Monday, July 12, 2010

FREEZING FROM FRESH

This is a sneak preview of my articles for the August issue of Dominical Days...

FREEZING FROM FRESH

Gasp! Did he just say that? Does the Chef of the Jungle freeze fresh things? Doesn’t that go against all he stands for?

Yes, mis amigos, I am here to tell you that I keep a number of flavor bumpers in my freezer so that they may be at my fingertips, in the pan or the sauce, or over the fish in moments.

There are just some things that cannot and will not suffer by being frozen; particularly if one takes the proper steps to freeze them. Good zip locks made for freezing work quite nicely but to save a bit of money, I wrap as tightly as possible in clear wrap, and then do it a second time to prevent freezer burn

Something I always, always do when I pack my zip-locks for the freezer is squeeze the air from them and pack them flat. This helps for two reasons. Once the package is frozen, it’s easily stacked when flat; and second, a flat package thaws in almost no time.

I freeze roasted tomatoes in zip-locks, to use for pastas, fish sauces or tomato soup at a moment’s notice. I freeze chicken stock, not in ice cube trays, but flat in both small sandwich sized and large zip-lock bags. Again, done this way, they stack so nicely.

Something else that I make as a flavor booster and which also freezes quite nicely, are different pestos. A fresh bright green pesto, so dazzling with pasta, remains equally green when frozen, is much more easily portioned and doesn’t get all mucky and brown on top.

Basil grows so well here in our coastal climate that it’s always available at the Saturday Feria in Uvita, or if you want to make a big batch of pesto, it’s plentiful and cheap at the Thursday Feria in San Isidro. You might even grow it yourself; basil loves it here.

PESTO; NOT JUST FOR PASTA ANYMORE

The Italian word, “pesto” comes from the same root that pestle, of mortar and pestle fame, comes from, and it means “to pound or to grind”. Traditionally pesto making has been a long and arduous process, learned at one’s nonna’s knees and never varied from, at threat of excommunication. Drizzle and pound, drizzle and pound…

I’m not much for long and arduous, and am here to tell you that you can assemble a great batch of pesto in less than five minutes and never have to look over your shoulder for your nonna’s shadow.

Like almost everything I make or do in the kitchen, the “mise en place”, or assembly of ingredients is key. For me, there are few worse feelings than stumbling around the kitchen searching for an essential ingredient in mid-cooking.

PESTO OF THE JUNGLE

2 Cups Tightly Packed Basil eaves

4 Cloves Peeled and Chopped Garlic

¼ Cup sliced, blanched almonds (tradition calls for pine nuts, but we’re non-traditional)

2/3 Cup Good Olive Oil (it need not be Extra Virgin)

¼-1/2 Cup Good Parmesan

S&P

Put the basil, garlic and almonds in your food processor with some salt and pepper and pulse-grind them for 30 seconds. Turn the machine on and add half the olive oil in a slow stream. Turn off the processor and add the cheese. Turn the machine back on and add the rest of the oil in a steady stream. The pesto should remain a bit chunky. Taste for salt and pepper; pack it flat into zip-locks and freeze.

You can (and I do) substitute spinach, parsley, arugula, or even cilantro for half the basil. Heck, you can leave the basil out entirely.

Use pesto as a sauce for fish, spooned right on top; toss it with cooked small potatoes or green beans, stir it into mashed potatoes or into mayonnaise, and definitely eat it with pasta.

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Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me


This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
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Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.