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What should I make for our Mexican Christmas that will be impressive but that can be made ahead of time?

So, my idea of having a Mexican Thanksgiving at the in-laws this year got vetoed, but they did decide to have a Mexican Christmas!! Yay! (A welcome change, especially considering we are having brunch at one of my grandma's on Christmas morning and then brunch food again at my other grandma's in the early afternoon!) My husband's side of the family is Hispanic, so everything will be very traditional. I know that my MIL is making enchiladas; his aunt is making carnitas, arroz con pollo, and refried beans. I'm sure there will be other things, but that's what I know for sure. Oh, I'm also sure his aunt will make Mexican hot chocolate, because she knows I love it! I'm wanting to make maybe a main dish or appetizer and a dessert. We have to drive three hours the morning of to have lunch, so everything will need to be made the night before and either kept at room temperature or re-heated, so obviously certain things won't work. I would love to make churros, but I know that probably won't work. And I will need recipes or pointers to cookbooks, because I'm next to clueless about traditional Mexican cuisine! I want to impress! Thanks hounds!

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      1. Biscochitos. Super-easy sugar cookies with anise seed in them. (The recipe doesn't say, but we lightly mush the seeds with a mortar and pestle -- just to release the flavor a bit more.)


        1. Romeritos en mole is a Christmas classic as is bacalao.
          Please, don't ask me for recipes for them, as I am fond of neither!
          However Ponche Navideño is very good. Or lots of Rompope.
          When would it be appropriate to make Rosca de Tres Reyes?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Anonimo

            The Rosca in January...


            1. re: Anonimo

              the ponche navideño i made for christmas day went over quite well. highly recommended!

            2. I linked to this recipe for empanadas on another thread. It's a recipe from used this Bittman recipe. The dough has cornmeal and is very easy to handle. You can make sweet or savory, but according to my Tex-Mex husband, the only real empanadas are pumpkin-anise. They can be served at room temperature, or frozen then reheated.


              1. Tamales are easily transportable and rather traditional at Christmas but are terribly labor intensive. However, they can also be made as a "budín", as in Budín Azteca" which is sort of like a big, layered tamale baked in a cazuela (or casserole dish). Diana Kennedy has several budín recipes in her early books.

                Ensalada NocheBuena contains lots of interesting ingredients that are tossed together at the last minute, but easily transportable if the ingredients are sealed in zip-lock bags and finished at the final destination.

                Biscochos, or Mexican Wedding Cookies are easy. Shortbread cookies rolled in powdered sguar.

                Rick Bayless has a recipe for Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake in his book Mexico: One Plate at a Time. I've made it several times and it's pretty good. I blogged it here - http://thediningdiva.typepad.com/ . Just click on the link to the cake under "Recent Posts". This one feeds a crowd and is easy to transport. It's really good with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and ice cream when served.

                If you've got access to corn (other than frozen, though that will work in a pinch, canned will not) and epazote, I've got a recipe for esquites that can be transported in a crock pot and finished once you get where you're going.

                Pipían Verde using chicken or pork can be made ahead and reheated.

                What about some pickled jalapeños and carrots made from scratch? You could get really adventurous and make tepache (mild pineapple vinegar) from the Diana Kennedy recipe and then do the pickled vegetables in that.

                6 Replies
                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I had thought about making the Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake, but after reading all the reviews about it being dry I was a little worried. Did you ever experiment with adding more fat to it? I do love coffeecake though, so it it's like that, then I wouldn't mind at all!

                  I will check on the corn (haven't even looked in a while?) and the epazote (maybe at my local Mexican grocery), because from searching for recipes for esquites, that sounds really good! The Ensalada NocheBuena sounds good too... I'm learning all kinds of new dishes!

                  Looks like I need to check out a Diana Kennedy cookbook from the library. I was concerned about using any of the Bayless recipes from the mixed reviews on the boards, but I do have plenty of time to experiment.

                  I also really like the idea of the tamale casserole!

                  1. re: Katie Nell

                    DD- Which Diana Kennedy cookbook would you recommend starting with?

                    1. re: Katie Nell

                      Any of the Diana Kennedy books are great, but if you can find them I'd suggest either her first book "The Cuisines of Mexico" or her second one "The Art of Mexican Cooking". I love both of them not only for the recipes but for the anecdotes and stories she includes in them. DK is a purist and a traditionalist and that is the perspective from which her books are written.

                      Don't be put off by the mixed reviews for Rick Bayless's Mexico: One Plate at a Time. It is probably my least favorite of his cookbooks. His first 2 cookbooks are also great, "Authentic Mexican" or "Mexican Kitchen". I perfer Mexican Kitchen, but a lot of people really like Authentic Mexican. Cooking Mexican isn't especially difficult but until one is used to working with the ingredients and gets a feel for how things are supposed to look, feel and taste while in process it can seem hard, odd and even daunting. I think the newness of some of the ingredients and methods led to some of the mixed comments as much as the fact that OPAAT was developed to support Rick's PBS cooking show.

                      From years of cooking both DK and RB recipes I can tell you that they do work and work well. A strength they both share is the quality and detail of recipe instructions.

                      As for the Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake, mine was not particularly dry. It was actually fairly moist. It does, however, remind me of a coffee cake more than a regular cake in that the crumb is much coarser than a regular cake. This cake already has a HUGE amount of fat in it - 2 sticks of butter + 8 oz cream cheese - but I would really consider adding 1/4 cup of sour cream to see if that helped the crumb at all, I know it would add additional moisture. Really, I think this is a good cake to take to a party because it holds up really well and it serves a crowd.

                      In "Mexican Kitchen" there is a recipes for a chocolate pecan pie, which is the signature dessert for both the RB restaurants. I've made it and it's very good. I've also swiped the idea and tinkered with my own pecan pie recipe by reducing the sugar and adding Mexican chocolate to the mix. If you do this, you need to let the pecan pie mix sit for about 10-15 miutes before pouring it in the pie shell to let the sugar in the Mex. chocolate dissolve. In his book "Salsas That Cook" RB has a recipe for a pecan bar cookie that is excellent and that would be transportable.

                      Capriotada is a very traditional dessert that I think you could transport pretty easily and DK has a couple of good recipes for that. Someone else mentioned Tres Leches cake which is easy and transportable.

                      And I'll, second Snackish's recommendation for the camotes with chile. I like this recipe a lot and I think you could make it in advance, transport it and reheat it wherever you end up.

                      1. re: DiningDiva

                        Okay, I ordered both the Diana Kennedy books you mentioned and "Mexican Kitchen" from my library so hopefully I can narrow down my choices once I see the recipes. Thanks for such detailed information!

                        1. re: Katie Nell

                          Just mentioned this in another thread, but take a look at Kennedy's "Essential Cuisines of Mexico" It's an aggregate of her first three books in one (including "Cuisines of Mexico").

                        2. re: DiningDiva

                          I made RB's Chocolate Pecan Pie and it came out wonderful. Just make sure you don't over-toast the pecans!

                  2. Tamales and moles are holiday staples, but it's nice to have something simmering on the stove as well. A mexican dish that made its way into New Mexico is Posole, which is popular during Christmas and New Years. It is large corn kernels treated with lye (aka hominy), bought dry or in cans.

                    Posole Verde is a stew of cubed pork (shoulder is good), fresh green chiles (like New Mexico Hatch - impossible to get this time of year unless frozen, so you might have to settle for canned, or use poblanos or anaheim - but you want medium hot), lots of mexican oregano, some cumin, garlic and onions.

                    The Dean & DeLuca cookbook has a recipe, but I'm sure you can google it and find it as well.

                    1. Rick Bayless has a great recipe for Camote Adobado - sweet potatoes rubbed with a orange-chile paste and baked. They are a bit labor intensive but can easily be made and cooked or reheated on site.

                      1. I'm in western TX and tamales are as traditional as it gets for Christmas. You will be richly rewarded for your time (yes, quite a bit of it) and efforts if you follow the directions here: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/tamales/...

                        I've only made tamales about 4 times, each roughly following the recipe and directions (with detailed images of each step) at that site and it's kind of a blessing/curse thing. Once your family learns that you CAN, they'll begin to expect that you WILL. If you plan on serving them as an entree, allow at least five or six per person.

                        I usually cook my meat the day before -- cheap pork boneless "country ribs" work wonderfully -- and only take on tamales when I'm in a "good cooking mood."

                        But as much work as they are, they're fun to make, and if this white-as-toast girl can do them and do them really well, anyone can. One hint, don't skimp, use lard in the masa. I've been told it's essential, and I'm not going to argue with success.

                        If you can find it, we served my last (very, VERY spicy) batch with a South African pinotage wine from the Migration vineyard/label that held up amazingly to the heat.

                        Oh, as for reheating - wrap them in several layers of damp paper towels for microwave heating of small batches, or just steam them again for a bit. One other tip if you decide to try them, I don't cover the pot with a lid, but with a large folded towel. As with the lard, I've been told it works best, and I've had good luck with it.

                          1. I've traveled as long (actually longer) with a tres leches cake packed in a pyrex carrying case outfitted with an ice pack, so call me delusional, but I think of those as easy and portable. I top ours with whipped cream, as per my husband's family's traditions; I think meringue is more customary in Mexico, IIRC.

                            1. Another seasonal dish that also makes a really nice presentation for Christmas is chiles in nogada. The red, white and green colors are perfect for the season, and the dish and sauce can be made ahead, stored separately and reheated before serving.

                              Here's a link to a recipe with photo:


                              Third or fourth the recommendation for tamales, which are also very traditional for Christmas.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: DanaB

                                Oh, I second the chiles en nogada idea! Very festive and interesting, plus pomegranates are in season right now! I thought I saw a good recipe recently, but will post again if I remember where it came from...

                                Rick Bayless has a number of delicious sounding desserts in his books, but nothing is coming to mind except for his delicious flan. I'm not sure if the logistics work for you, but I think vanilla (or egg nog for a contemporary twist) flan w/ some orange zest (instead of lime) would be great. An orange compote on the side would be lovely.

                                1. re: Carb Lover

                                  I third Chiles en Nogada since they are served room temperature and as others mentioned have holiday colors. Looking for other info about them, I found this GREAT !!! recipe which has step-by-step pictures and discusses variations.

                                  1. re: rworange

                                    Found this really cool Chiles en nogada picture that gives a real feel for the Christmasy look.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      Very cool! I'd have to leave the raisins out though, or I would get nothin' but coal in my stocking! :-(

                              2. Churros for churros y chocolate with that excellent mexican hot chocolate.

                                1. i would personally suggest chilaquilles- corn tortillas layered with green chiles, sour cream, salsa verde, cheese(opt. chicken). taste even better reheated- and no need to worry about ice packs for this one.

                                  the Authentic Mexican recipe , pg.174, is a staple in our home.
                                  FYI, i make it with canned green chiles and a prepared salsa verde (Trad joe's has an exc one). so easy and a great accompaniment to the dishes your other relatives are bringing.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    Chilaquilles are great and travel SO well... you can also kinda of health them up a bit by wilting spinach in the Salsa verde or adding mexican zuchinni to it... YUM!! :)


                                  2. Katie, have you seen this Mexican holiday lineup (see recipe links) at Epicurious?

                                    1. Thank you everyone for all the great ideas! I think the hard part is going to be making a decision!