The Block Island Times

These spicy foods 'cayenne' warm up the coldest January

By Becky and Mike Ballard | Jan 24, 2013

This treasured spice has plenty of admirers and uses. For general purposes, it’s used to add heat and flavor to dishes especially in countries close to the equator. For the more unusual uses, one source cites “17 health benefits,” and goes so far as to say that “Canadian natives have used this spice in their boots as a guard against sub-zero temperatures.” What is this versatile and amazing spice? Cayenne pepper!

Named for the city of Cayenne in French Guiana at the north end of South America, the cayenne is a kind of hot, red pepper in the jalapeno family. It’s usually dried and ground, but is also sold in solid blocks in some countries. Good cooks have learned that cayenne can add just the zip needed to turn a simple food into something exotic and special.

The Appetizer Cheese Wafers are a take-off on cheese straws made very popular by southern cooks. Traditionally cheese straws are formed by pressing the dough through a cookie press. These crisp wafers are easier because they are shaped into “logs,” then chilled and sliced, but they offer the same rich, satisfying results.

This spicy chicken dish is a favorite among members of our family. We have given it its name because it has been served many times to celebrate a homecoming. The Cajun spice mixture can be made ahead of time. The rest goes together quickly while the flourish of the flame just adds to the celebration.

And, for dessert, think of using cayenne pepper in a chocolate cake. Mexican cooks have been combining chocolate with hot pepper for many years with great results. It’s the balance of the chocolate with the coffee, bourbon and spice in this recipe that makes for such a satisfying, surprising combination. This simple one-layer cake will fill up your taste buds and end the meal on a lively note.

Appetizer Cheese Wafers

¾ cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

3 tablespoons cold water

In a small bowl combine the cheeses. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the cayenne, salt and flour. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut butter and half the cheese mixture into the flour mixture. Blend in cold water. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and gently knead in remaining cheese until dough comes together.

Shape dough into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper, and chill at least 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees, and lightly grease a cookie sheet. Slice logs crosswise into wafers about ¼-inch thick. Place wafers on a cookie sheet and bake until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes.

Chocolate Bourbon Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

½ cup good unsweetened chocolate powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ cup brewed strong coffee

¼ cup bourbon whiskey

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

¾ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Powdered confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cayenne on low speed. Add coffee, bourbon, oil and vanilla. Continue to beat on low speed just until combined. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add egg and beat 2 minutes more. Stir in chocolate chips by hand. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely. To serve, transfer to a cake plate and dust with powdered sugar.

Note: this cake is very good with vanilla ice cream or fresh fruit, or both.

Serves 6 to 8.

Homecoming Chicken

6 chicken breasts, boned and skinned

Cajun spice mix (see below)

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup brandy

3 cups heavy cream

Salt to taste

1 pound pasta

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle a layer of Cajun spice mix in a cake pan. Dip both sides of chicken breasts in spices. Heat butter in skillet; sauté chicken on each side until lightly browned and just cooked in the center. Transfer chicken to a baking pan (leaving drippings in skillet), and keep warm.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.

Heat skillet with drippings. Add brandy. When brandy is hot, ignite it to burn off alcohol. When flame burns out, whisk in cream. Gently simmer cream mixture, stirring frequently, until it is reduced by half. Taste and add salt if needed.

To serve: Place portions of pasta on individual plates, top with a chicken breast, and spoon sauce over. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 6.

Cajun Spice Mix

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

½ teaspoon white pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried oregano

1 ½ teaspoon dried onion powder

½ teaspoon dried garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Measure into a small bowl. Whisk together, and use on beef or chicken as directed. May be stored in a plastic zip bag or a tightly covered jar for three months.

Makes about 1/3 cup.


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