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It’s National Hot & Spicy Day: Why Hot & Spicy Foods Are Hot

Sliced Jalapeno Chile Peppers
[1] Chile peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that burns (photo of jalapeño chiles © Good Eggs).

Black and White Peppercorns
[2] In peppercorns, the heat chemical is piperine (photo iStock Photo).

Yellow Mustard Seeds In A Scoop
[3] Yellow mustard seeds. When mustard seeds are crushed, the heat is released (photo © Hillshire Farm | Facebook).

A Bag Of Yellow Onions
[4] Yellow onions have the most sulphur, and thus the most burn (photo © Good Eggs).


August 19th is National Hot & Spicy Day. What makes foods hot and spicy? Why do some people temporarily cough, sneeze, sweat, or even tear up?

The heat comes from specific chemical compounds that bind to special receptors on the tongue, lips, and other parts of your mouth. These activated sensory neurons then send signals to your brain saying you’ve encountered something burning…and voilà, you experience heat or a burning sensation.

  • In black pepper, the compound is piperine.
  • In chiles, a.k.a. chile peppers, the chemical compound is capsaicin.
  • In ginger, it’s gingerol, which tastes hot when you have it fresh at a sushi bar, although it’s only about one thousandth as hot as capsaicin. The heat mellows a bit when cooked, but becomes more intense when ginger is dried.
  • In mustard and horseradish, it’s a compound called sinigrin which is a glucosinolate, a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous vegetables.
  • In onions, that eye burn is caused by sulfur. Yellow onions have the highest sulfur content of all the onions [source]. Just as different chiles have different levels of capsaicin, different onions have more heat than others.
    All of these compounds elicit a sensation of burning pain by selectively activating sensory neurons that convey information about noxious stimuli to the central nervous system.
    If consuming these foods causes pain, then do people continue to eat them?

    First, different people have different sensitivities to the compounds, and some enjoy the burn.

    Second, the painful sensations on the tongue cause the brain to release endorphins and dopamine, which are “feel good” chemicals can that give a feeling of exhilaration. At least, that’s what this source says. Personally, we’ve never felt exhilaration—only burn.
    What if you want to eat hot and spicy foods but don’t want the pain?

    Federica Genovese, a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says that you can train your body to temper these reactions by eating spicy food more often [source].
    Would you rather have an antidote to the heat?

    Don’t grab a glass of water! Because capsaicin is oil-based, drinking water will just spread the capsaicin around your mouth, creating even more burning.

    Capsaicin and other heat-mongers are hydrophobic, fat-soluble compounds that dissolve in fat and oil.

  • Have dairy products. Yogurt is the best, followed by sour cream and cottage cheese. They are acidic, and milk-based foods also contain a protein called casein, which can help break down the capsaicin. (Plant-based milks don’t work here.)
  • Drink something acidic. Capsaicin and other heat-generating compounds are alkaline molecules that can be neutralized with an acid: lemonade, limeade, orange juice, or tomato juice.
  • Have some peanut butter. The oil acts as a salve to the burning. If you’re headed to a spicy meal, you can bring a small amount of PB (it comes in squeese-packs) to dull your pain. At home, can also swirl some olive oil or other culinary oil around your mouth.
    If there’s nothing else, grab some bread. It’s not nearly as good as the other options but can help to suck up some of the capsaicin in your mouth [source].
    > 18 Ways To Spice It Up

    > The different types of chiles.

    > The different types of peppercorns.





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    Goat Cheese & Potato Pizza Recipe For National Goat Cheese Month

    We adore fresh goat cheese, and finally, for National Goat Cheese Month (August), we made this delicious pizza recipe.

    We had it for lunch with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, but a beer or a light red wine (Beaujolais, Pinot Noir) would be equally fine.

    The thin crust and toppings create a very light pizza, so you can even serve it as a first course at dinner.

    Thanks to Janet Cooper-Bridge, The Army Mom, and the Idaho Potato Commission for the recipe.
    > The history of pizza.


  • 3 Idaho® russet potatoes
  • 2 Idaho® red potatoes
  • 1 can (13.8 oz.) classic refrigerated pizza crust
  • ½ small red onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 8 springs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems, divided
  • 3 ounces goat cheese (or more as desired—we used double that)
  • Cornmeal
  • Optional extra toppings:sliced prosciutto, crispy pancetta, blanched asparagus*

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 425°F. Lightly sprinkle a 12″x15” rectangular baking stone or baking sheet with cornmeal. Unroll the dough onto the baking stone or sheet.

    2. ROLL the dough to your desired preference. The example in photo #1 is rolled very thin for a very crisp pizza.

    3. LIGHTLY BRUSH the pizza crust with two tablespoons of olive oil and dot with the minced garlic and 1/2 of the fresh thyme leaves. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside, leaving the oven on.

    4. SLICE the red onion into thin, round rings beginning at the root tip and set aside.

    5. SCRUB the potatoes under cold running water. Cut lengthwise into very thin slices using a mandolin or knife.

    TIP: When cut potatoes cannot be used quickly, add fresh or concentrated lemon juice to the water, 1 teaspoon per gallon, to prevent discoloration.

    6. ARRANGE the cut potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, and immediately cover with cold water (since the slices are thin, not much water will be needed). Bake for 10 minutes.

    7. CAREFULLY remove the baking sheet from the oven and carry it to the sink, draining the hot water. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of cold water until ready to use. Then…

    8. REMOVE the potato slices from the cold water and place them onto paper towels. Pat both sides of the potatoes dry and immediately arrange them onto the pizza crust, overlapping the edges slightly in a shingled pattern.

    9. ARRANGE the red onion rings over the potatoes and sprinkle with the minced shallot. Dot the surface of the pizza with chunks of goat cheese.

    10. BAKE for 12-14 minutes or until the crust is a deep, golden brown. Remove the pizza from the oven and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with remaining thyme leaves, cut into squares and serve.

    *Add these to the pizza before it goes into the oven (step #9).


    Recipe For A Goat Cheese, Potato & Onion Pizza
    [1] Goat cheese, potato, and red onion pizza (photo and recipe © Idaho Potato Commission).

    Plain and chive-accented fresh goat cheese logs.
    [2] You can use a plain goat cheese log or a flavored one, such as chive or pepper (photo © iGourmet).

    Basket Of Fresh Russet Potatoes
    [3] Russet potatoes, also known as baking potatoes (photos #3 and #4 © Potato Goodness).

    Raw Red-Skinned Potatoes
    [4] Red-skinned potatoes, often called red potatoes for short..

    2 Shallot Bulbs
    [5] Shallots also come in a red-skinned variety, red French shallots. Do these remind you of garlic bulbs? That’s because they’re members of the same family (photo © Good Eggs).





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    Introduction To Pinot Noir Wine For National Pinot Noir Day

    Pouring a glass of Pinot Noir red wine.
    [1] Getting ready to enjoy a glass of Pinot Noir (photo © Rebelle | NYC [permanently closed]).

    A glass of Pinot Noir at a vineyard.
    [2] Consider a wine vacation and the pleasure of tasting wine at the vineyard (photo © Kym Ellis | Unsplash).

    A specially shaped glass to enhance the flavors and aromas of Pinot Noir wine.
    [3] A glass especially shaped for Pinot Noir. The funnel-shaped bowl allows pinot noirs to breathe and the slightly flared rim properly funnels their unique aromas. These are from Crate & Barrel (photos #3 and #4 © Crate & Barrel).

    A Glass of Red Wine with a Washed Rind Cheese
    [4] Lighter red wines like Pinot Noir pair nicely with delicately flavored, washed-rind cheeses like Taleggio, and nutty, medium-firm cheeses like Gruyère (photo © Louis Hansel | Unsplash).

    Rack Of Lamb With Pesto & Red Wine
    [5] A glass of Pinot Noir is delicious with lamb (photo © DeLallo).

    A glass of red wine with a Surf & Turf dinner.
    [6] Pinot Noir with Surf & Turf (photo © Ocean Prime).


    Most wine drinkers have their favorite varietals; one of ours is Pinot Noir (PEE-no-NWAR), the great red grape from the Burgundy region of France. We celebrate it on August 18th, National Pinot Noir Day.

    The name derives from the French words for pine (pin) and black (noir), inspired by the tightly clustered, pinecone–shaped bunches of Pinot Noir grapes, and their purple-black color.

    Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in cooler climates. In France it’s known as Red Burgundy; elsewhere, the wine is named for the grape.

    Beyond red wine, Pinot Noir grapes are also used in regular and Blanc de Noir Champagne, in sparkling white wines such as the Italian Franciacorta, and in English sparkling wines.

    Why is a red wine grape used in white wines?

    The flesh of most wine grapes is white (the exception is teinturier grapes*, whose flesh and juice are both red in color.

    It’s only the skins that have different colors. So the juice pressed out of red grapes is the same color as juice pressed from white grapes. The difference is skin contact.

    To make red and rosé wines, the pressed juice rests in a vat with the pressed skins, allowing the anthocyanins—antioxidant pigments present in the skins—to transfer their color to the juice.

    Pinot Noir is one of the six “noble grapes” (cépages nobles) that have long been considered to have the potential to produce great wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc.

    Beyond Burgundy, France, Pinot Noir has been transplanted and thrived in:

  • Oregon: the Willamette Valley.
  • California: the Carneros, Central Coast, Sonoma Coast, and Russian River AVAs†.
  • South Africa: the Elgin and Walker Bay wine regions of the Mornington Peninsula.
  • The Adelaide Hills, Great Southern, Tasmania, and Yarra Valley in Australia.
  • New Zealand: the Central Otago, Martinborough, and Marlborough wine regions.
    There are also smaller regions making fine Pinot Noir wines, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Germany, Italy, the Long Island AVA† in New York State, Moldova, the U.K., Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland [source].

    In the Champagne region of France, Pinot Noir is the most planted varietal (the others are Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

    All of the areas where Pinot Noir grapes are grown have cool and humid climates, the perfect conditions for growing the superior Pinot Noir grapes.

    The grape also does its best in well-drained, stony, or chalky soils.

    As with any varietal, the wines will have different attributes based on both their terroir‡‡ and the stylistic preferences of the winemaker.

    Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow, susceptible to rot because of those tightly-packed grape clusters. Beyond rot, the thin skins of the varietal make it susceptible to other infections and diseases. And the varietal has low yields.

    After a successful harvest in the vineyard, there’s a further challenge in the winery.

    The low levels of phenolic compounds in the grape produce mostly lightly-colored, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging [source].

    So why do winemakers grow this difficult grape? Because when the factors work, the wines are splendid.

  • When young, the wines tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries.
  • As the wine ages, it can develop more vegetal and “barnyard” aromas that make the wine more complex and a unique delight.

    If you’re not an experienced Pinot Noir taster, it’s easy to start. Pinot Noir is approachable when young: dry with delicious fruit flavors (typically cherry and raspberry), and soft tannins.

    It pairs with just about anything you’d want to eat with red wine, from classic pairings—charcuterie, cheeses**, chicken, duck, lamb, rabbit and other game, salmon and other fatty fish including tuna, mushrooms, pasta, pork, turkey, stews, veal—even beef, burgers, and pizza.

    You can also raise a glass of Pinot Noir with non-spicy Asian cuisine. Red wine drinkers can enjoy it with sushi and sashimi dishes.

    You can even enjoy it with dark chocolate!

    Ask your wine store clerk for recommendations, and consider a gathering where a group can taste several different regions, or several wines from the same region, to compare.

    The Pinot Noir grape may be only one or two generations removed from Vitis sylvestris, the original European wild grape.

    Records date to before the first century C.E., when the Romans, invading the part of Gaul that is now the Burgundy region of France, noticed the Gallic tribes drinking wine made from a native, wild grape that we now call Pinot Noir.

    The Romans delighted in the wine and cultivated the grape for more than 300 years during their occupation of the territory.

    The vineyards subsequently came under the control of the nobility, and then the Benedictine monks of the Catholic Church. Because they believed that Pinot Noir grapes produced the best wine, Pinot Noir became the official wine used in the sacrament of Communion. That greatly expanded the wine’s visibility and popularity.

    The Burgundy region was divided into church-owned vineyards and remained under the control of the monks until the French Revolution in 1789, when the vineyards were seized and distributed to local families.

    But before that came a breakthrough in viticulture: The Benedictine monks, specifically the Cistercians who had branched off, were the first to realize that grapes grown in different areas produced different wines.

    They came to the conclusion that not all vineyards were created equal, and that different grape varietals did better in different regions. This tenet that helped to create superior wines from then onward [source]. This subsequently led to the concept of terroir‡‡.

    Comparison chart of different types of red wine.
    [7] A comparison of the different red wine varietals (chart © The Nibble).

    *The flesh is red due to anthocyanin pigments accumulating not just in the skin, but within the pulp of the grape berry itself. Here’s more about it and a list of wines made with teinturier grapes.

    **Goat cheese, smoked cheese, semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar or Gouda, nutty cheeses like Gruyère, lighter blue cheeses, lighter washed rind cheeses like Taleggio, and sheep’s milk cheeses are all delicious with Pinot Noir.

    †An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is a type of appellation of origin used on wine labels. An AVA is a delimited grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown. Here’s more about it.

    ‡Currently, some writers are questioning this classification. Five of the noble grapes are French, and one, Riesling, is German, though it’s also grown in Alsace. The phrase “cépages nobles”) originated in France, and that hierarchies like the can be limited in perspective. Plus, the classification was created before these grapes were planted all over the world. The quality of the grapes grown elsewhere is often not the same as the quality of the same grapes grown in France’s best vineyards. Here’s more about it.

    ‡‡Terroir, pronounced tur-WAH, is a French agricultural term referring to the unique set of environmental factors in a specific habitat that affects a crop’s qualities. These include climate, elevation, proximity to a body of water, slant of the land, soil type, and amount of sun. These environmental characteristics give the wines produced from these grapes a unique character.




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    Sriracha Sauce With Extra Flavor From Bushwick Kitchen

    August 19th is National Hot & Spicy Food Day. Some like it hot, and those people will love a Weak Knees Sriracha Sauce Gift Set from Brooklyn Kitchen.

    It features all three of the company’s Sriracha sauces: Curry Sriracha, Gochujang Sriracha, and Super Spicy Sriracha.

    Beautifully packaged with a Bushwick Kitchen dish towel, the box has a QR code that links to a collection of recipes.

    You can also purchase individual bottles for small gifts and stocking stuffers.

    Bushwick Kitchen offers ideas for everyday dishes:

  • Bloody Marys
  • Buffalo wings
  • Chicken stew
  • Curry chicken drumsticks
  • Grilled cheese
  • Hummus
  • Meatballs
  • Roasted cauliflower
  • Sweet potato fries
    Get yours from

    > The history of Sriracha sauce.

    > What is gochujang sauce?

    > The different types of chiles.

    > The Scoville Scale, which ranks the heat levels of different chiles.

  • Best Chicken Wings & Sriracha Sauce
  • Crispy Sweet Potato Roast
  • Homemade Ketchup With Sriracha
  • Red Curry Shrimp With Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce
  • Spicy Thai Peanut Noodles
  • Sriracha Kettle Corn
  • Sriracha Bacon Candy Bites
  • Sriracha Palmiers

    Bushwick Kitchen Sriricha Sauce Gift Set
    [1] The three flavors of Sriracha sauce in Bushwick Kitchen’s gift set (all photos © Bushwick Kitchen).

    Bushwick Kitchen Sriracha Sauce Gift Set
    [2] The gift set.

    Meatballs With Curry Sriracha Sauce
    [3] Meatballs with a side of Curry Sriracha.





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    A Flaming Scorpion Bowl Recipe For National Rum Day

    Flaming Scorpion Bowl Recipe
    [1] The real deal: a flaming Scorpion in a bowl with hula girls. Check out the recipe and the video. (photo © Tipsy Bartender).

    The rum-based Scorpion Bowl, a tiki drink.
    [2] This Scorpion Bowl from The New York Times is made in a conventional bowl. Here’s the recipe, which uses dark rum, gin, and Cognac (photo © New York Times | David Malos | Food Stylist Simon Andrews).

    Flaming Scorpion Bowl Cocktail Recipe
    [3] This tiki-style bowl doesn’t have a center well for the high-proof rum. Instead, it uses a hollowed-out lime half (photo © Clayton Hauck | Lost Lake [permanently closed]).

    Flaming Scorpion Bowl, a popular tiki drink.
    [4] The Bamboo Room in Savannah, Georgia has decor and drinks that would make Trader Vic proud. The Scorpion is just one of many (photo © Bamboo Room).

    Volcano Tiki Bowl
    [5] You can buy volcano tiki bowls on Amazon (photos #5 and #6 © DME).

    [6] A top view of the “volcano” cup into which you pour, and then ignite, overproof rum.

    Orgeat is almond-flavored simple syrup.
    [7] Orgeat is almond-flavored simple syrup (photo © Sonoma Syrup).


    August 16th is National Rum Day, so we’re inviting you to check out the history of tiki drinks, and to make yourself a flaming (or not) Scorpion with the recipe below.

    You may or may not be old enough to remember the tiki drink craze of the 1950s and 1960s, abetted by a chain of Trader Vic’s restaurants and competitors like Don The Beachcomber (Ernest Raymond Beaumont) in Hollywood.

    These two restaurateurs introduced mainland America to “tiki” drinks: plenty of rum and sweet mixers, garnished with baby orchids and a mini Japanese paper umbrella.

    Cocktails included the Fog Cutter, the Jungle Bird, the Mai Tai, the Navy Grog, the Scorpion Bowl, and the Zombie, among others. You can easily find the recipes (and their many variations) online.

    One of our favorites was the flaming Scorpion Bowl, a cocktail served in a small punch bowl with a flaming “volcano” center (today it might be Sterno) and long straws for drinking. It was meant to be shared by two, three, or four. The recipe is below.

    > The history of rum.

    > The different types of rum.

    > The history of tiki drinks.

    The origin of all “tiki drinks” in the U.S. dates back to the late 1930s when Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron visited Hawaii (more history here).

    One story says that Bergeron discovered the Scorpion or Scorpion bowl, as it’s sometimes called, at a bar named The Hut in Honolulu (it’s long gone).

    There it was made with okolehao—a local alcoholic spirit fermented from the root of the ti plant.

    Okolehao was mixed with a combination of fruit juices (today lemon, orange, and pineapple are typical) and served in a large communal bowl. It’s essentially a rum punch.

    When Bergeron returned to his Trader Vic’s restaurant in Oakland, California (the original location), he created his own variation of the Scorpion using rum, instead of the okolehao, which was hard to find outside of Hawaii.

    There is another origin story that may be more true, with Bergeron discovering the Scorpion at a luau which he attended in 1939. The Daily Beast has done extensive research on it.

    You can read that story here.

    There are also print references to the Scorpion as early as 1937. It’s reasonably safe to assume, though, that by 1940 those lucky enough to get to Trader Vic’s in Oakland could have a Scorpion.

    His original recipe reportedly had 15 different ingredients and was served in a custom-made ceramic “volcano tiki” punch bowl with hula girls (photos #1, #4, and #5) or other tropical-style decorations, meant for two or more people.

    A center “volcano” cup (photos #6 and #7) was filled with overproof rum and lit on fire before it arrived at the table. The flaming bowl was garnished with baby orchids or gardenias, to the delight of the recipients.

    It was served with long straws for communal sipping.

    Did Bergeron invent the flaming center of the drink or the orchids and gardenias he garnished it with? That’s yet to be determined.

    But skip ahead a few decades to New York City.

    We were lucky enough to dine at the Trader Vic’s branch in the Plaza Hotel in New York City, numerous times in the years before it closed.

    As a teenage girl (18 was the legal drinking age at the time), we loved the flaming Scorpion Bowl with its garnish of fresh gardenias. It remains the most memorable drink ever brought to our table.

    Over the years, Trader Vic published three different variations of the Scorpion. In his 1946 Trader Vic’s Book of Food and Drink, there was a Scorpion recipe made with rum, gin, brandy and half a bottle of white wine. In other recipes, he substituted pisco for the gin [source].

    Other versions appeared in his 1972 Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, which included a recipe for an individual Scorpion and an updated bowl recipe that would become the more commonly used version of the recipe. Both are reprinted below.

    The drink doesn’t have to be flaming, but if it is, remember that it’s real fire, and take all precautions not to ignite your sleeve when reaching across the table to give your companion a piece of Crab Rangoon from the pupu platter* (we speak from experience).

    We thank for the information.

    Ingredients For 1 Drink

  • 1½ ounce lemon juice
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup (photo #7)
  • 1 ounce brandy
  • 2 ounces light rum (Distiller suggests Banks 5 Island Rum.)
  • Shaved ice
  • Garnish: small gardenia or baby orchid

    1. BLEND all ingredients in a mixer with one scoop of shaved ice. Pour into a glass, mug, or one-person volcano bowl.

    2. ADD ice, and garnish with gardenia.
    Ingredients For 3 Or 4 People

  • 6 ounces orange juice
  • 4 ounces lemon juice
  • 1½ ounces orgeat syrup (photo #7)
  • 6 ounces light rum (Distiller recommends Plantation 3 Stars)
  • 1 ounce brandy
  • Shaved ice
  • Garnish: small gardenias or baby orchids

    1. BLEND all ingredients in a mixer with two scoops of shaved ice. Pour into a Scorpion bowl.

    2. FILL the bowl with ice and garnish with gardenias. Serve with long straws.


    *Trader Vic’s pupu platter included Char Siu Pork, Crab Rangoon, Crispy Prawns, Rumaki, Spare Ribs, You can find some of the recipes here.

    A pupu or pu pu platter is a plate of American Chinese or Hawaiian foods consisting of meat and seafood appetizers. In the Hawaiian language, pū-pū denotes a relish, appetizer, canapé, or hors d’oeuvre.




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