Islanders share their favorite festive food

Janet Hefler with her mom in 1986. Her mother's family passed on the tradition of making black-eyed peas on New Year's day, which is supposed to bring good luck in the year to come. — Photo courtesy of Janet Hefler

MVTimes staff and contributors shared some of their most treasured family holiday recipes — and the stories behind them.

From Sarah Waldman, who writes the blog

Christmas Eve is a big deal at our house. Since I was little my mother’s family has come over to celebrate the last hours before Santa’s visit. My dad makes a huge pot of lobster stew, my grandmother brings her famous rolls and Christmas cookies, and my mom lights the real candles on the tree.

This year I am in charge of dessert so naturally my nose has been in many a holiday magazine and cookbook this week. [Online] It’s hard to see something new and different but these snowy white Chamomile-Yogurt Panna Cottas seem happily unique. The yogurt tang reminds me of the swirls served at the trendy frozen yogurt chains across the country — it’s not sweet and the chamomile tea adds an obvious floral flavor. If you are worried about the sweetness just add a few tablespoons of cane sugar in step 1. But really, how can you resist tea steeped in warm milk? Cozy winter through and through.

Chamomile-Yogurt Panna Cotta

Serves 4-6 depending on the size of your cups

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart Living December 2012

1 1/4 cups whole milk, divided

2 chamomile tea bags

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

3/4 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin

1/4 cup honey, plus more for drizzling

2 cups plain whole milk yogurt

1. Bring 1 cup milk, the tea bags, vanilla seeds and pod (or extract), and salt to a simmer in a small saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Remove from heat; cover, and let tea steep 5 minutes.

2. Place remaining 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatine over it, and let soften, about 5 minutes.

3. Remove tea bags and vanilla pod from milk mixture. Stir in honey and gelatin mixture until dissolved. Whisk in yogurt until fully incorporated. Divide among 6 teacups or ramekins; refrigerate until set, at least 5 hours. Before serving, drizzle with honey. Panna cotta can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap up to 2 days.

From Tina Miller, chef and author of “Vineyard Harvest: A Year of Good Food on Martha’s Vineyard”

My grandparents always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My cousin Erika and I continue the Miller tradition with loads of food and presents for all the kids. We cook a big seafood feast and I always sear bay scallops with prosciutto and lemon. Really simple, but guaranteed… everyone loves this. They’re basically deconstructed scallops and bacon, but better.

And salad: shaved cauliflower, radish, celery, Island pea shoots, arugula with a Dijon-lemon vinaigrette. Crunchy and hearty and perfect for winter!

Times reporter Janet Hefler’s New Year’s black-eyed peas

Every year I make a big pot of black-eyed peas and ham for my family to eat on New Year’s Day, a Southern tradition thought to bring good luck in the year ahead. My Mom’s family picked up the tradition when they lived in Arkansas for a few years when she was a baby. Mom kept it going when my brother Richard and I were growing up, and we both have carried it on with our spouses and children.

There are many variations, but my basic recipe is to take a package of dried black-eyed peas, and start with a “quick soak,” which means boiling them for a few minutes, covering the pot, and letting the peas soak for an hour or so.

Then I drain them, add a combination of water and chicken broth to cover the peas by a few inches, some spices (the cook’s choice), sliced celery, onion, and ham, which may consist of our Christmas ham leftovers and bone, or a sliced-up ham steak, depending on what’s available around my house after the holidays.

The rest is easy. Bring everything to a boil, turn the heat down so the peas simmer, and cook them for at least a couple of hours. We like them when they get soft and mushy, and the liquid has thickened to a soup-like consistency. Cornbread muffins make a great accompaniment. Some people like to spoon the peas over their favorite variety of rice, too. My husband Pete and son Brien like to add hot sauce to theirs.

Although the results are not guaranteed, I can attest that the dish provides a tasty start to a new year and a welcome respite for one day out of 365 from having to answer the question, “What’s for dinner?”

Bon appetit!