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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke

NM Chile Crop to Be Excellent

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: gardening , chile peppers

Harvesting has begun in the lower Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and the prospects for a bumper chile crop are looking good.  "This year is going to be our best in many years," said chile specialist Stephanie Walker of NMSU.  Dry weather has helped to keep down diseases such as phytophthora (a fungus) and leaf spot.  Last year the state produced 60,140 tons of chile, a 23 percent increase over 2007.  The crop was valued at $42.3 million without counting value-added chile products.  New Mexico grows more hot peppers than all the other states combined.

I went to the South Valley Farmer's Market looking for lettuce, since ours had peaked a month or so ago, and found some beautiful leeks.  But what to do with them?  But then I found a corn chowder recipe in the latest Saveur magazine and realized that I could adapt it and substitute the leeks for the onions, use fresh green chile and corn, which I also purchased there, and make a lunch feast.  Combined with a fresh tomato and cheddar cheese sandwich on gourmet buns, the meal was outstanding and only took an hour to fix, with most of that time spent in cooking the chowder. I know that purists will scold me for cooking a chowder in the summer, but I don't care!


4 ears fresh corn, shucked
4 strips bacon, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 leek (white part only), chopped fine
1 rub celery, chopped fine
1 bay leaf
6 cups milk
2 small red potatoes, quartered
¾ cup chopped New Mexican green chile that has been roasted and peeled, seeds and stems removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 cup chopped fresh basil for garnish

Cut the kernels off the corn and cut the cobs in half.  Reserve.

Heat the bacon in a large pot and fry, stirring occasionally, until it's crisp.  Reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish and leave the remaining bacon in the pot.  Add the butter, thyme, garlic, leek, celery, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes.

Add the reserved corn kernels and cobs, milk, and potatoes, cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are cooked, about 25 minutes.

Skim any foam off the top, add the green chile, and cook for 2 minutes.  Discard the cobs and the bay leaf.  Transfer 1 cup of the mixture to the blender and puree.  Stir the puree back into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and serve garnished with the basil and reserved bacon.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

I've been grilling since I was eight years old, when my father taught how to do it on an old, rusty, kettle-style barbecue unit using lump charcoal because briquets hadn't been invented yet.  It was very difficult to control the heat of the fire, so cooking chicken required constant attention or the result would be a blackened, unsavory mess.  So I learned how to constantly move the pieces of chicken around on the grill, turning them constantly because the fat from the chicken would cause the fire to flare up.
These days, with sophisticated gas grills, the process is a lot easier because the heat of the fire remains much more even.  You hear a lot of talk about how cooking over charcoal or charcoal with wood chips is a lot more flavorful than gas, but the truth is that most of the "barbecue flavor" results from the fat and juices of the meat that are vaporized upon contact with the flames or coals.  This is why grilled meats cooked in restaurants taste great, and restaurant cooks rarely, if ever, use charcoal or wood chips to flavor any kind of meat.  I've grilled and smoked foods outdoors using many different kinds of barbecue units, but in my opinion gas grills are the quickest and easiest of them all.
Back in the old days we didn't know much about marinating or using rubs to further flavor the meats we were grilling.  As outdoor cooking has evolved over the decades, we now, fortunately, have a wide variety of products and techniques to add both flavor and spice to our outdoor cooking.  Since I'm nicknamed "The Pope of Peppers," you can probably figure out that I like my grilled foods spiced up.  I'm not talking killer heat here, but just enough chiles to make the food a lot more interesting.  Here are two of my favorite summertime grilling recipes, and they prove that you don't have to be Bobby Flay to make some great barbecue!

Citrus-Marinated Grilled Chicken

The concept of marinating chicken in a spicy fruit juice and then grilling it originated in Mexico and is quite popular throughout the American Southwest. The chicken is served with warm corn tortillas, salsa, and a side of pinto beans. The chicken can be cut off the bones and eaten topped with the salsa, or rolled up in up in the tortilla with salsa, like a soft taco.  Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tomatillos, husks removed, chopped
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder or New Mexican red chile powder
2 small chickens, cut in half lengthwise or cut up into pieces
Bottled salsa of choice, or make your own pico de gallo
Corn tortillas

In a saucepan, saute the onion, garlic, and tomatillos in the oil until soft. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken, and simmer for 10 minutes. Place in a blender and puree to form a sauce.
Marinate the chicken in the sauce in a non-reactive bowl in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 3 hours.
Grill the chicken until done, basting frequently with the sauce.  Chicken is done when the internal temperature is 160 degrees F.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Grilled Corn with Spiced Butter

Why bother to heat up the kitchen and boil corn on the cob when you can use the grill and get even tastier results?  Spiced butters, also called compound butters, give corn a unique flavor dimension.  This one is based on Nitir kebe, an Ethiopian spiced butter that is an ingredient in many that country's dishes.  It certainly gives an exotic twist to a summertime favorite.  Be sure to buy ears with some of the stalk attached for a great handle.  The spiced butter freezes easily.  It's a good idea to have a spray bottle with water handy in case the husks start to burn. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

Spiced Butter

1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 teaspoon crushed chiltepins or pequins, or use ground cayenne chile
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 ears corn, husks and stalks attached

Allow the butter to soften at room temperature in a bowl and mix in all the ingredients for the spiced butter. Let sit for an hour to blend the flavors.

Remove any dried, brownish husks from the corn.  Pull back the husks, but don't remove completely,  and remove the silk. Soak the ears in cold water for 30 minutes to prevent the husks from burning.

Brush some of the butter on each of the ears and pull the husks back up over the ears and secure with string or a strip of corn husk.

Place on grill over a low fire, fairly far from the heat, and grill, turning often, for about 15 minutes.  
Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Hot 

Flay was flayed in the Green Chile Cheeseburger Throwdown held at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, New Mexico.  Flay flavored his cheeseburger not only with green chile, but wine vinegar, olive oil, "gourmet cheese" (whatever that is) and pickled onions.  The two judges, chile specialist Stephanie Walker from New Mexico State University and margarita expert Al Lucero, owner of Maria's Restaurant in Santa Fe, were not buying it.  They chose Bobby Olguin's burger over Flay's.  The story made the front page of the Albuquerque Journal on July 23 and the show will be repeated on the Food Network August 2.

Who makes the best Green Chile Cheeseburger, Bobby Flay or Bobby Olguin?  Or, maybe, just maybe, Gwyneth Doland and myself!  Tonight on the Food Network, on "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," Bobby Olguin of the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, New Mexico, goes up against Bobby Flay in a Green Chile Cheeseburger grill-off.  If you miss it, Food Network will repeat the show on August 2. That's Olguin on the left and Flay on the right.

In 2005, GQ Magazine rated the Buckhorn as having the seventh-best burger in America, so that gives some creds to Olguin, whose family has been doing this for many years. According to Olguin, his father, Mannie Olguin, built the Buckhorn in 1943. "Our liquor license dates back to 1918," he said. "It was transferred from my grandfather’s bar that used to be across the street."

While celebs like Flay get most of the attention, the Fiery Foods team just never gives up.  Click here to watch Gwyneth and myself grill Green Chile Cheeseburgers.  And click here for Gwyn's not-so-secret recipe.

Photo Credits:  Top, J. Clarson; Right, Sergio Salvador



10 tons of beef ... 4 tons of pasta ... 4 tons of calamari ... 2 tons of scampi ... plus 2 tons of fresh Christopher Ranch garlic ...More information here.

WHO Gilroy Garlic Festival

WHAT The 31st Annual "Ultimate Summer Food Fair"; three days of incredible food, arts and crafts, live entertainment, and cooking demonstrations.

WHERE Christmas Hill Park, Gilroy CA

30 miles south of San Jose off Highway 101


WHEN Friday, Saturday and Sunday
July 24 - 25 - 26, 2009 - always the last FULL weekend in July
Hours - 10:00am to 7:00pm with gates closing at 6:00pm each day

HOW Tickets -

Adult General Admission $12, Children (ages 6-12) $6 (under 6 - free), Seniors (60+) $6

Tickets: one per person, per each day attending.

Cash only is accepted at the gate. ATMs are available at most gates.

Advance tickets available online after June 1st at tickets.gilroygarlicfestival.com


The festival is held in a park. It is all outdoors with mostly turf and some compact dirt and asphalt walkways. There are natural shade trees, and many shade tents with tables and benches.

The admission price includes parking, musical entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and a children's area. Festival guests purchase food and beverages from the vendors. Prices range from $2 to $12 depending on the item, which is a full-size serving, not a sample.

Lodging, camping, and RV sites: www.gilroyvisitor.org

Parking is Free with a shuttle running from the parking lot to festival grounds.

Free secure bicycle parking is available on Miller Ave. at Yorktown Dr. just 1/2 block north of the levee.

Public transportation: www.vta.org

Gilroy is serviced Monday through Friday by CalTrain Commuter Service only. The train leaves Gilroy in the morning and does not return until the evening.

The Garlic Express Train sponsored by the Golden Gate Railroad Museum will not run in 2009.

General Aviators - If flying in to the area:
South County Airport, (E16)
13025 Murphy Ave., San Martin, CA 95046
(408) 683-4102 www.magnumaviation.com

For your comfort:
Wear comfortable shoes - walking on lawn, compact dirt, and asphalt.
Dress in layers - mornings could be foggy, afternoons are sunny.
Sport hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen - there's lots of garlic sunshine.

Handicapped and disabled access:
The parking lot is a graded agricultural field. Ask the lot attendant for directions to handicap parking. From there, guests will be shuttled to and from the gate. The festival grounds are mostly lawn, compact dirt, and asphalt. There are handicap restroom facilities in the parking lot and at the many restroom areas throughout the park. There are many shade tents with tables and benches throughout the festival grounds.

Please remember: Shirt and shoes are required.

Christmas Hill Park rules prohibit bringing the following items on Festival grounds:
◦ Alcohol of any kind
◦ Bottles, glass and cans
◦ Coolers - large or small
◦ Frisbees and water projecting devises
◦ Pocket knives and weapons of any kind.
If you bring any of these items listed above, leave them locked in your car.

Please be advised that the City of Gilroy park rules prohibit dogs and other animals from being brought into the park, except Guide Dogs, Seeing Eye Dogs & Service Dogs.

There are no kennel facilities available at the park.

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a celebration of food, fun and family. It is the Garlic Festival's policy to provide a safe, family-friendly atmosphere for all Festival patrons and volunteers. Therefore, the Garlic Festival refuses entry or admission to anyone wearing clothing or paraphernalia indicating or signifying membership in a gang, including a motorcycle club. This policy is applied equally to all persons, regardless of their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability or medical condition.

New Tabasco® Tequila

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: recipe , fiery foods , beverages

Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., the nation’s largest independent family-owned spirits supplier, has announced a licensing agreement with McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana, creator of Tabasco® brand Pepper Sauce, to produce Tabasco™ brand Spicy Tequila and has launched it in select markets.  It is now available in Dallas, Houston, Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina. They sent me a sample and I tried it straight up, licking salt off my hand, taking a sip, and licking a sliced lime.  I thought it was excellent, and the heat level is only about a one on a one-to-ten scale."We are tremendously excited about the prospects of Tabasco brand Spicy Tequila and this licensing agreement with McIlhenny Company," stated Heaven Hill Distilleries president Max L. Shapira. "Like our company, McIlhenny is family-owned and independent, so this is a partnership built on commonalities and mutual benefits." Paul McIlhenny,  who I interviewed for my video documentary, "Heat Up Your Life," added: "Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce and Tequila have been served together for a long time…it's a complementary taste combination that has been enjoyed all over the world."  Paul took really good care of the film crew when we stayed in one of his plantation mansions on Avery Island.  He personally made a crawfish boil for us, spiced up with guess what.


2 oz. TABASCO™ Spicy Tequila
1 oz. Orange Liqueur
2 oz. Lime Juice
Shake over ice and strain into salt-rimmed Margarita glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Bloody Maria

1 oz. TABASCO™ Spicy Tequila
2 oz. Tomato Juice
1 Dash Lemon Juice
1 Dash Celery Salt

Shake all ingredients with cracked ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass over ice cubes. Garnish with a lemon slice. For extra-hot Bloody Maria, substitute TABASCO® Bloody Mary Mix for tomato juice.

The media in New Mexico was all abuzz recently with the announcement that Peppers Cafe on the Plaza in historic Mesilla had petitioned Guinness World Records to certify its green chile cheeseburger as "the largest commercially available burger of its kind in the world."  The meat in the burger weighs one pound and the burger itself has a ten-inch diameter.  The general manager of Peppers Cafe, Jerry Harrell, noted for the record that some large cheeseburgers and hamburgers hold records in other parts of the U.S., but no such honor has ever gone to the green chile cheeseburger, which is served at hundreds of restaurants in New Mexico.  The burger consists of hand-ground beef from the Double Eagle's (its sister restaurant) aging room, topped with three roasted and peeled green chiles, pico de gallo salsa, a half-pound of Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar cheeses, and is served on a yeast roll bun baked at the Lujan Bakery in Las Cruces.  The burger sells for $18.25 and has stirred up a great amount of controversy.  Read some of the comments here.  For our recipe for this "gourmet treat," go here.  To watch Gwyn Doland and I cook two of them, go here.

Sonoma Organics, a division of Seco Spice Ltd. of  Berino, New Mexico, has announced the release of a new product to stabilize the heat levels of fiery foods products.  Until now, manufacturers have had to depend on imported, oil-based oleoresins, notes chemist Marlin Bensinger, who invented the process for making a water soluble chile extract.  The advantage of HydroCap is that it does not separate in water-based products such as salsas and hot sauces and does not change the flavor of the product.  Bensinger added that HydroCap is not designed to make superhot sauces but rather to be added to products of any heat level to increase or stabilize their heat levels as measured by the industry standard, Scoville Heat Units.  HydroCap is organic and kosher and is available in varying heat levels but most commonly 10,000 and 50,000 SHU with 100,000 SHU coming in the future.  For more information on HydroCap, send an email here.

VESTA: The Fire-Flavored Mead

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: fiery foods , beverages

Gwynne Spencer reports: "Mead was the first wine" is the motto of Bacchus Meadery.  Their new Vesta Mead takes on a unique red chile flavor that fires up your brain and taste buds. Named after Vesta, the goddess of the fire, this delightfully light and spicy mix of honey and whole red chiles is not sweet, as are many meads. Made only with pure Colorado honey from Mad Hava hives in Lyons, Colorado, and using an ancient formula of water, honey, and yeast, mead-making brothers Jason and Adam Kittel will soon begin taking orders for bottles and cases of Vesta as soon as they get this new flavor federally approved for their small meadery in Loveland, Colorado.

"Mead has always been linked with love, and so we located in Loveland," Jason admits. Mead was traditionally the drink for a month after marriage, to assure fertility and sons (thus the word  "honeymoon"). While Bacchus Meads take a little longer for birthing (4 months), they still have a delicate, non-sweet, non-cloying light clean taste, not chunky like some meads. The red chile flavor is unique to Bacchus.

"Now drink it just the way I tell you," advises Jason in his chile-red toga. "A little taste on your tongue, another little taste on the back of your tongue.....now shoot the rest of it all in one gulp and feel it on the back of your throat." An early morning taste-tester at the Mancos Renaissance Faire on June 28th smiles broadly, "Ahhhh.....mead for breakfast. It's what America needs." The heat in the mead comes from fresh whole red peppers resting in the mead, "like little tongues of fire." It lives up to its name, Vesta, whose sacred flames were kept alive for thousands of years.

At about $15 a bottle plus shipping (about $7), Vesta will be a great fall gift for balloonists and Bacchanalias. On their website, here, you'll also find: Stator, made from a very traditional mix of clover and wildflower honey; Priapus, a smoky sweet vanilla-and-maple mead made using a Celestial Seasonings tea; Cupid, with a bright "make you happy in the morning" cherry flavor with a dry start and a tart finish; Bellona, made with agave nectar begs for a sliced lime as an alternative to margaritas; Venus, an almond-tinged mead; Slascha, chocolate-spiced to warm your winter bones, and of course, Vesta, the chile-powered mead.

The Bacchus Boys will be offering taste testings at Castle Rock Wine Festival (July 25th), Palisade Pirate Festival (August 21), Breckenridge Wine Festival (September 5) and Colorado Mountain Wine Festival (September 19th). They are hoping to make it to this year's Fiery Foods show, too. For more information, call (303) 552-1987 or e-mail here.

Gwynne Spencer writes from her secret rebel base by the Mancos River under the watchful brow of Mesa Verde. Reach her here

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