Around the BLOCK

Cheese-making story in the Kansas City Star

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 15•13

I can’t promise success, but it’s worth the effort to make your own cheese.

draining ricotta

Say Cheese

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 08•13

A Visit KC “Jam Sessions” blog post by yours truly. Under the auspices of the Greater Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.The barn at Green Dirt Farm


Greek Salad

Written By: Mary Bloch - Sep• 02•13

A Greek salad would go beautifully with chicken, beef or fish, and features ingredients that are plentiful in farmers’ markets around the area. Not only is it still peak tomato season, but cucumbers are available by the bushel as well.

Greek salad

Most greek salads don’t call for any lettuce, but my sister made one last month with a touch of arugula, giving it a bit more heft and adding a nice bite.Greek salad

I don’t follow a recipe but a traditional Greek salad has chopped cucumbers, tomatoes (if you find cherry tomatoes, halving them is best), Kalamata olives, sliced or diced red onion, chunks of red, orange and green peppers (the more colors the more visually appealing), and feta. If you’re feeling adventurous you could add roasted red pepper (mild or piquillo), quartered artichoke hearts and fresh oregano. (In the picture you can see I skipped the peppers, but only because I was long on tomatoes and cukes.)

This dressing is from Bobby Flay. Just whisk the ingredients together or throw everything into a jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the vegetables, and arugula if desired, toss and serve.

For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your chef’s knife
1 teaspoon dried or fresh oregano
3 pinches salt
10 to 15 grinds black pepper

Candied Jalapenos

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 20•13

Last spring I went to the Final Cut at Hollywood Casino and was served a cheese plate with candied jalapenos. I had never had this treat before and thought they were fabulous. Sweet, hot and an ideal match for the cheese. So I decided when summer came around I would try making them with the scads of jalapenos that we always have in our garden. I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that appealed to me. Some added too many spices but this one was just right.Poblanos and Jalapenos


It was simple to make but required a ton of jalapenos to produce a very small batch–30 in fact, for just 2 pints!

I would urge you to wear gloves while slicing the jalapenos: I never do and always wind up sticking a finger in my eye at some point and getting a very uncomfortable burn. Once you add the jalapeno slices to the sugar/vinegar mixture, watch them carefully so they don’t get overcooked. I took mine off the heat as soon as the bright green color was gone. P1010969P1010972

The recipe suggests adding cayenne pepper, but I used the seeds from the jalapeno, and that made it plenty hot…and I like heat.P1010977

I don’t can my produce due to concern that I may poison someone someday, but I have had good luck freezing jams, and I expect that these jars will be fine when thawed as well. P1010980

First Taste: Novel

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 12•13

Those in the know know of David Chang, chef/owner of the New York based Momofuku mini-empire. So when one of his former sous chefs sets up his own shop in Kansas City, he and his restaurant are going to immediately be on everyone’s radar.Novel

And so it was with me. I love Momofuku Saam Bar, the Noodle Bar and,of course, the chewy and ridiculously good compost cookies made by Chang’s pastry chef Christina Tosi (which, by the way, my son and daughter-in-law provided as party favors at their wedding–those cookies have a cult-like following.)

When I heard that the aforementioned former sous chef, Ryan Brazeal was coming to town, I “liked” his new restaurant on Facebook and started paying attention to the inevitable buzz that surrounded the opening of Novel. Novel is how Brazeal defines his food. To him, New American and Nouvelle are outdated terms. He’s doing American his way.

Brazeal has taken over a quaint little home on the Westside that for years housed Lil’s restaurant. Overlooking 17th Street from on high, several steps must be climbed to get first to the charming terrace and then into the restaurant. The building is just west of the 17th and Summit intersection that has become a hotbed of funky and interesting restaurants.The bar at Novelthe kitchen at Novelone of the dining rooms--Novel

It was fun to watch as he posted pictures of the renovation and greeted area chefs who stopped by to welcome him back to town. Brazeal is a graduate of the culinary program at the Johnson County Community College and, in his mind, this was an inevitable return.

The renovation is smashing in a very rustic, cozy way. Reclaimed wood lines the walls and floors, and the large kitchen in back is completely open and spacious. Diners walk by an intimate bar in order to get to their table, whether it’s on the first floor or upstairs. Also upstairs is a private dining room that is sure to be popular during the holidays.

Tomato and Strawberry Salad--Novel

We were there on a hot day in July when the A/C was working very hard to keep up with the steamy temperatures. Though normally we would have bolted after dinner because of it, the intimate atmosphere and our particular companions kept us in our seats long after the dishes had been cleared.

Everything that comes out of the kitchen is worth a picture. The colors are vibrant, and the flavors of each ingredient are distinctive and intense. Each dish is really a feast for all of the senses and makes the statement that this is fare that is going to be uniquely Brazeal’s.

Here’s what we enjoyed:

Tomato Salad with heirloom tomatoes, pickled strawberries, crisp cucumber, fresh herbs, yuzu-ginger vinaigrette was clearly made from just picked vegetables and fruit. With the Asian dressing and an unlikely combination of strawberry and tomato, Brazeal wastes no time in making it clear that he’s all about local and seasonal, cooking with only the freshest ingredients that he can get from the farmers with whom he is developing relationships.

Chilled Corn Soup--Novel

Chilled Corn soup –it was a special the night we dined at Novel, and was easily the best corn soup I’ve ever had. Made from fresh ears of corn, it was incredibly sweet, with a hint of spice to offset the natural sugars.

Fluke Crudo--Novel

Fluke Crudo with salted avocado, lime, and jicama was a delight. Each bite was a revelation and the flavors married beautifully.

The scallop entree was too intriguing to pass up. Seared and sitting atop bone marrow, mushroom, leek and chile oil, the scallops were sweet and cooked to perfection.Scallops with bone marrow and chile--Novel

The Chicken Brick was also quite inventive. According to GM Richard Garcia, this is the process: Brazeal brines the meat and then it’s lightly pounded flat; both the light and dark meat are seasoned with porchetta seasoning (sage, thyme, rosemary, and fennel seed), the meat is then layered alternating light and dark meat, and topped with chicken skin forming what looks like a brick; the “brick” is then pressed, cut into portions and pan roasted to order; sauce for the dish is made from fennel, shallots, white wine, chicken bones, and finished to order with sherry vinegar and pickled mustard seeds. The four bricks are surrounded by a panzanella salad of sourdough, summer squash, upland cress, mustard seed. Its was moist, light, and bursting with flavor.Chicken Brick--Novel

Flourless Chocolate Torte--Novel

We also spied a huge rib pork chop with spicy pork belly ragu, rice spaetzle, and baby bok choy that the diner at the next table was attacking with relish.

One flourless torte with caramel and peanuts for our table of four was all we could handle, but we demolished it. That’s my kind of dessert.

The small menu is updated often to take advantage of what’s in season, and weekly specials are off menu.

The only off note was the bread service. Novel serves bread from its neighbor, Fervere which, in my opinion, is the best bread shop in town. Once our order had been taken, we were offered our choice of two varieties of bread, with homemade butter. It’s hard to resist any bread Fervere makes, and we didn’t, scarfing it down as soon as the slice hit our plates. But then the server took our bread plates, without offering us more or anticipating that we’d want bread with at least our starter if not our meal. I get it; bread is an expensive add-on and many restaurants don’t even serve bread anymore, but to have it as its own course instead of with our meal seemed a bit odd to us. Perhaps the practice was due to our server’s inexperience or the restaurant being in its infancy, but if it’s the norm, I hope they’ll reconsider.


I planned to go back again before writing this post, but since the menu is so seasonal, I decided I’d wait to see what Brazeal creates as fall approaches. Whatever it is, I know it will be flawlessly executed.

In the meantime, I have gotten lots of questions about whether I’ve been and what I thought, so I wanted to give my first impressions.

No matter the season, I think Brazeal and Kansas City have a winner.

Novel on Urbanspoon

Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Written By: Mary Bloch - Aug• 05•13

Jose Andres has done it again. The celebrity chef based in Washington DC owns several restaurants around the District, and I’ve now eaten at all of them with the exception of Minibar (though my son and his girlfriend went and took lots of pictures so I have experienced it vicariously).  I had heard fabulous comments about Zaytinya for years but was reluctant to go because the featured cuisines of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are not typically my favorite. But this is not about hummus and dolmades, though those particular dishes are on the menu. If you venture out of your comfort zone, you will be richly rewarded with fun and exhilarating fare.P1010148Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Here’s the list of what we shared at our table with a description from the menu. I’ve made a few notes of explanation where needed. The pictures say it all.

CRISPY BRUSSELS AFELIABrussels Sprouts with Greek yogurt--Zaytinya
brussels sprouts, coriander seed,
barberries, garlic yogurt

HORTA SALATAKale salad --Zaytinya
kale salad, smoked olives, fava Santorini,
ladolemono, pistachios

medjool dates, orange, pomegranate,
pistachios, mintHalloumi cheese--Zaytinya

Halloumi is a cheese that can withstand heat without melting. It gets a bit too chewy when it cools, but right off the stove it’s soft and pairs well with a variety of sauces and fruits.

sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions,
kefalograviera cheese, ouzo

grilled Mediterranean octopus, marinated onions,
capers, yellow split pea pureeOctopus Santorini--Zaytinya

Samke Harra-style with coriander, cardamom,
pickled Lebanese chili oil, pine nuts and tahiniSalmon with Lebanese chili oil--Zaytinya

grilled chicken thigh, sumac, onions, garlic tuom,
grilled tomatoesChicken thigh with sumac, tomatoes, and tuom--Zaytinya

Garlic tuom is a Lebanese dipping sauce made along the lines of a pesto in that a mortar and pestle is needed to crush the ingredients into a paste. This particular condiment contains garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

There are a number of beef and lamb options on the menu. Knowing we had another meal to eat later in the day we opted for the lighter dishes. Though the small plates are meant for sharing, we still ordered too much food for three people to consume for brunch. The salmon was the only dish I didn’t care to fight over. There was nothing objectionable about it; compared to the other dishes, it was ordinary.

Not to be forgotten is the puffy warm pita that comes to the table with olive oil for dipping. It’s light and airy and makes a great pusher for each dish. We asked the server how it was made and he said it requires a very expensive machine, so I dismissed thoughts of trying to duplicate it at home.

Pita at Zaytinya

I try to check out a new restaurant, or one I haven’t visited, each time I make a trip to DC, but Zaytinya will definitely be on my repeat list.




Zaytinya on Urbanspoon


Written By: Mary Bloch - Jul• 29•13

Standing outside the front door of Affare on Main St. in the Crossroads District you would never expect what lies within. The restaurant itself is quite large, but part of the massive room is given over to a lounge and bar for those who only want a drink or bite to eat. The latter proposition is an easy one; the menu is comprised of small plates organized by the source of the ingredients–In the Garden, Under Water and In the Barn.AffareIMG_0840

Chef/owner Martin Heuser and his wife Katrin bill their cuisine as “Modern German”. While there is the obligatory schnitzel and spatzle, most of the menu reads more Continental…and no matter what you order, bring your camera. Each dish is a work of art on a plate.Pretzel rolls--Affare

Pretzel roll lovers will be delighted to see that a basket of them (courtesy of Farm To Market) comes to the table along with a bowl of spiced olives to whet your appetite. After that, it’s best to either rely on your server or ask a lot of questions since the menu needs deciphering. Our server was more than happy to assist and did a beautiful job of helping our table construct a balanced meal by choosing from each of the categories.Beet salad--Affare

We started with Red Beet Salad with flower blossoms and leaves, goat cheese and spiced pecan nuts, and Sommerfest: geräucherter black forest Schinken with heirloom tomatoes and summer squash.Spring vegetable salad--Affare

Lump Crab Salad in a roasted red pepper roulade, with frisee lettuce and madras curry paint was beautiful but tiny and a bit more bland than its composition would suggest.Roasted red pepper Roulade with lump crab salad, madras curry paint, compressed cucumbers--Affare

Pretzelknödel served with chanterelle mushrooms and brandy-cream sauce sounded rich when our server described it, and though that proved to be the case, it was so much better than a savory bread pudding would suggest, especially if you’re a mushroom lover.

Standouts on various visits included mushroom soup, Mushroom soup--Affarea beautiful elk chop, a bison short rib, and baked quail, wrapped in cabbage with almonds, cranberries, cassis jus, and celeriac puree. The lemon risotto that accompanied the seasonal seafood didn’t have much oomph, but the fish was delightful.Bison short rib--Affare*Edelfisch Allerlei (seasonal seafood) in liaison with lemon risotto, asparagus spears--AffareBaked Quail Ballontine, wrapped in cabbage with almonds, cranberries, cassis jus, celeriac puree--Affare

The most beautiful of our dishes was the Ricotta-Erbsen Ravioli with carrot puree and balsamico foam, and it tasted as good as it looked.Ricotta-Erbsen ravioli with carrot puree and balsamico foam--Affare

No visit to a German restaurant is complete without apple strudel, and this one is worth the splurge, as was the Black Forest Cake, which came with a shot of kirschwasser for drizzling over the cake.Apple Strudel--AffareBlack Forest Cake--Affare

In addition to the main dining room, there’s a private dining space, as well as a long picnic table in the outside courtyard for special events.

My favorite area of town to dine just got a bit sweeter.

Affäre on Urbanspoon

Eat Like a Local–Kansas City

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jul• 22•13

Chilaquiles--Port Fonda Shrimp and Grits--RyeBrussel Sprouts--Pizza Bella

Funny story.

The online magazine The Daily Meal recently published a list of the best dishes in Kansas City. I thought they missed the mark, so I wrote the author and suggested that she might want to get input from a local. She responded immediately and suggested I submit my favorites to incorporate into the article. Her only guideline was that they needed to be dishes that an out-of-towner would associate with Kansas City or that I thought represented KC well.

When I actually sat in front of the computer to make my list, I realized that it’s not that cut and dry. People want to have a KC Strip when they’re here, but the best steaks in my opinion can be found at chain restaurants. We have a plethora of Mexican restaurants, but is there one iconic dish? Everyone would have a different opinion on where to get the best Mexican on Southwest Boulevard–I’d pick Poco’s because it’s fresh, creative and family owned. Others would pick Manny’s, Margarita’s or Ponak’s because they’ve been around for decades. Some might choose Frida’s because it’s authentic and innovative. Same with pizza. I love Pizza Bella and Spin; others swear by Minsky’s or D’Bronx.

And of course you can’t win picking a favorite barbecue joint.

Hence my dilemma.

I went ahead and picked 5, with a 6th as an alternative or spare depending on how many the author wanted to include.

She ended up with 9. Originally listing Oklahoma Joe’s for its burnt ends, I switched that out for Danny Edwards since that’s its speciality. She kept her other original 4 and added my 4 others. If you regularly read my blog or listen to me on KCUR’s The Food Critics, you’ll probably be able to guess which ones I contributed to the list.

Feel free to tell me what you’d have suggested!



Written By: Mary Bloch - Jul• 15•13

Voltaire recently opened in the old R Bar space in the West Bottoms. Owned by Wes Gartner and Jill Myers of Moxie Catering, the couple serves up dinner and Happy Hour Wednesday-Saturday, and utilize the kitchen for their catering business the rest of the week. Though the old stage up front was transformed into a comfortable seating area, they left the rest of the restaurant intact, fortunately leaving the gorgeous bar as it was. Both times I’ve been there, the place was hopping with mostly under 30s.P1010707P1010698

The menu consists of innovative and delicious dishes, some small, others not so. On my first visit, the server suggested 2-4 dishes per couple; the second time I dined there it became clear that the number greatly depends on what dish you order. The plates get bigger as you move down the menu, so if you get one of the dishes at the bottom featuring meat, chicken or fish, you probably only need a salad or one of the more appetizer type dishes to complete your meal. If you stick to the top half of the menu, you’ll need to order more to make a complete meal.Vietnamese wings--VoltaireBibb lettuce salad--Voltaire

A new menu is printed up every week, with many new items added depending on what’s fresh. I tried most of the dishes on the spring menu, and was excited by what I ate.

Vietnamese chicken wings are roasted and served with nuoc cham and chile sauce to mix together to make a dipping sauce. Cool cucumbers on the side are an ideal foil for the spice.Roasted Cauliflower with snake beans--Voltaire

The roasted cauliflower with tempura snake beans, pigeon peas (which taste like a cross between lentils and red beans) with nam prik num sauce is one of the most complex and flavorful vegetarian dishes I’ve experienced in town. (I wish young Sulzberger from the New York Times was still here to enjoy it.) I will order it as long as it stays on the menu.

The Anaheim chile is charred and sits atop a gazpacho sauce. It’s sprinkled with fried anchovies, and while they may not be my favorite taste, the anchovies do transform a simple dish into something quite addictive. Beet and arugula salad with a fried egg and blue cheese crostini was lovely, but was the only dish that was less than flawless, and only because it was overdressed.Mussels--VoltaireArugula and beets--Voltaire

P.E.I Mussels with fennel, leek, pernod and thyme were piled high in a bowl, with grilled bread for dunking. The colors and flavors in the beautifully presented Bibb salad made it vastly different than most “house” salads, especially since it was dressed with good old-fashioned Green Goddess dressing.Spring Risotto--Voltaire

The risotto wasn’t my favorite, but others at the table really enjoyed it. The base was mushroom and was a bit bland, though the asparagus, pea sprouts and pistachios swirled into it made up for that lapse. A beet risotto that’s currently on the menu is getting raves.

Tri-tip Beef with chimmichurri and roasted poblano rajas brings a bit of Argentina to the menu, and the strips of salmon on a stick sitting on a bed of bok choy with sake-yuzu beurre blanc takes diners to Asia. Looking to India for inspiration, the chef devised the current lamb chop dish. Coriander crusted, the two chops sit atop a saffron-potato pancake and tikka masala salsa, and are topped off with mint raita.Salmon with bok choy--VoltaireTri-tip with chimmichurri--Voltairelamb chops--Voltaire

If pork tacos are on the menu, they are worth ordering. They come on baby corn tortillas, dressed with grilled pineapple and a mild but tasty tomatillo salsa.P1010769

Since much of the fare may be a bit unfamiliar to some diners, it’s fortunate that the servers are knowledgeable and genuinely excited about the menu. And those who enjoy sipping a good cocktail will be happy to hear that Ryan Miller, former barman at the Boot in Westport, is working his magic behind the bar at Voltaire.Voltaire

Voltaire’s hip vibe and ambiance, sophisticated but unfussy fare, and creative cocktail list make this new hot spot a really fun place to hang out. And for those of us who have passed the half-century mark, I promise that just being there will make you feel younger.

Voltaire on Urbanspoon

Hot Pepper Story–Kansas City Star

Written By: Mary Bloch - Jul• 08•13

If you missed my story in the Star’s Food Section last week and you don’t want to dig it out of your recycling bin, I’ve got it right here for you. IMG_0257


Firecracker hot sauces turn up the heat in the kitchen

July 2


Special to The Star

Fortunately for Original Juan, the world is full of consumers who crave spicy food.

 “Our industry depends on it,” says Lindsay Howerton, senior vice president of operations and human resources at Original Juan, a Rosedale-based company that uses peppers from all over the world to invent and produce hot sauces, dressings and salsas that are shipped to every state in this nation and 13 other countries.

Turns out Original Juan makes some of the hottest hot sauces in the world. The hottest of the hot is the Source. A combination of chili pepper extracts, this sauce tops the charts at 7.1 million on the Scoville scale. It’s so hot that the company requires a signed liability waiver from anyone brave enough to sample the potion at the tasting room in the Original Juan production facility.

“It’s memorable, to say the least,” Howerton says. “People turn purple when they taste it.”

Why would people put themselves through such torture?

A chili addict herself, Howerton describes the heat as lighting up all the senses, starting as a slow bloom and finishing as a full rush. She adds that it can take 2 minutes to bring the taster to tears.

Just how hot is hot?

That’s the question pharmacologist Wilbur Scoville set out to answer in 1912. A century later, the world still uses the Scoville scale to measure the level of heat from a chili.

A chemical compound called capsaicin is what makes a pepper hot, and it’s found in the walls and veins of chili pods. Scoville devised a scale of capsaicin concentrations in multiples of 100, starting at zero and topping off at what was previously thought to be a hair-raising 350,000 units. A completely subjective measurement, the units essentially represent the amount of sugar syrup it takes to dilute the chili extract in your mouth. The degree of dilution determines where the pepper sits on the scale.

To get a sense of perspective on this hot topic, it’s important to note that pure capsaicin weighs in at 16 million units. Bell peppers contain no capsaicin and therefore don’t register on the Scoville scale. But once you start popping jalapenos and serranos, which weigh in around 5,000 to 10,000 units, you should feel the heat. Dried chilis are hotter than their fresh counterparts, and habaneros tip the scale at a mean 350,000.

In all fairness to Scoville, there are hotter peppers produced now than 100 years ago. And that’s where the fun begins. According to Guinness World Records, the hottest chili was found during a 2011 test conducted in Australia. The Trinidad Scorpion Butch T was rated a whopping 1,463,700 Scoville heat units.

Original Juan’s company slogan: “Pain Is Good.” Kit Maxfield, manager of product development, says Original Juan recipes have to be hot. In fact, the low end of their heat spectrum is what the typical consumer would consider to be medium hot.

“We want to please as many people as we can,” Maxfield says, “but we have to stay true to our brand.”

Likewise, Howerton says she understands that not everyone is suited to work at the company. “You have to be a foodie and a chili head to work here,” she says.

Chili heads know which pepper or sauce to use on which dish. For example, Howerton will reach for a jalapeno sauce if a light and lime-y additive is desired. But when she prefers smoke and heartiness, perhaps as a meat substitute, she may pick a chipotle-based sauce. So what does she do when she is dining at a restaurant that doesn’t offer myriad sauces? Howerton carries a bottle of sauce in her purse for just these situations.

Chilies are considered to be helpful in the pursuit of weight loss. Similar to forms of exercise that make you hot, consuming a hot sauce can increase your metabolism. It can also create the same endorphin rush that runners experience.

But what if the burn is intolerable?

Many of us have experienced that moment of panic when our mouth feels like it’s on fire. Instinctively, we reach for a glass of ice water and start gulping. But Maxfield explains that cold water is the wrong medicine. That’s because capsaicin is a fatty molecule that is not soluble in water; in other words, water merely spreads the burn.

Milk and hot sauce may not sound like an appealing combination, but a tall drink of the white stuff will snuff out the heat. Actually, any dairy product will do the trick. Olive oil works, too, for those in agony.

Cooking with hot chili peppers presents its own set of challenges. For starters, getting capsaicin on your hands can cause blistering of the skin, so wear gloves when working with hot peppers. There’s also a danger to your eyes, so don’t rub them when working with hot peppers.

But it’s not just eating and touching hot peppers that can cause discomfort. Breathing a chili pepper’s hot components can also be problematic. During the regular washdown of equipment at Original Juan’s, Howerton says, it’s not unusual for employees to start coughing. This is because water spreads vapors into the air and throughout the building.

Besides producing 150 of its own proprietary products, Original Juan also works with individuals to create micro-batches of products that are often based on long-held family recipes or pie-in-the-sky ideas. Jeff (Stretch) Rumaner, owner of Grinders and Grinders West restaurants, turned to Original Juan to make Death Nectar for the restaurant’s chicken wings, which have been featured on Food Network.

“Most manufacturers won’t talk to you unless you order 500 gallons right off the bat,” he says. Original Juan requires a minimum of 136 gallons, and that’s only after a sample kettle of 4 gallons is approved by the customer, and the company does a slightly larger test batch to make sure there are no issues before going to production.

“They have an in-house laboratory where they walk you through the entire process,” Rumaner says. This includes developing the flavor profile, doing taste tests and finding a source for the selected peppers to make sure the sauce can be mass-produced. Original Juan is now producing four products for Grinders at a total of 1,000 gallons annually.

Original Juan gets peppers from India and Ecuador, and most arrive in dried or powdered form, which makes the sauce preparation less labor-intensive than starting with fresh peppers. But Original Juan also works with pepper mashes. These are fresh chilies, such as habaneros, ghosts, serranos or aji amarillos, that have been ground and stemmed but not peeled. They are packed in a 10 percent salt solution to allow a bit of fermentation and add a savory layer of flavor to the eventual product.

Original Juan’s test kitchen is led by Ali Shirazi, chef of the late, great Shiraz Restaurant on Southwest Boulevard. With a thorough understanding of the heat levels and flavor characteristics of most peppers, he and his crew blend different peppers to see what works best for a particular product.

“We don’t go by formulas when it comes to conversion,” he says. “It’s all a matter of taste.”

Original Juan produces sauces for Blanc Burgers & BottlesOklahoma Joe’sand the Roasterie, as well as for clients who prefer to remain anonymous. In all, Original Juan churns out 900 products, 150 of which are proprietary.

Creating a sauce is a matter of trial and error. “Sometimes we nail it in the first three-hour session,” Maxfield says. “Other times, the tasting panel has to meet six or seven times in order to come up with the final product.”

Meanwhile, new varieties of peppers are being produced. In large part, this is because chilies are, pardon the pun, a hot product.

Tracy Ritter, who is the culinary director of the Santa Fe School of Cooking, sees a resurgence of interest in cooking with chili peppers over the last several years. As evidence, Ritter points to the country’s demographic shifts. “As the Hispanic population increases, there are more Mexican, Tex-Mex and Spanish restaurants rolling out across the United States,” she says.

For decades, Southwestern cooking was a niche cuisine, led by such chefs as Mark Miller in Santa Fe and Bobby Flay in New York City. “But now,” Ritter says, “chili peppers are part of the mainstay of the American diet.”

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center reports chili pepper production is up 10 percent since 2009. Ritter, a former chef of a Mexican restaurant in New York City, experiments with a variety of peppers. But she says the four chilies easiest to use in sauces are chipotle, New Mexico red, guajillo and ancho peppers. Incidentally, guajillos have the same properties as grapes, with notes of raisin and smoke. And ancho chilies taste distinctly of chocolate.

California is the largest U.S. producer of chili peppers, but New Mexico is an obvious source of peppers, especially for the ubiquitous red chili sauce that smothers enchiladas, tamales and burritos in that chili-loving state. But the United States certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on this hot commodity. Chilies are grown around the globe, with hotbeds in India, China and Ecuador.

It seems that everywhere, bottles of hot sauce have a place at the table.

Where to buy hot peppers

Brookside Farmers Market: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., April through October

Green Acres Farmers Market: Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., June through September

KCK Greenmarket at Juniper Gardens (corner of Third Street and Richmond Avenue in Kansas City, Kan.): Mondays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., June through September

Marsh’s Sunfresh Market: 4001 Mill St.

Merriam Farmers Market: Saturdays, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., May through September

Overland Park Farmers Market: Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., April through October

Roeland Park Price Chopper: 4950 Roe Blvd., Roeland Park

Waldo Farmers Market: Wednesdays, 3 to 7 p.m., May through September

Who likes it hot?

There are more ways to love peppers than in sauce. Noteworthy chili pepper dishes on restaurant menus around town:

• Blanc Burgers’ chipotle aioli dipping sauce

• Gram & Dun’s shishito peppers, flash fried with sea salt and lemon aioli

• Grinders Death Wings with Wimpy, Molten, Near Death or Death Nectar

• The Jacobson’s crispy sesame-crusted oyster mushrooms, served with ponzu sauce and Sriracha aioli

• Louie’s Wine Dive’s La Havana sandwich with sliced porchetta, spicy capicola, pickled red onions, sweet pickles and fontina cheese on a hoagie roll with habanero aioli

• Port Fonda’s Bloody Maria bar

• Room 39’s crispy calamari with Pecorino Romano and roasted ancho-pepper aioli

• Swagger’s Suribachi burger, grilled then tempura-battered and fried, with Asian mustard, Sriracha chili sauce, pepper-jack cheese and wasabi coleslaw

• Tavern in the Village and Mission Farms’ chicken nachos with black beans, roasted corn pico de gallo and chipotle aioli

Homemade Sriracha

There are, of course, plenty of peppers and sauces on the market that won’t knock your socks off. Sriracha, a sauce typically found in a plastic squeeze bottle named after a small town in Thailand, has developed a loyal following bordering on obsession in a way that couldn’t have been foreseen years ago when it was primarily served as a condiment on tables in Asian-style restaurants throughout the United States.

Uses now range from the sublime, such as pepping up a cocktail sauce or mayonnaise, to the ridiculous — a sorbet flavor. The sauce has a touch of sweetness, making it unique among hot sauces and thus easier to squeeze with a heavy hand.

Makes 1 ½ cups

1 1/2 pounds red jalapeños, stems snipped off

6 cloves garlic, peeled

4 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

Place jalapeños, garlic, sugar, and salt in bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until chilies are very finely chopped, stopping to scrape sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer mixture to a clean jar, cover, and let sit at room temperature. Check jar each day for fermentation (when little bubbles start forming at bottom of jar), about 3 to 5 days. Stir contents each day, continuing to let ferment until chilies are no longer rising in volume, an additional 2 to 3 days.

Transfer chilies to jar of a blender, add in white vinegar, and puree until completely smooth, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a mesh strainer set atop of a medium saucepan. Strain mixture into saucepan, using a rubber spatula to push through as much pulp as possible, only seeded and larger pieces of chilies should remain in strainer.

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until sauce thickens and clings to a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Per (1-tablespoon) serving: 18 calories (8 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, 236 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Adapted from “The Sriracha Cookbook” by Randy Clemens

Mary Bloch is a freelance writer who lives in Kansas City. Her blog is

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