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Time to Get the New Year Rolling!


I know, two weeks into the year is a bit late to announce the kickoff of another great year. Well, I’m lucky to be only two weeks late! What a start…

The Holidays were pleasant, though a bit frantic at times. Not quite a “staycation,” going to various homes of clan members. A quick trip to Sister Creek Vineyards for a case of celebration juice. The Primary Spousal Unit had a break from work that began Christmas week. That was just the start, though. Feasts and gift exchanges, and a bit of running in preparation for the Big Event.

On the 29th we boarded a plane for Saint Petersburg. Not Russia, Florida. More pleasant clime, and we don’t know anybody in Russia. We had a week with the Sheppards (Thanks, Kari and Chris!), the first few days without the kids, who traveled over later. I got in three nice training runs, and some excellent feasting.

First stop, fresh off the plane, was El Cap. It’s only a few blocks away from the Sheppards’ home, so we walked. Clearly not-fancy, El Cap caters to a neighborhood and college crowd. There aren’t many places left in the States today where you can get a cheeseburger for under $4. Or two for $6.50. Plenty of other sandwiches too, like salami, chicken breast, subs, turkey, grilled cheese; even a liverwurst for the crazy ones in your party folks who like to live on the wild side. We had burgers all ‘round, with some fries and onion rings tossed in for good measure. This being a college town, there is a good selection of wine and beer for sale. And the everyday price for a draft domestic brew is $1.20. Nice.

An early trip to the new downtown attraction, Locale Gourmet Market, set the tone for the foraging expeditions. So new the shiny hasn’t really set in, this upscale “destination grocery” has it all: Meats and seafood, produce and baked goods, clever tools for the kitchen, tasty cheeses and so much more. Two whole floors of goodies, in fact. They can cook your selections for you to take home, or to eat in. An eclectic and visually stimulating stop. If you find yourself in the area, take the time to stop by and gawk enjoy.

Four of us decided to walk into the bay side downtown on First Night, the city’s extensive New Year’s Eve celebration. Fireworks, stage and street performances, several bouts of fireworks, and of course, food. Carnival fare, suiting the festivities, from carts and booths scattered about. Or you can dine in one of the many restaurants and pubs in the area. If you can get in, of course! PJ had to have kettle korn, naturally. And a wand, with colored blinking lights, which she purchased from one of the plentiful street vendors. We eventually wound up at Cycle Brewery, where Chris had a RareR DOS and I tried both the Ducky’s Pils and the Granny Gear. I needed a double, after all that walking! And fortification too, as we were about as far from the car as we could get and still be at the celebrations. I had foolishly run a few miles before dawn that morning, to add a bit of insult to my legs. I could have used a third one, but couldn’t make up my mind which so we headed back, slowly.

Seven miles of walking later, we found the car and made our way back to the residence. We were tired enough we didn’t even notice when the midnight fireworks show started.

There is a lot more to report on this New Year’s trip, including the wonderful St. Petersburg Farmers Market on Saturday. And we haven’t even begun to cover the Disney adventures that followed. More on these in coming posts…

Enjoy the (Fast New Year’s Start) Heat!


Pepper Jelly Makes a Great Christmas Present


Pineapple during the Holidays? It’s not just for ham anymore!

I’ve been making all sorts of pepper jellies in the run-up to Christmas. Late-year fruit usually are the firmer ones: Pears, apples, quince and the like. I’ve used some red pears in a pear-prickly pear-red chiles jelly that was a bit on the milder side; I guess I didn’t get enough serranos in there. I found some nice candied ginger, and used that in a pineapple-ginger-prickly pear-habanero blend. Very nice!

Maybe you’re noticing a pattern here: Lots of prickly pear. Yes, I still have many quarts of tasty prickly pear juice to sweeten and add flavor to my jellies. As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was a great summer for prickly pear fruit. I’ll not use it all soon, even in my frenzied campaign to make lots of gifts.

I found some cherries on at a reasonable price this week. Unusual, and they can’t be U.S. product. Not sure where they’re from; I guess Chile. Tasty little beggars in any case. I’ll use them with pineapple in one prep, and with no other fruit. Both will feature (you guessed it) prickly pear juice and habaneros.

BowlOCherriesStrawberries are nice at the moment too. Surely hothouse cultivated, but nicely priced in any case. With some raspberries in there, and enough habaneros to burn off the roof of your mouth add a nice, tingly after-bite, these strawberries will make a wonderful jam.

I saw some pretty persimmons in a specialty grocery, but I’ve never used these before. If I see them again I’ll snag a couple and taste them and learn how to peel them. I know my grandmother used to make persimmon jam, but my mom doesn’t have her recipe. Pity.

In a related note, I made some prickly pear syrup. Cooked down some juice, added brown and white sugars, and it came out awesome. Slow process, though. I didn’t need any artificial flavors as the prickly pear was all I needed.

Time to get back into the kitchen and make some more Holiday hot-stuff. So many jellies, so little time…

The (Gift of Hot Cuisine) Heat is ON!


Friday Follies: The Turkey Coma Problem and More


I missed this report in the New Yorker during the hustle-bustle of Thanksgiving. It’s clearly appropriate, and touches all the key points. Although it didn’t say which way the author was leaning on the critical national issue of the coming NCAA football playoffs.

In other news, a couple of party animals learned not to leave signed pizza receipts lying around after stealing the neighbors’ furniture. Come on, Man, don’t make it so easy…

Yet another reason not to name your child after a food, even as a nickname: Honey Boo Boo’s sister is now pushing snake oil. (Yes, snakes might actually be involved.) The product was claiming to be “useful against an array of medical problems, including Ebola, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.” That about covers all my ills, real or imagined. Too bad the FDA pulled the plug; now it’ll be hard for me to get mine…

Enjoy the (Too Much Turkey) Heat!


Holiday Marmalade with Habaneros and Prickly Pear Juice

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»


Citrus fruit of all sorts are available this season, in high quality and at good prices. Marmalade is fairly easy to make, especially if you’re a patient sort. I’ve gotten to where I make nice-sized batches of this spread, mostly for Christmas stocking gifts.

This year I happen to have a glut of prickly pear juice, thanks to an awesome summer for growing the unique fruit, and a fall that let them ripen slowly over many weeks. I worked up about 170 lbs of the thorny little bastards egg-shaped beauties, an experience that every Texan should have to endure at least once. (I’ve got that off my bucket list, thankfully.)

Most recipes don’t add much in the way of spices to their marmalade. Naturally, most marmalade is about the citrus flavor, and you don’t need to fancy up those versions. For the Holidays, though, I added small bits (less than half a teaspoon each) of several flavors that remind me of the great eats at the end of the year.


Here’s my version:

  • 4 lbs navel oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 2 cups prickly pear juice
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1.5 droppers Stevia concentrate (NOW Better Stevia is my choice)
  • 2 tablespoons low-sugar pectin powder (Ball works wonders)
  • 1/4 lb candied ginger
  • 6-10 habanero chiles, to suit your heat level interest
  • ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom

Slice the citrus thinly using a mandoline or a very sharp knife (if you’re handy that way). Pitch the seeds, of course. I cut across the thin rounds to make smaller bits of fruit. Place the cut citrus, 2 cups of water, and all the prickly pear juice in a large pot and bring to a boil (10 minutes or so), then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook the fruit for 40-50 minutes, or until the rinds are nice and soft. Add more water if the cooked fruit looks to be too stiff.

Set up your canner and get your jars, lids and rings ready. I use half-pints, mostly, but use smaller or larger as you wish. This batch will make about 8 half-pints, give or take 1.

Put on disposable gloves and process the habaneros. I cut the tops off and leave the seeds; your choice. I put them in my small Kitchenaid food chopper with a small amount of liquid from the cooking citrus. I chopped the candied ginger into smaller bits and put that in with the chiles. Process the mixture until the desired consistency; I like to get this stuff down fairly fine, but with a bit of texture left.

When the fruit is ready, add the chile-ginger paste and stir to combine. Bring the pot to a hard boil and add most of the sugar, with stirring. Blend the pectin with the remaining sugar, and add to the pot with all the remaining ingredients. Stir regularly for 5-7 minutes, and test the gel set if you like. I add the pectin because I’ve had marmalade refuse to set well before; this little “cheat” guarantees the mixture works as jam.

Can as recommended. Half-pints usually only need 10 minutes or so in the boiling-water bath, pints a bit longer, to guarantee a safe seal. Or you can simply put the marmalade in jars with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate. If you do skip the canning, be sure to eat the marmalade in a few weeks! Not that there’s ever a problem around my madhouse with any going bad…

Enjoy the (Bittersweet Citrus Spread) Heat!


Heavenly Beef and Guinness Pie


Cool weather is here, and though it wasn’t a typical Texas scorcher this past summer, I’m ready for the comfort foods of autumn. (How hot was it last summer? I hear it made the Jehovah’s Witnesses take up telemarketing.) One of those foods is pot pie, and the pot pie’s close cousin, the pasty.

I recently came across this wonderful website, and on there is an awesome recipe for Beef and Guinness Pie. I believe you simply MUST try this one, as it has two of the major food groups listed in the title! I won’t reproduce it here, as Chef Leite has done a much better job of description and presentation than I ever could. I will say I’m sad that I didn’t come up with this phenomenal dish myself, but I’m pleased I found this version.

I will point out, though, that you can make awesome pasties with his filling! First, make some pasty dough, like maybe this one. How much? If you want to match Chef Leite’s quantities, you’ll need to triple or quadruple the dough. That’s a bit much. So here’s a more workable strategy: Make the Beef and Guinness Pie filling, and save off about 1/3 of it. Make the dough, and use the smaller portion of the filling to make pasties. Bake those and have a small army over for dinner. In the meantime, save the other filling portion for later. All you need to do is reheat the filling gently, then follow the rest of the instructions for making the pot pie.

Trust me, this filling gets even better by standing a day or two in the refrigerator. By making a smaller casserole, you won’t have to share, either; no need to thank us, it’s what we do here at the Underground, make everybody happy…

Enjoy the (Fall is Finally Here) Heat!


Site On Partial Lock-Down…



In the last few weeks the Chile Underground has been found by the masses. Masses of hackers, I mean…

One strategy that’s used to gain malicious access is for somebody’s zombienet to generate throwaway email addresses, then attempt to register on blog sites with those addresses. I’m not entirely sure what happens after that, although the Internet’s chock-full of scary stories about what could happen next. I’d rather not resort to Captcha strategies, and I thought I had plenty of protection up to catch softbots trying to do anything on my site.

Silly me. Seems the softbots are ahead on points, this round. My registered users list is a few dozens, then suddenly BOOM! I get 140,000+ requests. Not bloody likely.

Until I have a fix that I like in place, I’ve disabled auto-registration, and dumped the unregistered users that showed up recently. (In case you’re wondering, it took an automated cleaner over 3 hours to do this, shutting down the site during that time. I HATE down time.) If you were honestly attempting to become a registered user of the site and you got tossed in this sweep, I apologize. At present, though, the only way I’ll take new users is if they send me an email: Chile Doctor at chile underground. (You DO know how to unmung that address, yes?) Real name, a non-disposable email address, and a sporty note (to cheer me up) and I’ll get you into the database manually and send you back a password. I doubt I’ll be inundated this way; we’ll see.

Oh, what’s a disposable email? Things like Yahoo, Hotmail, almost anything ending in .ru, guerrillamail,and more. (I’ve got the list, trust me.) I will accept GMail, and if I think what you’ve supplied is suspect I’ll drop you a line back and see where we can go from there. Think it through, though: I’ll likely be conservative, given the huge number of recent dodgy attempts to gain access. I take security seriously, even though I don’t collect information. My content, and your visitor experience as a consequence, is important to me…

The (Spam Signups) Heat is ON!


It’s National Coffee Day, and We’re All Thankful


It’s Monday morning, and it’s National Coffee Day (and, in a fateful alignment of the stars, International Coffee Day). The latter fact makes the former one bearable, maybe even pleasant.

Check around, lots of places will have free coffee today. Get it while you can! Few things beat free caffeine.

I always have half a cup first thing in the morning. Doctor’s orders. Oh, he didn’t order the coffee regimen, but he DID order that I cut my consumption in half. So now I only have half a cup.

The cup this morning is a 32-ounce Disney mug, with Goofy on it. The coffee’s got a bit of Truvia in it, as I like that flavor in hot drinks. (Iced tea, not so much.) And some light creamer.

Just because it’s National Coffee Day I’m going back for seconds, hang Doctor’s orders…

Enjoy the (Caffeine Monday) Heat!


More Summertime Fruit Pepper Jellies

This entry is part of a series, Pepper Jelly Chronicles»


You can get almost any fruit you want, whenever you want it, thanks to our grocery industry. But don’t they taste best when they’re in season? That’s why I make so much pepper jelly this time of year…

Dark sweet cherries have been available in our area for a few weeks, but the prices! I didn’t want to sell a car or take out a second mortgage to get a few pounds of these tasty morsels. I was beginning to think the harvest had been poor up north, then the prices dropped a lot. I stocked up! A friend showed us how to quickly pit cherries (Thanks, Kari!), and we worked our way through seven pounds in no time. Fortunately, cherry juice isn’t nearly as staining as others. (Although it was easy to spot who wasn’t putting all their pitted cherries in the bowl, since they sported a deep purple ring on their smug mug.)

I made two big batches of jelly from these cherries, totaling 15 half-pint jars. The first one I used four habaneros, giving the spread a nice, even heat. What I call “stingjam” level. Not enough heat to put anybody off, but if you put too much on the cracker you’ll notice. The second batch got cowhorn cayennes from last year’s bumper crop. I simply grabbed a few frozen peppers out of the freezer, topped them while they were still solid, then ground them up in my trusty little Kitchenaid food processor. I guess there were about eight of these long, red lovelies. The eight half-pints this batch produced have a milder aspect, but every now and again you get a bigger bit of the cayenne and you know it. Nice little surprises!

In case you forgot how I make my jellies, read this post.

Next up, pineapples. It seems that Central America has had a bumper crop of the large, yellow fruit this year. We’ve had them available in our area for a while now, at prices as low as a buck apiece. Mostly they’re going for two-for-three, or sometimes $2 each, but not more. They’ve been in that price range since April! Although the scuttlebutt in our area is that the great prices are about to come to an end. I hope they don’t go back to the $6-8 range, like they were. I’m getting spoiled by having this juicy, sweet produce readily available; I’ve been enjoying pineapple on ice cream, in salsas, and as a snack. Can’t get enough!

I bought two for the pineapple jellies, and made two batches. The difference between them is the alcoholic spirit I infused. One got bourbon, the other got rum. Each batch of six half-pints took a pineapple each, which I cut into pieces and scorched on my new grill to give the fruit some nice marks and added flavor. I added a few ounces of pineapple juice, and I used lemon juice as the acid for these batches. Pretty standard preparation, other than that.

So far that makes about 80 half-pints of jelly this season. And I don’t even have many peppers from this year’s garden yet! Though the number of blooms at the moment is amazing…

Enjoy the (Jars O’ Jelly) Heat!