As the year is quickly drawing to an end, I notice my friends reflecting on the year that was, and hoping and planning for the year that will be. In the spirit of taking stock of my life, I have a confession to make. I, the one and only Cuban Reuben, have an obsession with, of all things, Christmas carols. That’s right. White Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Let it snow…you name it, I love it. But while some of my friends choose to tease me about this unconventional fascination, my good friend, Meredith, made an astute observation. My list of favorite Christmas carols? They were all written by Jews. “Of course you love them,” she says! So, maybe it’s not so sacrilegious after all to love Christmas carols as much as I do. It’s true that Jewish holiday music doesn’t elicit the same degree of jolly cheer as your average good ol’ carol, but that’s where Coquito comes into play.
What better way to help bring out your jollies than to imbibe on a sip or two of the rum-spiked creamy Puerto Rican festive drink, Coquito? Particularly if you are being held hostage by a snowy blizzard, this creamy coconut cocktail that tastes like a tropical vacation in a glass, will not only help warm your insides, but might even loosen you up to the point of joining your friends as they go caroling down the neighborhood. Liquid courage never tasted so good.
I’ve also served this for several New Years’ Eve celebrations to rave reviews. By now, my friends have requested it to help them ring in the new year. And for those of you whose resolution includes to shed a few pounds, don’t worry about the rich nature of this drink. I’ve tried this recipe using the reduced fat versions of the ingredients, and it still comes out quite tasty, though not as creamy.
Happy holidays to all of my readers here at The Cuban Reuben. Let’s toast to a happy and healthy new year!
Shavuot is just around the corner, and I see my friends frantically scouring the internet, searching for the perfect dairy-based dish to commemorate the arrival of our ancestors to the land of “Milk and Honey,” and the point in history when the Jewish people were said to have received the torah. It’s funny that we have a holiday whose main highlight is all things dairy, considering how many Jewish friends I have who suffer from lactose-intolerance. Sounds like a cruel joke to me, but I digress.
At my family get-togethers, which commonly revolve around holidays and food, there is usually a healthy dose of competition involved. I’m not talking about the Marc Summers-hosted “Double Dare” variety, with obstacle courses and green slime, although we’ve definitely tried those in the past. These days our competitions revolve around culinary feats and there is one title that has eluded me since I joined the ranks of family cooks: La Reyna del Flan, or The Flan Queen.
Several of the matriarchs in the family have held this title in the past. My mom’s cousin, Virginia, blazed the trail with her traditional, Spanish-style flan, whose custard is so silky smooth and deeply rich, that for years, no one dared to compete. Then, Vilma, Virginia’s sister came up like a dark horse with a flan de coco (or candied coconut flan), whose strands of sweet coconut took the spotlight and threatened all we knew and loved about the traditional egg dessert. Not to be outdone, my very own mother entered the race with a super-sized pumpkin flan big enough to feed an army, or one flan-enthusiast family. But for a long time, the clear shoo-in was always my Tia Pipa, whose bread pudding flan simply could not be touched…until now.
Ladies and gentlemen, this Shavuot, I’m bringing out the big guns, as I believe I have rightfully earned my place in my family’s Cuban flan hall of fame with my latest entry. Sure, I borrowed, begged, and stole the best elements of these matriarch’s versions, but in doing so, I believe I created a flan worthy of the regal title.
When it comes to La Reyna del Flan, it looks like I take the cake…er, flan.
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (*Note: Make sure it is kosher for Passover)
a pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
2 tbs water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and add your empty pan in the oven to warm.
Mix first six ingredients (from evaporated milk to salt) in a blender, and set aside.
In a saucepan, cook the sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar becomes a deep amber color (about 15 minutes).
Working quickly, remove the empty pan from the oven, and pour in the now melted sugar. Swirl the pan around, so the sugar covers the entire bottom of the pan. Pour in the milk and egg mixture over the caramelized sugar.
Insert the now full pan into a larger pan, and fill the larger pan about half-way up with water (a water bath).
Return the flan pan and water bath to the oven, and bake for about 70 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Remove the flan pan from the water bath, and set on a wire rack to cool. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to serve the flan, run a knife along the edge of the pan, place a rimmed serving platter over the pan, and invert it. The flan should fall easily, and the caramel sauce will coat the top and run along the sides.