Posts Tagged Chile

Broiled Tilapia with Cajun Boiled Potatoes

Cajun food scares me.

I don’t know the first thing about Cajun cooking. It seems to involve a lot of shellfish and pots large enough to boil small children in their depths. People argue about whether to call the creepy-crawly things crawfish or crayfish or crawdads or mudbugs. They pronounce “boil” as “berl.” They insist that the only possible way to “berl” anything is with Zatarain’s Crab Boil, and they do not want to hear that I won’t be putting a single crawbeastie into the mix.


These are for stirring giant murky cauldrons of crawdads, apparently, though I suspect they’d do in a pinch to paddle a small canoe.


You can’t boil tilapia. I mean, you can try, but I’m betting it’ll fall apart. So the fish here gets broiled or smoked, and the potatoes get boiled–er, berled.

This hardly qualifies as a recipe. It’s insanely easy. Thank goodness for that.


Ingredients (serves 2)

For the fish:


2 tilapia fillets

1/4 t white pepper

1/4 t steak seasoning (essentially black pepper and garlic)

1 1/2 T hot paprika

salt to taste

2 T smoker chips (if smoking)

For the potatoes:


8 small red potatoes

1 1/2 quarts water

1/3 cup Zatarain’s Crab Boil seasoning

2 t salt


For the fish:

Mix the white pepper, steak seasoning, paprika, and salt together. Rub the tilapia generously with the spice mixture. If using a stovetop smoker (which I highly recommend), add the wood chips underneath the drip tray and smoke on medium-high for about 15 minutes. If broiling, heat the oven and broil about 5 minutes per side.


For the potatoes:

Add salt and seasoning to the water and bring it to a boil. It will be terrifying and murky. Add the potatoes. Boil 15 minutes or until fork-tender.


Add a side of steamed vegetables and voilà, dinner.


A word of warning–hot paprika isn’t all that hot, but this fish uses a lot of it. If you’re not a fan of spice, sweet paprika will do nicely in its place.


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More GMO Notes, and a Chocolate Caramel Coffee Tart

Do you see the little “Science!” label down there on the right? After you scroll down a bit, underneath all the tasty stuff?

Exhibit A: Tasty Stuff

Those scientists and science bloggers are working hard to make foods better, safer, and more understandable for everyone else. Recently, the good folks at Biofortified have explained, in very clear terms, why GM foods don’t have any more scary genes in them than any other foods you’ve ever eaten, since of course bacteria and viruses are already everywhere, and every time you eat anything you eat the little guys and all of their genes as well. And if you still think after my earlier discussion of the subject that GM foods lead to horizontal gene transfer and presumably plant-people? The GMO Pundit explains an article that shows that a happy little beetle managed to get a useful little bacteria gene all his own, without a GMO in sight.

I know this is a food blog, and I promised chocolate, so I’ll keep this short. Basically, if you cook, you use science. You don’t have to think in terms of chemistry when caramelizing sugar, because following the protocol recipe will get you results just the same. You don’t need to know the biological mechanisms of capsiacinoids to add the heat of chile to a dish. But I think at least knowing the information is out there– and that it’s available and understandable if you’re interested whether you did well in science in school or not– is important. And hey, it’s cool! Scientists are doing things with plants and nutrition that look straight out of science fiction, and it’s brilliant. Give it a quick peek, is all I’m saying.

So now we can get back to caramelizing sugar and melting chocolate and keeping that smell in your kitchen as long as possible.  Because caramel and chocolate go together like nothing else. Because coffee makes both caramel and chocolate taste better. And because everyone should have a chocolate tart recipe. So I adapted one from David Lebovitz. I removed the flour from his filling, as mine seemed thick enough without it and I want to be able to pour it into a gluten-free crust* if we have company with Celiac. The chocolate is a tad darker in mine as well, but offset by the slightly sweeter chocolate ovals used to decorate it. And the smell in the kitchen? I turned off all air circulation in the apartment just so we could breathe it a little longer. It’s sweet and complex and full of coffee. If we could bottle that smell, I could quit my day job and just sell chocolate-caramel-coffee scented candles because who doesn’t want a dozen of those?

Ingredients (Makes 1 9-inch tart; serves 10-12. Crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s sweet tart dough, filling adapted from David Lebovitz’ chocolate tart)

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 t salt

1 t vanilla

9 T butter

1 egg

For the filling:

1 cup sugar

6 oz. espresso

8 T (1/4 lb, 1 stick, 4 oz) butter

3 oz unsweetened chocolate

3 oz bittersweet (72% +) chocolate

2 eggs at room temperature

1 T vanilla extract

optional: for a bit of heat, add 1-3 t chile powder when you add the chocolate (how much you use depends on the heat of the powder you’re using; a pinch of Habañero powder goes a lot further than a whole teaspoon of Poblano).

Directions The crust comes first, of course. To prevent it being grainy, you’ll want to use superfine sugar. To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in the bowl of your food processor  and run it for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the flour and salt and pulse briefly to combine.

Add the butter and egg (and the vanilla, not shown).

Apparently I forgot to keep taking pictures of dough making, but if you’d find them helpful it’s just about the same dough as used way back here for a lemon-blueberry tart. Sorry about that. Pulse the dough in 2-3 second bursts until it comes together in a smooth ball. Chill the dough for two hours or more, then roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Line a buttered 9-inch tart pan with the dough, and line the prepared crust with buttered tin foil. Add pie weights and bake with foil and weights at 375°F for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake another 10 minutes to brown. Set aside the crust and turn the oven down to 350°F. Start the filling by caramelizing some sugar. Just pour a cup of sugar into a saucepan. . .

. . .and heat it up over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until you have thick, bubbly caramel.

Pour in the espresso and whisk vigorously to combine.

Try not to spill espresso all over the chocolate. Add the butter to the coffee-caramel mixture.

Whisk in the butter and add the chocolate.

Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Test the temperature of the mixture by dipping a spoon in it and tasting. If it’s scalding to the tongue, keep whisking until it’s merely pleasantly warm before adding your eggs. Unless of course you want scrambled eggs in you chocolate tart. When the mixture is not too hot, add the eggs.

Whisk the eggs in, giving the filling a lovely pudding-like texture, and pour it into the waiting tart shell.

Bake at 350°F for 20-22 minutes until the filling is just set but not dry or cracking. If you have any pretty chocolate pieces like these Valrhona fèves lying around, grab a handful for decorating the top. What can I say? I can’t resist the bulk chocolates at Central Market.

The texture is completely smooth, almost a warm pudding. The tart shell adds sweetness and a lovely crunch to the mixture, and the sweeter chocolates on top (only 53% cocoa) finished it out perfectly.

I didn’t cut into the tart warm, as it was a birthday tart for a co-worker and tradition dictates that the birthday boy or girl gets to cut the first slice, but I did re-heat a slice in the oven the next night and it was divine. Not that anyone complained at room temperature; there really is no comparison to a good chocolate tart.

Sadly, I can’t make or eat anything like this right now; I had my third molars removed this morning and am having a certain amount of difficulty with yogurt and mashed potatoes, let alone a delightful flaky-crisp tart shell. So eat one of these for me, okay?

* to make this a gluten-free pie or tart, simply use this filling and the gluten-free graham cracker crust found here, or any other GF crust that you like.

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Red or Green?

New Mexican chile probably isn’t a big deal to those of you who don’t or haven’t lived in New Mexico. When I first moved there, I couldn’t understand it. A friend took me to a lovely New Mexican restaurantand once I’d ordered, the waiter asked the most baffling question I’d ever heard: “Red, green, or Christmas?”

The elusive Christmas chile. (Wikimedia Commons)

See, in New Mexico, pretty much everything that isn’t dessert is served with chile. There’s green chile, which is made of ripe green chiles cooked with spices and maybe a little flour as thickener, and red chile, which is made from dried red chiles (the same species as green, just fully ripened then dried) plumped with water and pureed. Then there’s Christmas, which is of course a mixture of both. You may notice, especially if you’re a Texan, the lack of meat or beans or anything else in this chile sauce. It’s just a sauce they pour over every burrito, enchilada, and fried egg in the state of New Mexico. Now some folks are protesting against the good people at the New Mexico Chile Association and the Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU because part of their funding could be used to research genetically modifying the peppers that define New Mexican cuisine. The Facebook page of the protesters (Occupy Green/Red Chile) seem to be  focusing more on the potential commercial repercussions of GM chile seeds rather than the health risks that some folks allege are posed by GMOs.

Image from the USDA

I was surprised to see an economic movement attach itself to a culinary cause.  I was also a little concerned that the protests might lead to pressure to change the track of some of the research being done at the Chile Pepper Institute. So I sent them an e-mail, and after a few weeks of phone tag (Tip: never try to reach a professor at the end of semester, especially while you’re moving. You’ll each end up with 30 second bursts of time that never seem coincide.) I spoke with Dr. Paul Bosland, the  director of the Chile Pepper Institute. I had been rather expecting a grad student or intern to deal with me, honestly, because I’m not a scientist or even a reporter, just a person who cooks pretty well and sometimes writes about it. Dr. Bosland didn’t seem particularly worried about the movement. According to him, the protest’s presence is primarily an Internet phenomenon; they were scheduled to protest on NMSU’s campus the weekend before I spoke with him, but he didn’t notice any protest at all that day. Of course, he gave a very good reason to ignore the protests entirely: there are no GM chiles. It’s actually rather baffling–other nightshades such as potatoes and tomatoes and tobacco take to gene insertion quite nicely, but apparently if you insert a gene into a callus and then try to grow a plant from the callus, it doesn’t work. Obviously the Institute is interested in finding out why this is the case, but a greater part of their focus is on plant breeding.

Callus tissue. From Wikimedia Commons

  Their research foci include the usual you’d expect to find in plant research: increasing yield, nutrition, and flavor, as well as some (probably obvious) avenues that hadn’t occurred to me. The protesters worry about cross pollination from GM plants reducing genetic variety–that is, contaminating landraces and changing them. The Chile Pepper Institute is worried about non GM plants doing the same thing. “Let’s say you’re a farmer, and you plant a NuMex 6-4 [one of the popular cultivars bred by the Institute] in the same field with, say, an heirloom jalapeño. There’s going to be cross pollination, and the next generation will be changed,” Dr. Bosland explained. So the Chile Pepper Institute cultivates many varieties of chile and saves seeds to preserve their unique genes and characteristics. They also make new ones, and Dr. Bosland discovered that an Assam pepper called Bhut Jolokia is (or was) the hottest chile in the world at 1,001,304 scoville heat units. Mr B. just ordered some seedsfor it, because apparently he wants to eat something that will hurt more than biting a hot poker.

Also, he co-wrote this book, an older version of which has helped us successfully grow chiles here in Texas. Sometimes. I'm really good at killing plants.

But insane heat levels aside, chiles contain high levels of vitamins C and B6, as well as some vitamin A. According to an older text called Culture, Environment and Food to Prevent Vitamin a Deficiency by Kuhnlein and Pelto (sorry, I haven’t found any more recent studies), in some parts of rural China chile peppers are the primary source of vitamin A. Sounds great, until you realize that one average chile (with a great deal of variation between individuals, obviously) only contains 5-6% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Now try to imagine eating at least 20 entire chile peppers every day. If the levels of the vitamin could be boosted, either by breeding or genetic engineering, a vitamin deficiency that causes a quarter to half a million children to go blind every year could be treated even in areas where medical treatment is of limited availability.  It’s things like this that cause me to feel so strongly about the importance of research into improving the nutritional values of food crops by any means possible. Other resources (aside from all the fun links above) The New Mexico Chile Association’s breeding solutions statement,  which discusses how the acreage of chile peppers grown in NM have decreased by 75% in the lest 20 years (not due to GM; we’ve discussed that). If you read nothing else, read this. It’s a clear, concise explanation of how research is actually being used to help the chile industry, including small farmers, in New Mexico. The Chile Pepper Institute at NMSU has loads of information for both scientists and the rest of us, as well as seeds for sale and growing tips for an astonishing variety of peppers. They also sell hot sauce, salsa, and BBQ sauce made from the Bhut Jolokia, if you want to try out some crazy hot chile sauce without growing and making it yourself.  As a bonus, the profits go towards Chile Pepper Institute research. This article has Dr. Bosland ever so proudly showing off his certificate for measuring the heat of what was the world’s hottest pepper. How cool is he?

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Mango Salsa

We’re back from Atlanta, and I have to say I missed it the instant I stepped off the plane here in Dallas. Where it was over 100°F. At almost ten o’clock at night. There is something wrong with this town.

Everything about Atlanta makes me want to move there. We went hiking a twenty minute drive from downtown.

We saw pandas. Including an adorable baby.

We went to the coolest aquarium ever. Seriously. Whale sharks and mantas and that’s not even close to all. (Also, I am unbelievably jealous of Mr. Making Bubbles In My Shot here. How fantastic would it be to dive in over 6 million gallons of water with manta rays and whale sharks?)

There were about 40 lionfish in this guy’s tank, but only he wanted his picture taken.

And then there was the food. Every restaurant we went to was simply and completely delightful. I can’t wait to try to recreate some of the things we had.

Before going on vacation, we tried to use up everything perishable in the apartment. We did a little too well, and ended up with very little fresh food the night before we left. Combine that with a garden dead from heat and we had to use packaged herbs and garlic as well. So this is probably the most bottles and cans you’ll ever see in one place on this site. For all that, this salsa was delicious. Mr. B thought it needed more chilies, and you could definitely add more if you like, but I found it perfect as it was. Too much chile would completely drown out the mango and black beans.

Ingredients (serves 2)

3 dried New Mexican chilies

1/2  of a 15-0z can of black beans, drained

4-5 large slices of mango (yes, fresh would be better.)

about 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 T cilantro, chopped (MUCH better fresh. Ours is dead.)


Cut the stems off of the chilies and shake out most of the seeds. Put the chilies in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, grill the mango slices.

Chop the mangoes into 1/2 inch dice.

Chop the chilies, too. Combine chilies, mangoes, and black beans in a bowl.

Add the garlic and cilantro.

Stir it all together.

To turn this into tasty, tasty tacos, take some pulled chicken.

Then fry some taco shells.

Fill the shells with chicken and salsa, and top with sour cream and some extra cilantro.

This salsa is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. It would be very good on fish tacos or over rice, as well.

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Panning for Gold

What I have to say here is probably very dangerous. In Texas some folks have probably been lynched for less. But I’m going to say it anyway. Texans don’t know the first thing about chile. I live in Texas. My husband’s entire family lives here too. But if you want real chile, you need to drive a whole day to New Mexico, where the sauce doesn’t mess around. My father-in-law, all unknowing, managed to do just that. He rolled into a little shop called Horseman’s at the edge of Santa Fe and asked for a bowl of chile. Now, a Texan who says this wants chile con carne, a comparatively mild stew of chili peppers, tomatoes, meat, onions, and sometimes beans. So you can imagine his confusion when he was asked the state question of New Mexico, “Red, green, or Christmas?” Well, he said green. At Horseman’s, if you aren’t a chile veteran, if you haven’t spent years preparing your palate to eat the firebird with a side of hot pokers, that’s the wrong answer. He claims it damn near burned his tongue off.

Don’t get too excited though. I’m making the red stuff.

New Mexican chile is a vibrant sauce. It can almost define the entire cuisine of the state, setting it apart from Tex-Mex and Mexican-American with an unusual smoothness and purity of flavor. We have a lot of various chile-based products in this apartment (I do mean a lot), but when we make New Mexican tacos or enchiladas, a batch of the real stuff must go with it. Or my husband will pout for hours.

New Mexican Red Chile

2 ½ cups water

12-14 dried New Mexican chiles such as Hatch chile (Ancho chiles will work if you can’t find NM chiles)

1 T olive oil

1 t garlic powder (or a clove of garlic, lightly roasted)

½ t mustard powder (Why, yes, I do use this in everything. Because it is just that good)

A pinch of salt (I used black volcanic salt, because it’s delightfully smoky. Table salt is great though)

Finely chopped cilantro or oregano to taste

Cut the stems off of the chiles and shake out the seeds. You won’t get all of them. That’s okay; you’ll get them out later. Bring the water to a boil and toss your chiles in. reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes. They will smell a bit sweet. Do not be alarmed.

Put the partially-rehydrated chiles and the water you cooked them in into your food processor or blender. (If you’re using fresh garlic, add it now. I used powdered.) Once the mixture is about as smooth as it’s going to get (not very), pour it into a strainer and strain it into a pot. The result should be a very smooth, very dark red.  My strainer has the finest mesh in the universe. After eight minutes (yes, I watched the clock) of scraping around with a spoon, this is what the end result looked like.

I told you you’d get the seeds out later.

Heat the chile puree over medium heat and add your garlic and mustard powders, salt, and herbs. It snowed here last week (In Dallas. I ask you, what is the world coming to?) so all of my non-rosemary herbs are either dead or horribly wilted and brittle. So we skipped the herbs tonight. Stir in the olive oil. This is the fun part: once the olive oil is properly mixed in it creates a fascinating sheen to the surface of the sauce. It almost looks like gold dust.

Serve over tacos or enchiladas or any new Mexican dish.

Oh, to make tacos? Don’t buy crunchy taco shells. Make your own! Briefly cook a soft corn tortilla in a skillet with a bit of corn or canola oil.






Fill with sour cream, refried beans, shredded cheese, lettuce( if you’re healthier, better people than we are), and spoon some chile on top. Or just dip your tacos in the bowl. Pulled chicken is  good if you’re not in the mood for beans (we’ll talk about that when I make enchiladas), and my husband loves his with beef, as you can see above.



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