Monday, February 16, 2009

Food that comforts and brings back memories. . .

I was born and raised in the US but my parents are Costa Rican. So when we were little we were pretty much raised speaking Spanish at home and following the Costa Rican traditions and culture. As I had mentioned before in my Turkey post, we didn't celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving until my sister and I were in middle school. I do remember though that on some Thanksgivings, when we were small, my parents would take us to Downtown Los Angeles to Clifton's Cafeteria. We loved going there because it was huge and there was just loads and loads of food all over much of it stuff we never had at home. It was always fun and it's one of those memories that sticks in your head.

We stopped going there when we decided that because we were Americans, we should celebrate Thanksgiving. I remember the first year. My mom and I figured out how to cook a turkey thanks to Galloping Gourmet. It was good. And from that day forward, we began having Thanksgiving every year. But this post is not about Turkey or Thanksgiving. It's actually about a meal I made over the weekend but you know me, I ramble and go off track a little so bear with me.

We grew up pretty much eating rice, beans, tortillas, potatoes and meats. Costa Rican food isn't like other Hispanic food like Mexican or Cuban food that is very distinctive to their region. It's pretty plain. Now there are a few dishes that are very Costa Rican like gallo pinto (rice and beans), tamales, arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), casado (translation: married and is a plate served with a meat, rice, beans, plantains, and fried egg and it varies) and olla de carne. If you visit Costa Rica (and you should) you can find all types of food. We went in December and we had some excellent Japanese food.

Sometimes I feel the need to eat something that brings back old memories and comforts me to the soul. When I have to cook something like that I make Olla de Carne (Costa Rican Beef Stew). My granny, Gilda, used to make the best one around. Olla de Carne varies on how it is made. My granny used to use short ribs and oxtails. I personally prefer oxtails when I make it and, let me tell you, that it's a chore finding oxtails here in old Sylva, NC. But the other day, we had gone to Sam's Club in Asheville to get supplies and damned if they didn't have oxtails. So I bought some knowing that Tom would be out of town. Tom refuses to eat oxtail, so I always make this when he is not home.

So, I know you are asking how the heck do you make this weird oxtail soup. It's actually quite easy but requires a lot of cooking. It's basically the meat cooked in water with stuff. I make mine with onions, garlic, bay leaves, cilantro, salt, pepper and other spices. The traditional stew requires you add yuca (cassava), potatoes, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, green plantains and sometimes other veggies. Anyway, you cook all this together. It is served separately. The soup goes in a bowl and the veggies and meat on a platter and then you can add it to your broth. It is also served with rice that you add into the soup.

I remember when we used to go to Costa Rica my other grandmother, Anita, used to make this and serve it up for us and it was heaven. There would be platters of food on the table and the family would all get together and eat. One day I will go into my family because it's HUGE. I must have over 100 first cousins. But I digress. So Olla de Carne always makes me think of home and family and comforts me.

So when I get the chance and Tom is out of town, I am all over Olla de Carne. But unlike the traditional soup, I cut mine back. This is exactly what I do when I make tamales. Costa Rican tamales have everything but the kitchen sink in them. I hated that when I was little so my granny and mom would make me special one with just the good stuff. And I do the same with this soup. I just make it with meat and potatoes and if I have corn I use it. And I always use oxtails because I love them. I know many would go ooky. But they are so tasty.

So this weekend I made my oxtail soup. I made some rice in my rice cooker. Can I tell you that the rice cooker is the best thing? It's as good as the bread maker. I cooked the oxtail for hours, added the potatoes and then feasted like a queen. It was divine. I had it yesterday and today and I will have some tomorrow. And it made me think of the family and especially my beloved granny, Gilda, who taught me to cook this and who I always remember when I cook. I was comforted.


  1. what lovely memories! food memories are the best, i think... between the sights and the smells and the tastes... its almost as good as Being There... enjoy!

  2. isn't it amazing how food can make you feel so good?

  3. Hi Carolyn-
    thanks for entering my giveaway contest :-) and for following. I've got you down for 2 entries. Cheesy goodness may soon be headed your way. Perhaps a good side to serve with the Oxtail soup?

  4. I think costa rican food sounds like my cup of tea, the beans and rice and chicken and tortillas yummmmm e. Ill have to look into some recipes!

    Except for oxtail soup. eeeek!

    powdered sugar smell reminds me of my dads moms house. she made us powdered sugar toast. YUM!

  5. Thanks for stopping by! I've entered you in the giveaway!
    I've never tried Costa Rican food, though I've had food from many countries in the region! I'll get there someday! :) It sounds yummy though!
    Have a great day!

  6. Oxtail soup? Oh my!!!! Not sure I am that brave! lol

    Thanks for entering my contest! Come back and vote for your FAVE purple item! Some are insane!!!

  7. What lovely memories! Now I'm craving Olla de Carne! Perhaps you might be up for sharing the recipe?

  8. food glorious food.. and memories like the corners of my mind.. I've gone muscials today!

    Stopping by for Click Fest with your clicky wub! Happy Ash Wednesday, or hump day which ever ya celebrate!

  9. wow... that is a huge family! And I thought ours was big... :)