Monday, November 22, 2010

Hot Stuff

I will never forget my first run in with a hot chile pepper. I was seven and it was an innocent and fun looking little garnish on the side of my plate of cheese enchiladas. Thinking it would surely just taste like lime green, I took a big bite only to have it take a big bite right back out of me. Smoke shot from my ears accompanied by what I can only describe as a blasting train whistle sound. I don’t remember what happened next because everything went black, but as you can tell I survived, with no less than a true respect for anything that looked like a pepper no matter what the color. It took me several years but my memory of that first chile pepper experience faded a bit and I decided to give them another try. Slowly I began to really like them. I think part of their appeal is that they come with a built-in sense of adventure. You never know exactly how hot or mild most of them will be until you take a bite. They are kind of like dating a “bad boy," you know that you are probably going to get hurt, but you just can’t resist going back for more. One thing is for sure; the addition of chile peppers can make even the most bland of recipes really interesting.

A little over a week ago I took Marx Foods up on their "A Chile and a Spoon" blogger challenge and agreed to make a dish using at least one of the six types of chile peppers that they furnished me with. The sample box that arrived was stuffed with an intriguing selection of dried peppers. It included the round and plump looking Cascabel and the large Guajillo chilies, both with a mild flavor. On the medium side of the scale were the long and thin Puya chilies and one of my absolute favorites, smoked Serranos. The two hot chilies in the box were dried Thai chilies (that were actually labeled as “extremely hot”) and the less lethal little round red Tepin chilies that while still hot, were labeled as “powerful but brief heat.” I liked that idea, so the Tepins were the ones I decided to work with. The only other stipulation of this challenge was that the prepared dish be one that was to be eaten with a spoon. Hmmm, as I see it that pretty much limits it to a soup or a squidgy dessert. Well, after going back and forth between the two, dessert finally won out. After baking and tweaking for the best part of a day, the end result is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. It is a sweet and spicy combination of buttery goodness that provides a pleasantly powerful spark of heat at the end. This little pepper is perfectly complimented by the cinnamon and cherry flavors and produces no less than an exciting dish for lack of a better description. Even though I used cherries in my recipe, I can only imagine how good it would be with apples, peaches, berries or any other fruit you might have available.



My pepper selection.

Clockwise from top left: Cascabel, Guajillo, Smoked Serrano, Puya, Tepin and Thai.



Sizzling Cherry Almond Crumb Cobbler with Almond Scented Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Almond Scented Ice Cream:
4 cups best quality vanilla bean ice cream, softened slightly
1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Crumb Topping:
3/4 - 1 teaspoon crushed dried Tepin peppers
1/4 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
1 ounce coarsely chopped almonds

Cobbler:
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 – 15 ounce can cherries in syrup (or juice if preferred)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place softened ice cream and almond extract in a large bowl, stir well to combine. Return to freezer to refreeze for later use.

In a large bowl combine Tepin peppers, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a fork. Mix in almonds, set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, baking powder, milk, vanilla and almond extract stir well and set aside.

Pour melted butter in the bottom of a 9 x 9” glass baking dish. Pour cobbler batter over the butter in the baking dish, do not stir; spoon cherries and a couple of tablespoons of the juice evenly over the batter.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle crumb topping evenly over the top (some of the topping may sink during baking, but it will still be delicious). Return to the oven and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until it is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving with ice cream.

Serves 8
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