Friday, February 8, 2013
Check out Penn Appétit's brand-new website here:
We will be archiving this Blogger site and continue posting blog posts on the new website. All our original posts will be on the new site as well!
Thanks for being such a great reading audience, and keep checking us out at the new site!
|Schokoladnaya kartoshka. Photo courtesy of Penn Gastronomy Club|
This dense, rich, and intensely chocolaty pastry doesn’t have any potato in it but is shaped to look like one, with nuts poking out to look like its sprouts. The walk home always seemed excruciating long, as I couldn’t wait to dig into my dessert. Sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen, in between sips of black tea, I would enjoy spoonfuls of the moist chocolate ‘potato.’ I haven’t eaten this uniquely Russian dish for years, since the last time I was in Russia was more than 4 years ago. I decided the dessert competition would be the perfect opportunity, or excuse, to attempt to recreate my favorite childhood dessert.
Following a few internet searches, I found that the ‘potato’ was made rather simply: chocolate icing mixed with cake crumbs. Excited that I stood a fairly good chance of accurately recreating this childhood memory, I bought the necessary ingredients and set about baking. Although I ALWAYS bake my cakes from scratch, since the recipe called merely for cake crumbs, I decided to use a store-bought package of yellow sponge cake mix. I wanted the ‘potato’ to have an intense chocolate flavor, so I added a quarter cup of cacao powder to the cake mix before baking. Next, I made the chocolate icing, mixing first equal parts creamed butter and condensed milk. Finally, I added a few ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract and mixed it all together to form the icing. Once the cake had baked and cooled, I crumbled it to form crumbs and combined it with the icing. To sculpt the finished ‘potatoes,’ I rolled several tablespoons of the cake crumb-icing mixture into balls, dusted them with cacao powder, and rolled them in chopped pecans. Finally, I was ready to taste my creations to see if they lived up to my expectations.
Although not as dense and rich as I had remembered, my recreation of the schokoladnaya kartoshka was still satisfying, every mouthful moist and flavorful. The taste and feel of the dessert made me think back to all of those summers I spent with my grandmother, helping her on her weekly grocery expeditions. Now, I can’t wait until she comes and stays with my family again later this year, so I can share my version of this dessert with her.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Last Sunday, a few Penn-Appetit-ers decided to check out the winter Clover Market at the 23rd Street Armory. Usually, it is an open-air spring and fall market held in Ardmore, PA, but this winter market was a special treat. There were DIY workshops and about 55 talented vendors selling beautiful works of art, cool antiques, handmade items, and vintage finds….
And there were food trucks. Six, to be exact.
After perusing the various goods of the crafters inside, it was time for lunch. Decisions had to be made. Did we want classic, but amazing Pitruco’s pizza? Or something a little different, like the gourmet, local organic food from Yumtown?
Two of us went for burgers from Lucky Old Souls. I got a grass-fed beef burger from Rineer Family Farms. Interestingly, it was cooked medium well, but it was still cooked to perfection. Caramelized onions and their special-of-the-day sweet potatoes added a touch of sweetness to the deal, while the sharp cheddar provided just the extra punch it needed. My friend chose the vegan veggie burger that was made from scratch. It had a really soft texture but was delicious, especially with the caramelized onions on top.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Located just on the outskirt of campus, Sabrina’s Café is fairly well known among Penn students for good reason. However, if you haven’t frequented Sabrina’s this winter, hurry now to try their pumpkin pancakes before this extra sweet brunch special goes out of season!
For my friends and me, pumpkin flavored anything is guaranteed to please. But Sabrina’s didn’t stop there. Rather, the pancakes were topped with Nutella, fluffy ricotta, white and milk chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, fresh berries, and a generous “sprinkle” (more like blanket) of powdered sugar and cinnamon. If the description doesn’t say it on its own, this was quite the extravagant and delicious indulgence – well worth the Saturday morning trek against forceful winds in freezing temperatures. The pancakes soft and the chocolate chips melted, this dish brought back nostalgia for the comforts of winter break in the best way possible. If you are an avid pumpkin lover like us, you have to CHOW NOW on these pancakes!
Most times I've eaten cake in my life, I've been disappointed. There are so many desserts I can appreciate even when they aren't great. Take cookies. Although I would certainly prefer a phenomenal, straight from the oven Jacques Torres style cookie, I still enjoy the occasional Oreo. Cake is a different story. Bad (even mediocre) cake sucks... it just sucks. The texture is just so important yet difficult to perfect that any old slice of cake from a local grocery store is guaranteed to disappoint.
Mediocre cakes are just about the frosting. The cake itself is nothing more than an excuse to eat the frosting. I do not tolerate cakes made from box mixes, from terrible grocery store bakeries, and from anywhere else that produces cakes that may as well be frosted bread. You shouldn't either! Take a stand. Make a real cake.
I made this cake for my father's birthday over break and it rekindled my love for the classic birthday treat. The cake is so very chocolatey and the coconut filling, although it barely tasted like coconut, was excellent. The entire cake does not make for the prettiest of pictures, but trust me, as everyone who tasted it would also said: it's unbelievable.
Rich Chocolate Cake with Coconut Filling and Ganache
Serves 10 to 12
18 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, divided, chopped
2/3 cups shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1 1/2 cup strong black coffee
3 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup heavy cream
1. Set out the cream cheese to soften. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 10-12 cup bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder.
3. In a small saucepan, melt 8 ounces of the chocolate with the shortening. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese with 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup sugar and the coconut. Set aside.
5. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled chocolate mixture, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and coffee.
6. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cake flour, soda and salt.
7. Combine dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just incorporated.
8. Pour half of the chocolate cake mixture in to the bundt pan. Top that with the coconut/cream cheese mixture and then top that with the remaining cake mixture.
9. Bake on the center rack of a 350 degree oven for 45-65 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
10. Cool the cake in the bundt pan on a wire rack for 10 mintues. Invert the cake on a serving plate to cool further.
11. While cake is cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool.
12. Once the cake has cooled, drizzle or pour (depending on how much icing you want) the ganache on to the cake.
Monday, February 4, 2013
Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appétit's blog staff. On Saturday, January 26, Penn Appétit bloggers trudged through the snow for a lively brunch at Russet.
Leslie Robledo: As a newcomer to Philly, the idea of trying a new restaurant was so exciting! I was down from the moment I heard of the opportunity and it was even better when I met the people I was going to spend the time at the restaurant with me. They were all as excited and anxious as I was which made the experience even more great. With decor that made you feel like you were at a close friend's house for brunch, the setting had a comforting intimacy that allowed everyone at the table to be sociable and full of smiles. Eyes widened as the food came out. The presentation was cute, not too extravagant and in no time there were satisfied taste buds all around. The time at Russett was nice. I met new people, ate good food, and ventured into the city. Something I recommend to everyone new and old to Philly!
Kristen Duda: Hailing from a small suburb outside of Philadelphia, I have not been exposed to the most exotic or interesting foods that one can find so easily in the city. Therefore, my experience at Russet in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood was extremely refreshing! The restaurant's atmosphere was quiet and warm, and every item on the menu seemed to have something I did not recognize in it, which I love.
I tried the wild mushroom sformato (which I had to Google in order to know what I was ordering). It was similar to a soufflé but less airy, and its earthly mushroom flavor was nicely counterbalanced with a parmesan cheese crisp, fine nuts, and something pickled on top. Needless to say, our trip to Russet was one I would love to repeat!
Nicole Woon: Upon entering Russet, I felt as if I had walked into someone's home. While warm and cozy, the interior still managed to be open and spacious. Hence, it was the perfect setting for our group of nine! After perusing the small menu, I knew my choice would be easy: I elected for the duck confit croque madame.
Out came a neatly-cut sandwich topped with a dripping sunny side up egg, flanked by a pile of lightly-dressed greens. Much to my surprise, one of the sandwich triangles had a duck leg--bone and all--comfortably sticking out the side: a statement piece, for sure. The sandwich was a touch dry; perhaps a fruity compote or jam would have made the meal more moist and added a new dimension of flavor? The cheese also did not have as much of a pronounced flavor as I would have liked. Regardless, this spin on the classic French sandwich was something I had not seen before and am glad I had the opportunity to try.
More treats from that bloggers enjoyed at brunch:
Sunday, February 3, 2013
• New to University City: Café Renata replaces Café Clave at 43rd and Locust streets, offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare
• Quakers: 34th Street interviews '05 Penn grad and HubBub coffee truck owner Drew Crockett, reflects on the food truck business and his Penn years
• Penn dining: Bon Appétit brings local brands to campus, including Rival Brothers coffee, Talula's Table, and Brown Betty Dessert Boutique
• $100 raw bar platter at Butcher & Singer? $100 cheesesteak at Barclay Prime? Eater has the round up of the most expensive dishes in Philly
• Mark your calendars! East Passyunk Restaurant Week is Sunday, Feb. 24-Sat. March 2
• PLCB: Corbett unveils proposal for liquor store privatization in PA
• Social media: Foursquare crunches over 3 million check-ins in its "Best of" Philly restaurants and nightlife
• Food biz: Online restaurant reservations site OpenTable to acquire mobile food app Foodspotting for $10 million
Friday, February 1, 2013
Top layer: Dark chocolate pudding with garnish Bottom layer: Classic Turkish milk pudding
Top layer: Pistachio pudding with garnish
Bottom layer: Dark chocolate pudding
Top layer: Fruit pudding with orange zest and figs, and garnished with ground walnuts, pistachios, coconut, and sprinkles. Bottom layer: Milk chocolate pudding
I found a recipe here for classic muhallebi - try it on your own or get yourself a plane ticket to Istanbul!
If you are interested in an easy but excellent pudding recipe (not Turkish), I would highly recommend checking out this one.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
|White Peach Sangria|
|Grilled Cheese with Fruit|
|Turkey and Avocado Club|
|Bittersweet Flourless Chocolate Torte|
My first FarmiCia experience went above and beyond expectations, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone. In fact, I am already planning out future visits; I think I'll go with sweet next time and order the Brioche French Toast or Buttermilk Pancakes. I highly encourage everyone to head to FarmiCia in the near future, and to bring along any friends who insist on the greatness of dinner over brunch- they'll be immediate converts for sure!
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Let's just get this out of the way: I did not make any notable food this week.
I know, I'm sorry. It was a busy week! So, instead of my usual random musings about my food philosophy leading into an awesome recipe with pretty pictures, there will just be random musings.
On the plane ride from Seattle to Philly, I finally read what many consider to be the quintessential book on working as a chef: Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.
Kitchen Confidential completely surprised me. When I think of cooking, I think of the (at absolute minimum) thirty minutes I take to prepare a meal that I have never cooked before (not including cooking time), and for more complex meals, at least an hour, even when I've cooked them hundreds of times before. I love cooking and I've thought of doing it professionally, but this book really opened my eyes. My über careful, extremely slow way of cooking would never cut it in a restaurant.
Kitchen staff must be human robots, churning out hundreds of the same dish in a night as fast as they possibly can. And they often treated like dogs. Before one proves themselves as a capable cook at a restaurant they are worth absolutely nothing to the rest of the kitchen staff. There is, of course, no room for creativity unless one is the head chef and gets to decide the menu, but even then there is almost no improvisation on a day-to-day basis. Even for chefs that get to be creative, the job is even more about management than it is about cooking.
I am very happy I read this book, if only because now I will hopefully stop daydreaming about cooking for a living. Hopefully...
Monday, January 28, 2013
A luxurious French restaurant, Lacroix is located in Rittenhouse Square, inside the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I decided to visit Lacroix during Restaurant Week for lunch. We sat at the window seat, which had a beautiful view of Rittenhouse Square. The atmosphere was very chill yet luxurious; I also thought that the restaurant was really clean and not too crowded.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
|Image via Midtown Lunch|
• University City: Shake Shack, which opened last summer at 20th and Sansom Streets, plans another location at 3200 Chestnut St. for late summer/early fall
• Food trends: Doc Magrogan’s Oyster House at 3432 Sansom St. is serving up flights of...Chowder shots?
• City Paper's Adam Erace reviews Rue 52, West Philly's new coffee-and-crepes eatery at 503 S. 52nd St.
• Eat this: Meal Ticket sings the praises of West Philly's Four Worlds Bakery's soft pretzels
• Reading Terminal: Midtown Lunch reviews the Valley Thunder grilled cheese, made with cheddar, homemade brisket, and baked macaroni and cheese, from the new Valley Shepherd Creamery stall
• 108 S. 18th St. is the future location of Spike Mendelsohn's Philly branch of Good Stuff Eatery
• Food history: Smoked Tongue and Calfsfoot & Wine Jelly? Check out the menu from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball, March 6, 1865
Saturday, January 26, 2013
|Kobe Beef Burger|
For desert, you must order the Oreo Beignet, which consists of a deep fried Oreo served with vanilla ice cream; it’s reminiscent of those deep-fired Oreos during spring fling. Stay away from the bread pudding. They secretly infuse it with alcohol, which overpowers the natural flavors of the apple, cranberries and almonds.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Nestled in the heart of Philadelphia's Chinatown lies Penang- a hub for Malaysian cuisine. For my friend's birthday dinner this past weekend, we decided to try the restaurant, which is known for its inexpensive and exotic meals. For my meal, I listened to the advice of our waiter and ordered Penang's curry chicken and rice. I was curious about my dish since curry reminds me of Indian or Caribbean fare.The waiter explained that Malaysian cuisine is notably influenced by South Indian food of the ethnic Indians who live in Malaysia. After a twenty minute wait, I received my entree. The smell alone instantly made my mouth water. The dish contained chopped pieces of chicken, a curry sauce, white rice, and sautéed onions. Topped off with garnish for aesthetic effect, the curry sauce had the right amount of spiciness and flavor. Although the onions were a bit too abundant, I enjoyed the difference in texture between the vegetable and the meat. The portion size was perfect since I hadn't eaten anything since that morning. Every portion of the dish had either a neutral or positive contribution. Nothing tasted inadequate.Upon finishing the curry chicken and rice, I cleansed my palate with a slice of orange before moving on to the dessert menu. I've yet to be disappointed by a Philadelphia restaurant. Until then, I'll have to rate each restaurant outing I've had as worthwhile.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
An essential Southern dish, Pimiento cheese combines sharp cheddar cheese, pimientos, and mayonnaise with a peppering of other regional ingredients, creating a delicious blend of spice and soul. From grilled cheese to fritters, this versatile cheese can be used in a range of dishes. Below are two of my favorite recipes: Relish’s Pimiento Cheese Fritters and Southern Living’s Baked Pimiento Cheese.
Southern Living’s Baked Pimiento Cheese
1. Stir together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in cheeses. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 2-quart or 11- x 7-inch baking dish.
2. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until dip is golden and bubbly. Garnish, if desired. (*NOTE—I ended up baking my cheese for about an hour. I used an 8-inch casserole dish)
1. In a large bowl, mix the cheddar and pepper-jack cheeses.
2. In a food processor , add the cream cheese, red peppers, Cajun spice and mayonnaise. Process until combined and there are no clumps of cream cheese.
3. Add the cream cheese mixture to the cheese and mix with a rubber spatula until combined.
4. Season with salt to taste.
5. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.
6. Scoop tablespoon size pieces of pimiento cheese and roll them into smooth balls.
7. Put the flour, buttermilk and panko breadcrumbs in three separate bowls.
8. Bread the pimiento cheese, place a ball of pimiento cheese in the flour and roll it until completely coated. Dust off the excess. Next, add the ball of pimiento cheese into the buttermilk and completely coat the cheese. Add it into the panko breadcrumbs and press the breadcrumbs into the cheese. Then repeat the buttermilk and panko breadcrumb steps (the pimiento cheese needs to be completely coated or the cheese will leak out during frying.) Continue with the pimiento cheese balls until all of them are breaded.
9. Chill for 1 hour.
10. Add 1 gallon of oil to a large pot. Place the pot over medium heat until a frying thermometer reaches 350 degrees. Fry 6 to 8 fritters at a time for about 3 to 4 minutes and they are golden brown in color. Continue frying until all of the fritters are cooked.
11. Serve the pimiento cheese fritters with the pepper jelly.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Over winter break, I was lazy. At home, I can basically cook whatever comes to my mind, no matter how over the top it is or how obscure its ingredients are. This is because my parents are more willing to give me extra money for groceries when I make the food!
So, of course I was looking forward to cooking and experimenting quite a bit at home, but when I got there I realized something: I also enjoy doing nothing. Every day I was busy hanging out with my friends, and when I got a new camera for Christmas, I decided that I was going to try and make stuff that is not only delicious, but that also looks good in photographs-- and that isn't extremely difficult to make. Naturally, I began my break with a chocolate dish.
This recipe comes straight from David Lebovitz and as far as I can tell, it is perfect. It is not too difficult to make, though make sure you read the steps before you begin so you don't panic and accidentally add the eggs too early, basically making caramel scrambled eggs. Yuck. If you pay attention and make it correctly, this tart is incredibly delicious. It is also so very pretty. Take a look.
PS... I hope you guys like the new camera.
From David Lebovitz:
1 1/4 cup (250 g) sugar
6 tablespoons (90 ml) warm coffee
4 ounces (115 g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
pinch of sea salt
4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces (55 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (35 g) flour
1 tablespoon dark rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 9- or 10-inch (23 cm – 25 cm) prebaked tart shell (such as French tart dough)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC.)
2. Spread the sugar in an even layer in the bottom of a large, heavy-duty saucepan or Dutch oven. Cook the sugar over moderate heat until the edges liquefy and being to caramelize. Use a heatproof utensil to gently drag the liquefied sugar toward the center of the pan, encouraging the sugar to melt evenly.
3. Once the sugar is melted, it was caramelize rather quickly. When it starts to smoke, but before it burns, turn off the heat and stir in the coffee. (The mixture will bubble and seize a bit. Be sure to avert your face and you may wish to wear oven mitts.)
4. If the caramel has seized up in places, stir it gently over low heat until smooth. Then add the butter and salt, and stir until melted, then stir in both chocolates until smooth*.
5. Mix in the eggs, then the flour. Stir in the rum or vanilla extract.
6. Pour the mixture into the pre-baked tart shell, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, just until the filling starts to rise and crack at the edges but the center is still jiggly. Do not overbake.
Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing.
Storage: Tart will keep for up to three days at room temperature, well-wrapped.
Troubleshooting: If any bits of caramel remain after adding the butter, simply stir the mixture over very low heat until they’re all completely dissolved. If any stubborn little bits remain, you can strain the buttery caramel through a mesh sieve, before adding the chocolate.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
If you haven’t yet checked it out, Harvest Seasonal Grill (40th & Walnut St) is one of the newest additions to the restaurant repertoire that Philadelphia boasts. From the décor and ambience, you will notice upon first glance that this farm-to-table restaurant provides organic and sustainable choices for its customers, so the dishes are wholesome and hearty (it also helps that 90% of the menu is under 500 calories!). Our table immediately fell in love with the Pear & Bleu Flatbread, a dish recommended to us by our server. This dish, featuring seasonal pears, Milwood Springs bleu cheese, baby arugula, and fig glaze, is the ultimate starter for an amazing meal to come. The mix of flatbread toppings is a perfectly fresh blend of sweet and pungent flavors, and the thinness of the toasted flatbread keeps the meal light and easy on the stomach. Chow NOW because Harvest’s menu seasonally changes, and where else will you find a fruity-and-cheesy-less-than-500-calorie flatbread?
Sunday, January 20, 2013
|Photo via Meal Ticket|
• Food cart envy: KAMI, serving up korean-inspired food on Drexel's campus at 33rd Street and Arch Streets, hits the spot with "Korean cheesesteaks"
• Overwhelmed by Center City Restaurant Week choices? Foobooz has a nifty search for filtering specific preferences like vegetarian options and BYOBs
• Open: Keven Parker Soul Food Cafe is up and running at Reading Terminal Market, serving up classic soul food choices like fried chicken, chicken and waffles, and "cheesy cheese" mac & cheese
• Inquirer food writer Michael Klein explains the bane of restaurant owners' existence: diners who cancel last minute
• City Paper Meal Ticket blogger and Penn junior Zoë Kirsch highlights the "gastronomaly" that is Chocolate by Mueller's chocolate covered onion
• Think your a food expert? Do you know your confit from your rillette? Test your food vocabulary with this First We Feast post on "20 Foods You Secretly Can't Explain"
Thursday, January 17, 2013
For my birthday last Friday my friends and I dined at Distrito. The restaurant is conveniently located a few blocks away from campus on Chestnut Street. I was curious about the Distrito after hearing many rave reviews from fellow Penn students. Boasting traditional, tapas-style meals from the capital of Mexico, Distrito is the perfect restaurant for people who love Latin cuisine. Be warned, though. The portions are small, so order at least two items. The waiter suggested each person order two items and have everyone share. I ordered a roasted pork tamale and an enchilada de pollo. Both items were very delicious. One of my friends ordered the carne asada; which consisted of chopped, NY Strip steak, adobo, and creamy poblano corn rice. The poblano corn rice had a very interesting texture that was similar to creamy risotto. The chopped steak was very tender and seasoned adequately. One of my other friends ordered the carnitas tacos made with pulled pork, black beans, and pineapple salsa. The fusion of sweet salsa with savory black beans added an interesting spin to a traditional taco. We finished dinner off with a chocolate cake and virgin margaritas. I'm a fan of tapas, so the small portions did not bother me. Actually, I think sharing meals adds to the restaurant atmosphere and makes the experience more personal- almost like eating with your family. The items on the menu were moderately priced compared to other Mexican restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed my birthday dinner and hope to visit the restaurant again soon. My experience at Distrito added to the start of a memorable birthday night.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
It has been a while since I’ve explored the restaurant scene in Philadelphia, but a group of friends and I found the perfect place this past weekend. Located at 1801 Chestnut Street, the Steven Starr restaurant “Continental” is an absolute gem for international dishes with a quirky flair. Our table ordered the Szechuan Shoestring Fries for our appetizer, which was listed under the “Classics” section of the menu. For just $8, you have to CHOW NOW on this incredible creation! The plate of shredded fries resembles a pile of hay, but it is the most delicious pile of hay you will ever find. The Continental twist for this dish, of course, is the hints of Asian flavoring with a classic American staple; the thin, crispy fries come with a special serving of “Chinese mustard sauce” which adds a tangy spice to the flavor of the fries. The thinness of the fries keeps the dish interesting as the fries melt in your mouth and give you the illusion that you haven’t actually eaten as many fries as you think you have, and the sauce (which is reminiscent of a light wasabi flavor) is the unique finishing touch. CHOW first on this appetizer and then proceed with delight to your main course options!
Monday, January 14, 2013
For as long as I can remember, my Christmases never consisted of “Who pudding and rare Who roast beast” from classic Seussian lore: homemade tamales always take center stage. The Mexican tradition dates back to Mesoamerican times, when the commonly held belief was that God created humans from corn. Ritual offerings soon substituted wrapped tamales for human sacrifices upon the arrival of conquistadors. These precious bundles of corn are popular not only during Christmastime, but also for other sacred occasions such as baptism, first communion, and wedding anniversaries.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, we load our car with holiday goodies galore, traveling onwards to my aunt and uncle’s house. On the way, my family makes a quick pit stop in Chinatown to bring fresh boxes of dim sum—meaty siu mai, plump har gow, steamy char siu baos, and luscious egg tarts—that sustain us throughout the morning.
My aunt and uncle have been preparing for days in advance. The night before Christmas Eve, bags of dried cornhusks find their way into the house and soak in water overnight. We dry them the day of by layering the leaves with paper towels on cookie trays. Pounds of pale yellow masa (maize dough made from freshly prepared hominy) fill massive bowls placed strategically around the kitchen table; we evenly spread the paste on the cornhusks (shiny side facedown). Containers of the savory pork-beef-chile filling are interspersed with the bowls of masa; my aunt perfected the mixture the day before. This in itself is a process, from de-seeding the chiles to pureeing them in a blender to stirring in the shredded pork and beef and an array of secret ingredients. The concoction rests in the fridge overnight and are ready for use by the following morning; it stains our fingers crimson red as we plop generous dollops on top of the masa. Two plump olives, black as night, are the final flourish, the last to be nestled in the bed of meat and spices before the pocket is carefully folded up. The tamales bask for four-plus hours in the sauna-like environment of immense metal pots on the stove.
Before long, it’s time to feast on the fruits of our labor. Slightly gritty with a light corn flavor, the masa caresses the piquant meat mixture. Saltiness from the olives punctuates each bite. Each year, there is always an unspoken challenge: who can eat the most tamales? The record high is an astounding twelve, accomplished some years ago by my cousin with an extraordinary bottomless stomach. The current championship belt, though, goes to my younger cousin with an equally-as-impressive seven tamales.
Paired with fluffy Spanish rice, spicy salsa, and cool guacamole, this is all we need to keep our stomachs full throughout the afternoon and evening. The spread of sweets is equally as satisfying: the customary two-pound box of See’s Candies, homemade pistachio cashew brittle, cupcake-shaped chocolate truffles, apple turnovers, streusel-topped pan dulce, baklava… This is one Christmas feast that puts any HoneyBaked Ham to shame. ¡Muy delicioso!