The Spicy Food Lover’s Media Tour, Part 2

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By Dave DeWitt 

The Spicy Food Lover’s Media Tour

Copia Menu:

Tortilla Roll-Ups

Southwest Salsa Soup with Lime Cream

Spinach Salad with Prickly Pear Cactus

Crab-Stuffed Chiles

Fresh Margarita Strawberries with
Tequila and Cracked Black Pepper


    Part 1: From Scottsdale to Long Island

  Part 2: The Left Coast

    Part 3: Wrap Up, Credits, and Media Tour Awards

La-La Land

After a 5 1/2 hour flight from JFK, I was picked up by media escort Jeff Silverman, an actor (of course) and a real foodie who cooks a lot at home. All you hear about is the smog in L.A.—you never hear about the perfect days like that one, with blue skies, breezes off the ocean, and 71 degrees. Paradise, with traffic. And billboards—it seemed that every other one was for War of the Worlds.

I’m jet lagged and tired because my 6:30 p.m. demo start time at Sur La Table in Santa Monica is 9:30 my time, but I’m charged up by a good crowd and by far the most interactive so far, with a lot of questions. I encourage all audiences to interact with me and even interrupt me with questions, and this group did just that. They liked the heat, so I spiked up the chiles and black pepper for them. It was by far the most enthusiastic crowd of the tour so far, and I guess that they’re used to applauding people they like. I was flattered by the response.

While I was making the strawberries with black pepper, one guy walked directly into a joke by asking what brand of tequila to use. I replied, “Mockingbird tequila,” and added, since this is Tinsel Town, “and they made a movie based on the brand: Tequila Mockingbird.”

I also did a demo at Sur La Table in posh Newport Beach and was impressed with all the blonde, perfect-looking women in the bar at Gulfstream in the same shopping center. Jeff also took me to Balboa Island, home of the multi-million dollar beach homes.

The Bountiful Bay Area

San Francisco Farmer’s Market



The bustling San Francisco Farmer’s Market.



My first escort in the Bay Area was novelist Frank Lauria, who wrote the novelization of The Mask of Zorro movie. The demo went fine at Sur La Table despite the fact that I had to I had to yell over the loud horns of passing trains. I think I got off on the wrong foot in PC-country by telling the joke: “Where do one-legged waitresses work? At IHOP, of course.”

My next media escort was Melanie Yunk of Melanie’s Fine Foods and Big Acres Brand. The first stop in San Francisco was KGO radio, where I was on the show “Dining Around with Gene Burns.” This is a very popular long-format (3 hours) radio food show and I was on for about a half hour plugging the book. Gene is a very talented interviewer. Also on the show was Jeremiah Pick, an importer of estate-grown coffees from Central America and New Guinea, and he gave me a bag of his Jeremiah Pick’s Private Reserve, which was excellent.

Next we went to the San Francisco Farmer’s Market. This large market is held outside the Ferry Building, which itself is home to dozens and dozens of foodie shops. This is one of the largest and most comprehensive farmer’s markets that I have ever seen, with lots of organic produce, fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, and yes, chile peppers. I ran into David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms, a grower of specialty chiles including Portuguese varieties such as pimientos de padrón, which were harvested from his greenhouses in East Palo Alto.

Pimientos de Padrón



Pimientos de Padrón at the market.



I also picked up a bottle of Iacobini Bomba Calabrese, the spicy crushed red peppers from Calabria, imported by John Blount of Italian Harvest, Inc.

From the market it was on to Oakland, where we hooked up with Emory Joseph, a chilehead and musician who gave us a tour of Oakland barbecue joints. Oakland is the west coast BBQ capital and we tasted some great ‘cue at four different locations. After all that, we ended up at Cesar for drinks and tapas, and tried the pimientos de padrón that were fried in olive oil and then salted. They were tasty but not spicy at all. Emory auditioned his CD entitled “Labor and Spirits” for us and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

On Sunday, Melanie and I, along with her husband Kent, drove through the wine country to Napa and Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts. It is an unbelievably great museum that has not only permanent exhibits like “A Fork in the Road,” which is a multimedia history of American food, but also traveling exhibits like the one on Navajo spoons.

DD the Copia Cowby



That’s me with the Copia Cow.



They also have acres and acres of gardens, complete with every food plant you can think of, including a lot of chiles. It was a perfect day with the temperature in the ‘80s, mockingbirds singing, and butterflies landing on the flowers.

Copia Gardens



The extensive Copia Gardens



We had a delicious lunch at Julia’s Kitchen, named after the late Julia Child, and then I did a cooking demonstration with a Santa Fe slant: Tortilla Roll-Ups with Green Chile and Smoked Salmon, Southwest Salsa Soup, Nopalitos and Spinach Salad, and Chiles Rellenos Stuffed with Crab. I was ably assisted by Marie Simmons, the food was well received by an enthusiastic audience, and then I did a book signing.

Demonstration Kitchen at the Copia Theatre



The Demonstration Kitchen at the Copia Theatre.



Then it was on to two wineries, Luna and Darioush. Both had excellent wines and I was impressed with the design of Darioush and its Mesopotamian architecture.

The Darioush Winery



The Darioush Winery.



We had a nice dinner at the Martini House in St. Helena, where I had the sinful but delicious foie gras. The following day, Melanie took me on a tour of the wild Pacific Coast along Route 1, and then gave one more cooking demo at Sur La Table in Los Gatos, between San Jose and Santa Cruz.

Noshing in the Northwest

My first media escort in the Northwest was Roz Bell, a delightful woman who has her own cooking show on cable in the Seattle area. We spent the first morning and afternoon going to bookstores and signing stock, and I did an interview with the food editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hsiao-Ching Chow. She recorded it for a podcast, so am I hooked up with the latest technology or what?

My cooking demo was at the Sur La Table in Kirkland and the culinary director, Carlyn Forrest, had a terrific staff to assist me. In fact, we finished the prep so early that Roz and I had time to go to the Waimea Brewing Company, where we both had a dish of poki, ahi tuni marinated in lime juice and red pepper flakes and dipped in “wasabi” and soy sauce. It was great along with some amber ale.

The cooking demo had a great interactive crowd that laughed at all my jokes, which is always encouraging. One guy asked me if I wanted to own a restaurant.

“I’d sooner move to Iraq than have a restaurant!” I replied.

The most dramatic part of the demo was when I overheated the thin stainless steel soup pot with olive oil in it and it burst into flame. Sue, one of my assistants, quickly covered it with a metal tray and extinguished the fire, and I worked the incident into my routine, wishing that I had brought my camera.

The next day I toured the Pike Place market, went to book stores and signed stock, found habaneros at an Asian market, ate wonderfully fresh halibut at The Brooklyn, and then did a demo and signing at Third Place Books.

Beautiful Habaneros in an Asian Market



Beautiful Habaneros in an Asian Market.



In Portland, I was picked up at the airport by media escort Halle Sadle. She and her husband Rick own two Salvador Molly’s restaurants and a huge catering operation with the same name. We stopped by Powell’s Books for Cooks, where they had lots of posters featuring me for the Friday night event they were sponsoring at Salvador Molly’s. Then I was transferred to Nancy Bardue for more stock signings at bookstores. The audience at the cooking demo at Sur La Table in the Pearl District was the largest yet, which was fitting for my final—and twelfth–demo of the tour. They were enthusiastic and very friendly, and I spent extra time chatting with them after I fed them with the assistance of Chef Josh and his helpers.

I was very impressed with Portland’s culinary scene, complete with many cooking shops, cookbook stores, brewpubs, and eclectic restaurants. I ate lunch at Typhoon!, a nouveau Thai restaurant with an incredible tea menu of 91 teas—one of the finest collections of premium teas in the world. I started with Bo’s Lemongrass Clam Chowder, flavored with coconut milk, Thai chiles, and spices, and it was the best clam chowder I’ve ever eaten. That was followed by their award-winning Death by Asparagus, which was a spiced-up stir-fry of shrimp, asparagus pieces and green bell pepper in a red curry sauce with holy basil.

I had an opportunity to visit the lovely Portland Classical Chinese Garden, which occupied an entire city block and had been transported stone-by-stone from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou.

Portland’s Classical Chinese Garden



Portland’s Classical Chinese Garden.



During a break for a beer at Jake’s Famous Crawfish, Portland’s oldest restaurant at 113 years, I ran into fellow chilehead Don Young, who immediately began ordering up a cold seafood platter for us, plus shots from a very fine tequila—Reserva del Dueño (Master’s Reserve)–served up by day bartender Michael Paul. Fortunately, I was rescued by Nancy Bardue before I got too sloshed to function.

Postcard of Jake’s and Portland



Postcard of Jake’s and Portland.



Then it was off to Salvador Molly’s, where Powell’s Books for Cooks threw an “End of Tour” party and tasting of recipes from the book. I ran into two sets of chileheads from the early Chile Pepper magazine days: Lisa and Andrew Dumont, and David and Noel Riney, and I had a great time with them. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful tour!


Recipes from the Copia Demonstration and Wine Tasting

Tortilla Roll-Ups

These are popular appetizers in New Mexico. At just about every party you attend, there are tortilla roll-ups filled with cream cheese and green is on the table. One would think that people would tire of them, but the tortilla tray is usually the first one cleaned. They can be made with assortment of fillings and here are a few of our favorites that are colorful as well as tasty. Low fat can be substitute for regular cream cheese, if you so desire. A helpful hint: it’s important to tightly roll and refrigerate the rolls or they won’t stay together. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

Green Chile Salmon filling:

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 4 green New Mexico chiles, roasted, peeled, and cut in strips

  • 2 teaspoons dill

  • 4 ounces salmon fillets, thinly sliced

  • 1 dozen fresh flour tortillas

To make the salmon tortillas, spread a layer of sour cream over a tortilla. Lay 1/3 of the chile strips on top, sprinkle with the dill, and arrange the salmon over the mixture. Roll up the tortilla and tightly wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with 2 more tortillas.

Place the tortillas in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. Just before serving, unwrap the tortilla rolls and slice into 6 to 8 pieces

Yield: 6 to 8 dozen

Heat Scale: Varies

Southwest Salsa Soup with Lime Cream

Using a commercial salsa as a base for this soup makes it quick and easy to prepare as well allowing you to choose your spice level from mild to wild. The heat of the salsa will intensify, so we don’t recommend you use a salsa that is too hot or a salsa that is habanero-based. This simple soup can also be expanded to a more hearty soup with the addition of ingredients such as cooked pinto or black beans, chicken or turkey, or even whole kernel corn. Add these to the soup after it has been pureed. For a taste of green chile, chicken enchiladas in a soup bowl, just use green chile salsa and chicken.

  • 1 cup chopped onion

  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic

  • 2 to 3 teaspoons vegetable oil

  • 1 1/2 cups tomato-based commercial salsa

  • 3 cups chicken broth

  • 2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Garnish: Lime Cream (see recipe below)

Heat a heavy stock or sauce pot over medium-high heat, add the oil and when hot, add the onions and saute until they are soft. Add the garlic and continue to saute for an additional minute.

Stir in the salsa, broth, tortillas, cumin, and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the tortillas are soft. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

Put the mixture into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings and stir in the cilantro.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of Lime Cream.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild to Hot

Lime Cream

This cream can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to serve.

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, fresh preferred

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir to mix. Refrigerate any cream that is not used.

Yield: 3/4 cup

Nopalitos y Espinacas Ensalada (Spinach Salad with Prickly Pear Cactus)

The Spanish word for cactus is nopal, and nopales is the term for the leaves or pads of the opuntia or prickly pear cactus. Once the pads are prepared for eating, they are referred to as nopalitos. It’s a common sight in Mexico to see a nopales salesman on the street or in a market, scraping the spines off the cactus pads, peeling them, and then cutting them into thin strips. The fresh cactus needs to be processed before eating to reduce the “babas” or slimy liquid that is released during cooking. This can either be done by boiling and then rinsing the pads, or by grilling the pad for about 4 minutes or until limp. Nopalitos have a tart taste with a texture rather like string beans and are used to flavor stews, soups, salads, and egg dishes. They maybe difficult to find fresh outside of the Southwest or Latin markets, but the jars of nopalitos are more available and can be substituted in recipes.

  • 1 12-ounce jar nopalitos, rinsed well or 1 cup cooked nopales, julienne-cut

  • 3 cups fresh spinach, torn in bite size pieces

  • 1 small red onion, sliced in thin rings and separated

  • 10 radishes, thinly sliced

  • 6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or substitute flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/2 cup grated asadero or mozzarella cheese

  • Garnish: Diced avocado


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons crushed red chile, such as chile de Arbol or piquin

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram

  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and whisk to mix. Allow the dressing to sit at room temperature for an hour to blend the flavors.

Combine the nopalitos, spinach, onion, radishes, tomatoes, and cilantro in a chilled salad bowl and gently toss to mix. Drizzle the dressing over the top and again toss to mix.

Sprinkle the cheese over the top of the salad, garnish with the avocado and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Mild

Chiles Rellenos de Jaiba (Crab-Stuffed Chiles)

Chiles Rellenos come in a variety of forms and are very popular throughout Mexico and the Southwest. Some are dipped in a batter and fried; they can be included in casseroles that are bound together with a custard-type sauce, or as we have here, stuffed and baked. Most commonly filled with cheese, they are popular in Mexico stuffed with seasoned crabmeat, as evidenced by this recipe based on one from Sinaloa. Meat from freshly cooked crab provides the tastiest filling but any good quality canned crab will be fine. The use of chipotle chiles in the sauce provides a smoky depth to this crab dish.

  • 4 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeds removed

  • 2 cups shredded cooked crab

  • 1/4 cup minced onion

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried epazote, omit if unavailable

  • 2 tablespoons Mexican Crema, commercial,or substitute thin sour cream

  • Garnishes: Chopped flat-leaf parsley and grated Mexican cotija or anejo cheese, or substitute Parmesan


  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 clove garlic, chopped

  • 4 tomatoes, roasted, peeled, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 2 chipotles en adobo, chopped

  • 1 cup chicken broth

  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make the sauce, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, add the oil and when hot, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is soft. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for 20 minutes. Place the sauce in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the sauce into a saucepan, taste and adjust the seasonings, and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly oil a sheet pan.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat, add the oil and when hot, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is soft. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl. Add all the remaining filling ingredients to the bowl and toss to gently mix.

Make a long slit down the side of each chile. Spoon the crab mixture into the chiles and place them on the sheet pan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Place some of the sauce on individual plates, top with a chile, garnish with chopped parsley and cheese and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Fresh Margarita Strawberries with Tequila and Cracked Black Peppercorns

Strawberries and black pepper may seem like a strange flavor combination, but the pepper actually enhances the fresh flavor of the berries. If you don’t like to use alcohol, you can simply leave the tequila out of the recipe, the flavor will be different but still tasty. This quick and easy dessert has a sweet and sour taste, and the peppercorns leave your mouth warm after eating a bowl of strawberries. Denice Skrepcinski shared this recipe and since she is a food stylist, she knows how to turn a simple bowl of fruit into a very special dessert.

  • 4 cups sliced fresh strawberries

  • 1/3 cup orange juice, fresh preferred

  • 1/4 cup tequila, optional

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice, fresh preferred

  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coarse black pepper

  • Garnish: Lime slices and sugar

Combine the strawberries, orange juice, tequila, lime juice, and vinegar and toss to coat. Add the pepper and toss again.

For a dramatic presentation, rub the rims of Margarita glasses with lime juice and dip them into the sugar. Divide the strawberries between the glasses, sprinkle a little sugar over the berries, garnish with lime slices and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Heat Scale: Mild


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