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Monday, April 14, 2014

Cooking Off the Prairie

If I say the words, “cinnamon chicken” what comes to mind?

If you’re over 35, I would be willing to bet money that you are thinking of a certain episode of Little House on the Prairie.  You know the one I’m talking about.  A handsome young man, Almanzo Wilder, moves into town.  Predatory villain Nellie Oleson sets her sights on him and offers to cook him dinner at her new restaurant.  She asks him what his favorite dish is and he replies, “Cinnamon chicken.”  The problem is that Nellie can’t cook and is now in a pickle.   The show’s protagonist, and Nellie’s arch-rival, Laura Ingalls offers to cook the meal for Nellie.  Unfortunately for Nellie, Laura has her own agenda.  She has the hots for Almanzo as well.  Before she goes off to cook the meal, she grabs a can of cayenne pepper from her mother’s spice rack and tears off the label so no one knows it’s not cinnamon.  While cooking the chicken she ponders if she has put enough cinnamon on it, and Nellie tells her, “Then put more.”  Laura obeys.  The chicken is served and hilarity ensues.

The best punch line is that years later after Almanzo and Laura are married, Laura serves him a new chicken recipe made with lemons and tarragon.  The dish is just too strange and exotic for him and he just can’t bring himself to eat it.  He mutters under his breath, “I think I like your cinnamon chicken better.”

Little House was a show I loved to hate.  As a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, I hated the way the way the show interpreted them and changed entire chunks of Laura’s life and story.  I watched the show just to rage about how historically and factually inaccurate it was.  I also watched it because like Laura and Nellie, I too had a massive crush on the handsome Almanzo.  I might have been a bit too young for hormones, but if I had any, they would be raging for that handsome blond hunk in his tight pants.  I would gladly cook Dean Butler all the cinnamon chicken he wants and I wouldn’t play any mean jokes.

There are a few obstacles that stop me from doing this.  The first is that Dean Butler lives on the other side of the country, has no idea who I am, and we’re both married.  (Besides, recent photos I have seen of him tell me he hasn’t aged all that well – unlike me who has just become so much hotter over time and my husband is way cuter at this point.)  The other is that I have no idea what cinnamon chicken is. 
 
I don’t know why after all of these years I suddenly started thinking of cinnamon chicken and what could possibly go in it.  All I know is that once the memory popped back into my head, I realized I had to either find out if there is some kind of vintage recipe out there for cinnamon chicken or invent one myself.
The internet is filled with women who still remember this episode of LHOP and are making their own versions, but as far as I can tell, there is no nineteenth century authentic recipe out there.  I had to make my own.

I'm not sure Laura would approve of my new recipe.  I made a marinade of bourbon (Laura would never use that), cinnamon, honey, garlic, lemon, and…wait for it…cayenne pepper!  I left some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in that overnight.  I cooked them very simply in a pan and boiled the marinade to make a sauce. I would love to make this with whole chicken pieces in the future when I have a little more time.

Chicken came out super tender from the marinade, smelled heavenly while cooking, and had great flavor.  Love that mahogany glaze (a euphamism for "slightly burned"?)



Cinnamon Chicken for the Modern Age

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 2 Tbl lemon juice
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
Mix bourbon, lemon juice, honey, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon in reactive bowl.  Whisk in 2 tablesppons of the olive oil.  Place chicken breasts in the marinade and refrigerate several hours or overnight. 

Remove chicken breasts from marinade.  Put marinade in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan.  Place the chicken in the oil and brown well on both sides, about 5-7 minutes per side.  Add marinade to the pan and continue cooking another 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

7 Years of The Essential Rhubarb Pie (Now With Cassoulet)

I have to start this blog by wishing The Essential Rhubarb Pie a happy birthday.  It has been exactly 7 years since my first post.  I can't believe I have been around this long.  I do love having this blog.  I love having a recipe archive of my ideas.  I love being able to review publicly my food experiences. Most of all, I love the friends I have made in the food blogging world.


There is a new term out there in the food world these days.  It’s called “food gentrification”.  It relates to the fact that once a food that was once the territory of the lower socioeconomic classes becomes trendy, it becomes expensive and soon only those higher on the socioeconomic ladder can afford it.  Think of food like short ribs, quinoa, kale, and most recently collard greens.  Prices for these items has skyrocketed due to demand from privileged foodies.  

I don’t think food gentrification is anything new.  Dishes that were considered “peasant food” in other countries are seen as exotic and high-end by American foodies.  What does an American pay for osso bucco at an Italian restaurant?  How about coq au vin?  What a European peasant might have seen as an economic, one-pot meal designed to make the most of tough meats and a lack of time to spend fussing over the stove, has become haute cuisine for contemporary Americans.  Who is home for hours at a stretch to cook a stew or a pot of dried beans?  What if you can’t afford a slow cooker?

I didn’t mean for this post to sound too political, but I couldn’t help thinking of these things as I made my very first cassoulet this weekend.  Somewhere in a farmhouse in the French countryside, a farmer’s wife throws her homegrown beans in a pot, she stews some tough cuts of pork in a bottle of plonk from a neighboring vineyard, and she throws in some duck confit that she made herself from the ducks in her backyard pond.  Maybe I’m romanticizing it a bit, but the idea is that a cassoulet was once a dish made from foods that were readily available, chosen for their flavor, and not meant to be expensive. 

Since I started experimenting with cooking my own beans last year I have wanted to try my hand at cassoulet.  I began compiling recipes and ideas for how I could make it myself. 

Making cassoulet is no simple feat for a suburban dwelling, full-time-employed American.  It is no cheap feat either.  One issue I bump up against is the ever-present duck confit.  That is not an easy ingredient to find.  None of the stores near my house carry it.  There are two sources in the city where I can buy it.  One sells it for $8 a leg and another sells it for $13 a leg.  The cheaper of the two stores tends to run out.  As luck would have it, the cheaper store had only one left, so I had to buy the other three at the more expensive store.  That's another factor that gentrifies cuisine.  I have been told that even though plenty of French home cooks don't regularly make their own duck confit, it's easily and cheaply available in all markets.  Also, to make the dish feel more authentic, I used imported cannellini beans.  I made the pork stew with loin because it's hard to get small amounts of shoulder unless you have access to a butcher willing to cut up just a pound of shoulder for you.  

With all that in mind, I started on.  I cooked my beans with herbs and fatback.  I stewed pork loin in wine, chicken stock, tomatoes, and garlic.  I browned some hot turkey sausages and threw them in the pot with duck confit legs, pork stew, and the beans.  That went into the oven for two hours before I covered it with buttery breadcrumbs and put it in another five minutes.  

I didn't cook everything in one pot.  I used a stock pot for my beans, a sauté pan for my pork, and put everything together in my Romertopf clay pot.  Not very French, but it worked for me.




My duck fell off the bones while I was serving and so I have that unattractive bone sitting in the pot for this photo.  

I thought my cassoulet was a bit dry.  At least it wasn't soupy.  

(dis)Ordered Cassoulet

For Beans

  • 1 pound cannellini or other white beans
  • 7 cups of water
  • 3" piece of fat back
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

Carefully sort through beans for unwanted debris.  Soak beans in water overnight.  Drain and add 7 cups of fresh water, onion, garlic, herbs, and fat back.  Bring pot to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook about an hour or until beans are tender.  Remove the onion, garlic, and fatback.  Remove the stems of the herb sprigs.

For pork stew

  • 2 Tbl duck fat or olive oil
  • 2 oz. pancetta, cut into small pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds pork loin (or shoulder) cut into chunks
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups of chicken broth

Heat the fat or the oil in a large pan.  Add the pancetta and cook until crisp.  Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the carrots and celery and cook until they take on some color.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Remove from pan and cook the pork chunks until they are browned on the outside.  Add the vegetables back to the pan with the wine, tomatoes, and chicken broth.  Simmer for about an hour.

For final assembly

  • 4 duck confit legs
  • 4-6 turkey (or preferred meat) spicy sausage
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbl butter

Brown the sausage on all sides.  Gently heat the confit legs.  Place about a third of the beans at the bottom of a casserole, dutch oven, or clay pot.  Place the legs on top.  Place another third of the beans on top and pour the pork stew over it.  Place another third of the beans on top and nestle in the sausages.

If you aren't using a terra cotta pot, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  If you are using a terra-cotta pot, soak it in water, put it in a cold oven and bring the temperature to 350 degrees.

Cook for about two hours.  While it is cooking, heat the butter in a pan and add the breadcrumbs.  Cook until crispy and buttery.  Cover the top of the cassoulet with the breadcrumbs and cook and additional 15 minutes.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Essential Rhubarb Pie's Biggest Sugar High Yet

I’ll start this post with a joyful announcement about something completely unrelated to the main post topic. 

Hmmm…”Joyful announcement” sounds like something else entirely doesn’t it?  Like something not related to food.  Let’s tone this down a bit.  I had a very happy food occurrence.  

Last week we had  Mardi Gras/Carnivale/Shrove Tuesday/Day Before Ash Wednesday.  Various types of fried pastries and leavened breads are what many folks like to chow down on prior to Lent. Some people do pancakes. I know that doughnuts and fasnachts are popular because they require leavening.  I don’t know where the pancake thing comes from.  All I know is I jokingly asked Sir Pickypants if he wanted pancakes for dinner Tuesday night and he jumped all over it.  

Taking aside the fact that I’m not one of those people who thinks eating breakfast for dinner is the greatest thing ever (I’m just not all that enamored of breakfast foods that I want to eat them all of the time), I am also terrible at making pancakes.  

That’s not true.  I’m not always terrible.  Sometimes it’s okay.  It’s just I never know whenever I make pancakes if they will be good pancakes or bad pancakes.

I made the pancakes.  They were the best pancakes I ever made.  They were thick and super-fluffy and sweet and studded with blueberries.  They gave me hope that I will continue to make good pancakes in the future.  

But that’s not what this post is supposed to be about.

If I were to list the main guidelines for the (dis)Ordered kitchen, there would be three.  The first is that the best foods are made with high-quality ingredients and that I shouldn’t skimp on what I use in my recipes if it can be avoided.  The second is that homemade food always tastes better than shortcuts.  The more love and effort that goes into a dish, the better it tastes.  The third is I do try to aim for good nutrition.  Sure I like to make junkier foods for certain occasions, but usually I’m all about fresh, unprocessed foods.

I threw most of that out the window this weekend.

Periodically my theater group has Open Mike nights as a fundraiser.  They’re not any big production.  People just come into the hall, pay $5, and if they wish to perform, sign up for a time slot.  Sometimes I get up and sing.  I am almost always the emcee. This time I didn't just sing, but did a duet with SPP.  We sang "Falling Slowly" from the movie and musical Once

Since we need to raise as much money as possible, we also sell snacks, soda, and coffee.  We will resell store-bought stuff, but those of us who want to bake are always greatly appreciated.  I try to bake every time.  

I wanted to do something different this time around.  I have done homemade chocolate chip cookies in the past, but everyone does chocolate chip cookies.  I wanted to make something that would raise a few eyebrows.  I wanted to stand out in the middle of a generic food table.  

I ended up inventing these bars.  They are not nutritious, they contain tons of white sugar and processed ingredients, and they contain a shortcut or two.  They were also such a popular item at the open mike night that I don't think I saw an single person in the crowd not eating one.

I started with pretzels.  I learned a long time ago pretzels make a great crust.  I crushed a bag of pretzels and mixed them with butter and sugar.  I baked them up and had my base.

Next I cooked up a batch of caramel.  I suppose if I really wanted to “cheat”, I could have used a jar of caramel sauce.  I find it’s easy enough to make, so I cooked up a batch and let it cool enough to spread over the crust without soaking into the pretzel layer.I covered that caramel with a bag of shredded sweetened coconut.  

Finally I added a layer of fudge.  This wasn’t the slow-stirred corn syrup kind.  This was simply a bag of chocolate chips and a can of condensed milk.  Then I topped the fudge with toasted, salted pecans for a little extra texture and flavor.

I had no idea what to call these bars. At first I thought I should call them Calorie & Cavity Bars, since there is so much sugar that they would provide plenty of the former and give you the latter.  I wasn’t sure if that would hold much appeaI for people considering eating them.  I considered just saying what’s in them and calling them Pretzel-Caramel-Coconut-Fudge-Pecan Bars.  That was just too much of a mouthful.  I thought about calling them German Chocolate Pretzel Bars because they contain caramel, chocolate, coconut, and pecans, but German Chocolate treats should have the pecans in the same layer as the caramel, no?  I finally decided on Five-Layer Pretzel Bars.  It worked as well as anything else.

Five Layer Pretzel Bars

For Crust
  • 4 cups mini pretzels
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray the bottom of a 9"x13" pan with cooking spray.  Line with foil leaving an overhang on the sides.  Spray foil.

Crush pretzels into crumbs in a food processor. Combine crushed pretzels with sugar and butter. Press pretzel mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan to form a crust. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Set aside to cool.

For Caramel Coconut Layer
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 Tbl butter
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
In a small saucepan heat sugar over medium heat.  Give the pot an occasional swirl and a stir to evenly distribute melting process.  If crystals form on the side of the pot, wash them down with a brush dipped in cold water.  Heat until all sugar is melted and is a dark amber color.  Stir in butter.  Remove from heat and stir in cream and salt.

Cool the caramel until is is no longer a thin liquid, but is still soft and pourable.  When cool, spread over crust and cover with coconut.

For Fudge Pecan Layer
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • Dash salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and lightly sprinkled with salt.
Heat chips, milk, and salt in a small saucepan until chocolate is melted.  Stir in vanilla.  .

Quickly spread the fudge over the top of the caramel and coconut layer.  Press pecans into the fudge.

Refrigerate until set.  Use the foil to lift the bars out of the pan and cut into squares.  Keep cold or the top layers will separate too easily from the base.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Little Fusion Once Again Inspired By My Trip

Some folks (normal people) have their food cravings according to the weather.  When the temperature drops, many of my blogging buddies talk of how fall and winter turn their minds to thoughts of soups and stews.  On the other hand, summer makes them crave foods that are fresh and light.  Anyone who reads TERP regularly knows that I am not like that at all.  I crave the most inappropriate foods at the wrong times of year.  I make ice cream in January and fried chicken in July.  My appetite just wants what it wants no matter what the calendar or the weather tell me.

This winter seems to have set me straight though. I am suffering as much as anyone else on the east coast with the never-ending frigid temperatures and near-constant snow.   A few weeks ago I began having an intense craving for pot roast.  I couldn't get images of slow-cooked beef in a savory sauce out of my head. When the craving first hit, I told myself I would put it on next week's menu.  Then I realized "next week" week would be the week I was in Costa Rica and I would be likely be eating those light, fresh, summer foods normal people crave in hot weather.  The pot roast idea had to be shelved.

I returned from Costa Rica only to find that the fierce winter was still raging on.  My cravings for pot roast still hadn't abated.  What also hadn't abated was my desire to keep eating the fresh and spicy flavors of Latin America.  I decided to combine the two into one recipe.  I made a dish that bridged the best of the two extremes.

My pot roast was cooked with tomatoes, hot peppers, and some intense spices.  I finished it with cilantro and lime juice.  I served it with my version of a Costa Rican gallo pinto on the side.  I call the dish Mexican because I don't know what else to call it.  I apologize to Mexicans.


I am not heartless.  I threw a couple bone-in chicken breasts into the pot as well so Sir Pickypants could partake of dinner that night.

I really don't need to share a full recipe for the gallo pinto.  I cooked an onion and some garlic, added cilantro, lime juice, and a can of black beans.  I mixed that up with cooked rice.  Very easy.

This would also be good shredded up and made into tacos.  Buy some tortillas and enjoy.

Mexican Style Pot Roast

Ingredients
  • 1 4-5 pound beef chuck roast
  • 1 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for sprinkling plus additional to taste at the end
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeño or other hot green peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 handful chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Rub the meat well with salt and pepper.  Place into the hot oil and brown it well all over.  Remove from the pot.

Add the onions and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the hot peppers.  Add the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and paprika and stir to coat well.  The mixture should be very fragrant.  Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.  Stir in the tomatoes and make sure all flavors are integrated.  Add more salt to taste.  

Return the meat to the pot.  Cover the pot and place in the oven for about three hours, or until the meat is very tender.  

Remove the meat from the pot and let sit for a few minutes.  Stir the lime juice and cilantro into the sauce.  Slice the meat and serve with lots of sauce.  (Alternately shred the meat and serve rolled up in corn tortillas and your favorite taco toppings.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Easy Weeknight Soup

I have to transition away from vacation-style food eventually (although I do have another inspired recipe up my sleeve for later this week).  I'm still trying to lighten things up a bit since some of that weight I lost last year is creeping back on and I need to back off the heavy meals and the sweet snacks.  With winter being so brutal this year, what could be more satisfying than a bowl of soup?

For this soup I headed out of the western hemisphere and went back to my Italian roots.  I was inspired to make this after I had a bunch of leftover basil in my fridge that I wanted to use up before it went bad.  I thought about how nice a bowl of tomato-basil soup would be - something inspired by an Italian grandmother's signature pasta dish.  I know tomato soup isn't the most original dish in the world and I almost decided it wasn't TERP-worthy, but in the end decided it was too tasty not to share.

In order to beef up the vegetable content (now that's a weird pun) I added some fresh spinach leaves.  Then I had even more inspiration.  I needed some protein, right?  How about some turkey sausage?  Then top the whole thing with a bit of fresh mozzarella for creaminess.

Red, white, and green.  It's the Italian flag!



I had wanted to make this with fresh sausage.  My intent was to remove it from the casing and cook it with the onions.  Sadly, I was doing my shopping on my lunch hour.  Unless you're spending big bucks at places like Whole Foods or Zabar's, you will not find the kind of variety of foods in your typical small NYC market that you will find in the suburbs.  I had to use pre-cooked sausage and just sliced it in at the end.

Italian Flag Soup

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 good handful fresh basil leaves
  • 10 oz baby spinach leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 links pre-cooked Italian turkey sausage, sliced
  • Fresh mozzarella for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Add onions and cook until very soft.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, wine, and basil and cook another 30 minutes, allowing flavors to blend.

Using a stick blender (or in batches in a regular blender, carefully puree the soup.  Stir in spinach, and sausage.  Add salt to taste.

Serve topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Vacation Inspiration

How could I write a post about how good the food was in Costa Rica and not want to imitate it?  Certainly the flavors of Latin America still resonate with me long after I have traded the tropical rainforest for the bitter New York winter.

While everything I ate at Rancho Pacifico was delicious and inspiring, my mind keeps traveling back to that Corcovado picnic and the arroz con pollo on the buffet.  I can still taste how delicious it was, and how the beautiful setting made it even more delicious.  I never got a recipe, but I do remember many of the ingredients.  There were carrots and peppers and corn and black beans.  I tasted cilantro and garlic and onion.  There were peas, but the pea flavor wasn't strong and didn't contaminate the rest of the dish.  It was sweet.  I don't know what made it sweet, but it was.  Would the recipe be impossible to replicate?  I decided I had to find out.

I spent some time looking up recipes for Costa Rican arroz con pollo.  There are more variations than I could have imagined.  I learned that while carrots are typical in Costa Rican arroz con pollo dishes, they are unique to Costa Rica and variations from other countries rarely contain carrots, if ever. Seasonings and ingredients varied from recipe to recipe and I couldn't find one that was wholly similar to the one I had.  

I regret that I did not buy a bottle of Lizano sauce while I was there.  It is a standard Costa Rican condiment - the ketchup of Costa Rica - made from spices and vegetables.  I don't know if it was present in the dish I ate that day (it's considered a condiment, so it would be more likely to be used on the dish after it was finished), but I thought it might help my version taste more authentic.  Just like the recipes for arroz con pollo are not consistent with each other, recipes for homemade Lizano sauce are not consistent with each other.

I found most recipes called for annatto (achiote).  This is available stateside, but not in very many places.  I would have to improvise that as well.

I finally came up with substitutions.  I mixed molasses, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, and paprika for my Lizano.  I used packets of Goya Sazon, which contains annatto so I had that flavor as well.

I deviated even more by using brown rice.  I'm not on vacation anymore.  I need to be healthy.  If you want to make it using white rice, just use the typical cooking times for white rice (simmer 20 minutes and let sit for another 5 off the heat).

I started the recipe by poaching chicken thighs.  When they were done, I used the resulting stock to cook the rice.  I flavored it with the Sazon.  

I cooked my vegetables and beans separately, flavoring them with the tomato and molasses mixture.  I substituted green beans for the peas in my vegetables because why use peas if you don't have to?  When everything was cooked, I threw it all together with lots of cilantro and some lime juice.

Was it as good as what I had in Costa Rica?  Not by a long shot!  It was still pretty tasty though.

Arroz con Pollo de Cocinera Loca

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds chicken thighs
  • 2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 3 packets Sazon Goya
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 3 small yellow onions, finely diced (or one large one)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots finely diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 15 oz can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 10 oz package frozen cut green beans
  • 1 10 oz package frozen corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 Tbl white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 good handful chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1 lime
Place the chicken in a large pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, skimming off the foam.  Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let sit one hour.  Remove chicken from pot and skim off any excess fat from the cooking liquid.  Add enough water to make 4 1/2 cups.  Mix in Sazon packets.  Bring to a boil and add rice.  Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes until rice is tender.  Remove from heat and let sit for five minutes or until all water is absorbed.

Meanwhile skin and bone the chicken thighs.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a large deep skillet.  Add onion and cook until soft over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook another minute.  Add the carrots and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the peppers and cook until they soften as well.  Finally add the corn, black beans, and string beans.  

Mix together the molasses, tomato paste, vinegar, chili powder, and paprika.  Add it to the vegetables in the pan and stir to coat.  Cook until it is all heated through.  Add salt to taste.

Add the vegetables, chicken, cilantro, and lime juice to the pot with the rice.  Mix until thoroughly combined.  Serve garnished with additional cilantro if desired.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dining in Paradise

I am the luckiest woman on the planet.  Yes I am.

You see last week, courtesy of Dad, I had the most outstanding vacation at the beautiful Rancho Pacifico in Costa Rica.  (If you would like to know the details, click here, or if you just want to see the photos, go here. ) This post is simply about the food - the fabulous, fresh, well-prepared food (and equally if not more fabulous cocktails).  The only vacation whose food rivals this one in freshness and love was our trip to Italy in 2011.

Rancho Pacifico is in Uvita, sitting atop a mountain looking down on Marino Ballena, or "Whale Coast" whose distinguishing feature is a reef and sandbar that resembles a whale's tail.  It is quite remote, and requires a long drive up a steep and winding dirt road to reach, so we ate almost all of our meals there.  That wasn't an issue since their chef, Alex, is brilliant.  Equally brilliant is their bartender, Vianney.  Watching Vianney at work was like watching a chef in the kitchen.  He gave the same loving attention to the details of the drinks as a fine chef gives to his food.  Cocktails were quite innovative.




When we arrived at Quepos airport it was Alex who picked us up.  The discussion in the car turned to drinks (I suppose after the harrowing flight in the tiny plane from San Jose to Quepos made everyone want to drink) and how badly we all needed one.  Alex asked us our favorite drinks.  The next thing I know he was calling the bar so our favorite drinks would be waiting when we arrived.  I drank the best margarita I have ever tasted that afternoon.

After everything we had read about the food at RP, I was very excited for our first meal.  We started out at the bar where I tried a delicious Pear Basil Swizzle.  They brought around some bar snacks of crostini and homemade hummus.



Each night at dinner they serve two appetizers where everyone eats the same thing and then a choice of two entrees.  Then we all have the same dessert.  For our first night they started with a seafood bisque, which I declined.  Then we had a green bean and tomato salad.  It was supposed to come with tuna chunks and olives, but I asked for those two ingredients to be left off.  No one gave me a hard time about it.  The salad was delicious.


For the main course there was a fish or beef tenderloin dish.  The meat was not American beef.  It was a bit chewier, but it was cooked the way I like it.  The potato dish on the side was interesting.  The potatoes were flavored with lime.  There was a tasty onion compote as well.

We had a lovely chocolate parfait with strawberries, chocolate mousse, and brownies to finish it off with.

Dinners during the week often went on a theme, but our second night was just a variety of different foods starting with these little pancakes topped with I believe was some kind of cheese mousse.


 I don't remember what the cocktail was.  It might have been a ginger martini.


The shrimp were set on fire table side.  I gave my portion to Kevin.


A salad and a gazphaco shooter.



Grilled chicken with rice.  Not quite arroz con pollo, but not a conventional chicken and rice dish either.  The accompanying salads and vegetables were all very creative and tasty.




 Dessert was grilled banana with a side of fig-infused whipped cream.


The next night we had a pan-Latin buffet (Costa Rican, Peruvian, and others) that consisted of differnt salads, ceviche, rice and beans and various fish and meat dishes.  We had patacones (fried plantain cakes) topped with seafood salad tableside before the buffet as well.  Dessert was grilled pineapple and fig ice cream. I am losing my memory of what all of these cocktails were.







Then came Thai night.  It was more Pan-Asian though.  We started the evening at the bar with a coconut martini (amazing) and some crostini with a vegetable spreads.



Dinner began with little sushi-like rolls and the chef's vegetable "shooters" (he did a lot of these gazpacho and gazpacho-like vegetable and fruit purees during the week).


I didn't want the rolls, so they made me this beautiful salad instead.


Then came yakitori skewers.



It ended with rice noodles mixed with eggplant and a pork chop on the side.  (The other option was the same noodles with fish on the side.)


We started the next night with a beautiful sunset and a drink called Noche De Cartagena made with Colombian aguardiente and grand mariner.  I can't quite identify the other drink.  This might have been mine and it might have been Kevin's.  



We had sushi rolls as bar snacks.  That's not my thing, but I ate a few after a cocktail or two was under my belt.

The theme for this night was Peruvian night.  We started with a cold soup made from a local peach-like fruit, although less sweet than a peach.  It was topped with mole.  I dug in before I remembered to take a photo.  Oops!

The next course was fluffy potato cakes with some kind of seafood filling.  I ate just the cakes in this stack.  Not bad.

I had a traditional Peruvian Lomo Soltado for my main course. Steak, potatoes, and peppers.  What's not to like? (Even though I'm not really a potato person.)


Dessert was a cheesecake flan - which is neither flan nor cheesecake, but still delicious.


The next night was my favorite dinner of all.  At the bar I was putting away a few different cocktails. Our favorite waiter, Mel, was behind the bar that night, and when I couldn't decide what else I wanted to drink after having an chocolate orange martini (made with real cocoa), he created a drink for me called Lady in Red, which we enjoyed with lots of fried plantains.



We had a mixed grill for our dinner.  The meats consisted of chorizo, chicken, and ribs.  We had a dizzying array of grilled vegetables to accompany them plus all kinds of salads including a "ceviche" made from plantains.  Our starters was some kind of vegetable cake with more shooters.






Dessert was this version of raspberry shortcakes.


Breakfast was included at RP.  This meal was every bit as good as dinner with all kinds of fresh and creative dishes and a gorgeous morning view.


I did not photograph every breakfast, but I did take photos of some of the highlights.  Every morning we had a different juice.  There was no conventional OJ here.  Instead we had fresh juices made from combinations of pineapple, mango, papaya, and melon (I would say most mornings the juices were a combination of at least two of those ingredients).

We always started with little pastries or muffins.  


I loved the morning wrap that had cheese, egg, peppers, and chorizo.


Another favorite was the typical Costa Rican breakfast with gallo pinto (black beans and rice), eggs in tortillas, plantains, and avocado.


Also the best huevos rancheros I ever ate.


What amazed me was the coffee.  I'm not a coffee lover.  I have never wanted to be dependent upon caffeine as far too many people are.  Besides, the taste never thrilled me.  I love it as a flavor in desserts, but the drink itself is often unpleasant for me (I make the analogy of drinking a bottle of vanilla or eating the contents of a vanilla bean contrasted with simply adding some vanilla to a cake or custard).  I decided to have some coffee the first day because I had a bit of a headache that morning and thought some coffee might help.  After that I was hooked.  I LOVE Costa Rican coffee.  It's incredibly smooth with no acidic bite or dirt flavors.  I drank it every morning - not from caffeine addiction, but for the taste.

The lunch menu was my least favorite meal of the day.  It never changed and didn't offer much for people who don't like fish.  Often certain items like hamburgers and grilled chicken sandwiches would be unavailable because they were out of buns (all breads at RP are homemade).  I did manage to have the grilled chicken once.  They served it as two mini sandwiches.  More often I had the RP wrap, which was grilled chicken with peppers and chipotle mayo.  There was one item on the menu consisting of mango, figs, and shrimp that sounded delicious - except for the shrimp.  I asked if I could have it with chicken.  They did it for me with no fuss whatsoever.

I think I may have drunk a mimosa with lunch one day.



The only non-RP lunch I had was when I spent a day at Corcovado National Park.  The guides made us a lovely picnic with lots of fresh fruit and veggies.  They also served the most delicious arroz con pollo for which I neither obtained a photo or a recipe!


I am looking up recipes for Costa Rican arroz con pollo recipes so I can make it and have it again soon.

We spent our last night in Costa Rica in San Jose and flew home from there.  For our last night we were sure to sample the finest in Costa Rican cuisine.



It was a beautiful trip with beautiful food and I suspect my blog is going to be influenced by it for a while.