Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Real "Down-East" Fish Chowder

My Grandfather used to tell me that the first word I spoke as a toddler was "sish" and that I loved my Grandmothers "sish" chowder more than any other food in my maritime diet. As a matter of fact, for my entire childhood, the menu at my August birthday parties, which were usually held on various small deserted islands in the Bay of Fundy, was fish chowder with hot biscuits and buns, and deep dish raspberry/blueberry combo pies, lovingly prepared by my mother and carried in large pots down iron wharf ladders to the boat to be ferried, along with all the kids from the island village, to the site my father had chosen for the year's festivities. But I digress.

When I saw that Drew of "How to Cook Like Your Grandmother" was asking for ideas for things to cook, the first thing that came to mind was good ol' down east fish chowder, served with fluffy hot buttermilk biscuits, just like MY grandmother used to make, and my mother still does make, whenever she gets the chance to spoil me! Drew volunteered to make the biscuits, if I would do the chowder, and thus was born the first co-blogging event in which I have participated.

I realized right away that this was going to be an interesting challenge to make real fish chowder here in the middle of the jungle. And I have to admit that if it hadn't been for the new Walmart (yes, we now have a Walmart ... they actually arrived before MacDonalds and Starbucks!), I would have had some real problems finding a white fish that would give the flavor that I was looking for.

Many of the fish chowders of my youth were as a direct result of fishing trips, where we would 'throw back' everything but the "haddock" ... the king of chowder fish (also the king of baked haddock and fish 'n chips, but that is for another blog). Haddock is a firm white-fleshed fish with a mild flavor ... it should never be even slightly fishy smelling. It has a mark on the side up by the fin that we were always told was the "Devil's thumbprint", left when he made a grab for a haddock and the haddock slipped away. Much to my sorrow, they are pretty well fished-out these days and what is available is very expensive. And, as you can imagine, there is no haddock to be found at all around this neck of the woods.

I was relieved, therefore, when I found, in the Walmart grocery section, "filet de troncho". This is a true mystery fish for me ... I have never heard of it before. I googled it, and it didn't turn up there. Eventually I found some reference to "troncho" as meaning something like "a type of a cut of meat or fish" like a "troncho of sirlion" for example. In which case, it doesn't really make sense, since "filet" also means "a type of a cut of meat or fish" like a "filet of sirloin". Its a true mystery. However, the good part is that it was a very haddock-y looking white fish, no small bones (which is a prime consideration when making chowder), so I figured I was ready to go.

Real "Down-East" Fish Chowder


2 large filets of haddock (or another similar fish with no small bones)
4 potatoes
1 onion
1/3 of a carrot, chopped
1 cup of evaporated milk or heavy cream or 1/2 milk and 1/2 cream
salt and pepper


1. Melt about 1 Tbsp of butter in heavy bottomed pan.
2. Chop onion; add to melted butter and saute

3. Add chopped carrot and stir in; saute another minute.

4. Peel potatoes and cut in cubes.
5. Add potatoes to onion/carrot mixture and stir to combine.

6. Add 1 cup water.
7. Salt and pepper.

8. Cover; bring to a slow boil and immediately turn down to simmer.
9. Simmer for 10 minutes.

10. Add the two fish filets

Cover and simmer another 10 minutes, until filets are white and just cooked.

12. Using 2 forks, gently flake fish into small pieces and stir through the chowder.

13. Add 1 Tbsp of butter

14. And the evaporated milk or cream.

15. Stir and heat gently. Correct Seasoning.

16. Ladle into bowls; top with freshly snipped chives and another pat of butter and serve with hot fluffy buttermilk biscuits, which are baking at "How to Cook Like Your Grandmother"


Comfort foods just don't come much more comfortable than this! "Sish" Chowder like my grandmother and mother used to make is still one of my favorite foods!! The filet de troncho was a perfect substitution for the haddock. This chowder is so fast and easy with so few ingredients, that one would never guess at the superb flavor. Yes, I will make it again here in the jungle.

I don't think anyone will disagree that the perfect accompaniment to a Real Down-East Fish Chowder is ... Ta da ... Fresh, Hot, Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits, which should be coming out of the oven now at "How to Cook Like Your Grandmother".

Oops ... a slight change in the menu ... we are now serving the chowder with Fresh, Hot Sourdough Biscuits ... check them out!


A Scrumptious Guatemalan Breakfast

A few short years ago, I would never have believed that I would find the combination of fluffy scrambled eggs, boiled black beans and stewed platanos, all with a sprinkle of my favorite hot sauce, and served with steaming hot tortillas (not pictured) to be so downright delicious. Of course, these boiled black beans are no ordinary black beans. These beans are slow cooked over a wood fire to give them their special taste. The platanos have been stewed with cinnamon and nutmeg. The only other thing that would make this dish even better, is a slice of fresh white cheese or a tablespoon of local heavy cream.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicken with Loroco in Cream Sauce

Bit by bit, I'm starting to learn more about traditional Guatemalan cuisine. This dish is an excellent example. It seems like such a basic dish, but the combination of Loroco and cream makes it outstanding! I have never experienced a flavor like it!

I had never eaten Loroco until recently, when I had the good fortune to drop in at the end of a cooking class in "Guatemalan Cuisine" that was being given to the women of the Grupo Femenino Ix-canaan. They gave me a sample of each of the three chicken dishes they prepared that day, and the Pollo con Loroco con Crema was by far the most delicious! I decided in that moment that its unique flavor merited further investigation.

Loroco, called Quilite (meaning "edible herb"), in Mayan, are small, green, unopened flower buds, used as a flavoring agent in Central American cuisine. They are cultivated here in Guatemala, and available at the local market right now. Good timing. I picked some up so I could practice (and eat more of) this dish.

Chicken with Loroco in Cream Sauce
(Pollo con Loroco en Salsa de Crema)


1 chicken leg cut into thighs and drumsticks
4 medium potatoes
1 onion
1/2 sweet red pepper
1 tomato
bay leaves
1 cup of loroco buds
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt, pepper, garlic powder (I couldn't find the fresh garlic at the last moment)


1. Chop onion, 1/2 sweet pepper and tomato and begin to saute in about 2 Tbsp olive oil.
2. Add the sprig of thyme and the bay leaf.
3. Saute until onion becomes translucent, and add chicken pieces to pan.

4. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.
5. Cube potatoes; Add to mixture in pan and mix well.

6. Add about 1 cup water.

7. Cover pan; Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

8. Add loroco to the pan; stir in; cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

9. Add cream to the mixture; stir; heat gently

10. Serve with rice.

The Verdict:

Ricisima!!! I will definitely be making more of this dish, and the flavor of the Loroco was so delicious, that I don't think it would be too much to double it (2 cups) next time I make it.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Oil of Oregano

One of my neighbors gave me a slip of oregano a few months ago, and it has grown wilder than my wildest expectations!

The other day I realized that it is time to do something with it. But what?

I clipped off all the trailing ends that looked prepared to take over the yard, and ended up with a huge aromatic pile of "oregano tips", shown here in front of the remaining garden that doesn't look at all trimmed.

Visions of pizzas and guacamoles swam through my head as I carried my bundle back to the house. I want to use several of the cuttings to dry and store, but wanted to try some other interesting things ... experiment around a bit ... so I decided to start with an Oregano Oil, which has lots of medicinal, as well as (hopefully) culinary, uses.

Medicinal Uses:

Numerous university studies (Georgetown, Cornell, Tennessee, etc.) and independent research have shown Oregano Oil to be a potent antimicrobial. The ever growing body of evidence is showing Oregano Oil to be useful as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent rivaling even pharmaceutical antibiotics in it's ability to eliminate microbes. Remarkably it accomplishes this without promoting the development of drug resistant strains and other problems often attributed to the use of standard antibiotics. In addition to this already impressive list of abilities Oregano Oil is also a powerful parasitic expellant, is valuable as a food preservative, and has been used to decontaminate foods from potentially harmful pathogen's. Carvacrol has been identified as the chief constituent behind Oregano Oil's extraordinary properties.

Culinary Uses:

This is where I'm hoping to get some help!!!

How might one use oregano oil in cooking?
Is there anything interesting that I can do with fresh oregano?
Anybody have any ideas?

Oregano Oil

(N.B. Essential oils are usually obtained from plants through the process of steam distillation, for which I do not have the proper equipment. The following method will not result in a pure essential oil, but in an oil that contains the essential oil of the plant.)

First, I filled a large bottle with torn fresh oregano leaves.

Then topped it up with vegetable oil.

And now I've left the covered bottle in a sunny spot for ... well ... I've read about lots of different times ... from 6 days to 20 days ... so I figure I will just check it regularly until it is the strength I want.

The Verdict:

You'll have to stay tuned for the final verdict as well as any interesting ways I find to use it ... I will provide regular updates in the blog ... however, I did check it a few minutes ago, after about 24 hours of sitting in a warm sunny place. I found that you smell very little of the aroma of oregano just by smelling the open bottle, but when I put a dab on my wrist, it had a definite but gentle aroma.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Red Pitaya, A Fruit of the Rainforest

Red Pitaya, also called Dragonfruit, is a type of cactus that grows, vine-like, high in the trees of the rainforest. It is chock full of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

According to Wikipedia, (and I quote since its not that much and will save you going to a link)

"Sweet pitayas come in three types, all with leathery, slightly leafy skin:

* Hylocereus undatus (Red Pitaya) has red-skinned fruit with white flesh. This is the most commonly-seen "dragonfruit".
* Hylocereus costaricensis (Costa Rica Pitaya, sometimes called H. polyrhizus) has red-skinned fruit with red flesh
* Hylocereus megalanthus (Yellow Pitaya) has yellow-skinned fruit with white flesh.

Red Pitaya, ready to eat ...

The fruit can weigh from 150-600 grams and the flesh, which is eaten raw, is mildly sweet and low in calories. Eating the fruit is sometimes likened to that of the kiwifruit due to a prevalence of sesame seed-sized black crunchy seeds found in the flesh of both fruits which make for a similar texture upon consumption. The skin is not eaten. The fruit may be converted into juice or wine; the flowers can be eaten or steeped as tea. Although the tiny pitaya seeds are eaten with the flesh, the seeds are indigestible. It is generally recommended that dragon fruit be eaten chilled, for improved flavor. Ingestion of significant amounts of red dragonfruit (particularly Costa Rica Pitaya) may result in a reddish discoloration of the urine and faeces.[4]

* Red-skinned pitayas[5] are rich in vitamins[6], especially Vitamin C.
* Pitayas are rich in fiber and minerals, notably phosphorus and calcium. Red pitayas are richer in the former, yellow ones in the latter[5]. In Taiwan, diabetics use the fruit as a food substitute for rice and as a source of dietary fibre.
* Pitayas are also rich in phytoalbumins which are highly valued for their antioxidant properties.
* Costa Rican Pitayas are rich in antioxidants[7] which prevent the formation of cancer-causing free radicals."


El Pez Dorado: A Restaurant Review

El Pez Dorado was named and decorated after these bright-eyed goldfish swimming in an aquarium just inside the door.

A new restaurant, El Pez Dorado (The Goldfish) just opened in Ixlu, the village that borders El Remate, and has inspired me to add Restaurant Reviews to my blog. Even though we are a small community, there are lots of travellers staying here in the village while visiting Tikal, and they will want to know where to eat.

El Pez Dorado is located just off the main highway on the border between the two villages. It is small, only 6 tables, and is open to the fresh jungle air and greenery that surrounds it.

(If you look closely, you can see the goldfish aquarium in the office window)

We decided to start with an icy-cold Rosa de Jamaica with Soda ... the first time we have seen it for sale in this presentation.

We both loved the refreshing flavor of this common local beverage when served with soda, and were surprised that it wasn't too sweet like most canned beverages. We both also like the color coordination with the restaurant itself!

For our main course, we both opted for the Grilled Chicken Burger with Fries.

The Chicken Burger was excellent ... grilled to perfection on an outdoor barbecue and dressed with lettuce and sliced tomato and onion. The French Fries were unfortunately rushed through their process ... probably with the desire to serve us quickly ... the oil wasn't allowed to heat enough (we were the first customers of the day) and the fries were too greasy, even for me. The next time we eat there, we will let them know that we are not in a hurry and can wait for the food to be properly prepared.

We weren't thinking at all of dessert, but E. spied two of these fruits on the counter beside the gold fish aquarium.

We asked Reina, the owner, if they were for sale, and she said no, they were a gift that she had been given in the morning. However, she was willing to gift us with one of them. It has been ages since we had eaten one, and we accepted this relatively rare treat with great joy!

Do you know what it is? See the next blog entry for more information.

The Verdict:

The bright happy fresh atmosphere combined with above-and-beyond service more than made up for the greasy fries. The prices were reasonable (about $4.50 each). We will return.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Totally Addictive Vegetable Sandwiches

This is my favorite sandwich of the month. Or of the year. I usually use more or less the same ingredients each time, but the option of adding just about any other vegetable you want is always there.

Totally Addictive Vegetable Sandwiches

2 slices Home made bread
mayonaise (or mayonaise mixed with yogurt)
1 tomato or several slices of cucumber
finely chopped onion
finely chopped red pepper
very finely chopped jalapeƱo pepper
lots of roughly chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

1. Spread mayonaise on both slices of home made bread.
2. On one side, cover bread with chopped onion, sweet pepper and jalapeno pepper.
3. On the other side, fill bread slice with fat slices of tomato.
4. Salt and pepper (freshly ground goes without saying)
5. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro to taste (I use lots of it in place of lettuce which is not really good here)

6. Sprinkle tomatoes with balsamic vinegar.
7. Press chopped vegies into the mayo with the flat of a knife, and quickly, so the small pieces don't fall off, put that slice of bread over the tomatoes.
8. Cut into 2 or 4 pieces (I find them easier to eat if they are in 4 pieces) and enjoy!!

The Verdict:

I love these Totally Addictive Vegetable Sandwiches, and often eat them for breakfast, varying the tomato for thick slices of cucumber and adding sprouts when I have them. My favorite part is the burst of different flavors each time your teeth come together as you crunch into the variety of chopped vegetables. The only downside is the time it takes to chop all those vegies .. but its worth it :>)

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Verdolaga: A Natural Resource

About a week after moving into this neighborhood, I saw one of the neighbors returning to her home from her consult at the clinic and searching diligently along the sides of the path while she walked. As I watched, she reached down and started pulling greens from the ground. I hurried over as she was wrapping them up in the front of her shirt to carry them to her house, to ask what she had found. It's called Verdolaga she told me ... its a weed that grows abundantly in the ditches and roadsides.
I made a point of memorizing the look of the leaves and the way the plant was growing, and have made it a regular vegetable on our table during its season ever since. Now, I have been working diligently to grow a garden ... and in the section for herbs, the only plant that grew was ... you guessed it ... verdolaga!!!

Verdolaga has a gentle green flavor ... it reminds me of fiddleheads, a wild speciality from my Miramichi roots.

I just rinse it off, chop it up, steam it in a bit of water and serve with cider vinegar. I particularly like this vegetable served with a baked chicken dinner.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Empanadas de Aselgar

The Mango Sauce from the Stuffed Chicken recipe inspired these Empanadas de Aselgar. Since April, when I learned to make pie crust, I have made a point of keeping a zip-lock baggie in the refrigerator with enough crust for a full pie just in case of an emergency craving for something in crust. (Hasn't that ever happened to you?). This was definitely such an occasion.

I still had the rest of the aselgar left over from making the stuffed chicken, so I steamed it and mixed it with a beaten egg and a lot of crumbled queso blanco (local fresh cheese which tastes a lot like feta).

I put a spoonful of the aslegar mixture on each round piece of pie crust and sealed the sides.

And baked them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

The Mango Sauce embellished the flavors perfectly. Delicious!


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