Now that I am back where I can email my phone photos, I have sent them to where I can deal with them on my computer. There was no connection in Costa Rica that my American cell phone could use, and there would have been a lot of extra charges if I could have, so I waited. Now I can show you some of the things I saw and experienced.
I learned about the huge eggs that can be purchased for three dollars a kilo, or two pounds. I learned about the two alternative types of oranges, neither of which is as good as the American oranges that you find in Tucson's supermarkets every day. Everyone should have an inexpensive citrus juicer, so they can make a glass of healthy juice or produce lemon/lime juice to use in cooking.
I made the jump from amazingly-inexpensive organic bananas (a dollar a pound) to plantains, another type of banana entirely. If you want to make plantains or platanos as they are called in Spanish, I got some at the Walmart nearest my house (the new one off Kino Parkway) and my husband found some at Food City as well. Just cut off the ends, slit the peel from end to end, and take it off like a jacket. You are then ready to slice and sauté your new taste sensation.
I also made a connection between plantains and Cheri's prickly-pear syrup, the bright purple preparation that I also use in Prickly Vinaigrette. If you want to sweeten up the platanos, you can sugar them, make a simple syrup with white or brown sugar, drizzle with honey, agave or maple syrup, or drizzle the yellow platanos with the red Cheri’s syrup. It has the fruity taste of Prickly Pears, combined with the sweet plantains. This is serious Arizona excellence.
On our way back from Costa Rica last weekend, we stopped over in Mexico. At the pretty little airport in Hermosillo--an unexpected, pleasant surprise--I picked up a product called Nectar de Agave a la Vainilla. It comes from the Mexican Vanilla Plantation and it is a vanilla bean placed in agave syrup--available all over nowadays--and steeped to flavor the syrup. This product is like a "mystery ingredient" on the Iron Chef television show, something to think about and figure out what you can do with it. Here's an idea: drizzle it over a Coconut Cake to create a shiny pattern on the white icing.
It’s also pretty obvious that you could make it yourself. Just heat up some agave syrup—about 12 ounces—and insert a whole vanilla bean into it. Let it steep while the syrup cools, and then store the resulting flavored syrup in an airtight container, refrigerated, while you use it up. This will also work with simple sugar syrup as well, if you don’t use agave.
You could also use it to sweeten coffee and tea, or substitute it into dessert recipes that call for agave syrup or honey--liquid sweeteners, that is. Do not substitute a liquid sweetener for dry sugar in a recipe or you will throw off the balance of wet to dry ingredients. But it would work in any cupcake recipe, for instance, that calls for honey.