Peppery Goodness

I’m a big fan of all things spicy. Luckily, Chris is too. Taken together, this means I don’t have to “wuss down” any of the food I’m making so long as it’s just for the two of us. And when ordering takeout, I know that I can tell the guy on the other end of the line to “make it as spicy as you can” when placing an order for chana masala or Kung Pao chicken, and I won’t hear any shrieks from anyone on my end.

Come to think of it, this should have been one of those “checklist” items I talked about the other day.

There was a bar near our alma mater, NC State (Go Wolfpack!), that we frequented quite a bit back in the day – Sammy’s. Sammy, the owner (duh), had a signature wing sauce called “Sammy Sauce”. While Sammy clearly wasn’t the most creative person around, that sauce he made was dynamite, in more ways than one. It was loaded with pepper, so much so that you saw more black than you did sauce and chicken wing.

Man, it was good, and hot too. But you had to get there before the crowd rushed in, because only Sammy made the sauce, and when the bucket was empty, that was that until another batch was made the following day. Apparently Sammy didn’t work at night.

I thought about Sammy and his sauce (and that just sounds really gross because, yes, I am immature) the second I saw this recipe in the cookbook that I still haven’t returned to my friend. The title stood out to me, and the picture confirmed my unnaturally high hope that this recipe was exactly what it purported to be: all about the pepper.

And since I love any excuse to eat crispy tofu, I figured this recipe would be pretty close to perfect. Toss in an episode of last season’s Castle, and you have yourself a trifecta.

For those of you who aren’t into tofu, don’t worry – I am certain a pound of cubed chicken breast would work perfectly here. It won’t have that satisfyingly spongy on the inside, crispy on the outside texture that crispy tofu has, but maybe that’s just my cup o’ tea, and not yours.

Either way, if you are into hot and spicy, this could be your go-to guy, no matter what protein you prefer. After all, it’s just the medium for the peppery goodness, anyway.

Black Pepper Tofu
Adapted from Plenty; serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes

Two notes here:

1) sweet soy sauce: only the Asian grocers seem to carry this stuff, or you can buy it online. I forgot to pick it up and made my own, but if you can find it, definitely buy the real thing. To at least mimic the sweet/salty effect, bring 1/4 c brown sugar and 1/4 c regular soy sauce to a boil in a small saucepan, and reduce to 1/4 c.

2) grinding the peppercorns: I started with a mortar and pestle, but couldn’t get them to the size I wanted without breaking a sweat. so I’d suggest a spice grinder so the pieces aren’t too big. You want it coarse, but edible.

printable version

2 packages extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1″x2″ chunks
canola oil, for frying
cornflour, for dusting tofu
4 T butter
12 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 serrano chile, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 T fresh ginger, minced
1 c basmati rice, for serving
6 T soy sauce
4 T sweet soy sauce
2 T sugar
5 T coarsely crushed black peppercorns
16 scallions, cut into 3″ segments

pour about 1″ of oil into a wok or large skillet and warm up over med-hi heat. Meanwhile, toss the tofu in batches into the cornflour and shake off the excess. again, in batches, add tofu to wok and fry, turning over, until golden all over. once ready, transfer to paper towel-lined plate and fry the remainder of the tofu.

remove oil from pan, and wipe any crumbs away as well. melt butter in wok. add shallots, chile, garlic and ginger. saute over low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until ingredients are totally soft. (start cooking rice at this point, according to package directions.) then add soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

add tofu back to the wok to warm it in the sauce for about a minute. lastly, stir in scallions. serve over rice.

Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Battle Peppercorn

Battle Peppercorn Group


Legally, a ‘peppercorn’ is a very small payment used to satisfy the requirements for the creation of a legal contract.


The term isn’t too far fetched for our purposes: months ago, we created a friendly competition that’s held monthly (‘contract’, very loosely) and we bring food (thus satisfying the payment required for the creating of said ‘contract’) for all to enjoy, and for all to judge. We eat, we drink, we battle, and we have a jolly good time. A damn jolly good time.


the spread


You thought I was kidding? Well, you got me. I never have had a good poker face, now did I? This here battle is all about food and nothing about that legal schmegal stuff. You see, (for you newbies), you’re entering the realm of the (Chicago) Iron Chef Competition. Yeah, that’s right. Well, potluck, to be more accurate. Our meager kitchen pales in comparison to Kitchen Stadium. And we’re not ballsy enough to cook, er, flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak. But I do love food, and I do love casual gatherings with girlfriends, old & new. So a while back, I easily found a few peeps who shared those feelings, and we created these friendly little gatherings to satisfy both – we haven’t looked back (for the initial installation, see this post, which remains my favorite of them all).




But last month, last month we (which was really I) made a mistake. We had a smaller group due to a number of issues – mainly the simple fact that it was summer – so we (as a special occasion-and-one-time-only) invited the boys. I know……but we thought for sure they’d lose and we’d go on about our business in September with monthly girls’ night. I mistakenly thought the boys were only along for the ride, or rather, the drinks and the ‘free food’. But the hubs knocked it outta the park with some lamb & fig skewers, and the rest of the guys’ dishes were nothing short of tasty – they placed first and second, actually.


peppercorn chicken wings


So, for the past month, I’ve had to live with being called his ‘sous chef’ (even though I’m the one who just finished a year of culinary school) and listening to him whine about his constant struggle to choose the secret ingredient for this battle and how being the winner is so hard and so much pressure. And if that weren’t bad enough, he occasionally sauntered into MY kitchen to see if he could ‘provide any guidance’. Modest, isn’t he?


apple cream cheese peppercorn


And so, here we are. Battle Peppercorn it is. And at first thought, you might suspect limitations in this theme ingredient. I beg to differ – and I’ll let the photos prove it, along with my short commentary.


You see, peppercorns aren’t just those black little balls you put in your pepper grinder. There are many iterations of peppercorn. In fact, The Spice House here in Chicago sells 7 varieties of peppercorn and 4 more peppercorn combos: a few types of black, white, green, ‘pink’, & my new favorite, szechuan. And much to Chris’ (hubs) surprise, you can even use them in sweets (Chris has a one-track mind and thinks only of grilling meats, which he does very well, mind you). In fact, of our 12 total dishes, 5 of them were desserts – one of them literally taking the cake.


pink peppercorn cupcakes


So what did we have at this little shindig? We had 5 appetizer-style dishes, ranging from szechuan chicken satay to black pepper biscuits w/ orange blueberry marmalade to pepper cream cheese apples. We had two ‘main course’ dishes – hubs did a play on ‘steak and potatoes’ that was inspired by our recent visit to Alinea (complete with wine pairing) and we also had seafood peppercorn skewers. And after all that goodness, 5 sweets from a spicy chocolate mousse to peppercorn and bacon brownies to black pepper custard.


[I did the usual two dishes, a sweet and savory: szechuan chicken satay w/ Indonesian peanut sauce and pink peppercorn & chocolate cupcakes w/ peppercorn chocolate ganache. This time, I wasn’t in the kitchen all day, just a good part of it!]


"steak and potatoes"


And oh my. By the second appetizer, I was practically down for the count. But when it comes to food, you can’t keep this one down, so I trudged on, as did the rest of us. In the midst of all the gluttony, we all judged each and every dish (well, most of us, as there are some dietary restrictions in the crowd) and at the end of the night, the scores were tallied and the new Iron Chef was announced.


For the first time, we had a three way tie – for second (or as I once politely dubbed it, first loser)! With four battles under our belts, we’ve never had a tie, and then we somehow ended up with one involving not just two, but three, dishes. Either way, we had a clear winner:


– 1st Place: Jim’s Peppercorn Custard w/ Chocolate Valentino Cake
– 2nd Place, the 3-way tie:
– Jennifer’s Spicy Chocolate Mousse
– Jennifer’s Black Pepper Chicken Wings
– Chris’ Steak & Potatoes
– 3rd Place: Hope’s Peppercorn Cream Cheese Apples


peppercorn custard
Yes – I will admit again – big mistake, big. Huge! Like the Bears, the boys are on a two game streak. You might imagine, I’m glad Jennifer’s on my “team” – two great dishes! So for next time, I’m bringing my A game and then some. I’m sure the rest of the ladies will too. These past couple of battles – let’s just consider them the pre-season.


Peppercorn Custard
Adapted from Chika Tillman @ ChikaLicious

2 cups heavy cream (Jim prefers local retailers over mass distributed brands like Deans)
2 cups whole milk (same thing – he used Oberweis – our favorite milk!)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns (crushed or grinded)
8 egg yolks (Jim says he might use 6 next time)

Heat the heavy cream, milk, sugar, and pepper in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

Remove from heat and let mixture steep for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl and beat well with a wire whisk.

Return the cream mixture to medium heat and bring to a simmer again. Remove from heat. Temper the hot mixture into the eggs by slowly pouring the cream into them in a thin stream, while constantly whisking the eggs with a whisk.

Strain the egg-and-cream mixture through a fine-mesh strainer back into the saucepan. Return it to the stove and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until the custard base has thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon. Strain again if needed.

Cool the custard in an ice bath until it is completely cold. (Jim bought a bag of ice, dropped it in a cooler and cooled the mix to room temp in an open container (to prevent condensation from making the base too “watery”) and then sealed the container and covered it with ice for another hour. After that he transferred it to the freezer for 30 minutes until it was cold enough to freeze.)

Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Place in a covered plastic container and store in the freezer overnight.

Chocolate Valentino Cake
Adapted from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan

16 ounces of your favourite chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.

Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).

With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.

Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.

Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C. Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.

Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.


Hooked on Iron Chef now? You should be. To keep up to date with our Battles, join this Blog, subscribe to posts, or shoot me a message in the comments that you’d like updates. With Fall officially underway, I can only imagine what tasty ingredients might be right around the corner!

If you’re in Chicago and want to cook for and eat with a bunch of strangers who love food, we’re happy to have you! Next battle – October 24!

Previous Battles:
Battle Basil
Battle Coconut

Battle Strawberry
Battle Fig

Note: photos 4,5,6,7,12,13 taken by Lindsay, the wife of Iron Chef Jim, not to mention a stellar cook, blogger, and photographer!