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Island Cookery:
'Recipes from La Isla' offers Puerto Rican food treasury

By Christina Waters

A wonderful gift idea--for any time of year--is the treasury of Puerto Rican island recipes and lore titled Recipes from La Isla: New and Traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine. Created by Mountain View residents Robert Rosado (a native of Puerto Rico) and his wife, Judith Healy Rosado, the handsome 345-page cookbook fills a delicious gap in any adventurous cook's bookshelf. Laced with historical background, this new release from Lowell House demystifies the exotic ethnic crosscurrents that feed Puerto Rican cuisine. A rich blend of Island--Puerto Ricans call their country "La Isla"--Caribbean, Spanish, African and European influences conspire to create a sensuous legacy of dishes that stress, to no one's great surprise, seafoods, spices and tropical fruit.

The authors write accessibly and knowledgeably about the fundamentals of Puerto Rico's Creole cooking--comida criolla--a style that borrows from Spain's Catalonia and the Caribbean's indigenous plantains, corn and tamarind. The Rosados first introduce us to the appropriate arsenal of ingredients crucial to capturing that distinctive Puerto Rican flavor--coconut, annatto, adobo, ginger, olives, smoked ham, saffron and sweet peppers. Then the book launches into a treasury of recipes, modified where appropriate to exclude some of the animal fats so beloved by traditional cooks.

But Recipes from La Isla doesn't spare us authenticity. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, eggs and vanilla fill a recipe for Calypso Cornbread Sticks. A Sopa de Calabaza, perfumed with pumpkin, coconut, sherry, cilantro, ginger and garlic, puts us in touch with the island's native culture. There are myriad recipes involving plantains, chicken and seafood, punctuated with ripe fruit, citrus and rum. A dish of Tamarind Glazed Chicken weds Old and New World flavors, and a recipe for Island Crab Stew sounds so good you'll want to lick the page.

Many recipes have been accompanied by memoirs and family anecdotes from Robert Rosado's childhood growing up in Puerto Rico. The results are reassuring and warm, as hospitable as Puerto Rican dining itself. This is a cookbook to please any fan of sensuous, vibrant flavor combinations, filled with authentic culinary heritage as well as many contemporary variations adapted for the home cook--the Rosados have thoughtfully left out the classic blueprint for making roasted whole pig on a spit! The complexity of this cuisine will come as a delightful surprise to many readers, but given our coastal location, many of the ingredients will already be part of our own food landscape. Definitely look for a copy of this interesting, well-written and easy-to-use new guide to Puerto Rican cuisine--Recipes from La Isla, by Robert Rosado and Judith Healy Rosado ($28, hardbound)--at your favorite South Bay bookstore.

First Bite of '96

Two pretty good New Year's Eve ideas have come my way. For probably the ultimate in drop-dead glamour, you'd do well to think about dressing up (really dressing up) and hitting The Palace in Sunnyvale. For $75 per person, you'll get a tasty dinner/dance package that involves those amazing world-fusion appetizers chef Joey Altman is infamous for, followed by dancing to the funk and soul of Sri Da Honky and DJ James Owen. Call The Palace (408/739-5179) for reservations.

Meanwhile, you can take a final bite out of 1995 over at Palo Alto's Blue Chalk Cafe, where a Southern-style New Year's Eve dinner will run you $30, including a glass of Chandon Brut champagne. The prix fixe meal includes a choice of appetizers like barbecue spiced cured salmon, or crispy soft shell crabs, and main plates of grilled black sea bass, or pepper- and herb-crusted duck. Then finish off the old year with some apple and almond tartlet or warm brownie sundae. If you mention this menu over at the Cardinal Hotel, you can enjoy an overnight (just down the street from the Blue Chalk) for only $60--call 415/323-5101 for reservations. Stick around for that ever-popular "Balloon Drop" and champagne toast at the stroke of midnight. The Blue Chalk is located at 630 Ramona St.; call 415/326-1020.

Don't forget to call me with your hot restaurant tips, menu ideas, favorite chefs and food suggestions. Dial 408/298-7818 and press 2, followed by 498, to reach my voice mailbox. Or reach me through email: [email protected].

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From the Dec. 21-27, 1995 issue of Metro

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