Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Toast to the Winter Solstice.

December 21st is a busy day for celebrating.  First off, it is the Winter Solstice, the beginning of the end, so to speak.  Earth’s axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere and the sun reaches its greatest distance from the equatorial plane.  This is the shortest day of light, and the longest of night’s darkness.  Yule, however, is a Pagan celebration of the return of the sun which ensures rebirth, renewal of, and the continuation of life on, Earth.

American Eggnog, Mexican Rompope, Puerto Rican Coquito

It is also, once again according to Good Housekeeping magazine, National Coquito Day.  Now before you go running off to your favorite Mexican place to gorge on taquitos, that’s coquito, not taquito.  Alright then, what is a coquito? Coquito means "little coconut" in Spanish and is a traditional Christmas drink that originated in Puerto Rico. The coconut-based alcoholic concoction is similar to eggnog, and is referred to as “Puerto Rican eggnog”.  The cuisine of Puerto Rico is quite different from Mexico, but if Mexican food is the closest you can find, at least you will not be too far off-the-mark.

How different is eggnog from coquito?  Eggnog originated from the early medieval (476 ACE - 1500 ACE) English drink called posset, made with hot milk that was curdled with wine or ale, and flavored with spices.  Posset use was primarily medicinal as a cold and flu remedy.  In the American colonies (1700s), George Washington, our first president, came up with his own recipe for eggnog.  He did not mention how many eggs to use, but culinary historians estimate an even dozen.

George Washington’s Eggnog Recipe

One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2-pint rye whiskey, 1/2-pint Jamaica rum, 1/4-pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.

Please note, it was heavy on the alcohol, and no one felt any pain after a few tankards of this drink.

Of course, the recipe has been simplified, or over indulgent in alcohol, depending on which recipe you happen to find.  Here’s a simple Americanized version.

Traditional American Eggnog 



Eggs, whites and yolks separated -- 4

 Sugar -- 1/3 to 1/2 cup

 Milk -- 2 cups

 Heavy cream or half and half -- 1 cup

 Rum or brandy -- 1/2 to 3/4 cup

 Nutmeg -- 1 teaspoon


In a large bowl, use a whisk to beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Add the sugar and beat until it is fully dissolved. Stir in the milk, cream or half and half, rum or brandy and a pinch of nutmeg. Chill well.

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat some more until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the yolk-cream mixture with a spatula. Pour into a serving pitcher and chill.

When ready to serve, pour into individual serving glasses and sprinkle with a pinch of nutmeg.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Of course, eggnog, with or without alcohol, can be purchased at many supermarkets, or local markets.

Well now, doing all this research on eggnog, guess what I discovered?  Mexico does have its own version, so going for those taquitos, or the whole of several enchiladas, will not be an off-the-mark thing after all.

Rompope (Mexican Eggnog)



6 cups milk

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole clove

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1 tsp. vanilla extract

 8 egg yolks, whisked

 ½ to 1 cup dark rum, for serving


Add milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, and ground nutmeg to a large pot over medium heat. Whisk together to combine.  Bring to a simmer, whisking every minute or so to ensure that the milk doesn’t burn. Remove from heat.

Carefully transfer 2 cups of the sweetened milk mixture to a small bowl. Add the slivered almonds and set aside. Let the sweetened milk mixture and the soaking slivered almonds sit for 30 minutes to cool down.

Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and clove from the milk mixture with a slotted spoon. If the cinnamon stick broke into small pieces, pour the mixture through a strainer to remove it.

Add the soaked almonds and the liquid into a blender and blend until completely smooth. Depending on the power of your blender, this could take anywhere from 1-4 minutes on the highest setting. Add the blended almond milk and vanilla extract to the pot. Whisk together to combine.

Slowly pour in the egg yolks, whisking constantly until they’ve all been incorporated into the milk mixture. Place the pot over medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes, whisking the mixture every minute or so, until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.

To serve warm, add 1/2 to 1 cup of rum and whisk to combine. Serve in mugs topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

To serve cold, add 1/2 to 1 cup of rum and whisk to combine. Let the mixture cool for 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled. Serve in cups over ice topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Makes 8 servings.

…and last, but not least, to honor National Coquito Day, here’s a recipe for the Puerto Rican version of eggnog.




1 and 1/2 cups rum

2 cinnamon sticks

4 oz. raisins, optional

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (15 oz.) can cream of coconut (Coco Lopez)

1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk (with thick coconut cream on top)

4 oz. evaporated milk

½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

4 Tbsp. shredded coconut, optional


In a blender, puree all the other ingredients. Pour into the bottle and shake well to combine with rum/raisins mixture. 

Chill for at least 4 hours before serving to allow flavors to meld and coquito to thicken. (The coconut cream will thicken as it chills.)

Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up 2 weeks. Shake vigorously each time before serving!

OPTIONAL: In a large pitcher with a lid (or two large jars with lids - this will make about 56 oz of liquid) add rum, cinnamon sticks, and optional raisins (if using). Let sit for at least 1 hour, or up to a week. (This will add an extra depth of flavor to your coquito.)

Enjoy whichever version strikes your fancy, but remember, if it contains a lot of alcohol, and you imbibe generously, you just might find yourself, dancing sky clad under the moonlight, like a Pagan.

Mary Cokenour








Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Roast Chestnuts Day.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Jack Frost nipping at your nose.

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir.

And folks dressed up like Eskimos.”

The Christmas Song by Mel Torme / Robert Wells


Once again, I am referring to Good Housekeeping’s list of December days of celebration, and have chosen December 14th – Roast Chestnuts Day.  The name “chestnut” has a multi-cultural lineage beginning with ancient Greece, moving into France and England, with European explorers finally bringing their variety to North America.  The American chestnut was a staple of the indigenous peoples, but a blight came along with the Europeans, and nearly wiped out the American species.  The chestnut is a true nut which means, in botanical terminology, “Dry fruit, grown on trees, that has a single seed, a hard shell, and a protective husk, is a nut; this includes chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts.”

Chestnuts are low in fat, high in Vitamin C, and contain antioxidants which help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Good news for diabetics, and better news is that they are high in fiber, and help balance blood sugar levels.  By the way, they are low in calories too.  Sounds like the perfect snack, right?  Yes, they are, but they must be cooked, either by boiling or roasting as raw chestnuts contain tannic acid.  Tannic acid is known to cause, in some people, stomach irritation, nausea, and kidney and liver issues which may lead to severe disease.


Tis the season to see displays of various food items, only available during the holidays.  While raw chestnuts are becoming more difficult to come by, a packaged product, Galil Roasted Chestnuts, might be a substitute.  It is a product from China that is 100% organic, no preservatives, shelled and ready to eat, or use in a recipe. Looking at the photo on the package, it reminded me of childhood days of oven roasted chestnuts; peeling off the tough outer shell and papery interior coating, hoping not to get splinters.  All that work to get to the sweet, buttery soft nugget inside.

 Unfortunately, here comes my warning about the product, what you see on the package is most definitely not what you will find in the package. The chestnuts are a dull grey color, wet with a slight slimy feel to them; that lovely brown color is only on the packaging. I was brave though and tried one; surprisingly it had that strong chestnut flavor that comes from oven roasting. It is recommended that the product be refrigerated after opening. The next day was another taste test; the wet sliminess was gone and the full flavor was still there. Personally, they will take time getting used to snacking on due to the grey color; it is very unappetizing to look at.  While these were the only packaged chestnuts I found in a supermarket, online shopping will provide more variety.

Another use for these chestnuts would be in a soup, either for a holiday meal, or just for a cold, wintery warmup. The packages are 3.5 ounces, so four packages would be needed for the soup recipe I am sharing with you.


Chestnut Soup with Cracked Black Pepper

Chestnut Soup with Bacon


Chestnut Soup


3 Tbsp. butter

1 large leek, white part only, chopped and washed

1/2 cup each of diced celery and carrot

3 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. crushed thyme leaves

1/2 cup half n' half

6 cups vegetable broth

4 (3.5 oz) bags roasted chestnuts

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. each nutmeg, salt and ground black pepper


In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium-high heat; sauté' leeks, celery and carrots until the leeks become translucent. Add in flour, thyme and half n' half; bring to a boil and stir till thickened. Add in broth, chestnuts, paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes; stir occasionally.

Using an immersion blender, or transferring to a tabletop blender, process soup until smooth.

Note: toppings such as a drizzle of sour cream, cracked black and red pepper, or crumbled bacon can be served with the soup.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

A Day of Infamous Remembrance.

According to an article, in Good Housekeeping magazine, there are 142 reasons, for celebration, in the month of December.  Instead of only the big three, Christmas, Hanukkah and

Kwanzaa, we have Boxing Day on the 26th, and my birthday as well; New Year’s Eve (31st), Yule/Winter Solstice (21st), Pearl Harbor Day (7th), International Animal Rights Day (10th), and a host of other religious, food related, and rather silly days in-between.

With so many “holidays” to celebrate, it would be only right to try and focus on, not the big three, but on some of the other interesting ones.  The first I have chosen is Pearl Harbor Day, observed annually in the United States on December 7, to remember, and honor, the 2,403 Americans who were killed in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  The attack occurred on the island of Oahu, one of eight major islands of Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, leading to the United States declaring war on Japan the next day, and forced into entering World War II. 

I was fortunate enough to visit Oahu twice, and made sure to put the Pearl Harbor Memorial tour on my visit list, both times.  This is a heart wrenching, heart breaking experience that left, not one person, without tears streaming down his or her face.  First, there is the movie, using historical footage, showing the bombing, the utter destruction of the Navy’s shipyard, and ships.  Then there is the boat ride out to the USS Arizona which is the eternal grave site of 1,102, of the 1,177 sailors and marines, killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Standing at the railing, looking downward into the murky water, a sheen of oil can be seen as it continues to seep from the bowels of the ship.  One can only imagine what those valiant men experienced as the bombs exploded, the ship tore apart, and down into the water it sank; taking most of them with it.

Divers have attempted exploration of the ship, since the sinking, but it was not until submersible mini-subs, and ROVs, were able to go inside.  With modern technology, the interior was recorded, and everyday items like shaving kits, kitchen pots and pans, even uniforms hanging on clothes hooks, could be seen.

Has this information made you sad?  As I have grown older, I have seen the “holiday months” go from one of grateful, friendly and loving gathering to the point of “why bother?” to “it’s only about the monetary amount of the gifts that counts”.  So, here I am, to remind you, that these months were not always full of 100% joy and good cheer.  People suffered to make sure that freedom remained free, and we should be grateful to them for the joy and good cheer we obtained.

So, after the sadness I have dropped upon you, it might seem a bit like nonsense to suddenly write about food.  However, our sailors and marines, even in 1941, ate well; and up to the nutritional standards known about at that time.  A 1941 ship’s manifest, for the USS Washington declared, supplies the battleship took aboard after about a week at sea with a crew of 1,500 were 2,400 lb. lemons, 1,700 lb. cucumber, 2,400 lb. lettuce, 1,800 lb. each of sweet potatoes, tomatoes and asparagus, 1,200 lb. celery, 3,000 lb. carrots, 3,800 lb. oranges, 1,513 lb. smoked hams, 19,971 lb. of frozen beef, 4,070 lb. veal sides, 507 lb. head cheese, 1,040 lb. flounder and 1,010 lb. rhubarb.” (  For Thanksgiving and Christmas, ham and turkey, with all the typical trimmings, were served to all.

Here is a recipe I developed, December 9, 1995, two days after Pearl Harbor Day; those men must have been on my mind, even then.


Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

 This recipe was chosen and featured in the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, March 1999 issue.  It also appeared in the Better Homes and Gardens “Annual Recipes” cookbook, 1999.


2 lbs. sweet potatoes

¼ cup milk

½ tsp. each salt, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg

2 lbs. lean ground lamb

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup chopped red onion

1/3 cup dry red wine

1 Tbsp. snipped fresh savory

1 tsp. finely shredded orange peel

½ tsp. ground cinnamon


Peel and cut up sweet potatoes.  Cook in a small amount of boiling water, just enough to cover, for 20-25 minutes, or until tender; drain.  Mash potatoes; add milk, salt, ½ tsp cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a large skillet, cook lamb, mushrooms and onion together until there is no longer any pink to the lamb meat; drain excess fat.  Stir in wine and savory; cook for 1 additional minute and remove from heat.

Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with nonstick spray.  Spread 2/3 of the mashed sweet potatoes over the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  Fill center with lamb mixture; top with remaining 1/3 of potatoes, spreading evenly over filling and to edges of dish.  Bake for 20 minutes; sprinkle orange peel and remaining ½ tsp cinnamon over top; bake an additional 15 minutes.

Makes 6-8 servings. 

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, December 3, 2022

No-Bake Eclair Dessert (original and low sugar versions)

This no-bake éclair dessert is creamy, with the softened graham crackers giving the consistency of a spongy Boston Cream cake, or pastry shell of an éclair.  It is very easy to assemble, with the most difficult part being the wait time before it is ready to be eaten.


No-Bake Eclair Dessert

Original Recipe


2 (3.4 oz.) boxes vanilla instant pudding mix

3 cups milk

1 (8 oz.) container whipped topping, thawed

1 (16 oz.) box original flavor graham crackers (3 packs containing 9 crackers each)

1 (16 oz.) milk chocolate frosting (dark chocolate would be too overpowering in flavor)


Whisk instant pudding and milk together, in a large bowl, until it begins to set; fold in whipped topping, mix well and set aside.

Place a layer of graham crackers in the bottom of a 9” x 13” dish, breaking as needed to cover the entire bottom with a single layer.

Spoon half of the pudding mixture over the graham crackers and gently spread into an even layer; again, break crackers as needed to fill in spaces. Top with another layer of graham crackers and other half of the pudding mixture. Add one final layer of crackers to finish off top.


Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Uncover frosting and remove foil wrap. Microwave for 30 seconds to make the frosting easier to spread; stir well. Remove pan from refrigerator and pour frosting over top layers of crackers; use a spatula to spread frosting evenly, and edge to edge.



Replace the plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours. The longer the dessert sits, the more the crackers soften up to have a cake-like consistency

Makes 15 servings

Optional Frosting: Make a chocolate ganache by heating ¾ cup heavy cream, over medium-high heat, until bubbles form around edge of liquid.  Add 1 cup of milk chocolate chips; allow chips to melt for 2-3 minutes, mix well, then pour over cake.

For a lower sugar version, substitute:

4 (1 oz.) boxes sugar free vanilla instant pudding mix

3 and ½ cups 2% milk

1 (8 oz.) container sugar free or lite whipped topping, thawed

1 (16 oz.) box original flavor graham crackers

1 (16 oz) container milk chocolate frosting (if you can find sugar free variety, use instead) (dark chocolate would be too overpowering in flavor)

Preparation directions are the same.  This is not a completely sugar free version as finding sugar free graham crackers and sugar free frosting can be a challenge.  Serve smaller portions and you will not feel as if you are missing out on dessert.

Mary Cokenour