Some Like it Hot! Sweet! Spicy!

February’s foods reflect the fire and passion that take the chill out of a short but bitter month. Of course, February also conjures up the color red. There are all shades of red, from the bright red of peppers (both hot and sweet), as well as the ripe tomatoes of long-forgotten summer, to the medium reds of red-skinned potatoes, pears, and apples, to the reddish brown of cinnamon, and finally, to the deep reds of grapes and beets.

For passion, don’t forget chocolate, a feature from November (See November archive), but a key tool in any aspiring chef’s—or romantic’s—arsenal. This month’s chocolate recipe is actually a variation on one from October 2006, spiced up for Valentine’s Day with chilies and cinnamon for a sweet & spicy combination (usually made into a mole sauce, with the accent on the first syllable) native to Central America. (See Recipe Index for tomato-based dressing, baked apples, cranberry-apple crunch, and chocolate-dipped fruit.)

Two red or spicy foods high on my February food list are Chili Peppers and Cinnamon. A thumbnail sketch of each follows:

Chili peppers are not really peppers; they come from the same family as eggplants. Either way, they can be very hot to the palate and fingers, so I warn you to use this plant food with caution. These red hots can burn the skin if you try to remove the seeds without gloves, which I did when I volunteered one weekend in a kitchen where my daughter was going to camp. I literally burned my fingertips when I cut chilies and removed the stems without gloves. I had to submerge my hands in yogurt and ice cubes for a long time to remove the sting.

Depending on the region, the word can be spelled chile or chili. Incidentally, cayenne pepper is a true, hot red pepper used to flavor dishes; its name comes from the city of Cayenne in French Guiana. Its powdered form comes from the fruit of several cultivated varieties of the capsicum plant, also related to the nightshade family.

For a complete list with photos of chilies and their degree of heat, please click onto According to this website, peppers may have some beneficial properties. Capsaicin (the compound in peppers) works as an anticoagulant, possibly helping to prevent heart attacks or strokes caused by a blood clots. Small amounts of capsaicin can produce numbing of the skin with aslight anti-inflammatory effect. In some countries, these peppers are used in salves.

In addition, all peppers are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant which helps remove the threat from free radicals. Hot peppers contain even more Vitamin C than their bell pepper counterparts; but of course, you may eat much less of these hot babies. Also, red peppers are a good source of beta-carotene.

Words in bold italics can be found in the Glossary.

Cinnamon is a small, evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka and Southern India. It is actually the bark that we use as a spice. The flavor of cinnamon comes from the aromatic essential oil, which makes as much as 0.5 to 1% of its composition. (The oil is often found in health food stores and is very potent.) Cinnamon has been known from ancient times, and was so highly regarded that it was used as a gift for monarchs.

In the Bible we can find the allusion that I believe links it to Valentine’s Day. In the Book of Proverbs, the lover’s bed is perfumed with three spices: myrrh, aloe, and cinnamon. From hearing a recent talk on women and heart disease (See Health Flashesand This ‘n That), I also learned that cinnamon might help lower cholesterol. If you Google Cinnamon & Cholesterol, you will see several sites that give more information on this topic. (I hope to do more research on my own when I feature baking spices.)

As flavorful as this spice is, one caveat is in order, which is a direct copy from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. “The name cinnamon is correctly used to refer to Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as ‘true cinnamon’ (from the botanical name C. verum). However, the related species Cassi Cinnamomum aromaticum) and Cinnamomum burmannii are sometimes sold, labeled as cinnamon. (Not true cinnamon–ES)…. Most of the cinnamon sold in supermarkets in the United States is actually cassia. European health agencies have recently warned against consuming high amounts of cassia, due to a toxic component called coumarin. This is contained in much lower dosages in Ceylon cinnamon and in Cinnamomum burmannii. Coumarin is known to cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations.”

What the previous paragraph points out me is that we have to be careful to purchase true cinnamon, especially if the link between cinnamon and cholesterol proves to be important. Since cinnamon is probably my favorite baking spice, I am willing to investigate this caveat further. In the meantime, try cinnamon in your yogurt, applesauce, and baking.

Below are my recipes for “heating, spicing, or sweetening up” your February dishes.

Miso-Vegetable Soup (with a Kick!)
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One-quart water or stock
Any of the following (organic) vegetables: (Not all; pick your favorites)
One carrot, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into matchsticks
1/2 yellow beet, scrubbed and diced (adds color to soup)
One small potato, scrubbed and diced
2 celery stalks, washed and trimmed, then diced
1/2 daikon radish, scrubbed and cut into matchsticks

One-two garlic cloves, peeled
Parsley and dill (optional)
3 cups cooked kale or collards, cut into narrow strips
Salt, Pepper and/or cayenne pepper to taste
Miso Paste (Soybean paste available in health food stores)


1. Place the prepared vegetables of choice into water in a soup pot. Add garlic and parsley and dill, if using. Bring to a gentle boil and then simmer until veggies are tender.
2. While veggies are simmering, cook kale or collards in a separate pot until soft. Drain and add to soup. (Give cooking water to your plants when the water is cool.)
3. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to soup pot and allow to blend. Remove about one cup of water into a coffee cup and add one-two tablespoons of miso paste. Mix until dissolved and then add back to soup pot. (You may not need any salt or pepper because the miso is naturally salty and the cayenne replaces black pepper.)
4. Wait a few minutes and taste. If you want the soup spicier, add another pinch of cayenne and wait again to taste.

Variation: Add shelled and cooked edamame beans (green soybeans).
Add rice stick noodles, cooked according to package directions. Add arame seaweed, soaked until soft and then drained.

Spicy Spuds (According to the January issue of Nutrition Action Magazine, (white) potatoes spike your insulin and are not the greatest food to eat. They are high on the glycemic index of foods, so anyone on a low carb diet avoids them, but occasionally they are a tasty addition to any meal and do have some nutritive value. By adding some oil and green veggies, you can offset the high glycemic index. My recipe combines red potatoes with green beans and olive oil.)

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8-10 Small red potatoes (organic)
2-3 cups cut green beans (I used French style that were small in diameter)
2- 3 Tbl. olive oil
Chili seeds or powdered cayenne pepper


1. Preheat oven to about 375 degrees. Wash, scrub and cut potatoes into bite –sized pieces (I cut each half into 4ths or 6ths, which made about 3-4 cups of cut spuds)
2. Toss potatoes with one tablespoon olive oil in a baking pan that has been coated with another tablespoon of olive oil.
3. Bake the potatoes until tender and slightly crisp, about 45 minutes to one hour. About 40 minutes into the baking, steam green beans and set aside just until you remove potatoes from oven.
4. Place potatoes in a large bowl. Toss with chili pepper seeds (I used about 30) or a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper powder. Add green beans and toss again. Serve right away, although any leftovers can be served cold the next day, but may need another spoonful of oil tossed into the dish.

Chili Beans over Rice (This is a quick recipe, especially if you have rice in the ‘frig. from the day before.) I used organic, canned beans because there were several varieties in one can (pinto, kidney, and black), difficult to reproduce by using the individual beans in dry form, especially since I am the only one eating this dish!

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One can organic Chili Beans
One cup quinoa (I used red for Valentine’s Day, but white is ok, too)
Hot pepper sauce, cayenne or chili pepper seeds


1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. (Place one cup rinsed quinoa in two cups water. Bring to a boil and cook until all water is absorbed and quinoa is soft, about 15 minutes.)
2. After the quinoa has been cooking about 10 minutes, place beans in a small pot and cook on a low flame until hot. Drain and toss with a few chili seeds or some cayenne pepper powder or a dash of hot pepper sauce. (I also used some of the skin of my chili pepper for added color.)
3. Place cooked quinoa in a serving bow. Mix in the beans and taste. Adjust pepper flavor carefully. Serve hot and spicy!

Spiked Chocolate dipped into Citrus Fruits



3-4 ounces chocolate
chili flakes or hot pepper liquid to taste
cinnamon to taste
orange and grapefruit slices


1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler (Or one small pot over one larger pot with boiling water).
2. As it melts, add a dash of hot pepper and about one teaspoon cinnamon.
3. Allow to cook a few seconds and taste. Adjust flavor to your palate. Remember, hot peppers can be very hot, so use sparingly. Same goes for cinnamon. Better too little than too much, since you can always add more.

Cinnamon Hearts (cookies)

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Cinnamon Crisps


2 cups baking flour*
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup macadamia oil or oil of your choice
1 T. cinnamon powder
1 t. ginger powder
1 t. baking powder (non-aluminum)
1/4 cup powdered fructose
1/8 c. flaxseed meal (optional)
1/2cup unsweetened juice, boiled
Extra oil, flour, and fructose


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil two cookie sheets.
2. In a small bowl, mix oil and applesauce. (Applesauce helps cut back the amount of fat in the cookies.)
3. In a larger bowl, mix all the dry ingredients except the extra fructose, and flour. Then pour wet items into larger bowl and mix thoroughly, so that you have a pebbly texture.
4. Slowly add hot juice until flour mixture begins to pull away from the bowl. The dough will be wetter than piecrust but drier than drop cookie dough.
5. Flour your work surface; take half the mixture and roll the dough about 1/2″ thick.
6. Use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies and place on a slightly oiled cookie sheet pan.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies begin to look crisp around the edges.
8. Remove from oven and while still warm, sprinkle on some additional fructose for a sweeter cookie. (Without this, they are more like biscuits, not cookies.)

Note: My heart cookie cutters are about 3 inches across, so my yield was less than 2 dozen. Smaller cookie cutters should give you at least 2 dozen cookies.

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