As the weather remains cold and dreary, and you find yourself daydreaming of sandy beaches and rum drinks, consider escaping those winter blues and jetting off to breathtaking Belize!
If you’re up for adventure, Belize is the place for culture, great food and the breathtaking Caribbean sea. I’ve been to several places in Belize, but the peninsula of Placencia is by far my favorite corner of this inspiring country, as it offers a raw, beautiful, scenic picture of Central America.
Placencia isn’t so easy to get to, but the ride there is half the fun… and once you land in Belize City, the adventure begins! Take a moment to visit Jet’s Bar in the airport terminal, where a petite man name “Jet” (who is somewhat reminiscent of Tattoo from Fantasy Island) will make you the best Rum Punch or Bloody Mary you’ve ever had. From there you’ll take a 10-seat propeller plane to Placencia, where the beauty of the Mayan land and Caribbean Sea is revealed to you at 5,000-feet.
There’s plenty to do on Placencia: fishing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking or just plain lying in the sun. And many resorts on the peninsula are some of the best in the world, including Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn.
But my most favorite spot in Belize is by far the quaint Gastro-Pub called Rumfish y Vino. Built from the second story of what was once a colonial home, Rumfish offers an open air dining experience, allowing visitors to feel the ocean breeze at any spot in the restaurant.
Owners John and Pamela Solomon opened the restaurant in November 2008 after many years of working in food and wine distribution in both Los Angeles and New York. The menu at Rumfish reflects authentic Central American flavors mixed with European and “Gastro” foods. Some of the popular items on the menu are: Conch Fritters, Shrimp Ceviche, Smoked Fish Pate, Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese and their famous Placencia Paella (made with recado, coconut milk, chorizo and fresh seafood).
On my last trip to Belize, the Solomon’s were kind enough to let me test out a recipe I had been working on for authentic Belizean Meat Pies. This dish is traditionally served on the mainland, but the locals clamor to get a taste of the authentic mix of onions, peppers, meat and spices; and the restaurant’s bustling happy hour scene proved to be the perfect test demographic. Baking in 98 degree weather with 90 percent humidity wasn’t my favorite task as a chef, but doggone it, I was going to perfect this recipe! And hey, when you leave Belize don’t forget to stop by Jet’s Bar again and take a picture with him. He’ll post it on the wall in hopes that you’ll be back. Trust me, you will.
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 link fresh Chorizo, removed from casing
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 Green Chile Pepper, seeded and diced
1 Onion, small dice
1 Tomato, diced
2 tablespoons Red Recado or Achiote spice
Juice of 1 lime
Salt & Pepper
2 lbs. Flour
12 oz. Butter, cold and cubed.
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Sugar
For the Filling: In a sauté pan over medium heat, brown the beef and chorizo. Drain and reserve. Using the same pan, sauté the peppers, onion and tomato until soft. Stir in ground beef mixture and recado, sauté for one minute more. Reduce heat and simmer until all ingredients are well combined. Add water if mixture is dry. Salt and pepper to taste, add lime juice. Set aside.
For the Dough: Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. To the sifted flour mixture add the butter and using your fingers, run together until pea sized bits form. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick. Using a 4-inch biscuit cutter, cut dough into rounds. You may roll out the remaining dough one additional time; after that it will be too tough and will not rise. You may refrigerate the dough for up to three days before using.
½ cup water, in a bowl
1 egg, beaten
To assemble: In the center of each dough round, scoop about 2 tablespoons of the beef mixture into the center. Dip your finger into the bowl of water and rub around the outside of the round (this will create a “glue” that will seal your empanada). Fold dough over the filling and press with fork along the edges. With a pastry brush, lightly egg-wash each pie with the beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the top crust is golden brown and “hollow” sounding when tapped. Serve warm.
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