consumingcostarica

Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the month “April, 2011”

La Esquina de Buenos Aires

I love meat. I have always been a hardcore carnivore. My youth was spent working on a small farms and lovingly taking care of animals destined for the plate, so I am a conscientious carnivore. Back stateside, I bought my meat (1/2 pig, 1/4 cow) from a local, conscientious farmer too. Eventually, I hope to do the same thing here but in the meantime dinners have been rather meat free. Rafa shares my views, in fact he will tell you one of the main reasons he fell in love with me was because I had a freezer full of humane, hormone free meat. And there were other things too.

When the opportunity came up to celebrate, we looked to La Esquina de Buenos Aires for some good Argentinian beef. A while back, we breezed into the place for a glass of wine and to check things out. The place is not large but it does offer an ample bar to view the place. Both of us were charmed by the warmth and decor. There may not be a dress code, but the atmosphere oozes old school glamor. Even though I was dressed okay, I immediately wanted my hair in a loose French twist with a huge tropical flower and seductive red lips. So when reservations were made, I made sure to pull out all the stops. I didn’t pack an obscence amount of clothes and shoes for nothing!

We were seated in a cozy table nestled by a window offering a lovely warm night breeze. The whole place tinkled with conversation and smooth Latin 4o’s jazz. Each table had a small sprig of fresh flowers. Service was lovely and highly skilled. In a rare moment of awkwardness, Rafa knocked over his wine and the table was deftly cleared and composed.  The menu was even seductive. Each and every item description would elicit a mouth-watering moan from either Rafa or I. It took us forever to decide but I finally narrowed it down to the Lomito Porcini (just can’t get enough mushrooms) and Rafa got the Solomillo Agridulce (Pork tenderloin in a balsamic vinegar sauce with green apples, prunes and steamed potatoes). For an appetizer, mejillones a la provenzal, garlic mussels in olive oil and herbs, that were so light and sweet, they melted in your mouth like candy. I might also add that they make their bread on premises. It is so fresh and warm it’s like have a cloud on your tongue and perfect for sopping up all the wonderful left over sauce from the mussels.

Our entrées were divine. The meat was fork tender with a desirous savor. The sauce was a compliment to the meat without being overpowering or a mask of the natural flavor. I have heard people rave about Argentinian beef (Argentinian Beef even has a Facebook page) and I must say, I was not disappointed in the least. Rafa’s pork was just as succulent as my beef. My one issue, oddly enough, was with the potatoes which I found to be bland and over cooked. Fine for a simple second-rate restaurant, but not up to fine dinning expectations. Lastly, what really broke my heart, was that I could not find room for dessert. Even Rafa, who I swear has the metabolism of a hummingbird, could not fit in a sweet. I wanted nothing more than to smoke thin cigaretts, sip Fernet Branca, and nibble on Panqueque de Dulce de Leche while laughing at the tantalizing overtures of my Argentinian polo player.

Unfortunately, I overindulged on food and wine and was feeling more sated than sexy, smoking makes me gag…and I still have yet to get Rafa on a horse.

http://www.laesquinadebuenosaires.com

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My Trouble With Paradise

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I have been staring at this page for days.

Seriously. I wish I was too busy with amazing adventures to write it all down. Living here is in and of its self an adventure, but I have been woefully lazy. No, that’s not true either. Maybe just tired. It might be perceived as malaise but I am quite happy and trust me, I know all too well what depression feels like. I still cook, just not with as much verve as usual. I’ve missed two farmer’s markets due to a trip to the ocean and Easter (aka. Semana Santa here) and I am still trying to get the knack of this new kitchen, so I have been off my game. Sure I have pumped out a vat of divine tomato sauce (I even splurged and bought mushrooms too), made the ubiquitous chicken rice, and even a spinach, goat cheese and cranberry salad with homemade djion and red wine dressing. Yet, I still haven’t found my groove…per se.

So I thought I would try something different. Since I have been gushing about all things I love here, maybe I’ll give you a peek at what gives me the yuk face.

Now when you peruse the markets you may see black berries. My only word of caution is that do not expect the luscious flavor like you would get stateside. These suckers are bitter. Boiled down with some sugar, they make a lovely jam or filling for crepes, but I wouldn’t eat them straight up. The same goes for the stone fruits they try to grow here. Just don’t. Coming from a place that would produce the most mouth-watering array of peaches, plums and cherries, whatever you will eat here will pale in comparison. I would liken it to trying to find a good tomato in the Northeast in the dead of winter; it looks like what it should be but tastes like wood pulp.

A word about yucca. Yucca is nothing without what you put on it. When boiled, it does have a similar taste to potatoes…but I wouldn’t just eat plain boiled spuds either. Yucca NEEDS something on it; butter, garlic, any sauce or flavoring. The best I have had was boiled and then fried in butter. Quite nice. So if you find yourself with a side of yucca make sure you dress it up a bit, otherwise it’s like taking a bite if couch stuffing.

Palm nuts, or Pejibaye. Pejibaye’s are not commonly eaten anywhere except in Costa Rica and I believe it is because they taste like ass. One of my first explorations into the local markets, I noticed vendors selling boiled pejibaye. I was curious and Rafa procured one for me to try. When he wasn’t looking, I spit it out. It has the consistency and taste of wet cardboard. No amount of salt or additive would make this thing palatable. Another starch in the Costa Rican diet and at 200 calories a pop, I am glad to cross them off my list. There is a reason why parrots love eating these…because birds don’t have taste buds.

Next on the list is Pitaya, know in English as dragon fruit. This is actually a beautiful fruit to see, with its lovely intense pink skin tipped in spring green and the shock of white seeded flesh when cut open but all the excitement ends there. It is absolutely tasteless. Cucumbers have a more intense flavor.

Heart of palm, or palmito (not to be confused with the cheese, which is marvelous) is another oddity for me in the Costa Rican diet. My first introduction to this was when Rafa made me dinner back in the states. His mom would periodically send care packages of food, including cans of palmito. I remember crinkling up my nose when I opened it, but Rafa was the chef and I knew I was in good hands. When dinner was served, my first taste of palmito solidly confirmed my initial whiff. It was horrid. Now, I was madly in love and I would have eaten broken glass for Rafa, so I choked down as much as I could and deftly moved the rest around my plate. He zoned in on my discomfort and in true Rafa fashion, completely admitted he never liked palmito, scooped the rest off my plate, poured me more wine and said “Let’s just have chocolate cake.”

And people still wonder why I moved here.

 

When life gives you limes…

It’s Rafa’s birthday.

I love birthdays. I really do. But being in the throes of a foreign country, in a new house, a whole new LIFE, I am finding it challenging to get my birthday groove on. Rafa has been working mad hours and I really wanted to do something special. We had stopped at a lovely restaurant a few weeks ago for a glass of wine so I had Rafa make reservations there for dinner. Hardly a surprise, but still a nice treat. At least I can get the whole trifecta of shaved legs, sassy dress and Cosmo smokey eyes going on.  I still had an urge to do more.  In fact, “more” usually doesn’t touch it…I go overboard. But how?

I ruminated on it for a few days until it hit me. No, seriously I almost got hit in the head…by a lime. There is a wonderfully abundant lime tree in the front yard and while I was puttering around one nearly clocked me. Huh…Rafa’s favorite dessert is key lime pie. I could do this…maybe. I am not a baker. Baking requires a precision I am just not accustomed to. I’ve done it and it’s been good. It’s just that afterwards, I’m exhausted. If you bust your ass cooking, you have a MEAL. Baking produces a fraction of the product with ten times the mess. And to make matters more complicated, I have no oven cause there is no 220 line yet. In fact, I really don’t have much of a kitchen. So I ask you, what do you find odd about my new temporary kitchen?

What is odd about my kitchen?

But if anything, I am resourceful! And regardless of what my father thinks, I DO have a pioneering spirit. Not that prissy DIY-look-how-cool-I-am attitude, but an honest to god I-am-in-a-third-world-country-I-gotta-make-this-work drive. So when life gives you limes…I WILL make key lime pie. Even if it’s on the hood of a Mitsubishi.

The internet had an abundance of no bake recipes, but only for the filling. I was having a crust dilemma. Bakerys are very different down here. They use meat instead of sweetness. Meat pastries and breads are divine and I have developed quite a habit since there is a great one right around the corner now, but you will not see a great selection of gooey, sweet, goodness. That goes for the measly baking section in grocery stores too. Lots of corn flour. A little thin in the pie department. I contacted a friend to ask about using her modern, ample kitchen in exchange for fresh limes, but as luck would have it, I got to go to the mother of all expat grocery stores: Automercado in Escazú .

Who ever owns Automercado, is a food pimp. Seriously. You can actually petition the store for recommendations and they will actively get them…for a price. I have watched expat’s eyes glaze over and their bottom lips quiver at the glorious sight of rows and rows of American food. They coo and whimper over the availability of Soft Scrub, Cool Whip and, for me, Keebler Ready Made Graham crust. I am not ashamed to say I did a little jig in the aisle.

With the crust disaster averted, I plugged ahead with the pie. I harvested and juiced enough limes for a cup of juice and zested until my knuckles were bloody. Condensed sweetened milk, vanilla pudding and some fresh whipped heavy cream folded together and cooled in the fridge, voilà! Happy key lime pie made with love.

Ingredients

  • 1 (10 inch) pie crust, baked and cooled
  • 1 tablespoon grated lime zest (I added more)
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (3.5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed (I made my own with heavy cream and sugar)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together lime rind, lime juice, and condensed milk. Whisk in pudding mix and allow to set up 5 minutes. Fold in 8 ounce tub of whipped topping. Pour mixture into pastry shell. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Garnish with additional whipped topping if desired.

Now I gotta shave my legs.

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