Here’s a tip: Wash your hands thoroughly after cutting habaneros and before you pee.
Yesterday morning, I had the delightful idea of walking over to the Fells Point Farmers’ Market. What a good way to get outside, get a cup of coffee, and stock up on fruits and veggies. I made my way over, found that iced coffee, a graham-toffee sugary-salty morning treat, and bought some tomatoes, habanero peppers and mini-eggplants.
I was feeling so proud of myself for deciding to eat healthily and perhaps I would even make a recipe from scratch for roasted tomato and habanero salsa over roasted eggplant! Yes, what a great idea! I’m going to have time on my hands in Michigan so I will experiment and invent fabulous recipes – why not start now!
Then I got home, and it all fell apart.
I cut the eggplant into rounds, tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and placed them on a baking sheet. I coated the baby tomatoes in olive oil and put them in a glass baking dish. It took a while to carefully cut up 10 habaneros, making sure that every last seed was out to try to assuage the potential of melt-your-face spiciness. You may be asking yourself why I would possibly use 10 habaneros knowing that the capsaicin (the active component of chili peppers that gives it the heat) level of habaneros is pretty high on the Scoville Scale, which is the scale that measures the “spicy heat” of peppers. Good point. Well, it was because they were sold by the farmer’s market box. So I had a lot to use.
I put the halved habaneros in their own baking dish assuming that if I combined them with one of the other ingredients in the oven, then that whole dish would be overwhelmed by habanero flavor/heat. I put everything in the oven at 425 degrees, which is the temp that I normally roast tomatoes.
Then I blew my nose and went pee.
As I was washing my hands, I felt my nose begin to tingle. Hm. Then between my nose and various other body parts that you can imagine, there were distinct burning sensations. Oh. My. God. Per Wikipedia, capsaicin “is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact.” Yes – that’s accurate. I ran to the shower.
The water did not seem to be helping whatsoever and may have even been spreading the habanero essence further around. I thought back to all the hot pepper eating episodes of various Food Network shows. Right, they said when you eat a spicy pepper, water may make it worse, but milk will probably make it better. Well, being lactose intolerant, I don’t have any milk in the house.
But I do have unsweetened, unflavored coconut milk (which is pretty icky tasting by the way – it was a trial quart)! I hopped out of the shower, ran to the fridge, got back in the shower and proceeded to pour coconut milk all over myself. LOL Gross.
But it seemed to work! Good job me! Good use of that coconut milk no one was going to drink! Good thing I hadn’t thrown it away while cleaning out the fridge earlier!
Washed off and feeling much more relaxed and re-excited about my cooking skills, I plopped down on the couch to wait. Typically, the tomatoes take 30-40 minutes to really get a nice char and start bursting. And fancying myself the cooking pro that I am, I didn’t set the kitchen timer, obviously.
At what seemed like a good commercial break, I went over to check the cooking progress. I cracked the oven to check it out, only to see to my horror that every single habanero half was a black, shriveled chip on the pan. Not only that, but the eggplant rounds looked like small charred hockey pucks. Crap.
Knowing the sensitivity of our smoke detectors to heat (not so much smoke though), I turned the oven off and opened all the doors and windows. Going back to the oven, I opened it all the way and pulled each rack halfway out. Immediately the smoke alarm went off. Fanning it with a potholder, I kept glancing back over at the oven, half expecting the burnt habaneros to have spontaneously combusted.
Phew, fire averted. The smell and irritation of the habaneros started to fill the apartment. Shielding my nose and mouth with a dishtowel, I chipped off the habaneros into the trash can, salvaged the 3 or 4 eggplant rounds that weren’t completely blackened, and scooped the tomatoes into a bowl. At least those looked edible!
Completely disappointed, I wondered what I was going to do with the other half of the habaneros that were sitting untouched on the counter. (Yes, there were that many in the box. NO ONE needs that many habaneros.) My original idea was to drop the leftover habaneros into some heated olive oil for a few minutes to flavor chicken, but the thought of chopping and heating more habaneros had me paralyzed with fear. I put them in the fridge and decided to think about them later.
A day later, I’m still coughing and choking on the lingering spice permeating the room, but maybe I will trying using ONE habanero to flavor some olive oil this afternoon. If anyone is in Baltimore and needs some habaneros over the next few days, please let me know – they’re all yours!
So on to other spicy, yet definitely not as spicy, food: spicy shrimp and banana pepper pizza at Birroteca. Birroteca is a newish craft pizza and beer restaurant in Clipper Mill/Hampden. Everyone is raving about it. You cannot get a reservation for your life. Some friends and I decided to risk a walk-in dinner last Tuesday (the only OpenTable reservations were for 5:30 or 8:45…on a Tuesday….in Baltimore). We found a spot at the corner of the bar we could corral. We decided to split the spicy fennel sausage pizza and the roast shrimp pizza amongst the four of us.
The pizza was solid. Good chewy crust that made you want to eat one or two pieces of crust but definitely not every piece. (FYI, I find pizza crust to be more of a utensil and not necessarily something to be eaten: who needs those extra empty carbs? So when you come across some really good crust that you actually want to eat, and not a piece of cardboard that’s holding up the sauce and cheese, then you must’ve found a good recipe!) The spicy fennel sausage pizza with mushrooms was earthy and yet somehow herbal or floral at the same time. I think the fennel actually made the pizza a bit sweet rather than spicy. The roast shrimp pizza with banana peppers was just alright. (Sorry guys, I think you set my expectations up too high saying that it was better than Bagby’s spicy shrimp pizza, which it is not, especially if you add sun-dried tomatoes to it.) Frankly, I totally forgot that there were banana peppers even on the pizza because the bits were pretty small and not overly flavorful….I think because they were cut small perhaps they were the victims of some similar pepper over-cooking. The shrimp on the other hand, were cut a bit too large for my liking. A big bite of shrimp, without room for much else, just becomes eating shrimp; I wasn’t able to incorporate shrimp, pepper, and a good amount of cheese into my mouth at one time. And the shrimp themselves weren’t super memorable in flavor…perhaps under-seasoned? Could have used a bit of spicy kick on the crustaceans.
I don’t mean to be a downer because overall the restaurant was very nice and I would go back. A dimly lit dark bar with lightbulb-esque pendant lamps, chalkboard walls and massive wood-slab tables. Lots of interesting beers on tap, including one I tried that was literally like licking a salt shaker. The mussels we had to start were simple and delicious, and I would go back to try some of the salads, as well as the salumi and cheeses, which restaurant-reviewers say are fabulous.
This week I’m thinking about getting a cheese pizza and arugula salad at Chazz, as well as a chicken pesto pizza from Bagby. As I’ve discussed, Bagby is my current favorite pizza spot in Baltimore, and the chicken pesto is my go-to pizza there; I gotta have it one more time before we head out West at the end of the week. Chazz is an Italian restaurant by Chazz Palminteri, the actor from The Usual Suspects and A Bronx Tale. This guy, ya know (image from Wikipedia):
It’s coal-fired oven pizza which means there’s usually a bit of sooty char on the crust, and I usually don’t go in for that, but I’m having a hankering for a bubbly, cheesy, chewy crust kind of ‘za, whereas Bagby will fulfill my thin crispy crust craving.
Now I’m getting hungry…time for the second habanero face off. This time I will be wearing latex gloves.