Caramelized OpiNIONS - Food blog, frugality, and uncouth social action

chile peppers

January 3, 2013

Spice Up Your Mouth in 2013

During the holiday break, I made kale chips. Lots of them. I also made hot sauces. Lots of it. Especially specific chilis that taste really good. So, I turned some of those sauces into kale chip sauces (thanks to cashews). You should try them.

  • I put fresh pineapple with habanero hot sauce into chips at Fresca on Addison.
  • I put ten kinds of roasted peppers into kale chips for Camden’s Dogtown Market.

Both were dropped off on January 2nd.

Camden's chips

I’m starting to get feedback that the chips are HOT. And maybe some questions, “Why so hot?” Well, it’s complicated. I want your mouth to remember that you

ate something. I want you to feel the food, not just the roughage, but also the warmth of the spice. Maybe I’ve built up a tolerance to a degree. Kind of like an auto-erotic asphyxiation addict is always trying to make their climax more cathartic, I want my snacks to deliver a punch that you can feel. No one is going to die from a spicy kale chip. You might reach for a cold beer (or in my case, another kale chip), but if you go along for the ride, I think you’ll like it.

Don’t forget that chilis are good medicine, good stimulation… and a good way to start 2013. And yes, I’ll get back to some of my more mild flavors soon: sour cream and onion (vegan) and nacho cheese (vegan), etc.

snack time

December 16, 2012

Chiles vs. Kale: Everybody Wins

If there is a vegetable that I want to promote even more so than kale, it is the chile pepper. There are so many varieties, with such a wide range of flavors and ways to prepare them, most people (who aren’t Mexican or Texan) don’t know what they’re missing. Personally, as many kinds of dried and fresh peppers that I’ve purchased, I can barely keep them all straight.

Often, we only see lists of peppers when we’re looking at that scoleville unit chart to remind us how poblanos compare to jalapenos, or exactly how astronomically hot habenaro peppers are. But, hotness isn’t the difference that matters most. It’s the flavor of the chiles that really matters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that chiles are a superfood reducing inflammation and digestive issues, and curing headaches, arthritis, and maybe even cancer.

Even though I’ve been thinking about devising kale chip flavors to pair with wine or tea, even dessert varieties… I’m stuck on the chile pepper as its own pairing unto itself. Think of the best hot sauces you’ve had. You put it on everything. But that food already has highs and low notes. The flavor of the peppers lays right on top like a thin coat of varnish that changes the whole overall impression.

This weekend, I whipped up three batches of kale chips, each showcasing different chile pepper profiles.

  • Hatch Chile-garlic: Back when Kroger had a pepper roaster out front for a few days, I snatched up some of their hatch chiles from New Mexico. Their flavor is smooth and round and leaves a warm feeling lingering in your mouth. This batch of chips got a lot of hatch chiles (the last I had), so they’re a little bit more sharp.
  • Mojo de Arbol: I don’t know why these little red serano-looking peppers aren’t more widely known. When dried or roasted, they deliver a tangy almost sour heat. But there’s this campfire-like roastiness that makes each bite like eating something grilled. This sauce (or mojo) was extra simple. Just cashews, chiles de arbol, garlic and onions and a little vinegar. You might not love these until the finish, which goes on for several minutes.
  • Pepper Cream: At the South of the James market a couple weeks back, I spotted a booth selling nothing but peppers, ten types actually. I just asked for some of each (jalapenos, thai chiles, poblanos, scotch bonnets, habaneros, and more). I decided to turn them into a hot sauce. So, I roasted all of them and blended them with tomatoes, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic. The result was so delicious, I had to share. So, I thinned the painful sauce out with cashews, and now it’s just dreamy on a kale chip.

I’ll update this post with details about where these kale chips will be available this week. Stay tuned.


    November 23, 2012

    Where Kale Comes From

    Sourcing kale isn’t something that I’ve looked very closely at. The $1.49/lb at Kroger sure beats the $4.99 per bunch (for under a pound) at Ellwoods, but that’s hardly a revelation.  But sourcing is something that I should probably figure out, because when I have kale, I make chips and when I don’t have kale… You get the picture.

    On a rare trip to SotJ farmers market last week, I was tipped off to a greens grower, Brad at Crumptown Farm.  Based in Brunswick County, Brad boasts of supplying the local school system with his produce, especially nutrient-packed dark leafy greens.  I’ll bet that feels pretty good (assuming the kids are eating them).

    Did I mention that my youngest son loves to eat kale chips? I may have to plant this seed of thought with Brad when I bring him a sample of my kale chips this weekend.  For the time being, I need to buy a big box of curly kale from him.  And if the price is right, I’ll do it again.  But, as cool as it would be to buy some artisanal greens on a regular basis, there are competing interests at play: economy and efficiency, for starters.

    Note that the greens are not allowed to strip.

    There is no competing with salvage grocery stores when it comes to prices. It was 8-10lb kale purchases at Fresh to Frozen Grocery Salvage on Midlo that initially got me thinking that I could supply my friends with kale chips. But, it was the next visit there finding no kale chips that made me give up on making kale chips for a couple months. Am I a creature of convenience, or what?

    The deal you see in the picture above is the first time I’ve ever seen 28lb bushels offered. At $18, that’s $0.64/lb. As always, F2F advertises their greens coming from Hanover County, which has some cache around here – not just because it’s right around here, but the soil is said contribute great flavor to veggies.

    What do you think? Does the source of the kale matter to you with kale chips? If so, would you kindly fetch the foliage from your preferred location and bring them to me? No body has responded to my call for weekly deliveries of kale. And what about prepping? It would be swell if someone would strip, wash and dry the kale for me.


    October 29, 2012

    What the Heck Are Kale Chips?

    Some would say that kale chips are the latest trendy food, or even more dismissive, that they’re a fad that floundered and has come and gone, but I disagree on both counts. I think kale chips are largely unknown, generally misunderstood, and possibly the snack of the future – destined for every checkout aisle at every grocery store on the planet.  Or better yet, that we’ll all have giant dehydrators so we can make our own at home.

    Don’t ask Google. Ask me.
    If you look up ‘kale chips’ online, you’ll find loads of recipes, most of which are disgusting, akin to stuffing your face full of the autumn foliage that you rake up under a tree. Those food bloggers are mostly well meaning, though a little confused. If you really want a source for info (besides this blog) check out raw foodist discussion forums. That’s where you’ll find the folks who’ve been through the trial and error process and they’re not just into kale chips for the novelty of it.  They’re in pursuit of a perfect food and you should follow them (at least on this one adventure – not necessarily the giving up bread and cheese thing).

    Free market. Expensive filler.
    Good kale chips are not for sale. Sure, I’ve put a few bags out there that I’m proud of, but my point is that the real deal is usually a batch that someone made for themselves and their friends. And if they were good, they didn’t last a day and if intended for resale, they probably got eaten on the way to the farmers’ market. Seriously though, the kale chips at healthfood stores are made by people who realize that plain and baked versions are a nasty experience. So, they weigh them down with nuts and zesty spices.  That’s because fiber needs fat and bitter needs brightness. But the store-bought kind are rarely very fresh, and the the flavors are usually less than inspired (note blah blah brand’s ‘American flavor’ – actually kinda genius if it’s a cynical statement on the intersection of consumerism and low-information voters). Anywho, you generally pay $8 for 2.5 ounces of kale chips in the store, but they’re a strange product. The kale is smooshed into what looks like little cow patties, and the bulk of the product is nuts instead of kale making up the weight.

    What’s so special?

    Real kale chips are dehydrated, not baked. Have you had baked kale chips? Depending on the temperature they were baked at (and the amount of ventilation) you might have decided to never eat them again. Real kale chips are a raw food, meaning they’re dehydrated at less than 119 degrees, so the nutrients don’t break down chemically, due to the heat. This preserves their multivitamin benefits, but it also preserves the flavors of the kale and the other ingredients. With raw kale chips, the flavors will pop with bright freshness.  If raw ingredients like garlic, onions, or ginger were used, you’ll know it and your mouth will remember for minutes after eating a chip. Dehydrating also turns the leaves from tough and chewy to brittle and crunchy. All of this makes them a fun energizing food. But, I’m not a purist. Roasted garlic is sometimes my secret ingredient (not so secret now, I guess). Sauteed onions contribute savory and sweetness, even creaminess. And roasted red and yellow peppers help round out a vegan cheese sauce in ways that most hippies would have never guessed to try. As long as the kale is not cooked, and the coating is relatively light, we’re still talking about ‘raw kale’ chips.  

    How do I do it myself?

    I don’t know if I can answer that for you succinctly.  The first thing to do is to find a dehydrator.  For ten years, I was happy with my four-tray Excalibur (about $100 on Amazon).  But the idea that it was basically a shoe-box with a fan and a heating element always kinda nagged at me. Alton Brown did a bit on his Good Eats show about turning your oven into a dehydrator without even turning it on. There was a mini-fan involved and an aquarium heater or a light bulb, I think. But what’s stopping you or me from making the same contraption on a larger scale, like say a guest bedroom with an open window, a box fan and a ceramic heater? Part of the answer is geography. The humidity of the south. But, I digress. Just toss some kale in some sauce and stick it in a dehydrator. Eat when crunchy. I guess that could be said succinctly after all.

    tasty multivitamins

    October 17, 2012

    Revenge of the Kale Chips

    Last week, I dropped off curried kale chips at Camden’s in Manchester. If you haven’t been, you really should. It’s Richmond’s best bodega, full of gourmet treats, convenience standards, and well cooked meals. Plus, proprietor Andy Howell gave this little kale chip micro-enterprise the nudge it needed by offering to carry them in his shop.

    The next place I found willing to carry the kale chips was Fresca on Addison, a vegetarian restaurant run by die-hard vegan, Jenna Sneed.  I knew she’d appreciate vegan nachos, so I brought her my latest creation: Nachos Kale Grande.  These might be my best version yet, in part because they were motivated by spite and a degree of vengeance.

    Last week, my wife brought home a bag of Trader Joe’s Zesty Nacho kale chips. I was excited, because I’d been unimpressed with more expensive store-bought kale chips. Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite stores. Surely they’ve figured out how to do kale chips right. Right?

    Well, I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.  Trader Joe’s kale chips are the worst I’ve ever had.  They’re beyond stale. They taste like leftovers with freezer-burn.  On the ingredient list, it looks like the main culprit is the sunflower seeds that bring the essence of mud to each bite.  Regardless, there is nothing zesty about these nachos. Aside from embarrassment and betrayal, I felt challenged to prove that a spicy vegan cheese sauced kale chip was entirely possible.

    The key is cashews and nutritional yeast and several other yellow ingredients. Also, a really high powered blender.  With the resulting chips, I even impressed myself.  They’ve got a creamy finish that reminds me of that liquid cheese sauce at 7-11.  Go try the Nachos Kale Grande for yourself at Fresca.  Or get the Kashmiri Curry version at Camden’s and let me know what you think.


    October 7, 2012

    RVAfoodie’s Kale Chips

    Ever since getting my first dehydrator in 1999, I’ve been making kale chips to varying degrees of success.  They fascinate me, because kale is the most nutrient-dense vegetable on the planet.  With the right seasoning, kale chips can be the most delicious multivitamin you ever ate. So there’s one goal: tricking people into eating health food.

    labels courtesy of

    Since ending this blog, I’ve felt a need for a creative outlet, food-wise.   So many people have pushed me to sell my kale chips, I figured that’s probably the most efficient way to share them.  The kinds you find in stores are exorbitantly expensive, full of cheap fillers, and not so tasty (not the mention the disconcerting presence of a silica pack).   So, I found a few friendly folks who happily put my kale chips on their shelves.

    • On Monday, Oct. 8th, I’ll drop off a batch of Kashmiri Curry kale chips at Camden’s Dogtown Market on 7th Street in Manchester.  They’re rich and hearty, heavily spiced with lingering heat. Because I pureed raw cashews into the sauce, there’s a slight creaminess that makes the kale chips kinda saag-y.
    • The next batch will be idunno-what and you’ll find them idunno-where nor when exactly (but watch this space).

    This is a hobby. My day job and family life come first.  Making a profit and building a brand aren’t high on my priority list.  Just fun with food and hoping a few people enjoy it.  But, it sure would help if someone would bring me a 10lb box of curly kale every week or so.

    the end

    January 31, 2012

    Closing the Blog on RVAfoodie

    I didn’t really see this coming either. My resolution for 2012 was basically to “keep my eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.”  Pretty innocuous, up-beat, and more of a mantra to enhance my parenting skills with positivity than anything to do with my food and social commentary. But, here I am, calling it quits, as of February 1st. Going on indefinite hiatus, putting this blog and the @RVAfoodie Twitter account in a time capsule to be revisited, maybe never.

    I'd just run out of these Moo cards. Another sign to give it up.

    Man, I’m gonna miss it. This thing has connected me to so many people, media outlets, restaurants, good guys and bad guys, the list is humbling.  It’s really been my window to the world.  What will come of all of my thoughts that percolate up and don’t get captured by my phone?  Or the hot-button questions that need asking, that clearly concern a larger community?  Will I lose my fascination with food if I drop the exhibitionism?  I don’t know. But I do know that, besides the food thing, I have more interests and aspirations than I have time or energy for.  And I pass up on so much, because I let the RVAfoodie priority push possibly more important things into the background.  That’s reason enough to shake things up, redirect my focus, take inventory of the debts that I owe to myself and those close to me, and hopefully rediscover assets that I’ve probably forgotten.

    Although I’m being vague about a complicated set of factors that have necessitated this decision, for those looking for a simple explanation, the biggest catalyst is that I’m starting a new day-job situation and need to give it my full attention.  I’ve just ended over 10 years of public sector employment, supporting Virginia’s system of adult education (namely GED and literacy programs).  And I’m going to work for a company providing online learning options toward the same goals of a GED credential and college and career readiness for people of all ages.  My background in distance education and all this experience with social media makes me more than qualified. Now I’ve just got to make it work.  It’s something I believe in, so I think I’m up to the task (contact me at guardjk – @ – gmail if this peaks your interest, or you have connections to pass along). (more…)


    January 30, 2012

    Unrequited Reatuarant Love

    If I have any regrets about quitting this blog (there are lots, actually), one of them would be that I haven’t yet been to Selba, Enoteca Sogno, lunch at The Citizen, Lehja or Mama J’s with Karen, Asian Galaxy, Mas Tapas in CVille, Mediterranean Brick Oven, or Phoenix Garden Vegetarian Noodle Soup House on Brook Road. I still hope to try those places (if we can find a sitter) but I’m gonna miss the show and tell experience that blogging and tweeting afforded me.


    I never meant for my blog to be about restaurants, and maybe wishful thinking here, but I hope it ultimately wasn’t. It’s like that saying, “Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.” Philosophically, I wanted to talk about ideas, but I often settled for ‘things,’ like new places to buy food. The people and their businesses usually weren’t really what I wanted to be involved with. Except, I often liked restaurants (and sometimes the people too) and wanted to spread the word (failing to articulately split hairs here). And in the case of those places listed above, I’ve got a good feeling, or feel some affinity, and I’m sad I won’t get a chance to send the 15 Caramelized OpiNIONS readers out there to follow up on my recommendations.



    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words



    Meat Cuisine Still Reigns Supreme?

    Jenna Sneed says she sees a growing number of customers coming to her restaurant, Fresca on Addison, looking for lunch or dinner that won’t kill them. Never mind that Sneed’s focus is on a cuisine that hasn’t killed any animals, she’s witnessing a growing demand comprised of health consciousness customers who’re following their doctor’s orders. Often, they’ve just read because they’ve read the Dr. Caldwell’s bestselling Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and they’re agreeing to eliminate animal products from their diet. Making dietary choices on the advice of their doctors, isn’t new, but now more than ever, cardiologists are contributing to a critical reevaluation of our personal and collective consumption.

    The message of a plant-based diet is echoed elsewhere in mainstream media and the marketplace. Healthy, local, and sustainable are all over the media and on everyone’s lips, giving the impression of a paradigm shifting popularity level and a change in society’s consciousness. But part of that new analysis isn’t getting adopted: The specific conclusion that many of our best and brightest food thinkers seem to have reached is that we need to eat less meat, if not abandon animal products all together. The arguments they make are increasingly sane and reasonable, and the prescription is often delicious. And yet, it doesn’t seem like that message has broken the habits of your average diner (or you reading this, or me writing this) and certainly not the food industry which seems to be responding with a rebellious middle finger. (more…)