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Dave's Fiery Front Page

Exploring the World of Spice and Smoke

With the publication of my new book with Paul Bosland, The Complete Chile Pepper Book, imminent, it makes sense to start featuring some recipes from it.  This one will help you use up some of those excess poblanos in your garden.

(Photo by Norman Johnson; food styling by Denice Skrepcinski)

Poblano Pepper Rings
Since poblanos make some of the tastiest chiles rellenos, it makes sense that they fry up deliciously. Why not dip these rings in guacamole?

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
3 cups vegetable oil
3 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeds and stems removed, cut into 1/4-inch rings
1 cup buttermilk

Combine the flour, salt, pepper and cayenne and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a plate.

Heat the oil in a large pan until it just begins to smoke, then lower the heat slightly. Take the poblano rings 4 at a time, dip them in the flour, shake off any excess, then dip them in the buttermilk and back into the flour. Drop them into the hot oil and fry until lightly browned.

Repeat with the rest of the rings and then drain on paper towels. Serve them warm.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Smoked Elk Ribs

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: smoking , personalities

My friend Chef Ethan Diness, who is a culinary instructor at Central New Mexico Community College, is also a barbecue aficionado who competes on the cookoff circuit.  A few days ago he asked if I would like some smoked elk ribs.  I only had to think about this for about a tenth of a second before I enthusiastically agreed.  They were absolutely delicious and I asked him for his method. 

Ethan responds here:

I was hired by the New Mexico MOTO-GUZZI riders club to cater an event this month.  As we discussed the menu details, the local state representative Matt Forslund and I talked about some elk Matt had at the time.  I chose a smoker full ribs and some venison.

I used my favorite off-set smoker which is well seasoned and started with half a charcoal chimney of lump-mesquite charcoal.  I then added my blend of woods to use : hickory, apple,and a small amount of plum wood.   After the smoker heated up to temp I added 9 racks of elk ribs which had my 5-X Rib Rub applied the night before.

I used a rib rack and smoked these racks for 4 hours at low heat, turning them each hour.  I then painted them with Weasel #9 sauce as the finish from the smoker.   I then gave them to Dave DeWitt and suggested he finish them at 190 F. in the oven for 3 hours in a small covered cooking vessel with beer added for moisture and flavor.  He did that but told me he ran out of beer and substituted a hearty red wine.

For information on : 5-X Rib Rub,OR Weasel #9 Sauce contact me via e-mail at asecondmeal@yahoo.com.


Wilbur Scoville invented the Scoville Organoleptic Test for measuring the heat in chile peppers while working for Parke-Davis pharmaceutical corporation in 1912 in Detroit.  But before then, he was a professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.  A librarian at the Henrietta Benedictis Health Sciences Library at the College was kind enough to track down and scan this photo from an early yearbook at the request of Lee Robinson, a video producer for Jupiter Entertainment, who needed it for a new chile pepper documentary (or reality show--who knows?) he's working on.  Hats are off to Lee, who accomplished a feat that I could not pull off.  Chile pepper history is a little more complete now.  This photo is circa 1909.  For related stories, go 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!

It's one of my favorite times of the year--the green chile harvest in New Mexico, with some fresh red chiles thrown in for good measure.  Many of us go to our favorite roadside stand--or supermarket for that matter, and buy a bushel or two of the fresh pods, have them roasted there in the cylindrical metal mesh roasters, and then take them home, peel them, remove the seeds and freeze the chile for later use.

That's all well and good for us lucky ones who live in New Mexico.  But what about the rest of the world that yearns for the good green stuff?  Well, thanks to modern technology, there are two simple solutions.  The first is to buy the pods roasted, peeled, and frozen.  A new source, which carries the 'NuMex 6-4 Heritage' and 'NuMex Big Jim Heritage' is the Biad Chili Company, here.

Another handy source is El Pinto, which sells jarred flame-roasted green chile.  I've eaten and cooked with this product dozens of times and it's simply great.  Order it here.

World's Earliest Pit Barbecue?

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: science , history

Remains of a 31,000 year-old mammoth and her calf have been discovered in excavations in the Czech Republic, reports Jiri Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno.  The meats were cooked luau-style underground.  Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around."  He believes that the central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits “was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."  The researchers also found many stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which were probably used to butcher the mammoths, which could weigh up to twelve tons.  This is the earliest evidence found so far that early man invented the techniques still used today in Hawaii to pit-roast whole hogs.  Contributing editor Mike Stines describes the technique in his article, here.

The whole hog luau.

In a related story, Neanderthals hunted mammoths and dried their flesh to make prehistoric jerky, reports Bent Sorensen, a researcher in the Department of Environmental, Social and Spatial Change at Roskilde University.  But, he said, "I do not know of any evidence for (them) using salt."  He believes that they boiled the meat first and then dried it.  "As for preparation, boiling is much more efficient and nutrient-conserving than frying, and evidence from more recent Stone Age settlements confirm that meat was boiled in ceramic pots or skin bags," he said. "However, it is still likely that frying over the camp fire was the usual method in Neanderthal communities, since no containers for boiling have been found."

Melanie Covers Garlic Fest!

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

By Bay Area Correspondent Melanie Yunk

At the Gilroy Garlic Festival recently, Kent and I made our way through Gourmet Alley and all the various food booths to look for lunch. We found many incredible options: garlic artichokes (another popular local vegetable), stir-fry chicken, calamari, wild boar on a stick, garlic salmon, garlic hot wings and so much more. We finally settled on Louisiana Jambalaya, Beer-Battered Garlic Crab Fries, Roasted Corn on the Cob (with garlic, of course) and a sampling of a delicious paella from Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme Catering made on-site in their giant 4-foot pans.

Full and happy, we needed to move around to work off our lunch. Ice cold beers in hand, we meandered through the artists' booths and found many fun and creative crafts by artisans from all over the world.  

Michael Loffler from Seattle's Hatterdashery sat at his antique Singer sewing machine crafting his handmade garlic hats, a very popular item at this event.

The French Garlic Grater is a useful and beautiful little plate invented in France and produced in Spain. Malin and Dan of MalDan Industries demonstrated their product before a packed booth. Their plates cost $22 each and are available here.

The Woodkins' veggie, fruit and flower characters (including a chile pepper) are designed by Linda Lebedowicz and hand-carved by her husband. Linda travels throughout California, Nevada and Arizona selling her designs. These entertaining and reasonably priced carvings range in price from $15 to $50 and can be purchased on their website.  Our biggest surprise at the show was the framed Antique Seed Packets. These seed packets were hand-lithographed 100 years ago and were never actually used. They were discovered in a basement where they lived for 100 years, untouched. The packets depict the many varieties and colors of flowers and vegetables that are considered extinct today. Because of the lithographic process, the art under magnification is three-dimensional. Simply amazing and beautiful--and reasonably priced too.  They are available here.

And one of the most fun parts of the Festival was that I got to canoodle with celebrity chef Fabio!

By the end of the day, we left the Festival, full of garlic, beer, and memorable images from the Garlic Showdown. We're already plotting our trip to the 32nd annual event and can't wait for next year.

I've already reported on the good green chile crop from the southern part of the state--coming two weeks earlier than usual.  That's the result of perfect weather--hot and dry--and just enough irrigation.  In fact, it's being called "ideal conditions."  But that doesn't mean that the chile will be cheaper.  Expect a slight price increase, although many vendors have vowed to keep the prices the same as last year.  Here in Albuquerque, the roasting has begun and the wonderful harvest aroma is spreading over the city.  Pat Romero, who owns The Fruit Basket in the North Valley said; "As far as flavor, as far as heat, it's a lot better than last year."  Some chile aficionados who roast their own on their gas grills throw roasting parties where they feast on freshly roasted chiles as if they were a snack food.  It is rumored that beer is often consumed--just to initially soothe the mouth, I hear.

New Mexico's State Vegetable is not a vegetable, of course.  Botanically it's a berry, and horticulturally it's a fruit.  It's often served with co-State Vegetable, pinto beans.  They're not a vegetable either, but rather a legume.  What were those state legislators thinking about when they passed those bills?  The real state vegetable is the number one farm crop--alfalfa.  But that's for cows and horses!

Am I a Food Elitist?

Posted by: Dave DeWitt

Tagged in: restaurants , lunch

A recent post entitled "How Restaurants Lose Customers," here, generated the most number of page views and comments so far on the new SuperSite Fiery Front Page launched last September.  In one of the comments, John Marks criticizes the post, which of course is his right to do.  But I'm going to briefly discuss his objections.

"What's the problem? Restaurants can serve soup from a can, a bag, powder, or made from scratch." I guess this is true if you like to eat at McDonalds.  I don't, and expect that a restaurant calling itself a "bistro" and offering a soup they call a "St. Clair signature" would make it from scratch.

"Just because you happen to know the brand they are supposed to give you the soup for free?" John misses the point.  I didn't want free soup, I wanted them to address why they were serving me canned soup.

"Here's a clue: restaurants charge more for what they sell than it costs them. It's called capitalism." Thanks for telling me something I never knew before:  that restaurant owners want to make a profit.

"Sure, you can buy the VERY SAME soup at the store, and so what? You are paying for the fuel to heat the soup, the dishwasher, the manager, the atmosphere, the waiter, and all the other things you can't get at home for your $1." Again, John misses the point.  I know all this and I have no objection to restaurants marking things up to make a profit.  But please, mark up the raw ingredients and the chef's time, not a processed soup from a can.

"What they did was neither illegal or unhealthy. You are just being a food elitist with a big ego." I've been called a foodie and a food expert, but never a food elitist.  Am I one, and if so, is this a bad thing?  One definition of elitism holds: "Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals are members of the elite—a select group of people with outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes."  Well, then, I guess I am a food elitist rather than a food populist who eats at Burger Doodle.  Jeez, I'm a sinner with a big ego too.  So sue me.

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

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