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!