Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beach Vacation, Visitors, and Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs

View from the roof of my apartment at sunset.
Yes, that's the ocean you see in the background.
 I'm not sure what people think of when they hear the "Dominican Republic". I knew nothing about the DR before I landed here, with my only reference to the Dominican Republic being a documentary about gang violence in Haiti (the DR's island-sharing neighbor). It scared the shit out of me.

The DR and Haiti are completely different entities, with food, customs, and traditions that very rarely result in similarities, and Haiti is still somewhat of a mystery to me. However, I may or may not be becoming an expert on DR life and on what it has to offer in terms of internal tourism.This country is absolutely breathtaking. A new facet of this blog will be to show you what I see when I travel outside the city.

My mom was in town to visit, and while she was here we did a few different things. Wine on the roof of my apartment, laid back pool time at the hotel where we stayed a couple of days, dinner at the fiancé and I's favorite place, and then a weekend trip to Bávaro. Bávaro is located on the Eastern tip of the country, right next to Punta Cana.

We stayed in the Barceló Resort Dominican Beach. For about 50 dollars a night, you get the room, food, and drinks included. If you are looking for an easy trip, where you don't need to worry about Spanish or venture outside of the hotel area, Bávaro/Punta Cana should be your destination, due to its innumerable all-inclusive hotels and their beautiful beaches. There is even an airport in Punta Cana, so you can fly directly in without having to navigate through Santo Domingo.  

However, if you are adventuresome and want to see more of the DR, this probably isn't going to be your type of thing. For our purposes, it was exactly what we wanted. The resort offered everything we could need in the sense that we relaxed and shared each other's company without having to worry about food or drinks or "where to next?". To be clear, 12 of us went on this trip and we had a ball, but the all-inclusive hotels are not examples of Dominican culture in the slightest. On the other hand, the beaches. are. so. pretty.

My mom and the fiancé on the beach at the resort.

Our 7:00am walk on a Sunday morning meant an empty beach was guaranteed.

We made a friend and named him Gofyto.


Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs

When my mom came to visit, I wanted her to be able to feel at home in our apartment. With so many differences between North Carolina and the Dominican Republic, I think it's hard to imagine that the feeling of home is universal. One night we ate this dinner, Sausage and Vegetable Kebabs, and drank wine on the roof. It was a special night, and the food just made it that much better (it was awesome).

2 sausage links of your choice, cut into chunks
2 red onions, quartered
1 bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon or lime
salt and pepper

First, mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, garlic, basil, and lemon/lime juice in a small bowl. Toss the vegetables and this marinade together in a large bowl or tupperware and cover for at least an hour. Add other vegetables if you want - squash, eggplant, and mushrooms would all be great additions. 

Once the vegetables are done marinading, get your skewers ready and pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Season the sausage with salt and pepper, and then place your vegetables and sausage evenly on the skewers. Place each skewer on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Turn them and bake for another 10-15 minutes. The kebabs are done when the sausage is cooked all the way through and the vegetables are soft and starting to brown - but not burned!  Transfer your kebabs to plates and finish by spooning more of the marinade right on top to add to the flavor.

a buen tiempo!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Greetings From A Much Needed Vacation!

I was sitting in my kitchen in High Point, NC, the day before I left for Santo Domingo, when I left wrote this post. I may or may not have been watching the Food Network and making potato salad to leave behind for my dad, as my mom got ready to return with me to the Dominican Republic for a week. Some delicious food and unforgettable moments have occurred since then, but I'll leave that to later and let this go on, even if it is a little bit late...

Man, what a legit trip. The change of pace breathed new life into me - going from the big (and dirty as ****) city of Santo Domingo, to calm, quiet, and oh so green High Point,  How did I not notice how lush High Point always has been? I was desperate for time with friends from home, and it feels like these moments recharged my battery. Sometimes you need to feel connected to those people who really know you - I am one of the lucky ones that can say that I know exactly where my home is.

...Or, I know where it has been until this point in my life. I'm assuming that for many people, something that goes along with growing up should be being able to be "at home" wherever you are. "Home is where the heart is," right? My new home is with Mario, wherever that may be. It felt so renewing to be around the support network that I know and love so deeply, but it's time to take a deep breath and jump into what is waiting for us.

Tomorrow I'm going back to the Caribbean to be with the fiancé in my brand new casita, and my mom is coming with me to spend some time with us. As sad as I am about saying goodbye again, I know this time that I'll be back at Christmas, and hopefully with the fiancé in tow. I'm crossing my fingers and toes that we will be able to come back together.

While I've been home, I've been cooking up a storm for my parents. I'm going to share a recipe that the fiancé and I love for Sunday lunches - Baked Fish with Rice and Pigeon Peas. I made it for my mom and dad, as well as teaching it to my mom - should that have been the other way around? Whatever, I'm more than happy to break tradition. 


Baked Fish in Foil

2 fillets of whatever fish you're into
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 handful scallions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
aluminum foil
baking pan

First, measure the thickness of the fish.  For every inch of fish, plan for 10 minutes of cooking. Fish cook at high temperatures, so preheat the oven to 425-450 degrees.

Second, cover your baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Place each fillet on a piece of aluminum foil. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and pepper to each, 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Top with the chopped scallions, and sprinkle each with the juice of 1/2 lime. Wrap the aluminum around each fillet like an envelope and place them on top of the aluminum covered baking pan. You can always add chopped vegetables if you wish! Change the seasonings and cooking juice depending on your cravings. Be creative - onion powder and cayenne pepper, lemon and orange slices with parsley and garlic, or dress to impress by cooking it in white wine.

Bake for the time you decided based on the thickness of the fillet.  The fish is ready when it is white and flaky. Squeeze another 1/2 lime on each of the fillet and pretend you are at a restaurant by the water, watching the yachts sail by in the distance. Make your own vacation.



Moro de Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

1 14 oz. can gandules verdes (green pigeon peas)
2 cups uncooked rice
3-4 cups water
3 tablespoons salt
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

First, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot. Here in the Dominican Republic, I use a "caldero" or a "cast iron cooking pot" (picture to the left), with a perfectly fitted top.  Add the onions and stir. When they are translucent, add the garlic for about 1 minute. Then, add the can of gandules and salt. Stir so that the onions and garlic do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Scoop your uncooked rice into the pot along with the water and stir again. 

Let the pot boil on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, or until the rice has soaked up all of the water. Then, take a large spoon and scoop the rice off the sides of the pot so that it is mounded together in the center. Sprinkle the second tablespoon of oil on top of the rice, lower the heat to low, and cover. Let the rice sit for another 15-20 minutes. When you take off the cover, the rice should be moist and fluffy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tuna Stuffed Red Bell Peppers and a National Holiday

Last Thursday was Corpus Christi Day. I'm still unsure exactly why the entire country had the day free from work, but who's complaining? I went with it. It's an excuse to have people over and relax. 

Friends, wine/Presidente, and the Tuna Stuffed Red Bell Peppers that you see here were on the menu. These Tuna Stuffed Red Peppers were out of this world. My friend, Juanddy Noel, is a professional photographer, and he took these outrageously amazing photos. The pictures turned out so beautifully. I've been waiting to post them until I was inspired to write something that could be paired with such talent - but I couldn't wait any longer! Mil veces, thank you.

There has been so much laughing in my house recently. The fiance and I have been dosed with fits of giggles over the most nonsensical things - which is one of the reasons we are so good together.

Lately, the extra laughter has really been good for my soul. Because, sometimes living in a foreign country is great, but sometimes it is exhausting. I remember in my first month in the Dominican Republic, two years ago. The school I worked for made the foreigners attend a culture shock workshop. It talked about the stages of culture shock, and how after a certain period of time, you start to get frustrated. It's hard to believe that after two years, I'm having those feelings for the first time. Things move slower here. Men will gawk and cat call at anything that just might be female, especially if you have light skin. It is really hard to find a good job. The education is not comparable to that of the U.S. A few months ago, I'm not sure if I would have so openly admitted these things like I am now, afraid of sounding ethnocentric. But, mama's tired, and I'm mama.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think of good ole U.S. of A. as the shining example of perfection by any means. I'm content living here for the time being, and geographically it is the most beautiful and diverse country I have ever travelled to - but I'm equally ready to see my friends and family for a couple of weeks.

So, really, I have the best of both worlds - I have the option to take a break from each of my countries and visit the other when I'm plain jarta. I've got my bags packed with laundry and gifts of Dominican rum, coffee, and mango marmalade (that I made! what up! you'll see a post about this shortly) to pass around to my loved ones. Unfortunately, the fiance has to hold down the fort here until we can settle our visa business. We are blindly shooting for Christmas as our goal, but the reality is it could be another year before he can make the big flight to High Point, N.C. Time will only tell.

My next post will be from North Carolina - so farewell Santo Domingo! See you shortly.


Tuna Stuffed Red Bell Peppers

1 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cups rice, uncooked
4 cups water
1 bell or cubanelle pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of corn, drained
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 6 oz. can of light tuna in water
4 medium sized bell peppers (red are the sweetest)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated cheese of your choice (I used mozzarella)
salt to taste

1. Make the Tuna Rice with Vegetables

Begin with the rice with vegetables. First, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot. I use a cast iron pot here in the D.R., and now I won't make rice in anything else! Pour your rice in a large pot with 4 cups of water. Add the onion, pepper, garlic, and corn. Add a good amount of salt now - your water should taste like the ocean.

Bring the water to a boil, and keep the heat on medium-high. Let the rice cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking on it around this time to see how it's coming. Once all the water has evaporated and the rice is dry, lower the heat to low. Take a large spoon and scrape the rice from the sides so it is in a big pile in the middle of the pot. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of olive oil on top, and cover with a top that fits perfectly. Let it cook for another 15 minutes.

Now, taste your rice. If it is still a little bit hard, add a couple splashes of water and cover again for another 3-5 minutes. You finished! Drain the tuna and mix it in to your sticky, delicious rice with vegetables. Set the rice aside.

2. Stuff and Bake the Peppers

The hard part is over. Cut off the tops of your peppers and remove the tops and seeds. Cook peppers in boiling water with salt for around 8 minutes. Remove, and place them so that they are standing in a baking dish that has 1/2 cup of water poured into the bottom of it.  Fill each of the peppers with the tuna rice and vegetables.

The final step is to mix the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Sprinkle generously on top of each of your peppers.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

a buen tiempo!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Tostones o "Frito": A Dominican Classic

One of the first times I went to the fiance's apartment, the power went out. Here, we say that "the light went out" or "se fue la luz." I went to his house alone, after one of my daily Spanish classes that I took last year after work.  Exhaustion set in on the ride over, and the fiancé noticed when he came to pick me up. He offered to make me dinner, and frito is what he made, with all the lights out and one candle burning in his small kitchen. It was a lasting memory for me - sitting on the kitchen counter watching as he made something so natural for him, but just as foreign to me. 

This was in the beginning of our relationship, and I thought I had it made with a boyfriend that "liked to cook". 

Wrong. I bet an average 5 year-old in this country is familiar with how to make these bad boys - that's how often everyone eats tostones around here. When people ask who cooks between us, I say, "Mario makes the best frito." That normally gets a lot of laughs, and I didn't know why until I realized that everyone and their grandchild knows how to makes frito, and they do so all the time.

"Frito," or more formally called "tostones," are so good and easy, and you can eat them with anything. Whatever you normally eat with rice, eat it with tostones like a dip.  We eat them with any cooked vegetable, meat, cheese, or just with salt and ketchup. 

Recipe for Two


2 green plantains
oil for frying
1 lime
ketchup (optional)

First, peel your plantains. The best way to do this is to first cut off both ends and discard. Second, slice the plantain vertically two different times, from one end to another. Finally, remove the peel in pieces. If any parts of the peel cling to the flesh, remove with a paring knife. 

Now, you might be looking at your hands in shock.  The peel of plantains sometimes leave a sticky, black substance on your hands. Wash them right away so it is easier to get rid of, but don't worry, it's not fatal. 

Cut the plantains into 1/2 inch rounds. Fill the bottom of a large skillet with oil and let it heat all the way through. The oil needs to be hot hot hot before you fry the plantain pieces. When hot, add the plantain rounds. Let them cook for 2-3 minutes and flip them. Cook this side for about 1-2 minutes and then remove. Each side should be a golden yellow. 

Once they have cooled enough to handle, smash! your plantains with the bottom of a cup. That's right - pound the plantains with the bottom of a glass so that they spread out and looked squashed. Turn the heat to medium under your skillet with oil and place the newly squashed plantains in the oil. Let them brown a bit and flip them again. Remove and place on a plate covered in paper towels to drain. 

Sprinkle with salt and lime juice. Enjoy with whatever you like - start with ketchup and then work your way up. Serves 2.

a buen tiempo!