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Nancy’s Fiery Fare:
Sweet Heat for Your Valentine
by Nancy Gerlach, Fiery-Foods.com Food Editor
Recipes in this Issue:
Cascabel Caramel Turtles
Peppery Popcorn Candy
Habanero Cashew Brittle
Rum Raisin Red Chile Truffles
Chocolate Chile Almond Cookies
February 14th, Valentine’s Day, is the one day of the year that has been set aside for expressing your feelings to the people you love. Throughout history there have been a number of love- related meals or feasts celebrated on that date, including the pagan Feast of Lupercalia, and the Roman holiday honoring Juno, the goddess of women and marriage. There have also been a number of men named Valentine that have claimed to be part of the origin of the holiday. In fact, the special day as we know it was named after the Christian martyr St.Valentine.
St. Valentine’s story occurred around 269A.D. during the reign of Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel. This was a man who waged many bloody and unpopular campaigns and, after a time, had difficulty recruiting soldiers. He reasoned that men didn’t want to serve in his army because they didn’t want to leave their families, so he decreed that all marriages in the empire were dissolved. In opposition to this decree, a popular priest named Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. When Claudius discovered this secret, he had Valentine imprisoned. While in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her love letters which he signed "From Your Valentine." This further enraged Claudius who then ordered him to be beheaded. You could say that Valentine lost his head for love. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 a day to honor St.Valentine and the day became associated with the union of lovers under conditions of duress.
The tradition of exchanging cards on St. Valentines Day began during the Middle Ages. The giving of flowers to attract the attention of a new partner also originated in Europe. Over the years, sweets and candy were added to the list of popular Valentine gifts. And of all the sweets, chocolate became the most popular. Maybe because it is supposed to be an aphrodisiac or just because almost everyone seems to love it, chocolate has become the overwhelming favorite Valentine gift.
Since we all love chiles, and most everyone likes sweets of some sort, I’m proposing combining the two for Valentine’s Day. This may sound strange, but the combination of chiles and sweets goes back to the Mayas, who flavored their hot chocolate with fiery chiles and honey. Today, hot sweets are becoming more available, but as someone once said, the sweetest gifts are the ones you make yourself. So the following are some recipes to heat up your Valentine’s Day. Yes, these require a little more work than just going to the local candy store and buying a heart shaped box of chocolates, but isn’t the love of your life worth it?
Cascabel Caramel Turtles
The word cascabel means rattle in Spanish and this full-flavored dried chile probably received its name due to its shape and the fact that its seeds rattle around when you shake it. These turtles are like no others you’ve tasted before, hot as well as sweet. This recipe is from the book Sweet Heat by Melissa Stock and Dave DeWitt, Ten Speed Press.
24 soft caramels
2 tablespoons frozen whipped topping
Butter flavored vegetable cooking spray
72 pecan halves
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
8 cascabel chiles, stems and seeds removed, finely crushed
In a microwave safe mixing bowl, combine the caramels and whipped topping and cook on 50 percent power for 45 seconds. Remove the bowl, stir, and place back in the microwave. Continue this process in 10-second increments until the mixture has melted and is smooth and well blended. Let the mixture cool slightly.
Spray a cookie sheet lightly with the cooking oil. Place the pecan halves on the pan in groups of 3, arranged so that each pecan group forms a "Y" shape. These form the turtle’s head and legs. Carefully spoon the caramel mixture over each, leaving the ends of the pecans showing. Set aside until the caramel has hardened.
Place the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl. Cook in the microwave on 50 percent power for 45 seconds, remove and stir, and repeat the process in 10-second intervals until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the cascabels and let the chocolate mixture to cool slightly.
Spoon the melted chocolate over the caramel, being careful not to cover the exposed ends of the pecans.
Set aside until hard, then store in a covered container in a cool place.
Yield: 2 dozen
Heat Scale: Medium
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