Friday, July 27

Costa Rica and Cooking

One consistent thing about living is eating. It was also the hardest thing to adjust to when I moved here from Florida. Truly, I had at least 10 drive-thru fast-food places within spitting distance from my house there. I worked then and worked hard. The drive-thru was a perfect quick fix that I really took for granted, looking back now. Here, I've learned to cook again. Not exactly Costa Rican cuisine but my adapted version from things I recognize at the local market. You'd know what I mean if you've ever shopped here. Yes, our major local grocery recently renovated and is now a part of Big Daddy Walmart, but BEFORE, it was totally alien to me. AND it was NOT air-conditioned and it had low low lighting. You had to check your purse/bags in at the entrance door. Really. They gave you a claim ticket to retrieve your stuff on the way out. Totally different world. There are still no drive-thrus where I live now and I've adapted.

Of course, everything at the store is in Spanish but they do have pictures and now they are starting to sell more and more products that I recognize. There is a premium for it being imported (and available).

You would think the produce would be easy, right? A carrot is a carrot wherever but they have exotic fruits and vegetables here. Have you ever seen a guanabana? It's a fruit and looks like a spiny watermelon. The inside is white. So much of the produce is "foreign to me", I usually go for the sure thing. Especially when I see pretty tangerines. You'd be surprised to know how much is imported.

The meat department was a whole other issue. They lay out the meat on trays. Normal to me is everything individually wrapped with a sticker saying the weight and price. Here, you tell the guy what you want, he scoops it out and puts it in a plastic bag. Sounds simple but if you don't speak Spanish or know what a kilo is, it can be challenging. The choice of meat is pretty slim as well. The beef has hardly no fat. You add bacon grease if you want a burger to taste like a real burger. The texture is different too. Cows are raised on grass, not grain fed and the texture/taste is different. I've gotten used to it and I'm still learning how to ask for it and prepare it.

I am probably eating healthier than I ever have in my life living here. I ate in restaurants all the time when I was a newbie but now I've learned to enjoy making my own meals. We have open-air kitchens at the restaurants and I finally realized what really does go on in the back. I trust my kitchen plus I get what I want (within availability) and I make things you can't buy at the restaurant. Like chicken 'n dumplings.

Kentucky Fried Chicken was my favorite back home. I used to buy the family meal just to get the big chocolate cake. Me and the dogs would eat chicken for days. Love those biscuits and gravy (cake, too).

I was so thrilled to see KFC come to Jaco, I photographed all the stages of it's construction (no drive-thru). It was slow to open and I checked nearly everyday to see when. Every time, they would say "manana" (favorite word). It's finally open. My comfort food and yes, they have REAL KFC mash potatoes with gravy and biscuits.
Big chocolate cake, too
. Thank you God for cookie-cutter chain food restaurants.

This post about cooking in Costa Rica was to share one of my favorite tropical recipes:
Take a chicken, whatever parts you like. Clean, remove the skin and lightly salt. Sprinkle with flour, lightly. Brown in olive oil on high heat and then cook slowly until done.
You can substitute ribs, pork chops, hamburger or fish for chicken.
TROPICAL SAUCE: In a bowl, mix equal parts Russian dressing and pineapple (or apricot) preserves. Add finely chopped onions (Lipton's onion soup mix if you can get it) and mix well. Add enough water to make a thick liquid consistency.
Remove meat from pan (drain any grease). Heat sauce mixture in same pan over medium heat, stirring often. Add meat to sauce or pour over the meat. Fast and easy.
Dress it up with pineapple slices and cherries or red bellpeppers (for color).
It's Um-mm Good with buttered rice and broccoli.


Blog Bloke said...

Thanks for reminding me about not posting too quickly. I added an 11th tip as a result of your inspiration.

Kate said...

One important lesson I learned is when buying a chicken that they give you the head and feet and everything else unless you ask them not to. Being a city girl that kind of freaked me out. Now I know the difference between pollo entero and pollo sin cabeza.

I miss the drive-thru restaurants as well and especially the chinese restaurant that used to deliver to our place in CA. I'm also learning to cook more and am actually enjoying it (big surprise)! And yes, I do enjoy KFC sometimes when we go into Jaco :-).

Pura Vida!

TICA MACHA said...

Awhile back, I did a post and mentioned the time I pulled out the chicken feet from the bag and screamed. I was shocked to see they included the beak too.
Yep, things are different here but we manage, don't we?
All that fastfood is bad anyway.

Anonymous said...

MY GOD. The beak with the feet?
Do they just cut the chicken and throw the pieces randomly into the bags.
It's not that bad with meat even in India!

TICA MACHA said...

My guess is if you buy a WHOLE chicken, they think you want the whole thing. People do cook the parts in soups.
The grosses thing they sell is lengua (tongue)!

Jen said...

Wow! Your KFC has chocolate cake? We just got KFC on Dominica, but not chocolate cake. In fact, no mashed potatoes for several months! But now we have 'taters, so my hubby is happy.

I miss the salad bar at the grocery stores we had in the states....

TICA MACHA said...

Now that I know you have a KFC, Dominica is looking better and better. When I do go home (seldom), I am blown away when I go to the grocery (Publix). I really took it for granted!