Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Hot Peppers and How to Handle Them

posted in Spices and Seasonings by Kathy Maister

This post is mostly about working with jalapeño peppers. Be sure to check out all of my other posts on chili peppers!

How Hot Is It?: Startcooking.com’s Chili Chart with video

Chili Peppers (Video)

How To: Chilies

Jalapenos Stuffed with Sausage

10 Ways to Use Chili Peppers


Hot peppers can add a delightful zing to lots of different dishes. There are many varieties available at your grocery store. Not only do they come in different sizes, colors and shape, but they all pack a different punch! Heat index is the official term for judging how hot a chili pepper is.

Today, I’m going to be working with just jalapeño peppers. These are mid-range in the heat index.

The safety precautions I’m going to talk about apply to the handling of all hot peppers.

Jalapeño peppers are (obviously) spelled with a “j”, but pronounced as an “h.” They can be purchased fresh in the produce department, or in cans and jars in the dry goods aisle.

Bottled or canned jalapenos are pickled, which means they are preserved in a vinegar mixture. The added vinegar in the peppers will alter the taste slightly. Nevertheless they are still a great substitute if the fresh ones are not available.

If a recipe calls for a pepper to be seeded, this just means you have to remove the seeds and veins. While it is actually the seeds and the veins that cause all the heat, the oils in the peppers can irritate your skin. Some people (including me!) always wear rubber gloves when seeding and chopping hot peppers.

To remove the seeds and veins, cut the pepper in half with a paring knife. Then just cut away the veins and the seeds.

A very clever way to remove the seeds is with a melon baller. (A melon baller has several other uses in addition to make melon balls. It is also great at removing an apple core! Who knew?

After cutting the chili in half, hold the stem end down, and roll the melon baller from the tip back to the stem end. The veins and seeds all come out in one swift motion.

You can then cut the peppers into thin strips or a fine “dice” (small 1/8 inch bits.)

Or use them to make some Jalapenos Stuffed with Sausage.


When you are finished, always wash your hands well with soap and water. After touching a jalapeno, be careful not to touch or rub your eyes, (or stick your fingers in your mouth or up your nose.) The oils will really burn!

By the way, if you eat a really hot chili and it’s burning the inside of your mouth, don’t gulp down water!!!! The best way to ease the symptoms is to drink milk or eat yogurt. Dairy products contain a substance which disrupts the burning. All water does is to spread the oils around your mouth — which sure isn’t going to help.

Incidentally, red jalapeño peppers are the same as the green ones, except they are left on the vine longer to ripen. They are sweeter but, surprisingly, not hotter than the green ones.



Oops! Almost forgot to mention bell peppers.


These peppers have a wonderful taste and texture but are not hot. They are great eaten raw in salads or on a platter with other cut veggies and some dip.

Cook up some rice, brown some ground beef and in just a few more short steps you can have Stuffed Peppers for dinner tonight!



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Stir-fry Seasonings

posted in Spices and Seasonings by Kathy Maister

There are certain food combinations that always work together: salt and pepper, peanut butter & jelly, hot dogs & baked beans, fish & chips, gin & tonic just to name a few. Spices and seasonings work that way too. Nothing goes better with apple pie than cinnamon and nutmeg.

Stir fry recipes have their own unique set of seasoning ingredients.

Some may be more familiar to you than others. In my Chicken & Broccoli stir fry video, I used soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili paste and sesame oil as the four basic ingredients. Here is a very brief introduction to these ingredients.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a dark, intensely flavored, salty sauce used for flavoring a lot of different foods. Soup, sauces, meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, you name it, and soy sauce works with them all. Different brands may be saltier than others. You often see it as a table condiment at Asian restaurants.

Oyster Sauce

Guess what it’s made from? You’re right! Oysters! Plus a lot of other ingredients (like soy sauce, salt, water, possibly MSG and cornstarch) depending on the brand you buy. It’s dark brown in color and very thick. It will not pour out of the jar – you need a spoon to scoop it out. It has a wonderful rich flavor that is not at all fishy. Oyster sauce helps to thicken the sauce in Stir Fries.

Chili Paste

Chili paste (not to be confused with chili oil, chili powder, or chili sauce), is made with red chilies, fava beans, flour, and (sometimes) garlic. Different brands have different levels of “heat”, so be careful! If you like foods to be hot and spicy, this is the ingredient for you. Add a small amount at a time until you figure out what you like.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil has a very strong flavor and fragrance. It is often used as a flavor enhancer rather than for frying. You can buy a light colored sesame oil that has a less intense flavor than the dark sesame oil.

Many people consider soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil as the basic 3 stir fry ingredients.

Buying these 3 at a minimum, is a wise choice if you plan on doing stir fry.


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How to: Strawberries

posted in Fruits by Kathy Maister

Strawberries, once just a summertime treat, are now available year round. Especially tasty are the locally grown ones that are now showing up at farmers’ markets.

Always choose strawberries that are plump, firm and glossy.

Wash them just before using them.

I always wash my supermarket strawberries, in a colander, under a gentle spray of running water. Or you can swish the strawberries around in a bowl with cool tap water.

(Actually my old friend Roger never washed strawberries. He felt it washed away the flavor. But then again he lived in the south of France and only bought them from the local farmer who grew them organically.)

Once washed, spread the strawberries out on a clean dish towel to dry.

To “hull” a strawberry means to remove the green leafy top and the tiny stalk. If you plan on hulling tons of strawberries, you may want to buy a strawberry huller. But a small paring knife works very well for hulling a quart or two.

Start by grasping the green top…

…and just trim out that tiny stem.

Or you could just slice off the whole top with a small paring knife.

Just pulling off the green leafy top (as shown below) is NOT enough. You need to remove that tiny bit of white, hard stem as well.

To store strawberries, place them in a single layer in a moisture-proof plastic container that has a tight fitting lid.

Lay a paper towel on top of the strawberries and then put the lid on the container. When you put them in the refrigerator, store them with the lid side down in the refrigerator.

Stored this way they should stay fresh for at least 2-3 days.


Recipes to die for:

Strawberries dipped in Chocolate from startcooking.com

Strawberries Romanoff –Strawberries soaked in orange juice/curacao/cointreau and served with Whipped Cream

Strawberry Short Cake – a classic that everybody loves!

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