Sunday, October 6, 2013

Guest Post-Suzanne's Hot Pepper Adventures

By Suzanne Taylor, loyal CSA member, Grim City resident, and sassy foodie.

I can’t call Grimsby by its proper name anymore.

The local fry truck, tucked in behind the Dutch Shop, has the words ‘Grim City’ written in marker on it, and I cannot call Grimsby anything else. I like the sound of Grim City too much.  

I have even suggested to Tiffany Mayer of Eating Niagara that we should start a foraged fruit brewery, due to all the neglected neighbourhood fruit trees in the region, out here, and call it Grim City Hootch.

I think it has a certain ring to it, but Tiffany ain’t sold yet.

Anyway. Despite being in the bosom of the Niagara region and all its food riches, Grimsby’s culinary scene is a little...conservative just yet. It is mostly Dutch people here; a year after you’ve lived here, you will realize you can spell last names like Vanwoudenberg and Koorrneef without stumbling once.

You can get a mean smoked horsemeat sandwich at the Dutch Shop, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m glad I don’t tend to stop in IKEA’s food shops when I go there.

You can get a less….horsey...sandwich up the road at De La Terre Kitchen, which is an outstanding place. Or a Locke Street bakery bagel and a latte at the newly opened Station One coffee house, both of which delight me so much I want to clasp them to my bosom.

It’s early days and it is a growing community, and all I can do is my part to introduce my fellow Grimsberians to funky heirloom veggies, particularly hot peppers.

Now look, I love me some Linda Crago and Tree and Twig. I am a long-time veteran of everything she has grown for the past several years, and each week I gallop through the contents of my CSA like an expert. Leaf broccoli? Bring it on. Eggplants? Time for baked eggplant fries with za’tar and tahini dipping sauce. Ground cherries? By the handful.

And don’t even talk to me about tomatillos. We have thoroughly spanked this little vegetable into submission. We churn out vats of salsa verde from August through October, like a boss.

(By the way, if anyone has anything at all you can do with tomatillos that isn’t some version of salsa or sauce, please for the love of all things loveable tell us. I have scoured the internet, convinced that tomatillos cannot be a one trick pony, but the results are not very promising).

I work in the West Lincoln ER, and I’ve introduced all the staff to our salsa verde, done in our signature style. The other night we had the police in the department, and I offered one of the young male officers a taste of my husband’s self-named ‘bastard sauce’, and told him not to dip too much as it had a kick to it.

“What, do you think I’m a *****y?” he asked. (His words, not mine).

He dipped a big load of salsa onto his chip, bit onto it, and ran down the hall to the water station with tears in his eyes.

A little lesson from your friend the habanero pepper, Constable. Safety first.

So, I’ve conquered it all. But the hot pepper eludes me a bit. We have indeed used them for lots of salsa, but I needed to branch beyond sauces and salsas and so on. I needed to knock it out of the park with peppers in dishes.

Now, Linda Crago and her peppers have (literally) burned me before. I chopped up an Evil Little Purple Pepper that remains nameless that I carelessly bit into many years ago, and was rewarded with such a burning face, lips and tongue that I had to have a milk soak to make it stop. It took me some time to get back to being adventurous with hot peppers. I keep a stash of rubber gloves around for this purpose.

This summer I was determined to find things that weren’t sauce-type dishes to eat hot peppers in, and I think I’ve done it.  I have two excellent recipes for you, fair readers. We’ll start with the roasted poblano macaroni and cheese.

Firstly, this recipe is for the larger, thicker skinned hot peppers; the Anaheims, the poblanos, the hot cherry bombs. You need a thicker pepper skin to properly roast such a pepper, thinner skinned peppers just sort of turn into mush on your barbecue or under the broiler. If you don’t feel up to the hot pepper task for this recipe, you can substitute my very favourite pepper, the pimento pepper, which is the perfect roasting and eating pepper in my opinion.

Secondly, this recipe has at least a million variations. Use whatever peppers you prefer to roast, throw in some bacon, some chicken, some tofu, make a green chile crema instead of a cheese sauce, top with your favourite breadcrumbs, whatever you like. Anything goes with this dish. But, let’s all commit to being brave and using at least a few hotter peppers in the mix, shall we? You will be very pleased with this dish.

Roasted Poblano Mac and Cheese (from
  • 1-2 poblano peppers (use 1 if you want it a little bit milder)
  • 2 1/2 c. milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 5 oz. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 4 oz. shredded Monterrey jack cheese, divided
  • 6 c. cooked whole-wheat elbow macaroni (about 3 c.dry)
  • oil mister or cooking spray
  • 1/2 c. panko
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp. salt (plus more, to taste)
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
  1. Turn on broiler. Place poblano peppers on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for about 10 minutes or until skin is blistered and starting to blacken, turning halfway through. Place peppers in zip-top bag for 5 minutes. Remove from bag and peel; discard stems, seeds and ribs. Chop peppers and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine milk and flour in a large saucepan over high heat, whisking constantly. Once mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until thickened, 5-8 minutes, continuing to whisk frequently. Remove from heat. Add 4 ounces of cheddar cheese and 3 ounces of Monterrey jack cheese and whisk until melted. Stir in macaroni, poblano peppers, and salt to taste.
  3. Divide mac & cheese into 6 large ramekins or mini cocottes sprayed with oil or cooking spray (you can also use a casserole dish if you don't have ramekins). In a small bowl, stir together panko, olive oil, salt and pepper. Top ramekins with reserved cheese and then panko. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until panko is golden brown. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.


Now, for the smaller hot chiles you get in your basket, all those little finger like Thai-style chiles, that I mostly wind up drying or turning into salsa, here comes a fall recipe. Hot peppers keep on growing nicely through the fall months, right when the fall pumpkins and squash are coming on, and they keep pretty well on your counter for some time. This chicken, pumpkin and basil stir fry is a good way to use up a few of those chiles come October, as well as your basil plants, which if they are anything like mine this year are thriving. I got a nice pie-sized pumpkin, and used some of my spice and Thai basil plants, as well as some of the little red Thai-type chiles Linda gives me. Eight ingredients, some rice or noodles, and you have a lovely fall supper.

chicken and pumpkin stir-fry
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 small red chillies, seeds removed and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 4 chicken breast fillets, sliced
  • 600g pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • ¼ cup basil leaves
Heat the oil in a preheated frying pan or wok over medium to high heat. Add the onion, chilli and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes or until browned. Add the pumpkin and fish sauce, cover and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is just soft. Stir through the basil and serve with steamed jasmine rice. Serves 4.
So the hot pepper doesn’t have to be an object of fear, my friends, and it doesn’t have to be in a salsa or sauce, it doesn’t have to be in a curry you avoid at your local Thai or Indian restaurant, it isn’t just for people in Texas or Mexico City to make frightening hot sauces with. It can be easily incorporated into fun dishes that I bet you’d like, and if you keep a nice beer on hand and a few tissues, you are sure to enjoy it too. Befriend the hot pepper, my fellow Grimsberians; it loves you.

(By the way, for those Grim City residents who have an apple or a pear tree dropping fruit onto your lawn for the ants to eat, the local meat farm on Elm Tree Lane, Our Gate to Your Plate, will happily accept donations of windfall fruit for their pigs to eat; bag it up and drop it off at the farm!)

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