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Radio Kitchen

Every Tuesday morning at 8:35 WYPR listeners are treated to a tasty serving of culinary advice on "Radio Kitchen".  Hosts Al Spoler and Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen offer up-to-date advice on the best in local ingredients, cooking techniques, recipe ideas and gadgets for the kitchen.

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Boy, there's a lot of pumpkins out there.   This time of year, everywhere you go, you see big old orange pumpkins laying all over the place.   Now I'm sure that some of these are going to be made into jack O' Lanterns, but that only accounts for a small percentage.  So what are people doing with all these pumpkins?

First of all, you have to pick the right kind of pumpkin for cooking.   Big Jack o' Lantern pumpkins are for decoration, not eating.   But the little pumpkins that are available at markets, road-side stands and markets are ideal for eating.   Generally, their texture is less stringy and the sugars are much higher.  Here are some great varieties for cooking:

    Baby Pam:  ideal for pies.
    Peek-a-Boo:  a smaller pumpkin with smoother rind, good for pies.
    Long Pie:  a longer shape, very smooth flesh, one of the best for pies.
    Small Sugar:  great for pumpkin soup.   
    Sugar Baby:  one of the best all-purpose cooking pumpkins, easy to find.

If you are looking to make a pie, you can count on getting enough filling for two 8" pies from one good sized eating pumpkins. 

Here's a good recipe:
       
                PUMPKIN PIE FILLING

2 cups of pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs plus yolk of a third egg
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 ground nutmeg
1/4 ground cloves
1/4 ground cardamom
1/2 tsp lemon zest

1.  To make the puréed filling, start with a small to medium sugar pumpkin.  Cut the stem and scrape out the insides.  Cut the pumpkin in half and lay the cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Bake at 350 until fork tender, which will take about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove and cool and scoop out the flesh with an ice cream scoop.  Run the flesh through a food mill to smooth it out.

2.  Mix sugar, salt, spices and zest in a large bowl.  Beat the eggs and add to the bowl. Stir in the pumpkin puree.  Stir in cream and mix it all together thoroughly.

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October 22, 2013   #1205   Memories of Spain

A few weeks ago I was able to spend some time in Spain, which was a first for me.   I absolutely fell in love with it.   Of course I very conscientiously tasted all the good Spanish wine I could find, but I also ate a lot of wonderful Spanish food.

The one ubiquitous dish I saw in the tapas bars was the potato omelet.   This tasty item is quite filling, so a little slice will do you.

                 Potato Omelet

2 lbs russet potatoes
olive oil
12 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper

1.  Peel the potatoes and slice very thin.  Rinse to remove surface starch.  Drain and dry.

2.  In a large deep skillet, warm the oil over medium heat.  Add the potato slices and fry slowly, stirring often to make sure all of the slices are cooked.  Cook until all the potatoes are soft.  Drain off the oil and season the potatoes with salt and pepper.

3.  Pour the eggs over the potatoes.  Heat oil in a second skillet, large enough to hold all the potatoes.  When it is hot, add the potato mixture.  Allow the bottom to set over a high flame, then reduce heat.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Flip the omelet by turning it out onto a plate, then slip it back into the skillet, uncooked side down.

Cook over high heat for a few minutes, then reduce and cook for another 5 minutes.  The omelet may be served either hot or cold.

Peppers make their way into Spanish cooking quite a bit.   These little stuffed peppers were easy to find in tapas bars.   They are best warm, but not too bad cold, either.                     

              Stuffed Peppers

1 medium onion, finely minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and minced
oil
12 oz. ground beef
2 oz. butter
2 oz. all purpose flour
meat broth
1/2 tbs cumin
1/2 tbs paprika
20 small red peppers

1.  Sauté the onion and jalapeno peppers in a little oil until they are cooked tender. 

2.  Add the meat and cook over a low heat. 

3.  In a second skillet, make a medium brown roux with the flour and butter. Add the meat mixture and a little broth to moisten the roux.  Stir well.  Add the salt, pepper and seasonings.

4.  Cut off the top of the peppers, and clean out the seeds.  Stuff them with the meat mixture and secure the top with toothpicks.  Fry them in oil in the skillet until the peppers soften.  Transfer to paper towels, and serve.

 

We had soup at nearly every meal.  Near the Portuguese border, the soup with bases on chicken broth with garbanzo beans and potatoes worked into it.  Further east we had another variation of garbanzo bean soup, this one with spinach and chorizo added.
   
                Garbanzo Bean Soup

olive oil
8 oz. chopped chorizo sausage
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
2 sticks celery, finely diced
1 lb fresh or frozen spinach, coarsely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 18 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 pints beef broth
1 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1/2 cup cured ham, serrano or prosciutto finely chopped
2 egg yolks

1.  Pour olive oil into a skillet, and fry the chorizo until it renders its fat.  Then add the onion, garlic and celery.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

2.  Remove lid and add the spinach, tomatoes, garbanzo beans, the broth and the wine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for one hour.

3.  Puree very briefly with a submersible blender, so that about 2/3 of the vegetables remain intact.  Season with salt and pepper, and add the chopped ham.  Drop the egg yolks into a cup with a little of the soup to temper it, then drop it into the pot, and stir.  Cook again for about 3 minutes over low heat.  Optional garnishes include grated manchego cheese or crumbled hard boiled egg.
   

The best meal I had was at Madrid's celebrated Zalacain restaurant.  The main course was grilled rack of lamb, a vegetable medley and patatas souflées.

Here are recipes for all three:


                Wood Grilled Rack of Lamb

A simple idea:  collect slivers of oak or any other fragrant wood.  Add them to the charcoal of your grill, or put them in a little wire basket if you have a propane grill.   Clean the ribs, but leave the fat and extra meat on the bones.   Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.    Place the rack meat side down at first, on a high grill over the flames.   Keep the rib bones furthest away from direct heat.   Allow the fat to drip on the burning wood, creating a flavorful smoke.   Turn every two minutes and roast until you have an internal temperature of about 135 for medium. 

                 Vegetable Medley 

1 lb potatoes
1 lb eggplant
1 lb zucchini
6 cloves garlic
2 red peppers
8 oz. olive oil
salt and pepper
6 tsps flour
1 tbs lard
8 oz. tomato sauce

1.  Prepare the vegetables.  Peel and wash the potatoes and slice thinly.  Cut the eggplant into 3/8 inch slices, and soak in salted water for 30 minutes.  Cut the zucchini into 3/8 inch slices.  Peel the garlic cloves and flatten with a knife.  Cut the peppers across-wise into 1/2 inch slices.

2.  Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Fry the potatoes first until they are tender, but not brown.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove and set aside.  Next, fry the zucchini and the red peppers.  Season.  As they become tender, add the crushed garlic cloves, and cook briefly.  Set all aside in a separate bowl.

3.  Pat the eggplant slices dry, and coat with flour.  Fry them as well until they are just starting to turn brown, then set aside.

4.  Assemble the ingredients in a well greased baking dish, potatoes on the bottom, then the eggplant.  Pour the tomato sauce on the vegetables, than line the border of the dish with the zucchini slices and nest the peppers and garlic in the middle.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes.


                    Patatas Soufflés

2 medium Idaho or russet potatoes
two skillets of peanut or canola oil
salt and pepper

1.  Wash the potatoes. Cut the ends off, then slice off the sides.  You want to leave a block of potato about 1 1/2" by 1 1/2" by about 3".  Use a mandolin to cut very thin. (2-3 mm) slices (less than an eighth of an inch).  The resulting slices should be about the size of a large postage stamp.  Do not rinse the potatoes.

2.  Preheat the oil in the first skillet to 275.  Drop the potato pieces into the hot oil individually.  Stir actively with a wire skimming ladle.  The potatoes will start to puff up as they delaminate.

3.  Pre-heat oil in the second skillet to 350.  As soon as all the potatoes are puffy, transfer them with the wire ladle to the hotter oil.  Tap them down under the surface of the oil.  They should puff up fully almost at once.  Continue cooking until the potatoes begin to brown up.  Remove with the ladle and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle sea salt on them, and serve immediately.

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It's prime time for squash and pumpkins, and if you're not gobbling down your fair share of butternuts, you may soon be carving up that Halloween pumpkin.   And all of that means you'll be looking at a big mess o' seeds.   And that always gives rise to the thought, "Should I try to plant these and grow my own?"

Jo Cosgrove is the resident gardener at the Waterfront Kitchen.   One thing she has learned about planting squash seeds is that you never know what you're going to get.   The problem is this:  the squash vine does have a flower that is at the heart of its reproductive system.   The blossom must be pollinated in order to produce the squash, but the blossom is open-minded about its suitor.   Any old squash pollen will do, from any old kind of squash.   So the zucchini in the back of the garden may be holding hands with the butternut 30 yards away.   The results of such genetic promiscuity isn't always pretty.   Hapless hybrids are almost always disappointing offspring, with none of the parent's better qualities.   So, if you are going to have squash, and you want to re-plant the seeds, go with only one kind.  Otherwise, don't flinch at spending a few bucks on seed packets every spring.

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October 8,2013   #1203   Summer and Winter Squash Together

We're in a transitional period at the market these days.   The flood of the late summer harvest is still with us, and the produce of autumn is starting to roll in.   When it comes to squash, this is the best of times, because we still have the yellow crooknecks and green zucchinis of summer and the butternut and acorn squash of fall.   It's time to mix and match.

The simple difference between summer and winter squash is the skin.   Summer squash has a thin, edible skin.   Winter squash is thick, tough and unappetizing.   Furthermore, the winter squash tends to keep much longer than its summery counterpart.   Some folks even recommend giving your winter squash several weeks off the vine to mature.

A lot of us have been grilling our summer squash for months now, so we can start throwing some winter squash on the grill too.   The higher levels of sugar mean that it is easier to caramelize a butternut than a zucchini, but the density of the meat means it's wise to parboil the squash beforehand to tenderize it.

Somewhere in between summer and winter squash is the patty pan squash, which has a slightly thicker skin, but is still very tender, and very flavorful.   There are many options for cooking them.

-slice them flat-wise, toss with olive oil and grill them
-cut them up and simply boil until tender; serve with butter, salt and pepper
-cut them up and add them to a stir-fry (they go in early because they do take a while to cook)
-although they are flat, the bigger ones can still be stuffed... and be sure to incorporate any of the flesh that you scoop out into your stuffing
-small ones are ideal for pickling

Spaghetti squash is a very novel and fun vegetable to work with.   One disadvantage is that the skin is tough, so be careful if you are going to cut it length-wise with a knife.   Once cut, you place it rind side up on a baking tray, and bake it for about an hour at 350.   As you scrape the flesh out with a fork, it becomes very stringy, just like spaghetti.   Press the squash with a paper towel to get rid of excess liquid, then hit it with your favorite tomato sauce.

The acorn squash seem to have been designed for stuffing.   Again, it has a very tough rind, so be careful cutting it in half.   Once you do, scoop the seeds and membrane out, and cook it face down for about an hour in a moderate oven.   When it is tender, you can fill it with the stuffing (which you may need to cook separately) and place it under the broiler for a quick toasting.

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That little welcome nip in the air signals the onset of my favorite time of the year:  The Fall.   Appetites are sharpened, produce is available in abundance, and it's just chilly enough to make a steamy bowl of soup seem like manna from heaven.   Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen loves a good bowl of soup this time of the year.   Here are a few of his favorites:
   
                       Julia Child’s Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients:

1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 pound
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
2 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 to 1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream

Directions:

Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. (Alternately, tie 2 leek leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme together in a piece of cheesecloth.)

Using a sharp knife, halve the white part of the leek lengthwise and rinse well under cold running water to rid the leek of any sand.

Slice thinly crosswise and set aside.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat.

Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes, salt and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful.

Remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Alternately, if you own an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot.) Stir in the creme fraiche and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately, with some of the snipped chives sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup.

                                       Italian Tomato & Swiss Chard Soup
Ingredients:

½ cup olive oil
2 large yellow onions, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch dice
10 cloves garlic, cleaned and sliced thin
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
32 oz. San Marzano tomatoes, if fresh, peeled or you can use canned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb Swiss Chard, cleaned, thick ribs removed and roughly chopped
½ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
Salt & crushed red pepper to taste
Very good extra virgin olive oil
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

In a large soup pot set over medium heat, warm the oil until just smoking. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook about 5 minutes more.

Add the zest and juice of the lemon and the wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by half.

Add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer the soup for 30 minutes.

Add the Swiss Chard and Basil and cook for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and crushed red pepper.

Serve immediately with a drizzle of very good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

                                     Corn Chowder

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups water
4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
3 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
5 cups fresh corn cut from the cob
Roux to thicken – 2oz. bacon fat & 2 oz flour cooked together
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Place diced bacon in large stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook until almost crisp; add onions, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in water and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
Pour in half-and-half, butter and corn. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the soup is hot. Do not allow to boil. Stir in the parsley and serve.



                                       Classic Chicken Noodle Soup
Ingredients:

4 cups chicken stock, home made or store bought
3/4 cup diced onion
3/4 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 ounces dried egg noodles, cooked to al dente
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Lemon halves, for serving

Directions:

Bring stock to boil for 2 minutes in a large, non-reactive stockpot with lid on, over high heat. Add onion, celery, and garlic. Lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add noodles and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and add herbs and salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with lemon halves and add squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

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September 24,2013   #1201    Sausage and Brats for the Tailgate

Finally, football season is in full swing.   The college teams are going at it, and the Ravens are looking to repeat.  One of the best traditions about football is the tailgating party, a portable food fest that is long on manly cooking.   And at the heart of many a tailgate, is a grill filled with sausage and brats.

We're recommending that you put together a sausage mixed grill at your next tailgate,  whether you're at home or at the stadium.  You're going to need as many different sausages as you can find, plus an assortment of high quality rolls and buns.   Be sure to stock up on your condiments.   This is the best reason in the world to go out and buy all sorts of exotic mustards, ketchups, horseradish spreads and wild and crazy mayo, plus every kind of pickle known to man.   Don't neglect the vegetable side of things, especially every combination of peppers, onions, garlic and sauerkraut you can think of.   And don't forget bacon.   You can never go wrong just having a plate of  bacon on hand.   Don't tell people what to do with it.   They'll figure it out for themselves. 

Do not skimp on your tailgate.   This is the time to spend some money, and spend until it hurts.   The tailgate is the melting pot that cooks up the deepest friendships.

Here's a rundown of some of our favorite sausages, with some comments:

Brats (bratwurst) are a mixture of pork and veal, lightly spiced.   Fairly light in color, beer brats are a staple.   The idea is to cook your brats in beer, with whatever else you want to throw on them.   A couple tips:  brown the brats in oil first, and never pierce the brat with a fork.   Let the beer mixture cook down and thicken up, and you can season it to your tastes, and use it as an "au jus."

Knackwurst is a fat, little red sausage, made with pork and beef, spiced with a lot of garlic and a good dose of seasoning.   They look like a fat hot dog.   Often small enough to serve on a hamburger roll, with sauerkraut and mustard.

Weisswurst is a very pale, white sausage, made with very finely chopped veal and back bacon.   Of the wursts, it is the mildest, but it also serves as a blank canvas for imaginative condiments.   Traditionally, weisswurst is eaten before noon, which times us perfectly with the tailgate experience.

Italian sausage:  very well spiced, cooked in beer; served on an extra large hotdog bun.   The full experience calls for you to cook up a mixture of red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers, along with a few cut up (and de-seeded) jalapenos, a mess of sliced sweet yellow onions, simmered in a mustard, horseradish and beer sauce.   Be sure to serve the pepper mix with a slotted spoon to keep juice off the bun.   Have every kind of condiment available.

A southern style barbecue sausage involves grilling plain old pork sausage, then slathering it up with your favorite barbecue sauce.  Very simple.   The sausage is done when it is no longer soft but firm to the touch.   Also, let it rest a few minutes before serving.  Serve with corn on the cob and slaw.

The famous andouille sausage of Louisiana is 100% pork plus a lot of garlic and onion blended in.   A lot of andouille is sold pre-cooked and smoked but you can get them un-cooked.   Of course, you can toss them onto the grill or into the simmering beer bath, but you'll do best by the andouille if you contrive to smoke it somehow.   We think while an andouille is pretty good on a bun, it really shines as the standout ingredient in a nice jambalaya.

Finally, a few strategic tips for a successful tailgate.   First, prepare the night before and get everything ready in plastic bags.   Do not get messed up the night before.   You'll thank yourself on Game Day.   So be good and go to bed early.   Sleep in your oldest team jersey.   On game day, have a small but filling breakfast.   Coffee , toast and scrambled eggs is perfect.   Lay off the bacon and sausage because you'll get all you can in just a few hours.   Give yourself twice as much time as you think you will need.   And make sure you have a reliable heat source for your grill.

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September 17,2013   #1152   The Big Apple Season

As many people know, the early Spring weather threw harvest timings into a cocked hat, and everything seems to be universally three weeks behind this year.   But the emblem of the Fall Harvest is with us now, and we can't wait to start munching away on a crisp new apple.   And according to Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen, there's an awful lot we can do with these jewels of the orchard.

Here are two of Jerry's favorite recipes:
                   
                    APPLE CHUTNEY   

INGREDIENTS

2 large tart cooking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
(you can use red wine or balsamic vinegar for a more savory chutney)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp grated orange peel
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

METHOD

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir well. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover and simmer over low heat for a few minutes more to cook off excess liquid; let cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.  Makes about 2 cups.

                            APPLE BUTTER
                (ADOPTED FROM SIMPLY RECIPES)

INGREDIENTS

4 lbs of good cooking apples (I like to use Granny Smith or Gravenstein)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Sugar (about 4 cups, see cooking instructions)
Salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

Equipment Needed                                                                                                                

1 wide 8-quart pan (Stainless steel or copper with stainless steel lining)                     
A food mill or a chinois sieve                                                                                                         
A large (8 cup) measuring cup pourer                                                                

METHOD                                                        

1. Cut the apples into quarters, without peeling or coring them (much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor in the peels), cut out damaged parts.                                            

2. Put them into large pot, add the vinegar and water, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cook until apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Measure out the purée and add the sugar and spices.                                                           

3.  Ladle apple mixture into a chinois sieve (or foodmill) and using a pestle force pulp from the chinois into a large bowl below. Measure resulting puree. Add 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple pulp. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add a dash of salt, and the cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, lemon rind and juice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.                                                   

4. Cook uncovered in a large, wide, thick-bottomed pot on medium low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust is not forming at the bottom. Cook until thick and smooth (about 1 to 2 hours). A small bit spooned onto a chilled (in the freezer) plate will be thick, not runny. You can also cook the purée on low heat, stirring only occasionally, but this will take much longer as stirring encourages evaporation. (Note the wider the pan the better, as there is more surface for evaporation.)

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September 10, 2013   #1151   Peppers

So, are you looking for a little something to spice up your cooking?   Well, fortunately you're in the right place at the right time, because Maryland is awash with peppers these days.   And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of the Waterfront Kitchen agrees, if you want to talk about a spectrum of choices, nothing gives it to you like peppers.

At the heart of the pepper story is the Scoville Scale of Pepper Heat.   Developed back in the 1890's, the scale measures how much water it takes to overcome the taste of a pepper's capsaicin.   For a mild banana pepper it's 100 units.   For a fairly piquant pepper like a Jalapeno it's something like 3,000 units.   A fiery Cayenne notches 40,000.   But wait!   The Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers push the scale up to tongue-searing 300,000 units.

But it gets even worse:  two peppers, the Trinadad Scorpion and the Indian Naga Jolokia measure a volcanic 1,000,000 plus units Scoville.   For those who dare, you can find these super-super hot peppers here in Maryland.

Here are some others that we've spotted lately, going from mildest to hottest:

MILD:
The Bell peppers ...green, red, yellow and orange
Banana peppers
Anaheim
The agreeably hot Poblano and Ancho peppers

MEDIUM HOT
:
The Jalapeno
The Fresno
The medium hot Serrano and its dried version, the Chipotle
The heirloom variety Fish pepper

VERY HOT:
The fiery Yellow Caribe
The Hungarian Wax (which looks a lot like a banana pepper, so be careful)
The Asian Hot, and the Cayenne pepper, which look alike
The shorter red Tabasco pepper

NUCLEAR OPTION:
The Habanero and its cousin the Scotch Bonnet
The Ghost Peppers
Caribbean Scorpion

To avoid serious consequence, you need to know how to handle a pepper:  rubber gloves, goggles sometimes even a mask are required!   We're not kidding around here!

Here's the low-down on cleaning them:  the heat is primarily in the membranes and seeds...but it's the membranes that count.   The flesh contains a small amount of capsaicin:  it's in the little blisters on the inside of the fleshy wall.   The flesh on most peppers has a mild flavor.   If you take away all the membranes, there isn't that much flavor left.

Here's an idea on how to work with ultra hot peppers:  you can use a fork to prick the sides of a habanero, drop it into your chili or stew and pull it out when its done its work.   Or you can cut up a pepper, put it in a little cheesecloth bag, like a bouquet garni, and pull it out when your food is hot enough.

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September 3,2013   #1150   Soft Shell Crabs

For the fans of the mighty Blue Crab, this is prime-time, baby!   As far back as last Spring we've been dreaming about the day when all the Bay's crabs would be getting fat and juicy, and that day is upon us.   And Chef Jerry Pelligrino of Waterfront Kitchen, there are a lot of people who love their steamed crabs, encrusted with that good Old Bay seasoning... but a sizable subset of that group also loves their soft shells.

I met PJ Hambleton, a waterman who works near St. Michaels.  He runs a soft-shell business, and to tell the truth it's wonderfully lo-tech and thoroughly Maryland.

His favorite approach to eating them is simple.   Clean them and lift the flaps to cut away the "deadman," or gills.   Dip them in egg-wash, then in flour loaded with salt and pepper, and fry them up in a little butter in a good old cast iron skillet.   Serve with lettuce and tomato and a dab of tartar sauce, and you are good to go.

Another favorite approach comes from Chef David McCallum of the Tilghman Island Inn.   He likes to whip up a light beer-based tempura batter, dip the crabs in that, and then cook the crabs in a deep fat fryer.   Now his trick is to lay the belly of the crab over a big wooden spoon and let the legs dangle down in the hot oil.   In just a couple minutes they are done and the legs are frozen in place, which means that it makes a neat little basket when you lay the crab on its back on the plate.   You can lay anything into that little basket that your heart desires.   Chef David's trick is to sauté some julienned squash and carrots and tuck them away.

You can grill soft-shell crabs with a little bit of care.   Clean them in the ordinary way, then douse them well with olive oil.   Place them on their backs on a low-to-medium hot grill and turn them about every two minutes.   When they are that familiar orange color, they are done.   At this point your crab is a plain-Jane, so you should whip up a traditional Chesapeake Bay Summer Salsa to serve with them.   Use any combination you want of corn, peppers, onions, peaches and herbs in a nice olive oil, balsamic vinegar and your favorite seasonings.   Serve it all on a bed of shredded local lettuce and you've got a winner.

Since the entire soft-shell crab is edible, it's often served in a sandwich.   One thing you can do to introduce some seasonings and extra texture is to coat it with corn-meal.   To do this, you'll want to whip up a good egg wash, and sprinkle the cornmeal with salt and pepper, plus whatever else strikes your fancy:  cayenne pepper, paprika, fines herbes, curry powders or hickory smoked salt can really dress up the flavor profile.

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August 27, 2013   #1149   Rice Basics

All summer long we've been dabbling in exotic cuisines that feature the use of a lot of fresh vegetables, particularly Indian and Mid Eastern.   One other thing they have in common is the use of rice as the supporting starch for a lot of their dishes.   Coming from a childhood of Uncle Ben's Converted Rice, Al has had a lot to learn, and thanks to his cousin's Persian husband, Cherveen, he has been able to climb the learning curve.   As Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Waterfront Kitchen says, once you learn the basics of preparing rice, it's pretty simple and very satisfying.

One of the most common ways of enjoying rice is to use it in a risotto.   This classic Italian dish takes full advantage of rice's tendency to convert loose starch to a sticky paste.   Risotto calls for short-grained rice: Arborio or Carnaroli are perfect.   Most Asian and Mid-Eastern dishes call for longer grain rice that doesn't stick together which can present individual grains in a fluffy mass.   Jasmine and Basmati rice are the standards, but both require copious washing before cooking.

Here is a novel idea Jerry came up with:  treat Arborio the way you would treat Basmati.

                Arborio Rice Asian Style    
(Traditionally you would make this recipe with long grain rain. Try it with Arborio rice and you will not be disappointed.)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups short grain Arborio rice   

2 teaspoons olive oi

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Crushed red pepper flakes to taste

4 cups stock (your choice….chicken, vegetable or beef)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

*For gluten-free version, use gluten-free stock.

METHOD

Sauté the garlic, onion and celery in the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium high heat until translucent. Add the thyme and some crushed red pepper, then also a dash of salt and a good helping of fresh ground black pepper.

Add the stock and the rice and bring to a boil, uncovered, stirring only once.

Reduce the heat to low and allow the rice to simmer, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve the rice immediately with your favorite piece of roasted chicken or meat.