Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Healthy Christmas...

Every year since my oldest has been old enough to hold a rolling pin I have had her help me make Christmas cookies. This year, however, a flu like illness has invaded our home and I'm not sure that we are going to get around to baking anything before the holiday. We also have a gingerbread house all ready to assemble... but I don't want sick kids in the kitchen.... so until my daughter is well I'll just post my holiday cookie recipes rather than bake them...

Black Pepper Christmas Cookies

I make these cookies every year instead of gingerbread. The black pepper gives them an interesting and unique twist. I generally make these cookies and molasses cookies every year for the holiday season.

3 C. sifted all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
3 t. ground ginger
2 t. ground cinnamon
½ t. ground cloves
½ t. ground black pepper
1 C. soft butter
1 ½ C. sugar
1 large egg

Sift flour and baking powder. In another bowl mix together the next five ingredients. Gradually blend in the sugar and then beat in the egg. Gradually stir in the flour mixture. Chill dough several hours or overnight. Roll dough on lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Bake in a preheated oven (375 degrees) or 8-10 minutes. They are ready when the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks and decorate as desired. Yields about 5 dozen.

Here is a photo from 2008:

And 2 from 2009:

Hopefully I will have some to post from this year soon... The heck with a white Christmas... I just want a healthy one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tamales for Las Posadas

Yesterday (the 16th) was the beginning of Las Posadas in Mexico. It is a nine day celebration where people travel from house to house carrying candles and singing traditional songs. Each house is suppose to refuse the pilgrims entrance until the final destination is reached (the house where the party is being held). It is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's troubles finding lodging on that Christmas Eve so long ago.

In honor of Las Posadas I am posting my Tamale recipe... I am also posting a link for a recipe for Champurrado ... which is a chocolate beverage that is often served with tamales at this time of year.

The Tamale Experience

Growing up in Texas it is impossible to escape Tex-Mex influences in diet and tradition. One of my favorite holiday traditions has always been consuming tamales in large quantity every Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. When I became a vegetarian I thought that this tradition had come to an end. While I am no longer a vegetarian I still enjoy and in fact prefer vegetarian tamales. In Texas there are a few commercial pre-made vegetarian tamales on the market, but for the most part tamales are made with lard and filled with pork. In central Mexico, however, I found that a mixture of chilies and cheese is a very popular fillings. However you like your tamales the following recipe will help you get started. Just remember tamale making is no easy task. It takes a lot of time and a lot of willing hands in the kitchen.

“The creation of tamales requires several key things: A kitchen with adequate counter space, several people with long attention spans who are willing and happy to work together, about 12 pounds of corn masa, whatever wild fillings you might come up with and a full day of HARD work.” Paul

12 lbs wet masa
2 cans of vegetable or chicken broth
plenty of vegetable oil, shortening or lard
6-6oz bags of corn shucks
2 T. chili powder
8 T. paprika
6 T. salt
2 T. garlic
2 C. water blended with jalapeno peppers, or just increase the broth
Fillings-prepare a day before and leave in fridge overnight.
LOTS of big cooking pans.

The day before: Prepare the filling. The traditional filling in Texas is shredded pork (you can even add in some raisins). You can also use seasoned pinto beans, New Mexico corn and zucchini, lentils (seasoned with chipolte peppers, onions and garlic), chilies and cheese (a common filling in Central Mexico), shredded chicken (for an interesting flair throw in some spinach, pine nuts and feta cheese), or refried beans… Just about anything goes.
Early the next day: Put the corn shucks in sink or tub filled with warm water. Weigh them down. Soak for a minimum of 2 hours. Save the shucks that are not big enough for tamales. They will be needed for steaming the tamales.
The Masa: Place the masa on the counter top or in a large mixing bowl. Mix the broth with oil to make approximately 8 cups (if you are using shortening or lard add them separately). Gradually add oils and broth to the masa. Sprinkle with the spices and add the jalapeno water. You want the masa to be a spreadable consistency. The main idea is to make it thin enough to spread, yet thick enough not to be sticky or unmanageable. You want to work air into the masa until it is smooth and fluffy. It is impossible to over mix.
Spreading: Assemble helpers around the table and continue the experience. Everyone should have a plate and a butter knife or a spoon. A friend’s mother had a special spreader, but I preferred to use a spoon Take a shuck and hold it in the palm of your hand with the small end up opening toward you. Take one heaping tablespoon full of masa… spread on lower 2/3 of the shuck. Concentrate most of the masa on the right 4 inches of the shuck. The thickness is determined somewhat by personal choice…Just don’t spread it so thin that you can see through the shuck.
Filling: Next spread the filling down the middle of the masa. Form an assembly line with some people spreading and others filling. The tamale is then rolled. The right side is folded over the filling and then the left (remember most of the masa should be in the right side…so you want it close to the filling.) Then fold the unfilled end over to the middle. A family I made tamales with rolls their tamales up like an enchilada. Both methods enclose the filling inside the masa so I guess how one does it is based on tradition and preference. Roll until you run out of masa. Use canned refried beans if you run out of fillings, or just make unfilled tamales to drop into soups and beans.

The Stacking and the Cooking: Spread some of the remaining corn shucks on the bottom of the pot or use a metal rack. Place a coffee mug open end down in the middle of the pot (this is unnecessary, but it makes it easier). Stand the tamales shoulder to shoulder (open end up) around the cup. After filling the pot with tamales, add 1 cup of water (you may need more or less depending on the size of the pot), cover the tamales with more shucks and put the lid on the pot. Steam for about an hour. You will need to add water throughout the cooking time. Don’t forget to check them often. The tamales will burn if you let the water evaporate completely, and after all that hard work there is nothing worse than burnt tamales. Tamales are ready to eat when the shuck peels away from the masa with ease. Cool for 10-15 minutes.
Eating Tamales: Tamales are best eaten straight out of the pot. Just make sure and peel the shuck off first. Tamales can also be frozen for future enjoyment. To reheat just steam or cook in a microwave.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A couple of great cookie recipes and a gift idea...

Well my computer is still acting up... so I don't want to stay online too long... but here are a few of my favorite holiday cookie recipes and a gift idea for the holiday season.

Mole-Asses Cookies

This is a Christmas cookie recipe from the K. family. My sister-in-law Elisabeth insists that these cookies most contain genuine mole asses to make them taste the very best. If, however, mole asses are not available at your local grocery or Asian market then molasses can be substituted.

3/4 C. shortening
1 1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C. Brer Rabbit Molasses
1 egg
2 t. baking soda
2 C. sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt

Melt the shortening in a 3-4 qt. Saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Then add the sugar, molasses, and egg. Beat well. Sift together flour, soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add these to the first mixture. Mix well and chill thoroughly. Form into one-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet two inches apart. Bake in moderate oven (370 degrees) for 8-10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen

Chocolate filled bon-bons

My mother makes these every year for Christmas...this is one of my all time favorite cookies and I am a cookie monster. I hope you enjoy!

1/4 C. shortening
1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
1 egg
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract (I like to use a little more)
1 3/4 C. flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. finely chopped or ground almonds
3-4 dozen chocolate kisses

Preheat oven to 350 (F). Mix shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and extracts and beat well. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and nuts. Mix until well blended. Form dough into one-inch ball and press around a kiss, completely enclosing. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.

Gift Idea--For Christmas gifts for my daughter's kindergarten class I was suppose to send an inexpensive trinket for each kid. I hate all the junk that piles up around the holiday... so instead of sending a bag of bouncy balls or plastic lizards I bought cookie cutters and printed up a Gingerbread man recipe. I used the recipe found here... You can follow the directions to make your own personalized recipe card. Then all you have to do is print it, cut it out, and glue it to card stock or colored construction paper. Then you just tie it to the cookie cutter with a piece of ribbon and you have a great gift for work or class mates.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Seeing Blue!

Thanksgiving was wonderful. The only glitch was when we had a complete computer meltdown...Blue screens turned into black screens and it looked like we might have lost everything...but thankfully it looks like everything is going to be fine. As a result of the meltdown I haven't had a computer in over a week... and with all the updates and such that I'm going to have to do to get my computer fully functional... I'm just doing the bare minimal today. I don't want to tempt fate.

It has been interesting not having a computer... I can't say that it has been a totally negative experience. My house is cleaner than it has been in months and I've actually been doing some fun stuff to fill the time usually allotted to the computer. The only sad thing is that I had big plans for the month of December and I probably won't be able to do exactly what I planned... but I have an alternative in the works for some fun multicultural Christmas posts. I will be posting again regularly in a few days... Until then I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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