Sunday, December 31, 2017

LIBATIONS: The Pina Colada

If you like piña coladas...

Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie, that song by Rupert Holmes, the one that speaks of getting caught in the rain and having half a brain. But ol' Rupert was onto something. The piña colada is one of my all-time favorite cocktails, particularly when it's prepared correctly. And it happens to have originated in Puerto Rico, a fabulous island that's an unincorporated territory of the United States but has yet to be afforded statehood (and therefore the right to vote in U.S. elections, though I digress)...and PR is an island that happens to have been the hard-hit victim of a particularly harsh hurricane season in the autumn on 2017. 

I adored Puerto Rico when I visited right after New Year's back in 2015. My husband and I were dating at the time, and though we'd taken several trips together, both domestic and international, this was our first tropical getaway to a Caribbean island, a 5-day jaunt to a destination with reveling in sybaritic coupledom as the sole point of the trip. With poolside cocktails, natch. What better place to enjoy one of my favorite refreshing, tropical frozen drinks than in its palm tree-lined place of origin? I'd just worked hard serving up great food and beverages to clients throughout the holiday season, so I was very much looking forward to being served a little bit myself, and relaxing in the sun, when temperatures back home were sub-zero. I prefer frozen cocktails to frozen tushies!

First, a quick primer on the piña colada. The name means "strained pineapple" -- a reference to the fresh pineapple juice in the drink. It's generally served blended/frozen or shaken with ice, though my personal opinion is that you go frozen or go home. Its origin story is still up for debate: it was definitely created in Puerto Rico, but where and by whom is still somewhat unresolved. There is a legend that says a Puerto Rican pirate created the drink in the 19th century to boost his crew's morale, but the recipe for the drink seems to have gone with him to his grave in 1825. 
In the modern era, we have two stories. Story 1: Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Pérez lays claim to have made it first at San Juan's Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar in '54, utilizing Don Q Gold rum and what was then a new product, Coco Lopez's crem of coconut (developed in '48 in Puerto Rico, hence to Puerto Rican lineage of the drink itself). Story 2: Bartender Ramón Portas Mingot claims to have created the pina colada in 1963 at the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan -- a claim the restaurant adheres to in the present day. Many say the drink didn't get its name until the 1960s, regardless of who the actual creator was. But the piña colada has definitively been the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978, and National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on the island on July 10th each year. Fun fact: in one of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather Part II (1974), in the scenes that are set in Cuba in 1956, the characters are offered Piña Coladas on several occasions, even though the drink wasn't named as such until the 1960s.

Back to Puerto Rico. While I indulged in many a piña colada on our trip to PR, we discovered the most memorable version just before sunset on the evening we were flying back to frigid New York some time around 9:30 p.m. We were having dinner at a wonderful restaurant Santaella (see my review on this blog at, in the neighborhood surrounding a central mercado away from the "strip" by the beach, away from the crowds of tourists and chain restaurants. As I remember, we walked there from our hotel, as we wanted to take in some local scenes, and though the mercado was mostly closed down by the time we got there (it was about 4:00 in the afternoon, so a few fruit and veg sellers were still in the covered market, but crowds were sparse), we did see a vibrant local scene. 

There were kids playing the in plaza, and families sitting outside on patio chairs. fanning themselves from the heat. Behind the market and around the corner, we saw a grouping of tables and chairs, and several older men sitting playing cards and dominoes. Many of them were sipping...could it be...piña coladas? Yes. There was a makeshift bar set up with a single powerful blender, ice in plastic tubs, plenty of rum, and lots of coconuts and pineapples ready to be whirred together into that perfect tropical elixir. I approached the woman making them and asked in Spanish for 2 piña coladas, and asked her how much they cost. For five dollars a pop, we got about 20 ounces each of the most satisfying, delicious, boozy piña coladas we had our entire trip, served up in a large clear plastic cup. Pure heaven.

So as we wind down 2017 and look forward to 2018, let's raise a frosty glass to Puerto Rico and its signature drink, the piña colada. It takes us away to a tropical island "Escape" (the actual title of the piña colada song), even in the dreary cold of a northeastern winter. And, please give anything you can to continue U.S. support to PR, a gorgeous island full of wonderful people who need our help.

Piña Colada
1 ½ oz. aged Puerto Rican rum
1 ½ oz. cream of coconut (like Coco López)
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice
5 chunks fresh pineapple
16 oz. crushed ice
Tools: blender
Glass: hurricane
Garnish: pineapple wedge
Add all ingredients to a blender and whir for about 30-60 seconds until smooth and frothy. I always think a dark rum floater never hurt anybody, and can only improve the drink. 

To help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, you can always give to the Red Cross, or to the organizations below...

Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund:

Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund:

Unidos Por Puerto Rico:

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

RECIPE: Sufganiyot, A Hanukkah Favorite

Above, sufganiyot I made with my family last Hanukkah: a culinary success but a mess getting my powdered sugar-covered nephew clean!
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is a celebration of the reclaiming and rededicating (Hanukkah means "dedication") of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE. The oil used to light the menorah in the temple, thought only enough to last for a night, lasted for eight days instead -- hence the festival of lights. Culinarily speaking, this translates to celebrating this oil with lots of fried goodies. Latkes, or potato pancakes -- and really fritters of any kind -- are present on most Hanukkah tables. Sufganiyot, or donuts in Hebrew, are basically the sweet version of fritters. They're delicious, and surprisingly to some, easy enough to make at home. In closing out this year's festival of lights, what better way to top off eight days of gluttonous fried foods than with the ultimate fried dessert?

There is a long tradition among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews linking fried donuts, in various forms, with Hanukkah. North African tradition melds with the Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (the smaller, deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and East European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German berliner, the Polish paczki, or the Russian ponchik) became part of this tradition.

Angel Bakeries, the largest bakery in Israel, reportedly fries up more than 250,000 sufganiyot every day during the eight-day Hanukkah festival. Local newspapers add to the excitement by sending out food critics each year to rate the best sufganiyah in town. As a result of the national hubbub, some purveyors have elevated the basic filling recipe to an art form. The most basic version is filled with plain red fruit jelly, while more expensive versions are piped with chocolate cream, dulce de leche, vanilla cream, cappuccino pastry cream, and even the Israeli anise-flavored liqueur called araq, and topped with various extravagant toppings, from coconut shavings to meringue and sprinkles and flavored glazes. Even Burger King got in on sufganiyah fever last year with the "SufganiKing" -- a burger with the bun replaced by sweet donut halves, which as BK notes "proves that miracles still happen"!

Here is my basic recipe. Below that I'll post a link to my recipe as published on The Daily Meal a few years ago. You can get creative with both the fillings and the toppings. I like a salted caramel filling with a dark chocolate glaze (or the reverse), a meyer lemon curd filling (with a lemon poppyseed glaze, yum!), a fruit cream filling with various chocolate and candy toppings, or a classic jam filling -- try fig -- topped with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. Whatever your personal palate dictates, one thing we know is that It's time to make the donuts!


  • 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 Cup lukewarm milk or water (water for meat meal, milk for dairy meal)
  • 2 1/2 Cups AP flour
  • 1 Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tablespoons butter or pareve margarine, softened
  • Jelly (strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.) or cranberry sauce
  • Sugar, for rolling
  • Vegetable/seed oil, for deep-frying


- Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the milk. Let sit until it bubbles.
- Sift the flour and mix with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and yeast mixture.
- Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter/margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed into the mixture. 
- Cover with a towel and let it rise overnight, or at least 2 hours, in the fridge.

- Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass or any object with a 2-inch diameter.
- Brush the 12 rounds with beaten egg whites. Take 1/2 teaspoon of the cranberry sauce and place in center of 12 rounds. Press down at edges, crimping with the thumb and second finger to seal. Let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a pan, to about 375 degrees.
Drop donuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time, not crowding the pan. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and roll the donuts in sugar.

Here's a link to my recipe on The Daily Meal:

Enjoy, and Happy Hanukkah!