We are just a few days after Halloween and haven’t gotten around to carving our pumpkin. It’s tough in Florida because once you carve the pumpkin, you might have two or three days of a jack-o-lantern before it turns black and rots. So, waiting until the last few days before Halloween is crucial. This year, we let the holiday pass us by without carving the thing so I made sure to have a back up plan for it.
It just so happens that I was invited to a girls night at a friends house with an all-pumpkin theme. At the ladies-only shindig there was pumpkin turkey chili, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spiced sangria, and we made pumpkin biscuits to go with the chili and roasted pumpkin seeds as a snack. We needed 1 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree for the biscuits, so onward with the home made kind! We ended up with 10 cups of pumpkin puree using a medium-large pumpkin. There are smaller pumpkins that might work better, but this is what we had already.
In case you didn’t catch my first post about 5 ways to save money on food, make sure you go back and check it out too. There are plenty of ways to save money on food, and below I have focused on five very important things to keep you on the straight and narrow when you’re in the grocery store. This doesn’t mean boring food, but it could potentially encroach on some of your food crutches that are driving up your monthly food budget and aren’t a requirement for your health. Take a look and feel free to comment any other ideas you have or feedback with your experience with any of the 5 more ways to save money. Continue reading
What’s the best way to save money on the food budget? With food being one of the largest parts of the food budget, we often struggle with how to make cuts without feeling like you’re not feeding yourself or your family properly. This is definitely not the case and I have proved it in my $100 Cheap Food Challenge I wrote about. This case study does some quick interviews with people to discover that, not only do people have no clue how much they spend each month on food, they think it’s impossible to survive on just $100 per person per month. Now, granted, it is more difficult to live on $100 per month when it’s just one person, but it gets easier as you add more to the household. If you have five members of the family that you’re feeding, it’s easier to limit your food spending to $500 than for the single person to keep it under $100. Continue reading
You may have noticed with some of our low carb recipe posts that we were on the 4 Hour Body diet for about two months playing around with recipes and trying to get more fit. We love the idea of low carb and cutting out wheat/gluten specifically so we started experimenting with bean flours. At the onset of our curiosity we were still living in Costa Rica where you couldn’t find bean flouers at all and I suspect if they did have them they would be cost-prohibitive (think $10 per bag of flour), but I was told you could grind your own dried garbanzo beans into a flour if you had a strong food processor or coffee grinder. I looked up a few how-tos on the Internet and just decided to go for it. Dried garbanzos are cheap in Costa Rica, so if I screwed it up it would be no big deal.
Making empanada dough correctly is the hardest part about the whole process of putting together the perfect empanada. I spent some long hours trying to get the dough just right; looking at every recipe on the internet I could find, and then some. I tried recipes with yeast, baking powder, corn flour, butter, shortening, spices, eggs, etc. None of them turned out the way I wanted. To save you time, I have put together a list of empanada mistakes so you can read them without actually experiencing the same problems I had.
I have been inspired lately to explore empanadas and master the Argentinian style pastry. Traditional empanadas from Argentina are baked or fried with white flour and, when done well, come out with a beautiful flaky texture and have plenty of filling without being hollow or greasy.
I have had empanadas in many restaurants in Costa Rica, such as Donde El Ché, and have been enamored with how beautiful and delicious they turn out. This post is to fill everyone in on the mistakes I’ve made and discovered throughout my exploration in search of the perfect dough and filling recipe. I’d like to share with everyone some tips and tricks as well as things to avoid when making empanadas. Has anyone else had as much trouble as I have getting things right? Once you’ve read the tips below, make sure you try out the recipes I’ve posted for vegetarian empanadas, chicken empanadas, beef empanadas, seafood empanadas or ham empanadas.
• Never, never, never use processed doughs if you want true empanadas. This is a shortcut that’s not at all worth it in the end. Once you make your own successfully, you’ll never seek out Pillsbury again.
• When using a recipe with baking powder, know that your empanada will grow in size, but will be very hollow inside. I prefer to have a pocket full of filling rather than air.
• Never use more than one stick of butter or 1/2 cup of shortening for every three cups of flour or you’ll end up with dense, crumbly dough.
• Know that when you have a dough recipe with yeast, you’ll end up with a different texture more like pita bread. If you like this type of dough, great. But don’t expect a recipe with yeast to produce authentic results.
• Jazz up the dough by adding your favorite fresh, dried or powdered herbs and seasonings to the flour before mixing. My favorites include fresh cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, ground oregano, cumin and garlic powder.
• For baked dough use very cold butter and for fried dough use solid shortening.
• Never use oil as this will create undesirable texture of the dough before rolling it out.
• For baked dough, always use ice water, never lukewarm or hot.
• For baked dough, always refrigerate the dough ball for at least 3 hours before assembling your empanadas.
• Make sure your filling in not too watery or juicy or it will make the dough soggy.
• To reduce the moisture of your filling, place it in a fine mesh strainer for at least an hour.
• It is a good idea to let your filling cool or even refrigerate it before assembling. Using warm or hot fillings will degrade the dough before baking/frying.
• The best fillings use high quality meats, produce and cheeses. Don’t skimp on quality.
• You need about 2 cups of filling for 12 empanadas.
• Only place 2-3 tablespoons of filling in each.
• Filling ingredients should be in small or fine pieces for best results.
• Slow-cooked fillings are no-fail. Remember to let the filling cool before using it.
• Roll out the dough on a floured surface without using plastic wrap, parchment or waxed paper. It’s easier to work with the dough on a simple cutting block or countertop.
• Extremely large circle cutters make it difficult to assemble, I stick to 6-8″ circles.
• If your empanada dough is correct, you don’t need to wet the edges to seal them.
• It’s always a good idea to roll out a new piece of dough if you put a hole in it by accident.
• There are many different techniques and styles for closing empanadas and here is a great video that demonstrates many. The family is Latin-American so everything is spoken in Spanish, but she does a great job showing a variety of ways to form the final empanada.
A food that everyone else seems to love that I never really got into growing up or even as an adult was sweet potatoes. It’s not something that I ever ate at Thanksgiving, even if it was full of brown sugar with marshmallow topping. Call me crazy, but I never liked it. However, not too long ago a friend of mine made sweet potato fries and I’ve had them as well at restaurants before, and the sweet and salty combo was really delicious.
It wasn’t until my recent order of delivered organic groceries that I considered making sweet potatoes of my own. Plus, the version here in Costa Rica is called the Boniato or Batata, which has a purple skin and is white inside and with a different type of sweetness. When I came to them on the NaturaStyle list, I remembered the fries I had in the past and my friend’s affinity for Costa Rican coconut oil and decided now was the time to try them.
I decided on chips instead of fries and I absolutely loved them. It was a perfect sweet/savory snack and will be a regular on the list of party snacks. Here is how the recipe went:
SWEET POTATO CHIP INGREDIENTS
• 1 Kilo of sweet potatoes, boniatos or batatas
• 2 Cups of Coconut Oil
• 1 Tbl of coarse sea salt
• 1 Tsp fresh flat-leaf parsley
SWEET POTATO CHIP DIRECTIONS
1. Pour coconut oil into a large, deep skillet and heat on medium to medium-high heat (the oil should glisten and send up a slight wisp of smoke when properly heated.
2. While the oil is coming to temperature, peel the potatoes and slice them to 1/8″ thick.
3. Place the slices of potato in the pan until no more will fit without overlapping.
4. Cook for 4-6 minutes, turn with a set of tongs and cook for another 3-5 minutes until golden brown. For crispier chips, allow them to come to a rich brown color, but be careful not to burn them.
5. Remove the cooked slices and place on a paper towel to catch the excess oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and parsley and allow to cool.
6. Repeat steps 3–5 until you’ve used all of the potato slices.
We’ve been toying with the idea of getting our groceries through NaturaStyle for several months now (okay, about 9 months) and remembering our delivery service in Charlotte (Absolute Organics), I’m not sure what took us so long.
WHEN DOES NATURA STYLE DELIVER?
NaturaStyle only delivers on Saturdays, so planning is essential. We placed our order the Sunday prior and just survived off of the fridge leftovers in anticipation for the motherload to come the next Saturday. It was very easy to get in touch with Silvia, the one in charge of orders, to verify the time of delivery. They make the delivery schedule the Friday before, so make sure you don’t have plans for Saturday until you know your delivery time.
Ours was scheduled for 10:30am and the guys were less than 30 minutes late, which is considered early here in Costa Rica. Tico Time usually means everything happens around 2 hours after it was scheduled, so we were in great shape. The delivery guys came and were very friendly and helpful to put the groceries in the house. Here is what we ordered, and keep in mind this is all organic:
WHAT DOES NATURA STYLE DELIVER?
• bunch of 4 ripe bananas ($0.30)
• 4 Whole fresh beets with tops ($2.70)
• 2 Large heads of broccoli ($2.73)
• 1 Whole coconut ($0.35)
• 18 pk of eggs ($3.80)
• 1/4 Kilo Goat Cheese ($4.47)
• 1 large bunch green onion ($0.68)
• 8oz jar of Honey ($4.96)
• 6 misc lemons and limes ($1.39)
• 1 bunch lemongrass ($0.75)
• 1 head boston lettuce ($0.90)
• 1 container of whole white mushrooms ($3.23)
• 4 heads of garlic ($1.63)
• Medium Pineapple ($1.25)
• 250g (approx 1 Cup) Raw Butter ($3.79)
• 1 liter Raw Milk ($2.38)
• 3 Bunches of spinach ($1.63)
• 1 Kilo Star Fruit ($0.75)
• 3 Sweet Red Bell Peppers ($2.28)
• 1 Kilo Roma Tomatoes ($4.61)
• 2.3 Kilo Whole Chicken ($13.31)
• 1 loaf whole wheat and herb bread ($1.86)
So, as you can see the prices vary. Some items are surprisingly cheap, like the kilo of Star Fruit or a bunch of lemongrass for $0.75. However, some of the other items you would expect to be cheaper, especially here in Costa Rica, like the bell peppers at $2.28 for three. But, the rest is reasonable especially for organic. If you shop at the markets you’ll find better prices, but you can’t beat delivery and the quality is spot on.
The best items we received, when considering flavor, were the bananas, which had a richness we had never tasted before, the star fruit, the bread, and the raw milk. We’ve been reading about raw milk and the benefits of not drinking pasteurized milk, but this stuff is delicious. We’re not too picky about some food but we’re not into buying our garlic from China, because who knows what they’re doing over there and who is regulating what. So, although the organic garlic is expensive, we definitely prefer it.
Check back here for more posts about NaturaStyle and their products.
Seeing a star fruit (or starfruit) in the grocery store can be a little intimidating or seem ‘too exotic’ if you’ve never sliced and eaten one your self, but don’t be scared, it’s delicious and easy. The best looking star fruit may not be the most ripe and delicious, so choosing the right one is important. Your best bet is to find the fruit with the least amount of green on the edges and the richest orange color. This could mean there are some brown edges, but if they are small, that indicates it’s at its optimum ripeness.
Until about a month ago, we had been buying all of our groceries at the local supermarkets. We tried AutoMercado, Perimercado, Mas X Menos, Saretto, MegaSuper, PriceSmart, Palí and Hipermas trying to test out which has better quality of food, price per unit/measure and variety. I haven’t given my full research post yet, but it’s in the works. However, for now, we are realizing that some items, certainly not all, are cheaper at the markets. But, don’t be fooled, not everything is cheaper at the ‘ferias’.
Our regular shopping list includes onion, bell pepper, garlic, chicken, fish, lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, broccoli, green onion and various fruit items. Finding cheap food in Costa Rica is much harder that it would seem and unfortunately for the citizens of this country, the cost of living has been rapidly rising for the last 5-10 years. So, the cost of food items is high along with the luxury and imported items we North Americans are used to. The grocery stores range in price on all items, as do the markets around San José.
We have become regulars at the Saturday Pavas feria in our neighborhood adjacent to the Palí. The market runs from sun up to late afternoon and stretches about 500 meters down a through street (other than on Saturdays) with vendors on both sides. The people are friendly and the food is fresh, but do make sure you are getting a good price, specifically on eggs. I have found that they are no less expensive here than at any of the supermarkets. Buying frozen fish is certainly priced fair, as well as most of the produce. We can walk in with c 10,000 (about $18) and fill four reusable grocery bags. The flowers are beautiful as are the artisans handiwork available.