Ponche de Tamarindo

The holidays are coming and the weather’s getting cooler, which means I’m already starting my countdown to Christmas and las posadas Navideñas in Mexico.

A few weekends ago, I attended the Kenmore blogger summit here in Chicago where I participated in a day of cooking challenges with some old and new food blogger friends. You can check out my team’s recipes at cookmore.com (but a heads up that they’re not Mexican recipes). My favorite team challenge was one where we had to create a beverage using a slow cooker. Naturally, I suggested we make a spinoff of my warm winter margarita recipe, but with a few modifications since tequila wasn’t an ingredient option.

Our creation was a spiced brandy apple cider that wowed the judges and won us the competition; my guess as to why the recipe was such a success is probably because it had more than a little piquete of brandy, wink wink. I’ve been tinkering with some new holiday recipes recently, and the challenge inspired me to adapt a ponche de tamarindo recipe with brandy that I’ve been working on for the slow cooker.

The punch has two tart elements: whole tamarind pods and flor de jamaica (hibiscus flowers), which are mellowed by the sweetness of the guava and piloncillo. The cinnamon and brandy give a woody depth, and overall, it’s a satisfying drink to warm you up on a cold night. And of course, it’d be perfect to serve for your posadas…. 

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SALSA DE ARÁNDANOS

As a little girl, I never liked whole cranberries and on Thanksgiving I always preferred the canned jellied cranberry sauce over the fresh cranberries my mom or my aunt made. Now that I’m a bit older and my palate is a little more refined, I prefer to make fresh cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, it’s probably my favorite part! I’ve been known to make tortas de pavo topped with arándanos the whole week after Thanksgiving just to have an excuse to keep eating them.

This recipe has been passed on through two generations in my family, and now I’d like to share it with you. If you’ve ever been afraid that making cranberry sauce from scratch would be too difficult, you’re in good company. This recipe, though, is so easy that you won’t believe you didn’t try making your own with fresh, whole cranberries sooner. From start to finish, it takes about 15 minutes and it’s a perfect balance of spicy and sweet. These are great for Thanksgiving or La Navidad, too…. 

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CHAMPURRADO

champurrado

There’s this place in Mexico City where my suegro loves to eat. It’s a little family-owned restaurant called Merendera Las Lupitas, and he’s friends with the owner.

Las Lupitas is situated on a corner in Coyoacán facing the Plaza Santa Caterina, in a two-story white building with these beautiful, dramatic thick cobalt blue accents around the windows. They have a heavy, rustic wooden door, and inside there’s colorful papel picado strung across the ceiling. Lots of local art adorns the walls.

What I love about this place is that it’s so traditional. The menu is pretty basic and the atmosphere emits a feeling like you’re eating in a relative’s home. Even the placemats, dishes and furniture are very modest. But don’t be fooled by all the simplicity–each dish on the menu packs as much satisfaction as that of a fancy restaurant, minus the attitude and the cost.

Among the number of delicious, traditional items on the menu there, my suegro almost always orders a mug of atole at the end of his meal.

masa

Atole is a hot drink, made with a nixtamal (corn) base from dissolving masa in water, sometimes with piloncillo, and heating until it becomes thick. It’s a stick-to-your-ribs type drink that’s guaranteed to keep you warm. It can come in many flavors; vanilla, chocolate and strawberry are most typical.

You can usually find quickie versions in a powdered packet in the grocery store, and they taste OK if you’re in a bind and can’t make the real deal. But the packets typically use powdered cornstarch as a thickening agent, so they lack the depth and flavor produced by using real masa as the drink’s base. The chocolate version is called atole de chocolate or champurrado…. 

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