My mom is the best cook I know.
Growing up in Mexico City, she used to make the most incredible ponche, or warm fruit punch, every New Year’s Eve. Just once a year.
My sisters and I used to pace up and down the kitchen as she peeled, diced and threw the ingredients -many of which were only available at this time of year in the markets- into a gigantic pot. To tame our impatience she would peel a few pieces of the fresh sugar cane meant to go into that pot, and cut it into smaller sticks, so we could chew and suck its sweetly tangy juice, ever so slowly, as we waited for the ponche to be served.
Continue reading Ponche: Or My Mom’s New Year’s Warm Fruit Punch
Sliced bread brushed with melted butter, toasted until golden, layered with handfuls of nuts and dried fruits, drenched in Piloncillo syrup, topped with crumbled salty cheese and baked until it all comes together…. Once out of the oven, it tastes like a cross between French Toast and Bread Pudding. Crisp-on-the-top and moist-in-the-center, every spoonful a delightful mess.
It reminds me of how my father loves to slice sweet bananas over his savory lentil soup; or how my family goes crazy over piling ates (fruit pastes) with Manchego cheese, as so many Mexicans do; or how I used to love eating a handful of chocolate covered raisins right after a handful salty pop corn, and then repeat it again and again at the movies growing up, as long as the movie lasted. Capirotada has that same wild mix.
Once you finish your piece, I bet you will beg for a bit more of that addicting combination. That’s probably why I have received so many requests for a recipe.
Continue reading Going Nuts and Bananas for Capirotada
PORK TENDERLOIN IN A SWEET CITRUS SAUCE
Lomo de Cerdo con Salsa Dulce de Cítricos
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup shredded piloncillo, or brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
5 bay leaves
3 whole banana leaves
5 lbs pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/4 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp safflower or corn oil
To make the marinade: mix together the orange and lime juice, vinegar, piloncillo, garlic, salt, pepper and bay leaves in a bowl.
Begin to layer the banana leaves in a large baking dish, one by one. Place the first one vertically so it covers the whole dish, leaving the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the second leaf horizontally so it covers half or so of the dish, with the sides hanging over the dish on both ends. Layer the third one horizontally the the bottom of the baking dish is fully covered with leaves, with extra hanging over the sides to wrap up the meat.
If you can’t find banana leaves, you can use tin foil.
Place the meat in the middle of the leaf bundle. Pour the marinade on the top and cover the meat with each of the banana leaf layers on all sides. Let it marinate anywhere from 2 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and unwrap the pork from the banana leaves.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, until it is hot but not smoking. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper, place it in the pan, and sear for about 1 to 2 minutes on all sides.
Place it back in the banana leaves and bundle it back up. Place the wrapped pork into the oven and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven, carefully open up and unfold the banana leaves, tucking them on the sides until you expose most of the meat. Remove the meat from the dish to rest on a cutting board. Pour all the marinade into a sauce pan and set over medium high heat, for about 10 to 15 minutes, to reduce up to 1/3 of its volume.
Meanwhile, slice the meat at about 1/2″ thickness or to your liking. Place the slices on a platter, drizzle some of the sauce on top and serve.
SPICED MEXICAN COFFEE
Café de Olla
Heat the water in a pot set over medium heat (using a clay pot is the traditional way to prepare it and it gives it a very unique flavor, but it isn’t necessary). When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat and add the coffee, piloncillo, and a cinnamon stick.
Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring until the piloncillo dissolves. Remove from the heat, let it stand covered for 5 to 10 minutes and strain before serving. Alternatively, you may remove the cinnamon and use a French press to strain the coffee as well.
Mexico is now the largest importer of cinnamon in the world–but how do they use it that’s so special? Just how different is the Ceylon or True cinnamon used in Mexico from the Cassia cinnamon of Southeast Asia?
PIGGIES: CINNAMON AND PILONCILLO COOKIES
Chochinitos: Galletas de Piloncillo y Canela
Makes 30 medium sized cookies (with a 4-inch cookie cutter)
12 oz piloncillo, chopped or grated, or substitute for 1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1 true or ceylon cinnamon stick, about 3″ long
2 sticks or 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour, you may need a bit more
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Butter to grease a cookie/baking sheet
2 to 3 tbsp all purpose flour, you may need a bit more or less, to roll out the dough
1 egg, lightly beaten to be used as a glaze
Confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top, optional
In a saucepan, combine grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar with water and cinnamon. Place over medium heat, once it simmers, lower the heat to keep it at a medium-low simmer for about 15 minutes, until it thickens to a light syrup consistency. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. You should have now about 1 1/4 cups piloncillo liquid, need not be exact! Add butter and honey into the hot liquid and stir until it dissolves.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a hole in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix it all together with a spatula until it is well incorporated. Combine the eggs into the dough, which will be sticky and gooey. Seriously: it will be GOOEY and that is OK.
Place plastic wrap in the bottom of a mixing bowl to have wings on the sides. With a spatula, push the dough onto the plastic wrap, wrap the dough, and refrigerate anywhere from 2 hours to a couple days.
When you are ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a couple cookie or baking sheets with butter.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour on a countertop. Rub a bit of flour on the rolling pin as well. Roll out the dough which will now be firmer, until you have about 1/4 -inch thickness. Using piggie cookie cutters (or other shapes, but then you may need to change the name!) press down on the dough, moving it a bit on the counter top, to make it easier to lift the shaped dough.
Place the piggies on the baking sheet as you shape them along. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Roll the leftover dough into a ball, wrap it with the plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before using it again, or it will be too soft and sticky. Repeat to make the remaining cookies.
Bake the cookies anywhere from 7 to 9 minutes. Remove them from the oven and place on a cooking rack. You may sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top. Keep them covered so they remain soft.
My boys love to eat them with a tall glass of milk, I like them with a hot cup of coffee.
Meet the tomatillo–this small, plump, green fruit was a favorite of the Aztecs and stars in any number of Mexican dishes today. Its tart flavor is worlds apart from the taste of tomatoes, but is just as juicy and unforgettable. This episode will show you where to find tomatillos, how to cook with them, and tips and tricks for creating amazing dishes.
CHICKEN IN A TOMATILLO, CHIPOTLE AND BROWN SUGAR SAUCE
Pollo con Tomate Verde, Chipotle y Piloncillo
Serves 4 to 6
3 chicken leg quarters, or 3 drumsticks and 3 thighs, rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 cup safflower or corn oil
2 cups white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed, quartered
4 tbsp piloncillo, shredded, or substitute for brown sugar
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, plus more sauce if desired
2 cups chicken broth, or water
Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
In a thick and tall heavy skillet or casserole dish, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken pieces. Brown on one side, for about 4 to 5 minutes and then flip and brown on the other side, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Don’t try to flip too soon or the skin will stick to the skillet. Remove the chicken pieces and place in a bowl. You may remove the skin if you wish, I don’t.
Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring for about 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, for about 20 seconds. Make room in the pan and add the tomatillos. Let it cook all together, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the piloncillo, the chipotles and their sauce and stir well. Once it comes to a simmer incorporate the chicken pieces along with the chicken broth and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be chunky and thick, and the chicken fully cooked.
They go hand in hand, Autumn and Pumpkins.
In the US, I see them scary faced on Halloween, and then, sweetly dressed as pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. Yet to me, one of their best impersonations is as Calabaza en Tacha: Pumpkin cooked in a Piloncillo Syrup.
Craving Tacha, I paired two things: The pumpkin I saved from my boys’ Halloween makeover and my new orange flamed French Oven.
It was a matter of time. The French Oven needed a sweet Mexican ride to become baptized in my kitchen.
Continue reading You have a Pumpkin? Turn it into Tacha!
I am crazy for Tepache. Gently sweet, with an innocent hint of home brewed alcohol, a deep freshness and a gorgeous amber color.
Tepache: A home made fermented drink that comes from the state of Jalisco – also breeding ground of other Mexican symbols like Tequila, Charros and Mariachis. Tepache has a base of fresh pineapple, true cinnamon, piloncillo and water and has been drank in Mexico since Pre-Colonial times.
I have made it many times throughout my life.
First, when Daniel and I moved to Texas, to celebrate our finding piloncillo at a U.S. grocery store. Later, when we moved to DC, to soothe the heat of that first long summer and to make our new home, feel like home. A couple years ago, I brewed liters to share with a large crowd for a class I taught on foods from Jalisco.
Then, I forgot about it. Until this summer, when we moved, the heat started pumping up and I unpacked my old clay pot from Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. A pot that is perfect for brewing Tepache, which is so simple to make. That is, if you can keep an eye on it.
Continue reading Crazy for Tepache