Recipe Spotlight

The Season for Seasonings


As a girl, I considered my mother a very good cook — our meals were excellent. Her flavorings consisted of salt and pepper and maybe bay leaves with roast beef. Once out on my own and meeting friends of different backgrounds, I learned of so many more options to make meals interesting and tasty.

Now I find myself looking into still more flavorings — like lavender, saffron, cardamom, cumin, ginger, marjoram, tarragon, and turmeric, among others. Each flavoring is a new dining experience, and they all mix well with Florida foods.

Some of these herbs and spices can be grown in Florida — lavender (well-known in France) is actually grown at Southern Grace Lavender Farm, near Panama City. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is more of a challenge because it requires a low annual rainfall. But it can be grown in pots. It takes about 75,000 saffron flowers to make one pound of the spice, and harvesting must be done manually. It can cost more than gold, which actually can be served on food. I’ve had it sprinkled on chocolate, but it is inert and has no flavor. It’s just pretty.

Saffron has a sweet, floral taste, a bit earthy. Some sense a metallic or slightly bitter taste. Greek saffron is highly desirable, and the spice is known to contain powerful antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals. If it’s inexpensive, I wouldn’t trust its purity.

Seafood paella is a way to try saffron with some of our fabulous Florida seafood, and it isn’t as difficult as it looks.

Seafood Paella
(Adapted from

Saffron, 1/2 teaspoon threads, not powdered
Shrimp, Florida, 10 large, head on, shell on
Littleneck clams, Florida, 10 scrubbed
Lemons, Florida, 3 quartered
Green beans, 6 oz trimmed
Vidalia onions, 6 trimmed
Yellow onion, 1 large, finely chopped
Pancetta, 6 oz cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Red bell pepper, 1 cut into 1/2-inch strips
Garlic, 4 cloves thinly sliced
Fresh parsley, 1/3 cup chopped
Serrano chile, 1 coarsely chopped if desired
Olive oil, 10 tablespoons divided
Paprika, 1-1/2 teaspoons
Spanish paprika, hot, smoked, 1/2 teaspoon if desired
Sherry, 1/2 cup dry
Short-grain rice, 3 cups
Chicken broth, 6 cups
Zest from Florida orange, 3 wide strips
Salt and pepper to taste

Using 6 tablespoons olive oil, puree chile, and parsley with salt in a food processor until smooth, and set aside. Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a paella pan with 1 tablespoon oil until browned and crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Add yellow onion and bell pepper and cook stirring occasionally for another 8-10 minutes until softened. Then add garlic and paprikas and stir for another minute. Now add sherry, bring to a simmer and stir constantly for about 3 minutes, or until the pan is almost dry. Add rice and cook until rice is coated and turning translucent, about 3 minutes. Next, stir in broth, orange zest, salt, and saffron. Bring all to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until rice is cooked, about 12-15 minutes.

Now pluck out zest and place clams into rice in the center of the pan. Cook for about 12-15 minutes until the clams start to open. Cover the pan with foil and simmer for about 8-10 minutes until rice is al dente (cooked but a bit firm) and clams are fully open — discard any clams that don’t open. Remove from heat and let the rice continue to steam covered for another 10 minutes.

Now separately toss spring onions, green beans, and shrimp with 1 tablespoon oil each in separate bowls, and season with salt and pepper. Grill in a pan over medium-high heat first spring onions for about 5 minutes until greens are charred and bulbs are tender, then shrimp about 3 minutes per side, then lemons until charred, about 1 minute per side.
Now it’s time to put it all together — arrange spring onions, green beans, and prawns over paella, squeeze some lemon juice, and place lemon wedges on top. Enjoy.

When I think of lavender, the first thing I think of is dessert. But how about lavender chicken?

Chicken and Lemon with Lavender
(Adapted from The Little Paris Kitchen)

Lavender, 1-3/4 tablespoons dried (stronger than fresh)
Lavender honey, 3 tablespoons, can use regular honey
Lemon, juice, and zest of 1 Florida lemon
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons
Thyme, 2 sprigs
Chicken, 6-8 pieces
Salt to taste

Finely crush lavender using a mortar and pestle, then combine in a large bowl with oil, honey, thyme, Florida lemon zest, and juice. Add chicken pieces, coating well, and salt to taste. Marinate for up to 4 hours.
Put chicken and marinade in a roasting pan and place in an oven preheated to 400F for 45 minutes, turning at the halfway point. Cook until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165F and the juices run clear.
Serve chicken with cooking juices poured over.

Cardamom-Scented Grass-Fed Rib Steak with Herb Vinaigrette
(Adapted from

Rib-eye steak from Florida grass-fed beef, 1 pound
Cardamom pods, 3 crushed
Garlic, 3 cloves crushed
Bay leaves, 2
Vinegar, 2 tablespoons red wine
White wine, 1/2 cup
Honey, 1 tablespoon
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons
Champagne vinegar, 1 tablespoon
Fresh chopped herbs such as chives, parsley, tarragon, or choice

Marinate beef for 8 hours in a mixture of herbs, wine, and vinegar. After finished, remove the beef and pat dry. Cook slowly for 10 minutes in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan at medium-high heat. Turn and cook for another 5 minutes, then allow to rest for 5 minutes. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil with champagne vinegar and herbs. Slice thinly and serve.

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