The Simple Art of Cooking: From Florida with Love

Participants celebrated everything food and wine at the 12th annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival from February 21 through 24. (All proceeds benefit Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center)

One of the annual event highlights is the Amstel Light Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray, celebrating its seventh year with SoBe. The Food Network’s Bobby Flay was the winner of this year’s People’s Choice Award and was also one of the host chefs giving a 45-minute cooking demo on one of the Kitchen Aid-sponsored culinary stages. The charismatic Flay wowed his audience with his preparation of grilled jerk chicken, red cabbage slaw and mango salsa wrapped in tacos, which he is obsessed with, giving the dish a contrast in taste and texture. Michael Symon, Anne Burrell and Guy Fieri were among other Food Network chef presenters. Jose Andres, whose food I love, conducted the first-ever culinary demonstration entirely in Spanish.

The Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village was held under a signature white tent overflowing with samplings of food and wine. That’s where I had the gastronomic pleasure of sipping a cocktail consisting of gin, simple syrup and lemon juice with a thyme sprig and ginger beer floater. The punch recipe below was sent to me, compliments of 360 Proof Wine and Spirits Brokers, starting with 100 ounces of gin. I did some math to break it down. If it doesn’t work—sorry, I never was any good at math. But I did have fun!

Grilled Jerk Chicken with Mango Cilantro Salsa

The Scotch bonnet pepper is quite hot as one of Bobby’s audience was willing to find out. Only a margarita quenched the heat. Use judgment.

Serves 6

For the jerk chicken

6 skin-on, boned chicken thighs

1/3 cup canola oil

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

2 scallions, coarsely chopped

1 large Scotch bonnet pepper, stem and seeds removed

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1. Set chicken thighs aside and purée remaining ingredients in a food processor until almost smooth. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towel. Pierce the thighs with a fork to make tiny holes and cut each thigh into two to three pieces. Place the chicken in a large shallow baking dish and rub the marinade into the chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, depending on how intense you want the flavor to be. Preheat stove top grill or whatever is available for winter grilling. Grill chicken on each side for 4 to 5 minutes until springy to the touch and cooked through.

Mango-Cilantro Relish

2 mangoes, peeled and diced

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1.Combine the mango, onion, cilantro, lime juice, and orange juice in a bowl and gently toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adapted from recipes courtesy of Bobby Flay.

Gin Punch with Simple Syrup and Lemon

Steven Chernoff, President of 360 Proof Wine and Spirits Brokers of Aventura, Florida, afforded me the following recipe for lemon-scented gin punch taken to another level.

For a crowd

10 cups 209 gin

5 cups simple syrup*

4 3/4 cups lemon juice

Ginger beer floater*

20 lemon thyme sprigs


1. Place gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and 5 thyme sprigs in a punch bowl stir to mix. Can be done ahead to this point and refrigerated. When ready to serve, ladle punch over ice filled glasses, top off with a floater of ginger beer and garnish with thyme sprigs.

*Ginger beer is available in most liquor and specialty markets. The key is to float the ginger beer on top of each serving.

Basic simple syrup—increase quantity for above recipe

1/2 cup cold tap water

1/2 cup sugar

1. Put water and sugar in a saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar over medium heat. Bring liquid to a boil then adjust heat to cook at a brisk simmer until syrupy, or when the liquid falls in a stream from a spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes. Simple syrup may be prepared ahead and refrigerated in a screw top jar.

Visit Silvia’s website at to read her blogs and more recipes.


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