Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mexican Christmas Punch — Ponche Navideño

“ ‘Ponche Navideño’ is the Christmas punch made from a bubbling mixture of Mexican fruits,” Mayuli Bales, director of multicultural ministries for the St. Cloud Diocese, said. “It’s the traditional treat served during Las Posadas that stands most out for me.”
“We simmer special seasonal fruits — fresh sugar cane, guavas, tejocotes and more — sometimes for several days before serving it,” Mayuli said. “So people can eat the pieces of fruit ladled into the cups with the flavorful juice, we offer them spoons. It makes my mouth water to remember those wonderful wafting aromas.”

Throughout Mexico, she said, Ponche Navideño is a symbol of Christmas — it’s offered to friends and neighbors who visit during Las Posadas.

Las Posadas is a novena, a nine-day litany of song and prayer that tells of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter. Beginning Dec. 16 and ending Christmas Eve, people go from house to house in their neighborhoods, asking for — and being denied — safe lodgings until finally hosts open their door for them. Then the pilgrims enjoy special treats, like Ponche Navideño, at the home of their hosts. NLR

Ponche Navideño
(Mayuli Bales)

8 quarts water
3 sticks cinnamon

1 1/4 (1 lb.) jars tejocotes
2 (1 lb.)  jars sugar cane (in syrup)
5 (8 oz.) pkgs. piloncillo ***

3 pears, stems and cores removed and cut in chunks
4 sweet apples (such as Sweet Lady), cut in chunks
8 guavas, cut in half

1 lb. pitted prunes, cut in half

1 cup raisins

3 whole oranges
1/2 cup whole cloves

Brandy or rum (optional)

Place water, cinnamon sticks, tejocotes, sugar cane and piloncillo in a very large pot and bring to a boil. Add pears, apples, guavas, prunes and raisins to the pot and return to a boil. Stud the oranges with the whole cloves and add to the mixture. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from the heat. Scoop fruits into serving cups and then ladle in the juice. (Brandy or rum or other alcoholic spirits can be added if desired.) Serve hot.
 Yield: About 30 servings

A note from Nikki: Tejocotes* are small, apple-like fruits of the hawthorn tree, in season in Mexico at holiday time. Looking like orange or golden crab apples, their flavor is uniquely sweet and sour, ranging between a plum and an apricot. In Minnesota they are available at local Mexican grocery stores, bottled in syrup. Tejocotes can also be ordered online.
 “Fresh sugar cane ** is juicy and sweet.” Mayuli said. “It drips down your arms when you peel it.” If it appears too dry, it can be soaked overnight and the outer bark peeled and discarded — the rehydrated core can then be chopped. In Minnesota, sugar cane is available bottled in syrup and found in Mexican grocery stores.

Piloncillo*** is an unrefined, dark brown sugar formed into cones. To substitute, use 2 1/2 lbs. dark brown sugar.

A note from Carol: Nikki Rajala, a friend and fellow copy editor at The Visitor, is the guest writer for this posting. You may remember Nikki’s “Taking Tea” series from 201l, her recipes for Honeydew Blueberry Salad and Watermelon Tomato Salad or the numerous pictures she taken of dishes featured on FFF. I appreciate her help in so many ways. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Old-fashioned Eggnog

Savoring a cup or two of eggnog is a tradition most of us look forward to this time of year. Its indulgent texture and flavor stir up memories of Christmases past and of those with whom we’ve shared this rich beverage.

Chris Codden’s memories stretch back to her childhood in Chicago when she used to stand on a chair by the stove in her mother’s kitchen, stirring the sweet, white liquid to the point of simmering. This is her mother Zelma Clark’s recipe and Chris remembers making it for most of her life.
“My family looks forward to this eggnog every year,” Chris said. “It’s the only time of year that I make it — it’s like drinking a liquid custard. We have it both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It’s something a family can prepare together — I always let the kids help with the stirring like I did when I was a little girl.

“It was a tradition for my mom to make huge batches that we would take to neighbors and family members. I do the same thing, making gallons each year to give away to every one here in the office and also Bishop Kinney. I think he really likes it. I put it in a special glass bottle for him and every year in January he sends the bottle back with a thank you note and a “request” to refill it the next year.” CJK

Old-fashioned Eggnog
(Chris Codden)

1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups milk
2 egg whites
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped
Ground nutmeg, for sprinkling

Beat 1/3 cup sugar into the egg yolks and pour into a large saucepan. Add the salt and stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until this custard mixture coats a spoon — just before reaching the boiling point. Cool.

Beat the egg whites until foamy. Gradually add 3 tbsp. sugar and continue beating to soft peaks. Gently add to the custard and mix in thoroughly. Add the vanilla. Chill 3 or 4 hours. Pour into a punch bowl or cups — dot with dollops of whipped cream and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

A note from Chris: We regularly drink skim milk at home but I’m not allowed to make this eggnog with skim milk. I have tried it in the past and it didn’t turn out as good so I always use whole milk. Christmas is the only time of year that I buy whole milk.

We bought a bottle of Mexican vanilla the first year that we were married and loved how it intensified the flavor and so I’ve used Mexican vanilla ever since.

Also, I generally quadruple the recipe to make a gallon. I usually make two gallons a year. (For one gallon, the initial cooking process takes about 45 minutes to an hour.)

A note from Carol: Chris Codden, the director of the diocesan Office of Marriage and Family, is the past-president of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and an advisor to the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. She and her husband Rich are members of St. Anthony Church in St. Cloud and have been actively involved with Marriage Encounter in the past.

The couple has four children: Michelle, Lynette, Donny and Clayton, who died in infancy in 1980, and two grandchildren: Isaiah and Angelo.

Chris shared her recipe for barbecued pork ribs last year. They are a bit time-consuming, requiring frequent attention from the cook, but all the TLC pays off in the end. They are absolutely fabulous!

Bishop John Kinney is the bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

I love collecting recipes. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember — starting my huge treasure trove of them about the time I was in third grade. I garner them from many sources — cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, and these days, online.

Of course I also gather them from friends, relatives, coworkers — the people in my life. These are the truly special ones. For me, they possess a level of emotional attachment and a deeper meaning than the rest. These recipes immediately trigger memories of the person who gave them to me and remind me of the times we’ve shared together.

This recipe is one of those. I got it from Mary Schindler, a friend who savored life and lived every moment with true zest and zeal. I hope you’ve had a chance to read yesterday’s posting about Mary — she was one of a kind!

I’ve included the charming special tips (in pink) that Mary added when she sent me the recipe. I’m honored to be able to share it you. CJK

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake
(Mary Schindler)

1 cup (6 oz.) chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet chips — not milk chocolate.) 
3/4 cup flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup butter 

3 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened (I used 2 light and 1 regular.)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream — sometimes I use plain yogurt.)
6 eggs

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt chocolate chips. Mix the flour, sugar and butter together and then stir in 2 tbsp. of the melted chocolate. Pat the mixture into a springform pan. (Mine was 9 inches.) Bake the crust in the preheated oven at 400°F for 10 minutes.

Beat first five ingredients together and then add the eggs — one at a time.

Remove 1 1/2 cups of batter. Gently mix the rest of the melted chocolate into the remaining batter. (I tweaked this by adding a few shakes of cinnamon and a pinch of chili pepper.)

Pour the plain batter into the baked crust.  Drop the chocolate batter on top of it and swirl it through. 

Put the cheesecake into the 400°F oven and then immediately turn the temperature down to 300°F.  Bake for 1 hour, without opening the door. (I’ve seen on the Food Network to put a pan of water on the shelf below the cake — I did that this time.) When the time is up, shut off the oven, but do not open or remove the cheesecake for another hour. (It usually cracks across the surface like you saw.) When that hour is up, remove, cool and refrigerate 8 hours.   YUM  :) Mary Schindler

A note from Carol: Mary called this sweet treat “Educated Cheesecake” in the recipe she sent to me — but that, dear readers, is a story of its own.

This cheesecake would be a hit at any holiday gathering. It offers a heavenly blend of rich chocolate and vanilla flavors and it’s absolutely attractive. I liked Mary’s idea of adding a bit of cinnamon and chili powder to the chocolate batter — perky!

Another idea is to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of peppermint extract to the chocolate batter before it’s swirled into the white one. Once it’s baked and cooled crushed candy canes sprinkled over the top would give it a festive look and complement the peppermint flavor.

Other cheesecake recipes on FFF that you may like to try are Sheila Seelhammer’s Almond Cheesecake and Carl Monson’s Cheesecake Supreme.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Remembering Mary Schindler

Alicyn receives a hug from her mom on Mary’s last birthday in May 2009.
(Photo courtesy of Ron Syme)
Five years ago today I received an email from a friend, Mary Schindler. It contained Mary’s recipe for Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake with a little note remarking on the previous day’s event — the Big Tomato Contest, an annual rivalry at that time between Pastoral Center and Catholic Charities employees.

The tomato challenge, which occurred for six or seven years, was initiated by Mary, the supervisor for the financial counseling department for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, and Steve Gessell, the maintenance worker for properties of the St. Cloud Diocese. That particular year our building defended the title with the largest red “fruit” and so Catholic Charities employees returned some weeks later singing the required “You are the champions” tune and the fabulous cheesecake Mary had baked as an offering to the “tough competition.”

I remember the fun and laughter we all shared that day and Mary’s scrumptious cheesecake. I treasure the recipe she shared with me, which included a number of tips telling exactly how she prepared it. And most of all, I count myself blessed to have known Mary — her spirit was large and bright, vivacious and magnetizing — full of love for those around her.

She passed away from cancer, at the age of 52, on Aug. 23, 2009, a week short of celebrating 25 years of marriage with her loving husband, Ron Syme. The couple’s three children — Symon (25), Nate (20) and Alicyn (16) — were a huge part of Mary’s life.

It’s been heart warming to talk with Ron and a few of her former coworkers these last few days. Memories of times with Mary are truly cherished by those who knew her.

“She had a zest for life and never took anything for granted,” recalls Jenny McDermond, Catholic Charities financial and housing counselor who began working with Mary in 2001. “She put her heart into everything she did — cooking, trying new recipes, making kimchee, reading, her work, her family, her friends, the Spanish language — everything.

“One of my fondest memories is traveling to South Korea in 2006 with Mary, her family, their exchange student Jun Soo Lee and my sister Becky,” she continued. “She encouraged me to learn about my heritage and to be proud of being a Korean-American by introducing me to Kamp Kimchee (a family camp for Korean-adoptees) and through weekly meetings at her house to learn Korean from Jun Soo Lee.

 “She would bring people together and the events were always inclusive,” said Sue Kilian, Catholic Charities financial and housing counselor who worked with Mary for 21 years. “I remember game nights that she would organize for coworkers and former coworkers which were always open to everyone including any guests people wanted to bring. We would play games, eat food and laugh a lot.

“She was just a lot of fun,” Sue continued. “If she was excited about something she wanted everyone to be excited about whatever it was — her enthusiasm was absolutely infectious.”

“Mary was the kindest person I’ve ever met. She made everybody feel comfortable all the time,” remembers her long time friend Sherri Magnuson, secretary/receptionist at Catholic Charities. “And, once she was your friend, she was your friend forever.”

A note from Carol: Mary worked in the financial counseling department for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud for over 25 years.

Please visit FFF again tomorrow to see her cheesecake recipe.

The Schindler-Syme family in 2006 — Ron (front, left) and Alicyn, Nate, 
Jun Soo Lee, Mary and Symon. (Photo courtesy of Ron Syme)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Blessings

The blessings of Thanksgiving …

It focuses our minds on our blessings rather than our problems.
It makes the heart glad for what we have been given and 
it takes our minds off the burdens we all have. 
Thanksgiving recognizes the giver as well as the gift. 
It keeps it on the positive side.
In life of plenty and prosperity we seem to 
take everything for granted.
How appreciative we should be for our blessings 
and what a wonderful thing is a holiday, 
which focuses our attention on them.
Thanksgiving is therapy we all need to keep cognizant 
of the blessings and the beauty of living. 
This year let's set aside a few minutes of the holiday to sit alone and think of the many things for which we should be grateful ~
Then this great holiday will have true meaning for us!

— Robert N. Filie

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Take time to thank a veteran

Veterans Day 2012

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

— Elmer Davis

Wednesday, November 7, 2012