The Island Rum Incident (Or How to Make Pina Colada Cupcakes)

When I was 13, my dad and I went to the Bahamas for Spring Break. Our first night there, we heard a delightful reggae sound coming from the bar. Unable to pass up a live performance, we stopped by to check it out. When our waitress came by to get our order, my dad ordered a glass of wine, and I attempted to order a virgin pina colada. The waitress scowled and replied in a thick accent, “It’s the same price without alcohol.”

“That’s OK. I don’t need the rum,” I replied.

“But it’s the same price,” she insisted. This went on for quite a while until I finally requested a Sprite instead of the Pina Colada I actually wanted. I mean, I was 13 and didn’t look a day older than that from the neck up. I was rocking braces with florescent pink rubber bands. You know the kind that make you look like you have an entire pack of Hubba Bubba stuck in your teeth? Yeah, I had those. I also had the bad braids you pay for on the beach. I was clearly nowhere near the legal drinking age anywhere in the world, but she didn’t seem to notice or care. My dad was so amused by the entire exchange that he never intervened. He probably would have stopped her from bringing me a hurricane glass brimming with rum if she had won the battle of the wills, but he was too busy chuckling over the whole thing to get involved. Plus, I’m not one to be pushed around. Never was.

We later figured out the entire altercation was because rum is so cheap in the islands that it’s less expensive than drink mixers or soda. It’s common for island bars to increase the amount of rum in cocktails because it’s practically less expensive than the ice in the glass.

So anyway, I didn’t get my fruity drink that night and rather grudgingly sipped on my Sprite before choking down what was easily the most chewy conch dinner ever served to anyone.

Now I’d happily have a nice Bahamian lady over serve me, but I’m a long way from the islands. Sure southern California doesn’t completely suck, but there isn’t anyone with dreads playing the steel drums in my lobby, and I’m a long way from feeling irie. Or whatever.

To capture a little of the island feel amidst the smog and haze of Hollywood today, I put on some vintage Jimmy Cliff tunes and whipped up pina colada cupcakes.

These pina colada cupcakes are so good I almost forgot I was in the land of smog and traffic. Almost.

Here’s the recipe in case your weather is making you want to run away to warmer places where they’ll try to get your kids drunk to the sound of steel drums.

Pina Colada Cupcakes

2 ½ C flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ C butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 C brown sugar
1 C cream of coconut
2 tsp coconut extract
½ C chopped pineapple

Makes 24

Preheat the oven to 350. Place liners in the cupcake pans.

Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a medium bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add coconut extract and blend.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix to blend. Add the cream of coconut and mix to blend. Add the remaining half of the dry ingredients and blend. Add the pineapple and mix thoroughly.

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

2, 8 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
½ C butter, room temperature
3/4 tsp coconut extract
2-3 C powdered sugar, sifted

Cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the coconut extract and mix thoroughly. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and mix. Add additional sugar by ¼ cupfuls until the frosting reaches desired sweetness and consistency.

Garnish cupcakes with toasted coconut, maraschino cherries, and candied pineapple.

Note: I prefer to toast the coconut in a frying pan over medium heat because it’s too easy to forget about it in the oven. I also find it easier to control the heat on the burner, but that’s just me.

Too Tired to Write Up a Real Recipe (Or How to Make a Mojito)

Today my apartment and I are recovering from a midsized dinner party. This basically means my dishwasher and I are working overtime to remove the remnants of pork carnitas from the plates while listening to Patsy Cline and fantasizing about naps.

I promise I’ll post the recipes for the salsa verde, the slow cooker cola carnitas, and the guacamole next week, but I’m just not ready to do it now. See, I was so busy mixing drinks, frosting cupcakes, making rice, and talking and whatnot that I totally forgot to photograph the food I served. (Oops!) I’m going to repeat the menu for another dinner party on Friday (different dinner guests, obviously), so I’ll have a second shot at a food photo shoot then.

So anyway, today I’m going to tell you how I made the mojitos — partly because I’m just too tired to get into anything more elaborate and partly because a few of my friends asked for the recipe. If you’re wondering why I’m so particularly tired today it’s probably because I didn’t go to bed until well after midnight and then a certain impetuous puppy woke me up at 6 am to take him out…. He has no regard for my exhaustion because he sleeps all day long. Well, that is when he’s not trying to crawl into the lap of an unsuspecting dinner guest, pretending he’s a 65-pound lap dog. (I digress.)

Back to the mojitos. Mojitos are possibly my favorite thing ever, but they can go so terribly wrong that I rarely order them in restaurants and I NEVER order them in Vegas because I swear they make them with Sprite there. This is why I had to figure out how to make them on my own. (Note: the proper method does not involve Sprite. Lemons do not belong anywhere near a mojito. Ever.)

There are two ways I make them, and I outline them both below. I personally prefer the powdered sugar method, but that’s just me. I think the slight grittiness of the sugar helps to release the juice from the mint during the muddling process, and the increased surface area (compared with regular sugar) aids in the proper absorption into the drink. Enough with the chemistry lesson, though, and on with the drinking. The recipe is below.

Mojito Recipe

10 large mint leaves
2 T of powdered sugar (or 2 T of simple syrup)
2 ounces of fresh lime juice (from one medium lime)
8 ounces of soda water (1 cup)
3 ounces of white rum

Tear the mint leaves in half. Place them in the bottom of a sturdy glass or a cocktail shaker. Add either 2 T of simple syrup or 2 T of powdered sugar. Using a muddler (or the end of a wooden spoon), muddle/smash the mint leaves to release the flavor.

Squeeze the fresh lime juice into the glass. Add rum. Pour in soda water. Place ice cubes in a serving glass, and pour the contents of the cocktail shaker (or mixing glass) into the serving glass.

Drink. Smile. Repeat.

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*Simple Syrup Recipe

1 C water

1 C sugar

Pour the sugar and water into a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Cool.