Friday, July 3, 2009

Firecrackers for the Mouth: Eat ‘em and weep

Whether you’re looking to add a little sparkle to a meal or you want to experience an explosive bang, there’s a pepper to suit your needs.

Though sweet green bell peppers are the most popular garden variety, peppers come in an amazing array of colors, shapes, sizes and flavors. While green peppers have no heat, the intensity of other varieties is measured by the Scoville Heat Unit. The scale measures a substance called capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their spice.

Though many think of peppers in relation to Mexican food, peppers are an important ingredient in Asian, Indian and Latin American meals as well.

In addition to their use as a fiery spice, peppers have been long known for their medicinal properties. Hot pepper supplements –mainly cayenne, are useful for circulatory and digestive health, as well for arthritis. Topical warming gel made from pepper heat is great for those suffering from the aches of arthritis or sore muscles.

If you want to experience pyrotechnics long after the fireworks display ends, hot peppers are easy to store and preserve for use throughout the year and can be easily dried, frozen or canned.

But just like the July 4th fireworks, safety precautions need to use used when dealing with hot peppers. Gloves should be worn while preparing peppers to avoid burning your skin and other sensitive mucus membranes that your hands might touch after preparation.

Easy to grow, and fun to eat, hot peppers can make the dog days of July feel cool by comparison.

Enjoy the recipes below and have a safe and fun 4th of July!

Pepper Type and Scoville Unit Heat Rating:
Habanero 200,000-300,000
Red Amazon 75,000
Pequin 75,000
Chiltecepin 70,000-75,000
Tabasco 30,00-50,000
Cayenne 35,000
Arbol 25,000
Japone 25,000
Smoked Jalepeno (Chipotle) 10,000
Serrano 7,000-25,000
Puya 5,000
Guajillo 5,000
Jalepeno 3,500-4,500
Poblano 2,500-3,000
Pasilla 2,500
TAM Mild Jalepeno-1 1,000-1,500
Anaheim 1,000-1,400
New Mexican 1,000
Ancho 1,000
Bell and Pimento 0

Chipotle BBQ Sauce
3 cups

8oz tomato paste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup ketchup
1/8 cup cider vinegar
juice of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup tomato puree

Whisk all together in a large bowl. Great with chicken. To grind chipotle you may dried chipotle and use a coffee grinder to grind.

Coconut Cilantro Chutney
2 cups

1 cup freshly grated coconut or 10 tablespoons dried and 8 tablespoons water, soaked for at least one hour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 fresh jalapeƱo chilies, seeded and chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
3 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole brown mustard seeds

Combine coconut, salt, sugar, lemon juice, chilies, shallots, and 4 tablespoons water in blender. Blend to a fine paste.
Add cilantro and ginger. Blend again adding more water if needed. Place oil in a small pan over medium heat. When very hot, add the mustard seeds stirring constantly. Roast until they start to pop. Remove from heat and add to chutney.
This sauce goes very well with seafood, especially scallops. Add to the pan to warm after searing the seafood. Serve with rice.

Recipes are courtesy of Emma's Food for Life restaurant, Selinsgrove, PA

Sunday, June 28, 2009

T&D Cats of the World, Penns Creek, PA

I don’t go to things like zoos or circuses because I don’t want to support taking animals from the wild so that I can have the pleasure of seeing them. In cages. Out of their natural habitat. Obviously not living the way nature intended them to live.

But T&Ds is different. They rescue these animals from idiots who think having monkeys, lions, tigers and bears for pets is cool, until they realize monkeys, lions, tigers and bears are wild animals not intended for home keeping. Some of their animals are from zoos, an aged tiger couple, exhausted from constant human interruption, retired to T&Ds –where visitors and hours are more limited and obtrusive than a public zoos. Some of the animals came from other places, those set up to entertain people with a wild animal tour that wasn’t profitable.

For whatever reason they are there, these animals are now trapped in a caged life. But T&Ds mission is not to run a profitable zoo, rather they use these animals as a tool to teach people why wild animals should be kept wild, and to bear witness to what happens to those animals when they are taken from the wild and find themselves unwanted and homeless.

It is because of this mission, and their excellent care (thanks to the owners and countless volunteers and donations) of the animals, that I found myself able to enjoy seeing these amazing animals up close and personal.

Because it was a cool breezy day the animals were very active. But my camera battery died ½ way through the walking tour, thus I missed photos of the lions playing like kittens, the bear who followed us hoping for a treat, posing, doing bear type tricks and grumbles very similar to my dog Mo when he wants biscuits.

The tiger in the pool was cooling off before taking a leap at his tiger friend, playing a wild game of chase, the second tiger took a turn cooling down, and then peeking over so carefully over the edge of the tank to stalk his fellow tiger prey. They were a joy to watch and I was glad to see, despite their lack of real freedom, their pleasure with one another.