Confession No. 110 — What were we thinking?

Some light bulbs should remain unlit.

Ideas come and go. Some, like the retractable ball point ink pen or the internal combustion engine, are brilliant and life-changing. Others, such as sour cream & onion-flavored Jell-O or hydrogen-filled blimps, are better left alone.

Organ stores in the malls
Seems like a good idea. Hire an organist and pay him a commission on sales. But it never quite happened that way.

As you’re strolling past Orange Julius, you’re serenaded by the sounds of ‘Alley Cat’ and ‘Green Onions.’ Suddenly you start thinking that you too can become the next Count Basie.

You make your way beyond the GNC toward the carpeted dimly lit corner space from which the tuxedo-clad player is drawing a crowd of mostly Lawrence Welk fans. He’s using all of the organ’s automatic bells and whistles and is showing his musical prowess through pure vibrato-infused notes and harmonic percussion.

The impromptu concert brings about visions of you surprising everyone at the office party with your own rendition of ‘Light My Fire.’ So you ease toward a powered-up organ in the rear of the store, take a seat and stretch your arms à la Van Cliburn.

Then it dawns on you.

You couldn’t find the middle C if your life depended on it, and even a $10,000 Hammond organ won’t make your playing sound like Ray Manzarek’s. Like so many others before you, you sneak from the musical confines to avoid eye contact with the maestro. His look of melancholy for losing another sale is more than you care to bear.

For about $5,000 a month in retail rental fees, organ retailers once generated hundreds of experiences — just like mine. For their investment, they basically received some foot traffic from people who were en route to Spencer’s to check out the fake doggie poo.

Cheetos lip balm, Reddi-Bacon and the Scotch Bonnet incident
At first thought, Cheetos-flavored lip balm sounds almost as ingenious as General Tso’s chewing gum or chicken & dumplings on a stick. But, just like the real thing, the dry lip remedy also left behind its bright orange mark and funky smell.

As for Reddi-Bacon — made by the same folks who bring us Reddi-Whip — the idea of placing paper-wrapped pre-cooked bacon in the toaster looked good on paper. But, can you say fire hazard?

I created a similar hazard myself in the mid-1990s in our Manahawkin, NJ home when I had managed to get my hands on some Scotch Bonnet peppers. At that time, they were considered among the hottest chiles in the world and I was going to prepare and preserve their searing heat in the form of a bottled sauce.

After cleaning and seeding, I tossed them in a large skillet for a little pan roasting. This was going to be the hottest and most flavorful hot sauce on the planet.

‘Are y’all feeling … kind of funky? Like you can’t breathe?’ I asked my wife and mother in-law between coughs.

They initially responded in the negative. Within seconds, however, the stinging air had made its way from the kitchen to the den.

‘I feel it,’ Catherine said as she began to cough. ‘Oh my gosh, Adam! What have you done?’

By then, my throat-clearing hacks had graduated to guttural whoops. I noticed through watery eyes that my 70-something mother in-law was beginning to gasp for air as she held her chest.

‘Quick,’ Catherine weakly shouted, ‘outside!’

The scene was one from SWAT training or a hostage standoff. The three of us stood on the backyard deck moaning and barking, as if the house had been shelled with tear gas bombs.

I’d previously felt the tickle in the air when cooking with much milder peppers such as Poblanos and Jalapenos. But Scotch Bonnets are more than 100 times hotter. I’d created homemade pepper spray.

What was I thinking?

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. — Special thanks to Megan E. ‘Interpretive Dancer’ Hawkins at The Underground Writer  for editing this piece.


I first became familiar with Chicken Vesuvio during an episode of Lidia’s Italy on PBS. (Yes, I watch public television on occasion. So, shoot me.) It’s an Italian-style dish that has its roots in Chicago. Like most Italian dishes though, no two versions are exactly alike. Some cooks prefer crispy potatoes, while others prefer to add butter to the pan liquid. My rendition (like Lidia’s) includes sweet Italian sausage. And though I like to brown the potatoes to a crisp before roasting, they come out only partially crispy (on one side). Also, I like Basil and artichoke hearts and they work very well with this dish.

Chicken Vesuvio

Chicken Vesuvio. A savory Chicago classic.

Chicken Vesuvio. A savory Chicago classic.

1 – Whole chicken, cut up (8-9 pieces)
1 lb – Sweet Italian sausage
4 – Garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs – Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups – Artichoke hearts
2 cups – Chicken stock
1 cup – Frozen green peas
1 cup – sweet peppers, sliced
1 cup – Dry White Wine
1 – Medium onion, quartered
1 TB – Dried Oregano

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground fresh Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400F

In a large roasting pan, pour enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. Heat to medium-high. Season chicken pieces liberally with Kosher salt and pepper; add to heated roasting pan and brown on all sides (be careful not to overcrowd the pan). Set browned chicken pieces aside. Add potatoes and sausage to pan (using more oil to coat the pan, if necessary) and brown on all sides. Set browned potatoes and sausage aside with chicken.

Remove olive oil from roasting pan, leaving only about 1 TB. Add garlic and cook until it begins to become fragrant, about 1 minute. Add onions, Basil and Oregano. Stir and cook for another minute, or so. Add white wine and cook until wine has reduced by half. Pour in chicken stock and return liquid to a boil. — Add potatoes, sausage and chicken back to roasting pan. Then add peppers and artichoke hearts. Sprinkle with a large pinch of Kosher salt.

Place in oven and roast, uncovered for about 20 minutes. Add the peas. Roast for another 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally — chicken should be quite tender at this point.

Garnish with chopped fresh Parsley, if desired. Serves 6.

Comments

  1. It’s a toss up – but I think this essay of yours is my favorite. Hysterical! Great work.

  2. For goodness sake …I hope NSA aren’t spying on this blog post and assuming that you are into chilli pepper terrorism – we’d never see you again and that would be a great loss.

  3. Chicken Vesuvio has been on my list of things to make for a couple of years. And I think it was Lydia’s recipe that got me interested. Maybe her and her son were cooking it? Anyway it looks and sounds fabulous. “your own rendition of Light my Fire” made me laugh out loud as did your vivid description of the scotch bonnet incident. Stuffing seeds and pieces of jalapeno down the garbage disposal do the same thing to me.

    • The episode I saw had her showing her mother how to make it. It’s been a year or two, so I could have my shows mixed up. And, Ray Manzarek played a pretty mean keyboard in that tune! ;-)

  4. I’m growing scotch bonnets this year (last year, it was ghost chilies), so your post really cracked me up. Nice work on clearing the house! (and the chicken looks delicious, too!)

  5. Reblogged this on Strawberryquicksand and commented:
    Another rib tickler from ADAM. Who would have known you can cook up your very own pepper spray!? Read on if you like a laugh.

  6. Home made pepper spray?! I’m speechless, in a coughing gasping for air kinda way.
    can you believe I’ve not heard of Chicken Vesuvio? The things you learn on food blogs..

    • I was sort of surprised I’d not heard of it either (considering I own/have read every cookbook with Marcella Hazan’s name on it). Lo and behold, there was a good reason for it! ;-) Despite that it’s a Chicago invention, it is still very reminiscent of numerous homestyle Italian recipes.

  7. Your posts always have me saying, “What was he thinking!?!?” That’s what I love about them!!

    And after reading this one…you’re still married to that lady’s daughter! Ha!

  8. Your post got me thinking on a few different lines today.

    Like the idea of the organist. Made me think back to an old thought I had. Wouldn’t everybody’s life be better if it included a sound track? Sappy music for the romantic times? Heart lifting, encouraging music when finishing that big race or while making that big play in sports? Hopefully no creepy, scary music though.

    Scotch Bonnet peppers made me think of the time I tried to make bacon wrapped jalapeno poppers…with habanero peppers. Not my smartest moment.

    And then to a friend of mine who roasted some habanero peppers on his grill, ground them up with a coffee grinder and went to take a sniff right when a gust of wind blew. No exaggeration, he ended up in the hospital from enhaling it.

    As for the Chicken Vesuvio, never heard of it, but it sounds delicious. Can’t wait to try it.

  9. Hey, I think you’re underestimating your importance, my dear…you’re front and center on radar! I love you even more for noting that your wife has the patience of Job and your MIL is near sainthood…you’re in for a long happy full life! xo

  10. That pepper hack is very uncomfortable. I have done likewise on more than one occasion. Not a good way to win friends and influence people.

  11. Usually all these great ideas start with a couple of guys and a few pitchers of beer. And then someone says, “hey what if we tried….”
    I wonder how your pepper spray would be on my old arthritic joints?
    I know I’d love some of that chicken in my belly. It looks like a winner.

  12. Adam, I’ll have to try a few of those mood-altering “sound effects” next time I play the organ at church… worship will never be the same! (Or maybe it was the tuxedo-clad organist that added to the ambience? Remind me to glitz up my Sunday best… presentation is half the performance, eh?) Your Chicken Vesuvio sounds wonderful!!! Many moons ago I got to see Surtsey rising out of the sea in its infancy — still smokin’! — a highlight in my life. Or maybe it was your Scotch Bonnet incident? Too funny!

    • Kim – If you are a church organist, you so need to get in that loft and start playing like you are at a baseball game. It would be appropriate, since even the ballpark is Heaven on earth. :-)

      • Adam, I’ve been known to play the “dun, dun, dun, dun… da da da DUNH da dah” theme a time or two in a playful “spirit” during rehearsals and such… I’ve also tactfully suggested that our choir director could perk things up a bit by adopting a few moves from Sister Act. :)

        • How about Boston’s ‘Foreplay – Long Time’?

          • I was thinkin’ “More Than A Feeling” or The Simpson’s version of Inna Gadda Da Vida. ;)

          • I’m down with either! :-)

          • Oops, that was the ol’ bass player in me re: More Than A Feeling. (Great bass line on that and Inna Gadda Da Vida, too — although the organ solo on the latter is killer, too.) Were you/are you a musician?

          • We’ll … Not really. I can play a few brass instruments (F horn was my primary) but none well. I know how to play piano, but not classically. And my playing is pretty bad. For the past few years most of my efforts have involved the guitar. I stink badly enough on the six string (Takamine G Series) yet I also tried my fat hand on the 12 string. Not a good experience at all. Want to buy a Fender acoustic/electric 12 string? Excellent condition with nary a good tune ever played on it. Cheap.

          • Go for it, Adam! Sometimes latent talent is waiting in the wings of the right instrument… you’ll know when your fingers touch the strings! My instrumental days were honed on the clarinet family (and piano), but I branched out when our small-town marching band needed brass players for half-time shows (since most of the horn section was out on the football field, lol!) I learned to play trumpet, baritone, et al as needed, but it wasn’t ’til our director started a jazz band that I took up bass guitar… ended up playing it in college with the best bunch of guys you could ever hope to play with (and even a concert with Manfredo Fest of Brazil ’66/’77 fame!) Later (MUCH later) (in my 40′s), I followed up with a stint as a bass guitarist in a classic rock band. (Can we say Pink Floyd COMFORTABLY NUMB, lol?!) But, keyboards have always been my forte. Two weeks ago I gave the first “classical concert” of my life… received a standing “O” and I’m still pinching myself. It’s never too late!!!

          • Oh, I’m still trying. (Very trying!)

          • P.S. I can relate to your “fat hands.” My piano teacher said I have “Chopin hands” (great for wide reaches on the piano, but guitar, not so much…) Maybe you need to look at bass guitars?! 4, 5, 6 “fat” strings may just be your calling!

          • Problem is, I’m stubborn. I want to play the lead (and sing — also pretty bad on my part). I was on a Foo Fighters kick, along with some Chris Cornell and Eddie Veder. But lately I’ve been consumed with charting and playing Bob Seger tunes.

  13. :) You make me smile. And don’t give up trying!

  14. Taking On Magazines says:

    Oh my. You got a silly smile plastered on my face with that one. And I am more than happy to learn from your mistake, not that I’d have Scotch bonnet peppers in the house for any reason. On a side note, I saw Bob Seger in concert up in Chicago some years ago. Fantastic. :)

  15. That’s funny. ReMinds me of when my hubby ate a scotch bonnet, whole, during a drunken dare.

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