Recently we spent a week in sunny Orlando Florida. The reason for our trip to this area after an absence of over twenty years was the FMX or Family Medicine Experience. It’s the yearly meeting of the American Academy of Family Practice to which Joe became a fellow this year. It’s an opportunity for him to obtain continuing medical education with just a little bit of a vacation. One of the highlights of the recreational part of our trip was an excursion one late afternoon/early evening to a Florida winery, Quantum Leap, followed by a cooking class conducted by Cuisiniers Catering Company at the East End Market in Audubon Park Florida.
“A winery in Florida?” you say. On a previous trip to south Florida we visited a winery that made from wine from tropical fruit. Quantum Leap is quite different, they describe themselves as a winery with “a sustainable focus and global reach”. They grow no grapes of their own, instead they buy sustain ably grown, good quality juices from producers all over the world and bring them to their facility. It is here the wine is made, the juices are blended and the wine making process is completed. Matt Uva, tasting room manager and brand ambassador for Quantum Leap was the very knowledgeable guide for our visit. He shared the history of the winery and lead our group through a tasting of several of the wines. one of which we purchased for later. We enjoyed the wine, the art on the walls and the fact that they are a dog friendly winery, with several rescues, AKA the Quantum Leap pack who might just be there when you visit.
The next stop on our trip was the East End Market, a food court/neighborhood market. On the first floor artisanal vendors offer up fresh-baked bread, gourmet cheeses, juices and smoothies, sushi, craft roasted coffee, local produce and much more. We spent a little time there checking out the vendors but soon moved to the second floor to the kitchen of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine and Events for a hands-on cooking class. Chef Jamie McFadden, award-winning executive chef and founder of Cuisiniers and his staff broke us off into teams and lead us through three different cooking stations. The instructors were informative and very patient. Even for experienced cooks like Joe and myself, it is always good to hone one’s skills.
One of the stations gave us the opportunity to work out our arm muscles with a mortar and pestle to make a garlicky achiote seasoning rub. Achiote, also known as annatto seeds, imparts a red color to foods as well as its earthy flavor. It has been dubbed “poor man’s saffron” in Latin American cuisine. For many years we have cooked annatto seeds in oil, and used the strained oil to brush on whole roasted pig. We donned disposable gloves so the annatto seeds wouldn’t stain our hands. All of the ingredients for the rub were pre-measured out in small disposable containers. As a former caterer I appreciated the efficiency of this step. We dumped the whole dried spices in the mortar first and crushed them into a powder, next the allspice and oregano were added. Finally the whole garlic and orange juice were added to make a paste. The hardest part was keeping everything in the mortar, just wished it had been a little bit bigger.
We were then able to enjoy the fruits of our “labor” with a delicious buffet style dinner in the well-appointed dining room. We started with a wonderful salad of field greens, dried cranberries, cashews with blue cheese and honey vinaigrette. It reminded me of a salad I would make at home. Our main courses were an Indian curry rubbed rack of lamb, jerk chicken and salmon with the achiote rub we just made. Whipped potatoes and grilled vegetables rounded out the dinner portion of our meal.
Our final lesson was a mixology session. At each place setting was a glass of blackberry shrub, often referred to as a “drinking vinegar”. This version is cold process, which means the berries are not cooked. They are mixed with sugar and refrigerated for 24 hours. The berries are strained out and red wine vinegar is added. Pour this into a clean glass bottle and refrigerate this mixture for four weeks (patience please!) Your efforts will be well worth it, the vinegar mellows out and blends nicely with the fruit. It’s a refreshing sipper on its own mixed with some club soda, but a little vodka, rum or vermouth make it a delicious cocktail. Our meal finished with a dessert of sticky toffee pudding, another personal favorite of mine.
We left the Cuisiniers kitchen and boarded our bus back to the hotel, full and happy with not only a recipe sheet to recreate some of the evenings dishes but with a container of garlicky achiote rub. What we needed to remember here was; #1 be sure that this perishable rub was kept in our hotel room refrigerator and #2 with all the flurry of last-minute packing, not to leave this wonderful rub behind for the hotel maids! I am happy to say that we brought home both containers and we used it the evening we got home for some veal chops on the grill the first night and salmon the following night.
Garlicky Achiote Seasoning Rub
- 2 T annatto or achiote seeds
- 2 t ground allspice
- 1 T black peppercorns
- 2 t dried oregano
- 3 whole peeled garlic cloves
- 1 t kosher salt
- 2 T orange juice
- Place the dry whole spices into a mortar and crush with a pestle until they become a fine powder.
- Add the other spices and grind again.
- Add the whole garlic and orange juice and make into a paste. Store in a covered container for several days.