Costa Rica

It’s been several weeks since my last post.  We’re still going strong working through our list (our next country will put us past the 25% point!!!), but I am, unfortunately, ten countries behind on this blog…

Several weeks ago we cooked Costa Rican food!  One of the most well known national dishes is actually a big breakfast, so we had breakfast for dinner one night.  We made gallo pinto (yet another rice and beans dish…), which is typically served with platanos maduros (fried plantains), eggs (fried or scrambled), and sour cream.

Gallo Pinto (recipe)

This was pretty straightforward–fry onion, pepper, garlic, and cilantro (although I think I may have waited and added cilantro at the end?) in oil.  Then mix in cooked beans, sauce, and spices (we had to buy a new sauce for this: Salsa Lizano… thank you, Amazon Prime).  Then the cooked rice was mixed in.  Done.


Platanos Maduros (recipe)

This was another nice, simple recipe.  The only struggle is that our grocery store did not have very ripe plantains in stock at the time we made this.  We ended up using a combination of medium ripe plantains and very ripe small bananas (I don’t remember their name, but the sticker said they came from Costa Rica, so I called that close enough…).






Post-frying, served with dinner:


Overall, this meal was very good.  Even for an egg hater like me, the scrambled eggs went pretty well with the rest of the food.  Everything on the plate complimented the rest very nicely.  Tyler made the pinto gallo for breakfast several times afterwards in the next couple weeks, and the leftovers went quickly.  So we’ll call that a win.



For Colombia, I selected a main dish of sudado de pollo (Colombian style chicken stew) with a side of arepa (which I can best describe as a mix of cornbread and pancakes). I couldn’t resist selecting a cheese filled version of the arepa.

Sudado de Pollo (recipe)

Like so many recipes before, this one started with sautéing chopped onions (and red pepper, in this case). Tomato, garlic, salt and pepper were added after the onions were cooked.

Then the chicken (we used chicken thighs and some leftover rotisserie chicken from China), chicken stock, and more spices were added. The spices included cumin and a mix called Sazon Soya, for which I read a reasonable substitute is equal parts of ground coriander, cumin, annatto, garlic powder, and salt. This cooked for 25 minutes, and then potatoes and cilantro were added and left to cook until the potatoes were soft.  It thickened some after the below picture.


Arepa Boyacense (recipe)

The arepa proved to be a little more complicated than the main dish…

The main challenge was an ingredient we could not locate: masarepa, a type of pre-cooked cornmeal.  The closest substitute I came across was corn grits for polenta.


As I started “kneading” the corn grits, flour, water, milk, salt, sugar, and butter, it became clear that I had a problem.  There was not a lot of kneading going on, but there was a lot of swashing corn grits around in liquid and scratching my hands going on.  So I totally deviated from the recipe under the assumption that the cornmeal stuff needed to be cooked.  I ended up spending the next hour or so cooking this mixture in a skillet (adding water pretty often) until it became soft enough that I could imagine eating it without cracking a tooth.

So I returned to the recipe at that point and rolled it out into small circles, sprinkled some cheese on top, and added another circle on top to encase the cheese.


These were then fried:


The arepa was served with the sudado de pollo over rice:




The verdict?

Good, but not spectacular.  The chicken stew was definitely enjoyable, but it won’t go down in history as a meal we need to repeat.  Same with the arepas… tasty, but not quite as good as I expected.  The seemed a little too sweet, and although I saved them from being a complete disaster by cooking the “dough” ahead of time, I always wonder how differently some of these recipes we make would turn out if I didn’t have to make any substitutions.


Catch up post number four!  We were excited to have made it out of our stretch of so many African countries!  We also were determined to squeeze this into our schedule when we did, because our next country to cook was China, and we were about to go to China!  More on that later.

So I found a lot of tasty looking food for Chile, but the reoccurring theme was a casserole called pastel de choclo, which is essentially a casserole of empanada filling topped with a sweet cornbread-ish topping.  We made pebre salsa and sopaipillas (pumpkin sopaipillas!!!) for a side.  The Pebre salsa could be eaten with the casserole or as a savory topping for the sopaipillas.  The sopaipillas pasadas also involved an orange/cinnamon/clove/sugar syrup to serve them as a dessert.

Pastel de Choclo (recipe)

As I described above, this started with what is essentially empanada filling… very similar to what we made for Argentina.  Ground beef, garlic, onion, paprika, cumin, oregano, etc.  We went with some of the variations listed on this recipe that seemed to be standard in many of the recipes I looked at–adding chicken (we used part of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken), hard boiled egg slices, and raisins.

This was topped with a cornbread type topping.  All of the recipes I looked at were a little different, and some other bloggers mentioned that this part is VERY sweet using American corn, which is allegedly more sweet than the average Chilean corn.  Since we were in the middle of Iowa sweet corn season, I obviously was going to make this recipe using fresh corn from the closest local farmer’s truck!  I ended up making a spreadsheet converting all the different corn topping recipes into common units (some used ears of corn, some used volume of corn kernels, and some used weight of corn kernels) and found some kind of happy medium.  According to my notes, I ended up using five ears of corn, three handfuls of cornmeal, and two splashes of milk.  And there was some chopped basil from our garden in there too.  Pretty scientific, I know.

After cooking, here’s what it looked like:



Pebre (recipe)

This was a nice and easy recipe.  I think we used mostly produce from the garden, too.  Just dice the fresh ingredients and mix it all together.  The red wine vinegar made this a little different from other salsas I have made.


Sopaipillas Pasadas (sopaipilla recipe, sauce recipe)

As I mentioned above, these are not your ordinary sopaipillas… they had pumpkin!  I am a die hard, year round pumpkin lover.  So this recipe was a must when I read about it.

I made the dough using shortening, flour, baking powder, etc. and pureed pumpkin (from our garden!).  These were rolled into small circles than fried in an inch or two of oil.  They were done when the started to puff up and float.


We also made the sauce, which was sugar cooked in water for a looong time with orange rind, cloves, and a cinnamon stick.  Yum.

I don’t think it got as thick as it was supposed to be, so we ended up letting it boil more after dinner.


The final meal:



Meal Review

This was another smashing success!!!  We absolutely loved the pastel de choclo casserole.  The corn topping was not too sweet as some warned it could be, and in fact it was just sweet enough to perfectly compliment the meat/filling.  The pebre salsa was a great accompaniment, and it was also good as a savory topping for the sopaipillas.  The sopaipillas and their sauce were delicious.  They didn’t hold up as well through reheating, but they were still delicious.  Definitely an all around winner, this was one of our favorite meals so far and earned the rare five star rating!




After our 3+ week break, we finally got back into this project with Brazil.  It was a bit of a doozy to start back into the project with this country because there were SO MANY OPTIONS.  These big countries are tough; there is just so much information and variety in cuisine.  The most commonly selected dish by the other international cooking blogs I follow is a meat and bean stew called feijoada, so I went with that.  The traditional sides are cove mineira (cooked collard greens or kale), farofa (toasted manioc flour), and rice.  I planned to make all of those but had to bail on the farofa when I couldn’t find the coarse manioc flour locally (in case anyone is interested, here is the recipe I was planning to use).  I also made a simple dessert called brigadeiros, which are similar to chocolate truffles and are named after a 1920s Brazilian politician.

Feijoada (recipe)

This dish consists of a whole bunch of meat and some beans slow cooked together.  The first challenge was gathering all of the meat.  This recipe called for 1 lb corned beef, 2 lb smoked spareribs or pork chops, 3/4 lb slab of bacon, 1 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck or eye round, 1 ham hock, 1 pig’s food, and 1/4 lb chorizo.  That is a lot of meet.

We checked with multiple grocery stores, and none of them have corned beef in stock (maybe they consider it seasonal??).  I read in multiple other recipes that the corned beef is actually a substitute for a type of Brazillian dried beef called carne seca.  I did some searching on how to make your own carne seca, and it involved several days of letting salted beef dry out in the sun.  Not happening.  Since I read many comments that the more smoked meats you put in this dish the better, we decided our substitute would be to smoke a piece of beef (we went with a beef chuck cut) with some salt on it.  We let it smoke long enough to get somewhat dry, hoping that would be closer to the authentic ingredient.

We also couldn’t find pig feet (darn, how disappointing…), so instead we used the second ham hock that came in the package of two.  The only other substitution/change is that the chorizo we found didn’t have a casing, so it was cooked like ground beef as opposed to being cut in slices.

After retrieving all of the meat, we started cooking.  Most of the meat simmered in the stock pot for an hour or two.  It was a very full pot.



After the meat was all cooked and tender (it took longer than the recipe recommended), it was removed from the broth and then chopped/shredded.  I set aside the broth.

Feijoada_meats   Feijoada_shredded_meats


Next the (pre-soaked) black beans went in the stock pot with some of the reserved broth.  I don’t have any pictures to share of this step… it didn’t look very exciting.

Next we chopped the jalapeño, scallions, and garlic.


They were cooked with the chorizo.  It smelled delicious.

Feijoada_veggies_chorizo_uncooked   Feijoada_chorizo_veggies


The beans, some broth, the bacon/ham hock meat, and eventually the rest of the meats were added and left to simmer for a little while to get to the final product.



Brazilian Style Rice (recipe)

This was pretty close to your standard white rice, except that you start by frying some garlic, onion, and the uncooked rice in oil.  The intent was to lightly brown the rice, although I can’t say that really happened with mine.  Then you add the water and cook as usual.


 Couve Mineira (recipe)

This was another quick and simple.  It was my first time cooking with collard greens, and I was pretty impressed at how huge the leaves are.  I also was excited to chiffonade them (A. What a fun word! B. What a fun way to slice stuff and make cool ribbon shaped strips!).

chiffonading_collard_greens   chiffonaded_collard_greens

The chiffonaded collard greens were boiled for a couple minutes then dunked in cold water.  It took two batches because it turns out that “two large bunches” of collard greens makes a LOT of food.

Then the garlic, salt, and pepper were heated in olive oil and tossed with the collard greens.  Nice and simple.


Brigadeiros (recipe)

These also had a short ingredient list and simple cooking instructions… they just took a while.  A can of sweetened, condensed milk, butter, and cocoa powder were mixed in a small pan over medium-low heat.  This was stirred constantly for about half an hour (and by constantly I mean stirred constantly for a minute or two, left alone for a few minutes while I folded laundry, stirred for another minute or two, then left alone again as I continued folding laundry, then back to stir, etc…).  I forgot to take a picture of the final consistency, but the idea was to continue this process until it was thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan when you stir.

Brigadeiros_1   Brigadeiros_2   Brigadeiros_3   Brigadeiros_4


After the heating process it was left in a buttered pan to cool.  It felt like I was making brownies.



Then the batter was rolled by into small balls and coated with chocolate sprinkles.  The tip to put some butter (I used crisco) on your hands to keep the mixture from sticking was very helpful.



The final meal looked surprisingly similar to Botswana from a few weeks ago.  It is traditional to serve the feijoada with orange wedges to help with digestion or something.  They also added some nice color to the plate.



We are loving the nice weather and enjoyed this meal on our screened-in porch. 🙂



The meal was good.  I can’t say it was a favorite, but it was good.  The feijoada had a fairly complex flavor from all of the different meats.  It was overwhelmingly meaty and heavy, though… definitely more meat than we are used to eating.  Since it made so much, we ended up freezing half, and I’m tempted to use some of those leftovers with barbecue sauce as a sandwiches.  The meat reminded me a bit of the saucy southerner sandwich from the delicious Hickory Park of Ames, IA.  I don’t know if orange really goes that well with this dish or if I just was really in the mood for oranges, but the orange wedges were delicious with the feijoada.

The rice was good, but I can’t say I noticed a big difference in texture or flavor from the standard method of boiling white rice in water.  I’m still not a big fan of cooked greens as a side, but I will say that this recipe for collard greens were better than average.  I may warm up to them by the end of this project in a few years.

The brigadeiros were quite good.  They were similar to chocolate truffles, but the filling reminded me more of brownie batter.  Very rich, so one or two was all I could eat in one sitting.  My co-workers benefitted from some of the extras. 🙂


Bolivia was our second trip to South America for this project, and we’ll be back soon to Brazil.

I found a great blog with Bolivian recipes from someone who grew up there, so I used her recipe for silpancho and a hot sauce called llajwa.  Since the siplancho includes rice, potatoes, meat, eggs, and veggies, I didn’t select any side dishes or other recipes.  This made the meal a lot easier than usual!

Llajwa (recipe)

The Llajwa is a traditional spicy sauce made of jalapeño peppers, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and salt.  It is traditionally prepared in a batan, which looks somewhat similar to a mortar and pestle, but with a much larger base.  I attempted to make the sauce in our large mortar and pestle, but that didn’t work out very well since there was so much liquid.  Jalapeño pepper juice splattering around the kitchen is not a good thing.  So I switched to the mini food processor.

Llajwa_ingredients   Llajwa

Silpancho (recipe)

We started with salad/salsa topping.  Not much too it, but it was easy to make this ahead of time and set it aside.  Chopped tomato, green pepper, red onion, with a dress of oil, vinegar, and salt.


Next we made the potatoes.  The recipe suggested boiling them for 10 minutes, so they were only partially cooked.  I love the look of the sliced potatoes afterwards!


Later on, when we were closer to eating, these went back in a pan with some oil to finish cooking.

Silpancho_potatoes_cooking   Silpancho_potatoes



The most unique part of this meal was the meat.  One pound of ground beef was mixed with salt and pepper, then split into four balls and rolled out with a rolling pin in bread crumbs.  They were supposed to be pretty thin, so even with 1/4 lb ground beef in each, they were bigger than my face.

These were cooked in a large pan on the stove.  They didn’t take too long since they were so thin

Silpancho_meat_cooking_1   Silpancho_meat_cooking_2   Silpancho_meat_cooking_3

I didn’t take any pictures of the eggs, but we also fried three eggs somewhere in this process.  I will note that this is WAY out of my comfort zone–I do not like eggs.  Honestly, I can’t believe I made it through 22 countries before I had to eat a cooked egg (I’m not counting the hardboiled egg that went into our empanadas for Argentina–that was very well disguised).  We also made a cup of rice, but I didn’t take pictures of that either, because we all know what rice looks like.

The assembly process was important since there was SO MUCH food to put together.  First there is a base of rice and potato slices, then the meat patty, then the egg, than the salsa, then the sauce, then some chopped cilantro.



The results were delicious!  Once again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed something that is full of ingredients I don’t really like!  The egg was still a stretch, but it was well disguised among all the other food.  I’m starting to appreciate green pepper and red onion, and I loved the kick of the Llajwa sauce!  Further evidence that my spicy food tolerance is increasing with this project…


I couldn’t get through planning our meal for Belize without humming “Belize Navidad” (to the tune of Feliz Navidad)…  I think Tyler might be tired of hearing that song.

Once again, I had a lot options to choose from, since the cuisine of Belize is influenced by Caribbean, African, Spanish, Mexican, and Mayan cooking.  I was very intrigued by the recado rojo spice/paste that is used in a delicious-looking chicken dish.  I learned that it is traditionally served with rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice, which is not the same thing), and other common sides include johnnycakes or fried plantains.  We went with the plantains, since I have always been curious to try this fruit that looks like a banana but apparently is not the same thing.

Recado Rojo (recipe)

I first made the recado rojo recipe, although I altered the recipe to suit our purposes.  I scaled it to 1/3 of the original recipe, and rather than forming it into small disks and drying it, then later rehydrating it with orange juice or vinegar, I just mixed in some orange juice and vinegar to get a paste-like texture and used it right away.  As always, I loved seeing and smelling the different spices come together.  The most unique spice to this blend is annatto (also known as achiote).  This was a new spice to us, and it is what gave the blend such a deep red-orange color.  The dry spices were ground to a powder, then the salt and garlic were ground together, then it was all mixed together with some vinegar and orange juice.

recado_rojo_spices   recado_rojo_powder   recado_rojo_garlic_salt   recado_rojo

Belizean stew chicken (recipe)

The chicken was something of an adventure.  Due to some poor communication and misunderstandings, Tyler carved and skinned the whole chicken we purchased to pieces of boneless/skinless meat, which I have read is not the traditional way to make this. I remember reading several comments about how important it is to cook the chicken until the skin is dark to get the right flavor.  Sooo… Tyler went back to the grocery store, bought a second whole chicken, I made another batch of the Recado Rojo sauce, and we doubled the recipe.  The second time, the chicken was cut into serving sized pieces as recommended (AKA separated into legs, breast, wings, etc.).  The recado rojo and salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder were rubbed into the chicken and left to marinate for 20 minutes.

The oil and sugar were heated up in a pan until caramelized (we defined this as when they started to turn tan/light brown), then chicken was added in batches until browned.  It was more blackened, but considering our track record with frying things, I’m not too surprised.



After removing the chicken, the peppers and onion were cooked in the same pan.


Then it was dumped back in a pot with water, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and cooked for about an hour, until the chicken was done.



We made the unwise decision of leaving it in this pan, which was marginally large enough.  The lid didn’t sit fully on the pan since the chicken was so tall, and it was continually oozing juices out onto the hot burner.  Even as we kept removing liquid, it kept bubbling back up.  Some of these juices are still burned onto our stove top, unfortunately.  Lesson learned.

Belizean Rice and Beans (recipe)

This recipe was pretty similar to the Peas and Rice we made for the Bahamas, and I was optimistic that it would be more flavorful.  We set out the dry kidney beans in a bowl of water overnight, and then we started boiling them an hour or so before we started the rest of dinner.  We finally had an opportunity to use the kidney beans we grew in our garden a while back!

The biggest downfall to this recipe, in my opinion, is the sheer quantity of food it creates.  You’d think we would have learned our lesson on this by now… nope.  The metric/weight units of measurement threw us off.  As it turns out, the 900 grams of rice this recipe calls for is a LOT.  It used the full bag.  Of course, we didn’t realize this until we were already committed with the cooked beans.

So the beans were boiling with garlic for a couple hours.  The salt pork/cubed bacon was supposed to be in there during this time too, but we forgot about it until later when I took them off the heat because they were getting too mushy.  So we added the salt pork and gave them another 30 minutes or so, during which they got even more mushy.

Next we drained the water, added the seasonings, coconut milk, and rice.   I seriously questioned how 250 mL (1 can) of coconut milk was enough liquid for the ridiculous amount of rice that was going in the pot, but I trusted in the recipe.  Big mistake.  It cooked for a looong time, we kept adding water, but it was never enough.  Once it was mostly soft and it was 9 PM, we said good riddance and called it done.

Belizean_rice_and_beans_cooking   Belizean_rice_and_beans

Fried Plantains (recipe)

Despite what the above two recipes may suggest, the plantains are where the real disaster began.  I was on the first step of slicing the plantains into French fry shaped slices when the evening fell apart.  The first couple plantains were very soft and easy to slice, even with a butter knife.  The next plantain was a little less ripe, a little more firm, and a little less easy to slice with a butter knife.  Let’s just say my thumb and I learned the danger of butter knives that night.

So while I sat at the counter cradling my wounded thumb, Tyler finished making the plantains.  Other than the slicing part, they were pretty simple to make… they just had to be cooked in melted butter until they started turning brown, and then we sprinkled salt on them after removing them from the pan.

Belizean_frying_plantains   Belizean_fried_Plantains



Meal review:

So much frustration!  This meal was completely tainted by frustration over the chicken mix-up and boiling over, frustration over the rice not cooking, frustration over my sliced thumb, and frustration over not eating until 9:00 PM.  I really wanted to like the food, but I was overwhelmed with the frustration and still a little bit in shock at how much damage a butter knife can inflict!

I loved the flavor of the Recado Rojo in the stew chicken, and I actually preferred the boneless, skinless pieces of chicken!  This was probably influenced by the challenging of eating saucy, bone-in chicken pieces without one of your thumbs…  Anyway, I think I would have really enjoyed this dish under better circumstances, and we might have to try it again sometime.  The beans and rice had potential, but they ended up getting pretty burnt from not having enough liquid.  Tyler still thought it was amazing, but I had a hard time getting past the burnt flavor.  The less burnt bites did have a good coconut flavor.  This is another one that is probably worthy of a redo.  The plantains were also pretty good… I tried a piece of raw plantain moments before the butter knife incident, and it really did taste significantly different from a banana.  I think the trick with frying plantains is to make sure they are VERY ripe (not just for safety reasons–the less ripe plantains were still pretty tough after being fried).

Our next country is Benin, and since I am behind on my blog posts, I will give you a sneak peak and say we used SEVEN habaneros for the Benin, and my throat was left burning from the heat both after dinner and after leftovers at lunch the next day!



I’m changing the format of my posts to just one post per country… it was getting too tedious to keep up with several posts for every country.

We were excited to move on to Argentina over the weekend!  I read that Argentinians eats lots of beef, and the most traditional meal would be a big outdoor barbecue with multiple meat-based dishes.  Although we had a “heat wave” with a high of 35°F the day we cooked, it got colder as the day went on… so we decided against grilling.

On the menu this week:

  • Beef empandas
  • Chimichurri sauce
  • Aflajores (Dulce de Leche stuffed cookies)

The main course, and the most work, was the empandas.

We followed this recipe for the dough, and roughly followed it for the filling.  I merged several recipes for the filling… so I modified quantities of some of the filling ingredients from this recipe, and I added raisins.  I also omitted oregano and used red pepper flakes instead of chili powder (and a smaller quantity than 2 T to keep it from getting too spicy).  The smoked paprika gave the filling a distinct red color.


I learned that the traditional way to seal the empandas shut is with the repulgue style seam.  It wasn’t too hard to figure out, and I thought it looked pretty.  Our filling to dough ratio was off, so I ended up with extra filling and with several over-stuffed empanadas (which had blowouts 😦 ).  They were topped with a bit of egg yolk and went in the oven.


The next recipe is the chimichurri sauce, which seems to be the go-to condiment of Argentina.  Consisting primarily of parsley, garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, it seemed like an Argentinian version of pesto.  We blended these ingredients in the food processor and called it good!

Chimichurri_sauce_ingredients   Chimichurri_sauce

The final combination of empanadas with chimichurri sauce was wonderful!  This was another recipe that tested my limits of eating foods I don’t like (the empanada filling had olives, raisins, and hard boiled eggs… all of which are foods I avoid eating!), but I found that they were disguised by the rest of the flavors and textures enough that I didn’t notice them.  I even enjoyed the occasional sweetness when I came across a raisin.  We also cooked a steak in the oven, which obviously wasn’t the same as grilling, but it was very good with the chimichurri sauce.


Of course this was paired with a malbec from Argentina. 🙂


For dessert, we made alfajores (cookies filled with Dulce de Leche).  Dulce de Leche, which is similar to caramel, came up frequently in my research of Argentina.  I saw several references to this type of cookie which is stuffed with it, and we decided it would be the perfect dessert.

There are several methods for preparing Dulce de Leche, and we went with the cook-it-in-the-oven-method. We poured a can of sweetened, condensed milk in a pie pan, then sprinkled some Kosher salt on top,  This was covered with aluminum foil and placed in an empty roasting pan.  You fill the roasting pan with water (up to about the pie pan’s halfway point), then bake in the oven for an hour at 425°.


Stir it with a whisk halfway through (and refill water as needed), then whisk again at the end of the cooking time.  This stuff was delicious, and I couldn’t wait to try it in cookie form.


The cookies are somewhere between sugar cookies and short bread cookies, and they have a bit of lemon zest to add a little lemon flavor.  The dough was sticky and messy and to work with, but the cookies came out beautifully.


Once the cookies had a little time to cool (and trust me, they had plenty of time to cool by the time we cleaned up the full bottle of red wine that shattered just as we sat down to eat…), I put a spoonful of Dulce de Leche between two cookies, and then rolled the sides in grated coconut.  These turned out beautifully, and I think they were an even bigger hit than the empanadas!  This is another one of those dishes that I was surprised at how much I liked… I don’t usually like coconut, and I’m not wild about lemon or caramel in desserts either.  But these were just melt-in-your mouth delicious!


All in all, I would call this our second 100% successful country to cook so far!



Next time, we are back across the ocean to Armenia!