Sunday, November 26, 2017

Pura Vida....Travel Journey to Costa Rica and Green Plantain Ceviche


Nestled between Nicaragua to its north, and Panama to the southeast, and sharing two coastlines with the Pacific and the Caribbean lies the Republic of Costa Rica.  

With a 3-hour car ride from the Liberia airport to our first adventure in the Arenal region there was plenty of time to soak up the scenic landscape.  Miles of sugar cane and pineapple farms, long windy roads with twists and turns, and plenty of pot holes makes for a memorable ride.  A country flushed with rainforests, tropical fauna, active volcanoes, pristine coast lines, abundant wildlife its hard not to fall in love with Costa Rica.

Costa Ricans or "Ticos" as they commonly refer to themselves are friendly, warm and inviting. This country has a lot of soul.   Pura Vida (Pure Life) is a common expression often used to remind you to relax, and enjoy life.  It's an emotion, an attitude, its a way of life. 

No trip for us would be complete without enjoying the local cuisine.  We seek it out.  Strolling the town center at noon, we noticed a group of local workers surrounding several car trunks where lunch was being served.  Without hesitation we got into line and for about $8 for two we feasted on stewed chicken, Gallo Pinto (beans and rice), yucca, fried plantains, topped with a tangy cabbage slaw right out of pots in the car trunk. Score! A friendly local told me local cuisine include "beans and rice for breakfast, beans and rice for lunch and rice and beans for dinner".

A memorable side dish enjoyed with one lunch was a local ceviche made with green bananas. Fresh and simplistic, it was delightful. This dish stayed with me all the way home.  Green plantain has the texture of a white fish without well, the fish.   There are numerous ways to prepare this dish but, this is my crack at it.  So, next time you need a little summer in your winter or you are prepared to fire up the grill, or impress your friends with your pot luck dish... Here you go!




Green Plantain Ceviche (Ceviche de Plátano Verde)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2-3 green plantains (not ripe), cut in half
2 medium colorful bell peppers (red, yellow or orange), diced
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (or a high quality juice)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
In a medium sauce pan, bring water to a boil.  Place the halved unpeeled plantains in the pan and cook for approximately 20 minutes (you should see the peel coming away from the banana) or until the banana is still slightly firm.  Remove from the pan.  Set aside.  Cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the peppers, red onion, garlic cloves, lemon juice, orange juice, rice vinegar and cilantro.

Peel and dice the cooled bananas. Add to the other ingredients.  Toss. Chill for several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marinate.

Enjoy!






Saturday, November 11, 2017

Rural America....Southern Hospitality and Chicken Pot Pie

Life invariably provides twists and turns.  There is no avoiding them.   Through this bittersweet symphony of life we are usually in the midst of counting our blessings, and balancing our challenges.

My parents moved to a rural small town about 10 years ago.  Southern roots run deep in this town and weddings, new babies, and death are serious business. Word spreads like wildfire upon a death and the brigade team of hospitality assembles.  Since condolences can be difficult to express, there is always food, and a lot of it.  Soon after the first of many chicken pot pies and all the fixings arrive filled with kindness, comfort, and calories.  The southern casserole speaks volumes but mostly it is the call to "How can I help?"

In honor of the ultimate southern comfort food I present you with a traditional chicken pot pie made with generous chunks of chicken and vegetables, loaded with kindness, comfort and calories.





Deep Dish Southern Style Chicken Pot Pie
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
Homemade double pie crust or ready-made refrigerated pie crust
2lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into generous chunks
3 cups chicken stock
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 cup celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups frozen vegetable mix (green beans, carrots, peas and corn)
1 Tablespoon Herbs De Provence (blend of thyme, rosemary, marjoram and savory)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups Half and Half
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon of water for egg wash

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  In a 4-quart stock pot add the chicken broth and the chicken breasts. Bring to a simmer. Add cubed potato. Simmer until the chicken is no longer pink.  Remove the chicken and let cool.  Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon. Place aside.

With the remaining cooking liquid reserve 1-1/2 cups of broth in a large measuring cup.  Add half and half, herb seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

In the same pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery.  Sauté until vegetables are translucent-about 3-4 minutes.  Gradually add in the flour, and mix until well blended.  Gradually add in the broth mixture, lower the heat to simmer, and stir frequently until the broth is thickened.  Add the chicken and vegetables. Stir until well blended.  Set aside.

Line a deep dish pan (10-inches) with the first layer of the pie pastry.  Add mixture until it reaches the top.  Add second pie pastry, crimp and seal.  Brush top gently with egg wash.

Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy!


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cucumber Mint Martini

Autumn approaches slowly in north Florida with heat and humidity continuing to hang in the air like a wet blanket.

This in-between time is a perfect for a late summer cocktail.  All good cocktail starts with quality ingredients-No exceptions.  We scored an artisan gin from Austin, Texas called austin reserve from our older son.  A gin with soft botanicals and a very smooth finish.  A new favorite.

There are just a handful of ingredients in this cocktail so, get your shaker out, invite a good friend, put on music and enjoy.




Cucumber Mint Martini
Serves 1
Recipe from Fried Chicken and Champagne


Ingredients:
4 cucumber wheels (1/8 inch thick)
10 small mint leaves
1/4 ounce simple syrup (see recipe below)
2 ounces good quality gin
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 Grand Mariner

Garnish: Paper-thin slice of cucumber 

Recipe for Simple Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Mix water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir, mixing well.  Bring the mixture to a boil. stirring frequently.  When the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from heat.

Let the mixture cool completely.  Place in a container and refrigerator.  Keeps up to a month in the refrigerator.

Directions:
Muddle 4 cucumber wheels and mint leaves in a shaker.  Add the simple syrup. gin, lime juice, and Grand Marnier  Add ice to fill shaker.  Shake and strain into a martini glass; float the paper-thin cucumber slice on top.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hurricane Irma's Baked Spaghetti


 A wild weather week for Florida! With time to prepare, evacuate, get out of the way, shelter in place or some combination there remains the stress of waiting and anticipating.  Mother Nature can be incredibly generous and she can be equally devastating.  This month alone Harvey doused Texas and Louisiana, and Irma exploded on the scene to wreck havoc on the peninsula of Florida.  Last year, almost on the same date we experienced hurricane Hermine.  Hate to think this is the new normal as storms are becoming bigger and stronger during hurricane season due to the warming of the ocean waters which is fuel for these storm systems.

During times of stress it is in our nature to find solace in traditional comfort foods.  While we waited and prepared for Irma's arrival a craving was building for an EPIC comfort meal to feed the family, or a crowd.  The dish was baked spaghetti and my friends there is no finer comfort.

The recipe below is my take on baked spaghetti but certainly you can change this recipe up as you like and I am sure it will be delicious.



Hurricane Irma's Baked Spaghetti
Serves a crowd  
(makes a 9x13 pan with generous portions)



Ingredients:
1lb. Thin spaghetti
2 jars (24 ounces) good quality Marinara Sauce
1lb. lean ground beef
Olive oil for cooking
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
16 ounces 4% small curd cottage cheese or Ricotta cheese (I prefer cottage cheese)
3-4 cups Mozzarella Cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot of boiling water add spaghetti and cook according to package directions.  Drain.  Return to cooking pot and add one jar of marinara sauce. Toss. Set aside.

While the spaghetti is cooking,  heat a large pan with a drizzling of olive oil.  Add chopped onion, sauté until translucent.  Add minced garlic, sauté for another minute.  Add Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Blend with other ingredients. Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink.  Add second jar of marinara sauce. Cook another couple of minutes. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, add cottage cheese or ricotta cheese with 1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Blend.  Set aside.

In a 9x13 baking pan add a layer of sauce, then spaghetti, then cheese mixture and repeat the layers ending with the sauce.   Top with mozzarella cheese and bake 30-35 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

Enjoy!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Dirt to Table Experiences: Baked Turkey Chiles Rellenos

This time of year our garden is an untamed jungle.  Heat and humidity have taken their toll on our summer vegetables, and the weed Gods have blessed the foot high grasses, and welcomed the natural pests of the vegetable garden.  As we hack our way through the garden standing tall and proud are the poblano peppers, vibrant and thriving in the heat.  An under appreciated mild smoky pepper often found in Mexican and American Southwest cuisine.  These peppers can range in flavor intensity (occasionally these peppers can provide a surprise heat) but, mostly they deliver mild heat with a smoky almost sweet flavor.  Ideal for roasting, baking and stuffing.  



A favorite dish using poblano peppers is Chile Rellenos.  In this dish turkey is used instead of beef and the poblanos are roasted in the oven before stuffing and baking.  This dish can be made in about an hour and serves as a delicious weeknight meal.  Also freezes well to enjoy later.


Baked Turkey Chiles Rellenos
Serves 4
Adapted from Hello Fresh


Ingredients:
4 poblano peppers
1 -1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1-1/2 tablespoons chicken based concentrate or 1 cup chicken stock
1 cup jasmine or basmati rice
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 Tablespoons good quality southwest spice blend
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon Chipotle spice 
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add chicken stock concentrate (note: If using chicken stock use in lieu of water). Halve the poblano peppers lengthwise.  Remove seeds and ribs.  Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place on a baking sheet. Roast until soft.  About 20-25 minutes.

Add rice to boiling stock.  Cover, simmer, and cook until tender (15-20 minutes).

In a separate large skillet, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and jalapeño.  Cook until soft.  Add Southwest seasoning and turkey (breaking up the meat as it cooks).  Cook until the turkey is no longer pink.  Season withs alt and pepper.  Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, stir together crushed tomatoes and 1/2 cup water.  Add more Southwest seasoning and Chipotle spice. Bring to a simmer.  Season with salt and pepper.

When the rice is done cooking, add to the pan with filling.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add additional chipotle and southwest seasoning, if desired.  If your pan is not ovenproof transfer mixture to a small baking dish.  Stuff poblanos with as much filling as possible.  Return to pan, nestling in remaining unused filling.

Add sauce over stuffed poblanos.  Cover with cheese.  Bake in oven until cheese melts.  Serve.

Enjoy!




Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Weeknight Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo is perhaps the dish that most represents Louisiana and its Creole-Cajun heritage.  A fine gift to American cooking. 

An authentic gumbo takes time.  A lot of time to prepare.  Depending on the cook's preference a pot of gumbo can include a variety of ingredients from crawfish, sausage (especially andouille), oysters, duck, pork shoulder, poultry, tomatoes. The list goes on and on.

During the week there is no time to make an authentic gumbo happen but, here is a respectable version of gumbo you can make happen in under an hour, and everyone will be happy.



Weeknight Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
Serves 4
Adapted from Sara Moulton


Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1lb. chicken breast tenders, cut into 1-inch thick pieces
8-ounces fully cooked smoked sausage (Andouille or any other smoked sausage), sliced
3-4 Tablespoons Creole Seasoning
4 cups chicken stock
1-10 ounce frozen cut okra
Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper

Cooked white rice as an accompaniment

Directions:
To make the roux, heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add flour and cook, whisking occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown, and smells like popcorn.

While the roux is cooking, chop the red and green bell pepper, celery, and onion and place them in a bowl.  Press the garlic into the mixture.  Add the chopped vegetables to the roux and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  The roux will clump o the vegetables, but it will disappear into the sauce once the chicken stock is added.

Add the Creole Seasoning to the roux mixture and cook, stirring about a minute.  Gradually stir in the chicken stock and 1/2 cup water, whisking until smooth; bring the mixture to a simmer.

Add the chicken to the sauce and cook for about 5 minutes.  Add the sausage and okra and cook until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over rice.

Enjoy!



SaveSave

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Savoring the Season: Refrigerator Cucumber Salad


Preserving the seasons bounty does not have to be all consuming.  It can be simple with delicious results.

Late spring when the cucumbers in the north Florida garden are coming in faster than can be consumed or shared with friends is the signal to make a batch of refrigerator cucumbers.  You need only a few ingredients, a couple clean glass jars, and storage space in your refrigerator for the next couple of months or probably less, since this cucumber salad does not last long.

This time jalapeños peppers were used in my batch rather than bell peppers to provide a spicy sweet kick to my salad.  Also, don't get caught up in the amount of sugar in the recipe. Unless, you plan on drinking the brine much of this sugar is not consumed.  The sugar is used to reduce the acidic nature of the vinegar and to provide a slightly sweeter salad. 

The tangy sweet cucumber salad pairs well with grilled meats, pulled pork or in your lunch bag.  Also, perfect for pot luck or as a hostess gift.

This refrigerator cucumber salad is guaranteed fresh for a couple of months when stored properly. 





The jars below represent my extra-large batch.  Our family and friends will continue to enjoy the garden fresh cucumber salad throughout the summer.   No doubt before the season is over there will be another large batch to take us into the early fall months.



 Refrigerator Cucumber Salad
Makes 2 quarts


Ingredients:
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1- 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon celery seed
1 tablespoon mustard seed
5-7 large cucumbers, washed and thinly sliced
2-3 fresh garlic cloves
1 medium red onion, peeled and halved, thinly sliced
1 green or red bell pepper seeded, and thinly sliced (note: you can use a hot pepper like jalapeño to make a spicy sweet vinegar)

Directions:
In a medium saucepan place the vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed, and mustard seed. Bring to a simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside and let cool.

In a large bowl, mix the cucumbers, onion, and peppers. Set aside.

Pack and layer cucumber, onion and pepper in clean mason jars or other glass container. Add garlic clove(s).

Pour vinegar to rim of jar.  Close (tighten) lid. Place in the refrigerator.

Note: Stays fresh for about two months.

Enjoy!