“A little bit of this, a little bit of that…”

by Katie Pizzuto on July 2, 2011

in chocolate,Olive Oil,Prepackaged Food

“The heat was on, rising to the top…”
Heat Heads are a unique breed of people, part adrenaline junkies and part masochists. Visit one of their pot luck parties and you’re likely to be entertained by someone eating a cookie and sweating like Anthony Weiner at a press conference. But what I love most about the culture of heat are the stores I sometimes stumble on that are dedicated to the art of the hot sauce…and also literally the “art” of the hot sauce because the industry is known for having some of the most creative labels out there. So when I found myself in New Hope, PA a couple of weekends ago, strolling down its bohemian, store-lined streets, I was magnetically drawn to one called Suzies Hot Shoppe.

If you’ve ever been inside one of these stores, you know how easy it is to be taken in by the crazy sauce names and the whacky packaging…everything from skulls and crossbones to voodoo dolls and black coffins, and names like Ass Blaster and Satan’s Blood. But what really got my attention was a small sample the manager gave me of their homemade habañero/dark chocolate bar. Thankfully I asked for the mild because he had mentioned that what they deemed “mild” was apparently too hot for some folks so they made that the “medium” and created one with less heat. I’ve had a LOT of chili-spiced chocolate over the years, most of them artisanal (and therefore expensive) with beautifully printed (and did I mention expensive) labels. But this chocolate bar, wrapped in plain cellophane and labeled with a sticker that was probably run off a home printer, was easily the best I’ve ever tasted: top-quality chocolate that was just dark enough to match the serious heat of the “mild” habañero, and absolutely NO fucking around with the pure flavor of the chocolate—no fancy French sea salt, no cacao nibs, no lavender flowers, nothing. Just great chocolate and great heat. Do yourself a favor and seek their hot chocolate bars out. It’ll be worth the effort, trust me. As the heat heads know: no pain, no gain.

“Going to California with an aching in my heart…”
As hard as I tend to be on California and its winemaking philosophies, when it comes to olive oil I’ve been turning more and more heads towards the west over the last couple of years. Many people have no idea just how corrupt the olive oil industry is overseas, particularly in Italy where most of our imported olive oil comes from. At a time when this country is looking more than ever at locally grown/made products, California olive oil is a no-brainer. Over the last couple of decades, CA growers have been planting olive trees, learning the best practices for harvesting and blending, and experimenting with a variety of olive presses, all in an effort to create great domestic extra-virgin olive oil. Since the key to extra-virgin olive oil is freshness—its flavor degrades over time, even when sealed in a bottle—the potential benefits of buying domestic oil that doesn’t have to travel are tremendous, not even touching on the enormous controversy brewing in Italy as to just how much olive oil is in many of your favorite bottles of “olive oil.”

California Olive Ranch, Br. Cohn and Three Olives are probably the most readily found in supermarkets, and California Olive Ranch I know dates their bottles—again, freshness being key. When I want the best possible olive oil, I still turn to Spain, but given that Goya is the only ubiquitous Spanish olive oil in supermarkets (and that it tastes like shit) California is without question my go-to spot for extra virgin olive oil now. Add to that the fact that it leaves a much smaller carbon footprint in its travels to get to my market’s shelves and it’s a win-win for me.

“Yes it’s summer, my time of year…”
With summer in swing and most of us spending our spare time chasing daylight, the easiest way to insult the season is with jarred barbecue sauces and hackneyed marinades that involve some sort of sorry death for your beautiful grilled meats. Do everyone a favor and leave that crap on the store shelf, right where it belongs, and MAKE something…a relish, a chutney, anything that tastes like summer. Chop up some parsley and garlic, and make a chimichurri. Dice up some grilled scallions, jalapeños and mangoes and make this relish pictured on the right that screams summer, all without the aid of high fructose corn syrup and liquid smoke.

If you’re stupid enough to not yet have bought The Flavor Bible, here are a bunch of great flavor combinations to play around with, none of which involve the purchase of anything that comes in a glass bottle (just stay the hell away from pineapple which can seriously wreak havoc on meat):
• Peaches, lemon thyme, arugula and ginger
• Chipotles, lime, orange juice and cilantro
• Pistachios, basil, apricots and cardamom
• Vidalia onions, walnuts, blue cheese and basil

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey August 19, 2011

Re Suzy’s Hot Shoppe … My old man and I were there last weekend, just wanted to add the owner of the shop is a great guy. We tried out the recommended chilli choc and for this wussy brit the burn was a bit too much. The old man is however slowly munching through the bar we bought. Great recommendation Katie, it was well worth the visit,

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2 Katie Pizzuto August 19, 2011

Excellent!!! Glad to hear it. Glenn is definitely a great guy…gregarious and generous. “Slowly” is definitely to munch on these bars, but heck that just makes them last longer! Really glad you enjoyed the shop.

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