Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


Pre Work: Staying Connected

26 June, 2011

I finally feel satisfied with our plan for cell phone coverage while we are in Costa Rica.  This has been quite the research journey.  I don’t want to take a laptop, so I need more than just voice service, I need to be able to use data service on my cell phone.

After days of research, I have decided to purchase local pre-paid SIM cards for everyone at the San Jose Airport when we arrive – this seems to be the best option in terms of price and coverage.

The journey went something like this:

  1. Using our existing cell phone with International Roaming – with our current carriers. The plan was to confirm everyone’s international roaming plan and expected coverage in Costa Rica.  Each of us has a different carrier (don’t ask). Tate has T-Mobile, Drew has AT&T and I have a Verizon phone.    The Costa Rica coverage for each carrier was pretty similar – roaming works the same for all carriers. Grupo I.C.E.  owns all the cell coverage in Costa Rica, so whatever deal each carrier makes with ICE and plus their choice of fee on top of that…well that’s your per minute rate  – anywhere from $2.19- $2.89 per minute.  That’s for calls in and out of the country.   Crazy..I could not image paying $20-$50 per phone call back home and then $10-$20 every time I needed to call to confirm a tour or reservation or get directions.  I would end up with a $600-$1,000 phone bill when I got home!

    To offset this cost, I started researching local pre-paid phone cards.  This seemed like a simple solution for in-country phone calls and possibly calls home.   According to my research, pay phones everywhere in Costa Rica and using a phone card is good option for keeping your communication costs down.
    Apparently it is important to know the rates for the locations you wish to call from and to and know the rates for the phone card you are purchasing.  I found a great web site that helped determine what the best card would be for us Availcom.
    I found that the Solaris phone card was a good option.  There is no activation fee with this card and calls are 30¢ per minute, much better than our international roaming rate.  But we’ll have to find a pay phone to use it – which won’t always be convenient and in an emergency may not even be helpful.   So I kept looking for cell phone options.
  2. Renting a Costa Rica cell phone.  The cell phone service is run by Grupo I.C.E.  – they have a monopoly on the cell services in Costa Rica.  You can’t get a cell phone number (meaning service) unless you are a resident.  So to resolve this issue for travelers, Costa Rica companies have turned to renting cell phones, with service to travelers.  This gives you a usable phone, with a Costa Rica phone number to use while you are there.  This seemed like a good option.
    The cost of this still seemed high.  There is a phone rental charge ($40 – $80), the expected per-minute charges (20¢-30¢ per minute for calls to the US) and a deposit for the phone ($150).   This is where I was a few weeks back.
    Because of the cost, I was only planning on renting one phone for the three of us and using it sparingly along with Skype and the pre-paid calling card for communication on our trip.
    With only one usable phone, the kids and I were concerned about staying in touch with each other while we were out and about.  What if someone got lost?  We talked about getting a set of walkie-talkies with a wide range – that would help.  There would be no minute charges – we could talk as much as we wanted, we just had to invest in a good set before we left.  These turned out to be about $70 per set of 2, and because we needed 3, we’d have to purchase 2 sets, about $140.  This along with the rented cell phone and a calling card…we’d be spending nearly $300 just for services, not including per-minute charges for calls.  This options would still cost us $400-$500 depending on how much we called and connected.  Better, but still not the best.
  3. Prepaid SIM Cards.  This is our current plan.  Prepaid SIM cards are now available in Costa Rica, at the ICE kiosk in the arrivals area at the airport and from ICE offices in Costa Rica.
    You need to have a compatible phone, a GSM phone that works on 1800Mhz band. I have confirmed that all of our phones meet the criteria.  Each of the kids have a version of the Droid and I have a Blackberry, so we’re good.   You can read more about how it works in this Tico Times article.
    You need to have an unlocked phone (to allow you to use a different carrier’s SIM card.  Most phones are “locked”).  This can be done a couple of ways; 1) call your carrier and ask for the unlock code – if they know you’re travelling out of the country, they may just had that over.  2) if it is not that easy, there are few companies that offer unlock codes for a fee.  We used Unlocktotalk.
    If you want to know more how this work and why you need to unlock your phone.  This How Stuff Works article explains it well.
    Each of our phones can operate on the 1800mhz band, we’ve unlocked our phones and are ready to purchase and install our new ICE SIM cards when we arrive at the San Jose airport in Costa Rica. We’ve been advised to bring along the following items for each phone to make it a bit easier.
    — the unlock code we used,
    — the customer service number for our carriers and
    — the instructions from our User Manual on GSM.
    I’ve added these items to our checklist for packing.The prepaid SIM cards come in ¢2500 (about $5), ¢5000 ($10), or ¢10,000 ($20) denominations. The local call rate is about ¢40 colones a minute, or around 8 cents a minute. The rate to the US is about ¢160/min (about 30 cents).  Much better than anything I have found yet.  With the charge to unlock everyone’s phone $15 x 3 = $45 and then a ¢10,000 ($20) SIM card for each x 3 = $60.  That will be $105.  Much, much less than the previous options!
    I will also purchase a ~$20 phone card for use @ payphones in case there’s a cell service issue, these along with a  Skype account for calls home @ internet cafés should keep us very well connected.

I feel pretty good about moving my costs of phone and data service from $600-$1,000 to under $150!


Research: The 1st of 3 Costa Rica Movies

9 June, 2011

Okay so it is really a presentation, but it runs all by it self — so I call it a movie! As I was researching Costa Rica for our trip I decided to put together a PowerPoint presentation to share with the kids on some of the stuff I was learning. This is the first of 3 I plan to create.

This one has mostly Costa Rica history and culture information. It was fun to play with PowerPoint for non-work purposes.  Take a look and let me know what you think.

Aside from the standard travel sites I found some of the most interesting and honest information @ The Real Costa Rica website.

The next movies will be Travel Preparation, things like what to pack, communication, getting around, driving rules, and safety tips.  And the final movie will be all the places we plan to visit and the things on our list to do and see while we’re there.


Research: Costa Rica Recipes

13 May, 2011

Today I did a little research on the native foods in Costa Rica. As one would expect exotic fruits are not so exotic – and they are a part of most meals. There is of course a Spanish-flavor to their dishes.

To add to our excitement for the trip I thought we should try some of the recipes before we go.

I have also put them on my Blackberry – more portable that printed versions. We’ll be staying in homes most of the time and will have access to a kitchen to cook some of our own meals – I am sure using authentic ingredients will make a big difference in the taste of many of these dishes.

  • Slippers
  • Itabo Flower
  • Arroz con leche
  • Arroz con pollo
  • Ensalada rusa
  • Mayonesa hecha en casa
  • Tamal Asado
  • Empanadas de Piña
  • Gallo Pinto
  • Pork Tenderloin with Costa Rican Coffee Glaze
  • Empanadas de Quesa
  • Carambola Chicken Rice
  • Carambola Upside Down Cake
  • Carambola Cocktail
  • Carambola Drink
  • Banana Bread
  • Pork Scaloppini with Carambola
  • Chorreadas
  • Grilled Mojito Lime Chicken with fresh Black Bean Salsa


They use the same name that Costa Ricans use to refer to sandals. It is called this way because its main ingredient is the Chayote. It is produced at high export levels; with this vegetable lot of kitchen recipes can be made. It is a very use vegetable in Costa Rica.

• 2 big Chayotes (christophines)
• ½ cup of grated cheese. (Mozzarella)
• ½ cup of ground of soft cheese.
• ½ cup of sugar
• 2 spoonful of butter
• ½ cup of cream

You divide in half the Chayote, and cook them in water with just a little bit of salt.
The pulp (without breaking the rind) is removed. You make a puree with the ground cheese, the butter, the cream and the sugar.
The rinds are fill up with the puree and covered with the grated cheese and putted into the furnace until gilding.

Itabo Flower

This flower comes from a tree with the same name. This tree is located in the rural countryside, years back it was used to surround the properties, like a wall this was because its roots are very strong and it maintains in slanted lands. It has a characteristic bitter flavor and it is reduced by removing the center and using only the petals of the flower.

1- Wash the petals
2- Cook in water until boiling
3- Put a bit of salt and wring them out.

Itabo Flower with egg:

1- 1 bunch of flowers
2- 2 eggs
3- ½ chopped onion
4- Bit of salt and oil

Warm up the frying pan with oil, add the onion. Then put in the flowers and the beaten eggs with pick of salt. It is ready when the egg is cooked. It is usually accompanied with tortillas.

Arroz con leche

• 5 cups whole milk
• 3/4 cup white rice
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
• 1/4 cup vanilla extract
• 3/4 cup golden seedless raisins pre-soaked in warm water
• 2 egg yolks
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 2 tablespoons butter
• Ground cinnamon

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add milk, rice and salt. Cook the rice at a low simmer until the rice is tender, do not boil.
Once you achieve “simmer,” the rice should take around 20 to 30 minutes to be ready, depending on your cooker. Taste the rice to make sure it is tender. Remember to keep stirring so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. Once the mixture has cooked, remove from heat and add sugar, vanilla, raisins and egg yolks. Keep stirring to incorporate all of the flavors, then let it sit for about 10 minutes.
The sugar and vanilla will infuse very quickly, giving a flowery aroma. Add the heavy cream and butter, mixing them well together in the saucepan. Spoon into ramekins or individual serving bowls. Rice pudding can be served warm, room temperature or chilled. This particular recipe benefits from setting overnight in the refrigerator. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

Arroz con pollo

1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8 serving pieces
1 medium yellow onion, quartered, plus 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken broth, homemade or canned low-sodium broth
1 cup light beer, such as lager
3 tablespoons Sofrito recipe follows
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 cups white rice
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 medium carrots, finely diced
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and quartered
1 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribbed and thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, ribbed and thinly sliced
1 cup pimento stuffed olives

Place the chicken, quartered onions, 1 cup of chicken broth, beer, Sofrito, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 of the cilantro, and garlic in a large pot or skillet over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside to cool; once cool shred and set aside. Strain the broth into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve discarding the onion pieces.

Pour the broth into a measuring cup and add water to make 4 cups of liquid. Return it to the pot or skillet and add the rice, peas, carrots, green beans, ketchup, and salt. Stir well and bring to a boil. Let the liquid evaporate to just below the level of the rice, about 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the rice is tender and fully cooked, 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the peppers and the remaining sliced onions and cook until they’re tender, 8 minutes. Shred the cooked chicken meat discarding the skin and bones, and add the chicken to the vegetables. Cook until it is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and add the chicken and vegetables to the rice mixture. Stir in the olives, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve.

Ensalada rusa

3 large potato, peeled, small dice and boiled in salted water until tender
1 large beat peeled, small dice and boiled in salted water until tender
1 large beet, roasted on salt, peeled, small dice
1 carrot, peeled, small dice (blanched
1 cup peas, blanched if fresh, if not, canned is fine
Spicy Mayonnaise Dressing, recipe follows

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Gently fold in the Spicy Mayonnaise Dressing.
Mayonesa hecha en casa

• 3 egg yolks
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 1 clove garlic
• 1 shot hot pepper sauce
• 1 shot Worcestershire
• 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients; slowly add blended oil while on high until becomes a mayonnaise.

Tamal Asado

Tamal Asado is traditional recipe from Costa Rica. It is perfect to have with Costa Rica coffee or agua dulce. Tamal asado falls in the category of salad pastry, so it makes also a great snack or something to have for breakfast along with some scrambled eggs and gallo pinto. Here we have put together an easy recipe so you can enjoy this delicious Costa Rica treat anytime, so get all the ingredients together and enjoy this tasty snack.

1 1/2 cups of masa en polvo (grounded corn to make dough)
3 cups of milk
3/4 cup of sugar
115 gram or margarine
230 grams of white grounded cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla scent

In a bowl, mix the masa with the milk, add the sugar slowly along with the margarine (this one has to be melted first), cheese, eggs and vanilla scent.
Once the mixture consistent and in form of a dough place it in a rectangular Pyrex and bake it at 350 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes.
Then wait till it is cold and cut it into little squares. This will be enough for 18 portions of tasty tamal asado.

Empanadas de Piña

Shortening ½ Kg
1 heaping cup sugar
1 pinch of salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 kg flour
½ cup evaporated milk diluted with a little warm water


1 pineapple, chopped
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Sugar to taste with a pinch of salt

It acrema shortening, when fluffy add the eggs and vanilla and is still cremated, add sugar and salt and continue whisking to incorporate the flour, add warm milk and continue beating until dough forms consistent make little balls, repóselas 5 minutes, pressed and filled with sweet pineapple, fold in half beginning to close by the banks to get good air, are varnished with beaten egg and sprinkle sugar on top and bake at 200 degrees C for 10 minutes.

For the sweet pineapple: We clean the entire pineapple, chop and liquefy a third party, is put into a saucepan and pour the sugar and pinch of salt. Let it boil and add cornstarch dissolved in a little water, let thicken, if enfrascar gets 25 minutes in a water bath.

Pumpkin filling
• 2 cups pumpkin puree
• ½ can condensed milk
• 1 can evaporated milk
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp ground ginger
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• ¼ tsp salt
• ¼ cup cajeta or brown sugar

Gallo Pinto

Gallo pinto, a zesty mix of rice and beans, is the principal dish of Costa Rican cuisine. It’s typically served for breakfast and is so popular it’s even on the menu at McDonald’s. It also frequently accompanies meat or fish-based dishes at lunch or dinner. While a classic gallo pinto would include beans made from scratch, I used canned black beans to simplify the dish.
— China Millman
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 teaspoon of red bell pepper, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons of onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons of cilantro, finely chopped
• 1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
• 2 cups cooked beans
• 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 2 cups cooked rice
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add in the bell pepper, onion, cilantro and garlic and cook until the vegetables begin to soften.
Add the beans, Worcestershire sauce and cumin. Stir thoroughly and allow to simmer for about 2 minutes. Mix in the rice, stir well and continue to cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir again before serving.

Pork Tenderloin with Costa Rican Coffee Glaze

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano chili, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 cup dark rum
4 cups hot brewed coffee
1 tablespoon regular grind coffee
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon butter or 1 tablespoon margarine, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 lbs pork tenderloins
1. Heat oil in a big skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add in onion, stir/saute for 5 minutes.
3. Add in ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper; stir/saute 2 minutes.
4. Stir in molasses.
5. Remove pan from heat; carefully stir in rum.
6. Cook mixture 2 minutes.
7. Stir in brewed coffee, ground coffee, cinnamon, and cocoa.
8. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1 1/2 cups (about 20 minutes).
9. Remove pan from heat; let cool.
10. Transfer mixture to the container of a blender; process until smooth.
11. Stir in butter and salt.
12. Trim any visible fat from pork; cut pork, lengthwise into 8 (1/2-inch wide) strips.
13. Thread pork strips onto 8 (10-inch) skewers.
14. Prepare grill; place kebabs on grill rack that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until desired doneness, turning and basting often with coffee mixture.

Empanadas de Quesa

2 cups corn mixture (Masa)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup grated white cheese
a dash of Tabasco, if you wish

Mix the Masa with salt (and Tabasco). Form balls of 1 1/2 tablespoons of the corn mixture. Put between two plastic sheets and press with a small pan to form a thin pancake. Put 1 1/4 teaspoons of grated cheese into the center and fold in half. Seal softly with finger tips and fry in oil until golden.

Carambola Chicken Rice

Star Fruit

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 teaspoons mashed garlic
6 medium star fruit
1 cup heavy cream
salt, black pepper and paprika to taste
minced cilantro leaves for garnish
4 cups cooked rice
4 pounds cooked chicken breast, deboned, cut into bite size pieces

In a medium pan, heat olive oil. Saute red bell pepper, scallions, garlic and star fruit over medium low heat until tender about 8 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and season with salt, pepper and paprika.
Cook over medium low heat for 8 minutes. In a large cooking pot, combine this mixture with the rice and chicken and heat until serving temperature about 5 minutes. Garnish with coriander.

Carambola  Upside Down Cake

Star Fruit

3 to 4 star fruit, sliced
1/4 cup butter, melted
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
juice of 2 passion fruit
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extract
Preheat oven to 350F. Arrange sliced star fruit in bottom of a greased 9 inch cake pan as close together as possible.
Mix together 1/4 cup butter, brown sugar and passion fruit juice and pour into pan, turning so mixture covers bottom. Set aside. Cream together 1/2 cup of butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beat well. Mix together dry ingredients. Add flour mixture, alternately with milk, to butter mixture. Stir in vanilla and almond extracts.
Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until cake pulls away form sides of pan. Let cool for five minutes before inverting onto serving plate.

Carambola Cocktail

Star Fruit Cocktail

1 star fruit, deveined
1/4 cup orange liqueur
1/2 cup rum crystale
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 star fruit, sliced for garnish

Blend all ingredients except for garnish. Garnish with a slice of star fruit

Carambola Drink

– From Costa Rica

We were first introduced to Carambola (star fruit) by our hostess, Maria. She purchased it in the farmers’ market. At home she cut it up, put it in a blender with some sugar and water and made a very refreshing drink for us which tasted somewhat like lemonade.

Banana Bread

So Excited about this Recipe It Comes From a Missionary in Costa Rica When My Sister went there to Help out She Brought this with Her! And it is AMAZING!!!!!

1 1/2 cups Sugar 1/2 cup Butter
1 cup Milk 2 Tbls Vinegar
1 tsp Salt 2 Eggs
1 tsp Bkg Soda 1 tsp Bkg Powder
2 tsp Vanilla 2 cup Flour
3 Smashed Bananas

Mix all ingredients and bake in greased and floured loaf pan or muffin tins
may stick but delicious!

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until springs up when pushed Down

Serve With Room Temp Butter!

Pork Scaloppini with Carambola

Star Fruit

1 tablespoon butter
4 pork cutlets, 4 ounces each
salt and pepper to taste
1 star fruit, sliced
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2 teaspoons orange peel

Preheat oven to 200F. Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat. Cook pork about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer cutlets to a serving dish and set aside in oven.

In same pan, cook star fruit 1 minute per side. Set aside in oven. Add beef broth, orange juice and cream to saucepan; cook until reduced by half. Add coriander and orange peel. Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes.
Spoon sauce over meat and garnish with star fruit. Serve with rice and zucchini, if desired. Serves 4.


Note: these Tico recipes aren’t the sort that have specific measurements and the like. If you can’t deal with guesstimating, either find another recipe, or modify a pancake recipe to fit these ingredients.

fresh corn milk
salt natilla (Tico sour cream)
flour baking powder

Use about 1-2 ears of corn per person. Cut the kernels off the cob, and put them in a blender along with enough milk that the corn liquefies easily. Pour out into a bowl, add a pinch or two of salt, and a pinch of baking powder. Add enough flour that the batter becomes pancake batter consistency–thicker than for crepes, but thinner than fluffy breakfast pancake batter.
You’ll need to cook one to check if the consistency is correct. When cooked, the chorreada should be just thin enough that you can spoon a little natilla on it and roll it up to eat.

Grilled Mojito Lime Chicken
with fresh Black Bean Salsa

I was never a big fan of cilantro until about 2 years ago. The smell of it used to make me choke and it tasted like soap to me. I read somewhere that you have to have a bitter taste perception gene to like cilantro.

I have neighbors and friends from Costa Rica and enjoyed their food at parties and BBQ’s and I guess I’ve acquired a taste for it now. No latin dish with be authentic or taste the same without it. We took a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago. It’s a beautiful country.

The hacienda where we stayed I found a packet of Mojito Lime Marinade in the grocery store. It had good flavor but soooo much salt. I tried my best to duplicate these flavors without all that salt.

The Marinade:
• 1 lime, zested and juiced
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 2 Tbs. Apple Cider Vinegar
• 1/4 cup finely chopped mint
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
• 1/2 tsp. chili powder
• 1/2 tsp. onion powder
• 1/2 tsp. paprika
Grilled Mojito Lime Chicken
Combine all ingredients and marinate 2 lbs. thinly sliced chicken breasts.
Marinate for at least one hour.

While chicken is marinating, prepare the Black Bean Salsa.

• 2 cups chopped tomatoes
• 1/4 cup chopped red onion
• 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 to 2 Tbs. chopped, fresh jalapeno
• 1 Tbs. olive oil
• 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
• 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
• 1 15-oz. can Black Beans, drained and rinsed
• Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix all the above ingredients in a medium size bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.