Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas! Having a roast pig for Christmas Eve/Christmas – lechón – is a major tradition in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and it is one of our favorites. Consequently there are many songs that extoll the virtues of the humble pig. In honor of the lechón-filled holiday, here’s one of our favorite Christmas lechón songs: “La Fiesta de Pilito” by Puerto Rico’s stalwart musical group. El Gran Combo.
Here are the most important lyrics:
A comer pasteles y a comer lechón
Arroz con guandules y a beber ron
Que venga morcilla, venga de todo
To eat tamales and eat roast pork
Rice with pigeon peas and drink rum
Let blood sausage arrive, let everything arrive
We hope you are having a delicious holiday – maybe with some lechón!
Happy first day of Hanukkah – now it’s time for the treats! We wrote a little bit about the classic Sephardic Jewish dessert fritters, Buñuelos, in the past. However, we underestimated just how popular these little fried dough treats from Spain were. Though they are symbolic Hanukkah dish, and the frying of the dough represents the oil that burned for 8 nights, Buñuelos are also enjoyed as a Christmas treat. Buñuelos, (aka Bimuelos, Burmuelos, among other names) were initially created by Spanish moriscos centuries ago, but have since spread in popularity across Latin America.
Just how many Buñuelos varieties are there out there? It’s hard to say, but here we have tried to compile just a few variations on the humble Buñuelo:
Can you believe that it is already December 1st? I know I can’t. Today the first of our holiday decorations went up, and I am scheming about which holiday recipes to make first (maybe something with gingerbread?) In conducting a search for holiday recipes, I came across a Christmas classic from the Philippines: Bibingka. Bibingka is a coconut cake made with rice flour and topped with coconut, duck eggs and even cheese. In the Philippines, you will see bibingka sellers peddling these cakes on the street around the holiday season. The traditional way to make bibingka is in a terracotta pot lined with banana leaves, cooked over open coals. However, bibingka has now adapted to the contemporary kitchen, and you can make it in a conventional oven. The following bibingka recipes vary a bit, but the rice flour is a must: Kawaling Pinoy Recipe, Panlasang Pinoy Recipe, New York Times Recipe, Zestuous Recipe. Asian in America Mag has a version of mini bibingka that are cooked in muffin tins with banana leaf “liners.”
Tomorrow is Christmas – and here it is blustery and cold – but imagine if you could go to beach! In this vintage Australia Christmas video, you can!
We first saw these show-stopping Lithuanian Christmas tree cakes – Šakotis – for sale by the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland at a cultural fair. Though you may see Sakotis for other special celebrations in Lithuania, they are associated with Christmas – especially since they look like Christmas trees! The cake is made by pouring batter over a rotating, horizontal spit over a heat source. The batter is simple – just sugar, eggs, flour and sour cream – and as the batter is poured over the spit, tree-like layers begin to form.
Other cakes made on a spit are found throughout Central and Eastern Europe with different names: like the German Baumkuchen, Polish sękacz, Czech Trdelník and Hungarian Kürtőskalács. Unless you have all this special equipment, you probably won’t be able to make Sakotis at home – but you can buy them straight from the Lithuanian Club of Cleveland online.
Looking for a beverage to serve at your holiday feast, and wanting something a little different than Eggnog? Try some Chilean Cola de Mono – literally “Monkey Tail.” Cola de Mono is similar to a White Russian and contains milk, coffee, aguardiente, spices and and sugar – served chilled. No one is quite sure where the name “Monkey Tail” comes from, but theories abound: it will have you swinging around like a monkey, it was originally bottled in discards from the Spanish Anisette brand Anís del Mono, or another apocryphal story that it is a morphing of the name of former president Pedro Montt (who had the nickname “Monkey”). Here are simple recipes from Eat Wine Blog and All Recipes. Salud!
It is Christmas season again, and we have cake on the brain! In Nicaragua, Christmas means Pio Quinto cake (which may or may not be named after Pope Pius the 5th). It is similar to tres leches cake, but instead of being soaked in milk, it is soaked in rum! Pio Quinto is topped with a vanilla and cinnamon custard – called atolillo (which can also be served alone) and sprinkled with raisins and other dried fruits. You can find recipes for Pio Quinto from Serious Eats (seen below) and Leaders from the Kitchen.
Today is St. Lucia Day, one of the most important holidays in Scandinavia, and Christmas is right around the corner! We have covered some Swedish holiday cakes and cookies here on the blog previously, but did you know that candy canes may in fact have their roots in Sweden? In Sweden these striped candies are called Polkagris. Polkagris was invented by a female entrepreneur, Amalia Eriksson, in 1859 in the town of Gränna, Sweden. At a time when few women were allowed to be entrepreneurs, the widowed Amalia created the candy as a way to support her family (and the recipe was kept as a secret until her death). The traditional polkagris color is red and white with peppermint flavor, much like the candy canes we know in the US. However, there are a few differences – Polkagris is made with vinegar, which makes it softer and chewier – and creates a shorter shelf life.
If you live in the freezing Midwest like us, the winter holiday season may not immediately get you thinking of tropical recipes, but the Caribbean has huge tradition of delicious Christmas foods worth sampling. One emblematic Caribbean food that is a holiday staple is the simply named Black Cake (it gets its name from its rich molasses color). The cake itself is filled with figs and dried fruit soaked in wine, rum and is flavored with cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Caribbean Black Cake is a descendant of British plum pudding, and has an special stronghold in Caribbean countries that were former British colonies such as Trinidad and Jamaica. However, you will find it throughout the Caribbean and in most Caribbean-American communities around holiday time with assorted named like Christmas Cake, Black Christmas Cake, West Indian Fruit Cake, Caribbean Christmas Cake, etc. A unique ingredient that is essential to the rich taste of the cake is burnt sugar syrup, or “browning,” that is available in Caribbean markets (or you can make your own). Here is a recipe for Jamaican Black Cake from the Cooking Channel (below), Trinidadian Black Cake from Cooking with Ria and Caribbean Black Fruitcake from Chowhound.
January 6th marks Three Kings Day (also known as 12th night or Epiphany) the official end to the Christmas holiday season. In the past, we have written about some of the most popular cakes eaten on this holiday: the French Galette des Rois and its classic Fèves, Portuguese Bolo Rei and the Spanish and Latin Amerian Rosca de Reyes. In Poland, there is also a special cake to ring in this holiday, the Ciasto Trzech Króli (Three Kings Cake). Similar to other Eurpean cakes, the Ciasto Trzech Króli is rich, filled with dried fruit, and topped with a decorative crown (recipe in English and photo from About.com here). Whoever finds the almond or coin baked into the cake gets to wear the crown!
We took a bit of an extended writing break around Christmas and New Years this year, but never fear, there are still a few more days to get in those holiday recipes before people think you are out of step (we still have our Christmas lights on!). One of the holiday recipes we enjoyed over our break, at a Puerto Rican parranda (caroling event), was coquito. Coquito is a Puerto Rican coconut eggnog, often served spiked with rum. In Puerto Rico the winter holiday season extends well into January, and coquito can be found at any holiday feast during this time. Coquito is super easy to make – and maybe it will make the transition back to work a little easier.
Merry Christmas! Whether you celebrate or not, hope you are having a lovely day, and something good to eat. We know we will be stuffed with sweets today. In that holiday spirit, please enjoy this awesome video of candy canes being made at Lofty Pursuits in Florida.
One of the great holiday traditions in Chicago is visiting the German-inspired Christkindlmarket in Daley plaza in Chicago. At the Christkindlmarket, you can get your fill of German and America treats, buy some of the famous German glass ornaments (including the famous pickle ornament), and pick up a commemorative mug of spiced wine, Glühwein. As for other food and drink, you can also get döner, sausages, roast nuts, stollen, potato pancakes, strudel and more. However, for us, the treat of choice is the Bavarian pretzel aka bretzel. When we were in Germany this was our favorite snack, and there are several varieties available at the Christkindlmarket from the Pretzel Haus stand (from Bad Oeynhausen) for less than $5 apiece. We go for the classic bretzel, though there are cheese-filled and sugary varieties as well. It is the prefect market day food- warm, filling, and portable! Christmas Eve is the last day the Christkindlmarket is open – so don’t delay in getting your holiday bretzel.
Happy winter wishes from the miniature snow-covered Sphinx in Tobu World Square Theme Park in Japan.
It’s Christmas Eve, and most people have their menus well-planned. But if you need some last minute inspiration, look no further than the typical Puerto Rican Christmas feast. Our favorite part? Lechon asado as the main centerpiece: a whole roast pig, which we try to get as often as we can! Other typical Christmas Eve or nochebuena dishes are pasteles (filled masa steamed in banana leaves), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and coquito (coconut egg nog). Though Italian food is near and dear to our heart, this kind of feast is a definitely a close second!
Christmas food is all about comfort, and nothing is more comforting than tamales! Venezuela has their own special Christmas dish that is a close cousin of the Mexican tamal, the hallaca. A mix of European, African and Indigenous foodways, hallacas consist of masa steamed in a plantain leaf, filled with a mixture of beef, pork, chicken and olives. If you are really planning to have a big nochebuena dinner, here is a recipe to make 50 hallacas, or a slightly more modest 25. The tradition of making hallacas at Christmastime has also spread to Trinidad and Aruba, both of which are very close to the Venezuelan coast.
We’ve never thought of potatoes as a sweet dish, but Kalle Bergman’s post about Brunede Kartofler (Danish Caramelized Potatoes) on Honest Cooking definitely intrigued us. As opposed to the salty mashed potatoes we enjoy in the US, the Danish go the sweet route with this traditional Christmas side, which is an excellent match with heavier meat dishes. Brunede Kartofler are deceptively simple, and consist of peeled new potatoes, pan-fried in butter and sugar. In order to cut through the heavier dishes, you will often see the meat and potatoes cut with the tangy cabbage slaw, Rødkål.
We were at Chicago’s venerable Christkindlmarket today, perusing the holiday ornaments while enjoying bretzels and roasted cashews, when we noticed a huge basket of glass ornaments shaped like pickles. “Odd,” we both said. But then we saw them at another booth, and again at another. What gives? We were intrigued. Finally, in one of the ornament shops, in the midst of yet-again vocalizing how confused we were by the pickle ornaments, a woman behind us jumped in: in her family, one person puts/hides the pickle ornament in the tree, and the person who finds the pickle ornament gets to open presents first, or gets an extra gift. And it was not just her family: apparently the Christmas pickle is a huge tradition! Though some people claim the pickle has German origins, it is probably actually an American or German-American tradition that took root in the late 19th century, just as glass ornaments were being popularized. Even though its origins are shrouded in mystery we like the idea that it is supposed to bring good luck!
Christmas Pickle Ornament (and Danbo friend) by Meagan
Though everyone is probably already overtired of holiday sweets, here is one more confection for the road (though is it really possible to be completely tired of sweets?) One of the most popular European Christmas treats is the German Stollen, a type of yeast-based fruit cake chock full of nuts, candied fruits and spices, and topped with powdered sugar. The history of Stollen is very complicated, and dates back to the 14th century, when it originated during a baking contest created by the Bishop of Nauruburg. Stollen enjoyed such an exalted place in German cuisine that a church ban on butter was lifted in the 16th century just to make the holiday cake (with some of the proceeds being used to build churches). Though Stollen is found throughout Germany and Europe, the most lauded variety is found in Dresden, a recipe that can be found here. Dresden even has an annual festival in honor of the cake. Due to our affinity of all things miniature, also check out this recipe for Mini Stollen.
Stollen by Joana Petrova