Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Holidays, Schmolidays: Bring On the Cola de Mono!

I love my neighborhood. Depending on the day, you can walk its tree-lined streets and catch the scent of smoke from barbecues and smokers wafting along the breeze. Other days the aromas of roasting chiles or the curry-like scents of Fijian cooking or the rich sauces of Chile will be brought to your nose. Let me tell you, it's more than once I've been known to shamelessly peer over the fence to comment on how delicious it smells, hoping the cook will get the hint and give me a bite.

We have an ongoing food-fest with our neighbors Kelly and Rodrigo. Kelly, a Texan, makes fabulous southern specialties like a deadly but irresistible Chess Pie, a little thing consisting of eggs, sugar, butter and more sugar. And more butter. And sugar. Rodrigo hails from Chile and treats us to Chilean delights like pastel de choclo (a beef and corn casserole) and chanco en piedra (tomato salsa served with bread).

Rodrigo had been talking about bringing over a Chilean holiday drink called Cola de Mono or Tail of a Monkey, a creamy, milk-based concoction laced with a goodly amount of pisco that tastes to me like a heady Bailey's. Pisco is a grape brandy that's made in the wine-growing regions of Chile and Peru. I'd only had it in cocktails like the Pisco Sour or, more recently, in the As You Like It, Dave Shenaut's creation featured as a special at Raven & Rose.

We'd scheduled a wine-and-snacks meetup here at the house with Kelly and Rodrigo, and when I opened the door and saw them bearing a full bottle labeled "Cola de Mono" in lacy script, I grabbed it, slammed the door and ran upstairs to slurp it in private. (Just kidding!)

After a few sips I begged for the recipe, and Rodrigo obliged. Cheers to terrific neighbors and sharing native libations!

Cola de Mono (Tail of a Monkey)

This is a traditional Chilean Christmas drink, usually served cold.

3 qts. whole milk
4 c. of sugar
Peel of an orange (about 1" wide by 2" long)
4 cloves
A pinch of nutmeg
1 stick of cinnamon
2 Tbsp. freshly ground coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 qt. Aguardiente*, grappa** or pisco

Boil milk with sugar, orange skin, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Once the milk has come to a boil, remove from stove and add the coffee and vanilla extract and stir constantly for about 5 to ten minutes or until the coffee dissolves as much as possible.

Once the mixture is cold, filter it (paper filters work best) or use a really fine colander with a paper towel. Add the spirit and pour into bottles with tight lids. Place in refrigerator and let it sit for a couple of days before serving. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Shake well before opening. Serve cold, over ice if desired (though not traditional). Can be garnished with a cinnamon stick or a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.

* Aguardiente is a denomination of spirits that can range from vodka to sugar cane based, so the name is given not because of the source, but the alcohol content, which can be upwards of 120 proof alcohol. In Chile, Aguardiente is made from grapes and the alcohol content is usually somewhere between 45-55% (above 55% is illegal). Because aguardiente is a very generic term and the actual product and alcohol content varies from region to region, I suggest using a grape spirit such as grappa or pisco, preferably between 45-50% alcohol.

** Grappa, like champagne, is a spirit produced from grapes and can only be called grappa if it complies with certain requirements, such as being produced in a certain region of Italy. That’s why substituting it with a grape-based spirit like pisco can lower the cost considerably.

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