In the Kitchen Again -- Or, How Spicy Do You Want It?

I'm a spicy girl. Always have been. (My daughter is, too, for which I'm roundly and regularly given credit, and/or blamed.)

Yep, the spicier the better, as far as I'm concerned. You know what, though? Sometimes the situation doesn't warrant so much spice. Sometimes you have to know when to tone it down. Otherwise, you'll ruin a perfectly lovely piece of fish, and ... wait. Let me start at the beginning.

Just Don't Rub Your Eyes

My long-delayed turn to cook came around (again) this week, and I really did have to bring it, considering my last attempt sneaked kale into polenta and served up glorified (if tasty) chicken strips. Fine. I love a challenge.

I'd chosen a delicious-looking secret meal from the (sadly missed) Gourmet magazine: Grilled Tuna and Peppers with Caper Vinaigrette, along with slow-roasted new potatoes. Now, it was shopping time. Our friend Vanessa, Queen of Mexican Cuisine, had mentioned she had some extra peppers of all sorts left over from a marathon salsa-making weekend, so I stopped by her place to pick them up.

I was slightly surprised when Vanessa handed me a big orange Home Depot bucket full of many, many peppers: jalapeños, serranos, poblanos, green and red bell peppers, and a bunch of these intriguing-looking light-greenish-yellowish ones I didn't recognize. The dinner recipe called for light green Italian peppers, but these seemed infinitely more interesting, and here they were in a bucket for me, so that was set -- I'd use them. 

And I got an absolutely stellar piece of ahi from Cardiff Seaside Market, a family-owned independent grocery with the best fish selection around. Take a look:

This ahi looks like a chunk of Himalayan pink salt. Can't get much fresher.

Since we had this windfall of peppers, we planned to roast them all up on the grill. I started slicing and seeding my mysterious yellow ones. My eyes began to burn.

Well, perhaps they're a tad bit spicy, I thought. Great! The spicier the better! (Spicy girl, remember.)

Daughter Talia, 10, interrupted me to ask for some celery. I rinsed and dried my hands, pulled a stalk of celery from its bag in the fridge, and gave it to her.

"Aaaaaaah!" she shrieked upon first bite. "Why is this so spicy?"

Uh oh.

"You like spicy," I hemmed. "You're always pouring on the hot sauce, and..."

"Not on celery!" she shot back.

Guess we won't be making this anytime soon. Photo via

It seemed I had some peppers on my hands -- literally -- with a Scoville rating that would ensure the only thing anyone tasted, if I used them, was the searing fire of hell on the palate. Which wasn't going to do that glistening piece of ahi any favors. Not to mention whatever wine Jody might have hidden away in the brown bag. 

I roasted them anyway, along with the others, just to see if maybe we'd all been mistaken and the heat would lessen a bit with roasting, which it didn't. However, those mild bell peppers from the big orange bucket -- roasted up and mixed with a sliver here and there of the mysterious spicy peppers -- proved to be just what we needed.

Burgundy, Or ... What?

Have I been delaying this part a bit? The part where the person who selected the secret meal tastes the secret wine blind, and guesses its provenance? If so, it's only because I'm a touch embarrassed -- but what I really should be is proud. Not of myself, but of the folks we know who grew and made this wine. I'll explain.

The bright pomegranate color and the initial aroma marked the wine as Pinot Noir. It had a really pretty nose of round fruit tempered with a spicy (seriously) characteristic that drew an immediate reaction from me: It smelled like a young Burgundy. The flavors on the palate didn't change my mind -- layers of soft spice, silky -- and it worked quite well with the meatiness of the fish (which we'd pan-seared rather than grilled); the picante undertones of the peppers; the blend of capers, Meyer lemon and parsley drizzled about -- and the scrumptious slow-roasted new potatoes, which cooked in a bath of olive oil, sea salt, ground pepper and fresh thyme.

The blend of flavors in both the meal and the wine were bold, and simple. 2007 Santenay, I said.

Well, well. 2006 Laetitia Single-Vineyard Pinot Noir, La Coupelle Vineyard, Arroyo Grande Valley, CA.

Laetitia wine two weeks in a row? And, wait, California pinot noir mistaken for Burgundy? Really?!? Grands travaux, Lino & Eric! Je vous félicite.

Regular blog-readers may remember that in 2009, we purchased the fruit for our first vintage of Grenache & Syrah from Lino Bozzano, vineyard manager for Laetitia Vineyard in Arroyo Grande and the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in Cuyama. This wine, the Laetitia La Coupelle, is a first-time single-vineyard bottling and a victim of the economy -- it would be selling for $60 if we all had the money we used to have; but it now can be picked up for $35.

Another serendipitously successful (double) double-blind food and wine pairing. Now, if I can just get this residual capsaicin off my fingers...

Until next week! Comments, suggestions, thoughts always welcome.