Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Black Magic Menu for a Fresh New Year: Key Lime Crusted Pecans + Oriental Kumquats Compote

I come from lands where superstitions run strong, where myths and legends, demons, witches and the rituals of dark magic prescribe how one breathes, sneezes and breaks the bread. The sacred laws and observances rule in my part of the Balkans; they tell us how to wake up, what to wear on certain occasions, when to travel, clean the house or do the laundry.

Being a scientist I obviously do not believe in silly voodoos, but they work their powerful ways regardless of whether one believes or not; therefore, one better be careful. I do my fair share of being careful. I never open an umbrella inside the house because it brings in extreme bad luck. Ditto with: a) turning the bread upside down, b) saying “cheers” with a non-alcoholic drink, and c) God forbid, walking under an open ladder.

I do much more than my fair share of being careful. I dutifully get out of bed via the right foot to ensure successful day. I keep an amulet of Saint Parascheva to keep me healthy. I never, ever, leave my purse on the floor – doing so would cause me to loose money and given how careless with it I already am, we cannot afford any additional losses. When I thought that getting married is a mighty good idea, I made sure I never sat at the corner of the table. I do question the sanity of that decision every time Dr. V goes to my nerves; washing Dr. V’s clothes while he is away would take care of it (or should I say him) forever, but elimination is a crime, even via black magic, and I try to stay away from crimes...

Whenever I encounter particularly undesirable guests, as soon as they leave the house I promptly sweep the floor to prevent them from coming back.

Still following?

If you happen to live your life according to the rules of black magic, you better be careful around the turn of the year. I am. I dutifully clean my house on the New Year's Eve – it does not exactly put me in the party mood, but it does help avoid a year of misery, in case God forbid, I were to clean on the New Year’s Day. Instead of planning my outfit, I spend a hefty portion of my New Year’s Eve planning and orchestrating the activities for the upcoming New Year’s Day knowing that what I do on January 1 will determine the entire year ahead.

As a result, every January 1 I throw a feast.

Correction. I spend the first half of January 1 reading comics and cookbooks in the bed, with hopes that it will translate into plenty of similar activities in the future. I invest about five minutes into creating my list of New Year’s resolution, knowing that the list itself will last for about five minutes. I take a photo or two to ensure a solid flow of photography in the New Year. Once these essentials are taken care of, I throw a feast, a carefully planned and orchestrated feast, with a carefully planned and orchestrated menu, to cast a spell for a mighty good year.

So what do I wish my 2014 to be? I wish it to be fresh and bright and beautiful. I wish it to be light but with substance. Comforting but not in a slouchy way. I wish for a tablespoon of unknown, a pinch of unusual and a dash of exotic. I want my year to be savory, very, very savory, with a touch of sweetness. No lemons! A couple of extra days of skiing would not hurt. A couple of days somewhere in the tropics would not hurt either. When written into a menu, my 2014 would look like this:

Key Lime Crusted Pecans 



Boiled Baby Potatoes



Fresh Fruits
Vanilla Ices with Oriental Kumquats Compote
Pears & Blue Cheese

And that is how, year after a year, I spend the second half of January 1 executing my menu of the moment. When things are all nice and dandy in the kitchen, I put on my red dress. Did I mention that you must, must, must march into the newborn year wearing red? Should your dress happen to have stains on it, replace it with red tablecloth. (I invented this one, but believe me, it works.) And when things are all nice and dandy on my persona, I pick up a phone and call the friends. Whoever is around, whoever is available; because with a menu like this and your loved ones at the table, who would wish for more?

Happy New Year!

Key Lime Crusted Pecans

* 2 tbsp lime juice (preferably Key Lime)
* generous 1/2 tsp lime zest
* 1/2 tbsp olive oil
* 1/2 tsp sea salt
* 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper
* a pinch of Chinese five spice powder
* one cup pecan halves

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Stir together lime juice, lime zest, olive oil, salt, chipotle powder and Chinese five spice powder. Add pecans and toss until they are uniformly covered.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread pecans on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until pecans are toasted and dry, stirring occasionally. Cool completely.

Oriental Kumquats Compote

* 8 oz kumquats
* 1 cup Riesling
* 1/2 cup light honey
* 1/2 cup water
* 1/4 cup granulated sugar
* juice of one tangerine, strained
* 5 black peppercorns
* 4 whole cloves
* 3 whole cardamoms
* 1 star anise
* 1/2 vanilla bean

1. Rinse and brush kumquats under cold water. Discard the ends. Cut the kumquats in quarters lengthwise. Remove the seeds and tough white membranes in the center.

2. In a medium saucepan combine Riesling, honey, sugar, water, tangerine juice, vanilla bean and spices. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add kumquats and boil until tender, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer kumquats to medium bowl using slotted spoon. Continue boiling syrup for another 3-4 minutes. Pour the syrup over kumquats, cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Serves 4


  1. We had different superstitions and customs in China, but I would happily add the cumquat compote and pecans to the festive table.

  2. Your photos are stunning. Thank you for linking to the ham recipe - my goodness that delectable picture of it is making me hungry.


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