Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Tale of Hot Sauce: The Cult of Marie Sharp's

Anyone who is from or has ever been to Belize knows about Marie Sharps hot sauce. It's like ketchup at a Burger King-you can't get away from it. Marie Sharp's famous sauces grace every dining table in the land. Even if you opt to eat out, you will find it, sitting expectantly next to the ketchup or the fine wine, omnipresent in the Belizean consciousness and omnipotent in its fieryness. No lunch, dinner or even breakfast is complete without a little habanero-and who better to deliver that endorphin filled taste sensation than our own beloved Ms. Marie?

We Belizeans are dedicated devotees of our hot sauce and the Belizean diaspora in the USA can be found lugging suitcases full of tamales, johnny cakes and Marie Sharp's classic fiery habanero pepper sauce on their return from visits home. I for one always pick up a bottle or two or have family bring it to me when they visit. I also carried it with me to both Spain and Argentina where, I am proud to say, I personally converted several locals to the cult of Marie Sharps. When I return to Argentina it will be with a bottle of her fiery sauce in my hand, ready to spice up any traditional asado that might be going down.

In the meantime, if you are inclined to try Marie Sharps, it has now started appearing in the U.S. at various venues. I found it most recently at a tiny hot sauce store in the beach town of Chincoteague VA! However, the surest way to get some, aside from going to Belize, may be to order it online. A quick Google search reveals that you can even order it at Amazon, although I would suggest checking out some of the independent hot sauce emporiums operating online such as Fire Girl, Hot Sauce World, Sam McGee's or Dr. Chile Pepper, which offers Marie Sharp's Corporation's complete line of hot sauces, jellies and jams for sale and delivery in the USA.

Marie Sharps produces a full line of hot sauces, some with cactus or citrus bases as opposed to the traditional carrot, some mild, some tongue scorching. However the classic and by far favorite hot sauce is her Fiery Hot Habanero Sauce, which, with its carrot base and lime accents, is the perfect accompaniment to every food from pizza to Argentinean beef. Don't leave home without it! The few times I have, I deeply regreted my oversight. Everything tastes better with some good habanero sauce and Marie Sharps is about the best you can get.

Now I realize this post sounds like an ad for Marie Sharps Corp. However, I assure you I am in no way affiliated with the company. What you read here is a pure and deep love for my favorite hot sauce of all time, a classic condiment that can lift the bland to sublime heights and instantly transform any food into a Belizean meal. If you have tried a Marie Sharps hot sauce I would love to know what you think about it, so please leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How could you not love this Pizza??

Thanks once again to Heidi Swanson of fame for her great stash of recipes. She shared with us all a wonderful pizza dough recipe by bread guru Peter Reinhart that I plan to use from now until the end of time. Look at those results-how could it not be good?

Try the dough out for yourself: Best Pizza Dough Ever!

And meanwhile you can drool while looking at what I made for dinner last night- and without a pizza stone, no less!

Up next: Adventures in Frozen Yogurt! That's right-my ice cream maker has arrived! Yay!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Amazingly Delicious Light Honey Rye Bread

Unfortunately I can't claim this recipe. If it were mine I'm sure that I would receive some sort of Nobel Prize of bread making just for coming up with it. Instead I simply follow the directions and marvel at how delicious this bread is.

We don't have rye in Belize and it wasn't until I started reading "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson that I became excited about the many different grains available here in Washington DC. A whole world of flavours was just waiting to be explored. And rye bread, well, that always reminded me of my mom's stories about the perfect Reuben sandwich. I just had to make some.

So I turned to my well-thumbed old fashioned bread bible, "Bread Winners" by Mel London, only to find quite an array of recipes to choose from. Everything from sourdough to Finnish rye awaited me. I finally decided upon Yvonne Rodahl's Light Rye Bread, which called for lots of honey and caraway seeds. It was so good I made it twice, and the second time I doubled the recipe. It did win the yellow ribbon at the Minnesota State Fair in 1977, after all!

Note: This is THE bread to use for grilled cheese sandwiches. Choose the sharpest Cheddar or a good Gruyere and spread a little Dijon mustard on the slices, add the cheese and then, if you have one, place in your George Foreman grill or sandwich press and grill until the fragrance of caraway and rye fills the room and the cheese has actually melted INTO the now crusty and golden bread. Devour. Repeat.

Yvonne Rodahl's Light Rye Bread (with honey and caraway seeds)

I present the recipe to you in its doubled form, which makes three loaves or two loaves and 12 delicious rolls. If you cut the loaf into 12 slices, each one will be about 155 calories. These freeze well. And, as you must know by now, I insist that organic grains will taste better in this bread.

4 packages dry yeast
3 cups warm water (lukewarm so the yeast isn't killed)
1 1/3 cup honey
1 tsp salt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (Yvonne calls for butter, which you may also use)
4 tablespoons caraway seeds
5 1/2 cups rye flour
4 to 6 cups unbleached white flour (or white whole wheat or half white and half whole wheat, although this will make the bread denser)
butter for crust (optional)


In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the honey, salt, oil, caraway seeds and the rye flour. Beat until smooth.

Add enough white (or white and wheat) flour to make the dough easy to handle. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth-about 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to coat, cover and let rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour.

When the dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, punch down and form 3 loaves or 2 loaves and 12 rolls or any other combination that you care to make.

Place in well-greased pans or cookie sheets (or else the bread will stick), cover lightly and place in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes. When done, butter tops to make a soft crust or leave plain. Cool on wire racks. Enjoy!

No-Bake Cookies or Peanut Butter-Chocolate Truffles with Oats

I have been making these things for years. I mean, literally years and years and years. For so long that I remember at one time not being able to reach all the ingredients because I was too short. For so long that I believe the original recipe might be from an introduction to cooking for young children, a book with plastic covers and a ring binding that I completely covered in batter stains during my formative years...who knows where it is now.

Anyways, the recipe has changed over the years to become a bit healthier and its title has grown too. Originally called "Easy No-Bake Cookies", a colleague recently renamed them "Peanut Butter-Chocolate Truffles with Oatmeal"- a longer but far superior name that befits this delicious sweet. It helps that these have got to be one of the easiest and yummiest creations around. If you like chocolate (and who doesn't?) and if you like peanut butter (I love peanut butter) and if you like chocolate and peanut butter together in a raw oatmeal cookie-dough-truffle type extravaganza that can be made in half an hour, you will love these. Make them today!

Pictures will be forth-coming, but who needs pictures when you can make them now and see what they look like yourself?

Easy Peanut Butter-Chocolate Truffles with Oatmeal
(formerly no-bake cookies)

Makes about 32 small truffles, 135 calories each without optional add-ins.

1 cup peanut butter (you can use crunchy or creamy, your choice, but don't use one with added sugar, I promise that there will be enough as is!)

1 cup sugar (I use organic raw sugar, but white or brown will work)

1/2 cup skim milk

1/4 cup high quality cocoa powder (you can up this to 1/2 cup for a more chocolaty flavour)

1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups instant oatmeal

Optional add-ins:

There are a lot of things you can add to these-you might want to try:

  • Mini-chocolate or butterscotch chips
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • Minced dried fruit
  • Finally minced peanuts, almonds, cashews or other nuts or seeds


  1. Heat the peanut butter, sugar, milk and cocoa in a saucepan over medium heat until everything is melted, stirring as needed. Stir all ingredients together until blended and take off the stove. (If you really want the easy way out you can even microwave this in a deep bowl for several minutes, stirring every minute, until melted and blended).
  2. Mix in the oatmeal and vanilla, stirring until ingredients are thoroughly mixed together. Now is the time to dump in your add-ins if you have any. The dough will be stiff yet sticky. Put the saucepan in the fridge (or freezer for even faster results) and give it about 20-30 minutes to harden further.
  3. Using a small tablespoon, take spoonfuls of the mixture, roll into golf-ball sized spheres and place on a cookie sheet lined wax paper or a silpat. Keep cool in the refrigerator until serving. These are incredibly more-ish (a term coined by my family to describe anything you always want more of), so watch out!

My next plan for these is to dip them in melted chocolate to add an extra layer of yumminess-but frankly they are delicious as-is, which is why I haven't bothered so far.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Zucchini Fritters (5 ways)

Today's is a simple recipe, one born of the necessity of doing something with the zucchini that were moldering in my crisper drawer. I actually made this several weeks ago while I was on a pancake kick and they were so easy and yummy that I went and bought more zucchini specifically so I could make them again. Those of you with gardens overflowing with the stuff are probably shaking your heads right about now, but remember, something good came out of this: another zucchini recipe that you can add to your arsenal against the green enemy. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos this time around, so you will just have to imagine them...picture green flecked latkes and you are on the right track.

Your Basic Zucchini Fritter

2 small or 1 medium zucchini grated ( approximately 1 1/2 cup grated zucchini)
2/3 cup finely minced onion
1/4 cup cornmeal plus more if needed
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (may use whole wheat pastry flour or ap flour if desired)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 -1/2 tsp of your favorite hot sauce (or more to taste)
1/4 cup eggbeaters or egg whites, or one egg*

*Of course, for optimal results the ingredients should be organic, preferably locally grown if possible, and the eggs from free range birds, but you already knew that :).

The wonderful thing about these fritters is their simplicity and adaptability. This is a very basic recipe that just begs for experimentation. Some add-ins to try include:

  • Toasted and ground cumin seed and a hint of chipotle pepper for a Mexican twist.

  • Lemon zest and a little garlic for a Mediterranean feel.

  • Season with toasted and ground coriander, cumin and mustard seed and a bit of turmeric for a zingy fritter with flavours of India.

  • Try caraway seeds and serve with a bratwurst on the side.

  • Substitute other grated vegetables for part of the zucchini such as cabbage or carrots-whatever you have laying around that desperately needs to be eaten before it goes bad.

1. Grate your zucchini before it gets away.

2. Mix all ingredients together. If things look a little dry add a drop or two of water until you achieve a consistency like muffin batter but a bit thicker.

3. Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium high heat with one tsp of olive oil.

4. Drop fritter mixture into the pan by the spoonful-use spoon to flatten into cakes. Cook until browned, then flip and cook the other side until done. These are best served warm but can also be stored in a Ziploc bag with a paper towel (to absorb moisture) for a day or two and reheated in the oven.

5. Serve with Greek yogurt, sour cream or labneh. A good thick tomato sauce and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese are nice Italian flavoured accompaniments. Makes 6 fritters at 60 calories each. The recipe as a whole is 357 calories, and doubles easily if you are serving a crowd. Elise at Simply Recipes also has a nice zucchini fritter recipe.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quick Gingery Vanilla-Peach Shortcake

This quick and rustic shortcake can be made using any biscuit recipe that you prefer-I used some Seeded Amaranth Biscuits which I had left over from last week. Of course this was not the ideal situation. The ideal situation would be to have biscuits hot from the oven, steaming inside as I piled on the peaches and whipped cream. Back in the real world, however, I had just gotten home from the gym after a long day at work, and did not feel like "whipping up" a fresh batch of biscuits, especially when I had several sitting in the fridge waiting to be used for something. So my biscuit was cracked open and heated up on the George Foreman grill (great for these sorts of emergencies). You, of course, may make your biscuits from scratch so as to enjoy this shortcake at its best. I suggest something with some whole grains (whole wheat or other) in it that can stand up to the juicy peaches. Once you have a biscuit on hand this recipe is as easy as A, B, C and is a great way to use up those delicious farmers market peaches, if you are lucky enough to have some around.

Quick Gingery Vanilla-Peach Shortcake

Makes one large shortcake. Peach filling and whipped cream, without biscuit and with 1 tbsp of candied ginger, is 220 calories. Total calories will depend on the type of biscuit used. This recipe may be multiplied.

2 small or 1 large, ripe peach

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

A sprinkle of nutmeg (about 1/8 tsp)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 to 1 tbsp minced crystallized ginger (do NOT use fresh ginger for this, it will be too strong)

1 large freshly baked biscuit from your favorite recipe

4 tbsp whipped cream (I admit I used store-bought but you can whip your own).

1. Wash and slice the peaches. Try not to eat them all at this stage-remember, its shortcake that we want!

2. Place the peaches in a bowl and toss with the 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg and the minced crystallized ginger. Leave to macerate for about 30 minutes. If you are doing this the proper way, you can use the time to whip up some biscuits.

3. Split open your hot biscuit, heap on the peach-ginger mixture (you might have left-overs), top with whipped cream and serve. The candied ginger in this recipe jazzes up a traditional favorite and is a perfect counterpart to the sweet peaches and vanilla. Let me know how you like it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cherry Tomatoes with Micro-Basil and Goat Cheese

Micro-basil is one of those terms that you see on the menus of fancy restaurants, where plebeian words like "young" or "small" are just too mundane to be contemplated. Micro-basil is, of course, perfect for those micro-courses such as amuse bouche and other exotic little appetizers that fit in the palm of your hand. Its also ridiculously easy to grow in your windowsill. Just throw a few basil seeds at some dirt, or even onto a damp paper towel and a few days later-voila! Micro-basil! And all for just a few pennies a day...

My micro-basil was teetering on the edge between micro and macro when I decided something had to be done. Not particularly with the basil, but rather with my pint of multicoloured cherry tomatoes that I had photographed and then purchased at the Dupont Farmers' Market this past Sunday. It too was teetering on an edge-that edge between luscious ripeness and time to dump it in the garbage before it liquefies on your counter-ness. Luckily, as you can see, they were still on the luscious side when I turned them into a delicious and very simple salad. I then devoured most of it for dinner with two slices of my toasted honey rye bread.

Cherry Tomatoes with Micro-Basil and Goat Cheese

2 Cups cherry tomatoes, preferably mixed.

2/3 (or more) Cup micro-basil (or plain old macro basil, slivered)

1-2 oz goat cheese (I used 1 oz, but if you want more, pile it on!)

1 Tsp quality olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper


Some kind of crusty bread (for serving)

To assemble:

1. Rinse and dry the cherry tomatoes, then cut in half and place in the serving bowl.

2. Rinse micro-basil or regular basil, sliver if needed and dump on top of the tomatoes.

3. Cut or crumble goat cheese into chunks and add to the bowl.

4. Pour 1 Tsp of high quality extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes and basil.

5. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

6. Toss. Let sit for a few minutes while toasting a couple slices of your favorite crusty bread.

7. Serve with bread to mop up the juices. Enjoy!

Serves two people as a side salad, one with leftovers as a main course. The salad sans bread and with 1 oz of goat cheese is 240 calories total, or 120 calories per serving.

* I must acknowledge here that the photo of cherry tomatoes in a colander is not mine. No, it is Jose's. We both took pictures, and his turned out better. Of course I'm not envious! One cant get a perfect photo everytime, can one? *sniff*

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Brown Bread with Raisins and Cardamom

The original, plain version of this recipe is from a worn and tattered hardback titled "Bread Winners: More than 200 Superior Bread Recipes and Their Remarkable Bakers". Originally belonging to my mother, this book, written by film producer Mel London and published by Rodale Press in 1979, is one of my favorites. My mom's handwritten notes and various blotches and stains decorate the volume, whose worn binding barely holds the two covers together. After more than 20 years of experimentation, my mother, having settled on her own bread recipe which she bakes religiously every week, passed the book on to me. I am glad to have it. (Thanks Mom!).

Bread Winners' recipes are grouped by author-back to the land hippies, flight attendants who bake bread on 747s, film directors, writers, teachers, homemakers-all of whom kept up a constant flow of communication and exchange of recipes with Mr. London in the pre-internet era. Reading about the people behind the breads is almost as much fun as baking them and makes one wonder where they all are now. But despite the enthralling characters, this book is first and foremost a cookbook-and a good one. Quick breads, yeast breads, sourdough breads, even the esoteric salt-raising bread, all are tackled here in an easy to understand way. Biscuits, rolls, buns, muffins, tortillas, roti, Lebanese flat bread, pizza dough, even pancakes are at your fingertips if you have this book around.

So it comes as no surprise that the other day, after baking two loaves of a spectacular honey rye bread, I decided, hey, the oven is still warm, lets whip up a quick bread too! And I had just the one in mind. After trying Heidi's sticky teff loaves I was on a roll with my blackstrap molasses and wanted more, so I turned to page 303 to try out Linda Waggy's Brown Bread. But of course I just couldn't leave well enough alone so I had to make some changes. Here is the recipe below-with the real credit going to Linda Waggy, who in 1979 lived in a cabin in the woods of upstate New York and baked on a wood stove.

Brown Bread (with Raisins and Cardamom)

Makes two 9x5 loaves.
51/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt ( I used 1)
1 quart buttermilk ( I used low fat yogurt)
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2-3/4 cup raisins
1/2-3/4 tsp ground cardamom seed (best if fresh ground)
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Note: For plain brown bread, omit the last three ingredients and proceed as usual.

Mix the flour, soda, salt, cardamom and nutmeg in a large bowl. Combine the milk, honey, molasses and raisins and let sit for about 20 minutes or until the raisins plump up a bit. Add to dry ingredients, stirring quickly to combine. The soda will react rather explosively-get the batter into your 2 greased 9x5 bread pans as quickly as possible! Bake at 350% for 50-60 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes before attempting to turn out, and run a knife along the edges of the pan to ease that task if necessary. This bread is outstanding toasted and spread with labneh, a Turkish yogurt cheese-if you don't have any lying around just use sour cream and you wont know the difference. One loaf yields about 16 medium slices, which are about 160 calories a piece.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Guava Pudding

This recipe is one of those that I invented as a teenager in Belize. Several guava trees grow right outside our cookhouse, which is where all the kitchen action takes place. If we managed to beat the fruit flies and the birds to the fruit, I would can them by cooking the guavas in water until soft, then blending them to a pulp (sort of like a guava applesauce) and putting them through a sieve to get rid of the thousands of tiny, iron-hard seeds.

This guava pulp was the base for one of my all-time favorite desserts and a personal invention: baked guava pudding. I like it so much that I have even made it in DC after bringing guava pulp up from Belize (warning: this is definitely not something you want exploding in your luggage, so wrap it well!). Guava pulp like the kind that I made at home cannot be found in the USA as far as I am aware, but I think you could substitute half melted guava jelly and half guava juice and still get good results. Try to find organic if you can-but I'm not sure that it's available unless you go to our farm. Please let me know if you find some!

Guava Pudding

Wet Ingredients:

2 1/2 Cups Guava Pulp (or 1 1/4 cup guava juice and 1 1/4 cup melted guava jelly. To melt, mix juice and jelly together and heat in the microwave or stove top, stirring until the jelly dissolves.)

1/2 Cup melted Vegetable Shortening or Butter

1 1/2 Cups Organic "raw" Sugar (if using guava jelly, 1 cup sugar should be sufficient)

2 Organic Eggs or 1/2 cup Eggbeaters

Dry Ingredients:

1 Cup Organic All Purpose Flour

1 Cup Organic Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

3 Tsp Baking Powder

1 Tsp Salt

1/2 Tsp Lime Zest

1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

1/2 Tsp Nutmeg

1/4 Tsp Cloves

Topping for Pudding:

3-4 Tbsp Lime Juice

Approximately 1/2 cup Organic Brown (raw) Sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together guava pulp (or jelly and juice), melted shortening or butter, sugar and eggs (or eggbeaters).

2. Mix together dry ingredients and add in three parts, stirring after each addition, to the wet ingredients.

3. Pour into a greased and floured mold or baking pan (you can even use a metal bowl if you don't have anything else lying around). Place the pan or mold upright in a shallow pan of water, and bake until a knife inserted in the center of the pudding comes out almost clean. This can take up to an hour-in our wood burning stove at home it depended on how hot I could get the oven!

4. If you plan on unmolding the pudding let it cool for at least 15 minutes before turning it out, otherwise just cut into squares and serve with the lime juice topping. To make it, heat the sugar and lime juice in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the pudding and serve.

This pudding is moist, and rich in tropical guava flavour. If thats your kind of thing, then this is the perfect exotic dessert for your next dinner party. You could even bake it in individual ramekins for a more elegant touch. On the other hand, if you dont like guava as a rule, then this probably isn't for you. I don't have the calorie breakdown, but given the sugar and fat content, I doubt it is very low-this is a dessert after all!

This recipe calls for organic whole wheat pastry flour, eggs and sugar. Obviously you can substitute factory farmed eggs and bleached white sugar and flour, but the flavour wont be as good. I just cant in good conscience promote the use of eggs from chickens that have never seen the light of day-animal rights issues aside, these eggs are not as flavourful nor as good for you as those of chickens who run around in a pasture and get a varied diet. In the same vein, ultra-refined white sugar just doesnt have the same depth of flavour that raw cane sugar does.

Jose's Maple-Almond Encrusted Salmon

While this blog is primarily a space for me to rant about food and publish recipes that I have personally developed, adapted or used, I feel that the world should know about Jose's Maple-Almond Encrusted Salmon. It is delicious and easy-two qualities that I look for in any recipe, especially for a mid-week dinner. We ate this with my mushroom-raisin-spinach rice, but any carb and vegetable combo will make it a complete meal.

Maple-Almond Encrusted Salmon:

1 large or 2 small fillets of Alaskan Coho Salmon (skinned and deboned)


1 Tbsp Organic Plain Yogurt (we use my homemade yogurt)
1 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tsp Pure Maple Syrup
Pinch of salt to taste

Roasted Candied Almond Crust:

1/2 Cup Almonds
1 Tsp Maple Syrup
1 Tsp Olive Oil

Sauce to serve:

5 Tbsp Organic Plain Yogurt
2 Tsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp Dill-weed, preferably fresh

This is an easy meal that you can throw together pretty quickly, just let the salmon marinade while you go over your bills or take care of that work that you brought home with you.

1. Mix ingredients for the marinade together, place salmon in a lidded container, pour marinade over and stick in the fridge for an hour.

2. Meanwhile, pulse the almonds in your blender once or twice until they are ground into medium and small sized pieces but aren't turning into a paste. If you don't have a blender, you can mince the almonds by hand instead. You could also use sliced almonds for this, but the crust wont bind as tightly to the fish. Mix the ground almonds with the maple syrup and olive oil, then spread in a pan and brown in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Once your fish is marinaded, bread it in the almonds, coating each piece and making sure that it sticks well. Wipe down a non-stick frying pan with olive oil and cook salmon fillets on medium-high heat to brown them (about 3 minutes each side). Immediately place in a baking pan in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven. Bake for 14-15 minutes, flipping the fillets halfway through.

4. While the fish is baking, stir together the ingredients for the sauce to serve with the meal. Feel free to experiment-try adding horseradish, capers or olives, lemon juice, even hot sauce for the more adventurous.

With sides to accompany this makes a hearty dinner or lunch for two. The recipe, made with one large or two very small salmon fillets, is about 860 calories total or 430 calories per serving. Unfortunately I don't have a picture as we made this before I started the blog, but I promise to shoot a photo next time and retroactively post it in all its glory. Just imagine almonds and maple-y goodness, which goes surprisingly well with salmon-then run out and pick up some fillets so you can try it yourselves!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Super Natural Cooking: Amaranth Biscuits

Heidi Swanson, photographer and blogger extraordinaire of 101 Cookbooks fame, recently published her totally awesome new book, Super Natural Cooking. This wonderful, down-to-earth volume has in short order become one of my favorite sources of culinary inspiration. First off, the pictures are gorgeous. The colors are so bright and the composition so perfect that they caught the eyes of fellow passengers when I took it on the DC subway just the other day. The recipes are so innovative yet simple that everyone from a natural foods neophyte to the chef de cuisine of the finest five star restaurant can appreciate them. And how could I ignore her consistent promotion of organic and local produce throughout the book? Any organic farmer would cheer-and order it immediately, which is how I ended up on Amazon a few short days ago.

The book is divided into five sections. The first explains in easy to understand terms how to stock a natural foods pantry, looking at staples such as refined grain products, sugar and fats and presenting healthier, more exciting alternatives. Unusual seeds like quinoa and amaranth, exotic flours such as teff and mesquite, healthy oils like pumpkin and olive and an array of alternative sweeteners including agave nectar and date sugar are discussed. By the end of the first chapter the shopping list is made and one is already planning exciting forays to the grocery store!

Chapters 2 through 5 then present all sorts of great recipes and ideas for using your new foodstuffs. Each recipe is accompanied by tantalizing photographs that make the reader want to hop right up and start cooking. Luckily for me Whole Foods isn't far away, so I was soon the proud possessor of several new types of flour and various bottles and boxes promising low-glycemic sweetness inside.

In the past two weeks of experimentation I tried the Yucatecan Street Corn (which despite Belize's proximity to Mexico, I had never had occasion to experience), baked a set of Sticky Teff Loaves that were devoured both at work and home, and set my sights on other recipes to try later.

Heidi does not shy away from butter-her sticky teff loaves contain a full cup of the stuff, which I felt obligated to cut in half, substituting some yogurt in its place-nor does she avoid eggs, as the same recipe calls for three. I replaced them with eggbeaters and the loaves still turned out sticky, delicious and dark as sin. Yay for blackstrap molasses!

Yesterday I decided it was time to grind up some of the amaranth seeds I had picked up from the bulk bins at my local Whole Foods, and try out the yummy looking Seed Crusted Amaranth Biscuits.

I decided to use oil instead of butter, increased the milk to make them drop biscuits and stuck with plain sesame seeds for the topping as I didn't have anything else lying around. In spite of my unorthodox substitutions, they turned out scrumptious: light and fluffy despite their whole-grain status, and considerably more flavourful than most of the more traditional biscuits that I have enjoyed. I devoured two hot out of the oven with orange blossom honey and Belizean surinam jam, and saved the rest to make shortcakes later.

When I launched this blog, I thought "This is great, now I'll start using my camera more often!" Unfortunately the poor thing had been ignored for many moons and so I had fun playing with my macro lens trying to remember how it worked. As a result, my pictures appear to be a bit vague around the edges, but hopefully you can imagine clean crisp light and shadow where the fuzzy parts are and I promise to try to do the biscuits justice in the future. If I get permission, I will post the recipe this week, so check back!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Belizean Cacao-where your Green and Black's chocolate comes from.

Many of you have probably heard of the famed UK based organic chocolate company Green and Black's, originally owned by Craig Sams, organic foods mogul, all-round genius and a nice guy. If you don't, you can learn more here: Green and Black's Story . Unfortunately for some of us, Craig is always looking to the next big thing in organic foods, so Cadbury Schweppes is now the proud owner of Green and Black's. Leaving our hemp-clad entrepreneur to his next vision, lets take a look at what G&B does. They make awesome chocolate and they make it well. However, now is the moment for me to come clean. I'm not entirely unbiased in this account. In fact, I might be considered one of the more compromised sources of information on Green and Blacks and its delicious products, because my family is one of many in our part of Belize who grow and sell organic, fair trade cacao beans to the company.

Our cacao trees are grown in a mixed vegetation, shaded environment along with bananas, coconuts, indigenous shade trees and other crops. During harvest time we cut pods like the ones you see in the picture at the top right hand side of my blog. Once we have enough we mount a good old fashioned cacao bustin' party-sitting on old beer crates under a rose-apple tree, we crack open all the pods by hand and dump the white slippery beans into 5 gallon buckets. These are poured into a wooden box lined with banana leaves, covered with more leaves, and weighed down with boards and stones. The beans are regularly turned and fermented for about a week. At this point we spread them out on a tarp and dry them in the sun. It is only then that the characteristic bitter chocolate scent can be detected rising from the drying beans, as prior to fermentation they do not taste like chocolate by any stretch of the imagination.

Thanks to a long ripening season, our cacao is processed in small batches, and then sold to the Toledo Cacao Growers Association. We are the only cacao farmers belonging to the association who are not Mopan Maya-one of the groups of Mayan peoples who established powerful city states in past centuries.

All the cacao that we and other Belizean farmers produce goes into one delicious Green and Black's chocolate bar: the Maya Gold bar. This scrumptious dark chocolate, orange and spice flavoured bar is a treat to be savoured slowly. I enjoy it even more knowing that somewhere in there might be a few molecules of cacao harvested from trees that I planted myself. If you want more details, Chocolate Obsession has a great review of Maya Gold.

Rice and Beans or Beans and Rice?

I feel that this, my first post and first exciting step into the world of food blogging, ought to begin with some kind of introduction. But how to go about it?

Perhaps I should explain the name of my blog-that will probably be introduction enough! Lets start from the beginning: Why Rice and Beans? Certainly you could have come up with a more exciting and exotic name! Well, as anyone who has perused the wide world of blogs knows, a good food blog will often (although not always) include at least one and preferably two different ingredients in its name. I figured that I should pay homage to my upbringing and mention one of the most famous and satisfying combinations to be found south of the United States border: Rice and Beans. Or is it Beans and Rice? We have to be careful here-the two are not the same!

In Belize there is no doubt that rice and beans and beans and rice are totally different culinary experiences. Rice and beans is a one pot dish-usually white rice and kidney beans cooked together with onions, garlic, and a touch of recado and coconut oil. Beans and rice, on the other hand, is another animal entirely. In this case the beans are slowly stewed with the above ingredients plus, if you are really lucky, a pig tail for flavour, until they create their own delicious sauce-deep in hue and flavour. The rice is cooked separately, the beans are ladled on top, the ubiquitous Marie Sharps hot sauce is poured on, and the meal is enjoyed-almost daily in every Belizean household. Any leftovers become those wonderful refried beans that grace many a breakfast table.

I'd best explain this Belizean part before it gets confusing. I'm the Belizean in Washington DC, of course. And for those who are wondering "where (or what) the heck is Belize?", I have included a map to clear up any geographic problems: map of Central America. Due to schooling and career choices I now spend too little time at home, but my first 18 years I lived on an organic farm on the southern coast. Check out my blog this coming January and you will get to hear all about how nice it is compared to the grey and frozen government buildings of Washington.

I guess the final question inquiring readers might have is why am I starting a food blog? Lets set the stage: After a year of working in Argentina I return to Washington DC and decide that I should get a masters degree. I also need a job-so I land one as a receptionist and administrative assistant. For the first time in my career life, I have a job where for 5 hours out of the day, I can sit around and read at work. This wasn't an accident-the idea is, I can study while getting paid and answering phones. A win-win situation for all. However, my summer class ended a month ago, and now...I have tons of free time. I stumbled upon a food blog and discovered that my love of food had a whole virtual dimension that I hadn't even known about. One led to another. It became an addiction. Every day I had to have my food blog fix. It even started affecting my social life-I would run home and make yogurt or bake bread instead of going out with colleagues and friends. About two weeks in I thought "I could do this! I like taking photographs, I like cooking food-it can't be that hard."

Then reality set in as I realized that studying for a masters degree in anthropology while working full-time might make it a bit difficult to update my blog regularly enough to satisfy my adoring readers! Oh despair! What was I to do? I responsibly decided that a food blog was not to be. But a little part of my brain refused to take no for an answer. It said "You can do it. They wont mind if you disappear for finals. And sleep isn't that important anyways!"

So on a particularly dead morning (today) that little part of my brain staged a coup as I was looking at one of my favorite blogs: Jumbo Empanadas, and I clicked on that tantalizing little link on the upper right hand side that said "create your own blog". 20 minutes later I was uploading pictures from my flickr account. I was hooked.

Now don't worry, I'm not only going to yammer on and on about culture and food and how cool Belize is and how hot it is in DC right now. I do actually cook things and I promise I will take pictures of them and publish recipes and all that fun stuff. So come back soon to check out the latest posting! And if I don't get one up everyday, guess what? I'm probably buried under 1000 pages of reading. But don't worry, Ill be fine.