(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 30, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas.)
In Romania, we have a few Christmas traditional meals, each so elaborate it takes a day to cook it. For the Christmas menu, we have our traditional pork homemade specialties. In the countryside, people have their own pig which they raise especially to be butchered about a week before Christmas. First, they make lots of sausages and meat specialties, like ham, bacon, smoked pork loin, and salami. They make different kinds of salami, including liver salami, pork and rice boiled salami, and a special one we call 'drum', because of its 'drum' form.
The 'drum' is made out of the pork's stomach, stuffed with the tongue, heart and kidneys, all boiled, then we boil the drum on both sides. It may look yucky, but it's delicious!
Nowadays, many people in the city are buying the sausages from the market, but some still make it at home. My husband and I have an electric meat grinder which grinds a few pounds of meat in a few minutes and also has the fixtures for making sausages. Everything else we need we can buy from the market: pork, beef, pork's intestines and stomach. These are already cleaned and salted, we only have to put them in water for de-salting, then stuff them with meat and make the sausages.
One day is for making sausages and one for making the drum.
Once the sausages are made, we save meat for the cabbage pork rolls, called 'sarmale' in Romanian. There goes another day, because the cabbage rolls need time to be made and boiled, first on the stove, then in the oven...altogether it takes about 4 hours of boiling.
There is no Romanian Christmas without the traditional 'sarmale' with polenta.
Most of the 'hard ' meals are done now, but last comes the sour meatballs soup, just a day before Christmas so it is fresh.
Last but not least is the 'cozonac', our traditional sponge cake, for which it takes also a whole day to complete. It is a very elaborate cake, made of dough which must be well-kneaded, then allowed to rest for a few hours until doubles its volume. Then the dough is spreaded on the table and covered with raisins, jello, walnuts cream and cocoa...then rolled over and put in a pan for another hour, to double in volume again.
Then it goes in the oven for baking for 50 minutes. The result is worth all the effort! I remember many Christmas or Easter Eve's spent baking the 'cozonaci'; the time was always too short!
Christmas is gone now and we are heading to the New Year's Eve night, and other meals are about to be made! Just now I am organizing the meals for each day, so I can make them all for the big night! I have only 3 days to get it all done.
First I'll make the turkey aspic we call 'piftie'. It is usually made for Christmas, with the pork's head and feet boiled until all the meat falls off the bones. I make it with turkey, because we like the taste better and it's not as fat as pork. After boiling the meat with pepper, laurel and vegetables, I add garlic into the soup and filter it through a strainer, then add jello and pour over the meat (no bones allowed!)
The second day I will make the beef vegetable salad, my favorite. Boiled beef, potatoes, carrots, peas, pickled sweet peppers and cucumbers all cut in tiny pieces, that's why I need a day for it! I may do also the stuffed eggs on the same day with the beef salad they don't take much time!
On the third day comes the turkey or pork roast and fruit salad and maybe some cookies; all I can do until the holiday night comes!
My favorite cake for this time of year is the Christmas Tree Cake...it's such fun to do it and it's also so yummy! All I need is a chocolate layer, a custard with chocolate flakes and orange zest and some strawberries and kiwis for decorations...oh, not to forget the whipping cream...mmmmmmm!
This is the recipe, in case you'll decide to try it :
Christmas Tree Cake
For the cake:
- 9 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cocoa
- ½ cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- juice from ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon rum
Preheat oven at 350 F. Separate whites and beat until fluffy. Mix yolks, sugar, cocoa, flour and baking soda. Then add lemon juice and rum. Add fluffy whites , mixing carefully from upside down. Pour the batter into a 15- by 8-inch rectangular pan, buttered and floured. Bake for 45 minutes. Let it cool.
For the custard :
- 6 eggs
- 4 cups of milk
- ¼ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons starch
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 1 orange zest
- ½ cup chocolate flakes
Boil ¾ milk, add mixture of eggs, sugar, starch and ¼ milk, then stir until the custard thickens. Add orange zest and rum, let chill. Mix the chocolate flakes when chilled.
For decoration :
- 4 kiwis
- 2 cups strawberries
- 1 package whipping cream
Cut layer and fill with cream, then cool. Cut in 3 different sized triangles, to form the tree. Decorate like in the picture, with kiwi slices and strawberry halves, then whipped cream on top and on the 'branches'. Make the stem of the tree from a leftover part of the cake.
This is the cake without the whipped cream...
...and this is how it looks like, when ready--isn't it fun? Let me know how yours tastes because I know you are going to make it. It's too delicious, even the picture is a bad one and doesn't show it all, but wait until you see your own cake!
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!