December 2009

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo Bars are a

layered bar cookie named after a small town in British Columbia, Canada. The bottom layer of graham cracker or wafer crumbs, butter, coconut and nuts is topped by a vanilla butter cream icing (made with Bird's Instant Custard, for Brits or Canadians, Instant Pudding for Americans), itself topped with a layer of dark melted chocolate. The seem to have been the creation of a woman named Mabel Jenkins, from Cowichan Bay. Ms. Jenkins submitted the recipe to the Ladysmith and Cowichan Womens' Institute Cookbook, a charity cookbook that became very popular in the region. The cookbook, and the cookies, were popularized elsewhere in rapid order. The best discussion of the Nanaimo bar history is on Wikipedia.

Dungeness Crab for New Year's

The Dungeness Crab, Cancer magister

is named for the town of Dungeness, Washington, because it's the site of the first commercial commercial crabbing venture for the species. Today, Dungeness is the home of a major annual Dungeness Crab Festival. You can usually find fresh local dungeness crab in coastal Oregon and Washington from December to February, and then again, briefly, in June. If you don't want to try catching and cooking your own dungeness crab, you can buy it fresh crab at most local grocery stores, directly from crabbers, or seafood specialty shops like VIS Seafoods or the fish markets at Pike Place Market in Seattle, and settlements around Washington's Hood Canal.

Northwest Gift Baskets

One of my very favorite things

to give friends during the holidays are gift baskets I've assembled for them, myself, using Northwest items. It's a great deal of fun, and not as expensive or time consuming as it might seem. Nor do you have to actually use a basket; I'm fond of those inexpensive brightly colored shopping bags, and more than once, I've taken an ordinary box of a suitable size with a lid and covered it with appropriately attractive paper. I also like to line the box, basket, or bag with attractive tissue paper. There's a great deal of fun to be had in picking out the items that suit a particular person. You want to think about what they're likely to like, and what might be a fun item for them to try, too. There are online sources too, if you don't want to "do it yourself."

No Knead Bread

Bread machines, those machines

that essentially mix a batch of bread dough and then cook it, are still awfully popular. I confess that even when I had spare counter space, I wasn't a fan of bread machines, and now, when my kitchen is on the tiny side in terms of counters and cupboards both, I'm even less of a fan. Bread makers, for someone like me, take up too much space, for too little reward. I do understand why so many people love them, though, and I could very well change my mind. That said, I am, very much, a fan of fresh bread. While I'm surrounded by lovely artisan bakeries (the Northwest seems to be a mecca for artisan bakers), and I do like to purchase their breads, their prices are a little steep for regular sustenance.

Panettone

Panettone is a traditional

holiday sweet bread from Milan, Italy, that is especially favored at Christmas and New Years, and by the descendents of Italian immigrants who celebrate Christmas in an amalgamation of Northwest and Italian traditions. Panettone is visually marked by its shape—a cupola or other ornamental vaguely cylindrical and fairly large loaf, and studded with brightly colored candied fruits and citrus peels. The dough is a yeast-base sourdough type of dough, though it is usually sweeter than sourdough, and it rises twice. Panettone recipes typically include not only yeast but eggs, and recipes may also call for other ingredients, including marsala.