Archive for December, 2010

Mexican Christmas Punch – Ponche Navideno

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with holiday drinks the last two years – learning about different cultural libations. As you know, these special concoctions are as much a part of the holiday season as are Christmas trees, blinking lights, baked goodies and presents. Raising a glass also raises our spirits – especially when it has some booze in it.

Mexican Christmas Punch, Ponche Navideno (or Ponche de Navidad), is a hot punch served with or without alcohol during the holiday season and most generally during Las Posadas – a nine-night festive re-enactment of Mary and Joseph seeking refuge before Christmas (December 16 – 24). It involves a procession outside – when it’s cold.

Another highlight during Las Posadas are the piñatas filled with sugar cane, tejocotes, oranges, mandarins, jicamas, peanuts and hard sweets. I sure as heck would not want to be near that piñata when it’s busted open. Can you imagine a jicama hitting you from above? Híjole.

I digress. Ponche Navideno is made of fresh and dried fruit and spices. It’s like a hot sangria – anything goes. However, three ingredients are essential to call it Ponche Navideno – tejocotes, piloncillo and canela. The rest vary by cook’s choice, family tradition and availability.

Tejocotes, known also as Hawthorn apples, are native to Mexico and resemble a crabapple. Despite their bright orange color and fruity aroma, they are mild in flavor and their texture is between that of an apple and an underripe apricot. They are the star ingredient, according to most, for Ponche Navideno. They are pricey around $10/lb fresh and can be found in Latin American markets. For this recipe you could also use the preserved or frozen fruit. If you can’t find any, substitute with apricots or kumquats. An interesting note about tejocotes is that they were banned from import into the U.S. for a long time and from 2002 – 2006, they were the fruit most seized by the USDA – most likely for authentic ponche.

Piloncillo is a hard molasses flavored sugar.  The liquid molasses spun from raw sugar is reheated and crystallized into small cones. If you cannot locate it, use a light molasses, raw sugar or brown sugar.

Canela (Ceylon cinnamon) is true cinnamon and comes from Sri Lanka. Two thirds of the world’s production of true cinnamon is exported to Mexico. It has a thinner and more fragrant bark than the cassia and is sweet. Canela can be found at Latin markets, in the “Hispanic” food isle or specialty spice stores.

Tejocotes: fresh, boiled, peeled & deseeded

Piloncillo, canela (true cinnamon), jamaica (hibiscus) and sugar cane

In my ponche this year I used fresh tejocotes, apples, prunes, pineapple, oranges and lime. I also like to use jamaica (dried hibiscus) to give it the lovely crimson color and some tartness.

Experiment with this, even if you don’t make it for Christmas. This would be a nice treat after a day out in the snow – I’m thinking about making a pot at our next group snowshoe over a campfire.

Feliz Navidad!


Holiday Drinks From The Tropics

Monday, December 20th, 2010

The holidays are not just about gifts. To people who love food, the holidays are about eating and drinking!

Boy, that sounded a little gluttonous. But, it’s true, the holidays are about excess – treating yourself and loved ones.

If you’re still looking for ways to imbibe this holiday season, here are some recipes from my past posts. I like to keep a few of these  made and ready in the refrigerator to serve to guests.

Ginger Beer – Trinidadian Holiday Drink: This non-alcohol drink is delicious. It’s not for the ginger-averse – it’s bold with ginger and spices including cinnamon, allspice and a tad of lime juice. You can add some rum, if you must get your “drink” on. It’s refreshing all on its own.

Coquito – Puerto Rican Holiday Drink: A creamy alternative to eggnog (this version is eggless). This rum-based drink includes coconut milk, vanilla, almond, cinnamon and nutmeg. Coquito is a favorite of all my friends who hail from islands – Puerto Rico or not. For guests who prefer less alcohol, add an extra can of coconut milk to substitute.

Swizzle – Bermudian Holiday Drink: This is a citrus and rum-based drink that’s great year-round. A great substitute for margaritas because it has pineapple juice, lemon/lime juice, and an easy to make ginger simple syrup.

Horchata – A Mexican Holiday/Anytime Drink: You can drink it cold or hot and I’ve given you 5 ways to make it – vegan version, dairy, almond milk, with espresso or the works.

Mexican Hot Chocolate – Holiday/Anytime Drink: Kids and adults would be happy to drink some Mexican hot chocolate during the chilly holiday season.  Make a larger batch and heat up a cup when you want a hot drink.

Ginger: Trinidadian Ginger Beer

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

I’m a bit of a ginger freak.

I’m quick to try it in its many incarnations. Some of my local Colorado favorite’s are ChocoLove’s Ginger Crystallized in Dark Chocolate, Bhakti Chai (a black pepper and ginger chai that’s fantastic hot or cold), and Big B’s Ginger Apple Cooler.

I haven’t, however, found a local ginger beer that outshines the homemade versions made by Caribbean friends. These versions, for the most part, have a stronger ginger punch and are more complex in spice than the store-bought, fizzy varieties.

In the Caribbean, ginger beer is an all-occasion and special-occasion beverage. My friend Val who hails from Trinidad is an extraordinary cook and fact man. He says ginger beer – typically the non-fizzy version, such as the recipe below, is enjoyed during the holiday season. Other holiday drinks include sorrel punch (similar to hibiscus) and punch de crème (an eggnog-rum-based drink).

Like most recipes, there is no single way to make ginger beer. Recipes vary from family to family and by region. In Trinidad, cinnamon, cloves and lime are typically added. Whereas, in Jamaica, they generally add fresh pineapple. Regardless of the array of spices/ingredients used, one thing is constant – the ginger is strong. This is NOT a whimpy ginger ale, it’s got a bite that’s both refreshing and addictive.

The recipe below is mine. It’s not as sweet as some versions that have about half as much sugar as water. It’s layered with flavor from a whole pound of fresh ginger, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, fresh lime juice and raw sugar.

Val made sure to hip me up on the “proper” sugar for traditional Trini ginger beer – Demerara, turbinado or another raw sugar but not the white stuff or brown sugar. (However, in my research it appears a lot of folks in the states use brown sugar as a substitute.) A version he remembered most was by a family friend who served her ginger beer much like a sangria – with slices of fresh oranges, limes and a piece of raw sugar cane as a swizzle stick.

Salud! Cheers! Happy Holidays – whether you are neck deep in snow or chillin’ at the beach.

Oops. I forgot to mention. There’s no alcohol in this even though it’s called “beer.”

Tidbits on Ginger:

  1. Ginger is a rhizome – an underground stem that grows horizontally.
  2. Ginger, although native to India and China is grown around the world especially in the hot tropics including the Caribbean and Africa, where it was introduced in the 16th century.
  3. In the 13th and 14th centuries, ginger, along with black pepper, was one of the most commonly traded spices.
  4. Initially ginger was consumed more for its medicinal purposes than for strictly culinary purposes. Today it is believed to aide digestion, relieve rheumatoid arthritis, reduce migraines, sooth sore throats, improve circulation, reduce fat deposits in the arteries and treat nausea.


Ginger: Chewy Triple Gingerbread Cookies

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

chewy gingerbread cookies fresh crystallized ginger dried gingerbread christmas holiday

If you are a ginger fan you’re going to love these chewy, spicy gingerbread cookies.

Ginger is perfect this time of year – the peppery spice warming tastebuds and tummies. Although this ancient spice is native to China and India, it is one of the most popular spices of the world. . .

Gingerbread History

What we know as gingerbread today is far from its original form. In fact, what was referred to as “gingerbread” in medieval English cookery, was actually a medicinal candy made of ginger and sugar. Back then, the term was used loosely to refer to candy as well as breads, which were also eaten for medicinal purposes. Later gingerbread evolved into a highly spiced  honey cake, influenced by the German Lebkuchen and Roman honey cakes.

In the 1500s, English gingerbreads denoted highly spiced, crisp cookies. They were eaten after dipping in wine or cider and were also used for holiday ornaments. The crisp cookie version carried over to the new world. Then, when leavening agents were introduced, the term “gingerbread” in the U.S. referred to  ginger-spiced cakes.

Whether cake or cookie, “gingerbread” has been enjoyed during the holidays for hundreds of years. And, although there were special gingerbread bakers in Europe who were a distinct sub-group of the baker’s guild, no special certificate is required to make these cookies.

Hard v. Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

I’m not a fan of the hard-as-brick versions of gingerbread and the thin ginger snaps aren’t interesting to me – I’m more a fan of the ginger and not the snap. So, the recipe below is for a thick, chewy and spicy ginger cookie.

Apparently, the key to getting a chewy cookie is having at least 4 tablespoons butter per cup of flour. Cooks Illustrated got me straight on that. However, as far as process, Heidi at 101 Cookbooks (one of my favorite food bloggers) made some triple ginger cookies awhile back that did not require pulling out the food processor or mixer.

The recipe below is adapted from both. These cookies are the trifecta of ginger – fresh, ground and crystallized. It’s aggressive but not overly sharp, balanced by the molasses. If you’ve followed me for awhile you know I don’t like things super sweet. If you do, up the sugar a few tablespoons and also roll the balls of dough in large grain sugar before baking.

These chewy gingerbread cookies would be great in a holiday cookie exchange.