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Creamy Chicken and Broccoli Soup

Written on February 1st, 2011 by no shouts

It’s nice to have visitors coming to Boquete from all over the world, especially when the weather is beautiful and all systems are up and working.

The crystal clear water is flowing, internet is fast and television reception is perfect, and we have high definition service! Life is good here in our little mountain town in Chiriqui Province, Panama.

What better way to spend the day of the final Superbowl playoffs than making a big pot of piping-hot, nourishing chicken and broccoli soup. Visitors Carmela and Jack went to Volcan, on the far side of Volcan Baru, and brought back three big, bright heads of fresh broccoli for us. I was inspired.

Chicken is the staple in every Panamanian’s daily diet, so I thought it would make the perfect ingredient to accompany these gorgeous heads of broccoli, and to add protein to make the soup a main dish.

My built-in stove top includes an electric iron grill, which made it easy to cook the chicken breasts, and it seals in the chicken flavor and gives it rich color.

The soup came together easily. I first cleaned and prepared the broccoli and set it to simmer. And, I included most of the stems to add more of the rich vitamins. The remaining ingredients were chicken broth made from Maggi Consome’ de Pollo, a few chopped onions, my “Bella” herb blend and evaporated milk.

When everything was ready, I got out my new black ceramic soup pot with two lids. It was made in China and cost $50.00 in a local Chinese market. It is a little over 12 inches high, weighs 12 pounds and is safe to use on the stove top. The double lid catches the steam and drips it back into the pot. It’s a very clever design, indeed.

Finishing the soup, I de-boned the chicken, cut it into bite-size pieces and added it to the pot.

By the time our guests appeared, the soup was piping hot and ready to serve. Warm, home-baked sourdough bread from Mort’s clay oven was just the right accompaniment.

I added a few croutons and we all enjoyed this healthy, refreshing soup, as well as lots of good conversation with new-found friends.

What a beautiful afternoon in Boquete!

THE ROCK Declares Two Top Winners

Written on January 26th, 2011 by 2 shouts

THE ROCK, a “Food for Senses” restaurant, sponsored the “First Annual Recipe Contest” yesterday in Boquete, Panama.

The contestants came with their carefully-designed creations, and using the restaurant’s professional kitchen for finishing and serving, presented their dishes to the judges, Executive Chef Heiner Gellenberg and me. The winner(s) will be featured in The Rock’s new menu, as well as in 9°80° Magazine.

It was a surprise and honor to be asked to help judge such worthy recipes in this very important restaurant, located on the banks of the mighty Palo Alto River.

Georgiann Evans, Irene Bentley, Juan Linares, Jennifer Sayers and Bev Walker submitted their recipes to the panel, knowing they were to be evaluated based upon creativity, flavor and originality.

The panel was amazed by the entries, a complete Ceviche Bar, Chocolate Box Cake, Baked Rosemary Onion, Salmon and Spinach Shell and Artichoke Cakes, just to name a few of the recipes designed by these very talented chefs.

After much admiration, tasting and consideration, the undisputed winner was Georgiann’s beguiling Grown-up Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Even after naming each contestant a winner, Heiner and I kept thinking of that sandwich, along with Irene’s Chocolate Box Cake. We decided that both of these recipes rose above the other winners to be the top dishes in the contest.

Every contestant listed above will enjoy their recipe being featured on The Rock’s menu over the next few months. Maybe the two top winners will remain there for many months to come, I certainly hope so. Both recipes far exceeded the judges’ expectations, each one truly titillated our senses!

Be sure to visit The Rock in the near future, their acclaims have been heard throughout Boquete, Panama and Internationally. You won’t want to miss tasting Georgiann’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich, for grown-ups, of course.

Thanks Heiner, for including me in this most challenging of assignments, especially when we had to choose a winner from all these delightful, eye-catching entries. It was difficult!

Don’t miss tasting them at The Rock soon.

Holiday Breads to Make All Year Long

Written on January 11th, 2011 by no shouts

Mort Rabkin is a very talented artisan baker who moved to Boquete a few years ago, and he’s sparked a whole new “bread culture” in our little mountain town. Before Mort’s arrival, there were very few artisan bakers in our entire Chiriqui Province, if any.

It wasn’t long before Mort built a real clay oven on his back patio and the availability of fresh, home-baked bread began.

As most of us know, it’s not easy to produce good, wholesome artisan breads without adding lots of love and care. Those skills are evident when biting into a slice of Mort’s special bread, available at the Tuesday Morning Market in Boquete.

Because many of Mort’s customers began asking him how he is able to produce such fine-quality breads, he decided to offer classes on the subject. These classes are very informative and lots of fun, as you can see from these photos.

Former students have made French breads, rustic breads, challah and other holiday yeast breads. They have filled rosta and wreath breads with lavish amounts of fruits and nuts and drizzled them with white, sparkling frosting.

The photo at the top includes some very talented bread-makers at work mixing and braiding breads for holiday giving. Mort’s wife Barbara demonstrated braiding techniques taught at the latest hands-on class, including one with 4 braids. The gorgeous loaf of challah shown above is ready for the oven.

Why can’t any of these wonderful, rich breads be baked anytime during the year? Why not?

On Thursday, January 27, Mort will present an advanced class on making and using sourdough and other natural starters. Folks with basic bread-making skills or those who have taken a prior bread class are eligible to join this very special class.

Participants will be able to pick up a sourdough starter a week prior to the class, “feed” it until time to use it to make and bake their own loaf of sourdough bread in Mort’s oven. As part of the class, a second type of starter will be mixed to be used in future bread-making. A gourmet lunch with wine will be served during the class, as well.

For more information about this class, stop by Mort’s table at the Tuesday Market, or email me at and I’ll send you more details.

We hope you come and enjoy the fun of baking in Mort’s clay oven, it’s a very special treat!

Difference Between Herbs and Spices

Written on January 2nd, 2011 by no shouts

For centuries, herbs and spices have been used to make food more exciting and tasty. Everyone interested in becoming a gourmet cook is very familiar with what these long-treasured ingredients can do to the flavor and scent of each dish.

This photo shows a typical spice market in Morocco, one like David and I visited several years ago. I still have some of the exotic spices I purchased on that trip. According to the Wikipedia article about spices, the spices I bought are way too old to hold much flavor or color. However, I use them often and enjoy the Mediterranean flavors they still impart.

This is a typical bunch of herbs, shown fresh and green. I’m sure you already know the difference between herbs and spices, it’s very evident here. Herbs are the green, leafy part of the plant and spices come from any other part, the seeds, bark, flowers, roots, stigmas or buds.

However, there are at least two plants that are both an herb and a spice. Can you name them?

While roaming the shelves at The Bookmark Bookshop in Dolega recently, I couldn’t resist picking up Jacqueline Bellefontaine’s book, “Microwave Herbs & Spices”, written over 20 years ago in Surrey, England. The book suggests that herbs can easily be dried in your microwave, on HIGH for 2-4 minutes.

Lay the herbs in small quantities, about 1/2 ounce at a time, on paper towels. Turn them every minute and they are dry when they become crisp. They can be stored whole or crumbled. I was served whole dried basil leaves in Costa Rica recently. It was a big surprise to see the chef using this technique.

Jacqueline bunches her list of herbs and spices together, rather than separating the leafy herbs from the spices that come from other parts of the plants, like the seeds, berries, roots or bark. She points out that both herbs and spices should be kept in airtight containers, not in the cans in which they are packaged.

It’s your turn to use your spices and herbs any way you would like. No recipe is needed. Look at this sweet potato dish and use your imagination. Just clean and slice your potatoes, brush them with a little olive oil, sprinkle them with spices, herbs or both. I used ginger, nutmeg and 5-spice, but use whatever you have on your shelf that may taste good.

Grill slowly on your barbecue grill turning every couple minutes until they are soft. Then, enjoy the finest, most memorable dish you’ve have so far this year!

OK, which two plants are both herbs and spices? Coriander and dill are each an herb and a spice; coriander leaves and seeds, dill weed and seeds.

Have fun with your spices and herbs this year.
Use them liberally to “spice up your life”!

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