Christmas

Chiles en Nogados, Mexican Christmas traditions.

IMG_5043

 

My Mexican friend Dionicia shared her home-made version of what she calls ‘Chiles en Nogados’ with me last week. She told me this is a popular Christmas tradition in Mexico now. My friend explained that this recipe originated back in 1821, when the victorious Mexican General Augustin de Iturbide stopped in Puebla, and a community of nuns prepared this dish to honor him on Mexican Independence Day. The nuns came up with a humble ‘Chiles’ recipe, using low-cost, simple ingredients in season.  That said, it was laborious at the time (and I think it still ‘is.’) I did not ask for the recipe, I simply enjoyed this wonderful treat as I learned about the story behind it! What else could I do? Now I know this much: 1) They’re made with Chiles Poblanos, the stuffing is made of walnuts, dried fruits, pomegranate and meat ingredients. 2) Original recipe calls for the stuffed Chile to be dipped in egg batter and then fried. Luckily my friend skipped that step.. (She knows I am always on a diet.) 3) They are extremely spicy and the cream on top helps refresh the palate while creating a heavenly balance. I ate them with rice (as Dionicia recommended.) Full of flavor in every bite, my Chiles en Nogados were a great Christmas gift! 🙂

Advertisements

Colombian ‘Pasteles de Arroz’, a Christmas and New Year’s Tradition

IMG_5091

Many Latin American countries, including Colombia, share “Pasteles de Arroz” on Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

This recipe has been in Cartagena de Indias (my home town), for a very long time. Families get together around this wonderful recipe. I can remember the smell of Pasteles on Christmas eve, as well as the excitement the days before as my Mom hassled around the kitchen with all the detailed ‘prep’ work. My parents are no longer with us, but my siblings and I still share the memories and remember them every Christmas and New Year’s eve as we enjoy Pasteles.

Puerto Rico and the Caribbean countries share this tradition and recipe (with some unique modifications.)

Three key components make this bounty unforgettable: The seasoning, the stew and the plantain leaves. Here I share my recipe that yields 8 “pasteles.” Even though it is very detailed, time-consuming and elaborate ( I will not lie about that ), the results are well worth it! 🙂 Tips for best results: “Prep work” and fresh ingredients. Get ready for an exciting cooking experience!

IMG_5061

1. Start by preparing the stew the night before. You can use chicken thighs only (as I do) , or chicken thighs and pork ribs. The secret is to stay away from chicken breast as it will not add much flavor. Start by sauteing the meat and adding salt, pepper and 2 bay leaves. When the meat is brown then you can add the following: onions, sweet peppers, capers, peppercorns and tomatoes in generous quantities. Add also chicken stock (at least 1 cup) and water. You must season this stew generously with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika or achiote (anato seeds.) After the stew boils, let it simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Let it cool and then refrigerate when done, as you will use this stew the next day.

IMG_5094

2. Prepare the uncooked rice seasoning the night before also. For 8 pasteles: 3 cups of rice, 1 cup of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of cumin and 2 tablespoons of paprika, 1/2 cup of oil. Mix well and let it sit in the refrigeration overnight.

IMG_5057

IMG_5060

3. On the day you will be making the “pasteles”, prepare containers with chick peas (1 can), olives (1 bottle), capers (1 bottle), sliced sweet peppers (about 8), sliced onions (1/4 yellow onion), sliced tomatoes (3 tomatoes), potatoes in thin slices and cabbage (3 potatoes.) Have all these ready in bowls so you can easily assemble the “pasteles.” Wash the plantain leaves with cold water and have them ready also. This can be cumbersome but it’s necessary. You will find fresh or frozen plantain leaves in Latin American food markets.

IMG_5062

4. Assemble the “pasteles.” The plantain leaves are sold in halves. Place 2 plantain leave halves on the working table, forming a cross. Set a cabbage piece on the plantain leaves center and then 3/4 cup of rice on top of the cabbage.The rice you see in this picture is uncooked. It was seasoned the night before as indicated above.IMG_5063Add chicken pieces (2-3), olives, chick peas, capers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes on top of the rice. Finish with a generous amount of chicken stew sauce.IMG_5064Add a tablespoon of rice.IMG_5065Cover with another piece of cabbage.IMG_5074Wrap well and tie with kitchen twine. When all “pasteles” have been assembled and are ready to be cooked, add them all at once to a pot of boiling water for 2 hours.

About the pot of boiling water: Make sure the water is truly boiling hot and seasoned before adding the “pasteles.” Season the water with: 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 cup of vinegar. Tip: The pot of water needs to be filled three-quarters of the way, to allow the “pasteles” to fit. They will bring a lot of volume and can make the water spill out. Switch the bottom pasteles with the top half way during the cooking process. Also, add pressure to the lid ( I usually use a garden rock) to make sure the heat is contained in the pot as this helps cook the rice well.

Here is what Pasteles look like when fully cooked and ready to enjoy:IMG_5091This is what it looks like after your guests ate them… 🙂IMG_5093

“Pasteles de Arroz”, a generous way to wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year 2014! 🙂

Ponche de Navidad, a Mexican Christmas tradition.

IMG_5055

Buñuelos and ‘Ponche de Navidad’ [with or without Tequila], guests of honor at Mexican Christmas family gatherings. This week we celebrated a Posada with Norma and her family. She prepared this warm, inviting drink, gave me the recipe and shared some of this tradition’s story. Common Mexican middle of the road knowledge says this tradition started when during colonial times, the Spaniards brought this recipe from Europe to Mexico. Since then, on the Posadas (“novenas”) and “Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve) nights Mexican families in Mexico have shared time around this Ponche de Navidad in expectation of Christmas Day. Today, families continue this old tradition whether in Mexico or abroad. Before going home, kids receive ‘bolos’, or treat/loot bags with the following goodies: Animal crackers, peanuts and Mexican spicy candies. 🙂

IMG_5047IMG_5046

Mexican Buñuelos go very well with the drink. (Do not mistake Mexican Buñuelos for Colombian Buñuelos , another Christmas tradition in that country.)

IMG_5022

Ponche de Navidad Recipe 😉

Start boiling enough water  (calculate 2 cups per guests) with enough cinnamon sticks (1 stick per 2 cups of water.) When it boils add abundant amount of fruits (below), brown or white sugar, and a Tequila shot (optional).

  • Fruits cut in big chunks or slices: Oranges, pears, apples, tamarinds, guavas, sugar cane pieces, tejocotes (or kumquats, if you can’t find tejocotes)
  • Notes: 1) Alternative to adding the Tequila shot to the pot, you may add it to the cups, as you serve. Guests often prefer to decide if they’ll want it with Tequila or not. 2) Sugar Cane and Tamarind are often found at Whole Foods or international markets.

Hopefully you can try this easy Ponche de Navidad recipe. If you decide to make it, do let me know how it goes! It’s also great for any cold winter night..

Blue Moose Pizza – Vail, CO

IMG_4887

The Blue Moose Pizza. An inviting, fun, family friendly place with delicious pizza. We were driving on Colorado’s I-70, passing through Vail, on our way to Aspen.

IMG_4860IMG_4861 IMG_4866IMG_4864

The stop was more than we could ask for. This is a place I’d recommend anyone, specially families. Fresh home-made pizza dough, light sauces, abundant mouth-watering flavor. We ordered the traditional flavors my family loves: Hawaiian, pepperoni, black olives and beef. However, the menu is full of other wild awesome combinations.

IMG_4888 IMG_4889 IMG_4891

The staff is friendly, bathrooms are extremely clean. The place is decorated beautifully. I loved the decor, especially the lamps.

IMG_4896

They feature a blue moose sculpture which is sure to attract your attention too. Nowadays their blue moose is wearing its Christmas gear. 🙂 

IMG_4877

The waiter told us a fun story about the decoration of the place. For their grand opening, the owner invited his kid’s 2nd grade class to draw moose paintings which today still decorate the walls all across the place.

IMG_4904 IMG_4898

Tables are covered with huge blank paper and buckets of crayola. My kids immediately worked hard to leave their very own artwork legacy.

IMG_4880 IMG_4879IMG_4878

 Located at the heart of Lionshead Village, the huge glass windows offer a view of  the village skating rink and a magnificent panorama of Vail ski enthusiasts.

IMG_4905 IMG_4874

IMG_4902Blue Moose Pizza. Indeed, a  fun, family friendly place with fresh, delicious pizza.

IMG_4894

IMG_4875

 

Enjoy the holidays without the extra pounds?

IMG_4822

Every time Christmas comes around, worries about the extra pounds threaten the joy of the season. Some tips follow..

1. Entertaining at home. Shop wisely. Keep nuts, veggies and fruit snacks (carrots, celery, grapes, strawberries, etc) handy.  

2. Eating out. Eat a healthy snack before leaving home. Once there, look for healthy menu options. Most restaurants include calories and nutrition information or light options in the menu. (Chefs all over the country are working hard to make those light meals taste delicious anyway, so why not?)

3. Plan your event or outing ahead of time. Once on the road, avoid fast food stops. Pack containers with healthy snacks for kids and adults.

4. Catching up over coffee. Avoid whip cream additions; Choose non-fat milk and smallest size servings. Try to go for healthy snacks and avoid pastry options.

5. Taking the kids out for a treat. Choose frozen yogurt over ice cream. The frozen yogurt toppings bar will win any argument.  

6. Exercise. If your daily exercise routine is threatened, take 5 minutes out of your busy schedule to do some jumping jacks at home before heading out to greet friends and family.

IMG_4824Look forward to that unique and special [diet-breaking worthy] treat we only have this time of year!