Continuing with the “crazy, incredibly hot” theme, let’s talk about the Carolina Reaper.
Now, this is a stupidly hot chili, I know. But, I picked up a little plant at the nursery several months ago because I just couldn’t resist. I doubt that these chilis will find a way in many of my recipes but, I plan on dehydrating some and grinding them into a powder.
I imagine that just a pinch of the powder would turn a moderately spicy dish into a tongue-wagging adventure.
I left for work at 4:30 this morning and returned home at 5:00 in the afternoon. Some might say that’s a long day but, I’m getting used to long days. I usually want to cook, after a long day, and this was no exception.
I planned the meal as I drove home. Pizza. I had Italian cold cuts, mozzarella and other tidbits for toppings so, I had a plan.
I came home and immediately started making the dough. I let the dough rise for 50 minutes and, while the dough was rising, I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
I simmered some homemade sauce, because it was a little thin.
I rolled out the dough and added a little olive oil.
I spread the olive oil across the dough and put it in a hot oven, to pre-bake.
I pulled the pre-baked pizza from the oven and added the toppings and sent the pizzas back to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Pizza in two hours!
Two hours might sound like a long time but, it takes time for dough to rise and it takes time to bake. I had time to unwind a little after a long day.
The third hour was the best. I got to sit around the table and talk with my family while we enjoyed our dinner. That’s what I needed the most.
Habaneros can be combined with sweet flavors, like mango, to produce a spicy, fruity sauce or glaze. I’m using peaches today. I couldn’t find ripe peaches at the store, so I picked up some peach preserves. The preserves contain pieces of fruit in addition to jam. If I used fresh peaches, I would need to add a little sugar to the mix but, the preserves already have everything I need.
You could use two or three habaneros for this recipe or, maybe 5 or 6, if you want to kick up the heat. A mild version could make a nice glaze or drizzle for baked fish or roasted pork.
I’m using 30 habaneros today. This is a very spicy sauce, but that’s what I wanted. I’m going to use this on grilled chicken wings.
30 whole habaneros, stems removed, steamed over a hot grill
DISCLAIMER: The recipe that follows is purely for entertainment purposes. In no way does the author of said recipe expect or intend that the reader should replicate said recipe. The author of said recipe is absolved from any culpability as a result of personal injuries that might occur in the event that a person is harmed by attempting to make said recipe or that a person consumes the product of the recipe.
ADDENDUM: In the event that a person would attempt to follow the prescribed methods of said recipe, it is advised by the author to take the following precautions:
* wear protective gloves: latex or silicone gloves
* wear a gas mask
* wear a full-body hazmat suit
“Here be dragons”
This is one of the hottest sauces that I have ever made. It’s not for the meek. It’s not for the novice fire-eating braggarts.
I have to admit that I am addicted to habaneros. The flavor of a fresh, ripe habanero is irresistibly tantalizing and it pulls me into its depth, like Charybdis pulling Odysseus and his crew into its deadly whirlpool.
This sauce transcends the realms of delicious flavor and extreme heat. Anyone that dallies in ultra-hot sauces should understand what I mean. The ability to distinguish flavor in very hot sauces is important. A hot sauce that is meant to cause pain is useless, unless a devilish prank is the intention.
36 fresh habanero chilis, steamed and charred over a hot grill
6 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup distilled white vinegar
Lay the habanero chilis on a sheet of aluminum foil. Fold the corners of the aluminum foil over the habaneros, keeping them close together.
Add a few more layers of aluminum foil wrap and seal the edges securely.
Roast the packet of chilis on a hot charcoal grill for 40 minutes, flipping the packet over every 10 minutes. Leave an open area in the center of the grill to avoid burning the chilis.
Carefully open the aluminum foil packet to expose the steamed chilis. Take a breath before opening the packet and hold your breath as you open the packet. You’ve been warned! Walk away from the opened packet and take a few deep breaths. Return to the chilis, slowly. Take shallow breaths through your nose and empty the chilis into a blender. If the foil packet has bits of dark residue, form the foil into a bowl shape and add a little water. Swish the water around to loosen the gooey residue. You might want to hold your breath while you swish the water around. The vapors can send you into a coughing fit, if you’re not careful. Pour the residue into the blender.
Add the roasted garlic to the blender. Add the vinegar to the blender. Pulse the mixture a few times and then blend the mixture until it becomes a smooth liquid. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water and continue to blend. Do not lean over and smell the blended liquid. You know the vapors will knock you down. Trust that the sauce is plenty hot. All you should do at this point is add liquid to the mixture until you achieve the desired consistency.
Carefully pour the sauce into small jars. I filled 3 recycled hot sauce jars and poured the rest of the sauce in a canning jar. I placed my smallest funnel into a jar and slowly filled each jar. I strongly recommend wearing protective gloves because one hand will hold the jar as the other hand pours the liquid into the funnel. If any sauce leaks during the process, it will get on the hand that is holding the bottle and, if that hand is not protected you will definitely regret it. If the funnel clogs during the process, you may want to insert a toothpick to clear the clog. Again, that hand should be protected!
Oh, my favorite chile, the mighty habanero! I have four habanero plants in my garden and they have been pumping out delicious chile peppers for several weeks. But, all good things must come to an end, and it is no different for the beautiful and spicy habanero.
I might get another month or two of limited production but, I know there will soon come a time when I won’t be able to go out to the yard and pick some fresh peppers.
So, now it’s time to make salsa but, even the best salsa doesn’t compare to the fresh flavor of the chile, as it is plucked from the bush.
I’ve dehydrated habaneros, in the past, but grinding them into a powder only results in a powder that is nearly unusable. The heat is too intense and the bright, sweet, fruity flavor of the habanero disappears, after it has had the moisture sucked out of it.
Freezing them hasn’t produced much better results. The fruit loses its lovely orange color and the flesh of the pepper is mushy.
This year, I decided to freeze them in water, to help preserve their natural flavor and color.
Rinse the habaneros in cool water. All them to air-dry on a towel.
Trim the stems off, exposing the inner cavity of the pepper.
Put them in ice trays and fill with water. Stack another ice tray on top, to keep them from floating. Freeze for a few hours and remove from the ice trays.
Store them in a plastic bag and keep in the freezer. These should keep in the freezer for several months.
Just thaw them out when ready to use!
I just hope that 48 habaneros will last me through winter!
Here’s some of my recollections from our second day, in the fabulous Crescent City, New Orleans.
Café Du Monde
You’ve got to wake up early in the morning if you want to beat the masses that head to Café Du Monde on any given day. I mean really early! Café Du Monde, located in New Orleans’ French Market, which of course is in the French Quarter, is open 24 hours a day. That’s pretty impressive, considering that mostly serve beignets and coffee!
How can a café survive with such a limited menu? You only need to sample their beignets and chicory coffee to understand. Simplicity is divine, especially when the simple things are done right!
Everything you might want is within walking distance, in the French Quarter. Every stroll unveils interesting shops and eateries. All sorts of shops, restaurants and hotels can be found on nearly every street. I was expecting a tourist trap but I was surprised to see a pleasant balance of locals and tourists on the streets and in the stores.
The Market Café
Dining al fresco might be the best way to enjoy the New Orleans experience. The sights, the music and the aroma of New Orleans is a treat for the senses. The Market Café has some indoor dining but most of the seating is outdoors, on the covered patio that wraps around the building.
We stopped by for an early lunch and I’m glad we arrived before noon. We waited about twenty minutes to be seated. By the time we finished our meal, the line was doubled and I imaged that people waited for nearly an hour, to be seated.
The menu at the Market Café is moderately priced and the food and service was worth every penny.
I had a difficult time deciding what to try, because I wanted to try everything! I opted for small cups of Gumbo, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, and Red Beans and Rice. All four bowls were rich and delicious but the shrimp creole was outstanding. Based on the color and velvety thickness of the sauce, I would call it etoufee, either way, it was full of flavor and very satisfying.
As we walked back to our hotel, we came across a Mexican restaurant. I stopped to look at the menu and I thought it might be a good place to visit for dinner. After our rest, I visited the bar at our hotel. Patrick’s Bar Vin showcased several types of wine and the proprietor, Patrick, was chatting with some of the regular customers. I went to the bar to check out the beers, on tap. Among the regular, expected variety I noticed two Belgium beers, Le Chouffe and Chimay. I tried one of each and was impressed with the Chimay. Each pint cost about $9.00, so I sipped them thoughtfully. While I was there, I struck up a conversation with the bartender and, during the conversation, I learned that he was from Honduras so, naturally, I had to talk about my Tex-Mex roots and I eventually asked him about the Mexican restaurant that I had seen on my way back to the hotel. He said that the restaurant was overpriced and the menu was all over the place, which made him feel that the restaurant lacked focus. He said that if I wanted authentic Mexican cuisine, I should go to Cuñada, which was only a few blocks away from the hotel. He said that Cuñada was a family owned business, and served authentic Oaxacan food. I took his advice and was glad I did!
Cuñada – Conti Street
For a split second, I thought, “Why am I going to a Mexican restaurant in the New Orleans French Quarter?” I regained my senses and remembered that great Mexican food can be found just about anywhere in U.S., and, more importantly, New Orleans has such a diverse mixture of cultures. It’s what makes New Orleans, New Orleans. African-American, Spanish and French influences are woven together, like a beautiful tapestry.
I felt at home during our visit to Cuñada. The aroma of beans and spices filled the air as we walked inside. The simple décor and the busy staff members made me think that their emphasis was on the quality of the food. That proved to be true.
The brilliant colors that might have been missing from the restaurant décor, so popular with Mexican restaurants, were found in the plates of food they served.
We started with queso fundido, which translates to “melted cheese”. It is a dip served with crisp or soft corn tortillas.
This version included five types of melting cheese, Chihuahua, Oaxaca, queso blanco, Monterrey Jack, and asadero queso frescal. Pork chorizo was added, as well as roasted poblano chiles and cilantro. The different kinds of cheese were not mixed together, before baking on the cast iron skillet, which gave the dish a nice variety of textures and flavors. That quality made this a standout version of queso fundido!
My wife ordered enchiladas rojas. The cucumber, radishes, pickled onions and avocado was a feast for the eyes and the rich red sauce had an earthy tone, with just a little heat from the chilis.
I ordered fish tacos, prepared two ways. One was a beer battered fish taco and the other was pan fried. Both were accompanied by all of the colorful vegetables. I was glad to see that they prepared the rice in the classic, Oaxacan fashion. Corn, peas, carrots and a pinch of cilantro turns rice into something special.
It was the simple bean soup that won my heart. The beans look so innocent, surrounded by all of the colorful food but those beans were outstanding! The bean broth was full of mild flavors. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the flavors, trying to piece together the different spices that went into the soup.
It wasn’t until we got up to leave that I realized what was in the soup that made me feel so good. There, hanging from the vent hoods, over the grill, were several bunches of epazote. That’s the mark of authentic Oaxacan cuisine!
I’m usually not shy about asking to take a trip back to the kitchen in a restaurant, but this galley styled kitchen was tight and the cooks and staff were dancing deftly around each other, hard at work. Not a good time to assert myself, I thought. At the heart of the kitchen was the person I knew would be there. Grandma. Grandma was laying out a round of fresh corn tortillas on the grill and she looked tired. I shouted loud enough for her to hear, “Tengo much gusto! Gracias!”, which basically means, “I so happy, thank you”. She raised her head to look at me and seemed bewildered. I gave her a wink and we left.
Well, tomato season is coming to close. My garden has been extremely nice to me this year, despite my lack of attention to it. If it wasn’t for the vigilance and diligence of my wife, we would have piles of rotten tomatoes lying beneath the vines, instead of the bountiful harvest that we have enjoyed.
Way back in April, when I finished planting the garden, I whispered a solemn promise to the garden, “You’re on your own, now.” It was the least I could do. I knew that my job was going to demand much of my time for the months to come and, as it turned out, I was right. Working nine to ten hours each day, six days a week leaves only a slender slice of time to do anything other than eat and sleep.
‘Essential Worker’ was the phrase used last year, to describe me and my fellow coworkers. Now that we are 20 months into this pandemic, I don’t hear that moniker spoken very often, as it relates to my industry. The real essential workers, the ones who are saving lives and feeding us, are still out there, doing their best, day after day. ‘Pseudo Essential Workers’, like me, are supplying the world with small kitchen appliances are dealing with supply chain failures and a rocky economy.
We’ve had ample rain and sun over the last several months and the garden heeded my whispered curse. Our twenty tomato plants put out about 25 gallons of Roma and Beefsteak tomatoes. We’ve canned about two dozen quarts of marina and salsa and we’ve had buckets and buckets of cherry tomatoes, to spare.
So, now it’s a Thursday and I’m staring at a bowl of late-season tomatoes on the kitchen counter.
Let’s make a quick marina and figure out how to make a meal of it.
8 to 10 medium tomatoes. (I used 8 inexplicably large Roma tomatoes)
5 or 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
A sprig of fresh rosemary, stripped and chopped
1 Tbs garlic powder
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
Rough chop the tomatoes.
Put the tomatoes in a large sauce pot.
Set the heat to medium/high. Stir every few minutes.
In between stirs, consider other food items on hand and how they could be put together in a sensible way.
Let’s see…I have a large, whole pork loin. Check. I have half a 16 ounce bag of Rigatoni pasta. Check. I have about 6 ounces of Parmesan cheese. Check. I have a head of broccoli. Check.
It’s a four pound pork loin. I’m not going to use all of that! I want to serve 3 to 4 people so, maybe I’ll use half of the Rigatoni and save the rest for another day. 1 head of broccoli…perfect. I will use all of that.
Stir the tomatoes! Gee whiz, I almost forgot!
Now, what am I going to do with the pork loin? I’ll use about one and half pounds and cut it into ½” thick slices. I can coat the slices with Panko breadcrumbs and pan fry it. Yeah, that shouldn’t take very long to cook.
I’ll boil 8 ounces of the rigatoni and add it to a platter, top it with some marinara, top that with the fried pork and top that with more marina and top the whole thing with Parmesan cheese. Yes.
This is definitely starting to sound like an Italian dish, but for the life of me, I don’t know if it’s really an Italian dish, or if I’m just pretending. I guess it doesn’t matter. What should I do with the broccoli?
Stir the tomatoes! I didn’t forget this time!
OK. Broccoli. What if I steam the broccoli and add some Italian dressing to the boiling water so that it will flavor the broccoli, as it steams. Yeah, that sounds like a thing!
Ingredients: (Now that I have figured out how to complete the meal!)
1 ½ lbs. pork loin, sliced into ½” thick slices
2 Tbs cornstarch
Black pepper, to taste
8 ounces Rigatoni pasta
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 head of broccoli, chopped
3 tablespoons Italian salad dressing
The tomatoes are cooking down nicely. They have been bubbling for about 15 minutes and the sauce looks very thin. Maybe I’d better add 8 ounces of tomato paste, to stiffen the sauce.
I’d better chop the basil and rosemary. I need to add the spices and herbs to the sauce and let it simmer, while I prepare the pork.
OK. Herbs and spices are in the pot. Good. Now, let it go at medium/low heat for another 10 minutes. Step up the stirring to once per minutes, otherwise the thick sauce will sputter and splatter and get all over my stovetop!
I’ll slice the pork now and set up a dredging station. Slice the pork and coat with cornstarch and a little black pepper. Egg, and Panko breadcrumbs are all I need for dredging station.
Stir the sauce!
I’m going to bring out the skillet and add about ½ inch of oil to it and turn the heat to medium.
Dip the pork in egg, knock off excess egg, press both sides of the pork in Panko breadcrumbs and set aside. Good.
Stir the sauce again. It’s been simmering for about 15 minutes and it looks thick now. I think I can take it off the heat and put in a bowl.
Rinse the pot out with water and fill it about half way with water and add some salt. Set the pot on the stove and turn the heat to high. Once the water boils, add the rigatoni. Cook until al dente, maybe 15 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, I’ll grab the head of broccoli and cut it into florets. These are going to go into the big pot, after the pasta is done.
The skillet is hot and the pork is ready to be cooked. Yay. Add the pork to the pan and avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook at medium/high heat for about two minutes on each side. Remove to a paper towel-line plate.
Remove the rigatoni from the pot and spread it out, across a large platter.
Rinse out the pot again and add about ½ inch of water, and add about 3 tablespoons of Italian dressing. Turn the heat to low/medium. Put the cut broccoli in a colander and set the colander over the pot. Put the lid on the pot and let the broccoli steam for about 10 minutes.
While the broccoli steams, top the pasta with some of the marina. Add the fried, breaded, pork slices. Add another layer of marinara.
Oh, come on! I always forget the cheese! I’ll quickly shred the Parmesan cheese and sprinkle it on top of the platter.
Pull the broccoli from steamer and place in a serving bowl.
There! Dinner is ready in less than an hour. Whew!
Epilogue: On a serious note, if you haven’t received the vaccine, please get it. A virus like, Covid-19, will continue to spread and mutate, if it is allowed to. Don’t allow fear or stubbornness to keep you from saving humanity.
A few weeks ago, I was on the phone, chatting it up with my parents and I mentioned that I was in the midst of preparing dinner. They wanted to see some pictures, so I obliged, the next day.
Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail that I sent, along with some photos.
Note: I mention swai and tilapia in the message. The two types of fish have become very common in grocery stores across the U.S., and maybe the rest of the world. They are not the same fish, as some might think.
Okay, on to dinner…
The fish was Swai, which is some sort of large white fish…maybe it’s like Tilapia, the other white fish that is so ubiquitous in grocery stores nowadays. I dusted the fish and shrimp with cumin and cayenne powder and pan fried them for a few minutes.
The accoutrements were guacamole, sliced red onion, mango, a salad consisting of chopped Romaine lettuce, bell pepper and green onion, and a creamy sauce that contained mayonnaise, sour cream, cocktail sauce, hot sauce, garlic salt and a dash of Maggi seasoning. If you haven’t used Maggi seasoning, it’s worth trying…it’s like concentrated soy sauce, sort of. A little bit goes a long way! All of this was loaded into a burrito-sized flour tortilla.
You’ll probably notice the chilis with the seafood. Fear not! Nobody ate these. They were strictly ornamental, although I considered eating the habaneros, but I knew I needed to hit the sack within an hour after dinner and I didn’t want to sleep with spicy chilis in me.
Alrighty, there you have it. I wish you could have been here to join in the fun!
Kung Pao Chicken is an American Chinese Restaurant staple and I’ve had many variations. Kung Pao Chicken is one those versatile recipes that can be interpreted in many ways.
After a little research, I found that an authentic Kung Pao sauce is made with lychee, a tropical fruit, which I think looks a little like a sea urchin. You can decide for yourself.
I’m just a home cook and I rarely go out of my way to find exotic ingredients. I tend to look inside my pantry and find things that can substitute “authentic” elements for a recipe. Sichuan cuisine is all about umami, the stimulating flavor of sweet, sour, acid and spice. I combine a variety of common elements to achieve the umami sensation, and that’s exactly what I did for this dish. It’s not authentic but, I attempted to stay true to the spirit of the dish. It’s just me, putting things together in a thoughtful way, just like any good home cook would do.
4 Thai chilis, remove seeds and reserve. Reserve chilis for the stir fry.
1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, mashed
1 Tbs cooking oil
¼ cup dark soy sauce
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs peanut butter
1 Tbs sambal oelek garlic chili sauce
1 Tbs molasses (or Hoisin sauce)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tbs. vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 tsp sugar
8 ounces of dry Asian noodles
1 Tbs cooking oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken things, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbs cornstarch (or rice starch)
3 celery stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large carrots, diagonally sliced into ¼” thick
1 medium yellow or white onion, Julienne sliced
1” piece of ginger, cut into small matchstick-sized pieces
1 ½ cups roasted peanuts (salted or unsalted – I used sweet chili roasted peanuts)
2 Tbs toasted sesame seeds
3 green onions, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
Prepare the sauce. Cut the chilis in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Separate the seeds and set aside. Slice the ginger and chop the garlic. Set these aside.
Add the dark soy sauce, soy sauce, peanut butter, garlic chili sauce, molasses (or Hoisin sauce), sesame oil, sugar and vinegar to a bowl.
Heat a large skillet low heat. Add a teaspoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the seeds from the chilis. Allow the seeds to simmer in the oil until they begin to pop and become light brown.
Add the ginger and garlic and heat for another two minutes, while stirring. If the garlic starts to burn, remove it and discard the pieces of garlic.
Pour the sauce ingredients into the skillet and simmer at low heat. Whisk to blend the sauce. In a small bowl, add the water and cornstarch. Stir with a fork until the cornstarch forms a paste. Add the cornstarch past to the sauce and turn the heat to medium. Whisk the sauce until it bubbles and thickens.
Strain sauce into a large bowl. Discard the solid pieces and set the sauce aside.
Boil the noodles until they are al dente. Strain, drizzle a little sesame oil over the noodles and toss to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Prepare the vegetables and sort them on a large platter. Set aside.
Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle with cornstarch and toss is in a bowl to coat. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes while you prepare the wok.
Heat a wok to medium/high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil. Add the pieces of chicken, a few at a time, to the wok. Allow the chicken to fry without stirring for about one minute and then stir with a spatula until the chicken is light, golden brown. Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium/low heat. Add the celery, carrots and onion. Stir fry for a few minutes. When the carrot starts to soften, add the prepared ginger. Stir over medium heat for another minute. Add the Thai chilis, if you want to bring the heat!
Add the prepared sauce. Mix with a spatula.
Add the chicken and continue to stir for a minute, or two.
Add the peanuts. Stir to combine.
Add some of the green onion and stir briefly.
Add the prepared noodles and toss.
Turn off the heat and transfer everything to a large bowl.
Garnish serving bowls with cilantro, green onion and toasted sesame seeds.