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Feliz Dia De Los Reyes!

January 3, 2010

Christmas may be over for most of you but for Puerto Ricans we still have 3 Kings Day to look forward to on January 6th.  You may also know this holiday as the Epiphany.  In Spanish we say El Dia Del Los Reyes.  This is the last day or 12th day of Christmas as in the classic song although most people think the countdown to the big day starts 12 days before the 25th of December but actually Christmas day is the first day in the 12 Days of Christmas.  This is an extra special holiday for my family because we are proud to bear the surname Reyes! And the Reyes’ love to eat on the holidays so I want to share with you some of our traditional recipes for the holidays.

First off we have the traditional drink: Coquito! It’s a creamy coconut concoction made with rum. My mom is not shy with the rum but you can adjust the amounts to your liking.

Bottles of Coquito

What you will need:

  • 1 Liter of Bacardi Rum (You’re making a Puerto Rican drink, use Puerto Rican Rum!)
  • 4 cans of Coco Lopez cream of coconut
  • 3 cans each of condensed and evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of good vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ground cinnamon to taste
  • ground cloves to taste
  • fresh nutmeg to taste

I find the best method to mix all of these ingredients is in a large bowl.  Whisk everything together but the rum.  Taste the mix to make sure you have the right amount of spice.  Adjust if necessary and then slowly add the rum.  My mom usually uses the entire handle of Bacardi but you can add however much you like. Mix all the ingredients well and pour into bottles.  We use empty bottles of rum that we’ve saved throughout the year to store the coquito but you can use any glass container that has a well fitting lid or cap.  It is best to make the coquito a day or two ahead and store it in the fridge.  This allows for all the flavors to meld together and give you a wonderfully creamy and flavorful nog.  I call it proofing the nog!

Another must have at any Puerto Rican holiday celebration is the Pernil or Roast Pork.  In Puerto Rico it’s done the traditional way: a whole pig on a spit roasted over hot coals.

Lechon Asado - Roast Pig

We don’t have the time nor the space to roast an entire pig so we just use the pork shoulder.  Get yourself a good size pork shoulder from your grocery store or butcher and lots of fresh garlic, or what I had to do, get two smaller one because I procrastinated and all the big ones were taken.  Either way make sure you get enough so you have left overs for pork roast sandwiches.  Rinse your roast thoroughly with cold water and dry it off.  Set the meat aside and start peeling your garlic.  For a large roast we use about one nice fat head of garlic.  Dust off your mortar and pestle or as we call it, el pilon, and mash up the garlic cloves with some olive oil and dried oregano leaves.

Pilon Con Ajo

But if you are pressed for time put all your garlic cloves in a food processor and mince it with your olive oil then mix in the oregano.  Also while you’re in the grocery store take a trip up the ethnic foods aisle and pick yourself up a bottle of Goya’s Adobo seasoning.  It’s a staple in our spice cabinet.  The adobo contains salt, pepper, garlic powder and tumeric.  Place your roast into a roasting pan and dust the roast with adobo, then give it several good pokes with a sharp knife to create spaces for the garlic paste to crawl into.  Massage the garlic paste and some olive oil into the roast taking care to get your mixture into all the holes you made in the flesh.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for no less than 4 hours. Check it after about 3 to 3 1/2 hours.   My mom let’s he roast marinate over night then gets up at dawn and puts it in the oven and goes back to bed.  By the time she gets up again the roast is almost done.  About 15 to 20 minutes before the pernil is done remove the foil and turn your oven up to about 425 and let the skin on top of the pork crisp up, this is my favorite part! We call it chicharron…it’s a coveted piece of the roast.  This is what you end up with:

Pernil

The crispy exterior gives way to a juicy interior that your family will gobble up quickly!  The garlic permeates the entire roast and makes your house smell like a Puerto Rican dream!  I cut into it and the meat fell apart, it was so juicy and moist. It’s the slow roasting that does the trick.

The pernil is always served with arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas.  This rice dish is always served at the holidays or at any special occasion.  Here’s what you will need:

  • A Caldero, it’s the workhorse of the latin kitchen. I recommend you pick one up for your kitchen.  You’ll find you can use it for many dishes.  Imusa has several good calderos.  If you’re lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with a bodega you can pick one up there among other latin kitchen equipment.
  • 2 cups short grain rice
  • 4 -5 cups of hot water
  • 1/2 cup sofrito, this is a mix of peppers, garlic, cilantro and other things that we use to season a lot of our dishes.  Save some time and pick up a container of the pre made stuff in the freezer section of your local grocery store. Most stores carry sofrito now.
  • One 16oz can of gandules
  • 1/2 cup chorice sausage cut up into cubes. This addition gives the rice a nice smoky flavor.
  • 1/4 cup of roughly chopped green olives or capers, or you can use a mixture of both.
  • 1 packet of Sazon with achiote. This is a packet of seasoning you can find next to the adobo.
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

To your caldero you want to add the olive oil, chorice, tomato sauce, olives, sofrito and sazon and cook over a medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Add the gandules and rice and enough water so it comes up about 1 inch over the rice.  Start adding the salt by the teaspoonful until your satisfied with the taste.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook on high heat until most of the water has been absorbed.  At this point you want to stir the rice from the bottom to the top gently, but only do this once or twice otherwise you will end up with mushy rice. Not good.  Cover the caldero and turn the heat to low and cook for about another 30 minutes or until the rice in tender.

Arroz Con Gandules

Now if you want to be a true Puerto Rican you will the let the rice cook long enough so you get a nice crust on the bottom of the caldero until you get what we call ‘el pegao.’  This is the crispy layer of rice that forms in the bottom of the caldero but you can only achieve this ‘pegao’ by using enough oil so the rice crisps up.  It’s a skill that is learned after practicing this recipe several times.  But ultimately it’s the arroz con gandules that will make your holiday dinner extra special.

So I’ve given you 3 classic Puerto Rican recipes you can add to recipe box and wow your family and friends. But you don’t have to wait for a holiday to make any of these recipes.  If you make any of these recipes please let me know how they turned out for you.  Put your own twist on them if you want.  That’s what makes great times in the kitchen!

Happy New Year and Feliz Dia De Los Reyes!

Icing Fit For A Queen!

December 20, 2009

Want those Christmas cookies to have that professional look to them?  Then you need to use Royal Icing, not just any old frosting.  Royal icing gives your cookies that smooth look and beautiful sheen you see on those over priced goodies you see in stores this time of year.  The trick to royal icing is you have to work quickly with it because it starts to set up quickly.  I keep any icing that I’m not using covered with plastic wrap so it doesn’t form a crust on the top.  That’s why I like to work with small batches of icing at the time.  To color your icing I recommend a gel paste color because it’s thicker than regular food coloring and won’t thin down your icing.  Check out Wilton.com for a great selection of icing colors and other baking tools and supplies.  I don’t receive any compensation from Wilton, I just think they are a great source for all my baking needs.

Here’s the recipe I use for Royal Icing:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

In the bowl of your mixer beat the egg whites and lemon juice using the whisk attachment, about 2 minutes.  Then slowly add the sugar until you get a nice, smooth consistency.  This makes about 3 cups of royal icing.

If you are allergic to eggs or weary about using raw egg whites then you can substitute them with meringue powder.  If you decide to go the meringue powder route, use this recipe instead:

  • 4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp meringue powder
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract (or any extract you like)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup warm water

In the bowl of your mixer beat the meringue powder and confectioners sugar until well combined.  Add the water & extract and beat until it forms stiff peaks (about 6-8 minutes).  You may need to add more sugar or water to get the right consistency for your project.

Whichever recipe you use, you can be sure you will have the best looking cookies at your cookie swap party!  My last tip for you is to be sure to let your iced cookies set up overnight, preferably in a cool place.  I live in a cold climate so I just set my cookies in my enclosed porch.  It’s nice and cold in there so my cookies set up really well overnight.  But if you live in a warm climate just put your cookies in the fridge overnight.  Have fun and be creative!

Christmas Cookie ScrapBook

December 19, 2009

I thought I’d share with all of you pictures of my Christmas Cookie Creations!  I’ve spent the past 2 weeks baking and decorating cookies and sharing them with friends and family.  My mom has even had me make gifts for her coworkers.  I don’t charge her the full price.  She gets the mom discount (20%).  I had so much fun making every single one and loved watching the faces of the lucky recipients of my cookie gift boxes.  I encourage everyone reading this post to get in the kitchen this holiday season and make cookies for someone you love.  I even personalized some of the gingerbread men with the recipients first initial.  You’re only limited by your imagination.  The love of food…That’s Yummy! Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Candy Cane Yummies!

December 7, 2009

Candy Cane Yummies!

I picked up a bag of Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses the other day to make my first in a serious of Christmas Cookies.  I call this sweet treat CANDY CANE YUMMIES!  And that they are!  It’s based on a peanut butter cookie recipe I found on the Hershey’s website, which is full of great information by the way, and instead of plain chocolate Kisses I used the mint flavored Candy Cane Kisses.

You can find the recipe here but I modified it just a little bit.  The recipe says to roll 1 inch balls out of the dough but I wanted larger cookies so I made mine with a cookie scoop and got about 25.  It also says to place the Kiss into the center of the cookie right after they come out of the oven but as you can see in the picture the start melting right away.  I recommend putting a ‘thumbprint’ into the top of the cookies first using the smaller end of a cork and then placing the Kisses on the cookies after letting them cool for several minutes.  Another tip is to put the candies in the freezer for about 10 – 15  minutes then placing them on the freshly baked cookies.  This will reduce the amount of melting.  But anyway you choose to make these Candy Cane Yummies you can be sure they will be a big hit with your family, friends and coworkers!  I will definitely be giving these out as gifts for the holidays!

Empanada-licious! S. Florida Food Part 2

November 29, 2009

 

Empanadas

Although having been to this area many, many times I never seemed to notice the little piece of heaven that lies within the Las Olas Riverfront Shopping Center: EMPANADAS!  Within the walls of this cute little shop there awaited dozens upon dozens of handmade empanadas.  All staring at us from their perch in the windows.  Some were filled with ham & cheese, some with chicken & spinach & some were even filled with sirloin but they all had one thing in common: a delicious golden brown pastry holding them in.  Suffice to say that our mouths were watering even before we stepped one foot in the door!

The empanadas are handmade right there in the shop by a couple of older Argentine ladies who use traditional recipes as the basis for all of their delicious fillings.  Because they have so many fillings. the ladies gave each empanada its own ‘look’ so when their all placed on the display trays they could distinguish a Ham & Cheese from a Hawaiian.  They do this by crimping the dough in all sorts of ways giving each flavor it’s own unique look.

They are served simply in a paper container with plastic silverware and what I found to be one of the most fragrant and delicious chimichurri sauces on the side.  Here’s a couple shots of chimichurri laden empanadas and my friend Carla and I enjoying them.

 

 

Chicken & Spinach Empanada

 

Chef Carla Silva

 

Chef Carla Silva

What I found odd was they also sell pizza, burgers, salads and gourmet sandwiches.  I don’t know why because the reason to go to this place is what they were named for, Empanadas.  I didn’t realized they had other choices on the menu until I ate my two empanadas I allowed myself.  I had to be careful not to over eat because I was about to get on a plane and was afraid I wouldn’t fit in my seat!  It was a tough decision not to buy some empanadas for later.  At only $3.95 each, these puffy pockets of yumminess economically sound and fantastically delicious! Ask my friend Carla, she took four back home with her!  Oh, they also serve beer.  The perfect accompaniment to a real Argentine Empanada!

Next time you’re in Ft. Lauderdale take a trip to this place.  It’s definitely worth the trip!  (954-463-2686)

 

 

A ‘Sublime’ Experience: S. Florida Food Part 1

November 23, 2009

Sadly my vacation to South Florida has come to an end but not without checking out some great food spots! My favorite place is aptly named, ‘Sublime.’  I previewed it for you in my last blog entry with a couple of pictures.  I had dinner there on the suggestion of my friend Brittany who has been a vegan for the past 8 years! Congrats Brit!  First of all it’s a beautiful space, great for a romantic dinner or special event like a birthday party.  Pam Anderson had her 40th birthday celebration there and even the likes of Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin and Alicia Silverstone stop by when they’re in town.

 

Sublime Restaurant and Bar

 

I’ve always enjoyed vegetarian and vegan fare but this topped the cake! OMG! is the best way to describe my experience at Sublime.  As I read the menu my mouth began to water at all the yummy choices I was given.

Sublime Menu

The food was tasty, creative and wonderfully presented. I liked the fact that Sublime has a high-end gourmet restaurant feel without the attitude.  The owner, Nanci Alexander, was so very gracious and even stopped by our table to say hello.

When you sit down instead of bread they give you a plate of Pesto Polenta Triangles.

Pesto Polenta Triangles

For my appetizer I ordered the bowl of Organic Edamame which are roasted & dressed with covered with sesame seeds & cracked black pepper.  It turned out to be a large portion so I shared with my friends and in 5 minutes they were gone!

Organic Edamame

For our entrees I ordered the Spinach & Eggplant Ravioli.  It is stuffed with spinach, eggplant, tofu and dressed in a garlic confit and slow roasted tomato sauce then topped with a chiffonade of fresh basil.  The ravioli were so tender and delicious.  The sauce was full of great flavors and didn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the ravioli.  A perfect combination.

Spinach & Eggplant Raviolis

My friend Melissa and I had the raviolis.  Brittany and Aubrey had the Mac ‘n Cheese.  The mac is comprised of tender elbow macaroni and the cheese is a ‘cheddar’ bechamel with dijon crumbles.  It comes to the table in a bowl surrounded by a seasonal veggie, in this case broccoli spears.  Now this is a presentation!

 

Mac 'n Cheese

The desert course was equally impressive.  The menu has several mouthwatering choices and we wanted to try it all so we decided to get the sampler platter.  I was expecting a little sample of each dessert, NO! It was a full portion of each dessert: Coconut Cake with an almond tuile cookie, Chocolate Nirvana cake, The Sublime Sundae (vanilla soy ice cream, chocolate shell, soy whip & peanuts), Key Lime Cheesecake, and Apple Crumb pie a la mode.

 

Sublime Dessert Platter

I didn’t realize until I got home that the tuile cookie is hiding the Coconut Cake. Here’s what it looks like with several bites taken out of it.

 

Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake

 

Me with Melissa and Brittany

 

Aubrey and I

We had such a great night at Sublime! I wish I could go everyday!!! Of course I can’t but I will go any time I travel to South Florida.  Sublime is a great example of the love of food because with every bite you can taste the passion that went into making your meal.  Thank you Brittney, Melissa and Aubrey for a wonderful evening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sublime Vegan Restaurant in South Florida

November 14, 2009

I went to dinner at Sublime in Ft. Lauderdale with some friends on Wednesday night and had one of the best dinners in my life of eating at restaurants!  Sublime is a gourmet restaurant in the heart of Ft. Lauderdale that serves up vegan fare that would make anyone a convert!  This is a must stop place for anyone visiting South Florida.  I’ll blog about it in more detail when I get back to Boston but I just had to share a couple of pictures to tease you!

 

Pesto Pollenta

Pesto Polenta

My friend Brittany, who happens to be vegan, enjoys one of their wonderful soups.

 

My friend Brittany enjoying her vegan soup!

My friend Brittany enjoying her vegan soup!

Check back soon for my full review of Sublime!

 

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