Wednesday, December 31, 2014

5 lessons from 2014

Although every day is a great day to look back and learn from our past, I feel the end of the year provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect on our dreams, our accomplishments, and the goals that lie ahead. It’s also an ideal time to take a minute and reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, to find ways of implementing them in the times to come. They may say out with the old, and in with the new, but here are 5 lessons from 2014 I’d like all of us to carry on for years to come.

It’s all about that bass…
Whether you liked it or not, this was probably the hottest song of the summer/fall. But besides the catchy lyrics and the upbeat music, the song makes a really good point: be happy with who you are. Life is too short to waste it on body issues. I may be quite far from having a six pack, but I’m a really healthy and really happy man. Anything else is just icing on the cake. (Hmmmm. Cake…)

All lives are valuable
Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. These are the names of this year’s boy, teenager and man killed by police while being unarmed and black. It’s nothing new. Hopefully their blood was not spilled in vain, and it leads to a time when we value the lives of EVERYONE the SAME. It was equally outrageous to have officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu executed by a psycho. Once again, these tragedies only reinforce what my mama says: EVERY LIFE is PRECIOUS.

There’s no need to be cruel
When thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors crossed the Mexico-US border, some idiots went protesting and shouting at these kids, who fled severe violence in their countries. Even worst, there were allegations of cruel treatment at the immigration facilities they were detained at. The people opposing the (remote) possibility of these kids staying in the US had no need to be cruel to get their point across. They could’ve just called their legislators, or their senators, and state their opposition. The US had policies in place that were implemented, and the minor crisis was controlled.

Technology has its limits
We are an advance society; there’s no doubt about that. But even with all of our technology Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 just vanished during a routine flight, and we have not being able to locate the airplane (or its remains) yet. This tragedy reminded me to enjoy the technological advances I have access to, without over-depending on them. Also, won’t let any of my devises distract me from the actual people around me.

Don’t give in to fear
A horrible, horrible disease has killed many in Africa. The fear of a possible Ebola outbreak in the US left thousands terrified, and many actions were taken out of fear, not facts. It’s important to be cautious, but beware: acting on fear may makes us more vulnerable than safe.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas cookies

This year I’ve been seriously possessed by the holiday spirit, and like a Santa Claus, I’ve been all jolly, pretty much since Thanksgiving. There’s been impromptu caroling, some serious Christmas humming, and back-to-back-to-back sessions of “All I want for Christmas is you”-ing. I don’t think there’s a stop to my holiday madness. Of course, we all benefit from me being in a good mood, so maybe, and just maybe, this is God’s gift to the world this Christmas.

Not wanting to corrupt this nice feeling, I decided that this Christmas wouldn’t be about buying gifts. Instead, I’ll gift simple little things, most of which I’ve made myself. I’m not a particularly crafty guy, so I turned to consumable gifts, mostly cookies. I’m not an experienced cookie baker, but it I didn’t care. I’m persistent and I’m not afraid of a challenge.

Coconut macaroons
I started with coconut macaroons, the highest taste-to-work ratio of all the treats I could think of. The besitos de coco, or (little coconut kisses – as they are known there) can be found everywhere in Puerto Rico. Still, most people don’t even try making these at home ; it would be good to send home something familiar, but with all the love and specialness from the homemade touch. I followed a recipe I found at, and boy, was I glad; they turned out delicious. I did have to add about 5 more minutes to their recommended baking time, but they were glorious.

Raspberry and Mango thumbprint cookies
As far as I know, Thumbprints and Mexican wedding cookies share two names back home. Yes, two names shared by the two cookies: polvorones  and mantecaditos (dusty and lardy). I followed the recipe from the ‘90s cookbook Gifts from the Christmas Kitchen to the T, except for two things. I did not use cocoa, nor the chocolate. They turned out perfect! The recipe can also be found online at

Linzer cookies
To say that I made these cookies would be a total lie. The BF and one of our dear friends did all the hard work. I just added the powder sugar. The recipe “we” followed is from the now defunct Gourmet magazine, but it can be found at “Our version” was the same, except that we added chocolate to the raspberry filling (and they were so much better for it). The secret to these cookies is the ground hazelnuts used in the dough. They turned out so, so good!

With nothing else to say, I wish you all a merry, merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pollo al caldero dinner

I commute by bike during the warm months, and I drive during the cold ones. That’s the way I’ve done it for several years now. Not to sound too catastrophic nor pessimistic, but I know that if a cyclist will have an accident with either snow or black ice, it will be me. I know it. But somehow, I’ve been feeling guilty every time I see someone commuting by bike. I’m not sure what’s underneath that guilt, but it’s stupid and I need to stop it. I mean, what’s next feeling guilty over wearing boots and not sandals?

Thankfully, I know myself well enough to know that (sometimes) the best antidote for this kind of behavior is to try to displace my worries with the thoughts of happy memories. And since my happy thoughts seem to always be connected to food in one way or another, I slowly shifted towards the memories of my aunt’s pollo al caldero. Pollo al caldero is basically a whole chicken cooked in a caldero or Dutch oven, on the stove. It’s cooked with green cubanelle peppers, and it features the delicate and nutty taste of achiote (annatto), which also gives the chicken a beautiful color. This is probably one of the first dishes I learned to make. I loved it so much, that I developed a technique for making it in my dorm’s microwave. Let’s just say that if there is one thing I have in abundance, it’s determination.

This week I made a dinner inspired by pollo al caldero. I started by extracting the oils and colors from the achiote seeds in the Dutch oven. Instead of removing the seeds after the first couple of minutes, I kept them there to develop a smokier, deeper flavor. I sautéed onions, cubanelle and jalapeño peppers, garlic, and tomato paste in that oil. Then I added a seasoned whole chicken, breast side down, and covered the Dutch oven. It went to the oven to roast at 325F. After a half hour, I turned the chicken breast side up, and returned it to the over (covered) for an additional 20 minutes. Finally, I removed the lid and roasted uncovered an additional 15 minutes. 

There are significant differences between the pollo al caldero and what I did. The pollo al caldero does not have the stew base I made. It has the chicken, seasoned with ground achiote, and the cubanelle peppers. That’s it. And it does not go in the oven; it gets cooked on the stove. But I wanted something different. I wanted to use the juices of the chicken, and my stewing components to make a broth I could eat independently from the chicken as a “soup”. That soup is what actually carried all the pollo al caldero flavors. It was so damn good!

The chicken had the classic taste of a rotisserie chicken, with an added benefit: juiciness. This may well be one of the juiciest chicken you may ever have. That breast was to die for. Yumm. I tossed whole wheat noodles in the chicken broth and had them as a side. Oh my, were they delicious!

On the road shortcut:
1 small chicken (3-4 lb)
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons corn oil
1 teaspoon achiote (annatto) seeds
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 cubanelle pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon tomato paste

Whole wheat noodles

Preheat the oven to 325F.
Season the chicken with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and cumin. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, heat the corn oil over medium heat. Add the achiote seeds. The color will be extracted within 1-2 minutes. (At this point, you can either remove the seeds with a slotted spoon, or keep them to add a deeper, smoky flavor.) Add the onions, cubanelle and jalapeño peppers, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for an additional minute (stirring).

Add the chicken, breast side down. Cover the Dutch oven, and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and carefully turn the chicken breast side down. Cover, and return to the oven for an additional 20 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the chicken from the Dutch oven, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.

Boil the noodles according to the manufactures instructions. Use the juices from the chicken to coat the noodles.

Serve the chicken broth on its own with the onions and peppers, but leave the achiote seeds behind.