Christmas is Coming!

My favorite season is here, Christmas!!!!!  And as such we have started up our decorations.  It usually takes us a while to get everything up but that’s just because we have SO MUCH to decorate and with our schedule (school and Alan’s studying) we usually have a limited amount of time.

One of the things I love about living in the Northeast is that you can find many things that are community made and local, cheap and very fresh.  For example our door wreath was just $15.00!  and with fresh pine an benefiting a local community group.  You can’t beat that!

Christmas Wreath

And so it was time to look for our Christmas tree.  I’ve always had a knack for buying 5 footers that get pudgier every year, always sending me to the store to get more lights.  Funny think is that every year I tried to buy a skinnier or at lest less frondoso tree.  Alas, every year I ended up with a fatter tree.  When we moved north our first tree in Rhode Island we got from a cut your own tree farm.  It was a great experience; you pick out the tree you like, and the guy hands you a saw and you get your tree.  From 2005 on, we bought our trees at the same farmstand, paying about $50 bucks for my fat 5 footers.

This year I put my foot down.  I was determined to get the damn tree I had envisioned.  I new it was a Fir, I just didn’t know what kind.  About a mile from our house there is a Christmas Tree farm, so we went there on Tuesday.  And the first tree I see is the Fir I’ve always dreamed about.  Except that think is huge!  It’s 10 feet tall!  But its got such a beautiful color of green and such a nice shape!  But we keep looking.  Finally Alan asks if there was a tree I liked.  I said yes but that I thought it was too big, and showed him the tree.  He said, “It will fit”.  I said “It’s 10 feet tall!”.  He reassured me “It will fit”.  So we bought a 10 footer for $47 bucks!  Can you believe that?  And low and behold, IT DID FIT! Now on to decorating, at least this year, I won’t run out of lights. I think.

Adriana's 10 Foot Christmas Tree

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And you ask…What does a Cuban-Rican Nochebuena look like?

In all fairness, Cuban-Rican Christmas is sort of a misnomer – it only refers to the Nochebuena dinner.  Como nadie se puede quedar fuera, least of all Alan, we have a Chilean lunch: Empanadas.   That is the start of all our Nochebuenas since we’ve been married.  We are a diverse bunch so we have to be inclusive! 😉

Empanadas de Queso y Carne

Empanadas de Queso y Carne

Don’t they look yummy????  And it is a great way to hold off the hunger while the pork roasting in the oven aromatiza la casa entera.

Aside from the obvious religious and family reasons to love Christmas, there is one more reason why I love Christmas: I get to cook Cuban food.

*Sigh*, no I do not cook Cuban food year round.  I know, hard to believe right?  But, it is just not efficient.  First, I only know how to cook for four or more people.  Leftovers, you scream.  Not so fast.  Alan, as Papi (q.e.p.d.), will not eat leftovers.  New day, fresh meal…and I will not throw away food.  So, gasp! I cook mainly American – bistés and chicken with some rice, vegetables, or mashed potatoes.

So back to the joys of making Cuban food.  I make the frijoles negros in advance either the night before or that very morning (frijoles taste sooo much better after they sit for awhile!), and I have to admit this year I made my best frijoles yet (and man, I make kickass frijoles negros).

Although I know el puerco tastes great with just sal y pimienta, I’m sorry I like my lechon seasoned with mojonaranjas agrias, ajo, cebolla, comino, sal y pimienta.  It’s just not Nochebuena otherwise.

So while the puerco roasts, and the frijoles rest, Marisol gets to work on the arroz con gandules.  Hey, I was raised in Puerto Rico but my house was a vacuum sealed Cuban enclave.  I have never cooked with recao in all my life and have no clue where to start.  To each his own and since she is the original PuertoRican, she makes the arroz con gandules.  She is also in charge of supplying the pasteles (Puerto Rican tamales if you will).

Once the puerco hits those cherished 155 degrees, I turn the oven off and cook the Yuca.  I also make the mojo at this time – naranja agría, some limón, ajo, cebolla, aceite de oliva (very HOT), and some of the puerco juices.  Yum, I’m getting hungry just writing this.

Puerco, frijoles negros, yuca, pasteles and arroz con gandules…you put that all together and what do you get?

cubanrican0001

Cuban Rican Nochebuena!

Cuban-Rican Christmas Part I

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

Ahhh, Nochebuena is upon us.

Although for us (Marisol and I) the work really starts the day before.  Whether she is coming over, or we are going over there (this year they are coming over) there are things that always must be done in advance.  No not the cleaning.

The Flan de Queso, adobar el Pernil Delantero and the Frijoles Negros.

I’ll share with you the Flan recipe.  The ingredients for the Flan:

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 8oz bar of Philadelphia cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of sugar

huevos0001Start the oven at 35o Farenheit, and put in the pan with the water in which you will cook the flan.  Yes, it has to be a baño de María. While the oven and the water preheat, blend the eggs, condensed milk and evaporated milk.  Someone asked the other day about the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk.  I like to kid around and say that evaporated milk is the fat that they took out of the condensed milk.

Evaporated and Condensed Milk

Evaporated and Condensed Milk

In reality, evaporated milk has a creamy taste and liquid texture.  Condensed milk is thick and sweet – think dulce de leche.  In any case, their cans are different too!

I usually soften the cream cheese by putting it on top of the range.  The heat from the oven softens it up nicely.  Then add the cheese and blend together.  You will see crumbles of cheese; that is normal.

Flan Mixture

Flan Mixture

Now to the caramelo part.  For this make sure you have at least 30 minutes to stand over the stove.  You have to make sure you don’t burn the caramelo otherwise, the flan is ruined.  Over very low heat, stir and melt the two cups of sugar until they have an amber/honey color and all the sugar is melted.  Then pour onto your Pyrex, and spread around the mold like this:caramelo0001

Wait a couple of minutes for the caramelo to cool; otherwise it will blend with the flan.  Once cooled pour the flan in and put in the baño de María you have going in the oven (haven’t you always wondered why it is called a baño de María?).  Depending on how deep your pyrex is, it will take anywhere from 55 minutes to an hour and fifteen.  You will know when its done with the cake test: insert a knife in the middle (deeper) part of the flan, if it comes out clean it is done.

Take the flan out and let it cool; then place in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours (even better if you can leave all day or overnight).  With a silicone spatula or a flat knife, loosen the flan from the edge of the pyrex.  I grab the knife and go all the way around; then to make sure I swish it around.  Grab a dish that is big enough to hold all the caramelo, put it on top of the pyrex and flip.  It will take some work, but eventually it will come off.  It is best if you let it soak in the caramelo for another 4-6 hours, or even better overnight.

flan0001Now forgive me, but I totally forgot to take a picture of the flan before we cut into it, so imagine the missing half when I tell you this is what it should look like!!!!!

Just make sure when you serve, you add enough of that caramelo to go with it!

ENJOY!!!

PS.  A second post is coming with the actual dinner

Holiday Decorating

I LOVE Christmas time.  Ask anyone.  I literally live for the crismases; I get it from Abuela.  However, I will never understand why I never ever have the tree done before the 23rd.  I should be one of those people whose tree is up right after Thanksgiving, yet I’m not.  Buying and decorating the tree is a PROCESS in my house…although the house itself gets decorated right after Thanksgiving.  See?

Chimenea - Decorated and In Use!
Chimenea – Decorated and In Use!

Let me explain.

When I went away to college, and came back for my first Christmas (1990) I came home to a house with no Christmas tree.  WTF?  Mami had gone on strike.  Since we were now adults, she would not be putting up any more trees.  If I wanted a Christmas tree then I had to do it myself.  Fine, I said.

Next day I took Mami and Abuela to the Old San Juan docks and bought our first NATURAL Christmas tree and decorated it by myself.  I think that is when I figured out I worked best under pressure.  Ever since that day, it is rare if my tree is ever decorated before the 20.  Actually, I think hell would freeze over if that ever happened.

To top things off, I have very bad luck buying trees.  It turns out every year I buy a thicker, fuller tree than the year before.  And, since I am sooooo picky, that means buying extra lights and decorations every year.

Our first year in Rhode Island we even did the “cut your own tree” thing.  I have to admit, it was a lot of fun – yet again, it was a fat tree.

Last year, when I found myself stringing eight, yes you read right eight, 100+ lights strings I swore that it would never happen again.

It took some searching, but this year we did find a Fir that is not so thick and whose branches are not so close together.

Arbolito No Lights
Arbolito No Lights

Six strings this year.  Two of which are 150 lights.  Sigh.  Turns out the branches extend out farther…..so it still needs more lights.  It takes me one whole day just to put the lights on – why do I have to be so picky?

coquito0001

Lucky for me I always have coquito on hand.  There is no fun in decorating without coquito for the breaks!

Sunday we put up the lights – that’s another thing, it is a spousal endeavor so I have to wait until Alan is available. You see we have this tradition, every time I put up a string of lights, Alan takes a picture of the tree and me signing how many strings we have.  Corny yes, but it is a nice record to have.

Three Strings so Far
Three Strings so Far

Today (the 23rd) we finally decorated the tree, and I have to say it looks wonderful!

The Lambie Christmas Tree 2008
The Lambie Christmas Tree 2008

I hate the fact pictures never really show what the tree really looks like, but at least you can get an idea.

White Christmas

When we first moved to Rhode Island in 2004 we were really excited about the winters.  Even though I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and most of my family was from La Habana, I yearned to wear sweater, boots, gloves, hats and scarves.  And of course, SNOW.  Must be the 50% Galician in me.

Our first winter here we got record snowfall, including a blizzard.  We didn’t know it was record; we thought it was normal.  So, we became highly disappointed our following 3 winters, that snow was scant.  Our area always got caught in that hateable division line; the one that separates the snowfall from the snow/mix/rain.  For three winters, Old Man Winter  discriminated us.

But not this winter.  In 2004 we got our first snowfall in November 14.  Yes, November.  This year our first snowfall came yesterday, and it might hold for Christmas.  Actually, tomorrow we are supposed to get about 6 more inches!  I guess Old Man Winter wanted to give us a going away present, now that we are moving to Rochester, NY and all.

As I write this, it is 20 degrees outside, 6 inches of snow in the ground, and I am truly surrounded by a Winter Wonderland.  I’m giddy just looking out the window (yes I’m a penguin), and sad that Alan had to work today and we don’t get to play in the snow until tomorrow.  But for those of you who want to move Christmas to June (you know who you are), it just wouldn’t be the same.

Christmas decorated houses and snow just go perfectly well!  Here is ours:

Christmas in New England

Christmas in New England

Rudolph the Red Nosed CR-V

I know it is corny as hell, but I couldn’t resist.  Last year I saw many cars and SUVs outfitted with the red nose and antlers; I couldn’t find the kit anywhere then.  So this year the second I saw the “Rudolph” kit, it only took one look at Alan and it was mine.  I must’ve looked like a kid who just found the one toy she really wants for Christmas.

Here in Rhode Island, at least in the small towns, people really live the Christmas season.  Everyone decks out their homes and lawns, we have town Christmas trees lighting ceremonies, Main Street get luminaries, so why should cars be excluded?  Besides, there was no way  I would be the only undecorated SUV in the town this year. No. Way.

But more than driving around with antlers and a red nose, what I enjoy the most is the smile and thumbs up people give me when they see the car.  To the extent that people have left us notes in the windshield telling us that they love our antlers!

Meet Rudoph the Red-Nosed CR-V!

Rudolph the Red Nosed CR-V

Rudolph the Red Nosed CR-V

¿Coquito o Creme de Vie?

Revision: I forgot to tell you guys, that once it is done you can add nutmeg or cinnamon when you serve it.

I can honestly say that in my house, we never had Creme de VieMami never made it; neither did Abuela.  Strange for a Cuban exile household if you ask me.

In Puerto Rico it seems many Cubans were taken with Coquito (similar to Creme de Vie, but add some coconut milk).  Both are very sweet;  Creme de Vie a bit more and it also has a hint of vanilla.  Of course, they are both spiked with Rum.   Hey, we are Latin after all!

So this year I’m doing two things.  First I’m sharing with all of you my recipe for Coquito and Marta’s recipe for Creme de Vie.  Second, I will make a batch of each and have a neutral party – Alan of course – taste them both and see which he likes best.

If you don’t like coconut it goes without saying that Coquito is not for you, though the Coco in Coquito is really subtle.  For those of you with no clue of what I’m talking about Coquito is Puerto Rican Egg Nog and Creme de Vie is Cuban Egg Nog.

Coquito:

  • 2 cans of condensed milk
  • 2 cans of evaporated milk
  • 2 cans of coconut milk (NOT Coco Lopez)
  • 6 egg yolks.
  • You will also need about 1 cup of white rum.  I recommend you pour in 3/4 cup first and taste, and then add more as you see necessary.

Note: I personally use Don Q Cristal for two reasons over Bacardi – first, it is more bitter.  Second, it has a stronger kick than Bacardi, so it allows the Coquito to be spiked and thick at the same time.  If you use Bacardi, you’ll have to put in more rum to taste the “spike” and this will in turn make the Coquito more runny.

Creme de Vie (Marta’s Recipe)

Whichever you prefer, make sure you mix very well.  I have not met an Osterizer with that capacity, so I usually use the cake mixer and a Pyrex bowl.  Once you are done you store them in clean wine bottles (personally, I use Kahlua bottles) or any other bottle you like (you can buy some of those they sell at Michael’s too!).

The tradition is you give a bottle to friends and neighbors, so decorating the bottle is almost a requirement.  And like the rum, that is up to you. I find that  it’s best to make the Coquito for personal use on the day you plan to decorate the tree; between the sugar and the rum – and the Parranda/Trulla music in the background – you stay up and decorating becomes a lot of fun!

So, which one do you like best?