Sweet Sweet Sea Bass oh how I love thee in Santo Domingo

El Poder Brutal – Brutal power
or
La Cara del Diablo – The face of the devil

Have you ever…. No its not a game. Have you ever had a meal, dish, food, entre, or dessert that smacked you in the face with its yumminess? Have you ever had to use every ounce of control to not lap it up like a starving dog – or kid? You must have also heard the expression, “it’s so good, it will make you smack your momma.” Well, I better not do that, today is her birthday. Well, six years ago, I had sea bass in a seafood sauce for the last time in Santo Domingo, Ecuador at Andalucia’s restaurant. The chef was a Columbian who had trained in Paris, married a lovely Ecuadorian girl and moved to Santo Domingo to serve me this dish. I am sure that is exactly why he went to culinary school – to serve me this amazing dish three times. It was so good that I still want to smack my momma – it was that good.

Lightly Breaded Corvina (Sea Bass) with a beautiful garlic, butter, wine seafood sauce at Andalucia’s in Santo Domingo, Ecuador

As a professor, I have had the opportunity to take students on study abroad trips. We got to travel to Ecuador and see the Andes, tropics, Amazon, and the coast of Ecuador along with the Galapagos Islands (that will be another post with about a million pictures). Three of our trips were in January right after the New Year. We headed south to the capital of Quito, then traveled west to Santo Domingo and then onto the Pacific Coast to a quaint little hole in the mountain town of Same (pronounced Saum a). We had some amazing friends who helped host our groups each time and they are responsible for introducing us to Andalucia’s. Even when I say the name Andalucia, my mouth waters. How crazy is that??

Santo Domingo de los Colorados or simply known as Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is the capital of the province Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas (pronounced by a Kentucky gal as sack a chil yas). The reason for telling you this is to learn about the indigenous people of Santo Domingo known as the Tsachilas or simply the Colorados Indians. This ethnic group was known for the men dying their hair red and using the seeds from the achiote plant to do so.

Santo Domingo has a rich, cultural heritage with the Tscachilas. We had the opportunity to visit and learn from them while we were there. We got to see the achiote pod, cut into it and even use the seeds to paint our faces similar to the Tsachilas. While there we listened to their tradition music and instruments made out of bamboo. The idea of continuing the practices and rituals of ancient people fascinate me. How often do we through tradition by the way side simply for the pleasure of the here and now. Those rich cultures provide a since of understand and knowledge of those who have gone before us. I truly wish we did more of that today.

In the province, we visited a pineapple farm, cocoa farm and a bamboo farm. Some of the sweetest pineapples are not the ones we have in the grocery stores in the US. The best pineapples are actually the third production pineapples. The first produce gets graded and if it is of great quality, equal eyes (the circles on the pineapples are called eyes), no abnormalities or blemishes then, it heads off to the good ole USA. The second production or those with blemishes are a bit smaller than the standard size and they show up in smaller markets or local grocery stores throughout the country. But, the third, oh the third time is the charm. These smaller hand sized pineapples are so sweet and juicy, you could eat them straight out of the fields. Those beauties known as queens are typically found in the open farmer’s markets.

Have you ever walked in a bamboo forest? Well, you should if you ever get the chance. Of all my travels and crazy adventures, I have only had one experience that was close to the vastness of the bamboo and that was the Black Forest in Germany, another blog – I promise with a bit of schnapps. Bamboo can grow to 100 feet tall and they are one of the fastest growing species. Did you know they can grow three feet in a 24 hour period? Yes, a bit invasive if not cared for but they are also gloriously producing massive amount of O2. Which I gratefully appreciate as it filter more of the CO2, and produces twice as much oxygen. As we hiked through the forest, it was at least ten degrees cooler in the forest. We were able to drink water from the bamboo and learned how the indigenous people used the bamboo for drinking, construction, musical instruments, weapons, and so many other functions.

Chocolate, cocoa, cacoa all of these are the same. When I was a little girl, I dreamed of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and how rivers of chocolate would flow. I never once really thought about how it grew, what it looked like or the process behind it. As I have ripened with age, I have developed an appreciation for the finer aspects of this product. Dark chocolate paired with a fruit or wine, adding nuts and cheese to a tray of this wondrous creation is just what any doctor (PhD that is – ha) ordered. Cocoa tree is a short tree with a waxy leaf. It produces a fruit not like an apple tree or peach but one where the fruit or pod is produced on the actual bark or trunk of the tree not a flower off of a stem/leaf. The pod grows and ripens into a yellow/brown chocolate color, when cracked open a series of seeds enveloped in a fleshy material fill the pod up. If you tried the fleshy material covering these seeds, it would have a sweet bitter taste to them. For chocolate production, the seeds are set out to ferment, dry, and then roast. Once roasted, you will cut them up into nibs (similar to nuts) and eat them or continue the process of melting them down into glorious chocolate.

Transitioning back to the city, we had such wonderful hosts with the Velastegui’s. They own and operate Radio Zaracay in Santo Domingo. Our connection with this family started back in the 1980’s when Bowling Green, Kentucky had a sister city in Santo Domingo, Ecuador. Holger and his family studied at Western Kentucky University and developed a close relationship with faculty and friends from Kentucky. When we were there, they were gracious hosts and ensured that our time in Santo Domingo was simply the best. I love this country and the people. I have been 19 times and have truly seen and experienced new things each time because of the connections made over the years.

The connections with families in Santo Domingo opened the door to that glorious restaurant, Andalucia, for three years. I ordered the same dish every time simply because I could and it was worth it each time. I recently was shopping at Kroger, our local grocery store, and ran, literally ran to the freezer aisle when I saw the words: Sea Bass. I had wanted so badly to do this blog, to write about this dish since its creation in August, this restaurant, this city. However, in good ole Murray, Kentucky, I figured I would never see this amazing fish in our markets. Now, Nashville or Louisville yes, but not Murray. So on this beautiful January day, I bought all that they had in stock. Yes, I truly took everything that was in the cooler and I do not feel bad about it all. I take no chances! When good luck and fortune of corvina (Spanish word for seas bass) came my way, I grabbed it. My littlest, who by the way is an avid grocery shopper, asked, “why are you buying so many?” I simply said, “baby, when good things come along, you soak it all up – every last ounce.”

Hard to get a good picture when she is in action at the grocery store, gotta love Kroger’s little carts!

So for all of you wanting to know if I mastered that taste from Andalucia’s, well, I sure did come close.

SEA BASS in a SEAFOOD SAUCE

Sea Bass filets (4-5)

1 egg

1 cup Panko Breading – I used whole wheat

1/2 cup Italian Style Bread crumbs

Salt/Pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

For Seafood Sauce

8 oz (1 cup) of Evaporated Milk (being January – we are a bit health conscious so we use evaporated instead of half n’ half.

1 cup of white wine (I used Chardonnay)

1 tbsp of minced garlic

1 tbsp of butter

1 lb of shrimp (I cut some in half and some whole)

1 tbsp of chives

1 tbsp of parsley

Salt and Pepper

In a baking dish, crack your egg and beat it. Add salt and pepper. In a baking dish or flat plate – add your panko crumbs and your Italian Style bread crumbs. Mix. Take your thawed sea bass, coat in egg wash both sides, then into the bread crumbs. Coat both sides. You can keep the skin on, it is one of the few fish like salmon that you can eat the skin. If you want heat, you could add some chili powder or cayenne to the bread crumb mixture.

In a saute pan or skillet, add oil. Cook the fish, 5 minutes on each side. I used a warmer to keep them warm while cooking the rest of the fish.

In a wok skillet or other sauce pan on medium heat, add your evaporated milk, butter, salt, pepper, chives and parsley. Once it is mixed and started to warm, I add the wine slowly (no real reason but this how I do it). Let the mix come to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add shrimp during the last five – six minutes of the simmer. Salt and Pepper to taste.

You may feel the need to add more butter, salt and or pepper to your liking.

I served this dish with roasted asparagus drizzled with a balsamic glaze (store bought) and a salad.

I truly hope that you have traveled to Santo Domingo and back with me in this blog. I love the country, the traditions, the people, and the food. If you haven’t signed up, please do and enjoy the latest food, travel and all. Lots of love and sea bass –

XOXO

P is for Puerto Vallarta & Pineapple Chicken Fajitas

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Back in 2006, we had the opportunity to explore the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Jalisco is the western most state adjoining the Pacific Ocean. It is known for agave, tequila, and mariachi bands. We landed in Guadalajara after the Christmas holidays but the decorations were still adorning the beautiful landmarks within the city. We toured the city, artwork, and then went out and about the state.

We left the iconic city and traveled west to a famous town known by many as Tequila, Mexico. We had one of the most fascinating tours of a distillery that I have ever been on. We were able to see the agave production in the field. This in turn leads into what they call harvesting the pineapple. Now, it is not a real pineapple but the bulb of the agave plant. The sharp spade creates the appearance of the “pineapple”. We then saw the workers harvesting the “pineapples”, loading them into trucks, and then to delivering them to Jose Cuervo. We learned about 1800 Anejo and the aging process of tequila. Now, I am not a huge fan of tequila but it was so fascinating to learn and try the raw product, 6 months, and over a year old tequila. The coolest aspect was learning that the charred bourbon barrels from the bluegrass state (Kentucky – home to bourbon) were shipped to Tequila for the aging process. After bourbon has been aged, they no longer can reuse the barrels. They then re-char them and send them south to age tequila. How cool is it that white oak harvested in Kentucky, used to make wonderful bourbon, then is reused to age tequila – truly a reduce, reuse, and recycle concept.

We naturally sang a few songs about friends of mine and a little salt and lime. If you have the chance to tour Jose Cuervo, please add it to your must see list. It was a complete experience from the farm to the glass. We left Tequila (again, that would be a good country music song – ha) and headed further west driving toward the Pacific. As we traveled the winding roads around the Sierra Madre Mountains, we had glimpses of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. We stopped along the way at a village town to eat. We had one of the best fajitas that I have ever had. The key was how they cooked the food – over an open fire and a piece of rebar. Now, I love the open flame cooking but I am typically fresh out of rebar at our house. The authentic experience overlooking the Pacific was truly memorable. We were only in the entire country for 8 days total and then in Puerto Vallarta for two nights. I wish we could have had a little bit more time to explore this city and to unwind and relax. However, we typically are a non-stop go, go, go family. To this day even after all this time, we still talk about the rebar food, corn tortillas, tequila and the hospitality of this amazing state. If you are thinking of a trip to Mexico – look at the state of Jalisco. Guadalajara is a beautiful Spanish colonial town, Tequila adds a little salt and flair, and Puerto Vallarta is a great beach town to enjoy the waves and awesome food from the Pacific.

Pineapple Chicken Fajitas

4 Boneless, skinless Chicken thighs

1 Pineapple – sliced

1 medium red onion – sliced

1 cup of Bell Peppers – sliced (I love the trio of red, orange, and yellow)

2 Tablespoons of Cilantro (fresh)

1 Tbsp of Cumin

1 Tbsp of Chili Powder

1 Tbsp of Garlic Powder

1 tsp of Oregano

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp of oil

With A cast iron skillet, add your oil and let the pan get hot. Throw in your diced chicken and cook. Once it starts to cook, I take all of my seasonings except cilantro, take these and add them to the chicken – chili powder, cumin, garlic and oregano. Once cooked, I remove and add the onions, followed by the pineapple and last the peppers. Once they have been in the skillet on medium high heat for a few minutes bring back the chicken and add the cilantro.

We warmed corn tortillas with this dish but you can make this into a fajita salad, nachos, or whatever your stomach desires. You could easily substitute shrimp instead of chicken. Just cook your veggies, seasonings first then the last 3-5 minutes add your thawed shrimp and cilantro. I hope you all enjoy and add a bit of pineapple to your next dish.

Adios Amigos

You better Belize it – Amazing Pineapple Jam

On this cold December day, I cannot help but think about the warm sun, sand, and the Caribbean Sea. The smell of salt in the air and the breeze off the ocean. You see back in May, I had the opportunity to travel to Belize on a study abroad with some outstanding students. We traveled throughout the country and hit one of the islands along our trip. While on the mainland, we saw beautiful orange, grapefruit, sugar cane, and pineapple farms. We toured and climbed an amazing ancient Mayan archaeological site, Xunantunich (pronounced: shoe naan too niche). I am saving this one for another blog post – so stay tuned.

After our mainland exploration, we took a ferry boat ride to the island, Caye Caulker. As soon as we arrived, we knew father time ran slower and the island vibes sang through the night. We walked from the ferry terminal to our hotel in sand and sidewalk. We were only there for three short days but this island is truly singing my praises and I will return to Caye Caulker. Not only do you have great access to the beach, bars, food, but also to some amazing snorkeling. We were able to take a charter out with Carlos Tours for a full day and snorkel around the island. His crew was amazing and Carlos ensured we got to see the best of the best in Belize. They also prepared a wonderful lunch for our hungry students that was sensational. We got to snorkel with varieties of colorful fish, stingrays, and even sharks! Let’s just say that I allowed the students to get out first and snorkel then slowly head into the water. I will have to say these sharks were being feed quite well by our captain however, I did not want them to confuse me for food.

On the island the food was fresh and delish. Each morning at our hotel, they served us breakfast in an open air restaurant. We had exceptional views and breezes from the ocean along with the local cemetery. It was literally adjacent to our dividing wall! We were also there during a full moon which was extra special! Or creepy – not sure but we survived. At breakfast, you typically get scrambled eggs, bacon and toast along with fresh fruit. The pineapple jam was absolutely delicious. It was as if I could taste the sweet ripened fruit freshly cut from the farm and a hint of cinnamon. After devouring the wonderfully robust coffee, I asked our server what brand was the jam and where I could buy it. He stated it was not from the store but a speciality jam created by one of the local cooks in the hotel. I immediately told him I would kill for the recipe and I love canning jams. I left it at that and we went about our day. When we arrived back to the hotel, I had a hand written note with the recipe for this glorious masterpiece. So on this bitter cold morning, I sip my robust coffee and eat my pineapple jam and toast and reminisce of warm sea breezes and island adventures.

Pineapple Jam

Notes – you can skip the canning piece if you just want to gobble it up right away. Also, this is for a water bath canning, you could use a pressure cooker as well.

3 Fresh Pineapples, diced

3/4 cup of white sugar

1 tbsp of cinnamon

Ladies and gentlemen its that easy. Take diced pineapple, sugar and cinnamon and cook on medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Then take an emulsifier or a potato masher and puree the pineapple to the consistency of your liking. We like a bit of chunkiness but not a lot in our house.

For water bath canning. Make sure your water covers 1″ above the rim of your jars. For three pineapples, I was able to make a dozen small 4 oz jelly jars. Do not forget to sterilize your jars prior to canning. With the jam warm, fill each jar leaving 1/4″ gap at the top. Wipe the rim clean and screw on lid and band. Bring your water bath canner to a boil, place filled jars with tongs into the water. Boil for approximately 10 minutes. Using the tongs, carefully remove the jars and place on a clean kitchen towel for 24 hours. You should start to hear the lids pop a few minutes after you have removed them from the canner. And there you have a Tropical Paradise Hotel Especial.

This jam is not only wonderful on toast and biscuits, it is also amazing on a banana split! My kids beg for me to add this and my strawberry freezer jam to our homemade banana splits. I tell you this island is absolutely Belizable and my time in this small Central American country was fabulous. If you get a chance to head to Belize, you better do it! Trust me you won’t regret it!

Belize it! It is really that awesome!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!