Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy...of chilies

“Recent findings suggest that pain and pleasure share common neurochemical circuits, and studies in animals and humans show that opioid-mediated descending pathways can inhibit or facilitate pain1

While this quote from the abstract of a Journal of Neuroscience article is meant to pertain to specific medication that is an agonist/antagonist to opioid receptors, naloxone, the general concept can be applied to many facets of life including residency which is pain and pleasure embodied.  This statement also can easily be made about spicy food.  

My husband and I burn for spicy food.  When we had been dating for about a year, we ventured to Thailand for a week.  Seeing as were not about to pay 25 bucks a person for a fancy breakfast at our hotel, we ventured to the local street vendors for a plate of deliciously mouth numbing curry and jasmine rice. 

Well, we didn’t think this through quite enough because as we went to buy something to drink, our mouths ablaze, the lovely vendor offered us a bucket of tap water and a ladle.  Considering that my stomach is fairly sensitive and I didn’t even survive a night at the Texas state fair without my gastric contents painting the lining of the toilet bowl, I wasn’t about to imbibe a gallon of e. coli laden tap water certain to make my linings explode.  Surely, one can imagine a bunch of sun burnt idiots running around the alleys of Bangkok with their tongues hanging out of their mouths.

Even though the experience was painful, it was by far a happy moment in my life.   This is because chilies are one of those foods that cause as much pleasure as they do pain.  Paul Rozin, psychology expert suggests that spicy food are a “constrained risk” in that the act is a generally harmless however the body responds in with a warning system that is physically painful.  Basically, people love spicy food because it feels dangerous but it isn’t. 2  

I actually made these tamales for a recipe contest on Food52, a weekly competition for a community-compiled cookbook.  One of my recipes, this soup, actually was picked to be published in the cookbook.  Anyway, one of the problems with being a resident and an idiot is that I misunderstood when the entry time was over.  I spent all day making these tamales and I didn’t even submit them. 

The contest theme was coffee, so I braised short ribs in coffee and spices and then made a blistering red sauce to coat the meat to fill the tamales.  The caffeine and chile is a great combination for your gastritis…I recommend taking a prilosec first.  I think that if you just made the meat and the sauce and skipped all of the corn husk, tamale steaming assembly disaster and used the meat as a taco filling or serve it with rice and beans it would be a delicious meal.  Our tongues were burning with deliciousness. 

Makes about 12 tamales, takes about forever

Monday, April 18, 2011


Literally, crumbs or scraps, migas are the genius breakfast of some Mexican brainiacs disguising chips and salsa into a delicious breakfast.  Migas are a great use of the bottom of the tortilla chip bag or some stale crumbs that you found in the back of your cupboard hidden behind the seven pound bag of chocolate chips. 

Migas are a Texas staple and one of the amazing foods that have become necessities since I became a resident of this great state almost a year ago.  Yep, it’s been a great year in Texas.  The weather, the food, the people—it’s all awesome.   So, here I share some of my joy with you.

Gooey cheese, tortilla chips and eggs.  Breakfast of champions.


Serves two hungry people

2 tbsp veggie oil
1 small onion diced
1 clove garlic
½ cup green salsa or small can green chiles
½ cup tortilla chips broken into small pieces
4 eggs
½ cup shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, whatever you got)
salsa, sour cream, cilantro to top

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until ripples.  Add onion and garlic with pinch of salt and stir carefully until translucent.  Add green salsa and chips, stir until chips are slightly soggy.   Add eggs and stir until cook, add cheese until melted.  Serve with toppings and enjoy.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Just feeling like sharing a recipe--I think I'm going to try and do this more often.  This is a middle eastern twist on meatballs.  Easy and delicious.  The trick is finding bulgar wheat as a binder which adds whole grain and a nice nutty crunch.  I love lamb and I used ground lamb in this instead of beef or pork.  I served them with baba ganoush and sauteed veggies.  They would also taste great in pitas or in pasta.

Lamb Meatballs
1lb ground lamb
1 cup cooked bulgar wheat*
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp pine nuts chopped
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400.  Mix all ingredients together with hands until combined.  Take about 1-2 tablespoons filling, roll into balls and place on foiled baking sheets.  Bake until golden brown and cooked all the way through, about 15 minutes. 
*To cook bulgar wheat bring 1/2 cup wheat and 1 cup salted water to boil, reduce to low and cook for approximately 20 minutes