Chestnuts Roasting...

Pre-cutting

Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" commonly called "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" which is also the song that is most played during the holidays, got me thinking about roasted chestnuts.  During all of the trips to New York, I've never stopped by a cart to purchase and sample the roasted chestnuts.  So, what better time than now to try not only eating them, but roasting them myself.

Throw this one out!

The tradition began during the 16th century, where they were sold by street vendors in Italy.  Chestnuts were one of the few food crops that could be grown on steep mountain slopes, and sustain the cold winter, providing sustenance through the long winter months.  Today, roasted chestnuts are still sold by vendors in Europe, in New York City and during Christmas events in the United States.

I found several methods online for roasting chestnuts, including recipes for soup, cookies and other savory treats.  Some said it was best to soak them in water first, others said to pop them right in the oven, sans soak.  Some said to preheat the oven to 400 degrees, some said 450 degrees.  And to be honest, having never roasted chestnuts, I randomly picked, not dissimilar to pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey style.  Googled and pointed.

Chestnuts with crisscross c

Chestnuts before going in the oven

The chestnuts I purchased were from Whole Foods and priced at $4.99/pound.  Having never prepared chestnuts, I'm unsure if that is a good, or even reasonable price.  Before roasting, I discarded the ones that were opened fully, had a pinhole (which meant worms) and those that had a deep, dark, almost black shell.  All of the recipes called for the roaster to make an "x" in the chestnut before cooking.  This prevents the nut from bursting while in the oven.  Chestnuts have a good amount of water in them, so without the 'x' mark, there is no where for the steam to escape while in the oven.  The cut in the shell also makes it easier to peel the nut once it's been removed from the oven.

You can purchase a knife specifically for making the incisions, but in this case I used a paring knife.  I put the flat side of the nut on a cutting board and made the crisscross cut on the rounded side.  If you are not comfortable with the nut on the board and worried about slippage, using a towel is a great way to stabilize the nut, protect your fingers and hold it firmly on the cutting board.  While the idea is to cut the shell, it is okay to cut into the meat of the nut.

Chestnuts after 30 minute roast

The recipe I selected called for the 450 degree oven and roasting for 20-30 minutes.  After preparing, I put the nuts into a baking pan and put in the oven for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, only a few of the nuts looked like they had opened, so I left them in there for 10 more minutes.  Wrong choice.

A peeled chestnut

The nuts came out a little dryer than I had expected, but were still meaty and flavorful in taste.  I disagree with many of the resources online that said the process was labor intensive and time consuming.  An easy way to peel the shell off the nut, was to hold the warm chestnut in my hand in a wrapped towel and squeeze.  This trick helped the shell fall easily off the nut an contained the pieces in the towel.

I would make the roasted nuts again, but this time I think I would make cookies or soup.  Maybe next time?

Christmas Trees in the Nations Capitol

While New York City has the ginormous tree in Rockefeller Center, we here in DC, we have three trees of relevance: 1) The Christmas tree displayed in front of the Capitol Building 2) The indoor White House Christmas Tree and 3) The outdoor White House Christmas Tree.

This year, the Capitol Christmas Tree was lit on December 7, in a small ceremony by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  Daniel, a Wyoming school boy, helped with the tree lighting as a result of him willing a contest.  This year's tree, a 67 foot, 6,000 pound Engelmann Spruce, was donated by the state of Wyoming.   The 24-inch tree trunk was fitted with a watering sock, which fed it 65 gallons of water a day on its 4,590 mile trip to Washington, DC. Decorated with 5000 handmade ornaments from Wyoming school children and thousands of LED lights, the tree will remain lit though the Christmas holiday and until New Year's Eve.  The event could be watched live online.  

The National Christmas Tree stands on the White House lawn and was lit last night, December 9, by the President, launching the month long festivities known as the Pageant of Peace.  For 30 years, from 1942-1972, a newly cut tree was delivered each year for display.  But in 1973, in response to environmentalists and individuals alike, a 42-foot blue Colorado spruce, donated by the state of Pennsylvania was planted on the Ellipse, starting the tradition of having a living tree serve as the National Christmas Tree.  Unfortunately, this one deteriorated and the subsequent one was torn down in a wind storm.  In 1978, another Colorado blue spruce was planted, which has served as the National Christmas Tree since that year.

In 1995, the Tree was lit by solar energy for the first time and in 2007, LED Christmas lights were used.  At that time, the tree topper was refurbished to also use the LED lights.

The White House Christmas Tree, also known as the Blue Room Christmas Tree, was delivered this year by horse drawn carriage and given two thumbs up by the first daughters.  The 18 1/2-foot tree travelled from Pennsylvania's Crystal Spring Tree Farm, which also provided the 2006 tree. The tree is chosen through a contest among the members of the National Christmas Tree Association and because of the height of the tree, which stands nearly 20 feet tall, the crystal chandelier in the Blue Room must be removed for the tree to fit.  The theme of the White House Christmas Tree is selected by the First Lady.  In 2009, the theme was "Reflect, Rejoice, Renew."  This year's theme is "Simple Gifts" and will represent state and county fairs, and prize ribbons from each state and territory.

While they all claim the title the "National Christmas Tree" each has a distinct history and uniqueness to share with the residents of the Nations Capitol and with the United States as a whole.  So, which do you feel deserves the title?