Monthly Archives: March 2012

Some Like It Hot: The Pepper that Makes Grown Men Cry

The scary pepper with the equally scary name: The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion

One thing I really enjoy about my office environment is the random conversations I have with my co-workers. Today, for example, my colleague Brandt and I were discussing the apparent lack of raccoons in northern Virginia because he was concerned about rodents getting into his bird feeder. Then the conversation steered toward Hot Meats, which, besides having an awesomely awkward name, are touted as the bird lover’s ultimate rodent repellent. They’re sunflower seeds that pack a punch with hot chile oil, which squirrels do not like.

I told him that if he REALLY wants to teach a squirrel a lesson, he should lace the Hot Meats with ghost peppers, or bhut jolokias, which are a northeastern Indian hybrid pepper that has been rated the hottest in the world. A single ghost pepper can have a rating of over a million heat units on the Scoville scale.

Let’s put that number into context, shall we? Tabasco, which is pretty hot if you’re a wimp, comes in at 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale, while pure capsaicin, which gives pepper plants its spice factor, has a rating of 16,000,000 heat units. Holy hell, that’s hot.

The Ghost pepper will send your taste buds to their graves.

After  a quick search, however, I was surprised to find out two things: that the feared bhut jolokia pepper has been surpassed by a pepper with an even more menacing name, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper, and that the bhut jolokia’s Westernized name, the ghost pepper, is actually an erroneous translation. Whoops.

At any rate, there’s no misinterpreting the Scorpion pepper’s moniker, which pretty much lives up to its namesake with a sting that rates 2,009,231 Scoville heat units. That’s TWICE as hot as the ghost pepper!

I love spicy food, don’t get me wrong, but you couldn’t pay me enough to eat one of these suckers. I mean, look at what it can do to a grown man! (Warning: Do not try this at home.) However, if you’re interested in growing your own Scorpion peppers and goading a frenemy into eating one (while secretly filming his or her reaction) check out this site.

Have you ever had a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion or bhut jolokia? What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten?

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Kitchen Adventures: Guava-rama

As much as I’d like to think of myself as something of a food savant, I’ll often come across random things in the grocery aisles and wonder, “What the eff do I do with this?”

Such was the case recently with a round can of guava paste. I picked it up at a local supermarket with an excellent Latin American food section, intending to use a bit of it in a baking experiment, but wasn’t quite clear on what to do with the rest. I mean, there’s a crapload of it stuffed in there. It sort of looks like that gelatinous cranberry jelly that pops out of a can, only darker, thicker and tastier.

Well, it turns out you can use guava paste in a crapload of ways, too–in Cuban empanadas with some cream cheese, in turnovers, in muffins, even in meat sauces. Pretty much anything goes when using the stuff, including these:

Ta-da! Guava macarons, straight up.

I’ll post a recipe shortly for these guava macarons. In the meantime, here’s a fresh and simple way to munch your way through a whole can of guayaba paste: Stick cubes of paste and a white cheese (the stronger-tasting, the better) with a toothpick, add some bread, and have yourself a little feast. Muy bueno!

 

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Hip to Be Square

Snap, crackle, pop

On the rare occasion that I do go to a coffee shop for some joe, I’m often tempted to pick up a crispy rice square to go along with it, but two things usually deter me. 1) The fact that shops usually charge as much as $2 per square, which seems way overpriced for something you could make at home for a fraction of that, and 2) the fact that they usually don’t taste very good after sitting in a pastry case for, hell, I don’t know, a half day?

This morning, I was jonesing for some crispy rice squares to go with my morning coffee. I thought about attempting fellow blogger Foodie on the 49th’s insanely delicious-looking bacon, peanut butter and chocolate Rice Krispy treats, but I didn’t have any bacon or chocolate on hand. So, I turned to my trusty copy of Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery, for inspiration, and found a recipe for Brown-Butter Crispy Rice treats. Brown butter? Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Yes, please!

Brown butter, or beurre noisette, is that extraordinary ingredient that lends a certain je ne sais quoi to pastries and sauces. Rich and aromatic, this butter is definitely one to add to your cooking repertoire. I first discovered the wonder that is brown butter in this Epicurious recipe for Spoon Cookies, which are basically shortbread cookies, and was immediately smitten. It’s like magic–one moment, you have an ordinary stick of unsalted butter, and the next, you’ve struck culinary gold.

As the pan heats up over low heat, the butter separates and the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pan and turn a lovely hazelnut color. And the smell! Oh, the smell is to die for. It’s what I would imagine inhaling nutty toffee cocaine would be like, and I think it must put my pituitary gland’s endorphin production into overdrive because I am always in the BEST mood after making a batch of beurre noisette.

Anyway, I digress. On to the good stuff. I’ve adapted this recipe from the Flour recipe book, since I wanted to try a little something extra to go along with it. And yes, I could have just called them “Brown Butter Crispy Rice Squares,” but Frenchifying phrases seems to make everything sound/taste better.

Beurre Noisette Crispy Rice Squares

1 stick unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 tsp. vanilla powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 16-ounce bag of large marshmallows
9 cups crispy rice cereal

1) Butter a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot over low heat.

3) Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod** and mix in with the butter.

4) Keep a close eye on the butter. At first, the butter will foam up, and then the foam will disappear. A thicker layer of foam will come up and blanket the surface just as the butter solids start turning brown. You’ll smell a nutty, toffee-ish fragrance, which should signal that the butter is changing. This process takes about 6-8 minutes, depending on your stovetop burner.

5) Once the butter has browned, turn off the heat and take the pot off the burner. Immediately add the vanilla powder, kosher salt and marshmallows, and stir constantly until the marshmallows melt and you’re left with a smooth mixture flecked evenly with vanilla seeds.

6) Add the crispy rice cereal to the mix, and stir until everything is well blended.

7) Dump the contents of the pot into the prepared baking pan, and press the mixture into the pan.

8) Let cool for about an hour, cut into squares and go to town with a cup of coffee, tea or milk.

**Don’t throw away the vanilla pod! Those things are expensive. Try sticking it in an airtight glass jar and cover it with granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar, which lends a lovely flavor to other baked goods. After all, want not, waste not, right?

Stay hungry, my friends.

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That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Variety is the spice of life. Right?

 

When I first moved to the good ol’ US of A, I was shocked to see how many varieties of Girl Scout cookies there are. How many flavors? Let me count the ways:

1) Thin Mints, mint chocolate wafers coated in chocolate
2) Samoas/Caramel Delites, vanilla cookies dipped in caramel, chocolate and coconut
3) Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties, vanilla cookies layered with peanut butter and chocolate
4) Do-si-dos/Peanut Butter Sandwiches, oatmeal cookie sandwiches with peanut butter filling
5) Trefoils/Shortbreads, a traditional shortbread with the Girl Scout emblem
6) Dulce de Leche, caramel cookies with caramel chips
7) Thank U Berry Much, with cranberries and white fudge
8) Thanks-a-lot, a shortbread cookie dipped in chocolate
9) Shout Outs, a Belgian-style caramel cookie
10) Lemonades, shortbread covered in lemon icing
11) And the new  Savannah Smiles, lemon wedges with lemon chips and powdered sugar.

And the above list doesn’t include the discontinued flavors!

The reason why I was so surprised was that I was a Girl Guide (Canada’s version of Girl Scouts, except with cuter uniforms–seriously, what’s up with those green vests?), and we had the following cookie flavors to sell:

1) Vanilla.
2) Chocolate.

Both were sandwich-style cookies with cream filling. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, we would be given peanut  butter or Thin Mint-like biscuits to sell,  but that was  rare. (Apparently, the Girl Guides of today sell Chocolatey Mint cookies in the fall, so at least there’s that.)


“Boring!” you might say. Yeah, fine, it’s not very creative. But I have to admit, I will always prefer Girl Guide cookies to any of the Girl Scout cookies on offer, with the exception of Samoas. Those are damn tasty, I won’t lie.

And, I daresay our Chocolatey Mint cookies are superior to Thin Mints–there’s actual mint filling inside!

 

Eat yer heart out, Thin Mints.

The Girl Scouts, though, have Girl Guides beat in terms of marketing their cookies. Apparently, the Scouts have just launched an app that locates cookie sales near you. Well played, Girl Scouts. Well played.

What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie?

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Filed under Food, in the news, Random musings

In the News: A Musical Feast

While I was browsing the interwebs for work today, I came across this video about two Chinese brothers who make musical instruments out of bok choy, sweet potatoes, leeks and more:

 

 

Apparently, they are partial to playing songs by the Bee Gees and Korn. Hah.

So that’s amazing, yeah? I would agree, except for the fact that the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra has been doing this since 1998:

 

In case you’re wondering, the orchestra cooks all its instruments in a big soup to serve to the audience following every performance. Nice in theory, but kind of gross if you think about all the spit that’s blown into the “woodwind” veggies.

Doesn’t matter. I still want a pan flute made out of leeks and carrots.

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Easy Like Sunday Morning

Rise and shine!

Sunday morning breakfast has become something of a ritual ever since Dr. J and I got together. I usually whip up something easy, like pancakes and bacon or eggs, bacon and hash browns, and he makes the coffee, sets the table and grabs the morning paper. (Yes, we still get a physical newspaper, and no, we’re not 80-year-olds.) I also like to put on some music, perhaps a little Django Reinhardt (okay, fine, maybe we are kind of like 80-year-olds).

Over the years, I’ve tinkered with several pancake recipes, like banana caramel, lemon ricotta and chocolate chip, and sometimes mixed it up with Belgian waffles, challah French toast and Danish ebelskiver.

But I’ve finally settled on a recipe that I know will be my go-to in the kitchen, mainly because it doesn’t require running out and getting extra ingredients–you should have everything on hand already. Besides, grocery shopping in your PJs? Not cute.

Lazy Sunday Pancakes
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)

3/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 tbsp. melted butter
1 c. fresh blueberries or other fresh fruit (optional)
1 tbsp. canola oil for pan
Silicone pastry brush

  1. Combine the milk and vinegar in a small bowl and let it sit and curdle for five minutes.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk egg and butter into soured milk.
  4. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries or other fruit if you like.
  6. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat, and brush lightly with oil.
  7. Pour 1/4 cupfuls of batter onto the skillet, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Using a spatula, flip and brown on the other side. Makes enough for two very hungry people or four semi-hungry folks.
A couple of tips: I like to keep the pancakes warm in the oven on a cookie sheet while I go through the whole cooking process. Also, if you have any left over (unlikely), just stash them in the fridge and pop them in the toaster tomorrow morning.

Here’s a little Django to go along with breakfast and ease you into the day. Happy Sunday!

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Filed under Food, kitchen adventures, Recipes

Let’s Go Shopping: Jewelry Good Enough to Eat

Gettin' all tarted up. Via Fab.com

 

Do you shop those flash sales from Gilt.com, Groupon and the like? I’m more of a casual “flasher” if you will, meaning I usually browse whatever is out there on sale but only buy occasionally. Most times, I come across things that I either a) would absolutely buy if I had cash to burn, which, let’s face it, is mostly everything or b) would probably never buy but think is cool/funny/innovative anyway.

Today, I checked out Fab.com’s daily sale and saw a few cool items from Amy Jewelry, a San Francisco-based indie jewelry maker who repurposes everything from dollhouse accessories to spices. The fruit tart necklace above is just one example of Amy’s quirky designs.

A couple of other fun things that caught my eye:

Shi-shi sushi necklace (via Fab.com)

With this ring, I thee eat (via Fab.com)

Test tube earrings filled with salt and peppercorns. Talk about spicing up your jewelry wardrobe! (via Fab.com)

 

So yeah. When I say this jewelry is good enough to eat, I wasn’t joking in some cases. The test tube S&P earrings would certainly be functional if you want to surreptitiously season food served at a dinner party, or if you’re up Bland Creek without a paddle while eating lunch at work. The others, however, are just plain fun.

What do you think? Would you ever wear food-inspired jewelry?

 

 

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