The holidays may look different without their traditional foods.

The holidays may look different without their traditional foods.

It’s safe to say that we’ll be having a stay-at-home holiday season, as more people across the country make the decision to not visit loved ones this year. Meals will be looking different this time around, and for some people, it will be their first time putting on the chef’s hat and creating new food and drinks for the holiday.

We’re talking to chef Pati Jinich, and mixologist Derek Brown to discuss about what the holidays may look like this year, and how to create easy and delicious meals and drinks to celebrate.

Produced by Richard Cunningham


  • Pati Jinich Author, "Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens" and "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking"; Host, "Pati's Mexican Table," (PBS); Cooking Instructor and Chef, Mexican Cultural Institute
  • Derek Brown Expert on spirits and cocktails; Owner of Columbia Room; Author of "Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World"; @ideasimprove


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we check in on some local businesses to see how they're fairing this holiday season. But first, as we enter this most unusual stay-at-home season, many will be traversing the kitchen for the first time without the support of other family members. Today we're discussing how to make those staple family recipes and drinks without the culinary talents of relatives or friends. Joining us now is Pati Jinich, Host of the Emmy-nominated show "Pati's Mexican Table" on PBS and Author of "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking" and Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens." Pati Jinich, good to talk to you again.

  • 12:00:50

    PATI JINICHSo good to talk to you, Kojo. Lovely to hear your voice.

  • 12:00:53

    NNAMDIAppreciate you. Derek Brown is the spirits and cocktail Expert, President of Drink Company, which operates the Columbia Room, a tasting bar in D.C. He's the co-author of the book "Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters" and is most famous for inventing the Kojo Cocktail. Derek Brown, good to talk to you again.

  • 12:01:14

    DEREK BROWNIt's a pleasure to talk to you, Kojo. And hi Pati.

  • 12:01:18

    NNAMDIWell, I'll ask this question to you both. I'll start with you, Pati, what is the best part about this time of year for you? And in a non-pandemic year, what would you normally be doing, Pati?

  • 12:01:28

    JINICHOh, my God. Well, food, food, food, Kojo. It's all about the food. It's the tamales and the bunuelos and the ponche and, of course, it's the gathering and the eating all of the food. And most of it is the leftovers and then the next day eating again. So it's the non-stop eating, which usually is with a lot of family and friends.

  • 12:01:50

    NNAMDIHow about you, Derek? What's this time of year would you normally be doing?

  • 12:01:54

    BROWNNot terribly different, lots of food, lots of drinks. You know, we would be gathering with friends and family and, obviously, at the Columbia Room we would be making egg nog and serving guests as well.

  • 12:02:09

    NNAMDIPati, what were the holidays like when you were younger and how have you adapted those traditions, those practices now that you're older and have your own family?

  • 12:02:20

    JINICHYeah. Well, it has been a beautiful blend, Kojo. When we first moved to the U.S. after I married my husband like 20 years ago and we started having kids that were born in the U.S. I was really, really insistent on sharing the foods that I grew up eating, the foods that I knew my family was eating in Mexico, because I wanted them to have roots both in Mexico and the U.S.

  • 12:02:46

    JINICHBut as the years have gone by and I've grown, you know, such deep roots also in the U.S. we've combined. So for example, in Mexico we eat turkey for Christmas and for New Year's. So I started making our Mexican style turkey for Thanksgiving. And then I started making things that we've loved -- we've grown to love in the U.S. for Mexican holidays as well. So it's all a beautiful blend.

  • 12:03:14

    NNAMDISame question to you, Derek. What were the holidays like when you were younger and how have you adapted those traditions, those practices now that you're older with your own family?

  • 12:03:24

    BROWNYeah, well, one of favorite ones was food related even though I know I'm a drink guy in this episode. But when we'd all go to midnight mass and afterwards my grandmother would fry up some puffs. So basically just bread dough that's fried and then we would as kids put them in powdered sugar. And that was one of our favorite treats. But also as I got older there was egg nog. And egg nog was a big part of it.

  • 12:03:54

    BROWNAnd my grandmother, who also made the egg nog made a special recipe that we all knew was slightly, slightly heavy handed. You know, it turns out that one year she had misread the instructions. It said brandy or rum or bourbon and combined them all. So hence forth we knew that it was a little bit of a holiday helper. So, you know, I adapted that recipe and actually kind of incorporated a classic recipe called the Baltimore Egg Nog that we make at the Columbia Room every year and I truly enjoy.

  • 12:04:33

    NNAMDIDerek, what tips do you have for people who perhaps don't want to make their own, but just want to, well, jazz up the egg nog they bought at the supermarket.

  • 12:04:43

    BROWNWell, I have to admit that I would probably stear them away from supermarket egg nog. And encourage them to try it. It's not very hard. If you can make some pretty simple dishes at home, you can make egg nog. I mean, I will admit you probably need a hand blender or a stand blender so you don't have to whip it all yourself. But otherwise it's just milk and cream and eggs, sugar and spirits. I mean, that's not an incredibly difficult task to put those together. And also I would say, it's pretty forgiving.

  • 12:05:17

    BROWNSo I think for a lot of people the fear is that they're going to get in there and they're going to make it wrong. I mean, it's not the making it that's so hard. It's just the idea that you might fail at making it and everyone is going to, you know, think it's awful. But the reality is that's such a forgiving drink. So if you make it, you know, a little bit too boozy, add more sugar. If it's not creamy enough, add more milk. If it's not, you know, frothy enough, whip some more egg whites and fold them in. In the long run it's something that you can make. It's not difficult. And the taste is so much better than the stuff you buy in the store.

  • 12:05:54

    NNAMDIPati, what are some -- you mentioned some of the staple dishes you used to love during the holidays. Do you still make those for your family today?

  • 12:06:02

    JINICHOh, absolutely. But I wanted to say here, Kojo, that I'm connecting here with Derek, because in Mexico we love rompope, which is our spiked up egg nog. I mean, it's just the same thing. And it has roots in the colonial era in Mexico when the Spanish nuns, they used to use the egg whites for varnishing or making the wood in the convent shine. And they had all of the egg yolks left over. And they started making rompope. And it is spiked typically with tequila or rum and it is absolutely delicious.

  • 12:06:36

    JINICHAnd I have to agree with Derek that it is not daunting to make at home. And it is something that is a beautiful project for the holidays, because we're all trying to take a little bit of time off from the screen, from work. It's when you can concentrate on cracking all those eggs. And would disagree with Derek that you should do it by hand because beating those egg yolks is kind of entertaining and you're building a muscle.

  • 12:07:01

    JINICHBut then aside from doing the rompope or the drink, which will stay beautiful in the refrigerator you can use it to like bathe a normal pound cake. You can drizzle it on top of fresh fruit. You could even spike it with granola in the morning. So I think there's one area where we connect. And the other thing that we do during the holidays, Mexicans and Latinos in general, are tamales. And that is something that really speaks to this season.

  • 12:07:34

    NNAMDIWell, you were raised in Mexico. But you live here with your family, with your American husband and then Mexican American kids. How do you blend the two holiday traditions at home?

  • 12:07:47

    JINICHWell -- and I have to say, Kojo. My husband is also from Mexico City. So he's Mexican as well. Though, his English is much better than mine and he has less of an accent. So many people think he's American. But we're all Mexican. So the way we do it, Kojo, is just very easy, because these days you can find all of the ingredients that you need to make the foods from home wherever home may be, whatever country you may be from, and not only that, but because of the state of technology these days, you can just go online and Google a tutorial for make anything and everything.

  • 12:08:24

    NNAMDIThat's true.

  • 12:08:25

    JINICHSo, I mean, if people -- we're all, you know, stuck at home. We're all staying put not going out, not seeing many people, you know, staying very, very close tight and close knit, but we have access to all this knowledge and information of places and foods and experiences that we can bring into the kitchen. So one way that I connect with my family from Mexico, when I can't come to Mexico, is by zooming when we're cooking together. So we may be cooking the same flan or the same tamales and then we eat it at the same time. And, though, we may be in different countries of eating the same food just connects you in a different way. You can, mmm together, you know.

  • 12:09:08

    NNAMDIWell, one of the things about being able to look things up is that you can't look up what your grandmother used to do. So here's Ellen in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:09:20

    ELLENHi, thank you. My Slovak grandmother used to make a fruit cake and then they'd serve it with something they called hard sauce, which seemed like it was butter and sugar and alcohol. And as a kid I didn't like it, because of the alcohol. But now I'd like to try it. But I can't find anything called hard sauce. Have you ever heard of that?

  • 12:09:41

    NNAMDIIs your grandmother -- I am assuming your grandmother is no longer with us.

  • 12:09:45


  • 12:09:46

    NNAMDIWell, I don't know. Pati, any suggestions.

  • 12:09:50

    JINICHSo I would recommend looking, like if you know, where your grandmother was because -- and I know Derek must agree with this that even if you Google something say from Mexico all the different states and regions and even cities have different ways of calling different things. So this can be a fun entertaining journey for you trying to reconnect to where your grandmother was from, what town and doing a little bit of research of finding out how that dish was called, and trying to connect with different words and different names for that cake. Maybe you find something similar from a place that was nearby.

  • 12:10:32

    NNAMDIWell, Ellen, Pati may have answered my next question, which is that a lot of people are alone in the kitchen for the first time to cook holiday meals for their families or partner or roommates, should they like Ellen try to recreate what they remember from home or not put so much pressure on themselves. You seem to be on the side of, hey, put a little pressure on yourself. It won't be bad, Pati.

  • 12:10:52

    JINICHYes. Absolutely. I mean, I just think that when you jump into a project like that you disconnect from other things and it can be just as relaxing. And then you enrich your kitchen and your home with something new. But also, I mean, with the year that we've all been living, Kojo, I feel there's nothing wrong in saying, you know, what? I'm just going to take off and I'm just going to order my favorite Thai food or Mexican food, and just take a break. There's nothing wrong with that. I think that we have all expected and demanded too much of ourselves during these times. So if it is something that is going to relax you like jump into it. If it's something that excites you, then research. But if you really just don't want to, just order your favorite pizza.

  • 12:11:44

    NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:04

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about food traditions during a stay-at-home holiday with Pati Jinich, Host of the Emmy-nominated show "Pati's Mexican Table" on PBS. And Derek Brown spirits and cocktail Expert and President of Drink Company. He operates the Columbia Room, a tasting bar in D.C. Let's go directly to the phones talking cocktails with Lindsey in Alexandria, Virginia. Lindsey, your turn.

  • 12:12:29

    LINDSEYHi, Kojo. Thank you for having me on the show.

  • 12:12:32

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 12:12:34

    LINDSEYMy question is about cocktails. I recently started making some. I really enjoy doing that at home, and I wanted to ask if there's a good recommendation for what type of cocktail shaker I should look for.

  • 12:12:48

    NNAMDIDerek Brown.

  • 12:12:50

    BROWNYeah, absolutely. I think this is something that a lot of people kind of have picked up cocktail shakers over the years. And they might be -- you know, ones that are those three piece shakers, they have a bottom, a top and then a little lid and a built in strainer in it. That's called a cobbler shaker. I think that's what most people have. And if they do have -- it might be kind of like stuck together at this point, because a lot of them were made cheaply or they were decorative. They just to me don't do the job as well as a Boston shaker, which is two cups that you put together and that seal when you kind of hit them together, and those are what professionals bartenders use.

  • 12:13:31

    BROWNI do recommend them for home use as well. You can get them at, you know, bartender websites like or has some more expensive ones. And they're really the best ones to use overall. You can usually make two cocktails in them and that's one. You can make one for you and your spouse or a friend. And I think they're easier to wash and care for as well.

  • 12:13:59

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lindsey and good luck to you. And I think we do have at least a couple of answers to Ellen's questions about her grandmother's hard sauce. So Lynn tweets, "The hard sauce your caller is asking about is basically a sweet white sauce made with cornstarch, milk, sugar and then add brandy to it. In the UK, what goes on our Christmas puddings." And another response from Alexandra in Silver Spring. Alexandra, your turn.

  • 12:14:29

    ALEXANDRAHi, Kojo. So nice to talk to you. Yeah, I grew up with hard sauce on fruit cake as well. And my mother was from outside of Philadelphia. And what she did was she would take a half cup or so of unsalted butter and whip it with a mixer with one and a half cups approximately of powdered sugar until that was combined. And then add a tablespoon at a time of brandy to taste. Then put it in a little like bowl that you want to serve it in and put it back in the refrigerator until it turns hard. And that's all.

  • 12:15:05

    NNAMDISounds about right to you, Pati Jinich?

  • 12:15:07

    JINICHSounds absolutely delish. Sounds like I want some of that.

  • 12:15:11

    NNAMDIThank you very for you call. On to Devon in Washington D.C. Devon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:18

    DEVONHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me. Well, I was just thinking about my Aunt Jackie. Every year she makes these really great candied yams and they have walnuts on them. Everything is caramelized to perfection. There's just a depth to them that we don't really get, you know, in dishes other times in the year. But I couldn't quite figure out -- I tried them a couple of weeks ago for Thanksgiving. I couldn't figure out how to best caramelize them. If you broil them at the end or you just keep baking them until eventually they turn that sort of deep golden brown kind of crust on the top. I don't know if anybody has maybe some comments on that or a way to kind of get the yams to caramelize just perfection.

  • 12:15:55

    NNAMDIAny suggestions, Pati Jinich?

  • 12:15:57

    JINICHYes, absolutely. And I love those too. My mother used to make some with orange juice, dark brown sugar and a little bit of lime zest in butter. And I find that the best way to have the yams or if you want to make sweet potatoes too to have them be soft inside and kind of gooey sticky caramelized outside is to cook them before and like peel them. Cook them in boiling water like for 10-15 minutes so they get a head start. And then you slice them or you dice them. And then you make a mix of butter with sugar. You need some fat to mix with the sugar. I like to use piloncillo or dark brown sugar. You mix that and then you can add some seasonings. You can add cinnamon. You could add a little bit of cloves. I like to add orange juice and orange zest. You bring that to a simmer and it makes kind of a loose syrup. And then you pour that over your precooked yams.

  • 12:16:56

    JINICHPut that in the oven like at 400 and just let them get sticky. Now there's another option is you wanted to make kind of like French fries with the skin, then you wouldn't precook them first. You would cut them, dice them. Coat them in that same, you know, slicky sticky sauce and then just bake them in the oven. The one thing is if you do that, you won't get that super soft inside. So I like the first option better.

  • 12:17:26

    NNAMDIAnd good luck with that, Devon. Thank you very much. Here now -- let's talk cocktails with Anne in Owings Mills, Maryland. Anne, your turn.

  • 12:17:38

    ANNEHola, Pati. My name is Anne and I teach Spanish in middle school here. And I have children. And I know you have some adorable sons as well. Your kids are adorable and so are you. I'm thinking of making a citrus drink for adults and this will be for next year, of course. It can't be for this year. And then one that's non-alcoholic for the kids as well. Pati, do you have any suggestions? You think citrus.

  • 12:18:07

    JINICHWell, first of all, Feliz Navidad and thank you for telling me that my kids are adorable. I bet yours are too. (laugh) But I mean, I'm sure Derek will help us here as well, because I know Derek you're an expert in both kids and non-kids drinks. I like my drinks to be kind of an experience, because I don't have much tolerance for alcohol, like I fall asleep very easily. So one drink is like the most that I can hold.

  • 12:18:38

    JINICHSo I try for my drinks to have -- you know, if you're going to do something with citrus like I love combining grapefruit with orange with lime or sweet limes and then I like to have them have some bubbly thing like seltzer or sparkling water. So you need like the citrus. You need the sparkly. You can add some simple syrup that you can flavor with vanilla or orange zest or something.

  • 12:19:03

    JINICHAnd then to make that for adult territory, I don't know. What would you recommend, Derek? I mean, tequila is always a winner in my house. I don't know, Derek, what you think.

  • 12:19:14

    BROWNWell, first of all, Pati makes great cocktails. I know that. So I'll just add on top of that that it's pretty easy to make a drink that, you know, with alcohol and without alcohol. Ultimately there are great non-alcoholic cocktails. And that's something that I love to promote and talk to people about as well. Especially when it comes to young people that can't -- they just can't drink otherwise. So that the sour -- there's like a sort of base recipe for a sour, right? And that recipe can be used with whatever spirit you want. Like if you have vodka, tequila, mescal, bourbon, you know, you can kind of put one and a half ounces of that. Then take, you know, three-quarter ounce of citrus whether that's lemon, lime or grapefruit and a half ounce of sweetener, simple syrup, honey syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup. All of those are somewhat interchangeable.

  • 12:20:12

    BROWNNow you might want to adjust the recipe just ever so to make it to your taste. But I think ultimately you can really play kind of Mr. Potato Head and take one piece and put in another. To make it for, you know, without alcohol, what you want to do is just increase the amount of citrus, increase the amount of syrup, maybe double that. And then add some other ingredients to kind of add some (word?) to it, right? I like a spoonful of apple cider vinegar. That really adds a lot to it and keeps it from kind of being too kiddy of a drink.

  • 12:20:46

    BROWNA pinch of salt works great to actually cut out some of the bitterness and increase the texture of the drink. And other than that, I think Pati is right. You can make different kinds of syrups. I like ginger syrup a lot, because it gives a little bit of that kick or piquancy that you might expect from alcohol. I think there's an easy way to make a regular sour with whatever you've got or whatever you want to try and then to make it non-alcoholic as well.

  • 12:21:15

    NNAMDIDerek, we only have a little less than a minute left. But you own the Columbia Room, a reservation only bar in D.C. It's my understanding it's closed right now. What has this pandemic meant for you and do you know when you might be able to reopen?

  • 12:21:27

    BROWNIt's been a great challenge. And a minute is probably not enough time to explain it. But I do want to say that if people are having trouble at home putting together these recipes, there's lots of great bars and restaurants out there that really need your help. So, please, you know, order from them as well and try new drinks and try new food and enjoy it. Ultimately we're there for you.

  • 12:21:52

    NNAMDIDerek Brown is the spirits and cocktail Expert, President of Drink Company, which operates the Columbia Room, a tasting bar in D.C. He's the co-author of the book "Spirits, Sugar, Waters, Bitters". Pati Jinich is Host of the Emmy-nominated show "Pati's Mexican Table" on PBS and Author of "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking" and Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens." Derek, Pati thank you both for joining us. When we come back, we'll be checking in on some local business to see how they're fairing this holiday season. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows