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November 21st, 2012

Top Holiday Treats from Travel Experts

Top Holiday Treats from Travel Experts

The most wonderful time of year is all about holiday festivities, family togetherness and of course—feasting! Find out which dishes give top travel experts like Johnny Jet, Kathryn O’Shea Evans, Amanda Pressner and Stephen Jermanok a much-needed taste of home.

The holiday season is almost here—and we can’t wait for it to arrive. This is a time that’s made for celebration with friends, colleagues and family (even your in-laws!). But while we’re big fans of family times together, festively dressed windows and that feeling of excitement in the air, what really brings all of us together this time of year is…The Food.

Whether its rum-soaked eggnog, heaps of your aunt’s famous mashed potatoes or a big fat slice of pumpkin pie, there’s nothing like a delicious holiday dish to make us feel like we’ve gone back to Mom’s house again, even if we’re on the road, thousands of miles away.

That’s why we checked in with some of our favorite peripatetic pals—travel bloggers, writers and editors who often spend more time abroad (or writing about it) than they do here in the US. They shared some of their favorite holiday treats…the kind of sweet comfort food that transports them back to the one destination they always want to return to: Home.

Holiday Recipe: Mississippi Mud Cakes
Submitted by: Johnny Jet -
Johnny “Jet” DiScala has traveled all over the world, and visits more than 20 countries each year. He’s ventured to South Korea, the beaches of Bali and sampled the fish chowder in Bermuda, but his favorite meal was created in the American South. His mom used to make Mississippi Mud Cakes for Johnny and his three siblings, and it’s his favorite treat “any time of year.”

4 squares baking chocolate
1 stick of butter
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
2 eggs

Boil 2 cups water in a 5-quart cooking pot. Using a double boiler (a metal bowl nested inside of your cooking pot; see example here [] ) melt baking chocolate until the squares are of a total smooth consistency. Add butter, sugar and vanilla into mixture and stir until totally dissolved. Cool for several minutes (place your metal bowl over a pan of ice cubes if you’re in a hurry) until mixture is thick, but not hardened. Sift flour and stir together with baking soda, salt and baking powder. Stir in with chocolate mixture, Beat two eggs slightly, and then use an electric mixer to combine with chocolate mixture until batter is smooth. Grease 3 qt ring mold pan, or use sponge cake tube type pan. Pour mixture into pan, and bake at 275°F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Test with a toothpick. If still too moist bake until sides draw away from edge of pan. Do not over cook.

Holiday Recipe: Candy Cane Cookies
Natalie DiScala -
Natalie is the Senior Web Editor at (and wife of Johnny Jet). She’s been to several countries with and without Johnny, and blogged for publications such as The Huffington Post and Canadian Living. Because of her work at, she’s also an expert in baking delicious holiday treats. Here’s a recipe for candy cane cookies, which Johnny says are some of the “BEST” ever.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons red food coloring
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Preheat an oven to 425F
To make the red dough: In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until soft and creamy. Slowly beat in the sugar. When it is fully incorporated, beat in the egg yolk, almond extract and food coloring until well blended.
Beat in the flour until well blended. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
To make the plain dough: Repeat the process for the red dough, omitting the food coloring. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
To make the cookies:
Tear off a walnut-sized piece of red dough, and using the palms of your hands, roll it out on aluminum foil to form a rope about ¼ inch in diameter and 5 inches long. Do the same with the plain dough.
Twist the ropes together and then bend the top into a curve to make a candy cane. Place on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Repeat until all the dough is used.
Bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. To store, pack in an airtight container in single layers, separated by waxed paper.

Holiday Recipe: Special K Bars
Kathryn O’Shea Evans - Travel + Leisure
Kathryn is the Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. She’s also appeared on MSNBC, Fox Business News and CBS as a travel expert. Here’s a short description and recipe for her Special K bars.

“There's nothing my Minnesota tribe and I love more than some good old-fashioned Special K bars: they're the perfect combination of salty, chewy, and sweet. Since they're not tied to any one celebration, we enjoy them whenever we feel a hankering, from Columbus Day to Christmas Eve…which might explain why, when the seasons turn cold, we O'Shea's get a little more padding around the middle.”

1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter
6 cup Special K Cereal
1 cup butterscotch chip
1 cup chocolate chips

Boil the sugar and the corn syrup at a full boil for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in the peanut butter. At this point, either stir in the Special K (if you used a large pot) or pour the mixture over the special K cereal in a mixing bowl. Place the cereal mixture in a well-greased 9 X 13 pan. Melt the butterscotch and chocolate chips together and pour over the cereal mixture. Eat whenever you get a craving.

Holiday Recipe: Papa P’s Potato Latkes          
Submitted by: Amanda Pressner,
“My entire life, my Dad has always been the one to do the cooking,” says Amanda, one of traveling trio of women know as The Lost Girls . “And nothing makes me feel like I’ve come home for the holidays like hearing the sizzles of his incredible Chanukah latkes as they hit the bottom of the pan.” His favorite variation is a homespun take on a Cooks Illustrated recipe. “My dad is like a mad scientist with cooking,” Amanda says. “He won’t stop experimenting until he’s perfected his creation—and this is no exception.”

2 pounds Russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs
2 tbsp matzo meal
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ cup vegetable oil

Cut potatoes into 8 pieces each and grate in food processor fitted with coarse grating wheel. Place grated potatoes in fine mesh sieve and leave for 3 minutes to drain excess water from potatoes. Grate onions with food processor fitted with fine grating wheel (alternatively onion can be grated using coarse holes in box grater). To a large mixing bowl, add matzo meal and eggs and beat lightly. Add salt and pepper and mix. Add potatoes and onions to egg mixture and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

In a 12-inch nonstick frying pan, add ½ cup of oil and heat at medium heat until shimmering, but not smoking. Add ¼ cup of potato mixture and flatten until approx. ½” high. You should get 5 latkes in the pan. Cook at medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown, then turn and cook for additional 3 minutes, until done. Place finished latkes on plate with several layers of paper towel underneath, to drain excess oil. Cook several batches of latke mix, draining water from mix before placing in hot oil. Add additional oil, if necessary, after second batch of pancakes.

Serve hot with sour cream and applesauce.

Holiday Recipe: Befanini
Stephen Jermanok -
Jermanok is a revered travel expert. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Washington Post and National Geographic. The Boston resident also recently started a travel consulting agency at Active Travels with his wife. But through it all, one thing hasn’t changed: Jermanok’s love for fresh baked Befanini.

“Around the holidays, I would insist on going to my friends’ houses and wait in front of the oven to sample their fresh baked Befanini. These heavenly sugar cookies, spiced with anise, orange, and lemon, and then topped with sprinkles, are perfect on a cool winter's night. In fact, I could down a batch right now — my mouth is watering just thinking about the possibility.”

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookies, softened at room temperature
2 tsp anise seed
1 tsp orange peel
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tsp heavy whipping cream
Assorted decorating decors sprinkles

Heat oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper or mist with cooking spray. In large bowl, break-up dough; stir in anise seed and orange peel until well mixed. Reshape into a log; refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Cut cookie dough into 16 (1/2-inch) slices. Place slices 2 inches apart on cookie sheets, reshaping dough as necessary. In small bowl, stir egg yolk and whipping cream until blended; brush egg yolk mixture on dough. Bake about 12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Immediately sprinkle tops of cookies with sprinkles. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely; store in airtight container.

*Recipe courtesy of

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