Cortés Chocolate Hot Chocolate

These cold winter months find me craving the hot chocolate of my childhood: a simple, light and sweet hot chocolate with salty melted cheese.
The 6 year old me would light up with excitement, when, every so often grandma Mima would declare that we were going to skip dinner altogether and have ‘chocolate caliente’ instead.  She would drop pieces of sweetened Chocolate Cortés into a pot of steaming hot milk.  Each cup of hot chocolate would then receive a couple of chunks of Gouda cheese, left to melt at the bottom of the cup.  Mima served her hot chocolate with export soda crackers slathered in salty butter.  This “dinner” was always a very happy and warm occasion for me and the memory always brings a smile to my face.  
Mima’s hot chocolate was a traditional Puerto Rican hot chocolate or “chocolate caliente”.  It is sweet and light with hints of saltiness from the Gouda cheese and the glistening beads of salty butter floating on top, the result of dunking your buttered crackers.
Love and enthusiasm for hot chocolate runs in the family. Read about Angelica’s reaction to the City Bakery’s hot chocolate here.
Puerto Rican Hot Chocolate
1 cup whole milk
1 oz  Chocolate Cortés, broken into smaller chunks*
Chunks of Gouda cheese (you can also use cheddar or Edam cheese)
In a small pan, bring the milk to a slow simmer.  When it begins to steam, add the chunks of chocolate Cortés and whisk until dissolve.  Do not boil the milk. 
Pour in a cup and drop a couple of chunks of Gouda cheese.  Serve with crackers and butter. 
*Chocolate Cortés can be found in your local Latin market or the international section of your grocery isle. To learn more about the rich history of this chocolate visit the Chocolate Cortés website.

Refreshing Oatmeal Drink – Homemade “FrescAvena”

On hot summer days I love a cool, nourishing drink like oatmeal drink served over ice. This simple drink of oats is refreshing and nourishing without the heaviness of a traditional oat smoothie. The gently sweet taste of pure oats promotes a feeling of well-being and balance that I look for after feeling over-strained from the sun and the heat.
Oatmeal drink takes me back to childhood when I often called it “jugo de avena” (litterally “oatmeal juice”) or “FrescAvena” for the instant Quaker-branded version of this drink. I remember my grandparents scooping big scoops of instant FrescAvena into full glasses of icy milk. You can still find FrescAvena in Latin Markets, but I find the instant drink to be overly sweet. As an adult, I prefer the home made dairy-free version of oatmeal drink which consists of water, oats, brown sugar and ice. Simple and sweet with that wonderfully subtle taste of good oats.
To make this drink you will need a blender. Oatmeal drink has a very short life – if you let it sit for more than a few minutes, the oats settle and become goopy. Prepare it only when you are ready to drink enjoy it. Best served over lots of ice and topped with a bit of cinnamon.
Oatmeal Drink
2 cups water
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp brown sugar or to taste
pure vanilla extract (optional)
cinnamon (optional)
ice
1. Place oats, brown sugar, water, vanilla extract in a blender. Blend for 15 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Add three cubes of ice and blend again until ice is dissolved. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings.

Pito’s Traditional Coquito

Puerto Rican Coquito Coconut Drink Recipe
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
A Puerto Rican Christmas is all about families and friends gathering to dance, drink and eat. At the center of all Puerto Rican holiday festivities is coquito. This silky, sweet, coconut milk-based drink spiked with rum and spices is Puerto Rico at it’s best.
Coquito is often referred to as the “Puerto Rican eggnog” even though the traditional drink contains no eggs at all. Each family has their own version of coquito. Most versions use some proportion of coconut milk, cream of coconut (Coco Lopez), sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and rum.
If you do an online search for coquito you will find an abundance of recipes that all call for egg yolks. If you are looking for a traditional Puerto Rican recipe, then stay away from these egg yolk recipes.
The recipe I share with you today is my grandfather Pito’s recipe. It’s the best coquito recipe I’ve tried. It’s Pito’s twist on the traditional coquito recipe by adding salt and lime rind and omitting the sweetened condensed milk to cut back on the sweetness.
Coquito is best served as an after dinner drink. Keep it refrigerated in a glass bottle and serve it very cold in small sherry glasses with extra ground nutmeg. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
For a non-alcoholic coquito, Pito suggests substituting the rum for some tropical fruit juice such as pineapple or guava. Simply holding back on the rum also makes a great non-alcoholic coquito. As a child I remember sticking around the kitchen so I could taste the coquito before they added rum and it is simply delicious.
For another Puerto Rican holiday recipe, check out Pito’s pernil roasted pork recipe.
Feliz Navidad to all!
Pito’s Coquito
1 can cream of coconut
6 ounces coconut milk
2 12 ounce cans evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon lime (limón) rind
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces
2 cups Bacardi rum
1. Mix all ingredients (excluding the rum) in a large bowl. Add rum to taste.
2. Transfer the mixture to a glass bottle and refrigerate for 24 hours to allow the flavors to develop. Serve chilled in small sherry glasses and garnish with fresh ground nutmeg.

When life gives you tamarind…

Tamarind Juice Recipe
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Scott, Angelica and I went to Puerto Rico to visit family in late August last year. It was a trip fraught with turmoil as my mother’s mental illness had become much more pronounced and balancing the needs of my grandparents and my mother was a loosing battle. This was supposed to be our vacation but really, it was an exercise in keeping it together. A running joke was that this vacation was Boot Camp: the Puerto Rico edition.
We spent countless hours in the scorching sun scraping the wrought iron fencing around my grandparents home. Even more hours into the night were spent painting the fence with oil-based enamels. Between these exercises we would go and visit my mom who lived in the fishing town of Santa Isabel about twenty minutes away from Ponce. We met her thug housekeeper, who despite his friendly and humble demeanor seemed like the kind of man that had a dark past. We listened to Mami’s theories about the grand conspiracy of the serpent people and how Angelica and I were destined to eradicate them. Despite her handicap and needing a wheelchair to get around, Mami even managed to teach Angelica how to dance flamenco – the great dance of serpent stomping.
This trip was devastating.
There was no way to even make a dent in my family’s need. Even though Angelica and Scott were patiently going along with all that this family visit required, I could see that they were being pushed. We rented a car and took an overnight trip to the eastern coast of the island just to take a deep breath. We drove until we found a little hotel beside the beach in the town of Patillas. As we walked beside the road toward the hotel I was delighted to see tamarind pods strewn under our feet, discovering the large trees growing wild by the side of the road overhead. What a happy and simple moment. Finding the tamarind grounded me that day. It reminded me of my roots: that I come from an island of proud but humble people where chaos and pleasure live side by side. It reminded me of childhood, when things were somewhat simpler and the sour and earthy taste of tamarind could shock the senses and provide a temporary reprieve.
I found some fresh tamarind at the Chelsea Market’s Manhattan Fruit Exchange this week, and I could not resist bringing some home. Today, I am making some fresh tamarind juice and remembering that day last summer when we sat and stared at the ocean and the horizon line, incredulous, speechless at what was happening around us.
Refresco de Tamarindo (Tamarind Juice)
1 pound fresh tamarind in the pod
4 cups of water
3/4 cup sugar or more, to taste
1. Peel the tamarind and place the flesh (with pits) it in a heavy sauce pan. Add the water and soak for an hour.
2. Use your hands to massage the tamarind and remove as much flesh from the seed as possible.
3. Bring the tamarind mixture to a boil and quickly remove from the heat. Pour through a colander to strain out the seeds and casings.
4. Add sugar to taste and cool the juice down. Enjoy served over ice.
Makes 6 – 8 servings.

Blending a Berry Oaty Smoothie

Today I honor the blender. Essential for making morning time smoothies, good gazpacho, silky hummus or grinding coffee beans for a fresh cup of coffee, the blender is indispensable in any kitchen. If you want to do away with kitchen gadgets, the blender is a fantastic multi-tasker: it can take on a spice grinder, a coffee grinder, even a food processor or mixer. This morning I reached for the blender to make a refreshing summertime smoothie and remembered the origins of my particular blender: the Osterizer Galaxie Pulse Matic 10.
I remember sitting with Papi and Carolina in the living room when Carolina got up and ceremoniously brought over a large unwrapped box and placed it on the floor in front of us. From the box, I could guess that it was a blender that must have been manufactured around the late seventies or early eighties. It was a surprise to see this intact, never scuffed, seal unbroken, dust-free blender box on the floor in front of us. This blender, despite its twenty or more years in existence, had never been used but carefully kept.
This was Spring 2001 and no particular occasion for gift giving. We had driven up to see how Papi was recovering from his liver transplant surgery. We drove up from the city and arrived late at night. He had waited up for us and greeted us at the door. He aged 20 years in a matter of weeks after his surgery. I could see my grandfather Abuelo Paco’s features clearly in his aged face: a receding hairline, thin wrinkles on his forehead and kind loving eyes, weary from the enormous battle he had endured.
They explained that the blender was given to them as a wedding present and that they
never had any use for it and wondered if we would like to have it. We pulled it out of the box and it was a chrome plated beauty with a heavy glass jar. We had recently moved to the city and didn’t have a blender, so we gratefully accepted.
At the time I did not know this would be the last gift my father would give me. Perhaps because it holds such a place, the Osterizer Galaxie Pulse Matic 10 blender is an object of mystery to me. Every time I use it, I remember my father. I wonder who gave them this wedding present. I wonder when Papi and Carolina got married and who attended. And, what compelled them to care and carry this particular wedding gift for over twenty years without ever opening it or using it?
Today I use my vintage blender to make a light summertime berry smoothie with oats, the smoothie version of my Everyday Breakfast. Cool, refreshing and satisfying. Enjoy one for breakfast or when you need a boost anytime of the day. See my notes about yogurt here. I like my smoothies, thick and icy, but you might prefer yours a little thinner. Simply add more or less liquid as you are blending until you get the right consistency.
Berry Oaty Smoothie
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups ice cubes
1. Purée all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve.
Makes 2 servings.