Author Archive | April Puda

Pineapple Express

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We know things taste better in the tropics. Great tasting food and tropical desserts come from great tasting ingredients like limes, oranges, mango, pineapple and other exotic fruits. Excellent fresh-peeled and even more delicious as a cool smoothie or refreshing sorbet. We take you from market to kitchen for your own tropical delight.

Did you know there are many varieties of pineapple and they are members of the bromeliad family?  They usually arrive in your local store in various states of ripeness, and the variety of pineapples have a different shape, skin coloration, meat and seasonality.  Generally speaking, the more compact the pineapple, the more concentrated the sugars. In Costa Rica they often serve small, golden amber pineapple as a snack or dessert, small grained, non-stringy with very tight openings in the meat; it’s incredibly sweet.

An amazing alternative is the white pineapple, also cultivated in Hawaii. In the wild it has variegated leaves and coloration in the veins of the skin, including a reddish or purple tint as well as green and red hues. The white has the consistency of watermelon, not stringy, is quite juicy and tastes like piña colada; not too sweet, just right and perfect to enjoy “licuado” or smoothie-style.  On one trip to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, our friend Rafa of Pelican House showed us which pineapples were ready to cut and enjoy immediately and licuado.  Machete in hand, the white rules.

Its easier than you think to make a refreshing frozen sorbet in your own kitchen with just a blender and freezer. It’s a beautiful dessert, so light, creamy, acidic and smooth on the palate. Much better for you than processed treats because you can choose the type of sweetener and the amount that you prefer, if any.  Follow our tips on juice handling and you’re ready to make a delicious tropical dessert just like you remember,  maybe even better.  For presentation, make a serving boat from a cleaned out shell of 1/2 pineapple, wash and freeze. Serve the sorbet or ice cream in the frozen pineapple boat and garnish with mint or citrus leaf. Pineapple is a good dietary source of fiber, vitamin C, B6, manganese, copper and thiamin.

Pineapple Sorbet

  • 1 medium fresh pineapple
  • ¾ cup caster sugar (finely ground sugar) Substitute 1/2 cup extra light Agave Nectar. To make caster sugar place sugar in food processor and process until sugar becomes dusty at edges and finely ground but not powdered.
  • 1 tsp. Fresh Lime juice
  • 3-4 drops pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp. aged amber or dark rum (optional)

Wash, peel and core the pineapple and cut into large chunks. Place pineapple into food processor and process until pureed. Add sugar and lime juice and mix well. Pour into a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and press puree through the sieve to catch any fibrous pulp. This will give you a creamy mixture. Add the vanilla and the rum to the sieved pineapple mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least one hour. Place chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturers instructions. In a pinch, a blender will work to re-aerate the semi frozen mixture and then place back into freezer. The trick is to serve soon after it has set so it can be scooped out. If it is hard frozen you will need to let stand out of the freezer until it softens for scooping out. It is futile to try to extract home made sorbet from a hard frozen container.

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Finding Iconic Waterfalls

riocelesteRio Celeste, one of Costa Rica’s most iconic sights is also its best kept secret. Where is it?

Seen on hotel web sites from coast to coast, one might think there may be many just like it but it’s in one location and one location only; Tenorio Volcano National Park. Plan about 1.5 hours driving time northwest of Arenal, La Fortuna de San Carlos or if coming from Guanacaste or Puntarenas, you will need to trust Waze.

This aqua marine blue river is surrounded by amazing rain forest, several boiling hot springs, mud baths, and an incredible 98 foot waterfall cascading down into a beautiful aqua pool of water. Ancient legend attributed the beautiful blue color to God washing his paint brush in the river after he painted the sky. Another legend of the first inhabitants believed the blue lagoon was a crater of the volcano which was later discovered to be false.

The magnificent blue water is similar in color to the vibrant Blue Morpho butterfly; however this coloration is the result of a chemical reaction between sulfur and calcium carbonate which originates in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. Be advised that during rain, the water can become a muddy brown instead of the vibrant blue; but that’s nature.  We had rain the day before and the water was magnificent.

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Boiling blue water gurgles from Volcan Tenorio.

The hike to the waterfall from the park entrance will take about 1 ½ hours depending on your level of fitness. This is not a beginner hike and the trail can be very muddy and slippery. After a rain, the blue color is usually restored within 5 to 6 hours so keep that in mind. The lush and dense tropical forest is inhabited by sloths, tapirs, wild cats, blue morpho butterflies, tropical birds, howler, Capuchin and spider monkeys. The trail winds around tree roots and inclines so navigation requires some level of physical stamina. There are around 250 stairs with hand rails that take you down to a viewing platform at the waterfall and what goes down must eventually come up, including you, so take your time and carry water.  The park trails are in a constant state of improvement but it’s still recommended to borrow a hiking stick at the entrance and use it for balance.

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Park Ranger Station and walls of mementos from visitors and volunteers.

We think the best way to see the park is with an experienced guide which can be hired at the park entrance or arranged for in advance. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an entrance fee of $10. We hired our guide at the park entrance for $30 although prices will vary between $20-$40. It was money well spent as the trail can be challenging, not well marked and its nice to have an extra hand to help in slippery areas. Keep in mind, even with a guide, you still need to do the hiking! Swimming in Rio Celeste is not allowed within the national park.

Getting There: 4X4 recommended, particularly in the rainy season. The road from Arenal to Tenorio NP goes past Rio Celeste Hideaway, a fantastic place to spend one or more days.  After the park, the road continues downhill on to the west slope of the volcanic mountain range that separates the country and continent. This scenic shortcut takes you through cattle ranches and into the more arid conditions of the Guanacaste province.

Rio Celeste is off the beaten path and many take a day trip from the Arenal area. We stayed at the beautiful boutique hotel, Rio Celeste Hideaway which is 2.5 miles southeast of the park entrance.  This lovely boutique hotel with Moroccan and Bali/Indonesian charm is worth a stay.  Rio Celeste is part of the prestigious family of boutique resorts that include the world-famous Nayara and Nayara Springs, without the sticker shock and with down-to-earth ambiance. The private and spacious casitas are luxuriously appointed with beautiful outdoor showers set in your own private garden.  Tropical grounds are well maintained and each room has a private deck facing the rainforest. A trail on the property offers an alternative to the national park with an easy 30 minute hike to a portion of the blue river. A covered deck with towels awaits you where the trail ends with seating for the guests to enjoy, relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings. This is a nice option to visit the area for those who cannot navigate the more strenuous trails in the actual park.

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A great photo slideshow is available here.

 

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Oh! Limon Sorbet Too!

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More to love tropical flavors… Lime

Lime-Sorbet

Is it the exotic fresh fruit or simply being on vacation that makes everything taste sweeter and more refreshing? Answer; sweet, sour, tangy, acidic, colorful fruits are great wherever you happen to be. Great tasting food and tropical desserts come from great tasting ingredients like lemons, limes, oranges, mandarin, mango and pineapple. All are excellent in their raw state as well as prepared as a cool smoothie or refreshing sorbet.

About sorbet, its easier than you might think; in fact refreshing frozen sorbet is one of the easiest things to make in your own kitchen with just a blender and freezer. Follow our tips on juice preparation and you’re ready to make a delicious tropical dessert just like you remember in Costa Rica.

Let’s talk lime (or limon) for a moment. South of the USA, lime is pronounced limon, similar to how North Americans say lemon (the yellow thing), but both are called limon, so to distinguish, limon amarillo is the North American yellow lemon and limon verde is a green lime.  The yellow lemon is a sub-tropical fruit, found in northern Mexico and above while the green limon, also a sub-tropical, can thrive in the tropics. Dishes cooked with citrus are usually prepared with orange, limon verde or limon mandarina, a less sweet cross between a tangerine and limon verde, reputedly the source of Hanson’s Mandarin Lime soda.

Lime Sorbet

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice – about 8-10 limes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup caster sugar (finely ground sugar) or substitute 2/3 cup extra light Agave Nectar and skip the cooking step. To make caster sugar place sugar in food processor and process until sugar becomes dusty at edges and finely ground but not powdered.
  • Zest of lime

Wash fruit and measure ingredients. Put water and sugar into a saucepan and bring to simmer. Cook until sugar dissolves.  Over cooking will brown the sugar and begin carmelization, adding a burnt or caramel flavor. Remove from heat and cool or place container in an ice bath to rapid cool. When cool, add zest and fresh juice, mixing well in a blender. Adding fresh juice to hot sugar water will cook the juice and change its flavor.  Place mixture in freezer for at least one hour. After an hour, you can use your ice-cream maker if you have one or whip up the semi-frozen mixture in a blender to aerate. Place back into the freezer until 10 minutes before serving. You want semi-soft so it can hold its shape when scooped.  If hard-frozen, leave it out for the ten minutes to soften for serving.

Like that serving boat idea?  Take your lime, hollow it out so the white inside sectional skins and pith are removed. Cut the tip from the bottom side of the skin, making a slightly flat surface for it to sit upright.  Flash freeze while you prepare your mixture to semi-frozen state. When semi frozen, pour into the frozen lime shells for a final freeze. Garnish with lime zest, a thinly sliced pice of lime or mint leaf. A couple of lime halves on a plate make a beautiful display.

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Corcovado National Park

Tweet       Corcovado National Park covers a substantial area of the Osa Peninsula located in Southwest Costa Rica. Established in 1975 the park encompasses an area of 425 km. Corcovado is widely considered the “crown jewel” of parks in Costa Rica and world renowned for its bio-diversity and prolific wildlife. The park is […]

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Caño Island

Tweet By, Steve Linder Caño Island Biological Reserve is one of Costa Rica’s well known national parks.  The island is located off the Osa Peninsula in the Pacific ocean directly west of Drake Bay.  It’s the exposed part of an underwater mountain thrown up by an ancient collision of the two tectonic plates on either […]

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