Spicy Spotlight and GIVEAWAY!: Benny T’s Vesta

Last month, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch crafted hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Since the Expo, I have been spotlighting some of these products and my uses for them on the blog.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

For this final week of the series, I present a very special Spicy Spotlight (complete with a giveaway!): Benny T’s Vesta!

Vesta is produced in Raleigh, NC and is best described as a “dry hot sauce.”  There are three levels available:  Hot, Very Hot, and Ghost.  I am the proud owner of Very Hot, which is, as you might surmise, very hot.
benny-ts-vesta-hot-dry-sauce

These hot sauces are no joke! I tried the Ghost at the Expo, and though I was able to appreciate its amazing flavor despite the pain, I am happy with my ultimate decision to buy the Very Hot  🙂

A month removed from the Expo, I can safely say that this is my favorite product from the event.  I have used it every single day, multiple times a day, since then (except for the 8 days of Passover because it contains breadcrumbs and Passover is terrible).  In addition to adding heat to food, Vesta imparts a unique rich, savory, sort of smoky flavor that I absolutely love.  A little goes a long way too, which I feel makes it an excellent value.

In my opinion, and speaking now from a month of experience, Vesta improves everything.  Seriously, everything.

You can put it on guacamole:
Spicy Spotlight 006Or pizza:
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Or curry:Spicy Spotlight 004On a sandwich:Spicy Spotlight 018Or on hummus (shown here with falafel bites from Whole Foods):Vesta 002Or sprinkle it on pasta, over roasted veggies, into soup…you get the idea.

H and I are both crazy about this stuff.  We bought one bottle at the Expo, and I immediately put it in my purse for easy access at all time.  But it soon became apparent that we needed another bottle because H quickly got tired of having to go rummaging through my purse every time he wanted some (which was frequently!).

I really can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone who likes their food to have a little heat and a whole lot of flavor.

GIVEAWAY
Because Vesta was my favorite thing from the Expo (which is saying a lot, as I tried [and loved!] many, many things), and because this is the last week of Spicy Spotlight, I would like to offer one of you a chance to possess a bottle of your very own!
NOTE TO GF READERS: The dry hot sauces are not gluten-free–sorry!

To enter: simply leave me a comment telling me which Vesta variety you would like to have, and what you are most looking forward to trying it on!  I will randomly select a winner by 11:59:59 pm EST on May 7, 2014.

Good luck!

Click here to read the first Spicy Spotlight, featuring NW Elixirs.
Click here to read the second  Spicy Spotlight, featuring Dragon’s Blood Elixirs.
Click here to read last week’s Spicy Spotlight, featuring Horseshoe Brand.

 

Spicy Spotlight: Horseshoe Brand

A few weeks back, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch crafted hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Two weeks ago, I began a new blog series called Spicy Spotlight, where I share some of these products and my uses for them.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

Another one of my favorite companies at the Expo was Horseshoe Brand.  Horseshoe Brand produces their seven hot sauce flavors in small batches out of Rhinebeck, NY.  H and I tried all seven at the Expo and came home with our three ultra-favoritesCajunRoasted Garlicand Kiwi Jalapeno.

I thought their display, set up to resemble an old-timey wagon, was really elegant and eye-catching:
NYC HSE 007The quality of each one of these sauces is apparent before it even gets past your lips.  It might be weird to say that a hot sauce is beautiful, but these are.  They have this sort of thick, lustrous appearance that is very appetizing, and they smell amazing too.

And of course, the taste is fantastic–very fresh, very concentrated.  The heat level varies among the different flavors, but my experience has been that each has a pleasant, uniform spiciness that does not overwhelm.  

So what do you do with them?

Well, H and I are partial to drizzling the Cajun and Roasted Garlic on pretty much anything, or using them as a sandwich spread.  For a sandwiches, they totally work straight up but are also SO GOOD mixed with a little Veganaise.  The Veganaise-hot sauce combo also makes a ridiculously good dipping sauce. photo SpicySpotlight007_zps7d36c712.jpg
It’s much emptier than that by now!  In fact, we have used up almost all of our bottle of Cajun (and they are rather large) in under a month since the Expo.

This basic, quick, and ultra-lazy “bowl” of brown rice, black beans straight out of the can, and steamed kale was elevated to AMAZING with the simple addition of Cajun sauce:
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As you could probably guess, Cajun and Roasted Garlic are also both fabulous for grilling tofu or other veggies:
 photo 49755439-0f71-4bd9-a9ab-3cfb04602a11_zpse2bf37d9.jpgAs for the Kiwi Jalapeno, I could pretty much eat that one straight out of the bottle.  It bears some resemblance to a salsa verde but has a rich sweetness that permeates and makes you want to taste it again and again.  

I love Kiwi Jalapeno sauce mashed up with avocado for some delicious guac action.  It also makes a fantastic fresh salsa.  Here, I mixed it with a chopped yellow heirloom tomato and some avocado:Yellow Tomato and Avocado Salad photo Picture001_zpsb3d1276d.jpg

It would also be awesome in a fruit salsa.  I’m thinking mango, pineapple, a little cilantro–YUM.

Finally, used as a dressing, it also makes salads very interesting!  If you don’t typically add a spicy element to your salad, I highly suggest giving it a try.  Something fresh and sweet like Kiwi Jalapeno sauce is a good place to start.

So there you have it!  Another delicious, spicy star.  Next week will be my final installment of Spicy Spotlight and will include a giveaway, so be sure to check back!

Click here to read the first Spicy Spotlight, featuring NW Elixirs.
Click here to read last week’s Spicy Spotlight, featuring Dragon’s Blood Elixirs.

Spicy Spotlight: Dragon’s Blood Elixir

A few weeks back, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch crafted hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Last week, I began a new blog series called Spicy Spotlight, where I share some of these products and my uses for them.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

One of the most memorable tables I visited at the Expo was Dragon’s Blood Elixir.  They piqued my curiosity with their name, but won my heart with their product.

Dragon’s Blood Elixir is a Connecticut-based company (local to me!) that emphasizes the use of locally-sourced peppers and other ingredients.  I am kind of in love with this quote, taken directly from their website:
“I believe in producing my sauces in small numbered batches. This allows me to assure you that I have tasted every batch before it is bottled. It also allows for some slight variation due to the seasonal nature of some of the ingredients. These sauces are made to go with food; if you are looking for pain, eat a fresh habanero- that’ll do it.”

I didn’t try a single bad thing during the entire Expo, but the majority of vendors had one, maybe two, excellent products while the rest were good.   At Dragon’s Blood, on the other hand, I tasted over a dozen samples and was completely wowed by every last one.  Dragons Blood ElixirThe focus on producing sauces with real, identifiable flavor is immediately obvious as soon as it hits your tongue.  Their signature ingredient in every sauce recipe is apple puree, which gives each one a lovely, subtle sweetness plus a wonderful, smooth texture.

It took my friend and me at least a half hour to try all the samples they had available at the Expo, and the people staffing the booth were so friendly the whole time and seemed genuinely pumped to have us try their products.  At the end I was having so much trouble narrowing down what I wanted to buy, and they were more than happy to let me taste and re-taste certain contenders to make my final decision.

I ended up with 6 flavors: Sesame Tamari,  Balsamic Garlic Herb, Bluebarb, Roasted Garlic, Garlic Paprikash, and of course the original Dragon’s Blood Elixir Hot Sauce.
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Aside from the original hot sauce flavor (which really is just a phenomenal all-purpose hot sauce), I made my choices based on ideas I had for what I wanted to cook with them.  And you guys…these are SO GOOD to cook with.   Okay, mostly to roast with, because we all know that roasted veggies are the BEST.  Here are three of my favorite recipes so far (all of which involve roasting–if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it):

SPICY BALSAMIC GARLIC ROASTED ASPARAGUS
If you are the kind of person that can just sit and eat a pound of roasted vegetables and call it dinner, well, then get ready for the best dinner of your life.  If you’re normal then go ahead and have it as a side dish.
Balsamic 002

Ingredients
1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dragon’s Blood Elixir Unique Destiny Balsamic Garlic Herb sauce
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions
Pre-heat oven to 400 F.  Place trimmed asparagus on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil and hot sauce over them and toss to coat well.  Add minced garlic over the top.

Place in oven and roast for 12 minutes.  Flip and roast an additional 8 minutes until browned and tender.  Remove from oven and squeeze a slice of lemon over them before serving.

–x–

GARLIC PAPRIKASH FINGERLING POTATOES
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Ingredients
2 pounds fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Dragon’s Blood Elixir Garlic Paprikash sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt (to taste)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 F.  Wash potatoes and pat them dry as best you can.  If any of them are noticeably larger than the others, cut those into smaller pieces.  Use a fork to poke a few holes in some of the bigger, whole potatoes.

Spread potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Add oil, hot sauce, and oregano, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat well.  If you like crispy (read: blackened) garlic, add it now.  Otherwise wait (see below).

Roast for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and stir.  If you haven’t added the garlic yet, now is the time to do so.  Return to oven and roast an additional 15 minutes or until browned and easily pierced with a fork.

Add additional salt to taste.  Enjoy hot with a little extra garlic paprikash sauce drizzled on top.

–x–

SESAME TAMARI ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Spicy Spotlight 010Ingredients
2/3 pounds Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons Dragon’s Blood Elixir Unique Destiny Sesame Tamari sauce
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
Salt (to taste)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 F.  Spread quartered Brussels sprouts on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Add sesame oil, hot sauce, and garlic, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat well.

Roast for 10 minutes, then flip or stir and roast an additional 10 minutes or until tender and browned.  Remove from oven and add additional salt to taste before serving.

–x–

I have to say, the Sesame Tamari sauce might be my ultra-fave.  It tastes incredible on any and all manner of roasted vegetable.  I also have grand plans for an Asian-style noodle bowl with like a gingery-peanutty-Sesame Tamari dressing, once horrible Passover ends and I can eat real food again.  OMG it would be so good on falafel too!  Okay done.

More spicy fun to come next week!  In the meantime have a wonderful weekend, and Happy Easter to those who celebrate.

Click here to read last week’s Spicy Spotlight featuring NW Elixirs.

Spicy Spotlight: NW Elixirs

You may recall that two weekends ago, H and I attended the second annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, where we had the time of our lives sampling incredible, small batch, craft hot sauces in every flavor imaginable and meeting tons of great people.  We also purchased and brought home dozens of bottles of those sauces, and I immediately got to work coming up with fun uses and recipes for some of our acquisitions.

Over the coming weeks I am going to spotlight some of these products and my uses for them on the blog.   No one is paying me for this; I am only sharing because I have truly fallen in love with each and every one of these sauces and the incredible depth of flavor that they have added to my food.

For my first Spicy Spotlight, may I present NW Elixirs.  This company uses high quality ingredients to produce four flavors of hot sauce.  All four flavors were available to sample at the Expo, but only two of them are vegan, and H and I and purchased those two: the Verde Hott (#2) and the Hott Smoke (#3).

VERDE HOTT
If you’ve ever had salsa verde, picture that…and then turn it up about 1000 notches, and you’ll be approaching Verde Hott.Spicy Spotlight 001I don’t know what it is about this sauce, but it is bursting at the seams with flavor.  It is so incredibly fresh-tasting, slightly sweet, and a little tangy.  It is perfect.  This is not a particularly spicy hot sauce, but it does have a nice kick.  I didn’t even consider myself a salsa verde fan before trying this, but once I tasted it, I had to have it.

The #1 way we’ve been using it is to make the easiest and best guacamole of all time.  This is what you do:

Take half an avocado, remove the pit, and fill the hole with Verde Hott.
Spicy Spotlight 016

Mash it up.  You’re done.
Spicy Spotlight 005This is wow-inducing guacamole.  If you don’t currently experience cravings for raw veggies, you will after you try dipping them in this.

HOTT SMOKE
The Hott Smoke is somewhat similar to a traditional barbecue sauce in consistency, but with a well-rounded, less sickly sweet flavor than other such sauces.  It is one of the least spicy sauces we bought.  With this one, it’s all about the flavor!
NW Elixirs Smoke 001

H is a big fan of this sauce as a spread for sandwiches (with non-vegan fillings).  I think it is absolutely perfect for grilling tofu:
NW Elixirs Smoke 007Just brush it on and grill it up!

Or for amping up your standard mushroom gravy!
NW Elixirs Smoke 002

HOTT SMOKY MUSHROOM GRAVY
Makes 1-1.5 cups

Ingredients
2/3 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon mild miso (I used yellow)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons worth)
8 oz. sliced baby bella (aka crimini) mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 – 2 tablespoons NW Elixirs Hott Smoke
1 – 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

Instructions
Combine the broth and milk in a measuring cup or small bowl.  Add cornstarch and miso and whisk until dissolved.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute about 2 minutes or until lightly golden.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften and shrink down (about 5 minutes).

Add the broth/milk/cornstarch/miso mixture, thyme, and black pepper, stir to combine, and then bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer.  Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until it has cooked down and thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in Hott Smoke and optional nutritional yeast (start with 1 tablespoon, then taste and add more if desired).  Add salt to taste (mine didn’t need any because there was enough salt in the broth and miso, but this will vary).

Substitutions
1) If you aren’t lucky enough to have Hott Smoke in your kitchen, you can substitute another not-too-sweet barbecue sauce and a dash or two of liquid smoke.
2) The non-dairy milk is optional; if you don’t have or don’t want to use it, just go with a full cup of broth.
3) Use chickpea miso for a soy-free version, or omit altogether.

This is heaven over mashed potatoes.  Heaven, I tell you!
NW Elixirs Smoke 009So my first attempts at cooking with Expo products were a success!  It felt good to justify the absurd amount of stuff we brought home from it this way 🙂  As per H:  “The lack of restraint we showed at the Hot Sauce Expo actually worked out fantastically!”

I’ll have lots more fun, spicy cooking experiments to share in the coming weeks!

Have a great weekend!