January 7, 2010 11:40 PM
Comfort me with Café de Olla (or Coffee from the Pot)

As we returned from our 10 day vacation to Mexico this December and walked out of the Dulles airport, I felt my bones freeze. Say what? I told my husband, I think I am turning around and catching the next flight back to Mexico.

Now we are home, with the heating so high it seems we moved to the Equator. And I admit that the cold and especially the snow, which I am watching right this minute through my kitchen window starting to magically fall from the night sky, is one of the things I love about living in the Eastern United States. We can experience the full change of seasons.

So instead of complaining, this is what I do: I take out my Piloncillo, or brown sugar, my bark of Ceylon or True cinnamon, some dark roasted coffee and make myself a Café de Olla.

The Café de Olla is one of the most comforting things I can think of. Not only for when its cold outside. It is also wonderful to soothe the end of a rich meal or to start a cold morning with some cookies or toast on the side, or rather, dipped inside the coffee.

It is called Café de Olla because for centuries it was prepared, and still is in some parts of Mexico and Mexican homes, in clay pots. Pot translates to Olla in Spanish, so that explains the funny translation to Coffee from the Pot. The clay pot imparts a peculiar earthy and deep flavor to the coffee. But if you don't have a clay pot, that should not stop you from making it. The combination of coffee with piloncillo or dark brown sugar and cinnamon is extraordinary by itself as well.

As I am gearing up for an exciting 2010 with fascinating topics to research and recipes to try and test for the next series of classes at the Institute, there is one thing I realize never ever changes in each single menu we offer: there is always Cafe de Olla after the end of the meal for our guests. Our regulars demand it. And me and my cooking team can't start the day without it.

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With the spirit of continuing to welcome 2010, from my cooking team and myself -we have been so lucky to have been together for almost three years- we wish you a delicious 2010 filled with Café de Olla to warm your soul, your belly, your cold mornings and late nights.

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Here I am holding on to one, for dear life, while the winter lasts...

Serves 6

9 cups water
6 tablespoons coarsely ground dark roasted coffee
4 oz piloncillo, or about 8 to 9 tablespoons grated (can substitute for dark brown sugar) and can add more or less to taste, depending on how sweet you like it
1 cinnamon stick

Heat water in a pot. When it comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat to low and add the coffee, piloncillo and cinnamon stick. Simmer for about 5 minutes, give it a couple stirs and turn off the heat. Let it sit covered for about 5 more minutes. Strain before serving with a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Or then again, pour into a french press, press down and serve.