|Tamara Lukens

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Spicy Ceviche-style Shrimp and Grits

By |January 9th, 2013|

There are some key staple foods you come to love when you move to the South.  On the top of my list is shrimp and grits.  Every other southern-food restaurant and diner offers their own version of this very classic southern dish.  The great thing about this meal is how simple and quick it is to make.  I also think this meal is relatively healthy.  See?  I am taking  care of you starting off the year by giving you a good and healthy meal (according to me).

Grits.  Gritsgritsgrits.  I am a fan, a lover of grits.  Grits are nothing more than ground hominy – or mote, as we call it in Ecuador.  I am even more fascinated by instant grits (Ha!), which make the preparation relatively quickly.

In terms of shrimp, my preference is to buy fresh, but these days I’ve been purchasing frozen, deveined shrimp and I’ve had no complaints.  As much as I love and live to cook from scratch, preferably with fresh seafood, when I’m hungry, the last thing I want to do is stand in front of the sink peeling and deveining shrimp.

When a new year begins, we always tend to make resolutions – the most popular is probably eating better/healthier/less, etc.  Personally, it’s been a really long time since I’ve made any new year resolutions.  More often than not, I end up disappointing myself.  I rather make long term commitments throughout the year, and evaluate consistently whether I am staying true to those commitments.  For instance, I commit myself to going to the gym at least 3 times a week; drinking a green shake or oatmeal with apples, yogurt and walnuts for breakfast; eating a light lunch – be it a sandwich, soup, tuna and crackers (yes, I eat cat food every once in a while); and then having a super awesome dinner with a glass of wine – or a beer, if I so choose.  I don’t crave anything, because I haven’t deprived myself of anything.  And when you love to make dinner like me, I end my day on a high note.  I like to make Saturdays special, and I will make pancakes for breakfast, or we go to the Highland Bakery and eat something sweet and delicious.  Are there times when I frequent Highland Bakery on more than one occasion during the week?  Yes.  However, I know that I have “splurged”, and I make up for it by eating homemade, healthier foods.  But that is just me.  What do you do?


Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatillo Soup

By |December 21st, 2012|

I’ve been in a bit of soup kick lately, in spite of the fact we’ve had a pretty mild winter.  Now that I am in Atlanta, winters are basically non-existent.

I miss the snow.


Then, I remember the amount of times we were snowed in and couldn’t go anywhere…

The days when the skies were grey, just about every winter day…

When it was blistering cold outside, so much that it hurt to breathe…

And how the sun was gone by 4:30pm…

It doesn’t take me long to realize why we moved.  I love it here.

This soup helps me see the good side of winter, the one where you cozy up in the evening with a warm bowl of soup.  Not to mention in allows me to combine two of my favorite ingredients in quite an unexpected way: butternut squash and tomatillos.  How about that for a sweet and tangy party in your mouth?  It’s like winter and summer all at once!


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Relleno Guayaco: My mom’s sweet and savory stuffing

By |December 18th, 2012|

I have to confess: when I was a little girl, I was not a fan of my mom’s relleno.  In full disclosure, I was a picky eater, and there was something about raisins and anything related to raisins I despised.  Since this stuffing had raisins, prunes, walnuts and all these “things”, I avoided relleno like one avoids the plague.

Today, I can’t live without it, and I look forward to Christmas to make it and stuff myself with the aforementioned stuffing.  You see, this relleno is different.  If you have been to Ecuador and spent Christmas there, you know what I am talking about.  This stuffing is a combination of sweet and savory; it is a hodgepodge of flavors that one would think they don’t go well together, but upon sampling, you realize, “YEAH!  This is GOOD!”

Christmas in Ecuador is probably THE most important celebration of the year, followed by New Year’s, and the big dinner takes place on December 24th.  Since living in the U.S., I have learned that families go all out for Thanksgiving.  In Ecuador, we go all out for Christmas.  At my home, we would begin the prep work for the Cena Navideña at least a week in advance.  We stocked the pantry, organized the menu and made sure we had enough food for los abuelitos, tios, primos, sobrinos, amigos y conocidos – all the grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nephews, friends and acquaintances.  It was not uncommon to have random people drop by to wish us Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo, and of course we could not NOT offer a little bit of Cena Navideña to these unexpected guests.


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Salsa de Ciruelas: Prune Sauce

By |November 20th, 2012|

And you thought prunes are only for us old people… HA!

A lovely reader had asked me about this sauce, salsa de ciruelas.  She lived in Quito for a few years and her mother in law makes a ciruela gravy she loves serving with turkey instead of the traditional American gravy.  I think I had this sauce once, so I had to call mami to get the lowdown on it.  In typical Ecuadorian fashion, it is a little bit of this and a tad of that.  So I played around with it and I came up with a sauce that reminds me a bit of a cranberry sauce.

Now, one thing we use prunes for is in traditional Ecuadorian stuffing, which I will be making and posting over the next few weeks.  This relleno (stuffing) is sweet and savory, and traditionally consumed during Christmas.  Oh my, I can’t wait!

This salsa de ciruelas goes great over pork or turkey.  Although I haven’t experimented with it, I bet it would be great to glaze a holiday ham with.  Enjoy!


Visiting the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica

By |August 3rd, 2012|

This past July, El Señor Hubs and I headed to Costa Rica for a week-long vacation.  Costa Rica had always been a destination we both wanted to visit, and this year we finally got to explore it.  With so many regions to visit, we opted to go to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and experience some of the rain forest and beaches.  This led us to Quepos, Manuel Antonio, Mal País, Jacó and Playa Herradura.

We went in July which around the start of rainy season in Costa Rica.  Similar to Ecuador, Costa Rica doesn’t have seasons per se; it either rains or it is dry.  At first we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the outdoors due to it, but we figured – HEY!  This is nature!  Let’s fully embrace it!

We found that it rained around 4pm-5pm and on.  We took advantage of our mornings to visit towns, parks and beaches, and we returned to our hotel(s) early evening.  We enjoyed a nice dinner and drinks at the hotel’s restaurant, watched the sunset and tucked ourselves in.  The beauty of our “old-couple” schedule is that we were ready to go early in the morning and enjoy the sun.

We landed in San José, rented a 4×4 clunker and drove about 2.5 hours down to the coast to our first stop: Quepos.  There is a new highway – highway 27 – which made it relatively easy to get there.  By easy I mean that the highway is paved and smooth.  This was not the case as we drove throughout the rest of the coast.

We stayed at Condotel Las Cascadas for the first two nights of our visit.  This hotel is located in a residential part of Quepos.