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Luminarias/Farolitos & Chocolate

 Votive candles for luminarias

Votive candles for luminarias

In New Mexico, there is a long-standing holiday tradition on Christmas Eve of lighting votive candles and placing them in brown paper bags filled with enough sand to keep them stable-- one candle to a bag.  They are set along pathways and rooftops as decorations.  This tradition dates back several hundred years, to a time when the lights were thought to help the Christ child find his way into people's homes on Christmas Eve. Originally these lights were tiny bonfires made of pinon sticks.  In the more northern parts of New Mexico, the lights are known as farolitas (little lanterns)-- while in Albuquerque and most other places they are called luminarias (festival lights).

When my children were little, we used to make our own.  It was a lot of folding and filling.  One year, Sam and his friends even made a business of it-- hauling them around the neighborhood in a little red wagon.  I think that pretty much wore them out-- now we usually order them from the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, which supports a great cause and also relieves us from all the folding.  Depending on how many a family or neighborhood decides to put out, just setting them up can take a big part of the day!

 Lining pathways on Christmas Eve

Lining pathways on Christmas Eve

There are some neighborhoods In Albuquerque that are especially known for their luminaria displays-- to the point where hundreds of people tour them by foot, bus, car and bicycle each Christmas Eve.  My family is going to a Christmas Eve open-house in one of those neighborhoods.  The three girls and I have been baking all kinds of cookies for the past week-- Toffee Bars, Cranberry-Nut Rugelach, Chocolate Espresso Shortbread, Black Forest Cookies, Hazelnut Thumbprints, and quite a few more.  Their brother is going to arrive just in time to help eat them all!  We also made some Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles, which went to school with Libby as gifts for her friends-- and are also going on the big cookie trays that we are bringing to the party...

 Welcome

Welcome

 Truffle ingredients

Truffle ingredients

This is how you make them:  There are so few ingredients, no one will believe you when you tell them how easy they were to make.  They probably won't even believe you made them at all-- so maybe just keep it a secret.  You'll need heavy cream, unsalted butter, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, peppermint extract and crushed peppermint sticks (you can smash them up yourself or buy the sprinkling kind-- already finely smashed).  And also some mini-cupcake papers.

 Truffle ingredients

Truffle ingredients

1) chop up 16 oz of chocolate and place in heatproof bowl.  2) Bring 1 c heavy cream and 4 tablespoons butter barely to a boil over medium heat and then pour over the chocolate in bowl.  Whisk until blended and smooth.  3) Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract.  4) Refrigerate truffle mixture until firm, which can take a few hours.  5) Once set, the mixture can be scooped into small (about 1" round) balls and rolled with your hands.  As you roll them, the surface warms up, so it can get messy.  You want to immediately roll them in the crushed peppermint, so the whole surface is covered.  6) place each one in a mini-cupcake paper.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  They will keep for up to two weeks.

Of course, you might be too busy right now to want to stop and make your own truffles. If you are looking for delicious local chocolates to give as gifts (or to yourself) there are several excellent sources to explore. Last March, Abby and I and some friends visited the 2nd annual Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Festival, and discovered that there is some pretty wonderful chocolate to be had right here.  We tried a lot of chocolates, and two of our favorite companies were Kakawa House in Santa Fe and Choco Canyon in Albuquerque, who we also see at the Downtown Growers Market all summer long.  So put that Festival on your list of things to do in 2013!  It's coming up from March 23-24, at the fairgrounds.  And Happy New Year!

 Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

Pumpkins

It is almost Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the best excuse ever to cook and eat like crazy!  And to go out and find local ingredients, like pumpkins, that we can incorporate into our Thanksgiving dinner.  We are excited, because all four kids will be home for the long weekend-- back from Boston and northern California and all staying here. Last year only the ones who live here got to be in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, so this is going to be great!  We have BIG plans.  First, some mother-daughter Turkey Trek 5-K action in the morning, to work up an extra big appetite. Then some apple cider cinnamon doughnuts and pumpkin pie scones with maybe some fancy coffee drinks to keep us going.  We are going to need a lot of fortification.

 Pumpkin harvest

Pumpkin harvest

Then we will get to work-- cooking in two kitchens, one block apart.  We will wear funny aprons and test holiday cocktails and whip up one huge yummy dinner. And run back and forth all day, until it is time to eat.  We are planning to start with a roasted butternut squash soup, followed by a local fresh roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, corn relish, herb and onion bread stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with maple syrup, and brussels sprouts with pancetta.  Then we might need to go for a walk around the block and watch a little football, or something. Once we rest our tummies and try to find that space reserved for dessert, we will tackle a classic pecan pie, some tiny pumpkin tartlets, and some cranberry chocolate tarts with rum-infused pastry cream.  A lot of cooks showing off around here!

 Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Here are two of those Thanksgiving holiday cocktails, mentioned above. There is a winery in nearby Placitas called Anasazi Fields.  One of their offerings is an American Cranberry, made completely from cranberries.  For a perfect pre-dinner Thanksgiving beverage, we pair it with another local favorite, a sparkling Gruet white.  Fill champagne flutes halfway with the Anasazi American Cranberry, and then carefully top off with an equal portion of Gruet's Extra Dry.  And then toast  the cooks!  Our other favorite Thanksgiving cocktail idea involves some cider from Alary Farms (which we visited in our previous blog post).  For a Thanksgiving Apple Cinnamon Martini, fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.  Add one oz good quality vodka, one oz Calvados apple brandy, and two oz apple cider.  Shake well.  Prepare martini glass by rubbing rim with a cut apple.  Dip in sanding sugar mixed with cinnamon.  Add ice cubes, and pour apple cider martini over the ice.  Garnish w/a cinnamon stick.  And now toast the guests!

 Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Earlier this week we were thrilled to have an opportunity to visit one of our favorite farms, Chispas, in the South Valley.  They were offering customers a chance to come by to pick up a few Thanksgiving supplies at their farm-- and they had produce from Amyo Farms-- who we also love-- there as well.  We went on Tuesday, so we could get a head start on our prep work.  It was a pretty mild day, and we spent some time walking around the farm... the chickens were busy out in one corner, and a couple of farm workers looked just as busy in another corner.  We picked out quite a few butternut squashes, and also could not resist the little tiny green and orange pumpkins... we thought they would make very cool table decorations.  There were also some little apples to try, and some of Chispas' delicious garlic.  You can never have too much garlic, you know.  We love it that there can be a farm like this right in Albuquerque, and are grateful that they let us visit.  I already really miss the every Saturday Downtown Growers Market.  It will be a long time until May!

 Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

In the meantime, we are hunkering down with all these pumpkins and squashes, which will keep us busy for a pretty long time.  There are so many amazingly delicious things to cook with them-- like winter squash soup, butternut lasagne, butternut & sage risotto, baked acorn squash halves filled with quinoa or roasted with butter & syrup-- 

and then pumpkin pies and scones and doughnuts and muffins and bread and pumpkin spice muffins with maple syrup frosting..... I am so lucky to have good friends and family to share all this with, and am looking forward to celebrating this holiday season with all of them.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 New Mexico sunflower in fall

New Mexico sunflower in fall

Apples

Autumn means apples to me.  I resisted them for the first couple of weeks, because it just did not feel like fall yet-- too warm and still so much late-summer produce to enjoy.  But I finally couldn't wait any longer, and now I am trying out all kinds of apples....

 Old apple crates and machinery

Old apple crates and machinery

This week I found a new one-- the Stayman.  Some orchard owners from Chimayo brought about ten different kinds of apples to the Farmers Market at Albuquerque Academy.  I grew up in New England on MacIntosh apples, and I am always craving that same tart, crunchy, crispy kind of apple-- not always easy to find in New Mexico.  This one was SO good that I have no idea why I only bought four of them.  Not even enough to really bake anything with-- so the girls and I just ate them right up.  Then I needed to find out where we could get some more.

 Stayman apples

Stayman apples

I did a little research and discovered that Stayman apples have been around since the 1860's, that they are closely related to Winesaps, have a "low-chill requirement" and are suited to warm and temperate climates. Even better, there are several orchards in New Mexico that grow them!  In the interests of time and a small carbon footprint, I picked the closest one-- Alary Farm in Corrales.  (Open 9-5, Fri-Sun during apple season.)  It was a beautiful autumn day-- the kind that makes me want to go out and take a lot of pictures.  So off I went.

Alary Farm is easy to find-- on the east side of Corrales Road.  I got a big bag of Stayman apples and a gallon of cider.  The owner let me wander around the orchard, taking pictures and soaking up autumn in New Mexico.  Corrales always makes me feel a little bit like I am back in New England-- especially at this time of year when I get the most homesick.  It has an almost-rural, small-town feel to it, even though it is just minutes from Albuquerque. And it is full of orchards and gardens and places selling apples and cider.  A person could make a whole day of it out there tasting and sampling.

 Alary Orchard

Alary Orchard

 Alary Orchard salesroom

Alary Orchard salesroom

 Stayman apple on the tree

Stayman apple on the tree

The owner was telling me that they are the only ones in Corrales selling the Stayman apple, and that they also have an even later apple-- the Black Twig-- which is even crisper and stores better, but will not be ready until early November.  He also told me, sadly, that someone has been stealing his apples, in large quantities, but he has not managed to catch them at it.  He thinks that they sell them at a market somewhere.  Either that or they like to do fall baking even more than I do...

 Look for signs...

Look for signs...

These apples made me feel like cooking something up right away.  I was pretty hungry after my mini adventure, so I decided to forego baking for something quicker-- French Toast w/Caramelized Apples.  Here's what you do:  1) core and thinly slice one apple per serving.  2) sauté apples in some sweet butter. 3) sprinkle w/a few teaspoons of brown sugar mixed w/a pinch each of cinnamon & nutmeg.  Cook until sugar caramelizes and apples are turning golden brown.  Set aside to keep warm.

 Core & slice the apples

Core & slice the apples

Meanwhile, prepare the french toast: 1) mix 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon Calvados (apple brandy) & a pinch each of cinnamon & nutmeg, per serving, w/a wire whisk.  2) soak 4-5 thick slices of french baguette in the egg mixture.  3)  toast until cooked all the way through and very brown, on a griddle over medium heat.

Arrange french toast on individual serving plates. Spoon caramelized apples over the bread.  Sprinkle with toasted walnuts, and top with a spoonful of sour cream or creme fraiche.  Enjoy at once... close your eyes and drift back out to those orchards, full of delicious New Mexico apples.  

We'll have to go back soon and look for the very last apples of the season.  And some more cider. Because we already polished that off, too.

 Saute w/butter, cinnamon & nutmeg

Saute w/butter, cinnamon & nutmeg

 French Toast w/Caramelized Apples

French Toast w/Caramelized Apples