Monthly Archives: December 2019

Festive Buffet Ideas–Southwest Style

Winter is here, and out-of-town company is sure to invade our relatively sunny climes in Baja Arizona.  Tia Marta here with some ideas for local Sonoran Desert goodies that you can make ahead to have at-the-ready for creating a glorious buffet or instant party.

This festive table features colorful, delectable Sonoran-desert fare.  Note lemon juice ice-float for flavoring and chilling the punch.  Many other buffet ideas following….. (MABurgess photo)

With freezing nights everyone is harvesting citrus like mad.  What to do with all those lemons your neighbor has generously dumped at your door?  Right!–save space and squeeze the wonderful juice into a plastic bowl to freeze and use as a floating ice-block or as lemon ice cubes.

Zoom in to check out the buffet table details:  On the cheese plate note the thin slices of barrel cactus fruit as rings atop the cheese wedge, adding a zesty touch to the spread.  Squares of white manchego cheese top squares of sweet local cajeta de membrillo, a lovely conserve made with heirloom quince fruits from Mission Garden.  My special veggie dip is laced with “chives” of chopped I’itoi’s Onion and fresh oregano from my garden, moringa leaves from friend Wanda’s tree, and a single crushed dry chiltepin pepper for a picante kick.

Tangy pickled cholla cactus flower bud hors d’oeuvres (MABurgess photo)

In place of olives or pickles I like to feature my pickled cholla flower buds  or nopalito pickles.  In place of mixed nuts I serve bellotas (Emory oak acorns) or pinyon nuts, both supporting local harvesters (see Southwest Foraging).  Instead of peanuts I like to present Incan corn nuts (not local, from Peru, but a bow to Native tradition.)

Refreshing and colorful prickly pear lemonade and mesquite-amaranth-white Sonora wheat-chocolate chip cookies! (MABurgess photo)

For luscious “local cookies” I use a basic toll-house cookie recipe (calling for 2 cups flour) by substituting 1/2 cup mesquite flour, 1/2 cup amaranth flour, and 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, plus an extra egg and a cup of pine nuts in place of pecans.  These treats will get snarfed up as soon as you put them on the table.  (See Dec13 post for other cookie recipes)

Sparkly and nutritious cherry punch with ginger ale and a floating iceberg of pure prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Whirl your thawed prickly pear tunas in blender

Squeeze whirled prickly pear fruit thru 4 layers of cheesecloth


In a big clear punchbowl mix:

1  block of frozen pure prickly pear juice   (OR, 1 bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup plus ice cubes)

1 pint (half jar) Trader Joe’s pure Cherry Juice

1 liter chilled ginger ale

Serve with joy!

(As ice block is thawing in the punchbowl and the punch is consumed around it, add the remaining pint of cherry juice and another liter of chilled ginger ale over the block.)

With a bag of prickly pear tunas frozen whole from last September’s hasty harvest, I thawed them to extract the juice to then refreeze as a cactus-fruit ice-block.  It is an easy process–but timely action required.  If you haven’t harvested from the desert, Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue or at other special Southwest food shops.

To make your own cholla or nopalito pickles, as March approaches, watch for announcements of cholla bud harvesting workshops.  Tia Marta may schedule classes through Mission Garden or

Happy entertaining with a local Southwest flair!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mesquite Cookies with an Moroccan Twist

Whenever I travel I love browsing through the local cookware shops and grocery stores. Vienna has fabulous cookware shops and Sarajevo has fabulous teas. But what made me pull out my wallet full of dirhams was small cookie presses in the bazaar in Marrakesh. I chose three and used one of them this year on mesquite ginger cookies I make every year for Christmas. This is an easy recipe that makes lots of cookies. The way to introduce people to new flavors is through something they already know. Everybody loves cookies and these are delicious.

Jumble of cookie shapers in the Marrakesh market.


These little devices don’t cut the cookies. They are pressed on little balls of dough to make shapes.

Sonoran White wheat is great for pastry so if you have some, this is a good use. Otherwise, all-purpose flour works fine. This year, because I was using the fancy little press, I added a Middle Eastern flavor by adding cardamom along with the ginger.

I recently treated myself to a set of Silpat silicon sheets and love them for cookies.

Cookies ready for the oven. A little dried cranberry made them holiday ready.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

¾ cup honey

1 cup White Sonoran or all-purpose flour

1 cup mesquite meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

½-1 teaspoon powdered ginger

½ teaspoon powdered cardamom (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. and lightly grease two cookie sheets or line with Silpat sheets.

Beat together butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add honey and beat until combined. Add flours, mesquite meal, baking powder, spices, and salt and beat well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Form with cookie stamp or dampen the end of a clean dish town and wrap it around the bottom or a juice glass. Use the cookie stamp or glass to flatten each dab of cookie dough.

Bake about 12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. The cookies are soft and fragile when they come out of the oven, but the become firmer as they cool.

Makes about 5 ½ dozen small cookies.

Cookies ready for the party.

In Morocco, you could find someone to serve you a nice cup of mint tea to go along with the cookies.


One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.  This will be the first book authorized to use the City of Gastronomy logo.  See my other books at  If you are looking for a Christmas gift for a foodie friend, stop by the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in Tucson or go online at and you’ll find wonderful gift items plus all my cookbooks.

Categories: Sonoran Native | 3 Comments

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