Puerto Rican Pernil with Crispy Skin

The traditional centerpiece of the Puerto Rican Christmas Eve (or "Noche Buena") table, is Pernil--a marinated pork shoulder that's roasted slowly in the oven until the meat is tender and the skin on top is crackling and crisp.

All families have their own perfect pernil recipe--the simplest seasoning the pork only with garlic, salt, and oregano. Others use popular store-bought spice mixes (like "adobo Goya") or slightly more complicated marinades, but at the heart of it is a simple roast that requires little effort on your part while the oven does all the work.

The word "pernil" derives from the Spanish word "pierna" or leg. It's also the Catalan word for ham, since the dish was originally prepared using a fresh ham. Pork shoulder, however, is more readily available and affordable, and has since became the more popular cut to use for the dish.

The fattiness of the pork shoulder also lends itself well to the long slow roasting, and turns out a better end product than the ham. 

There will always be purists who will argue that a true pernil can't be made with pork shoulder, but I've never seen them turn down a plate of this deliciousness.

When it comes to flavor, I like it bold. I'm not into subtle on my plate (or really in any part of my life), and tend to skip over the ones that just taste like plain roasted pork. I want a good hit of garlic. I want the brightness of cilantro. I want a touch of acid from the citrus.

And damn it...I want there to be enough salt to bring all of those things out!

Growing up, I actually never really liked pernil. It tasted dry and boring to me, and I never understood the rabid enthusiasm other guests felt for it. I always turned it down in favor of the other Puerto Rican dishes on the table--the pasteles and tostones...or maybe just the rum cake.

And then a few years ago, I decided to give it a shot, experimenting with my own versions of the classic recipes. The process is similar to what I do with my Thanksgiving turkey or roast chickens. It's a technique I learned from my mom, and one of the best ways to infuse meat with maximum flavor while preserving moisture.

Here's what I do: I skip the roasting rack and put the pork right down on the pan where the bottom can braise in the flavorful juices.

I make a thick, wet paste of spices and citrus juice with massive amounts of garlic--8 or 10 big cloves. I add a full bunch of cilantro.

I pass the stale store-bought "adobo" spice mixes in favor of fresh individual spices--ground toasted cumin, smokey paprika, dried oregano.

And salt. A teaspoon of kosher salt per pound seems to work about right. 

I also think patience is key. Some pernil recipes only call for 3 or so hours in the oven, but low and slow is best, letting it go 5, 6, even 7 hours. You end up with skin that crackles and meat that is tender, moist, and dripping with dressing. Impressive results that belie the amount of effort it takes.

I serve mine on rice, doused with hot sauce and topped with a pile of quick pickled red onions. The perfect winter meal.

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Puerto Rican Pernil Recipe
Serves 7 - 10 people when accompanied with sides

Ingredients
1 5-8lb pork shoulder, bone-in
1 cup sour orange juice (from seville oranges) OR 1 cup tart grapefruit juice OR 1/2 cup each orange and lemon juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
8-10 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro
1 large red bell pepper, seeds and center ribs removed
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons paprika (sweet or smoked spanish)
5-8 teaspoons kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound of pork)
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1-2 cups water

Directions
Rinse pork shoulder under cold water and then pat very dry. Place skin-side up in a large roasting pan, right on the pan (not on roasting rack). Use a knife to cut slits into the skin and fat.

Combine the orange juice, vinegar, olive oil, onion, garlic, cilantro, red bell pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor and puree into a smooth paste.

Use your hands to rub the pork shoulder with the paste on all sides, pouring into any crevices and into the slits cut in the skin. Use all of the marinade. Cover pan with plastic wrap and let marinate a minimum of 2 hours and up to 2 days.

When ready to cook, remove from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes to take off some of the chill. Wipe off excess marinade from the skin of pork and pour water into bottom of pan so that it goes up about 2 inches on the side of the pork. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover roasting pan tightly with foil or pan cover and place in oven on lowest rack to bake for 4 to 7 hours or until very tender. (Smaller roasts cook less when larger roasts take more time. It's very difficult to "overcook" as long as you keep the heat low, the roast covered, and the liquid in the pan--you can even go down to 300 degrees if you want to be safe.)

Once meat is tender, remove foil from pan and let broil about 5 to 10 minutes, or until skin is crisp and crackling.

Transfer pernil to a serving platter.  Serve pernil along with reduced pan juices, and a rice dish such as arroz con gandules, boiled yuca, or plantains

Giveaway: Holiday Macarons Gift Box from Sucre

Merry (almost) Christmas! As you rush around trying to get those last-minute gifts and errands taken care of before the big day, I encourage you to take a second to enter to win a sweet gift for yourself.

Today I've partnered with New Orleans based sweet shop Sucre to give away a 15-piece Holiday Macaron gift box to one lucky reader.

This gorgeous box is filled with a mix of chocolate mousseline macarons and peppermint macarons. It's a delicious treat from a great company (I'm also a fan of their Mardi Gras king cakes--SO good!)

They also have some fun options for New Year's Eve treats that you can easily order online and have delivered just in time for the festivities (macarons + champagne or truffles + wine? Yes, please!) 

To enter, just leave a comment below letting me know either what you hope to get for Christmas this year OR one wish you'd like to see come true in 2013.

You can get extra entries by doing any of the following and leaving a separate comment for each one you did. If you don't leave a separate comment, it's just going to count as one entry so LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT. You can leave up to 6 comments (entries) total.

1. Like" Always Order Dessert on Facebook. Already a fan? Leave a comment on the page to say hello, then comment here to say you did.  
2. Follow me on Twitter (@nandita) and comment to say you did
3. Post about this giveaway on your own personal or fan page Facebook wall, tagging my FB page, then comment here to say you did.
4. Post the following message or a similar one in your own words on Twitter: Giveaway! Comment to win a box of Holiday Macarons from @nandita & @SucreNewOrleans: http://bit.ly/U3Gi1g
(then comment here to say you did)
5. "Pin" an Always Order Dessert recipe or DIY post of your choice on Pinterest and then comment here to say you did.
The winner will be selected via Random Number Generator. Your entry must be in by 5PM EST on Wednesday, December 26, 2012. US residents only, please.

Easy & Quick Pickled Red Onions

At dinner the other night, Eugene asked me why we don't just always keep a jar of pickled red onions in the fridge since he would "eat them on everything."

I explained that we don't keep a jar of them in the fridge because he does eat them on everything and therefore I can never keep the jar full for more than a day or two.

This recipe takes just about 20 minutes and keeps well in the fridge for weeks (ostensibly--I've never actually had the chance to test that). It's so quick that I'll regularly get the urge to make them once I already have the rest of the meal ready and will pop over to the kitchen to whip up a batch. A mandoline makes quick work of thinly slicing the red onions, but a knife works just as well. I leave all the spices in the jar as they continue to infuse and flavor the onions.

Oh and want to learn how to make your onions super bright red? Add a diced red beet to the pickling liquid. That's how I made the ones in this photo:



These are great on top of pulled beef or pork tacos, served on top of steak, on burgers, or with traditional Puerto Rican dishes like pernil, boiled yuca, or arroz con gandules. I also love these with pan-fried tilapia or grilled shrimp.

Like Eugene said, it's literally good on EVERYTHING.

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading! 

Quick Pickled Red Onions Recipe
Makes 6-8 servings (as a garnish)

Ingredients
1 cup white or apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup filtered water
2 bay leaves
7 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 large red onions, peeled and thinly sliced into rings or half moons

Directions
Combine vinegar, sugar, water, bay leaves, cloves, and peppercorns in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the onion slices  and stir to coat with liquid. Lower heat and let simmer gently for 15 minutes then remove from heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a jar along with the liquid and seasonings. Can be used immediately or stored in jar in the fridge for about 1 month. 


DIY Chalkboard Gift Tins

I don't know about you, but around this time of year, I usually find that I have a bunch of empty cake or cookie tins laying around the house. Here is an easy way to use chalkboard spray paint to recycle those tins into pretty containers that can be used for gifting or storage.

I started off with a few leftover cake tins (these held some amazing cakes from the company Daisy Cakes, which is owned by a friend).  The tins had designs printed on top, but plain sides so I just painted the tops. If yours are printed all around, you can paint the entire container.

Step 1. Wash the tins to remove and oils and dry well.

Step 2. Spread a drop cloth or newspaper (I used leftover bubble wrap) to protect your floors. Make sure you're working outdoors or in a well-ventilated area with open windows. I did none of the above because it was raining, and I ended up with a headache and an apartment that smelled like a meth lab. So...don't do that. Open the window.

Step 3. Spray with a thin coat of chalkboard paint (I use Krylon Chalkboard Spray Paint), then let dry for 10 minutes. Repeat with 2nd and 3rd coats, letting dry 10 minutes in between. Now you're basically done. Just let dry 24 hours to seal and you're ready to use.

I think these are perfect for gifting baked treats like cookies or cake, but you can also use them as storage tins. The chalkboard surface can be erased and reused so the recipients of your gift can use the empty tins all year long (or regift them!).

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!
 


Giveaway: Win a Copy of The Newlywed Cookbook from BHLDN

I've partnered with BHLDN for today's giveaway--a copy of The Newlywed Cookbook by Sarah Copeland.

This gorgeous cookbook was written for new couples eager to get into the kitchen together. From date-night staples like grilled lamb chops to decadent desserts (chocolate pudding, anyone?) The Newlywed Cookbook has really lovely mix of essential recipes for new couples, which makes it a wonderful Christmas or bridal shower gift.

Don't these pancakes look incredible?

Do you guys already know about BHLDN?

It's a wedding and special occasion retailer that sells attire, accessories, and décor. It's actually the sister store to Anthropologie (hence the awesomeness!), and they offer up a gorgeous array of dresses for any type of bride, from bohemian to classic to quirky.

Even better? They also have gorgeous dresses for wedding guests, too! (Very helpful as I'm at the period in my life where there is a wedding to attend every 5 minutes.)

If you're an obsessive party planner like I am, you should totally check out their beautiful vintage-inspired décor options--it's meant for weddings, but honestly, some of the wedding table decor on their site would be amazing even if you're not getting married!

I've already pinned a bunch of things that I'd love to use at one of my next parties.

To enter the book giveaway, leave a comment telling me the best OR worst thing you ever ate at a wedding. Funny stories welcome.

You can get extra entries by doing any of the following and leaving a separate comment for each one you did. If you don't leave a separate comment, it's just going to count as one entry so LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT. You can leave up to 5 comments (entries) total.

1. Like" Always Order Dessert on Facebook. Already a fan? Leave a comment on the page to say hello, then comment here to say you did. 
2. Post about this giveaway on your own personal or fan page Facebook wall, tagging my FB page, then comment here to say you did. 
3. Post the following message or a similar one in your own words on Twitter: Giveaway! Comment to win The Newlywed Cookbook from @nandita & @BHLDN: http://bit.ly/Xn4WuL
(then comment here to say you did)
4. "Pin" an Always Order Dessert recipe or DIY post of your choice on Pinterest and then comment here to say you did.
The winner will be selected via Random Number Generator. Your entry must be in by 5PM EST on Tuesday, December 18, 2012. US residents only, please.

My Kitchen Favorites (AKA Stuff I actually use daily)

Today I thought I'd share some of my favorite kitchen tools. These are the things that I actually own and use in my kitchen on a near daily basis. Take a look--maybe you'll get a few fun gift ideas for the cooks in your life! (Or just for yourself, that's cool too!)
(From left to right, top to bottom)
1. Metal Tongs: I have about 5 sets of tongs in my kitchen and I use them constantly. They're great for putting marinated chicken or steaks onto the stove, flipping grilled veggies, turning tortillas, tossing and serving salad, the list is endless. I even use them for pulling down boxes from high shelves in my kitchen (do this at your own risk--I usually end up with a box on my head). Bloomingdales, $29
2. Kitchensmart Solid Oven Mitt: These are my FAVORITE oven mitts. When I got married, a bunch of people gave me overpriced oven mitts from Williams Sonoma--and they all developed holes within days. But THESE super cheap ones from Bed Bath & Beyond, rock. I also love how they're designed with the thumb on the bottom (as opposed to the typical "mitten style") so that you can easily grip hot, heavy pots. (They're also great for opening up jars.) Bed Bath & Beyond, $7
3. Le Creuset Saucier: I love this little pot and actually want to get myself a couple more. It's made with the same heavy construction as the large dutch ovens, but is the perfect size for everyday cooking--I use this to make soup, fry foods, make tea or hot chocolate, make rice or quinoa, reheat food--it's incredibly versatile. Amazon, $180
4. Joseph Joseph 8-Piece Nesting Set: I first discovered this super cool nesting set of measuring bowls, sieves, and measuring cups at City Cookhouse, the commercial kitchen space I occasionally rent to teach in. Each piece is a different bright color and they all nest right into each other--which is great if you have limited space. They're dishwasher safe, too! Amazon, $36
5. Krups Coffee/Spice Grinder: I don't really drink coffee, but I use my grinder all the time for whole spices, and to grind down espresso beans for cooking purposes. It works super quickly, doesn't take up much room, and is a great way to add intense flavor to your cooking. Bloomingdales, $25
6. PAM Baking Spray: I'm generally anti cooking sprays, but this thing is a gem. It has flour in it so you can easily spray baking dishes (especially tough ones with weird crevices like bundt pans or decorative molds). I always have consistently perfect results when I use it. Most major grocery stores, $3
7. OXO Hand-held Mandoline: One of my favorite and most fun kitchen tools by far! I'm a cucumber salad addict, so I use this almost daily to slice up super thin slices of cucumber in mere seconds. It's also great for potatoes (potatoes au gratin!) and fruit. I actually own three mandolines, one that cost about $300 and another that cost about $150, but this one is so low-maintenance that I use it WAY more often than the others. Crate & Barrel, $15
8. Le Creuset Batter Bowl: This is a great bowl for mixing up pancake or cake batter--the spout makes it easy to pour things without spills. It's perfect for melting large amounts of chocolate in the microwave. I also use this for soup (I sieve into this bowl and pour into serving dishes or storage containers). It's heavy, thick quality and dishwasher safe. Amazon, $40

9. Williams Sonoma Spatulas & Spoonulas: For Christmas last year, my dad got me this entire set of spatulas and I absolutely love them. I used them daily to get the last bits of cake batter out of the bowl, to fold things, even on my nonstick skillet for things like scrambled eggs. The high quality silicone can withstand high heat and the thick wood handles don't break like cheaper plastic versions.  Williams Sonoma, $8-$22

10. Mikasa Swirl White Dinnerware: This is our everyday china and it's absolutely gorgeous. Matte swirls on the outside and a glazed center. The texture is just lovely (the bowls and mugs have a great hand-feel) and they're really versatile for food photography, or for paring with other brightly colored pieces. I'm kind of a klutz and these take quite a beating without showing a scratch. Bed Bath & Beyond, $150

11. Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce: I don't like regular tabasco, but this smoky spicy version is fantastic. I use this on tacos, on seafood, on my eggs in the morning. It's great over soups, and I occasionally even use it as a marinade. Good stuff. Get the big bottle. Most major grocery stores, $5

12. Smoked Spanish Paprika: My most used spice by far! If you haven't tried it yet, you really should. It adds fantastic smokey flavor and color to dishes. A little smoked paprika, olive oil, and salt, and you've got a great simple seasoning for chicken, shrimp, fish, veggies--everything! Gracious Home, $3.50

13. Le Creuset Balloon Whisk: This is a great silicone whisk to have on hand for use with delicate pots (like enameled dutch ovens, nonstick pans, etc.). It withstands high heat without scratching the pans. I got mine as a gift ages ago and it ended up being one of my most used utensils. Macy's, $27

Important note! All of these products are things that I actually own and use in my own home kitchen. I purchased these myself and/or was given them as gifts from friends (not companies). I'm not being paid to recommend these to you, although if you happen to buy them via my Amazon link, I will get a teeny tiny affiliate commission (pennies on the dollar!) that goes to help support my work here on this blog. 

Orange Chocolate Dessert Salami (Saucisson Au Chocolat)

In the mood for a bit of fun today? Let's make chocolate salami!

This recipe is based on a pretty classic Christmas treat that's popular throughout Europe. Despite appearances, this "sausage" doesn't contain any meat; it's made out of dark chocolate and studded with bits of nuts, cookies, and white chocolate. A dessert sausage!

When you slice into it, the fillings give the appearance of a classic salami. It's a fun conversation piece to serve with coffee or after dinner drinks at a holiday party. It also makes for a fantastic (and super clever) edible Christmas gift.

I flavored my chocolate salami with orange liqueur because I'm crazy about the combination of orange and chocolate together, but one of the best things about this recipe is that it's really flexible.

You can replace the dark chocolate with milk chocolate or even white chocolate. You can use different types of nuts--I love almonds and walnuts, but try pistachios, hazelnuts, or salted peanuts for a different flavor! Add things like mini marshmallows, chopped marzipan, dried fruit, bits of blondies or brownies, leftover stale cake...really anything sweet will work! 

The liqueur can be replaced with amaretto or Frangelico--I bet peppermint schnappes would be fun, too. For a non-alcoholic version, you can use black coffee or heavy cream. Spices like cayenne, cardamom, or black pepper would also be an interesting addition.

(Obviously, do not add ALL of these things together--that would be disgusting.)

The fun part is the outside. Once the chocolate sets, you rub powdered sugar to mimic the look of the rind on a real saucisson (so fun to say--I've been running around the house shouting "Saucisson!!!" in a terrible French accent all week).

If you're *really* motivated, you can tie the salami up with twine in a proper chain hitch just like a real one. Here are pretty good directions on how to do that.

This keeps well for a while, so you can make a few of them to give as gifts or serve throughout the holiday. It also freezes very well.  Oh and this recipe is crazy easy--really just some melting and mixing, so if you've got kids definitely get them involved.

Saucisson for everyone!


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Orange Chocolate Dessert Salami Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup slivered almonds or chopped walnuts (or mix of both)
1/2 cup crushed cookies (such as amaretti, shortbread, biscotti, etc.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup orange liqueur such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/3 cup white chocolate chips
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread almonds or walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until nuts are lightly toasted--about 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Combine chopped butter and chocolate in a large bowl in the microwave and melt at 30 second intervals, stirring in between until chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. (Can also be done in a pot over very low heat.) Stir in the orange liqueur and mix until combined and smooth. Add the toasted nuts, crushed cookies, kosher salt, and orange zest, mixing until evenly combined. Gently fold in the white chocolate chips.

Cover the bowl and refrigerate about 1 1/2 hours, or until mixture has firmed up a bit and is moldable. (Don't chill too long or you won't be able to get it out of the bowl--if that happens, pop in the microwave for 30 seconds until you can mold it.)

Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on your counter and turn the mixture out onto it (you can divide it into two for 2 smaller sausages or just make one big, thick one). Use your hands to form the mixture into a  log-like shape and then wrap up in the plastic wrap, twisting the ends to form a tight seal. Gently place in the fridge (I like to place it on something soft like a bag with mixed greens to help it keep the round shape, but it's not necessary). Let chill until firm--about 4 hours.

Remove from fridge, unwrap and use your hands to rub the outside with powdered sugar, just like a real sausage! Let sit at room temperature about 1 to 2 hours before serving. Serve sliced along with coffee and after-dinner drinks.

To store, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Will keep in the fridge about 2 weeks. Can also be frozen indefinitely.

Variations:
You can feel free to substitute any kind of nuts--pistachios, pecans, peanuts, etc. You can also use dried fruit, mini marshmallows, pieces of stale cake or chopped brownies/blondies, etc. To change the flavor, swap the orange liqueur for amaretto, Kahlua, or Frangelico--even a peppermint shnappes would be fun! You can use black coffee or heavy cream for a non-alcoholic version.

Gorgonzola, Spicy Candied Walnut & Apple Crostini

A long, long time ago, I went on a blind date organized by The Washington Post. It was part of this feature that they used to do (still do?) called "Date Lab," where they would set up two single DC residents, pick a restaurant for them, pay for the meal, and give them a disposable camera to photograph the evening. The next day, a reporter would call to interview us about the date, and then a week or so later, they would run the story in the Post.

It's basically a print version of that old show "Blind Date," and because I was single and very much a "what the hell!" kind of girl, I decided to do it and blog about my experience.

The date ended up being pretty terrible. Probably in the top 3 worst dates of my life. The guy they set me up with was cute-ish, but we had nothing in common. He spent the whole date texting under the table, was super vague and evasive about everything, and went to the bathroom at least 3 times (at least once announcing that he had to "go empty out again.")

He also had weird food issues, which is what made me think of him today. I remember knowing that the date was not going to work when he started out by summarily declaring that we would NOT be ordering appetizers.

"What?!?" I kind of shouted internally.

I LOVE appetizers, you guys. Like...possibly even as much as I love dessert. It's part of the whole ritual of going out to dinner. Choosing little things to share and talk about while sipping wine or a cocktail before easing into your meal. I love the variety and the creativity; appetizers are often the most exciting things on the menu.

I probably learned this as a child. My dad is big on appetizers, occasionally going so far as to order "one of each." He always asks everyone at the table what they want and orders it. There is never any negotiating or compromising; it's more of a "if you want it, get it" kind of thing. Two people want the same thing? Get two orders! Whatever, more the merrier!

It's lavish. It's decadent. It's my favorite.

I think that feeling of freedom--of not having to choose--of there being plenty to go around, is one I love to recreate when entertaining. It's why I love to make lots of dishes so that everyone has something to choose from. It's why I usually serve things family style, so that people can feel free to help themselves to more, if they'd like. It's why I'm always encouraging people to open up another bottle, and stay as long as they'd like.

It's what I mean by always order dessert...

These crostini were actually inspired by an appetizer I ordered at a restaurant recently and I can't wait until my next party so that I can serve them. I loved the combination of the salty, slighty stinky gorgonzola dolce with the candied walnuts and decided to recreate it at home. I took mine a bit further by adding a little heat to the walnuts--just a bit of cayenne for an additional dimension of flavor and spreading the gorgonzola a bit thicker. Thinly sliced tart apples round it all out.

Give these a try at your next event, or come over to mine. I promise you can have as many as you'd like!

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Gorgonzola, Spicy Candied Walnut & Apple Crostini

Ingredients
1 long baguette
4oz gorgonzola dolce
2 cups halved walnuts
1 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tart apple, thinly sliced into 1" triangles. (Dip slices in a bit of lemon water to keep them from browning.)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the baguette into 1/2" thick slices and spread on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven 5-7 minutes, or until slightly toasted on both sides. Remove and let cool.

Prepare the walnuts: Line a baking sheet with foil or wax paper and set aside. Combine honey, water, and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until melted and bubbling. Add the walnuts and toss to coat. Add the cayenne, sugar, cinnamon, and salt and continue tossing to coat--about 5 minutes. Spread the nuts out on the lined baking sheet and let cool and harden.

To serve: Spread each bread slice with a generous amount of the cheese. Top with a couple walnuts and one or two thin apple slices. Serve immediately.





Boozy Rum Cake Truffles

When testing my from-scratch chocolate rum cake recipe, I had a bit of a bundt pan mishap and the cake ended up getting half-stuck in the pan. The pan itself is a bit old and no amount of greasing or combination of flour + grease seems to help anymore.

It happens, and in this case, I'm actually glad that it did because it led to the creation of these absolutely AMAZING Boozy Rum Cake Truffles.

You'll need a batch of rum cake to make this. You can use my Original From-Scratch Rum Cake recipe or my new Chocolate Rum Cake. You can also use a store-bought rum cake or just make a batch using your own favorite recipe.

Another idea? You can just use any cake--a plain from-scratch chocolate cake or yellow cake, a store-bought poundcake,  an (ahem) box mix cake--and douse it in rum syrup (choose either the plain or chocolate syrups from the recipes linked to above) and then proceed with the truffle recipe. Super easy!

As this cake is already naturally very moist from the soaking syrup, you don't need to add any frosting to get it to form into balls. Simple puree it in the food processor until sticky and use your hands to roll into balls that are then dipped in melted chocolate.

A food processor is key for this recipe, although you can also use a mixer with a paddle attachment.


This would make a fun dessert to serve at a holiday cocktail party. They also keep very well and can be packaged up as an edible Christmas gift idea.


You can also just leave a tray of them in your fridge and let your husband work his way through them. That works, too!

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!


Boozy Rum Cake Truffles Recipe
The yield depends on the size of your rum cake

Ingredients
1 moist rum cake (such as plain rum cake or chocolate rum cake)
1/4 walnuts (optional)
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons coconut oil or vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)

Directions
Break the cake up into small chunks and place in your food processor along with the walnuts, if using. Process for 2-3 minutes until a smooth and sticky batter forms.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Taking about 2 tablespoons at a time, shape the dough into round balls and set on the baking sheet. Repeat with all the dough.

Place the chocolate chips in a bowl and melt in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time until smooth. Stir in the coconut oil or shortening to thin the chocolate and make it smooth.

Using two forks, dip each ball into the chocolate and let coat completely. Shake off excess chocolate and transfer to the wax paper-lined sheet to set.

Once all the balls are coated. Place in a cool, dry place to set for one hour. These can also set in the refrigerator. Place in small cupcake or candy wrapper cups or serve as is. Store leftovers, covered loosely in the refrigerator, up to one week.



Giveaway: Win a Tate's Holiday Cookie & Bar Tower!

Earlier this Fall, I was invited to a private cooking class taught by Kathleen King, the baker behind the amazing Southampton-based Tate's Bake Shop--and those amazing super thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.

Those cookies are kind of legendary among folks here in New York City. Back when I worked at Hearst, there was always something of a (stiletto-clad) stampede whenever someone brought a bag of those cookies into the office. Upon meeting Kathleen King--the creator of THOSE cookies--, I told her that a private baking class with her was like my version of a private concert with the Rolling Stones.

She quite liked that.

The class was a kind of book party celebrating the release of King's third cookbook, "Baking for Friends," and I was super excited to have been sent home from the event with my very own copy. It features recipes for all sorts of baked goods, along with beautiful photos, and plenty of baking tips.


It's a gorgeous book, and one that I definitely recommend if you have friends who love to bake. You can get an autographed copy for just $19.95 on the Tate's website. (You should probably include a bag or two of her famous cookies for them to snack on while deciding what recipe to make first.)

As a little holiday treat, the folks at Tate's are providing an incredible Holiday tower of cookies and bars for one of my readers. This is a $50 value, filled with an assortment of Tate's most popular cookies and bars.

To win, all you have to do is leave a comment below telling me your favorite holiday cookie--to make, eat, or buy!

You can get extra entries by doing any of the following and leaving a separate comment for each one you did. If you don't leave a separate comment, it's just going to count as one entry so LEAVE A SEPARATE COMMENT. You can leave up to 5 comments (entries) total.
1. Like" Always Order Dessert on Facebook. Already a fan? Leave a comment on the page to say hello, then comment here to say you did. 
2. Post about this giveaway on your own personal or fan page Facebook wall, tagging my FB page, then comment here to say you did. 
3. Post the following message or a similar one in your own words on Twitter: Giveaway! Comment to win a tower of Tate's cookies from @nandita: http://bit.ly/T5HGBx
(then comment here to say you did)
4. "Pin" an Always Order Dessert recipe or DIY post of your choice on Pinterest and then comment here to say you did.
The winner will be selected via Random Number Generator. Your entry must be in by 5PM EST on Thursday, December 14, 2012. US residents only, please.




Homemade Chocolate Rum Cake Recipe (From Scratch Tortuga Copycat)

Rum Cake has long been my favorite type of Christmas treat. When we were kids, my dad used to pick up a cake from a local health food restaurant to serve with Christmas Eve dinner. I have no idea why the place made totally-not-at-all healthy rum cake, but it did, and it was delicious, and yes...we ate it even though we were kids. (Well, I did--my brother was never a fan.) Incidentally, I was recently working on a project where a little girl mentioned that her favorite type of cake was "rum cake," so I know I'm not the only one.

I first posted my original recipe for Rum Cake from Scratch back in March of 2011. Since then, it's definitely become one of the most popular ones on this site for people looking for a way to recreate that moist, boozy Tortuga-style rum cake without all the funky additions of box mixes.  I decided to revisit it this year with a From Scratch Chocolate Rum Cake Version for your holiday (or any day) pleasure.

The chocolate flavor in this cake comes from a combination of both cocoa powder (use the regular unsweetened, not dutch process kind) and melted chocolate chips. Together they give the cake a rich chocolate flavor and lovely dark color. I also added cocoa to the soaking syrup at the end, for additional deliciousness.
 
I baked some of my batter in tiny little bundt cake molds, for individual treats, and it works just as well either way. They actually came out looking like rum cake donuts. Christmas breakfast idea, perhaps? I've included baking times for both, below.

The first time I made this cake, I had a bundt cake disaster and it wouldn't come out of the mold (happens to the best of us!), so I decided to use that cake to make Chocolate Rum Cake Truffles and I daresay they're even BETTER than the cake itself.  





A Few Notes Based on Previous Questions:
    •    Cornstarch is also known as "cornflour" in the UK and other countries.
    •    1 cup DIY pudding mix is equivalent to 1 standard 3.4oz package of boxed mix
    •    Use regular "unsweetened cocoa powder" (such as Hershey's), not Dutch Process
    •    Yes, you can replace Kahlua, for a Kahlua cake.
    •    A spiced rum such as Bacardi Oakheart, Captain Morgan, or Sailor Jerry would be wonderful here.
    •    Dark rum is preferred, but you CAN use white rum if that's what you have.
    •    You can use equal amounts of brewed coffee instead of the rum for a non-alcoholic version. 




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Homemade Chocolate Rum Cake Recipe (Totally from scratch! No box mixes.)

Ingredients
1/2 cups walnuts, crushed
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 tablespoons + 1/2 cup vegetable oil, divided
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch process)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup DIY vanilla pudding mix (click for my easy homemade pudding mix recipe; if you prefer, you can use 1 box of packaged instant vanilla or chocolate pudding mix OR substitute 1/3 cup dry milk powder + 1/3 cup cornstarch + 1/3 additional cup sugar and increase vanilla extract by 1 teaspoon)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup dark rum
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs

For the syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup dark rum

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour bunt pan, and drop crushed walnuts into the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

In the base of a mixer, cream the sugar and butter for 3 minutes. Mix in the 3 tablespoons oil, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and pudding mix.

In a small saucepan, combine the whole milk and chocolate chips and stir over low heat until the chocolate is melted. Set aside and let cool slightly. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup oil, rum, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in the cooled chocolate milk mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix and mix until smooth with no lumps. The batter should be very thin and pour easily. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan and bake 5- to 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the cake comes up clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack. Let cool for 20-30 minutes.

While the cake cools, prepare the rum syrup. In a large saucepan with high sides, combine the butter, water, granulated sugar, salt, and cocoa powder. Cook over medium heat until the butter completely melts and the sugar dissolves. Let reduce slightly, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum (it will bubble).

Wash and dry the bundt pan, then place over the cool cake and invert the cake back into the pan. Pour the hot rum syrup all over the cake and let soak for 8 hours (overnight). In morning, invert the cake back onto a serving platter. Keeps covered for 1 week at room temperature.

Variation: This can also be made in mini bundt pans; bake at the same temp about 17-20 minutes, depending on how mini your pans are.

What's in My Grocery Bag 12/9/12

My fridge, in all its unruly, over-stuffed glory.
I got a comment on Facebook from one of my readers, Michele, who asked if I could bring back the "What's in my Grocery Bag" feature where I share my shopping list and my plans for the ingredients for your voyeuristic pleasure and/or inspiration.

I'm not really sure that I can actually call it a feature since I really only did it twice before I forgot about it (classic Alejandra move). Eugene saw the comment and seconded the request because it's also one of his favorite "features."

I think it's because he likes to know what I'll be feeding him in the coming weeks.

Or maybe he just wants to know what exactly it is that I do with the grocery money...

Either way, I just did groceries a couple days ago, and this is what I bought.  Please note that it had been nearly a month since I did groceries because of travel and events, so this was a much larger order than usual:

Dairy & Eggs
1/4lb Bulgarian Feta (To crumble over cucumber salads and to use in some merguez sausage tacos I've been toying with in my head. I typically prefer Greek feta, but Bulgarian is also good and about 3/4 the price. Thrifty!)
1/4lb Gorgonzola Dolce (For a little holiday appetizer idea I'm planning: crostini with spiced walnuts and poached pears. Will post that recipe soon!)
1lb Lioni Latticini Fresh Mozzarella (For general snacking throughout the week. I slice it, let it hit room temperature, then sprinkle it with salt and olive oil.)
3 Containers Fage 0% Greek Yogurt with Cherry Pomegranate (Eugene likes this flavor so I got him a few for breakfast. Personally, I prefer the full fat plain kind although the mango guanabana is also pretty good--I just add the jammy stuff to my full fat yogurt. I think 0% yogurt is pointless.)
1 quart Farmland Heavy Cream (for homemade whipped cream and to make chocolate ganache)
2 - 1lb Unsalted Sweet Butter Blocks (for holiday baking: fruit cakes, rum cakes, and cookies. I love buying butter in blocks--it feels kind of old fashioned)
2 Dozen Pastured Large Brown Eggs (They're more expensive, but I only ever buy pastured eggs. They're always a little bit wonky-sized, the yolks are bright orange, and they sometimes have bits of chicken poop stuck to the eggshell...that's how you know they're good! I use them for baking, breakfast, and pasta carbornara. (Obviously, I wash the poop off first.))
1/2 gallon Ronnybrook All Natural Creamline Milk (Non-homogenized so the fat rises to the top, just the way God intended. Super creamy NY milk. I don't drink milk straight--I use it mostly for baking and hot chocolate, and the rare cafe con leche when I need an extra dose of focus. Eugene uses it in his post-gym protein shakes.)
1/2 gallon Silk Coconut Milk (I admit I don't 100% love all the funky additives in this, but I love the taste of it and it's a great non-dairy option for breakfast smoothies, drinking straight, and hot chocolate. Also it's about 90 calories a cup, compared to 350 calories in the canned kind--not even exaggerating here.)

Deli
Citterio Cubetti Pancetta (I like to cook these until crisp and add to salads in place of lardon. Also great with roasted Brussels sprouts.)
D'Artagnan Chorizo Sausage (My favorite! Made from heritage pork. I already used half of this in a chorizo, kale, and chickpea soup. The other half became shrimp and chorizo tacos.)
1/2 lb Provolone Cheese, Sliced (sandwiches, maybe in some kind of baked pasta dish if Eugene doesn't snack his way through the whole package)
3/4lb Schaller & Weber Bauernschinken (cured thin, super salty farmer's ham. Amazing in sandwiches, but Eugene and I usually just eat slices of this plain as a snack. I also occasionally fry a slice on a dry skillet to have with my morning scrambled eggs.)
1/2lb Schaller & Weber Smoked Bacon, Extra-Thick (I dice this and use in soups, salads, and with roasted veggies. On the weekends, Eugene will make himself a slice or two along with his eggs.)

Fruit
2 Bosc Pears (Poached as part of the aforementioned crostini with Gorgonzola dolce--if Eugene doesn't eat them first! He's a fruit fiend.)
4 Hass Avocados (We already ate all of these! We had guacamole for dinner on Friday and I ate the other one smashed on sprouted grain toast with a sprinkle of salt.)
4 Honeycrisp Apples (My favorite! Super crisp and the perfect blend of tart and sweet. Love these just on their own or with slices of cheese and ham--a mini ploughman's lunch, if you will.)
4 Organic Pink Lady Apples (2nd favorite--also very crisp, tart, bright pink skin.)
8 Lemons (Zest goes into baked goods, pasta, yogurt sauces. Juice goes into my daily water. I drink lemon water all day long every single day. My body is about 60% lemon water.  I also use it in marinades and Eugene has thin slices of it with his tea at night.)
2- 12oz bags Ocean Spray Cranberries (Not totally sure yet. Some baking, probably. I might make this Cranberry Ropa Vieja again, too. They were on sale so I snagged them. They may end up in the freezer.)
5 Red Grapefruits (Eugene's favorite snack. He eats one a day and the entire apartment smells like citrus for an hour. His hands always smell like grapefruits, which I suppose is better than my hands, which always smell like smoked paprika, garlic, and vanilla.)
1 Banana Bunch (smoothies, Eugene's protein shakes, on-the-go breakfasts, occasionally frozen and dipped in melted dark chocolate)

Meat
1 6lb Beef Brisket (Braised in a coffee and ancho chili rub until fork tender. Then I pulled it and we had it for dinner tonight as tacos. Amazing. Recipe coming soon.)
4lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast (I cut these down into tenders, marinated in chimichurri, and divided into 1lb portions that I put in the freezer for future quick meals.)

Seafood
2 Verlasso Salmon Fillets (I brushed these with olive oil, smoked paprika, oregano, salt and pepper, then broiled until crispy on top for dinner on Thursday. Eugene had the leftovers for lunch on Friday along with a cucumber and red pepper salad.)

Vegetables & Herbs
Celery (for snacks, salads, and as a base in soups)
1 Bunch Cilantro (on tacos and in marinades)
6 Heads Garlic (in everything!)
1lb Green Beans (trimmed, tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted)
3 Large Green Cucumbers (Sliced thinly with my mandoline, then dressed with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Crumbled feta on top. Easiest side ever! I eat this almost daily for lunch.)
2 Large Bunches Green Kale (For soup, sauteed with olive oil, garlic & red chile flakes, and in salads)
1 Bunch Italian Parsley (For chimichurri marinade that I use on chicken, shrimp, and steak. I took pictures when I made it, so I'll post the recipe for you soon.)
2 Red Bell Peppers (For salad and sofrito.)
3 Red Onions (Sliced thinly and pickled to serve on tacos with the pulled brisket, also roasted in the oven along with root veggies, and diced into guacamole.)
1/2lb Satur Farms Brussels Sprouts (A local NY farm that grows amazing produce. Roasted in the oven with pancetta or bacon.)
1 lb Satur Farms Wild Arugula (For quick salads with olive oil and lemon, topped with pancetta or avocado, served alongside salmon or grilled chimichurri chicken)
4lbs Yellow Onions (For use in marinades, soups, sofrito, caramelizing…pretty much everything!)

Grocery
Dole Pineapple Juice (For cocktail recipes I'm working on for an article. Also for marinades and deglazing the pan after grilling the aforementioned chimichurri chicken. Eugene will probably just drink most of this unless I stop him.)
1 Quart Coconut Water (For drinking. Most amazing stuff ever.)
3 Cans Carnation Evaporated Milk (For making homemade Coquito--the Puerto Rican version of Egg Nog, and Christmas fudge to gift.)
2 cans Goya Coconut Milk (For coquito, coconut rice, and curry)
2 packages La Tortilla Factory Hand Made Style Corn Tortillas (My FAVORITE brand of tortillas! They're half corn and half flour, which makes them 100% delicious. For all the aforementioned tacos)
Rosa Mexicano Kitchen Corn Tortilla Chips (For guacamole.)
Spice Supreme Oregano (I was out of it. I use oregano in pretty much everything that I cook.)
2 Bags Stacy's Pita Chips--Simply Naked (These were on a 2 for 1 sale so I got a couple to keep in the pantry for snacks and last-minute company. Love these with hummus!)

12 Holiday Hostess Gift Ideas Under $40

1. Monogrammed bottle stopper: These might seem like a silly luxury, but they actually come in handy--especially after a party when a few half-full bottles remain and the corks and caps were accidentally swept up into the trash. Get one with your hosts initials, or buy a few to spell out a word like "LOVE" or "THANKS." $22, C. Wonder


2. Flour Sack Potholders: A set of cute potholders to help lift those hot baking dishes. These can also be used as trivets under hot serving platters. You can never have too many! $16, House 8810


3. Air Plant & Pod: I first learned about air plants during a Secret Santa gift exchange at my old office. Someone else had gotten it as a gift and I was terribly jealous. The delicate-looking plants are actually quite hardy and don't require a green thumb or soil. Just a few drops of water and they can grow in any number of clever looking planters, like this bright yellow wooden pod from Etsy.  $11, Etsy


4. Chocolate and Orange Panettone: Growing up in an Italian neighborhood in NJ, panettone was a common hostess gift. My dad would usually eat a few slices of it with tea or turn it into French toast for breakfast. This new chocolate chip version from Bauducco is a new favorite of mine. Incredibly moist, packed with chocolate, and just a hint of orange flavor. It's so good, Eugene and I ate it all in about 2 days. $7-$10, most major grocery or drug stores


5. Retro Cake Tin: This gorgeous retro style cake carrier and box is modeled after vintage English cake boxes. Fill it with your favorite coffee cake or a couple loaves of banana bread for the party hosts to enjoy the morning after the big bash. $39, Williams Sonoma

6. Cheese Knife: This one is supposed to look like a little mouse, but I think it looks like a little bird, too! Either way, it's inexpensive and totally adorable. I'd buy one of my favorite cheeses to gift along with this. $13, Modcloth.com


7. Gold 5-Piece Flatware Set: I've been dying for a set of gold flatware, and this affordable and elegant collection from West Elm is really lovely & festive. $29, West Elm


8. Teak Measuring Spoon Set: If you know the host is a baker, she'll definitely appreciate this gorgeous set of wooden measuring spoons that are pretty enough to leave hanging from a hook in the kitchen. She'll be sure to think of you next time she bakes up something delicious! $20, Merchant No. 4


9. Whiskey Stones: Pop these stones in the freezer and they'll keep your whiskey (or other beverage) cold without watering it down. Great gift for the bachelor host or the couple who enjoys fine spirits. $20, Uncommon Goods

10. Lillet Rose, St. Germain: Everyone brings wine to the party. Mix it up this year and bring your hosts a bottle of something a little more interesting. Like delicate Lillet Rose aperitif--their first new product in 50 years!--or, my own husband's favorite,  St. Germain elderflower liqueur.  In the mood to DIY it? Make them a bottle of Homemade Coquito--I promise you it'll be a hit! $20-$30


11. Patterned Bowl Set: A small set of pretty bowls is perfect for the ladylike host. She can use them for her breakfast cereal, as candy dishes, or even on her vanity to hold jewelry and other bits. $40, Modcloth.com


12. Retro Travel Dish Towel Set: Do your hosts have a bit of wanderlust? Get them a set of these kitchy retro style dish towels featuring midcentury-style travel imagery. $16, House 8810




How To Make Homemade Coconut Milk (from a fresh coconut!)

Coconut milk is one of my favorite ingredients. I usually buy it in bulk and use it in everything from smoothies and desserts to savory recipes like curry or light broths. Even though I use it, I admit that I'm not really a fan of the funky additives you can find in store-bought coconut milks. I bought an extra coconut the other day to use in a photo shoot, and while wondering what to do with it, I remembered my mom telling me stories about how my grandmother used to make coconut milk from scratch to use in her Puerto Rican dessert recipes.

It's a really easy process and takes mere minutes--especially now that we have access to the beautiful modern convenience that is the food processor. The results are especially lovely, with a strong and natural coconut flavor and aroma that is much different from the canned version.

NOTE: In this post I'll show you how to make the milk starting with a whole coconut, but you can also skip ahead and use a bag of unsweetened dried coconut, then begin from the food processor step!

Here's how you do it:

Start off with a fresh coconut. You want to use the brown "mature" coconuts, not the "young Thai" version. Choose a coconut that feels heavy for its size. You should also be able to hear the liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it. Also be sure to test the "eyes" by pressing on them; they should be hard without any give.

Once home, use a nail or screw to break through the eyes and drain out all the water inside--reserve this as you'll be using it in the recipe. You can then break the coconut open and remove the hard hairy brown outer shell. (Here is a great tutorial on how to open a coconut.)

The meat on the inside should be white with no yellow or moldy spots. Use a vegetable peeler to remove and discard the thin brown skin and cut the peeled meat into small chunks.

Combine the chunks of coconut in a food processor with the reserved coconut water plus two cups of boiling filtered water. (You can also use a strong blender or Vitamix for this step. No "Magic Bullets," please!) It's important that the water be very hot as that will help extract as much fat as possible from the coconut meat.

Puree the coconut and water for about 5 minutes. The coconut meat should be finely ground and frothy once ready.

Pour this into a fine sieve or a colander lined with a cheesecloth set over a large bowl.

Press down hard with a spatula or the back of a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid (I also just use my hands).

Once you have removed all the liquid, set the sieve with the shredded coconut aside (you can use this as-is in baking recipes or dry it to make homemade coconut flour).

The leftover liquid is your homemade coconut milk! You should have about 2 1/2 cups or so, depending on how moist your coconut was.

Use it right away, if desired, or transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Note that the lack of additives or emulsifiers will also mean that the coconut milk will separate in the fridge with the fat solidifying on top--this is a good thing! It's natural! You can heat it up slightly and stir it back together to use or just pop in a blender to emulsify into a creamy milk again.

And remember: Don't have a fresh coconut? You can also make coconut milk using frozen coconut or shredded dried coconut (the unsweetened kind) and follow the process from the food processor step.

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!


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