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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Best Hot Sauce for Italian Food

Even the most ardent of Chileheads hesitates to juice up a classic Italian dish like a fabulous lasagna or a great veal parmesan with hot sauce. Often, the hot sauce fights the oregano, basil, or rich tomato base of the dish. Trust Spicy Food Guy when he says cayenne and scotch bonnet pepper based hot sauces simply don't work.

Likewise, a strong garlic hot sauce can simply over flavor an Italian dish, and a sauce that is too hot overpowers and masks the Italian flavor.

Spicy Food Guy has searched the nooks and crannies of the hot sauce world looking for the elixir that can both enhance and add heat to a great plate of spaghetti.

So pleased as punch was Spicy Food Guy when he discovered "Sheriff Jim Taylor's All Natural Garlic and Herb Hot Sauce" that professes to "add zest to any Italian dish." And Spicy Food Guy is here to testify that Sheriff Jim Taylor tells no lies: his hot sauce is indeed the perfect complement to a penne and bolognese entree. Not overly hot, nice touches of garlic and basil and oregano without being overbearing. It has a slight saltiness and vinegar that really works with marinara.

But there are some mysteries.

First, just who was Sheriff Taylor and what was his role in hot sauce development? We know from the bottle that "Sheriff Jim Taylor was the true and real sheriff of Surry County North Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s and lived in Mount Airy, North Carolina."

That's it. That's all we know. There are no references to how the Sheriff of Surry County came to be associated with a hot sauce, either on the label or on the Internet. Did he wake one night in the midst of an epiphany filled dream and yell "Tabasco peppers with Italian herbs, that's the secret to the elixir?" Spicy Food Guy does not know.

Second mystery? Sheriff Taylor's hot sauces are not widely available. Google searches turn up only "The Rustic Barn" as the venue to order Sheriff Taylor's products. And even more mysterious, the Garlic and Herb hot sauce is not one of the products available to order.

Which brings Spicy Food Guy to his third and final mystery: just how in the hell did SFG end up with this particular hot sauce in his collection? Spicy Food Guy has no earthly idea. Did he get it in a North Carolina airport? Possibly. Or at Zestfest 2007 or 2008? Maybe. But he doesn't really know. Not at all.

Spicy Food Guy suspects it was smuggled into his collection by Elves. It is the season, after all. And Spicy Food Guy has been soooo nice as of late. And full. Lasagna with Sheriff Jim Taylor Hot Sauce. You heard it here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Unexpected Arrival, a Seattle Scramble, and a Spanish Tapa Featuring Octopus

As usual, for reasons best left unknown to the American General Public, Spicy Food Guy found himself on the road again last week. This time the trip was to Seattle, via Detroit on Northwest Airlines.

The plane lands about 6:00 PST, a tad early, and the pilot makes the following announcement:

"We will have to wait a few minutes before we can deboard the plane. The Ground Crew wasn't expecting us."


Spicy Food Guy has a very difficult time buying the Pilot's story. The flight had been in the public record for at least six months; some passengers on the plane had made their reservations over 100 days ago. And if the public record was too enigmatic, it turns out that there are dozens of electronic signs throughout the airport that say "Arrivals" with all the flights and times right there for any casual observer can see. Spicy Food Guy posits that a Grounds Crew would have to try very hard not to be aware of the inbound Northwest flight from Detroit.

Spicy Food Guy imagines two guys playing cards in the jetway having the following conversation:

HANK: "Was that the doorbell?"

BOB: "Sure was. Were you expecting anyone?"

HANK: "No. Let me look out the window."

BOB: "Who's there?"

HANK: "I'll be damned. It's a big airplane, and it's full of people!"

BOB: "This is so unexpected."

But Spicy food guy sooo digresses. The trip to Seattle was actually a great success, and it all started with some great hotel food at the Airport Marriott. And as us frequent travelers know, finding great hotel food is right up there with a unicorn sighting: happens rarely to never.

First, there were the Buffalo Tempura Wings from the lobby bar, which were actually strips of chicken breast fried in a light tempura batter. Add some hot buffalo sauce and blue cheese. Fabulous after a transatlantic flight. SFG had three orders. Really.

Then there was the breakfast at the Aquaterra restaurant right next to the lobby. SFG had the Seattle Scramble: smoked salmon, lightly scrambled eggs, and cream cheese, all mixed together and seasoned with dill. All in all, a salmon lover's dream, though SFG ascertained that the payoff ingredient was the cream cheese (it looked to SFG that the chef used about 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of cream cheese, and about a 1/2 cup of smoked salmon, for those of you who want to try this at home).

As it happens, this hotel dining was all a warm-up for what turned out to be a culinary extravaganza at the downtown Spanish Tapas restaurant, the Harvest Vine.

But first a bit about the company joining SFG. The leadoff batters were two Female Midwestern Colleagues of Spicy Food Guy (FMCOSFG), bringing their Pennsylvania taste buds to a west coast culinary show. Also joining SFG were two West Coast Colleagues of Spicy Food Guy (WCCOSFG). WCCOSFG are snazzy dressers with sharp shirts and jackets. Spicy Food Guy always feels like a slob when he is with them. Rounding out the company were Elk Hunting Friend of Spicy Food Guy (EHFOSFG), a long-time friend of SFG with a sharp and peculiar sense of humor, and Falsely Modest Colleague of Spicy Food Guy (FMCOSFG), who ordered the wine. SFG details all this because, at the end of the day, this was a company worth keeping. Had the food been horrific, which it was not, SFG would have enjoyed his table. And it's not always like that, out on the road.

The dinner began with FMCOSFG insisting that he wasn't qualified to order the wine, given how little he knew about the nectar of the gods. "I really don't know much," shrugged FMCOSFG, "except what I learned during the two months my wife and I lived in the vineyards of Northern Spain."


Turns out the wine was an excellent surprise. Nessa Albarino. A Spanish white wine with medium body, citrus overtones, and hints of European Basketball. SFG loved it.

The tapas were beyond fabulous. SFG was shocked at how much he enjoyed the "Ensalada de Remolachas", red and yellow beet slices with garlic and vinegar. An off-the-menu tapa was grilled vinison with chard, and the bitterness of the greens was the perfect offset for the wild grilled taste of the deer. The fois gras melted in SFG's mouth. And the Octopus! The "Pulpo da Feira" on crackers made even the conservative FMCOSFGs re-think their culinary disposition regarding eight legged entrees.

So Seattle was splendid, the food was rich and delicious, and the company couldn't be beat. So says Spicy Food Guy.
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