Thursday, December 29, 2022

Holiday delights: try fun, new foods whether home or on the road

Enjoy each day and celebrate holidays with a trip to the beach -- or a favorite restaurant.
Here, Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers kick holidays up a notch in Vietnam. 


and our recipe for holiday jambalaya

This Vietnamese meal was prepared for a special
holiday gathering at our hotel in then Saigon. 

Shopping and schmoozing in the Caribbean,
Cookie made a new friend in St. Lucia who
directed them to a delightful cafe for local fare.
Noodles are part of a special holiday meal in Tokyo.

HOLIDAYS ON the road overflow with adventure, fun, surprise and delight. We've spent a dozen yuletides in warm climes -- Vietnam, Australia, the Caribbean, and once in chilly but beautiful Finland. We try to do something special on a holiday abroad -- take a special hike, a city bus, boat or bike tour. Then we always cap the day with a meal in our new environs. Maybe we walk into a village to find a cafe popular with locals.  We chat up vendors and hotel folks to find street fairs, food stalls and flea markets, all popular during the holidays in Europe and the Caribbean. We glean tips on munching and shop for gifts in the same outing. In Saigon (pre-Ho Chi Minh City) we were directed to a small hotel restaurant with a huge, tasty holiday feast of pork, pickled veggies, tangy soups, chicken dishes, noodles, rice cakes, and delectable desserts. For two of us, the bill was $35. 

IF YOU'RE staying home, don't let that stop you from putting a little international flair on your table. If you're Norwegian, try serving lutefish on Christmas Eve. Or how about making latkes on Hanukkah or noodles and dumplings on New Year’s Day. Whatever your ethnic persuasion or interest, the holidays are a perfect time to broaden your tastes while you eat, drink and be merry. Dedication to delicious food is  universal, whether you're visiting some new place or channeling a French or Italian chef's pantry. It's easy to open a cook book or go on line to spice up a holiday meal with a recipe from another country or culture. Try one or two of these if they sound intriguing.

IN A HELSINKI mood? You can savor porkkanalaatikko, which translates  

Even a simple breakfast can be made exotic
when you're on the road, or dreaming of being

to carrot casserole. In Lisbon, try the country's favorite dish, cod, called bacalhau, which you can make extra festive on Christmas Eve by trying "Bacalhau de Consoada."  In northern China, we've dined on jiaozi, those delicious pork dumplings. Time consuming to make but so tasty. In Israel, holiday time means latkes, those irresistibly crispy potato pancakes sometimes kicked up a notch with zucchini or tahini. One special New Year's Eve in New Orleans, friends invited us to their kitchen to prepare a delicious bouillabaisse.
Peking Duck on our plate for New Year's
Eve, in China of course, a Shanghai eatery.
In Kyoto one New Year's Eve, we sampled a fragrant "year-crossing noodle” dish. Toshikoshi soba is a thin noodle concoction traditionally served to welcome the new year and bring good luck in Japan. Of course, sauerkraut rules in Germany and panettone in Italy.

IT'S FUN to do something new, too, combining a meal with an outing. Try a hike up a hill or in a nature preserve, park or zoo, followed by a meal in a nearby restaurant. Many places that attract tourists and families are open during the holidays.

SO WHETHER it's spicy tamales in Mexico or or a spongy yule log cake in France, tuck into something different this holiday -- even if it's from your armchair with something unusual in your home kitchen. You don't have to cross an ocean to try something new. We're sharing a recipe we made with friends from Louisiana whom we met on a cruise. It's the state's favorite one-pot dish: jambalaya. 

We cooked this jambalaya while visiting new friends
in their New Orleans home over Christmas.

This succulent dish varies from kitchen to kitchen, depending on the cook and recipes passed through generations. Jambalaya usually contains chicken or pork sausage -- andouille, chorizo or smoked sausage are favorites. Seafood is normally added -- crawfish or shrimp, but we've also had lobster in jambalaya. Onion, bell peppers and celery are musts, with rice, chilis, seasonings and broth -- all cooked together until the rice is done. Some jambalaya recipes have a Cajun spin. This one comes from a Creole cook.  

Bruce Keller enjoys a New Year's
souffle with thick whipped cream,
served in the Canary Islands'
 Lanzarote by a gracious waitress.

3 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
2 tablespoons seasoning, (Slap Ya Mama is great, or our favorite chili powder.)
10 ounces (300 g) andouille sausage, sliced
1 pound (500 g) boneless skinless chicken cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion diced; 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 stalks/ribs celery, chopped; 4 cloves garlic, minced
14 ounces (400 g) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon each dried thyme and dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne powder)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce; 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup thinly sliced okra (or 1 teaspoon file powder)
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice (short grain or long grain)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 pound (500 g) raw cleaned shrimp/prawns tails
Sliced green onions and chopped parsley, to garnish


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the sausage and chicken pieces with half of the seasoning.
Brown sausage in the hot oil; remove with slotted spoon, set aside. Add rest of oil to pot. Sauté chicken until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion, bell pepper and celery until onion is soft and transparent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes; season with salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes or cayenne powder, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and remaining seasoning. Stir in okra slices (or file powder), chicken and sausage. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
ADD RICE and chicken broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low-medium. Cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is cooked, stirring occasionally. Place shrimp on top of  mixture, stir gently, cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are pink (5-6 minutes, depending on shrimp size.) 
Season with a bit more salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat. Add optional extra hot sauce, cayenne pepper or Cajun seasoning. Serve with sliced green onions or parsley.
Why not check a longed for trip off your bucket list?
Here, Cookie and Keller visit "Godfather" country
in Savoca, Italy, and the church where the
 famous wedding scene was filmed.
UP NEXT: New Year's Eve is upon us, a time for ringing in the new. Why not make it a year to accomplish something you've longed to see or do. Let's put a positive spin on 2023 as we emerge from so much darkness. It's been a difficult three years with the trauma of the pandemic, the heartbreak of losing loved ones including pets, political unrest and bitterness, accidents, a horrible war, illness and changed plans. But there is hope for a new, brighter year.  There's also the opportunity to broaden our horizons, challenge ourselves, click something off our bucket lists. Have you always wanted to visit "Godfather Country" in Italy and see where the film was made? Have you dreamed about seeing the gorillas of Rwanda? Maybe you'd like to take a relative to Paris to celebrate a graduation or wedding?  How about a resolution to plan that longed for trip? Shake up your routine, meet new people, try new foods in new places, explore new vistas. Join us to resolve to make your dreams come true and stretch a bit in this first few days of the new year, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, family, the arts and more:  And please share the links.

1 comment:

  1. We make chowder for Christmas Eve and have a neighborhood pot luck on New Year's. Little United Nations of food, very fun.