Did you have a nice Christmas? I always wonder about folks who do not celebrate the holiday. Is it enjoyable down time? Or annoying because you cannot get anything done since the majority of people are off for at least a couple of days if not more. I know that trying to get business accomplished on Christmas Eve was difficult, as I made calls in between getting orders out, I found that almost everyone else was already out of their offices. We did enjoy some nice family time: Christmas Eve at our house with my family, which was perfect because we were exhausted! So we got home and they already had the music on, candles lit, food out and wine opened. Aaaahhh… that was so nice! We got into our pj’s and just enjoyed the evening and then when everyone left we crawled into bed. No driving home, or packing anything up… mom and dad even did a bunch of clean up and all we had to do was put some food away and turn out the lights. The rest was attended to later. The next morning we slept in until 6:45! It was fabulous to sleep in and then lounge in bed. Santa came so we checked out our stockings and then got ready to spend the day at the Downen’s.

Breakfast, presents, lounging around and visiting, then dinner and home by 7. So nice to get into bed and read! My favorite gift: A photo book of our Italy trip that my mom created online, using Mark’s amazing photos. You must come to the cafe and see this! He is a wonderful photographer and mom put together a fantastic rendition of our Food & Wine Tour… it took our breath away. It is really beautiful and I will have it to share with everyone at the cafe.

Saturday was a free day so I read A LOT. Sunday Mark had to go in to work for a few hours to prep up for Monday. It is always a big job when we have more than one day off because we give all the food that won’t make it (bread, cookies, sliced veg, soup, salad, etc…) to the homeless outreach program that we work with. So when we go in on Monday we have to start completely over from scratch from nothing, and there is quite a bit of prep work involved. I cleaned up the house and did a little work on the computer-usually a big no on Sunday, but again there is too much catchup to do if I don’t at least clean up the emails. I did not have to cook at all over the weekend because we had lots of leftovers! From Christmas Eve we had smoked salmon, cheeses, crackers, grilled radicchio, pasta, braised chicken, roasted beef, bbq’d turkey (dad does it best!), and lots more. No one even noticed that we forgot to bring Christmas cookies home for the family! Christmas day leftovers included steak and turkey and we just ate off the leftovers all weekend.

Our catering went really well on Wednesday and Thursday, and that always makes me so very happy. All the special orders got out and we only screwed up one order (Mark dropped the Key Lime Pie…That Sucked!) and they were exceedingly nice and understanding and accepted the caramel macadamia nut tart that we offered in lieu of the pie. Whew! The tart is worth more than twice the pie, but if I didn’t get what I ordered and had counted on, I might still be disappointed at first. Everything worked out and Erin got to her plane on time (as far as I know!) after coming in to bake early, and we all got home safe and sound. I hope you did, as well.

Next up: New Year’s Eve! It has always been one of my top favorite holidays and even though I can no longer make it up until Pacific Coast midnight (I celebrate East Coast New Year’s Eve!) I still love it. I like to have a special meal with great wine to celebrate the end of the year, and to welcome in the new one. I love the feeling of a fresh new year and this year we want to stay close to home, so we saved up and are going to enjoy the FABULOUS service and food of Brix 25 in Gig Harbor. Unfortunately I waited too long to get a reservation so we have to be there at 5:30. We can draw it out nicely, but that is a bit early even for me. It will be worth it though, and I can hardly wait! We wanted to invite friends and family over to watch the Olalla Polar Bear Jump, but we cannot find out when it will be. High tide is usually the time, and that is at 0635, so I don’t think anyone will want to come watch at that hour! It is pretty funny to watch all those crazy people jump into the cold Puget Sound! Brr… they also blast a stupid cannon that I hate (yes, it is really an actual cannon!) so I won’t be sad at all to miss that this year if they don’t do the jump.

I added a new appetizer to our catering menu based on something I learned from Rima in Florence. I finally found the cherry peppers, although they are already cleaned and pickled, which actually makes my life much easier! I made a tuna mousse by adding our totally fabulous sardines in lemon (everyone who says they hate sardines LOVES these!), some capers, some olive oil… and stuffed the little peppers (which are mostly sweet with just a bit of a kick) and oh man are they good! It is a great addition to our party foods and I can’t wait to add them to someone’s party. We will serve then up at our Winter Blahs party in January so you all can sample them along with some of our other goodies.

There are lots and lots of new year food traditions around the world, and when I was a little girl the men made our New Year’s Day celebration meal. It was called Halusky and if you click that link you can see my blog post about it from last January. I will make my version of halusky again this year because I just plain love to eat it!

Beans and rice are a very traditional dish to serve for good luck at the new year so here is a recipe for you. It uses dried beans, though you can easily use canned if you like, just be sure to rinse them really well so you get the tinny can taste off of them.

1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
3 tablespoons bacon grease or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped tasso, or chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 pound smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound smoked ham hocks, scored
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cups chicken stock, or water
4 cups cooked white rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions, garnish
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight at room temperature. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the bacon grease or oil over medium-high heat. Add the tasso and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers to the grease in the pot. Season with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage, and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock or water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. (Should the beans become too thick and dry, add more water, about 1/4 cup at a time.)

Remove from the heat and with the back of a heavy spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice and garnish with green onions. Serve with some hot sauce for people like me who like it spicy!!

Good luck in the new year!