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Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke
Tags >> fiery foods

HPP at Garden Fresh Gourmet

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

HPP Screen

 

I have just returned from a mind-boggling visit to Garden Fresh Gourmet's processing plants in Ferndale, Michigan. The image above is the programming screen for their ultra-high tech processor called HPP, or High Pressure Processing. In order to increase the shelf of their refrigerated fresh salsa and other deli delights, Jack Aronson installed this $3.5 million machine that kills every known bacterium, virus, protozoan, and mold, but not by heating. It's pressure that does it. A careful look at the screen will reveal that the pressure setpoint is 80,548 pounds per square inch, which is the approximate equivalent of being three miles under the sea. Unbelievably, the plastic packaging used withstands the pressure! This treatment extends the shelf life of their salsa to 70 days refrigerated, but Jack tells me that it's more like 100 days. 

About 12 years ago, Jack had a Mexican restaurant in Ferndale and he came as an attendee to the Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and was inspired after tasting some fresh salsa. He started making fresh salsa and serving it to his customers and was soon supplying it to local supermarkets. Now Garden Fresh Gourmet is a $73 million dollar company and still growing at a furious pace. In fact, Jack has turned down acquisition offers from Nestle and Pepsico because he knows they would move his operation to other states and his 300 employees would be out of work. Jack still exhibits with us every year and enters the Scovie Awards. Garden Fresh has won more Scovies that any other company--a testament to high quality and hard work. For more information, go here.


Food Tech

Episode: Mexican

Thursday, February 11 09:00 PM

Friday, February 12 01:00 AM

Thursday, February 18 08:00 PM

Friday, February 19 12:00 AM

With Americans eating more than 85 billion tortillas a year, Mexican food is very popular. But did you know that a donkey is a key to great tequila? Ever wondered how many times they refry refried beans? And what do sound waves have to do with guacamole? Watch host Bobby Bognar as he travels south of the border to help an old artist make a classic Mexican cooking dish from volcanic rock. On the high seas, he'll try to keep his cookies in a rough and tumble hunt for mahi mahi. And he visits El Pinto's salsa processing plant in Albuquerque and talks with Jim Garcia and John and Jim Thomas, "The Salsa Twins" as they process their best-selling salsa. And he'll show us how a fruit that resembles a human brain becomes a classic Mexican after-dinner drink.

Rating: TVPG

Running Time: 60 minutes


'Piment Bouk' ChilesEditor's Note:  Our company, Sunbelt Shows, Inc. is joining forces with Bel Soley, Inc. to assist in rebuilding the Haitian economy.  I am urging my readers to contact Brian and render any assistance to this project that you can.

Brian Hays writes: I am the Chairman of Bel Soley, which is a company dedicated to development in Haiti by building for-profit enterprises for the sale of agricultural products domestically and for export. See www.belsoley.com. We have a U.S. distribution company based in Boston and a Haitian subsidiary that operates primarily in the southern part of the country (Les Cayes), with a country manager located in Port au Prince. [He and his family are OK.] We grow some of our own crops and buy other crops from small farmers. We started exporting mangos, breadfruit and hot peppers last year and were just ramping up our pepper exports when the earthquake hit. We are producing several thousand pounds of peppers a week now. Our hot peppers are habaneros from imported seed and the local hot pepper, a habanero variety called 'Piment Bouk'. Our target was to get to ship out 24,000 pounds per month by the end of the year. As you can imagine, all exports from the country have stopped for now. Port au Prince is the only real port of debarkation in Haiti. With the government destroyed and transportation over-burdened, we do not know when we can begin shipping again - although we are optimistic.
Haiti Pepper PlantationWe are selling our crops locally, but the current regional market is questionable and we don't know if the market can absorb the volume. Domestic distribution beyond the immediate locale is doubtful. Furthermore, our business model is based on export income. So you can see the problem.

It has always been part of our business plan to make a good quality and truly uniquely Haitian pepper sauce.  All the pepper sauce sold in Haiti now is either Tabasco or Louisiana Hot Sauce. We know there is a good domestic market and with something different and of good quality, there should be an export market as well. But our plan was to move into pepper sauce later this year, after our fresh pepper export business was better established. Because of the earthquake, we would like to accelerate our move into the sauce business. By making sauce or mash from the peppers, we will be able to save our crops and also begin to provide edible foodstuffs to the domestic market, which is already showing signs of food shortages. As I mentioned, mangos, papayas, bananas and pineapples are readily available as a base and we can easily grow carrots. We have or can grow a range of more exotic tropical fruits as well, including passion fruit, soursop, sapote, acerola (Barbados Cherry), tamarind and more as flavorings.

Depending on the cost, we believe that we have adequate capital to set up the hot sauce operation, including bottling.We think we have found away to import equipment into the country (by by-passing Port au Prince). What we we don't have is information and expertise. Starting a business is difficult in the best of circumstances (I know, have started quite a few), but in this chaotic environment where we know next to nothing about the new business, the only way we can off-set the risk is with good advice and good partners.

* We need recommendations of experts in the business that can advise us on the sauce making process, the bottling process and any other practical, basic opertaions;
* We need recommendations of experts in food safety (we intend to meet all HACCP requirements - not only to allay fears about products from Haiti, but because it is the right way to do things);
* We need recommendations of reliable, honest equipment vendors who will provide the right equipment - not too much or too little - and collateral expertise in setting up and operations.
* We need recommendations of US (or EU) importers of pepper sauce (and fresh peppers too, since we will be back in that business).
* Any other ideas, suggestions or sources of information would be also be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again for your time and willingness to help. We hope to turn a bad situation into something good. If we can get this done, we will have a few new, exotic pepper sauces from the fiery country of Haiti!

Brian

Brian J. Hays
Chairman, Bel Soley, Inc
703-421-9211 - home office
703-217-6251 - mobile


European Heat

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

 

A Pungent PastaheadWe are busy planning our May trip to Italy and England to promote The Complete Chile Pepper Book, which makes me think about how much both of those countries have heated up chile-wise in the past two decades.  Chile pepper growing, both commercially and as a hobby, has exploded, particulary in Italy.  In England, formerly the Land of the Bland, curry has taken over the culinary world and is the primary source of spicy food.  My good friend Pat Chapman, the King of Curries and I are planning an event called The King of Curries Meets the Pope of Peppers, and I will post more information as soon as the details are firmed up.  Meanwhile, I though you might enjoyed some stories and recipes about those two countries and their favorite spicy foods.  See the articles on spicy Italy, here and here and our 12-part series A World of Curries is here.

 


Amazingly Versatile Chipotle Paste

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

I think I've died and gone to chile heaven because my new alliance with MexGrocer.com is proving to be very tasty, indeed.  Here's the deal: in return for writing posts to their blog, here, Nacho Hernandez, who runs the day-to-day operation of MexGrocer, sends me just about any product (they carry about 1,500) I want in order to evaluate it.  Recently he sent me the entire product line of chile pastes from MexiChefs that included chipotle, ancho, pasilla, chile de árbol, and guajillo.  My intention is to try them all, but I got stuck on the chipotle paste.


First I made a simple grilling sauce using butter, chipotle paste, red wine, and garlic powder and simply basted a pork chop while grilling it.  The result was delicious:

Well, that was easy, so I just put the paste in the refrigerator, where it stores nicely in its plastic tub.  A few days later I roasted a chicken and there were plenty of droppings left.  I scraped them out of the roasting pan, put them in the freezer and later removed the congealed fat.  I added homemade chicken stock, some flour dissolved in water and made a gravy.  I further thickened it with the chipotle paste and served the resulting gravy over garlic mashed potatoes.  Later, I wanted to spice up some baked potatoes, so I just mixed the paste half and half with butter and in 15 seconds I had one of the best toppings I've ever tasted.  Get the idea?  Order this great paste here--it will make your cooking life a lot easier!  One pound, which will last forever, is just $7.95!



How Restaurants Lose Customers

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: restaurants , recipe , lunch , fiery foods

July 30, 2009

I went to one of my favorite Albuquerque restaurants, St. Clair Winery & Bistro, for lunch and because of what happened, and how I was treated, I will never return.  Before I explain the details, let me say that I am a huge supporter of local restaurants.  For example, I have eaten lunch at The Quarters on Yale about once a week for 35 years.  More about that later.

Today, at the other restaurant, I ordered the soup of the day and a salad.  The salad was wonderful but I had a problem with the soup.  It wasn't the server's fault, so I asked to speak to the manager.  He came over to the table and I introduced myself as the producer of the National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show and the author of more than thirty cookbooks.  He knew who I was.

“I like your restaurant and eat here often,” I told him,  “and I also visit your other restaurant in the southern part of the state.  But when I go to a restaurant, I don't expect to be served soup out of a can.”

His face fell.  Busted!  “What do you mean?”  he asked.

“This soup is Wolfgang Puck's Italian Wedding Soup.  I know because I've eaten it more than a dozen times, and we can buy it for a dollar a can at Big Lots.”

He blushed beet red.  “Uh, sometimes we don't make everything from scratch,” he stammered.  “But we do add stuff to it like wine.”

“Food service products are one thing because the consumer can't buy them,” I explained.  “But a famous chef's soup from a can, heated up for four times the price, is not acceptable.”

“Sorry about that,” he said, backing away.  When I got the check, the soup was still on it.  I paid the bill, thanked and tipped the server and left, never to go back.

What should the manager have done?  At the very least, taken the offending soup off the bill.  At the most, comped the meal, given me a certificate for another lunch, and agreed to take canned soup off their menu.  But he didn't do any of these—obviously an incompetent manager.

Now why have I eaten at The Quarters more than 1,700 times?  Because Connie Nellos knows how to run a restaurant.  The food is good, with substantial portions.  They pour a generous drink.  The servers are well-trained and very nice people.  My wife was a bartender there in the '70s, working her way through graduate school and she made good money.  And Connie takes care of his customers.

One time at lunch at the Quarters, my wife reached for her coat and a splinter from the rough, wooden wall got embedded painfully under her fingernail.  Connie came over, apologized, and said he would take care of all the medical expenses, which was essentially a trip to the emergency room at Presbyterian.  He was a man of his word and paid the bill I gave him later.

That's just one example of what keeps customers coming back.  Food made from scratch is another.

So, how hard is it to make Italian Wedding Soup from scratch?  You decide, from the following recipe, which, of course, I have spiced up.

Spicy Italian Wedding Soup

This Italian-American dish is popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The term “wedding soup” is a mistranslation of the Italian language, minestra maritata (“married soup”), which is a reference to the fact that green vegetables and meats go well together.

1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup minced Italian parsley
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
Garlic hot sauce, such as Tabasco®, to taste

In bowl, combine the meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese, basil and onion powder; shape into 1/2 inch balls.

In large saucepan, heat the broth to boiling; stir in parsley, orzo pasta, chopped carrot, and the meatballs. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook at slow boil for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Add the hot sauce, stir, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Varies



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


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