Thursday, January 27, 2011



I actually got to take a night off to go dinner last night and spent some quality time with my friends Richard and Debbie. Of course we were talking about food and I got to waxing on about how much earlier the mango season had come this year than last and just how damn good the mangos were this year.

I was rattling on and on about just how special mangos are to me, now much I love to cook with them and just how damn sensous a fruit they are, and Debbie said to me, "But how do you cut them? I can't seem to do it without getting a mess all over the place. Her question reminded me that I had written a piece for Dominical Days about my mango-lust and had included in the second part a pretty good description of how I like to cut them to get the largest and best looking pieces from this most luscious of fruits.

I have reprinted my paean to mangos below. The first part is a love/lust story and the second describes how to cut the fruit and gives a recipe for a nice mango/mustard glaze. I would like to add to the instructions about the cutting that it works best with a sharp paring knife, for removing both the skin and the fruit. If you are able to use a vegetable peeler on your mango then it is probably not ripe enough to be considering in the first place.

MANGOES, FINALLY I GET MANGOES (From the July, 2010 issue of Dominical Days)

This has been the breakout year for me with mangoes. I always liked them, but didn’t love them. I’d liked using them in my kitchen, but didn’t really understand the possibilities they presented to me. I knew that they were a richly flavored and almost sexual fruit, but I just hadn’t gotten there with them, so to speak. And lastly, I just couldn’t figure out how to cut the damn things.

This mango season that has all changed. Maybe it was that I became more committed to working with local ingredients and knew that they were an essential part of a tropical kitchen repertoire. Maybe it was the smell of them in my car on a warm day as their honeyed juices warmed, and maybe it was licking my fingers after cutting them for my “Salsa de la Jungla” and discovering that each mango had a slightly different yet equally powerfully seductive flavor.

This is the year that I discovered a “signature” sauce based on mangoes. This is the year I made mango vinegar, numerous mango salsas, mango-mustard glaze and mango-coco ice cream. I found that the mango could stand up to the acid of mandarina, the bite of ginger, the heat of habaneros and the sinus opening blast of hot mustard.

I have paired mango this year with chicken, fish and pork. Each of those meats picks something up from the inherent mango sweetness and if they are cooked on the grill, they give something back with the flavor of smoke and charcoal. A crusty pork loin or crisp skinned chicken thigh brushed with a mango glaze and then pulled from the grill is barbecued poetry.

The season is almost over but there are still sticky sweet mangoes at the Feria. Buy and use them now or puree the flesh and use it later. But however you use them, don’t forget to lick your fingers.


So now, with any luck, I’ve made you want to run out and grab a few mangoes, and in an “end of the season” burst of creativity, have your way with them. I buy them with three criteria in mind; feel, smell and color. I want my mango to have some give to it when I squeeze it, but not just in one soft place. I want the smell to be aromatic and sweet. And I want the color to be a lovely hue of red running into gold over the entire fruit.

Cut off enough of either end so that it will stand up on its own.Using a paring knife, from top to bottom take the skin off in longnarrow strips. When the peel is gone, stand the mango up again and look at it from the top. It should be ovate, rather than round. The longest sides of the oval are where the greatest amount of the flesh is. Using the blade of the knife, find the seed and slide the knife downward, staying as close to the seed as possible. The flesh should come away in a long even piece. Continue around the mango, working the knife down the pit. You will have two larger pieces of mango and several other long narrow pieces. You are ready to cook.


Flesh of One Ripe Mango

Juice of 2 Mandarinas

½ Cup Orange Juice

½ Cup Tapa Dulce, or Brown Sugar

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 TBS Dijon Mustard

In a stainless or non-corrosive pot, put all the ingredients except the mustard. Bring up the heat to a low boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring to break up the pieces. Remove from heat and stir in the mustard. Use as a glaze for pork, chicken or fish. Use it now, or chill and reserve.

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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
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.