Cayenne pepper (Recipe: Bob's smoky beef ribs)
Twenty-five years ago, the City of Boston planted a tree in a hole in the brick sidewalk in front of our house.
Every dog in the neighborhood loved, and I do mean loved, that little sapling.
To discourage the gifts those dogs left us (in the days before pooper-scooping was mandatory), we sprinkled cayenne pepper on the ground at the base of the tree. Every so often we'd hear a little sneeze... and we'd watch a very surprised puppy move along, to find a kinder and gentler tree hole.
Often, what's labelled "cayenne" in the grocery store (and most likely at the big-box store where I used to buy huge shaker-top containers to sprinkle on the tree hole) is a blend of several different types of peppers, one of which is the actual cayenne chile. Tabasco and cayenne peppers have approximately the same 30,000-50,000 Scoville Unit rating, so fresh ground cayenne provides the same zip as tabasco-based hot sauces. Use cayenne when you want the same heat intensity as hot pepper sauce, without the added vinegar.
Like most dried spices, ground cayenne loses some of its punch after long exposure to light or heat, so buy from a reliable source that has frequent turnover. The color should be vibrant; it will fade over time, an indicator of a spice that's spent too much time on the shelf.
You'll be glad to have the freshest cayenne on hand for curry cauliflower soup with honey, spicy grilled shrimp with cayenne lime cream, cayenne corn bread, chocolate truffles, spicy crockpot sweet potatoes, East Indian chickpea salad and spiced almonds.
As for me, I'm going to sprinkle some around my strawberry plants this summer, to keep the bunnies away.
Bob's smoky beef ribs
My friend Bob has been having a great time with his new smoker, as evidenced by these lip-smackingly-good ribs. The rub is adapted from Killer Ribs by Nancy Davidson. If you don't have a smoker, you can make these on a gas or charoal grill, or in the oven. Two racks will serves 6-8 people, and if you don't like beef ribs, go ahead and use baby back pork ribs instead. Remember to save the bones to flavor some split pea or lentil soup.
For the rub (combine all ingredients):
1/4 cup packed brown sugar (Bob used Splenda brown sugar substitute)
2 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp onion powder
7-8 lbs beef back ribs
2 cups of your favorite homemade or storebought barbecue sauce (Bob used this one)
Trim the visible membrane from the ribs, and generously apply the rub on both sides. Wrap each rack in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil. Place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight.
Approximately 6-1/2 hours before serving, heat your smoker to 225°F.
Place the ribs in the smoker for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Then remove the plastic wrap and foil, replace ribs in the smoker, and add wood chips (hickory or mesquite). Cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
One hour before dinner, baste the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce. Baste again after 30 minutes. Remove from smoker and let rest, covered with foil, for 15 minutes before serving.
To cook ribs on the grill: Set up your grill for indirect cooking, and heat to 275°F. Follow directions above, removing the plastic wrap and wrapping the ribs in foil, and reducing the total cook time to 5 hours.
To cook ribs in the oven: Preheat oven to 225°F. Unwrap the ribs, and place in a roasting pan, cover the pan with foil, and cook for 5 hours. Uncover the ribs, baste with barbecue sauce, and cook, uncovered, turning and basting occasionally, for another hour.