Thursday, September 25, 2008

The "Russian Roulette" of Peppers

We came, we played, and our mouths were on fire! How can something be so delicious and yet amazingly hot??

Introducing Padron peppers, small green peppers that have been in our FarmShare box from Riverdog Farm. These aren't your ordinary peppers. Most are mild but approximately every one in ten are really spicy. Not kind of spicy, but really really spicy. Padron peppers are originally from the Padron region in Spain and called pimientos de Padron.

So, we prepared these peppers in the recommended way: in a pan with olive oil. Once the peppers were charred, we sprinkled them with coarse salt. And here's where it gets fun...I took a bite of one and WOO HOO it was hot! Justin's first few peppers were mild ones and so when I saw him almost put a large one in his mouth- I stopped him in the last moment. Good thing because it was a doozy!! My recommended method is to bite off the tip for a little pre-taste.

What causes the spiciness in chili peppers? Capsaicin is the name of the spicy component in chili peppers and the variety in spiciness is due to different levels in the peppers. Did you know that there is actually a spiciness scale for chili peppers? It's called a Scoville Scale and if you click here you can see where different peppers fall on the scale.

And what about that orange pepper? Was it the hottest of them all? No, actually it tasted quite a bit like a red bell pepper.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cocktails Part Deux: the Platinum Caipirito

When my job was developing breakfast cereals for everywhere outside the USA I had the opportunity to travel to many exotic destinations . . . six months into the job I had Platinum Elite status on my first airline, several months later I had it on a second. When not tied to the production line in the factory I tried to soak up the food and culture of wherever I happened to be. This cocktail is an homage to the time I spent in South America, I'm calling it the Platinum Caipirito.

This recipe draws on inspiration from Brazil's caipirinha and Cuba's mojito while using Mexican agave nectar, American oranges (Trader Joe's), and fresh basil from our farmshare (Riverdog Farms).

Recipe for One Platinum Caipirito
Juice from 1 1/2 fresh squeezed oranges (4 oz)
Five basil leaves
1.5 oz agave nectar
1.5 oz cachaça
Ice cubes

Muddle basil leaves and agave nectar in high ball glass. Add cachaça and orange juice and stir until nectar and basil are well distributed. Add enough ice to fill the glass.

Brazil's national drink is the caipirinha (roughly translated "little peasant girl"). It's active ingredients are a lime muddled with copious amounts of sugar and a spirit from fermented sugar cane called cachaça--similar to rum--over ice. Near the end of every trip to Brazil my hosts would take me to the grocery store where I'd pick up a couple of bottles . . . the price couldn't be beat at $2 USD each vs. the airport price an order of magnitude higher. While the caipirinha is much too sweet for me, it is one of Lauren's favorites and is a house specialty. Today's cocktail gets its kick from cachaça, but substitutes oranges in place of the limes.

While a traditional mojito uses mint muddled in a sugar syrup with rum, today's cocktail substituted the mint with basil and sugar syrup with agave nectar from Mexico.

The resulting cocktail is a fresh, yet subtle herbal cocktail perfect for the end of summer refreshment!


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Calling All Chocolate Adventurers to Explore Your Dark Sides

It's the second annual Scharffen Berger and Tutti Foodie Chocolate Adventure Recipe contest where a little bit of Iron Chef meets chocolate inspiration in competition for the grand prize:

$5,000, a mention in Saveur magazine, signed copies of Demolition Desserts by Elizabeth Falkner, Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, as well as a custom selection of Scharffen Berger® chocolates and a winner’s medal.

How do you enter: create a recipe for a sweet, savory or beverage ( you can submit one in each category!) that calls for Scharffen Berger chocolate—containing anywhere from 41% to 99% cacao—and at least one adventure ingredient which are listed on the website. You can submit your entry online by January 1, 2009.

For more details on past winners, celebrity judges and the list of the adventure ingredients go to:

How did we hear about this? My friend, Lisa, is a judge and one of the organizers of the competition. We are definitely going to enter and encourage you to as well. Spread this word about this new contest!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sweet-C Margarita and A Mixology Mission

While we are huge wine fans, I must admit that I love a cocktail. We've been experimenting with a few recipes and fresh fruit and came up with a mixology challenge that we are ready to take on: cocktails with a full serving of fruit. So each week or so, we are going to put together a recipe that has a full serving of fruit.

First, what is a full serving of fruit and how much do I need? Well, things are changing and while 5 a day was the rule, now the guidelines depend on your age, gender and activity level. On, you can put in your age and gender and learn how many cups of fruit and vegetables you should be eating per day. I am supposed to be eating 1.5 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables. Now we know most of these servings should not be in the form of juice, but if I am going to have a cocktail, why shouldn't it have a full serving of fruit?

The CDC website describes a serving of fruit as:
One medium piece of fruit - As in 1 medium orange
½ cup cut-up raw or cooked (fresh, frozen, or canned)
¼ cup dried fruit
4 oz/ ½ Cup 100% fruit juice

We will be using fresh fruit or freshly squeezed juice in our Mixology Mission. We have three juicers that we really like: the old-fashioned hand juicer, the yellow one from Williams-Sonoma and the simple, vintage Juice-O-Mat. The glass juicer is the most versatile but takes the most work. The yellow one is great for limes and small fruit but can't handle an orange. We really love the Juice-O-Mat which easily juices grapefruit to limes and we bought it on eBay for $12 after admiring our friends' Juice-O-Mat.

Here's our first cocktail for the week: The Sweet-C Margarita

This refreshing drink is named Sweet-C for the sweet agave nectar, the citrus fruit, the good old vitamin C you are getting from the freshly squeezed juice. It was inspired by Carrie Floyd's recipe at Culinate.

You'll need:
1 orange
1 small lemon
3 limes
1 shot of tequila (1.5 fl oz)
1/2 shot of cointreau or triple sec (0.75 fl oz)
agave nectar
coarse kosher salt

1. Squeeze the orange, lemon, and 2.5 of the limes. Don't squeeze one lime half, but save it instead. Mix all of the juices.
2. Add the tequila and triple sec or cointreau to the juices and stir.
3. Add enough agave nectar to sweeten the cocktail to your taste.
4. Use the saved lime half to rim a tumbler and dip the tumbler in kosher salt.
5. Add ice to the tumbler and pour the mixture over the top. Toss in the lime half for garnish.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

All American Box of Donuts!

About 9 kilometers into the 70,000 person strong foot race, a photographer snaps our picture and then starts taking down our info for a potential caption: names, spellings, relationships, where we're from, and what our group wants to be called. The answer to that last question may have been the one thing that we didn't put much thought into, but Vince shot back with "an All American Box of Donuts".

Photo Credits to D. Cameron of the Oakland Tribune; as far as we can tell only published on Flickr . . . copy forwarded to us by the photographer.

The annual Bay to Breakers race is a San Francisco institution on the third Sunday of every May. Initiated after the 1906 earthquake with a purpose to raise the spirits of the battered citizens it has morphed over the last 97 years into a enormous mobile street party. One that has a distinctive Bay Area flavor and set of traditions . . . costumes, political statements, and alcohol transporting devices disguised as various props. We had participated the previous year with our friends Vince and Kristi in a group costume, but wanted to set the bar a little higher this time. So we combined our love of simple baked goods with some fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants engineering to create something that was both group costume and mobile float.

Vince and I started exchanging ideas and we finally settled on a donut concept that would involve each of the four of us wearing a donut around our heads and carrying the iconic pink bakery box about our middles . . . not just donuts, but a box of donuts.

First visualization of the Box of Donuts concept using Google SketchUp.

Some of our preliminary experimentation led us to a design where the donuts would hang around our necks rather than encircle our faces. We wanted a large size donut for maximum impact visual impact and decided that something that rested on our shoulders would be more comfortably carried for the 4+ hour walk/run. Since even the cheapest fabric isn't that inexpensive ($1.99/yd) we started out using newspapers to form and stuff our prototype.

Our first prototype (front and back) using newspapers and tape.

The measuring and cut procedures were improvised using a homemade compass tracer . . .

Measure once, cut twice. Above: a homemade compass used to trace out the circular arcs in the fabric. Below: Justin and Vince pose with stuffed donut pillows awaiting frosting and sprinkles. Thanks to Lauren's mom, Gail, for technical assistance with the sewing machine.

The design specifications for the donut box included the need to be easily transportable on the BART train on the morning of the race, the strength to resist blunt force impacts and extreme crowding due to people density in the initial race queue, and the give necessary to allow us to nimbly weave around stumbling drunks. To address these criteria we built the box in four identical sections that could be stacked and carried then assembled at the starting point. The thick cardboard and steel tape reinforcement provided surprising panel strength as the sections bowed yet did not fold or collapse over the race course. Steel tape also joined the sections at the corners and allowed the box to parallelogram when necessary. This allowed us to move in a freer fashion than absolute lock step. This flexibility helped maintain overall integrity by allowing a moderate distortion to occur and easily recover rather than break at the corners when impacted. The harness was added at the last minute so we fashioned it in such a way that the specifics could be easily improvised on race day.

Donut Box consisted of cut refrigerator box sections reinforced with steel tape and covered with pink fabric. The harness system was affixed at corners and consisted of tubular webbing and carabiners.

Film from the Donut Cam. Edited down to 2 minutes from 1 hour to a PG-13 rating.

If you are interested in learning more about the race outside the donut box, navigate over to the San Francisco Chronicle online (SF Gate) coverage of the 97th Bay to Breakers. You will find our picture that was featured on the front page of the print edition of the May 19, 2008 San Francisco Chronicle:

"Donuts in a tray head down Fell Street near Golden Gate Park during the 97th annual ING Bay to Breakers 12k foot race in San Francisco, on May 18, 2008. Chronicle photo by Michael Maloney"