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Monday, October 18, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO
I returned to La Cusinga in January, 2009 with a dream in mind. I wanted to create a cuisine that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered their guests physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here. Just as La Cusinga represents a sustainable form of eco-tourism, I wanted to offer a cuisine that reflected that same sustainability. I was on a mission to show not just our guests, but also the people of this community that it was possible to create delicious, serious, mostly organic food using entirely local ingredients.
I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would create a new cuisine of coastal Costa Rica. I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the relationships that will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level. Dairy farmers, cheesemakers, rice farmers, ceramic artists, vanilla growers and cacao farmers; all are included in this vision.
I am often asked if I cook entirely locally and my answer, somewhat surprised, is always, “Yes, of course, why wouldn’t I?” This should be every Chef’s dream, to be able to provide the food for his guests with ingredients grown less than an hour away. Between the produce we grow here at the Lodge, the lovely organics I am able to buy from my loyal and local farmers, and the fish that come from the ocean I can see from my kitchen, we have created a cuisine here at La Cusinga that is original and unique to this area.
What we are doing is by no means unique internationally; after all the French have been using this model for years and the United States is home to a huge “farm to table” sensibility. But here in Costa Rica our world class fish and produce have been pushed to the side in an effort to create a more homogenous cuisine for tourists. I don’t believe we have to do that and I believe that the ingredients I get here at tiny La Cusinga rival those of any kitchen in the world.
I am proud of the food we serve at La Cusinga. I am proud that organic growers here have risen to the challenge of producing top flight produce and I am proud to be able to go right to the boats where our fish are caught. But mostly I am proud to be able to put food on our tables here that honors and respects the hard work of John and Bella, of Geinier and Henry and of all the people who make La Cusinga the world class Eco-Lodge that it is.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I must confess to being a bean lover and nothing is better, to me, than using a bean fresh, that would normally be dried. In the States, these are called “shelling beans” and they are taken right out of the pods and sold fresh. They are available at the Feria in San Isidro and during the season, there may be four or five types available.
The joy of these beans is that they cook in 45 minutes or less, cutting at least two hours out of the time on the stove. The real pleasure of them though, is the flavor and texture. These fresh beans have a richness, a creaminess and almost a “meatiness” when cooked that is unsurpassed.
When I see them at the Feria, they are usually laid out in bins, with a few kilos bagged up ready for sale. They are plumper and more colorful than their dried counterparts and there is a sheen to them, as if they have a healthy glow. The colors range from a pale pink to a mottled variegated pink and white to faint shades of green and yellow. Among my favorites are the heirloom variety, “Cua” which is a yellow-brown color, a bit more rounded than elongated with a deep almost nutty flavor.
I cook these beans much like I cook dried beans (except for a substantially smaller amount of time) and find that it’s best to start with a sauté of whichever vegetables you choose and the fat and meat from whatever pork product you like to flavor them. Sauteeing the vegetables gives them a greater depth of flavor that just adding them and letting them boil. For additional flavor I like to add a couple of spoons of of roasted tomatoes, or a handful of roasted pepper strips. You can of course, cook these beans in a purely vegetarian style, but they don’t call it “Pork and Beans” for nothing.
1 Large Yellow Onion, cut in ½” dice;
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced;
1 Carrot, cut in ¼” dice;
1 Jalapeno Chile (optional), cut in fine dice;
6 Strips of Bacon, or 1 Smoked Sausage (hot or mild), cut in cubes; or, 2-3 Smoked Pork Chops (it is quite tempting to use a combination of the three);
1 Ounce Light Cooking Oil;
1 Heaping TBS of “Jambalaya Spice Mix”
3 Fresh Thyme Sprigs (or ½ Tsp Dried Thyme Leaves);
4 Bay Leaves
Add the oil and pork products to a heavy pot and bring up to a good heat. If you are using bacon, try to get some color on it. Stir frequently and add the vegetables and the Spice Mix. Stir often, scraping up the spice mix if it should stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add the beans and herbs (and tomatoes and/or peppers, if you like) and cover by 2 inches with water. Bring the pot of beans to a boil and then reduce the heat until the liquid is just bubbling. Allow to cook for 15 minutes and then check the level of the liquid. It is best if it remains about an inch above the beans. Try not to let the beans cook at too high a heat or they will break up and not remain whole. It is important to keep the beans in enough liquid while they cook, but after about 30 minutes, as they get closer to being done, let the liquid cook down until it is just even with the beans. The beans are done when you can just squish them between your fingers. Remember that they will keep cooking as they cool.
Frijoles Tiernos are great served alongside grilled fish or meat, sausages, or along with either a highly seasoned and flavored rice dish for an upscale version of “gallo pinto”.
Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me
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.