Red, Green, or Christmas?

 Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

Poinsettas- a plant indigenous to Mexico, but used as decoration all over New Mexico at Christmas time.

The smell of pinon wood burning in kiva fireplaces fills the air, and luminarias line the streets in old parts of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico. During this time of year my mouth waters for enchiladas, posole, and biscochitos, the delicious New Mexican specialties that mean the holidays are here. 

 Old Town Albuquerque

Old Town Albuquerque

Many of us are sentimental about our holiday traditions, and I am no exception. However, it took living in another place, where I didn't have access to much spicy food, in order for me to fall in love with red and green chile. Year round in many restaurants in New Mexico, even non-New Mexican restaurants, the first question after ordering is, "Red, Green, or Christmas?" This refers to the chile that can add extra life and spice to all food, not just New Mexican dishes: stews, sandwiches, pizza, breakfast, and pasta, to name my favorites. New Mexican Chile is created from chile peppers grown only in New Mexico. Roasted green chile can be used in just about anything  (like all the foods I mentioned above), but commonly it is used to make a spicy sauce. Red Chile is the ripened and dried version of the green pepper, that is usually more mellow and smoky. It is also the main ingredient in its own sauce. Hence why the question in all New Mexican restaurants, "Red, Green, or Christmas (both)?" The colors of the chile dress every plate for Christmas!

 The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

The bags lining the top of the building are luminarias. (Albuquerque locals call them luminarias - "lights" in Spanish; Santa Fe locals call them farolitos - "lanterns" in Spanish). They are filled with some sand and a votive candle. When Chinese lanterns came to Santa Fe in the mid-18th century, locals liked how they looked, but they didn't hold up in the harsh winter weather, so they created luminaries as a sturdier option. Their night-time glow is a beautiful sight, but unfortunately doesn't photograph well. (We won't even discuss the fake electric ones!)

 Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

Christmas tree with hot air balloon and chile Christmas lights.

 When visiting New Mexico during the holidays make sure to walk around Old Town in Albuquerque at dusk, when the luminarias are glowing and carolers are singing in the gazebo at the center of the plaza. Pick up some biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies from the Golden Panaderia, a bakery that offers my favorite biscochitos in town (you get a free one just for walking in!). Drop by the Christmas Shop, with all the pottery ornaments and hot air balloon Christmas lights. Pick up some tea at the New Mexico Tea Company for a nice warm pick-me up to make on Christmas Day (my favorites are Sandia Spice, Lady Londonderry, and the Plum Oolong). On Christmas Eve join people from across New Mexico as they walk down farolito-lined Canyon Road in Santa Fe, enjoying mulled cider and fabulous art-filled galleries(farolitowalk.com).

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Iced Biscochito Recipe

 The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

The sugar and cinnamon dusted biscochitos on the right are from Golden Panaderia Bakery and the iced ones are made from the recipe that I love (below).

I love to make biscochitos with a twist. Biscochitos are a lard-based sugar cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon, traditionally topped with a dusting of sugar and cinnamon. My  version is a marriage of biscochitos and iced Christmas cookies. I make two batches, one with less anise for family members who don't like it so much. I personally love what the anise adds to the iced sugar cookie, and so will put a little extra in my second batch. Take heed: working with the rather stiff dough broke two of my electric hand mixers. This recipe needs the strength of a standing mixer.

Cookie Ingredients: 

 2 & 1/3 cups of lard

1 & 1/2 cups of sugar

2 tsp. anise seed

2 eggs beaten

3tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

6 cups flour

1/2 cup Amaretto

Cream lard, sugar, and anise in a large mixing bowl. Then add the eggs and beat well. In a separate mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture and amaretto to the creamed mixture and beat or stir until a stiff dough has formed. Knead dough and roll to 1/4" thickness. Cut dough into desired shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cookies are slightly brown. 

Icing:

About 1/2 a bag of powdered sugar

3 tablespoons of corn syrup (more if you want to create a glaze instead of frosting)

1/4 tsp. almond extract

Mix ingredients until you have a smooth icing texture; divide into small bowls and add coloring for decorating cookies. Then decorate!!!

 

What are some of your favorite holiday traditions? Let me know!