Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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!


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.


Green Chile: Green Pozole

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Bowl of Green Pozole

For the past several years, I’ve had cooking a good pot of pozole on my list of things to do. If you’ve never had it, you’re missing out. Pozole, also spelled posole or posolli, is a hearty Mexican soup that’s typically made with pork, hominy and chiles, and traditionally eaten around Christmas, although nowadays more regularly. It’s also believed to be a good hangover remedy.

Hangover or not, this soup is gooooodddd. Alone it’s luscious – spicy from the chiles, earthy from the hominy and rich from tender pieces of pork roast. Then when you sprinkle it with dried oregano, fresh lime juice, bits of onion, crispy cabbage and whatever else you flavor, it gets even better.

I’ve looked for inspiration while eating out but have been repeatedly disappointed because I had my heart and taste buds set on a green or clear pozole that was both light and satisfying – something resembling the version I had over 10 years ago with a friend from New Mexico. I prefer the green version over the red for two reasons: red pozole is almost like menudo (another Mexican soup with hominy) and a lot of folks get heavy handed with the red chile, which can get pungent.

So, when my girlfriend Chelby and her husband Don hooked me up with this green chile version, I knew I had to give it a go – the two know good grub (I think it’s a Texas thang) and Don’s version doesn’t have tripe (stomach lining), which I don’t mind eating on a rare occasion but will reserve for my menudo.

Green chiles are a staple ingredient in most Southwestern kitchens. And, early fall is prime time for folks to buy them by the bushel, fresh or roasted. Last week I got my loot:  some Hatch, poblanos, and Anaheim – perfect for this recipe. Note, we’re using fresh, raw chiles for this soup.

Chiles Raw _ Chopped

Hatch chiles hail from Hatch, New Mexico, which has built a reputation as the Chile Capitol of the World among some. For this recipe, Don recommends Hatch chiles, which are more medium to hot on the Scoville Scale. If you can’t find them, substitute with poblano chiles, also called pasillas, which are typically milder. Poblanos are commonly used roasted and stuffed for popular dishes like chile rellenos.

Besides the chiles, the other star ingredient in this dish is hominy, called cacahuazintle in Nahuatl. It’s a natural variety of white corn with large kernels that is about four times the weight of regular corn kernels. Its taste is distinctive, earthy like that of corn in corn tortillas rather than the sweet flavor of corn in corn of the cob.

This recipe is easy to make, despite the length of this post. Enjoy! And, let me know if Don and I’ve converted any of you red pozole lovers.

Tidbits on Green Chile

  1. Green chile is generally a reference to its fresh state and red chiles refer to those that have dried. Generally, as chiles grow, they start off green and turn red or yellow.
  2. Chiles retain their heat level regardless of whether it is cooked, dried or frozen. When using fresh, to reduce the amount of heat, remove the seeds and veins. And, be sure to avoid touching your eyes and other sensitive areas after handling.
  3. “Hatch” chiles are not a variety of chile pepper, but rather a reference to where they are grown, according to the Chile Pepper Institute of the University of New Mexico.