Sunday, January 12, 2014

Three Kings Day 2014

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for those who, efficiently after Christmas, or at the latest, New Year's, start taking down and packing all the Christmas decorations.  By the time they are back to work, Christmas is but a fond memory and are already perusing gardening catalogs, looking forward to the coming Spring.  Not me.  For one thing, Christmas is not officially over at our house until after Three Kings Day.  We usually host an Open House on the Sunday closest to January 6th, which is when the Catholic Church celebrates Epiphany, and gather friends and family one last time before settling in for the onslaught of snow and frigid weather.

Our Open House was wonderful, despite the fact that many friends were unable to come because of the snow.  Typically, on Three Kings Day I tend to make treats evocative of my Cuban roots.  We usually serve guava pastries, turrones (sweet nougats made of almonds, marzipan, or ground almonds) and hot chocolate is a MUST.  This year, I also made sandwiches, and cookies, and an almond spice cake.  

Here is the Coffee Bar set up to keep my chilly guests warm:  Piping hot coffee, with a little something something - Butterscotch Schnapps, Kahlúa and RumChata.  

Have you tried RumChata yet?  If NOT, please put this on your "Must Try" list for 2014!  This is a new twist on Horchata (hence, the "Chata" part of the name).  Spanish horchata is a sweet, milky drink made from the chufa, or tiger nut.  It tastes a lot like almond milk.   You can read all about horchata here.  It is delicious!  If you are ever in Spain, you must try it, but to truly enjoy it you must sit in a little café under sweltering sun, and wait an hour for the waiter to notice that you are even alive.  By the time you get your icy horchata, you would be ready to swear that it's the nectar of the gods!  Mexican horchata is slightly different and often made from other kinds of nuts, or even rice!  It's still delicious.  RumChata took the next step and made it into a liqueur.  Add some to your coffee, and you'll be warm and smiling in no time!

The Coffee Bar also included peppermint candy canes, and homemade Vanilla Bean syrup, something sweet without the alcohol.  There were also some dark-chocolate covered almonds nearby, in case anyone had a chocolate emergency.  That happens to me once in a while, so I'm very sympathetic.

There's always cake on Three Kings Day, so we can bury the Baby Jesus in its batter before baking.  Whoever finds the plastic baby, is King of the Day and wins a prize.  This year's Almond Spice Cake was delicious.  My son David gave it a thumbs up, and he's a tough cake customer!

Here's another treat:  Pecan Butterballs from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  I have been making these since 1984, the year I got married.  My sister-in-law, Angela, who is a wonderful cook, gave us the cookbook as a wedding present.  I'm on my second copy right now.  It wouldn't be Christmas around here without these little gems.  They are sweetened with a little honey, and they just melt in your mouth.  Here's the recipe:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup shelled pecans, chopped moderately fine
¾ cup confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.  Grease one or two cookie sheets.
  2. Cream butter.  Beat in honey; gradually mix in flour and salt, then vanilla.  Add pecans.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Form balls by hand, the size of quarters.  Place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven; as soon as cool enough to touch, roll in confectioners' sugar.  Allow to cool and roll again in sugar.
 Yields 36 cookies.

Guests were asking me for extras to take home!  You'll want to double or triple the recipe, if you want any leftovers for yourself!

The basket of Chocolate Chip cookies held four batches of CCCs made by my son, John!  I love it when the family gets involved in the party preparations!

On Three Kings Day I try to bring out the gold in remembrance of the Magi who brought gold to the Baby Jesus, so this year, the table is covered in a gold cloth.  The covered platter held sandwiches of Tuna Salad à la Vizcaína (Basque-style), a delightful tuna salad recipe that calls for adding roasted red peppers.

The Christmas centerpiece was given a facelift.  I removed the wilted blooms, and replaced them with snowy white carnations, gold balls, and a little red cardinal that begged to come out and play.

After taking a look at his little cousin outside, he realized that he got the better deal . . .

It's time to put away the extra Christmas cards!

Now we can sit by the fire and enjoy the wonderful memories we created during this joyful Christmas season!  May you have a wonderful new year!