Coquito

Puerto Rican Coquito

Coquito is coconut sweetened and cinnamon rich Puerto Rican eggnog. One drinks coquito in small little glasses, a teeny tiny bit at a time- as to not overwhelm the palate. The rich coconut milk, sweet rum, and warm aromatic cinnamon become familiar holiday traditions. And when rum and coconut are involved-  we always honor tradition.

Puerto Rican Coquito

Once there is a Puerto Rican in the family, coquito is bound to be present at every Noche Buena, and it becomes something everyone looks forward to each year. My tio Raul always makes the BEST classic Puerto Rican coquito for noche buena. This coquito would make my abuela giggle and my tias tipsy. Everyone always wants seconds, and the coquito is bound to quickly run out. This year I can’t go home for Christmas, so I called up my uncle to get his famous recipe. Noche Buena wouldn’t be the same without a few sips of the sweet coconut elixir. My uncle’s Puerto Rican coquito recipe is the very best and oh-so simple. It is perfect for Christmas celebrations- and will instantly become a family tradition.

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Puerto Rican Coquito

  • 1 bottle white rum (or more to taste, Tio Raul says Don Q White is preferred)
  • 2 cans of Goya Leche de Coco (or more to your taste)
  • 1 can of Dulce de Coco (or more to your taste)
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 egg yolk (theoretically optional)
  • Cinnamon (to your taste)
  • Pinch salt

Whisk the coquito ingredients together to taste. Get the small dulce de coco cans and add one at a time while tasting. Rum has a lot of natural sugars and can get sweet quickly so err on the side of caution. Don Q silver rum is preferred for coquito, but if you must Bacardi will do. I couldn’t find Don Q here in my neighborhood so I used Bacardi white rum. The rum was quite strong so I used only 3/4 bottle for the recipe. I prefer to add an egg yolk because I think it adds richness to flavor and balances the sweet coconut in the coquito.

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Coquito is perfect for holiday parties because it is best when made in advance. Allow the coquito to sit overnight in the fridge to really blend well together. I swear sitting overnight makes all the difference! Stir or shake the coquito before serving. Remember you can always add a little more of this and that to get your coquito just right for you. Coquito is best served in tiny little shot glasses on noche buena, when surrounded by family around the Christmas tree.

Puerto Rican Coquito

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Rote Grütze

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Food causes involuntary time travel sometimes. When an ingredient or aroma instantaneously transports you to a cherished time and place a slow smile plays on your lips and you salivate slightly. Have you ever experienced sudden food memory? It’s like muscle memory for your mouth and it can stop you in your tracks as your mind recalls the marinating memory from many moons ago.

I time traveled this week while walking through the 14th street Trader Joe’s. I came across an amaranthine array of fresh raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries and memories of rote grütze with vanilla sauce (rote grütze mit vanillesoße) were pulled effortlessly from 2010 and brought to the forefront of my mind. Standing before the scarlet spectrum my mouth watered and I knew that I had to make this classic German fruit dessert.

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Rote grütze is a traditional German fruit dessert that literally translates to red grits. Made with fresh red berries, rote grütze typically calls for raspberries, currants, strawberries, sour cherries, and other red berries typically found in Germany like johannisbeeren. Many people use blueberries, black currants, and blackberries adding some rich purple hues to this traditionally ruby red dessert. Typically made in summertime, Rote grütze is a great flexible recipe that can be made with what you have on hand or what is available in stores. Plump raspberries and blackberries were in beautiful abundance so I chose to use only those two berries this time, but you can make rote grütze with any combination of berries.

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Rote grütze falls into the comfort food category for me and it brings back fond memories of my time in Germany and all the wonderful people I met and the family recipes I tasted. My favorite way to enjoy rote grütze is with a warm vanilla custard sauce drizzled on top just like the Allendorffs did each time they lovingly made their family recipe. I can still hear Sybille’s gentle German-accented English shooing her family away from the stove as they lingered nearby with brimming bowls of chilled rote grütze eagerly waiting for her classic vanilla sauce to thicken. Sybille stood smiling over the stove, the room was perfumed with warm vanilla, and the feeling of home and comfort were in each spoonful of her homemade rote grütze.

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Rote Grütze with Vanilla Sauce (Rote Grütze mit Vanillesoße)

2 lbs berries of your choice fresh or frozen
2 cups (500 ml) water, red wine or red fruit juice OR 1 ¾ cup of wine, water or juice and ¼ cup fruit brandy or orange liqueur
3 tbsp corn starch
3 tbsp water
½ cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 vanilla bean

Vanilla Custard Sauce (Vanillesoße)

3 Egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vanilla sugar (sugar mixed with the scraped vanilla bean)
1 tbsp corn starch
1½ cups whole milk

Rote grütze is made with an array of fresh (or even frozen) berries based on what is in season and the quality of what you can find. Just make sure the combination of berries weighs around 2 pounds or a little extra if it’s a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Just because I only used raspberries and blackberries this time doesn’t mean that’s all you should use! Cherries, strawberries, raspberries, red and black currants, blackberries, and blueberries can all be used in rote grütze. Wash and pit all fruit and cherries thoroughly.

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As for the liquid used you can use just water, red fruit juices, or red wine if you like. If you are going to use wine try a fruit forward wine; avoid tannic, dry, and oaky wines. I used Layer Cake Primitivo (zinfandel) but a Garnacha, Gamay, Merlot, fruity Cabernet or Shiraz are great options. If you are using fruit brandy or liqueur use only a ¼ cup of each as part of the 2 cups and use wine, juice, or water for the rest of the liquid. A fruit brandy made of red fruits would complement this well, or an orange flavored liqueur like Grand Marnier could work wonderfully in rote grütze. Remember cooking and creating things in the kitchen is supposed to be fun. The ingredients listed in a recipe shouldn’t discourage or restrict if you don’t have them. While I might list ingredients for recipes, the fun part is using what you have to make something delicious and unique.

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Bring the 2 cups of liquid of your choice to boil. You can use a combination of wine, red currant juice, cherry juice (even cranberry juice would work here), and brandy or liqueurs. In a small separate bowl blend the 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with the 3 tablespoons of water till smooth. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the boiling wine and juice. Add the fruit to the hot wine and remove from heat. Sprinkle the fruit with the sugar and fold into the hot wine. Remove the fruit from heat and allow it to cool. (I tossed in a scraped vanilla bean to add some flavor. I saved the vanilla flecks for the vanilla sauce.)You do not need to “cook” the fruit per se- the berries will become soft and pudding-like as they cool in the hot liquid. Once cooled at room temperature place the rote grütze in the refrigerator and allow it to cool overnight. When you are ready to serve the dish make the vanilla sauce.

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Scrape the sticky black vanilla specks from the inside of the vanilla bean. Mix this with 2 tablespoons of the sugar to create vanilla sugar. In Germany vanilla sugar is something sold in grocery stores, so this is my version. Keep the vanilla bean to perfume the vanilla sauce. Mix the egg yolk, both sugars, and corn starch until smooth. Slowly whisk the milk together. Heat the custard in a saucepan on med-low with the scraped vanilla bean until it thickens. Do not allow the sauce to boil and remember to stir consistently. It might look liquidy on top but it can thicken on the bottom and cook the custard! When thickened to your liking (this usually takes around 15 minutes) serve immediately over the rote grütze. If the sauce becomes too thick add a little more milk. Rote grütze is best enjoyed chilled topped with warm vanilla sauce drizzled on top.

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Cuban Stuffing

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I’m a holiday traditionalist. Each year I look forward to the tried-and-true dishes, seasonal favorites, and family specialties. While I love thumbing the pages of cookbooks and pinning new holiday sides, I always go back to the classics. One of these classics is my abuela’s Cuban stuffing (relleno) that everyone craves around this time of year. Scribbled on the back page of my mom’s beloved Cocina Criolla cookbook is my abuela’s recipe that she makes each year for the holidays, especially thanksgiving.

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I have to admit I’m a sucker for the bready and soft American version with plenty of butter, celery, and onion, but my abuela’s Cuban stuffing is a thanksgiving and holiday favorite. The mixture of beef, pork, and ham with warm cumin, plump raisins, crunchy almonds, and Spanish olives makes Cuban stuffing a blend of deliciousness with familiar flavors and comforting aromas. My mom makes the stuffing each year for Thanksgiving, but I think it would be great stuffed in small cornish hens for fancy dinners, baked in pastry, or just by the bowlful atop white rice.

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I made this Cuban stuffing for the first time ever with my mom this year. The stuffing was easier to make than I imagined, and oh so flavorful. As the years go by, my appreciation for my family’s traditions and favorite dishes has only increased, and I’m happy I get to document them and share with younger cousins, baby brothers and sisters, and future generations.

Cuban Stuffing (Relleno Cubano)

  • 2 lbs ground beef (not low fat)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground ham (do not use smoked or flavored hams)
  • 1 large onion diced (about 1 ½ to 2 cups)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • ¾ cup Spanish olives with pimientos sliced in thirds
  • ¾ cup sliced almonds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cumin
  • ½ tbsp ground black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 ½ packages cornbread stuffing
  • 1-2 cups turkey/chicken/ or vegetable stock

Dice the garlic and onions; grind the diced ham. I have made the mistake of purchasing smoked, honey, or mesquite diced ham. This totally kills the flavor of the relleno and does not work. I grind the diced ham in the food processor. Add the pork, beef, onion, and garlic to the pan all at the same time. Stir well and cook until just browned. Make sure to buy ground chuck or sirloin and avoid leaner cuts of beef. You do not want to overcook the beef because it will continue cooking in the bird if you choose to stuff it, or it will heat in a crockpot for serving, and do not drain the fat.

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Once browned add all of the herbs and spices and mix well. Do not add salt. Both the ground ham and the olives add plenty of natural sodium. Trust me on this!! Next add the package of cornbread stuffing and combine thoroughly.  At this point you can finally add the ham stirring to combine, and then go ahead and toss in the almonds, olives, and raisins. You can always add more to taste (of everything) and this part is really up to you- that’s the fun part of cooking and tasting =P. The raisin, almond, and olive trio really does add lots of flavor and is reminiscent of delicious picadillo.

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If you are making the Cuban stuffing a day in advance allow the dish to cool before placing it in the refrigerator. If you stuff the bird with the Cuban stuffing it does not require any stock to keep moist, but when you are reheating for a thanksgiving or holiday meal, you will want to slowly add hot stock of your choice and blend well. If the Cuban stuffing becomes too wet simply add more of the cornbread stuffing. I always buy two bags just in case. This year we placed the Cuban stuffing in a crockpot on low to warm a few hours before everyone came over and it was perfect and delicious. I’d say this version makes around 16-18 cups. Cuban stuffing is surely to become a holiday staple and thanksgiving must.

cuban-stuffing-taste-test

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