Tag Archives: Christmas

CHRISTMAS VISITS

This week we’ve had Sarah and her two boys – ages four and one-and-a-half – visiting. It has been a different sort of visit than Carol’s last week. A lot more Christmas excitement, visits with Santa, and games and playing.

One of the big events was the Christmas Glow at the local botanical garden. First there was the snow. None of that in the boys’ California. Everyone got bundled up, but the roaring fires set up along the paths were welcome, and we stopped at every one. The unmistakable smell of burning piñon gave a distinctive Santa Fe touch. The lighted sculptures and laser lights glowing on the snow made it magical. Hot chocolate was a favorite, and then we went home for a snack before bedtime.

Last night, Chef Sarah made the meal. First, we stopped by the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe for the makings of a cheese plate, and then we went to the grocery store for the makings of dinner. Besides the cheese, appetizers included French breakfast radishes with Rich Table house-cultured butter and Welsh Halen Môn smoked sea salt.

French breakfast radishes with Rich Table house-cultured butter

French breakfast radishes with Rich Table house-cultured butter

Sarah selected the cheeses. My favorite was the Bent River from Minnesota, but a close second was the Alpencase. The Ameribella stood on its own.

Cheese tray

Cheese tray

The main event included baked red snapper, bucatini with green peas and guanciale, and romanesco with roasted marrow sauce. The bathroom scale this morning told the tale.

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CHRISTMAS EVE TAMALES AND PORTO’S BAKERY

For years, making tamales has been a Christmas Eve tradition in our family. The tradition has been carried over to our children and their families. This year, we are spending Christmas with our daughter, Carol, and her family in Los Angeles, but we decided not to make our own tamales but rather get them from a well-known Los Angeles institution where many of the locals get their Christmas tamal fix.  We drove to Downey where one of three branches of Porto’s Bakery is located.

We tried to get there early, but 8:30 was not soon enough, especially since the store opened at 6:30. We were warned that on Christmas Eve morning the line would be long, but we were not prepared. The line started at the corner next to the traffic light, stretched down the street to the alley, past the bank building on the corner, back up the sidewalk, and a cross a courtyard. Not to worry, we were told, the line would move fast. And it did. After an hour in line, visiting with strangers, accepting business cards from others, and generally having a good time, we made it to the front door.

Inside, there were yet more lines: one for those who wanted only cakes and another – much longer – for those who wanted pastries and other baked goods. The line was cleverly and artfully arranged so that the final pass before you were beckoned to one of the many clerks was right in front of the pastry display. After that, how could you resist ordering one of everything?

Carol placed her order to include caramel eclairs, deep-fried potato balls, and several versions of tarts and cakelets. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Porto’s had run out of their famous tamales.

 

Our Christmas Eve meal was saved by my forethought to bring some frozen tamales from Santa Fe, but the memory of all of that sugar lives on. We also plan to have green chile stew. Carol does not like onion, an essential part of green chile stew, so for this version, the onion will be pulverized in a food processor, but you can just chop it if you prefer.

For Christmas Day, we will be more unconventional. Carol’s oven is seriously broken, so traditional turkey or goose is out of the question. Instead, we will feast on shrimp and grits. Perhaps we have started a new tradition.

In any event we wish all of my blogging friends a very Merry Christmas.

RECIPE

Green Chile Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds pork stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 7 ounces canned chopped green chiles
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • water, enough to cover meat and onions
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large avocado, diced (optional)
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a large,  heavy-bottomed pot brown the stew meat in the oil. When it is well-browned, remove to a plate, and dd the onions to the pot, adding more oil if needed. Cook covered over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Return the stew meat to the pot.
  2. Stir in the green chiles and garlic, cooking for a few minutes before stirring in the flour. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, to remove the taste of raw flour. Then add enough water (Use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer) to cover the meat and onions. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer covered for about an hour or until the pork is tender.
  3. Stir in the cubed potatoes, adjust the level of liquid with more water or stock as needed, and return to a slow boil for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and more cumin and oregano if needed.
  4. Serve in bowls with diced avocados, grated cheese, and sour cream for garnish.

 

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LAS POSADAS AND BISCOCHOS

Along the Border in El Paso, they’re called biscochos and in Northern New Mexico they are called bizcochitos, but they are the same cookie and an important part of the Christmas tradition. They are served at nearly every party, but they are essential to Las Posadas. This celebration recalls the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging on their journey to Bethlehem in order to participate in the census. Throughout New Mexico the story is re-enacted in villages and urban centers alike. Two individuals dressed as Mary and Joseph lead a band of pilgrims from door to door, often around the plaza, seeking lodging. Repeatedly they are turned away, often with scornful cries, until at last they are welcomed in –  usually at the church on the plaza – to find rest and warmth.

Once the crowd is inside the welcoming site, there is a celebration with traditional songs, hot drinks like atole, and treats, always including biscochos.

There are many recipes for biscochos, but the best ones always include lard. This recipe is the best of the best. It comes from Lorenza Zuñiga, an amazing woman who worked as my promotora de salud many years ago when I worked in the clinics in the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.

RECIPE

Ingredients

For cookies

  • 7½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
  • 1 pound lard
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3  cup pineapple juice (more if the dough is too dry)

For sugar-coating

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground anise

Method

  • Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, and anise. Then add lard and mix well before adding beaten eggs and enough pineapple juice to make a soft dough. You may need to knead with your hands for a few minutes to incorporate all the ingredients.
  • Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a ¼ inch thickness. This should make a circle about 20 to 24 inches across. Cut into diamond shapes and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
  • Bake in an oven preheated to 350° for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Check often as the cookies burn easily.
  • While the cookies are baking combine the remaining sugar, cinnamon and anise and place in a tray or other wide, shallow container.
  • When the cookies are baked, transfer them, still warm, to the sugar mixture in a tray. Turn them while cooling to completely coat them
Lard and dry ingredients

Lard and dry ingredients

Kneaded dough

Kneaded dough

Sugar and spice topping

Sugar and spice topping

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Cutting two-inch diamond shapes

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Cooling and ready to eat

Cooling and ready to eat

The recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies, of course depending on the size of the diamonds.

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RED OR GREEN? CHRISTMAS IN NEW MEXICO

The standard question in Santa Fe when you order chile is “Red or green?” If you have a hard time deciding, you can just say, “Christmas”, and they will bring out a dish slathered in both colors of chiles. This week’s  cookie recipe picks up on that theme. Linzer cookies are traditional for Christmas – a tender sandwich of almond or hazelnut cookie filled with raspberry jam pushing through a hole in the top. They remind some people of eyes, and  so the cookies are also called Linzer Augen (eyes). Authentic Linzer cookies are delicious, but for a Santa Fe Christmas, they almost beg for a little chile kick.

Rolling and cutting the cookies

As the name of the cookie suggests, it had its origins in Linz, Austria. Lenz is an ancient city founded by the Romans and home to luminaries like the mathematician Johannes Kepler, the composer Anton Bruckner, and unfortunately Adolf Hitler. But it may be more famous as the home of the Linzer Torte, a delicious pastry that can be traced back to the 1600’s and is now a feature of many of the great pastry shops of Vienna. It has become popular throughout Austria as well as the world, and especially at Christmas. The Linzer cookie uses all of the same ingredients.

Jars of chile-flavored jam

For the Santa Fe version, there are local products that let the baker add that chile kick without changing the basic recipe too much. Heidi’s Raspberry Farm makes a raspberry-red chile jam that fits the bill. In New Mexico, you can find it at farmers’ markets or in specialty grocery stores. You can also order it from Heidi’s Raspberry Farm, P.O. Box 1329, Corrales, NM 87048. Green chile jam is harder to find, but you can make your own from roasted sweet green chile sauce made by Desert Gardens, Comfort Foods, Inc., 9900 Montgomery Blvd, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111, www.comfortfoods.com. I’ll tell you how to transform the sauce into jam as well as giving you the basic recipe for the cookies. You will see that there are a lot of steps in making the cookies, but it can all be done in a morning of busy baking.

RECIPES

Sweet Green Chile Jam

Ingredients

9 ounce jar sweet green chile (see sources)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon low- or no-sugar pectin

  1. Empty the jar of green chile in a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar, pectin, and water, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  2. Boil for two minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to  cool partly
  3. Return the mixture to the jar. Cool completely, and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Almond Flour

Ingredients

½ Cup almonds

4 Cups boiling water

  1. Place the raw almonds in a large heat-resistant bowl.
  2. Pour the hot water over the almonds and let steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In batches, remove the almonds from the hot water. Slip the skins off the almonds.
  4. Spread the peeled almonds on clean paper towels and allow to dry completely for about two hours.
  5. Ad the completely dried almonds to a spice grinder or small food processor. Grind the nuts using pulses of the low power. Watch carefully as too vigorous grinding can turn the almonds into almond butter. Remove and set aside when the almonds resemble coarse cornmeal.

Icing

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter,melted

1 Cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 Tablespoons cream

  1. In a small bowl, combine the butter, sugar, almond extract, and cream.
  2. Transfer to a plastic, zipper sealed sandwich bag and cut a 1/16 inch piece from one corner of the bag. When ready to ice the cookies, squeeze the icing through the hole to form patterns of your choice on the cookie top.

Linzer Cookies

Ingredients

½ Cup vegetable shortening

¼ Cup unsalted butter

¼ Cup sour cream

½ Cup sugar

½ Cup brown sugar, packed

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

2½ Cups all-purpose flour

½ Cup almond flour

½ Cup cornstarch

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the shortening, butter, sour cream, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract. Beat at slow to medium speed until the ingredients are well mixed.
  2. Add the egg, and continue to mix at medium speed until the batter is light and fluffy.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, and cornstarch.
  4. Add the dry mix to the batter and continue to beat until the ingredients are well combined and you have a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough in two equal portions. Form the portions into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and chill them for at least one hour in the refrigerator. If the dough is too soft, it will stick to the rolling-pin when you try to roll out the cookies.
  6. Roll the chilled dough, one ball at a time,  on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2¼ inch round cutter, cut rounds in the dough. Then using a 1 inch cutter, cut holes in the center of half of the rounds.
  7. Gather up any scraps of dough and shape them into a ball. Chill, roll, and cut cookies until all of the dough is used.
  8. Bake the cookies  for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges, on parchment-lined baking sheets in an oven preheated to 350º. Cool on a mesh rack.
  9. Ice the tops of the cookies with the hole in the center. Alternatively, and more classically, sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the solid cookies over and place about ½ teaspoon of jam in the middle. Then top with the frosted cookies.

Baked, decorated cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

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