Belize – A Country of Many Hidden Gems

 

This cold weather has got me thinking about Belize a LOT! It’s December so I shouldn’t be expecting warmer weather, but when I think about the cold months still ahead of us I cry just a little!!

Thus I’m thinking about when we lived in Belize and going through our photos I’m reminded about what we did on a daily basis, the exploring we did and most importantly our Sunday afternoons at the beach.

Belize is very diverse and its casual Caribbean vibe makes it very appealing. It has a rain forest, Mayan Mountains, Mayan ruins, second largest barrier reef in the world, deep sea fishing, diving, snorkelling, cave systems and much more all within 8,000+ square miles. It’s small population of just under 400,000 is also very diverse, including Mestizo, Kriol, Mayan, Garifuna, German and East Asian. This diversity opens the door to a melting pot of culinary flavours, rich cultural heritage and languages. And although Belize is in Central America it’s first language is English, thus making it a unique Central American country.

So, do you want to know where to stay, where to eat, what to do while in Belize? After having lived here for over 6 years here’s one of my list’s.

COASTAL BELIZE

We definitely got to enjoy many beach locations when living on Ambergris Caye. And being so close to the Barrier Reef you could see the waves from the deep waters crashing off in the distance and then lazily making their way to the shoreline. The reef is the home to untold amounts of fish, mammals and plant life. This makes it ideal and prime destination for diving and snorkelling.

The beach in Ambergris Caye

An afternoon by the beach, Ambergris Caye

 

Dive instructor

Dive Instructor at home in the depths of the sea.

 

Laughing Bird Caye

Laughing Bird Caye

 

Laughing Bird shoreline

Enjoying the sea and snorkelling in Laughing Bird National Park

There are a lot of great resorts and hotels to stay at in Belize. They have great customer service and attention to detail that makes every guests stay wonderful. I’ve had the pleasure of staying at Coco Beach and Xtun Ha’ operated by Sandy Point Resorts. I also enjoyed an amazing anniversary weekend at Victoria House that boasts a new boutique spa.

Victoria House pool

Lazily enjoying the pool at Victoria House

 

Catamaran at sea

An afternoon on the Catamaran

 

Mid-day view of the Sea from Coco Beach Resort

There are plenty of places to eat in Belize that offer local cuisine like El Fogon that specializes in local cuisine cooked on a traditional open hearth oven. Yes, there’s more to Belizean cuisine than just Rice and Beans! And here is one restaurant where you can enjoy the variety of traditional Belizean spices. I also really like Caprice Restaurant in Holiday Hotel which offers a great view of the sea and has a great menu. Another favourite of mine is Wild Mango’s  who has some amazing salads, massive burritos and out of this world Margarita’s. They also have an amazing view of the Caribbean Sea and a pretty good weight staff.

Newly relocated to a bigger and better venue is Cococabana Restaurant & Bar with a beautiful beach location. They have a really good menu with all the food you need for the beach. And of course one always needs amazing drinks, which they have mastered over their years of experience. They also have a volley ball net for some great afternoon fun-in-the-sun right on the sea, a great family atmosphere and really good Trip Advisor reviews.

CocoCabana Restaurant & Bar is a beautiful location, right on the beach, to enjoy a wonderful dinner!

INTERIOR BELIZE

A lot of people travel to Belize on vacation for diving or in-land excursions like cave tubing, zip lining, exploring Mayan Mountains etc. A few years ago my mother came to visit us for a month and one of the day trips we took was to Xunantuich

Xunantunich Ancient Maya ruins

Xunantunich Ancient Maya ruins

Capturing the sky in Xunantunich

Recently more airlines have started a route into Belize, so there’s a lot more options which means better pricing to travel to Belize.

Theres many reasons to travel to Belize. The Belizean people, the geography, so many natural sites to see and much more! I hope one day you’ll get to visit this Caribbean jewel 💕

 

Essentials to Your Anti-Inflammatory Pantry

 

There are some essential ingredients you should have in your pantry to not only help you cook amazingly delicious food but contribute to over-all good health. Some ingredients help combat inflammation, some help reduce it. Some have many benefits above and beyond inflammation. But for the purpose of my blog I’ll be writing mainly about the benefits of these ingredients to help reduce or eliminate inflammation.

***I am not a doctor nor a health professional. Obviously you have to cater your meal according to any dietary restrictions or needs and above all else talk to your doctor about any changes in your diet. You don’t want to be consuming food that works against you or any medication you are taking.

Finally, listen to your body! If you don’t feel good stop doing it!!

 

OILS

Sesame Oil – It is a fairly inexpensive oil to buy and very versatile. It’s easy to extract the oil from the seeds and has many benefits other than being anti-inflammatory. It’s great for your skin, hair, heart, bone growth, managing depression and anxiety, prevention of cancer and much more. This tiny little seed is full of minerals and vitamins which is why they are so powerful. Not only can it be used internally but also externally through massage and oil pulling. You can cook with it, finish food with it, add it to salad dressings. Careful not to use too much, because a little goes a long way and you don’t want it to be overpowering in every dish but rather a complement to the other ingredients. It does however thin blood and lowers blood-pressure so talk to your Doctor before using.

Sunflower Oil – This is a non-volatile oil good for cooking and frying. Like sesame oil it can be used both internally and externally, helps reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases, prevents heart disease, treats skin issues, rich in vitamins, antioxidans, helps with muscle spasms, prevents asthma, helps with insomnia and much more.

Coconut Oil – Not only can this be used externally for your hair and skin it also has wonderful health benefits when cooking with it. It provides food with a lovely unique flavour, and yes I use it for cooking veggies and more. When we get candida, excessive and uncontrolled yeast in the stomach, coconut oil treats the inflammation from candida. It can heal infections, keeps organs healthy, treating disease, relieving stress, controlling blood sugar levels, helps our bodies to absorb minerals, boosts energy, an excellent carrier for essential oils and improves digestion.

Olive Oil – An oil that’s been around as long as man has been, well almost. It assists in treating diseases including arthritis – which is linked to inflammation – lowering cholesterol, increasing metabolism, aiding in digestion and can be used both internally and even externally for skin and hair. It’s an excellent ingredient for salad dressings, roasting and sautĂ©ing food, finishing dishes or adding to soups or smoothies. It’s delicious and delicate. Look for Cold-pressed oil and store long term in glass containers. Because of its delicate nature it isn’t the best for frying or high-temp cooking.

NUTS AND SEEDS

NUTS like almonds, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pine nuts and cashews are all excellent for a healthy diet full of healthy fats and oils and in managing inflammation. Each nut is unique and has it’s own nutritional benefits, ingredients and properties, including vitamins, minerals and protein. They help to reduce inflammation, improve your immunity, optimize digestion, healthy heart, strengthens bones, prevents chronic disease, increases cognitive abilities, lowers diabetes risk.

SEEDS that you should have in your pantry are Squash, Sunflower, Sesame, Pumpkin, Chia, Flax and Hemp. All of them have incredible nutrients and combat an abundance of ailments but specific to this blog is they all play a role in combating inflammation.

VEGETABLES

Red Peppers – They have the highest amount of vitamin c, bioflavonoids, luteolin and more that, fights against inflammation.

Beets – Beets contain many phytochemicals which are powerful antioxidants. These ingredients also fights against inflammation, plaque buildup in arteries, lowering blood pressure and fighting against type 2 diabetes.

Broccoli – This veg has jammed packed in it glucosinolate which fights against inflammation on a genetic level.

Tomatoes – There’s been a lot of controversy over whether or not they create or fight inflammation. However, they are a great source of lycopene which is an antioxidant that protects the brain and fights depression-causing inflammation. Great either cooked or raw, their skin is full of lycopene, which in my opinion is also where the most flavour exists in a tomato.

Spinach – This leafy veggie is rich in carotenoids, vitamins C, E, K amongst other key ingredients. It’s also an alkaline, which helps to balance out the acid in our body, thus reducing inflammation.

Garlic – I love cooking with garlic and I put it in almost everything. Despite it giving us bad breathe the health benefits outweigh the smell. Of course there is garlic supplements that work really well but for me fresh is always my preference. The crushed garlic contains allicin… Not only does it fight against inflammation by supressing inflammation markers but it also stimulates anti-inflammatory proteins.

Ginger – This root is easy to keep (can be stored in the freezer) easy to peel (just scrape off peel with a spoon) It can be cooked with, steeped for tea, grated or minced. Eaten in a raw form or cooked with, it has compounds that inhibit joint swelling and inflammation.

FRUIT

Blueberries – They contain an ingredient called anthocyanins that fight against inflammation. Blueberries are at the top of the list containing this major fighter.

Pineapple – Pineapples contain bromelain which helps to alleviate symptoms that cause inflammation. The most amount of bromelain is found in the stem, which we most often cut off. But by blending it up with the flesh will make it much easier to digest and will be very flavourful. It would make for an excellent drink first thing in the morning.

Apples – The lovely, delicious, versatile fruit contains many nutrients including fibre and pectin which is found in the peel which promotes to a healthy stomach. In addition to this is quercetin, which is an energy boosting, anti-inflammatory antioxidant.

SPICES

Turmeric – There are many compounds in turmeric that makes it an invaluable spice. The most noteworthy ingredient is curcumin which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can be bought on its own in capsule form. However, since turmeric is a spice that’s quite versatile you can easily add it to many dishes and drinks to help aid in battling inflammation.

Rosemary – A terrific herb that has a wonderful taste and aroma. It’s amazing to flavour many dishes with, not to mention this beautiful herb contains many key ingredients that aids  in battling inflammation and cancer and aids  in improving memory.

PROTEINS

Salmon – Low in carbohydrates, rich in omega fatty oils, high in B-Vitamins, good source of potassium, great source of protein and also contains ingredients to fight inflammation.

Canned Light White Tuna – Very high in protein, contains omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and again has those key ingredients to fight inflammation. Light white tuna that has been canned contains less Mercury than tuna steaks or sushi.

Bone Broth – This is a fairly new ingredient to me, although I’ve long heard of it. By slowly cooking bones for many hours it breaks down the collagen and nutrients, like glucosamine from the tendons and cartilage. The gelatin helps to rebuild the stomach’s lining to help fight off inflammation inside the stomach’s microbes.

Eggs – Of course they are extremely versatile and useful for all sorts of cooking and baking. They are high in protein, which is found mostly in the white of the egg. Eggs also contain vitamin B2, B6, B12, Vit D selenium, zinc, iron and copper.

So far this is my list of essentials in my pantry. As I learn about more ingredients I’ll add them to my list.

Baked Calzone

 

I like making calzones. It’s fun to twist the edges over and make these pillows of pizza. You don’t need the same quantity of ingredients as you do in a pizza and individualizing them for each person is nice too.

 

Baked and golden calzone

Baked and Golden Calzone

 

I portion my dough into 8oz, roll them out into small rounds, like you would with a pizza, and add a little bit of each ingredient. Pull the dough over, roll and pinch the edge. With oiled hands scoop them up and transfer to an oiled baking sheet.

You can buy dough at the grocery store or you can make your own using my fool-proof pizza dough recipe. I like making my own dough so I can control the ingredients and use the best ones for optimal flavour and ease.

There really aren’t any hard-fast rules as to what not to put in them, it’s whatever you like. They key is putting in small quantities so your calzone doesn’t explode. Try different ingredients, like artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, different types of olives (without the pit) combination of cheeses, spicy ingredients, chicken, roasted veggies and more. The sky is the limit!

Topping them with oil will help them brown nicely and even a little sprinkle of dried oregano and salt is a nice added touch.

My artichoke asiago dip, my simple, light and versatile tomato sauce or your favourite garlic dip in a little bowl on the side is a perfect accompaniment to your calzone.

Some restaurants deep-fry their calzones, and if you have a deep-fryer you could use that. However, I don’t have a deep fryer (and for good reason!!!) so I have always baked mine.

When starting out, keep them small with small amounts of ingredients to help you get used to making them. And don’t worry, they’ll puff out nicely as they cook.

Mangia!

 

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Baked Calzone
Calzones are fun to make, twisting the edges over and make these pillows of pizza. You don't need the same quantity of ingredients as you do in a pizza and individualizing them for each person is nice too. I like to bake mine for a healthier choice and remember to keep them small in size filled with a small amount of ingredients.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 25 Minutes
Servings
Calzones, 1 per person
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 25 Minutes
Servings
Calzones, 1 per person
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Divide dough into 8 oz portions. If you don't have a scale it's about the size of a large grapefruit. If you have any dough left-over it can be made into a smaller calzone or a small pizza
    Separating dough into 8 oz pieces
  2. Roll out dough onto clean floured surface. Top with a small scoop of tomato sauce.
    Portioning out sauce onto dough
  3. Add your ingredients and then top with cheese.
  4. Pull top over to form a half-moon shape.
    Shaping the calzone
  5. Twist and pinch the edge to seal the calzone. Top with olive oil or butter, and herbs and salt if desired. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and dough sounds hollow when tapped on.
    Folding and pinching dough
  6. Pinching edges of calzone to seal it
  7. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. Cut in half and serve with a dipping sauce if desired.
    Baked and golden calzone
  8. Wrap any uneaten calzone and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze.
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Garlic Shrimp with Bacon Risotto

 

 

Garlic shrimp with Bacon Risotto

 

I didn’t always like risotto. In fact in my younger years I hated it because I was used to rice. Having been born in Colombia my mum cooked several Colombian dishes, especially rice, and I liked the way rice wasn’t thick, but rather dry and fluffy, not clumping together. And I happen to really like the flavour of rice and its texture for the reasons opposite of risotto, which is creamy and thick.

I avoided risotto for years and ironically it wasn’t until I was living in Belize and wanting a bit of variety in my diet I embraced risotto. I was at a restaurant in Placencia where we used to live, Rum Fish, who made risotto. I really liked it and decided I should start making it.

Most of you are familiar with mushroom or white wine risotto but I wasn’t a huge fan of mushrooms (which I have since grown in much appreciation for) Good white wine that was affordable was hard to come by.

So I did a bit of research and discovered a recipe for bacon risotto. I have no idea where I found it but I really liked it and so did my younger son who also isn’t fond of mushrooms….yet.

I do vary the recipe every now and then and combine it with other proteins. But I think this is my favourite combination.

I really like garlic shrimp but in small doses and I don’t want it to conflict with the risotto but rather compliment it. So I cook only 5 or 6 pieces of shrimp per person.

 

Plated garlic shrimp risotto

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Garlic Shrimp with Bacon Risotto
You will love the garlicky creaminess of this Risotto, accompanied with Garlic Shrimp. It's great comfort food. Pair it with a crisp citrus white wine.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 Minutes
Cook Time 30 Minutes
Servings
People
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 Minutes
Cook Time 30 Minutes
Servings
People
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a medium size pot heat chicken broth on low.
    Peeled and deveined shrimp with garlic
  2. Clean shrimp by removing shell and deveining. In a bowl combine 1 tbsp minced garlic, aprox 2 cloves, shrimp and 2 tbsp of olive oil.
    Garlic and shrimp
  3. In a separate pot cook up bacon bits on medium heat. Once cooked removed from pot to a plate with paper towel to absorb oil.
  4. In the same pot cook 2 cloves of garlic on low, till it's just cooked. About 3 minutes. Add arborio rice and cook another 2 minutes, stirring regularly.
  5. Add wine and stir well. Let rice absorb wine and then add broth 1/2 cup at a time. Stir regularly. As rice absorbs broth continue to add more 1/2 cup at a time until all broth is used, stirring regularly.
  6. Once all broth has been added to risotto cook 2 minutes then add 2 tbsp of butter and stir till incorporated. Add parm cheese till incorporated. Then add bacon, stir well.
  7. Cook garlic in large frying pan on medium to high heat. Shrimp are done when pink on both sides. About 2-4 minutes. Take care not to overcook shrimp.
  8. Transfer risotto to large serving bowl and top with garlic shrimp, grated parm cheese and chives. Serve immediately.
    Garlic shrimp with Bacon Risotto
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Braised Beef Brisket

 

This is a most succulent beef dish since brisket is an affordable piece of beef. Even in Belize this is an affordable cut.

Brisket comes from the lower part of the beef shoulder, so it’s a tougher piece of meat and needs to be slow-cooked. Some cooks will put it on a smoker for 18 hours, but since not everyone has a smoker a low-temp oven for a much shorter period of time will yield excellent results.

 

Beef brisket coming to room temperature

Let your beef come to room temp before cooking it. This brisket is thinner, but you can ask your butcher to cut it more to a roast size.

 

In this recipe I cook my brisket at 325 degrees for 4 hours. I like to start with a hot oven, 400 degrees for 20 minutes and then lower the temp to 325. 

I’ve tried this recipe in a slow cooker, in a covered baking dish and on a large cookie sheet wrapped in aluminum foil many times. All these methods work well but I prefer to use my cast-iron Dutch oven and an old cooking method of sealing the space between the lid and the pot with a flour paste. The flour paste locks in the steam and cooks meat, and especially tougher pieces of meat so that when cooked they are tender, falling apart and off the bone.

It’s the most consistent and ideal method of cooking tougher meat. The cooked dough on the exterior of the pot isn’t edible, just a brilliant way to lock in moisture.

When seasoning your beef opt for sea salt, like Himalayan Pink sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to heighten the flavour.

Your brisket can be made ahead and reheated on low in the oven. Leftovers make for amazing pulled-beef sandwiches and in addition the meat can be pureed to fill ravioli.

This is a great dish to prepare for large gatherings, especially family dinners. Enjoy!

 

Print Recipe
Braised Beef Brisket
This is the most succulent beef dish that you can make with since brisket is an affordable piece of beef. Your brisket can be made ahead and reheated on low in the oven. Leftovers make for amazing pulled-beef sandwiches and in addition the meat can be pureed to fill ravioli.
Cooked and served brisket
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Canadian
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 5 Hours
Servings
People
Ingredients
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Canadian
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 5 Hours
Servings
People
Ingredients
Cooked and served brisket
Instructions
  1. Let beef come to room temp before cooking.
    Let brisket come to room temp
  2. Salt and pepper one side of brisket. In a large pot heat 2 tbsp of oil. Place seasoned side down in pan to sear. Salt and pepper top side. Flip when beef doesn't stick to bottom and browned. When seared on both sides remove from pot and let rest on a large plate.
    Salt and pepper brisket
  3. Cooking brisket
  4. Seared brisket
  5. Add 2 tbsp of oil. On medium heat add sliced onions and cook 5 minutes till soft. Add salt and sugar and stir well. Continue cooking until very soft and caramelized, aprox 20 minutes, stirring periodically. Remove from pan and set aside.
    Caramelizing onions
  6. In the meantime combine in a bowl beef broth and tamari or Worchestershire sauce. Set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  7. Return brisket to pot. Spread minced garlic over entire top of brisket. Cover with caramelized onions. Pour broth mixture around brisket and a little on top taking care not to let broth wash away garlic. Lift brisket to ensure liquid has gone underneath it.
  8. In a small bowl add 1/4 cup of water and flour and mix well until it forms a thick paste. Add more flour as necessary until paste isn't too runny and easy to work with. Place lid on pot and seal with paste, pressing into space in between lid and rim of pot. Check for no pin-size holes where steam can escape from. Transfer carefully to oven, being careful not to disturb lid from pot. Cook for 20 minutes then lower oven temp to 325. Cook for min 4 hours and up to 5 hours.
    Sealing pot with flour paste
  9. Remove brisket from oven and let cool. Crack lid open and remove brisket from pot to serving tray. Pulled beef option - While brisket is still in pot use two forks to pull beef apart. Then transfer to serving tray. Serve immediately.
    Cooked Brisket
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