Yield: 8 to 10 servings

    Black Forest 'Good Works' Cake
    This can be bought or easily made. The cherry filling symbolize the good works of St. Nicholas, many of them hidden from public eyes, but some were openly done. The cake reminds us to live our own lives in the same way.


    • 1 dark chocolate cake mix (or your own from scratch)
    • 1/4 c. kirsch (cherry brandy)
    • 1 can cherry pie filling
    • 16 oz. heavy whipping cream
    • 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
    • Maraschino cherries, drained, optional, for garnish
    • milk chocolate curls or shavings, for garnish


    Drain cherry pie filling in a colander to remove most of the thickened juices.Make cake, following package directions. Bake cake, as directed, in two 9-inch layer cake pans. When cool, sprinkle kirsch over both cake layers. Chill electric beaters and large mixing bowl; beat cream until it thickens slightly, gradually add confectioners' sugar and beat until thick enough to hold its shape. Using a vegetable peeler, shave chocolate; refrigerate until ready to serve. Assemble cake; place one layer on serving plate and spread its top with 1/2-inch thick layer of whipped cream and strew the cherries over the cream leaving about 1/2 inch margin around border of cake with no cherries. Set other layer on top of cherries and spread top and sides of cake with remaining cream, shape whipped cream into decorative swirls on top. With fingers, gently press chocolate curls into cream on sides of cake. Garnish top with drained maraschino cherries, if desired, or with a few remaining chocolate curls

    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Belgian Christmas Traditions & Recipes

    In Belgium, the children that speak Waloon are visited by St. Nicholas, the Flemish children are visited by Sint Niklaas and the children that speak French are visited by Pere Noel along with his friend, Pere Fouettard.

    On December 4, St Nicholas and Sint Niklaas secretly visit the Waloon and Flemish children's homes, schools, churches and clubs to figure out who has been naughty or nice. They keep records in their books and then return on December 6, the birthday of St. Nicholas, marked as the Feast of St Nicholas, to give the good little boys and girls candies and toys and leave sticks and twigs for the naughty. These are left in either shoes or baskets that are left inside the doorway.

    Pere Noel and Pere Fouettard also visit on December 6 to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas. The French children who are good receive chocolates and candy while the naughty children receive a handful of sticks.

    Like American Children who leave cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, the Belgian children leave hay for the Saints' horses and donkeys and wine for the Saints. 

    Families gather at church to celebrate this religious holiday and later, together for special holiday foods that include Beligian cookies called Speculoos. Usually there made with a wooden mold and resemble animal cookies, but they can be made using cookie cutters as well and taste like a gingerbread or spice cookie.

    Speculoos Recipe

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1. Preheat oven to 350°F
    2. Sift together flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    3. In the work bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla
    4. Add dry ingredients to mixer, a few spoonfuls at a time, mixing on low speed until combined
    5. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 60 minutes.
    6. Place dough on Silpat or parchment. Roll dough out to about 1/4" thickness .Use bench flour as necessary to prevent sticking.
    7. 2 Great tips- 1)Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll so that the      
                           dough does not stick to your rolling pin.
                           2) After rolled to preferable thickness, take top parchment off, pick up the dough
                           with bottom parchment and lay it dough side down on cookie sheet, peel off the
                            parchment and Cut out the shapes and remove the excess from the pan.7
         7. Cut the dough into shapes.
         8. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
    After they are cooled, you can brush each cookie with melted white or dark chocolate and sprinkle with colored sugar.
      On December 24 & 25, they celebrate the birth of Jesus while attending midnight mass, gathering around the Christmas tree where family and friends will give each other gifts in honor of Christmas.  Their holiday meal is served buffet style which includes apertif(drinks) and snacks and then followed by seafood and later a stuffed turkey, cakes and Cougnou, a sweet bread representing Jesus.

      Belgian Brownie Cocktail Recipe (Apertif)
      Ingredients(Serves 6)
    6 ounces gin
    3 ounces cognac or 3 ounces brandy
    6 ounces chocolate liqueur
    6 to taste fill with heavy cream
                                                                    6 to taste ice cube
    1. Pour the gin, cognac and chocolate liqueur over the ice cubes.
    2. Fill with heavy cream.
    3. Stir gently.


      Cougnou(Bread of Jesus) Recipe

      8 cups all-purpose flour + flour for kneading
      5 teaspoons active dry yeast
      8 ounces (2 sticks) softened butter
      1-1/4 cups warm milk
      2 teaspoons salt
      6 large eggs, room temperature
      1/2 cup granulated sugar
      1 teaspoon cinnamon
      3/4 cup raisins
      1 cup + 2 tablespoons coarse sugar crystals (the original recipe called for 2 cups)
      3 egg yolks
      3 teaspoons milk
      1) Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in flour. Pour warm milk into well. Add yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes. Mix. Add eggs, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Beat the mixture with a spoon (you can use your electric mixer if you wish). Gradually add butter. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead until dough no longer sticks to work surface. Place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Allow to rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Turn onto work surface. Knead in raisins and 1 cup coarse sugar crystals. Divide dough into six balls. Lightly grease or spray 2 cookie sheets. Connect three balls, representing head, body and legs, on each sheet. Allow to rise until doubled in size.
      2) Preheat oven to 430 degrees F. Combine egg yolks with 3 teaspoons milk. Brush loaves with mixture. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons sugar crystals. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Yield: 2 loaves.

      Cook's Note: If you are unable to find sugar crystals, coarsely chop sugar cubes to desired size