Saturday, December 26, 2009

mail me some manischewitz...

Trying to explain what a latke is to the kitchen staff was a feat. "It's potato food from the people... Jewish? That aren't Catholic? And have small hats and curls near their ears (think: spring potluck charades 2009)?" (this explanation was met with blank stares) "It's like the breakfast potatoes, grated, from McDonald's?" (a few nods- there is a Mickey D's in Managua so a few people got it...

so, I just had to make them. That's right: plantain latkes!

I know it is belated, but, Happy 

Guapote (white fish), seared, with beets, romaine, plantain latke & a chilote (tiny corn) vinaigrette

street food!

 In SF, it 's a hip trend that entails creme brulee, delicious tacos, girls on bikes selling baked goods and jams... people tweet their whereabouts, and most have a sign, clean hands and although technically illegal, sanitation isn't a big concern, even when ordering from a taco cart. 

 I had to ease into Nica street food. One, much of it is cooked over grill grates resting on what appears to be halved gasoline drums. B., I've seen raw chicken "aging?" in the sun... ah, the smells of Granada! So, I started simple" sliced green mango with salt, vinegar and chiles. not bad! I have learned to ask for solo un poquito sal. "poco" is way too much.
 Quesillo was my first official hot street food: tortilla, mozzarella, queso crema, onion, chiles, vinegar... delicious! Plus, you can eat it out of plastic baggie, which means it's authentic. I grabbed one with Matt and Walter after work on a weeknight. $10 cordobas (yes, mom, that's a ti83 polo he's wearing).

 Thought provoking: oranges sold on the street are all peeled down to the pith. I thought that maybe there was a delicious use for the zest, some Nicaraguan secret. Nope. It is just removed so the fruit can be eaten like an apple. The zest is trashed. Yum, bitter pith.
 I bought a Nacatamal (which is fun to say, but annoying after hearing women yelling it all day to push their product)... but the tepid temperature of a wrap containing pork and chicken freaked me out- so I gave it to Matt. Some people that sell specialty street food don't have signs, prices or yell about their products. Simply because, "la gente sabe" (the people know). I do not count in this generalization. But I am working on it.   

Also, Nicas LOVE "ote dogh." They are sold everywhere. I don't know if it is because of the national sport (baseball), or the fact that they are easily prepared/stored - but hot dogs are everywhere! i managed to eat one covered in cheese (it's in the bun n that photo- was suspiciously more like mayonnaise) for dinner after work at like, 11pm last week. Somehow satisfying, and my body worked through it rather miraculously.

Just got home from work and I am kind of craving repocheta. But I'll get to that in another post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

yuca-n get it if you really want...

I know now why I have never seen a lot of yuca options on the menu. In light of the Yuca disaster yesterday, I need to practice with that- because it is so plentiful here! I have only seen the firm yuca, not the soft.

I had a delicious fried yuca with garlic and lime at a fancy restaurant here. They even sell it at Price Smart (like Costco- there's one in the country, it's about 1 hr. away)

Otherwise known as Cassava, it's great in dessert, fried, tapioca... I tried treating it like a potato, and my garlic yuca mash would be great for sealing leaks or damaged walls.

recipes welcome.

Top Chef: Nicaragua!

Oh, my, god, Becky...
Yesterday the owner of the resort invited the contractors who helped develop it (water guy, plant guy, architect, etc) to a celebration dinner. There are 7 people on staff right now, so we had the morning to clean up/unload boxes, and I was going to begin cooking at after lunch! I'd spent the last 2 days in the capital sourcing food & getting equipment. 2 days. No, not finished.
1:30pm. We have had a good morning of unloading/somewhat organizing, but it’s been tough because there is no water on the island. Some sort of leak or clog with the filter. Every hour I hear that it will be fixed in just a few minutes, hopefully. My sous chef begins cooking family meal for a late lunch, some chicken sandwiches. it is pretty much ready in 20-30 minutes (which is a long time to be making sandwiches), but there is this huge runaround- the basic jist is that when 7 out of 8 people are ready to eat, they will hang out for the 8th to be ready, to, but in the meantime, someone else finds something to do, the cycle continues. I wait with patience for water, so I can at least wash my hands, and food, to get started cooking
2:30pm: everyone sits down to family meal (I have eaten by this point- sorry folks, I was hungry! the construction crew brings their own lunches, so I took note and did the same). All I want to do is wash my hands. Then, I find out that the water tower has a decent flow going! With help, I get a huge (clean) trash can full of water from the water tower down to the kitchen and begin to cook around 3:00. By cook, I mean, make a little salsa while also answering any question that comes my way. Did I mention I speak horrible Nicaraguense? So, things move slowly.
Interim pm: 2 of us are in the kitchen cooking, and the other 7 need to take care of front of house- we grab Elsa, who saved the night, and she becomes out dishwasher. HEAVEN. For a moment. The kitchen is full of people looking for stuff, needing the sink, since we are still missing some things, chaos ensues. I am laughing outside, sweating profusely, and freaking out on the inside. The guests arrive, and thank god there is a wine tasting first. We have two appetizers that go out on cool little plates as finger food, which are a hit. The owner is kind of giving me the eye though- I was scared she didn’t like the food... The girls on staff wanted to help out, so I asked them to make the tortillas. Never assume just because girls are Latina they can make tortillas. They tasted tough, but I wanted to give the guests something to eat! Plus, the salsa was good, so hopefully that masked it? There was mystery water coming in buckets at one point, from where, I didn’t even ask. The electricity goes out when I turn on the electric oven. Ugh. Generator, baby! Phew!
5:55pm. I am told that guests are sitting in 10 minutes. I ask 7 people each 2 times how many people are here to eat- because they keep coming and going from the bar area. 8. do-able! wonderful! AND! We have water!!!!!!! But how am I going to make pastries (without tart molds) to put this lime curd in?
6:15pm. I still have a LONG prep list for the entrees and dessert, plus, I have to make these folks breakfast in the morning? The Yuca Mash is Glue. Elmer’s Glue. Everyone is helping out in the kitchen if needed, and each course goes smoothly. We serve the salads and it is great! With so much staff, everyone takes 2 plates and gets served at the same time, if it weren’t for the flies, you’d think you were at the French Laundry. 
6:18pm. Carolina comes in and says we are actually nine. We need another salad. Ah. Ugh. Plating for 8 earlier, I managed to make enough salad for the staff to try, so thank goodness, crisis averted. It’s for the water guy (who, later toasted us to doing such a great job without water), he gets his salad. 

The main courses go well, and dessert, somehow, all works out! It was fun, hard, sweaty, a huge mess. I loved it. The owner gave me a big hug at the end of the night with a simple, smiling, genuine, Thank you.

The meal:
  • Antojitos: Salsa of onions, chiles, papayas and basil with tortillas & Chilotes (those little corn that Tom Hanks eats in Big) with lime mayo and queso seco
  • ***Judge’s Table Comments would have been***: why didn’t you just make more tortillas? you had more corn meal, right? They are so simple! Typical contestant response: I ran out of time. I should have just served the chilotes. 
  • Salad: roasted beets and cohombro with grapefruit (like a sweet squash)
  • ***delicious - really nice addition of the cohombro. a farm i went to last week gave it to me as a gift. I’d never seen one before
  • Entrees: Family Style: Sesame Seed Crusted Grouper with Roasted Eggplant and An orange scented chiles & Achiote Braised Short Ribs with Jicaro Seed, Broccoli and Cinnamon Bulgar Wheat
  • ***very good. so glad you didn’t serve the Yuca mash, and instead put the bulgar wheat with the short ribs
  • Dessert: frozen bananas with Nicaraguan chocolate and cashews, fresh lime curd ***perfect ending!
We all had a champagne toasts with the guests (to what has been created, and to the future of the hotel! And the owner!) before the boat ride home.
Oh. turns out we couldn’t all fit in the boat. So, 3 of us waited another 40 minutes to get the boat home.
Total day: left the house at 6:15 to go to the Mercado. In bed at midnight. Haven’t had a day like that in a while!

For breakfast this morning, a brief synopsis:

 Boat was late to get us for a 6:30 ride, 8am breakfast. No problem- everyone is used to that, including our great guests. There was a lot of miscommunication about how to use the coffee machines. My original menu contained: poached eggs with oven roasted tomatoes, potatoes roesti, bananas foster pancakes, homemade granola with fruit and yogurt, fresh juice, smoothies, but, I made QUITE a few changes.

The breakfast menu:
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice, Cucumber Water, Coffee
  • Caramelized Onion Frittata with Tomatoes, Cohombro, Garlic, Queso Fresco
  • Roasted Potatoes with Chiles and Garlic
  • Passion Fruit, Papaya, Watermelon and Yogurt

Everyone left happy and exhausted. I wanted to blog about this when I got home earlier, but the electricity in Granada was out until now! Insert canned audience laughter and signature catch phrase here... cue theme music, and, I’m out!

(PHOTOS: end of the night delirium on the star filled boat ride home, fresh chilotes)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This little piggy went to the market... yada yada and cried wee wee wee wee all the way home.

Why, hello there!
  I tried checking out the Granada marketplace. Interesting spot. Huge baskets of plantains next to a vendor selling lady speed stick, some live chickens, some queso aging in the morning sun...
 The quantity of produce, dry goods and trinkets is really fascinating, but I didn't really want to pull out my camera. I get hassled enough being whitey (I am working hard to get a safe base tan going, by the way)... I didn't want to get my camera stolen or whathaveyou. It is hot, gross, and there is not a lot of personal space. I managed to sneak a photo in at a small stand.
  However, you can see, what fun produce! Never have to feel bad about eating bananas and pineapple, it's local, baby!
 Now that I have started work, the hardest part is finding high quality, local ingredients from reliable sources. Tomorrow I head out to meet some people face to face! Actually, that is pretty much the only way to get good organic goods here, since most farmers don't have phones. I guess they just use twitter.*

As far as home cooking goes, I have kept things fairly simple. The supermarket sells medley of veggies in a bag for under $1, a melange of root vegetables, fruit and a bit of cabbage... I washed them (with filtered water) and cooked it into a curry with some chick peas. Hellooo lunch for the week!

*are twitter jokes still funny?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bienvenidos a Granada, Nicaragua!

Hola! Here I am in Granada, Nicaragua... after 2 planes flights, a truck ride, some bug spray and a few days of settling in. It is not raining, not cold, not snowing... it is currently about 85 degrees. Not that dry Santa Ana 85 that has a cool wind blowing. The humidity level is like, 70%. That's a fake smile right after I wiped sweat off my face. I am now in the shade.

While I type, I'll put some local noises I hear in parentheses.

It is Purisima, a holiday celebrating the Virgin Mary. The celebration reminds me of my time living in SF's Chinatown during New Year's... various parades (horses trotting by), and firecrackers. But these fireworks are LOUD. Like, gunshot Boom! loud. A band plays while people cart a statue of the Virgin in front of houses and small churches.

I like to think that I (boom) am adjusting slightly to the heat (boom). Granada has shown great displays of history (boom), poverty (stream of crackly fireworks) and natural beauty ( (boom). I haven't exactly plunged into the food just yet because (car blasting reggaeton through subwoofers) I want my digestive organs to ease into it. The people are friendly (church bells) and the city seems improved since I last saw it in 2006.

What I currently smell is used fireworks amongst humid air, and ah, a slight breeze. temporary relief.