Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vacation: Costa Rica Pt 3

Part three of my culinary adventure in Costa Rica. I'll admit, I could have gotten more out there on the food, but between my adventures and trying to relax, I didn't get to everything I wanted to try. Above you'll see the breakfast I've had pretty much every day I've been here. The typical breakfast consists of scrambled eggs, pan fried plantains, and black beans and rice maybe some tropical fruit to round it out. Although this sounds quite mundane, it makes a lot of sense plenty, of carbs to get folks ready for a hard days worth of work in the palm fields, farms, and ranches. Rice is featured everywhere in the cuisine here, rice and chicken, rice and beans, rice and beef. The Gallo Pinto is very tasty, bits of cilantro are evident and I believe they use chicken stock as the base for cooking the rice. It's considered the national dish of Costa Rica, but I'll admit after about five days one does crave a bit of variety for breakfast. Sorry in advance about the dark pictures that follow, I only had my point and shoot with me and I didn't want to stand out by using flash so this is as good as I could get it. (which all considering ain't that bad)

I have a few meals left here, I went to the local Barba Roja it's considered one of the better sushi places to hit, but again, you don't go to a brick layer to buy diamonds so I was here to sample the local fish and I wasn't disappointed, I ordered the "blanco marlin" and some ikura (I felt the need for some salt). The marlin had a great clean meaty taste, not much fat it looked like yellow tail but had a leaner taste much like a snapper. I humbly submit I could have gotten behind the sushi bar and taught the chefs a bit on sushi rice, it was a bit over cooked and seasoned incorrectly. Again, I can't fault the place, you don't go Chinese restaurant and order a creme brulee, you're just asking for disappointment. Don't start nothing won't be nothing.

Next up I ordered an appetizer and main course. Curry Crab is the appetizer. I think the topping was a compound butter of coconut and parsley. The crab was dressed with a mayo/cream and raisins. I liked the sweetness, but since they had coconut in the description I was expecting a thai coconut curry, but they used a curry powder. The main dish was a beef tenderloin with a mushroom sauce. They did a good job getting me the beef medium rare and the mushroom sauce was very tasty. They served the whole thing over some creamy mashed potatoes (which went well with the sauce) and a bevy of steamed vegetables. I enjoyed the meal, of the places I went I think it might come in last place because it seemed to be over priced for what I got.

Ok I did manage to sneak in one last place to eat before leaving. It was recommended by my hosts that I check out Karolas. It's newish (I think the manager mentioned only a few months or something) and they described it as being fancy. I'm always a bit suspicious of high-end restaurants in tourist locations so I had a bit of skepticism going in. The service was a bit slow, the place was deserted and it was 6:30pm which did not bode well, and I think my waiter forgot about me after he fed me my drink (He did apologize for the long wait to take my order and was completely on the job during the rest of my meal). Granted it was raining pretty hard and it was a Sunday, so I shouldn't have expected much in the way of traffic. The place was well decorated, like every place else it had open air seating. But I will say my hopes were fading.

I ordered a couple of appetizers. On the left you see the Heart of Palm Cocktail, it was a delicious little salad with bits of blue cheese and a basil oil dressing. It's kind of a play on my favorite "Jackson Salad". Very light, the textures and flavors were very refreshing. Things started looking up. Then came the Ceviche Karolas, it's strips of fresh Mahi Mahi served over a potato salad and accompanied with a house sangrita. The waiter inquired if I liked spicy food, and brought over some Sambal Ulek. Ok, the combination of the sangrita with the fish and potato were perfect. The potato and the sangrita perfectly counter balanced the lime juice, add in some of the Sambal Ulek and it was perfect bite of food that packed a punch. This was delicious! My estimation of the place just went up big time.

Finally out came the Shrimp Curry. I know, "shrimp curry? what? you're in Costa Rica ordering indian food? seriously?!", it just looked like the tastiest thing on the menu and I was right. This was the most fragrant dish I've had in quite some time. The curry was amazing I was trying really hard to detect everything going on, I even made video notes so I could re-listen to my first impressions. Spicy kick of black pepper seeds, the lemony taste of coriander seeds, crunchy taste of black mustard seeds and I think fennel were the first things I noticed. It was a bit dark and hard to tell what else was there, I want to say capers were a salty component but I'm not positive there. I tasted shrimp stock in the base of the curry. The vegetables and rice just soaked up all of the delicious flavor. I really really enjoyed this dish. I've since looked up madras curry and none of the recipes resemble what I enjoyed at Karolas. I'm so glad I picked this dish for my entree.

The manager greeted me on my way out to check on my experience, he's a nice guy very friendly. I've got a mail to him, hopefully the Chef will share his recipe with me so I can continue to enjoy this dish. I'm pleasantly surprised at what I was expecting to be a complete "Fail" visit. If you're ever in Costa Rica over in Manuel Antonio, definitely go and check out Karolas. It does indeed top my favorite restaurant that I got to experience in Manuel Antonio.

Ok that's it for my trip. I might post one more follow up now that I've compiled all my photos from the trip. No Bento this Monday as everyone is out for July 4th holiday. But the very first bento back will be Costa Rica.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vacation: Costa Rica Pt 2

My second segment of my trip here to Costa Rica. It's beautiful here. Above you see a Mother child monkey, I call it "monkey in repose". They look cute, but they all scheme to steal your stuff. Believe me, I witnessed one brazen monkey stare straight at me as he/she snatched a bag and took off. Little buggers. I've been told they'll work in teams to steal a heavy bag. I'm amazed at their expressive faces. Anyhow, more amazing food and experiences, and this with taking a whole day to do nothing. I didn't anticipate nothing to still yield delicious food.

Yesterday I went to the Manuel Antonio State Park. That's where the monkey picture came from one. If you ever go to Costa Rica and go to this state park, I recommend a guide. I actually made the mistake of taking my best camera thinking my lenses would give me an advantage. Apparently, the humble point and shoot thru the telescope of the guide does better. Despite everyone's recommendation to tag on to the guides that go thru for free, a guide is superior as he/she sees things that are un-seeable then takes the trusty telescope to give you the awesome picture. There was this one cricket with the most amazing colors, less than 1/4 inch long and my guide spotted it ten feet away. Try where's waldo standing on a satellite. Anyhow, after the trip I stopped in and grabbed the ceviche you see above. I liked it, trying it with the local favorite sauce Sauza Lizano was a nice change. The lime wasn't overwhelming and I enjoyed the ceviche, for those taking notes it was the Marlin restaurant at the entrance of the park.

I came home and decided to make use of my bounty from the farmers market. First a word on the featured ingredient: Pejibaye. I've heard a bit about this fruit. It's savory rather than sweet as you expect it. You have to boil it before it's edible. The best way for me to describe this fruit is a salty version of a roasted chestnut. It's pretty unique, it's edible with skin on although the locals tell me the right way to eat it is as a "bocas" (appetizer at a bar) dipped in mayo. Having no mayo I didn't give it a try but in my minds eye the salt with the fat of mayo would be delicious.

So I decided to ironchef this one and take what I had from the market, what I whimsically decided to buyand, a somewhat bare kitchen to see what I could do. You can see my mise up top. I roughly chopped, garlic and onion and the Pejibaye and used the tinned smoked octopus. I used the vegetable oil from the tinned octopus and sauteed the garlic and onion. I added the turmeric relish and some salsa lizano and pan fried the pejibaye. I finished the dish with the octopus. I popped out some rice and threw in a can of mixed vegetables. Not bad for impromptu, the salsa lizano was actually a great acid it's a weird take on Worcestershire sauce. The combo of the tang and salty from the fruit worked as I had imagined it in my head.

Went off to the local restaurant Kapi Kapi for dinner today. I started with asian ribs, the cole slaw was quite tasty, and I'm happy that the marinade they used on the ribs wasn't over powering. I ordered the Argentinian steak that topped the sweet potato, yucca, and potato gratin. Yummy stuff and excellent service. The steak was very moist and finished better than some of the place I've had in Austin

Finally dessert came from my friend Mauricio who is taking care of my arrangements here in Costa Rica. The brownies were a nice touch. I know I hate sweets, but they were tasty and a nice kind gesture to brighten the day.

Ok more soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vacation: Costa Rica Pt 1

Ok So I'm on vacation in Costa Rica I've had precious few meals here as this is only day two of the trip but it's been amazing so far. So much so I feel the need to post some incremental off topic pics of the stuff I've had so far. What all did I do today? Ok, well walked down to the beach (was a steep hike) watched some monkeys eat breakfast and star quizzically at me (and they do take siestas in the heat of the afternoon). Go into Quepos and check out the farmers market. Played hide and seek with Red Faced Spinetail (we were playing the clucking game, me clucking to entice it to show). I watched a poor hermit crab roll down stairs as it hid from me in fright (it was ok, he made it to the beach). And I sat by a pool and read; this pool was edgeless and it over looked the freaking ocean. All that before three. I've just finished dinner just in time to hunker in for the brief evening rainstorm which is the hallmark of the "green season". Man I'm having a good start to my vacation

My friend and co-worker Kelly picked me up from the airport and took me to his favorite bar. It's a motorcycle repair/creation shop with a bar inside. I now want a motorcycle. Apparently in Costa Rica the dish to your left chifrijo, is one of those staple pub grub dishes. Everyone makes their own version and everyone prides themselves on having the best chifrijo in Costa Rica. The dish is a combination of rice (cooked in chicken broth), red beans, fried Pork Belly (not pork rind kind fried, meaty kinda fried) and pico de gallo and served up with tortilla chips. I loved this little dish, it'll set you right after a big night of drinking. My friend Kelly, got me a Costa Rican cookbook (in english) so there will be a Costa Rican bento in the future.

Above you'll see the farmers market that I got to check ou,t picked up some cool Pejibaye (a savory fruit nutty in flavor, I'll let you know when I break them out tomorrow) and some nice hot sauce and a curious Crema de Curcuma. If anyone knows how to make this Crema de Curcuma please talk to me. I'm gonna try to go back this next Saturday and use my severely broken (re: non-existent) Spanish and try to get it out of her at least the list of ingredients. It looks like whatever the relish/sauce has been cooked in oil. I'm very impressed with the stuff and I can 't seem to find a recipe. The vendor jars it in re-used jars, but it's not been pasteurized (from my jarring lessons) so I'm sure border guards will stop me if I bring in a big jar of it.

Mauricio, my guide here in my stay at my bungalow sent me off to Aqua Azul for dinner tonight. Great atmosphere, open air overlooking the ocean everyone was so very nice. One can't ask for much more. I ordered two things tonight. The Calamari and a Panko crusted seared Tuna. The Calamari is served broiled with olives instead of fried as we're use to in the states, it comes with toasted herbed bread so you can eat it bruschetta style. The broth was amazing, I couldn't stop sopping the bread with it. I could discern a touch of butter, oregano, thyme and rosemary, the broth I bet was a stock from the mussels they served that they used to deglaze the pan after cooking down the onions.

The tuna was equally delicious, it was served with a vegetable medley "slaw" which had carrots, red onions, cabbage, and roasted zucchini strips, and a Rangoon filled with queso fresco and caramilized onion (less heavy tasting than the stuff we get in the states). The tuna was the feature of the show, I asked for it to be cooked rare and so it was; the ruby read Tuna was so moist. The panko crust was a great texture and the fish was amazingly fresh. The ponzu sauce served with the dish (and dab of wasabi) gave the fish the right amount of salt.

I've had a perfect day of picture taking, relaxing and taking it easy, and this is only day two, what else can be in store for me! I am happy beyond words! I think the best tip for me today was: in the rain forest if you want to see something just stop and stand still for a few mins they always come out when they think you've gone.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brazilian Bento

So this is a bento I've been wanting to do for quite some time. This isn't the first time I've dipped into South America, the cuisine has a lot to explore. Even something as simple as a grain (quinoa) has been featured quite a few times on the blog. Good prep and slow cooking made this an easy bento to produce. Hopefully the flavors prove just as successful for my eaters.

Main dish is Feijoada, this "national dish" of Brazil is the whole reason I've been meaning to take a look at the cuisine. This dish features four distinct uses of pork. I actually drove all over town and ended up in a small Brazilian store to buy the linguica sausage that I needed. I had to settle for some salted beef instead of the carne seca (which I couldn't find), but tasting a before and after, the dried salted beef added a depth the the dish that would not have been there otherwise. I gave a friend a good sized sample of the dish I produced and he agreed it was worth the six hours I spent on it.

Recipe requested here

Not many in the way of sides today since the rice took a whole slot, but next we have Pao De Quejio. It typically uses a manac flour but the common application is to substitute tapioca flour. This is a strange "bread", it has a stretchy mochi type of texture, I've retained several to test reheat under microwave, toaster oven, versus eating cold. I have to say it's a tasty "bread" but it's a quite a bit more gummy than I'm accustom to eating. I've tried cold and it's a good combo of chew vs flavor, and just tried microwaved and the texture is definitely a mochi texture. In either case, when eaten with the feijoada it was a pretty tasty combo. I was happy to see I could keep this lunch gluten free, despite not needing to follow a gluten free diet anymore, I still keep an eye open to see how easy it would be to convert any given lunch.

Recipe Requested here

Finally for dessert, Doce De banana it means sweetened bananas or bananas in syrup. The normal recipe requires cinnamon and brown sugar, I found a recipe with more natural juices and less sugars. I had hoped the result was going to be more "glazy" but the aroma of the roasted bananas was interesting way to present the dish. I could go either way on the results so by no means is this a keeper. To "fix" this dish, I think, toast the coconut flakes, create a thicker syrup (unfortunately meaning more sugar) probably use confectioner sugar.

Recipe Requested here

I have to say the feijoada was pretty freaking good, I'm glad I finally had a chance to make this dish. I actually had enough extra pork that I put it pre-mixed in a bag so I can thaw and make some more feijoada. As with all cuisines I've visited thus far there's far more for me to check out, so we'll be revisiting Brazil in the future.

Box Contents

  • Feijoada
  • White Rice
  • Pao De Quejio
  • Doce De Banana

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I confess there's not really a good cohesive theme for this box. I just got two things of free food product and decided to just throw something yummy together. Above you see my attempt at creative swirling with the cream in the soup but it just looks like weird modern art. I need more practice.

So part of being plugged into the food blog community I seem to get product samples a lot. By no means do they say, "hey you must shill for us" or obligate me to do so, but I figure it's nice if I find a product useful to put in a nice blurb at the very least, I like to let my bento eaters benefit as well. Kinda like the foodblogger events, I go, I write a nice entry about it. This is no different, but I figure it's important that I disclaimer that I did get free stuff, I'm using free stuff, and I've decided to write about the free stuff I got. I'm no professional so I'm in no obligation to disclose all this stuff, but I figure it shouldn't hurt to be upfront about such things.

So the main entree is a this great recipe I got here it's a Miso Marinated pork. The "blacked" bits is actually the miso and actually falls away. I should have wiped the pork a bit cleaner of the miso as it's pretty salty. I think when eating with the SooFoo (see below) it's actually pretty balanced. The pork came out very tender and the sweetness imparted by the sake really comes through. I highly recommend giving this one a try, it's so simple and fast you can whip up a bunch to serve various ways.

Since I lacked a cohesive theme, I just starting picking weird random stuff. I saw this soup on one of my google feeds the other day and said "why not". This is a Strawberry Lavender soup. The recipe was very vague on amounts so I basically did it by look, feel and taste from my experience of what I like. The lavender was actually present in the aroma of the dish, but didn't really come out in the taste (even though smell is part of taste) it's kind of hard to explain. Maybe I didn't use enough, but I thought that it was neat to smell something expecting one taste but get a completely different experience. I'll have to see how it played to my diners. More attempts and making art with cream, I need some lessons. (fail)

So I get this weird package in the mail and I pop it open out comes two bags of what you see above, it's called SooFoo. The product is a blend of barley, black lentils green lentils, brown lentils, buckwheat, long grain brown rice, oats, rye berries, and wheat berries (whew). I love grains and legumes and this looked like it would be quite tasty and a great starch component to the box. Instead of the recommended preparation which uses water I opted for chicken broth because I figure that would add a richer flavor to the dish. Let me tell you, yes I know I sound like a paid pitchman (but I have no fame or clout so it's ok), I love this stuff it's very tasty, I love the texture and it's actually really good for you to boot. It's got a nice nutty flavor and the different grains give different interesting texture to the final product. I'm not exactly sure how they found me, but I'm pretty glad I got a chance to try this stuff. They look to be just starting up, I hope they do well.

I got these wonderful sunburst tomatoes from my friend Lindsay. This product comes from the folks at Natures Sweet, it's a new product marketed as a snacking tomato. They weren't kidding it was like eating candy. No tartness as I expected from a tomato product. The perfectly spherical globes were beautiful to look at and (I think) really gave this salad an eye popping punch of color. I decided a great complement would be a salty component. I chose blue cheese and house cured pancetta. I felt like a sour component could be added with some champagne vinegar. Texturally, I cooked down the pancetta two ways the meaty parts cook thill just done and the fatty bits cooked crisp to give the bacon component of the dish a duality of textures. Finally some fresh basil and olive oil seemed like the right thing to toss in. The results was a mouth full of flavor explosion. Thank you produce fairy :) you're donation has been enjoyed by my bento eaters.

Lovely lunch and plenty of leftovers. Thanks to Lindsay from Apron Adventures and unexpected the fine folks at SooFoo that introduced their tasty product to me.

Box Contents:
  • Miso Marinated Pork
  • SooFoo
  • Sunburst tomato salad
  • Strawberry Lavender Soup

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Big Green Egg

Sorry about the lack of bento post this week, it was memorial day and there was much bbqing to be had. It also was a great time for me to finally fire up my newest cooking acquisition: The Big Green Egg. As you can see above it is indeed big, green and somewhat egg shaped. I've been told over and over that having the above smoker, grill, wood burning pizza oven would complete my life. I have to say that I'm not much of a griller, there's too much variability in heat control on a grill, I must endure swarms of mosquitos, and it just takes a long time. If you couple that with the hefty price tag, you can understand why it's taken me quite some time to get around to owning this device.

Now after all that whining above, what made me change my mind? Well one, a bunch of us at work did a bulk purchase and got a deal, but that wasn't the game changer. I was talking to several proud egg-owners at work and they explained the science behind it. It's basically similar to a kiln it can get up to about 700F, you can fine grain control the temperature, and one bag of charcoal will last you several sessions. (wha? I know, but it's true) And apparently the devotees to the green egg are exactly that, rabid devotees, it's almost cult like. One of the guys at work was looking at the egg and another guy went on and on, turns out he wasn't a sales guy, just another owner. My friend said, "well that's cool i'll have to come back with my truck and pick one up". The Egghead (as they are called) eagerly offered to put it in his truck on the spot and help him transport it home and set it up.

Ok lets set this thing up: as you can see I used the purchase of the egg to also give me an opportunity to purchase a blow torch. Yes, I start my grill it a blow torch. I have learned the proper technique after you light up a few spots in your wood pile you close the hatch and open up the vents full open. Let it get to full temperature (700 degrees) then adjust your vents and let the egg cool to the proper temperature. (I was not quite privy to this information during my first run.) Another cool thing, while fireing this bad boy up I didn't have to be in front of it during setup or cooking, it just went, so I avoided my mosquitos.

My first run I think was somewhat of a "fail" due to poor planning. I had preseasoned chicken quarters that I wanted to slow cook and some friends brought burgers and sausage. I brought the egg to 350 (without first bringing it to full heat) but my friends wanted to try to do both things at once (bad idea) the heat was not enough for the burgers and dogs and it required active grilling management. I ended up cranking up the heat a bit and then using the egg more like a traditional grill. This is not how you work with the egg. What I should have done was bring it to 600F put the patties on, close the lid for two mins and then flip and repeat. After that I should have lowered the temp to do the chicken. The whole beauty of the egg is that it doesn't use a lot of fuel because it's not exposed to that much air to burn through the wood. Even for low slow cooking the wood is not burning as fast as you would have in a less efficient steel grill. The thick ceramic walls retain and keep the heat. The vent controls the air getting in (and thus the temperature). In this case we didn't even do the chicken as I could never get the temperature back down after pushing it up. I did manage to sear up my sous vide lamb shoulder and it was delicious.

Second run. This time I decided I had enough chicken to go ahead and try one batch in the oven and one batch in the egg. Now this is where I'm gonna ask for some help from any egg owners reading this post. I fired up the grill full open vents, got it up to 650F, my target temperature needed to be 375F, I shut the bottom grate to just about 1/4 inch and half cover the top vent. After an hour and a half the grill was *still* at 475F. I lost patience because the oven chicken had finished by then and I went ahead and dropped in the chicken. In the end the chicken cooked, and due to the fact that they were thigh meat the really high internal temperature I ended up with really didn't hurt anything. But had it been a more delicate slow smoke I would have failed. (the end temperature was still something north of 375F when I finished)

Final thoughts? Well this by no means is the last of the egg I mean I paid a lot for it. No doubt it will feature prominently in many a lunch to come. I think I'm gonna need a few lessons before I can confidently use the contraption, but there are so many believers, I must be doing something wrong. Am I a convert? Not just yet, I still like my orion cooker, six simultaneous racks of ribs in one hour and forty mins. Mr Egg you have some catching up to do. But the cooker isn't really a grill or smoker so perhaps they can co-habitat side by side.

Back to bentos next week!