Monday, July 30, 2012

The Heat Is On: Cayenne Pepper

Here is my latest article (in full) on cayenne peppers in OKRA magazine: cayenne. I hope you enjoy the following excerpt:

Recommendations from this Registered Dietitian (RD):
1) Show your true colors. Cayenne peppers are green initially, and turn red gradually as they ripen. The greater the redness, the hotter the pepper. Inner membranes and seeds add to the heat. Bright red color indicates high vitamin A and beta-carotene levels.
2) Enjoy “hot” chocolate this summer. Cayenne is more commonly used in chocolate confections and baked goods, with great success. Choose a more healthful combination involving dark chocolate. Click here for a cayenne-spiced chocolate cupcake recipe. Keep in mind that while dark chocolate has healthy properties (such as antioxidants), it also has significant sugar, fat, and calories; enjoy in moderation.
3) Entice with spice. Cayenne pepper is one of the most frequently used spices in dishes from Louisiana, and it is part of the foundation of Cajun cooking. A recipe I have used frequently in recent years for Cajun deviled eggs can be found here.

Sinfully hot: Cajun style deviled eggs. Photo by Rock Gumbo.
4) Fire it up. Add a pinch of cayenne to existing recipes to enhance many of your basic meals. Introduce some kick to your standard salad dressings, soups or meats, by slicing, chopping or frying whole peppers. Try drying and soaking them in oil for a spicy infusion. Check out OKRA’s own New Orleans Style Barbecue Shrimp recipe here to see what I mean.
5) It works both ways. The capsicum’s heat can be used to mask strong flavors in other foods that some may find unappealing, particularly bitter flavors in collards, kale, and mustard greens. As I have stated in previous articles, I have no problem with culinary sneakiness when it comes to getting healthier foods into your kids or picky eaters. Try this recipe for Quick Collards with Prosciutto.
6) Turn up the heat. Though cayenne does have a thermogenic (heat-producing) effect and can boost metabolism, weight loss efforts require long-term and reasonable lifestyle changes. Maple syrup diets (which feature cayenne as an ingredient) do not qualify!
7) Feel the burn. Tolerance for spice and heat varies, and cayenne is no exception. Add cayenne to your recipes gradually when cooking (a pinch at a time) to avoid excessively hot (and painful) results. Adding potatoes or noodles will cool down a hot dish by spice absorption/neutralization. Milk or yogurt will also help to cool a burning mouth. When cooking with cayenne, avoid touching your skin, particularly your face, lips and eyes.
When I completed my Dietetic Internship, I rewarded myself by adopting a hybrid rescue cat (a marbled Bengal to be exact) with vibrant green eyes and ginger coloring, somewhat improbably (but aptly) named Cayenne. His name partly drew me to him. In addition to the typical Bengal hyperactivity and intelligence, Cayenne has much of the fire and spicy qualities associated with the pepper for which he is named. Appropriately, he has also been for me, at times, a pain reliever, a stomach irritant, a metabolic booster (Bengals need exercise!!), and an appetite suppressant/weight loss agent. Like a Bengal cat, a spice like cayenne is not well tolerated by every person. Now, after some time with my Bengal Cayenne (and more recently his brother Cajun), I do occasionally get adventurous with spicier foods in my Southern travels. To locals, my choices are still relatively timid. But after many years of enjoying Southern food, I now view the role of cayenne pepper a little differently, and maybe someday I can make a Bengal-like leap to the next level.

Cayenne: Bengal version

My full article on cayenne pepper can be found here.
A full archive of my articles for OKRA Magazine can be found here.  

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Some Like It Hot: Cayenne Pepper

Though I am completely in love with the food and culture of New Orleans and many other cities of the South, I freely admit I am a culinary coward when it comes to spicy food, and generally will not indulge in some of the more popular dishes found in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. I always ask my server or host about the strength of the spice in a particular dish, and am usually told “Oh, it’s mild.” I clarify myself with “I’m a Yankee…from Connecticut…so, really, how spicy is it?” and then, with a slow grin, I am usually advised to order something else.

Fresh cayenne peppers (Capsicum frutescens) are the preferred hot capsicum (a type of pepper plant in the nightshade family) in the South and a key ingredient in hot and spicy dishes. The thin, long, hot pepper in its ground form is a common ingredient in Cajun dishes in particular. The ground powder adds reddish-brown color and fiery heat to sauces, soups, and stews. Cayenne peppers are remarkably diverse in cooking, eaten as readily as a spice or condiment with seafood (scallops, crab, oysters, sardines, smoked salmon and trout, fried mussels, lobster, and crawfish), egg dishes (omelettes and souffl├ęs), meats (roasted, grilled, stewed, or fried), chicken, fish, or in vegetable dishes, soups, casseroles, hors d’oeuvres, and a variety of sauces (barbecue, shellfish, curries, cheese, Worcestershire and tartar sauces) and dips (salsa, avocado, and vegetable). 

In Hot Pursuit: Cayenne Peppers (I Ate That!)

Cayenne and other chili peppers were grown for thousands of years in the West Indies and Central and South America. Spanish explorers (who were clearly very busy and dedicated) introduced them to the rest of the world in the 15th and 16th centuries. Christopher Columbus is credited with introducing cayenne pepper to Europe (as a substitute for very expensive black pepper) after finding the capsicum on the Caribbean Islands, and Ferdinand Magellan is historically noted as introducing it to Asia and Africa. Today, cayenne peppers are grown on all continents. 

One of the most popular brands of cayenne is Tabasco sauce, which is the nationally marketed liquid form of cayenne pepper grown on Avery Island, LA. Recipes will note use of Tabasco or cayenne specifically because even though they serve the same purpose, each reacts differently in the cooking process and different quantities are required. The Tabasco company recipe search is worth a web visit for some great suggested uses of cayenne and Tabasco, such as this recipe for Cajun Blackening Rub

Liquid Fire: Tabasco Sauce (

 My full article about cayenne pepper in OKRA Magazine can be found here. Click here for a full archive of my nutrition articles.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Adventure in Walnut-Land

Last month, I spent two days attending the Food for Your Whole Life symposium in New York City, and learned a great deal about the current state of research into Nutrition and Food Science (as well as the public's skewed perception of media magnets as experts in Nutrition). I also learned A LOT about walnuts, since the event was largely sponsored by The California Walnut Commission. I was greatly impressed by the walnut-inclusive recipes served during lunch, and decided to seek out more.

Then I hit a familiar roadblock.

Being a Registered Dietitian (RD) does not automatically confer culinary knowledge, interest, or other words, there are plenty of RDs who love to cook and demonstrate pronounced expertise in the kitchen. I am not one of them! My pal Debbie Brinckman [MS, RD, CD-N] is a great example of this. I often remarked to her during our Dietetic Internship (DI) that I really didn't fit the "RD as kitchen wizard" mold, and would find myself in a blind panic over assignments involving the simplest of dishes. While simultaneously keeping up with assignments, dropping her daughters off to various activities, making her quietly patient husband's head spin with dramatic stories from the DI, and whipping up five-course meals for fun, Debbie would laugh at me incredulously but encourage me nonetheless: "Oh, that's this is what you do!!!" While I loved writing and editing lit reviews, Debbie was a natural providing a classroom of kids with nutrition education. She is also a "glass half full" sort of person, yin to my yang, and these complementary aspects bonded us and helped us survive the stressful DI experience. 

Thanks in large part to Debbie and people like her, I am now willing to investigate more adventurous recipes and take them for a test run, even though there is a large likelihood they will fall a bit flat. (I am a realist!) Irrespective of status as an RD, kitchen wizard, and/or culinary clutz, give some of these recipes a try. You might surprise yourself. 

For selected PDFs from the Food for Whole Life symposium, click here.

For a full archive of my nutrition articles for OKRA Magazine, click here


One year ago today (7/1/11), I officially became a Registered Dietitian (RD). 

I'm still not exactly sure where my career is headed, but the last year has taught me a lot about patience, loyalty, and commitment. The field of Dietetics and Nutrition is not for the faint of heart. 

Having just returned from New Orleans, I feel like I celebrated that accomplishment a bit in advance, perhaps prematurely. Maybe a celebration is not in order just yet, but I will remain hopeful about career progress in the year ahead. 

It has not been easy to establish myself within my professional areas of interest, but I know that with passion about these specialty areas, I stand a chance. 

I remain proud to be a Registered Dietitian.