Some Like it Hot

Bring the heat with warming recipes that banish winter’s chill.

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Photo by T Christian Gapen


entura County, like much of Southern California, is not known for being an icy wilderness, even in the winter months. But between wind, fog and (when we’re lucky) seasonal storms, we get our share of days and nights that are less than balmy. And when the sun goes down and the temperature drops, we, like the rest of the country, turn to that age-old cure for the winter blues: comfort food. We’re talking delicious edibles served piping hot, straight from the pot or oven: big bowls of hearty stew, casserole dishes heaped with baked pasta, steaming beverages served in thick mugs to wrap cold fingers around. This was our inspiration this month, and we turned to local chefs for a batch of recipes designed to make you warm and cozy from the inside out. And boy, did they deliver. From a lemony soup to an updated mac and cheese to spicy treats (both savory and sweet), we offer here a number of easy, delicious ways to keep the chill at bay. If you can stand the heat, get into the kitchen.


The Spicy Feisty Kimchi Bacon Pancake
For a spicy and sophisticated appetizer, look no further than these Korean-inspired discs made from salted and fermented Napa cabbage and dressed up with bacon, jalapeño and chili oil. Prepared kimchi can be found in Asian markets and specialty food stores, and sometimes in the Asian food aisle of well-stocked supermarkets.

1 cup chopped kimchi (approximately 1 inch)
1/4 cup kimchi juice (may be strained out from jar of kimchi)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/2 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
5 strips of bacon
Oil for frying
Ponzu sauce
Chili oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Bake or fry strips of bacon, leaving one side about 20 percent uncooked.
Add remaining ingredients to a bowl and mix well.
In a heated nonstick pan, add 2-1/2 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 to 1/3 of the batter. Spread it out to make a circle. Fry for 1-2 minutes. Before flipping, add a slice of bacon to the “wet” side so that the slightly undercooked bacon can finish. Flip over and fry for another 1-2 minutes. (For extra-crispy pancakes, flip again to cook each side for another minute or so.)
Remove to a paper-lined plate and garnish with sesame seeds. Serve with spicy ponzu sauce (about 4 ounces sauce mixed with 1 teaspoon chili oil), if desired.

Makes 3-4 pancakes.
Courtesy of Seoul Sausage, The Annex at The Collection, 550 Collection Blvd., Suite 170, Oxnard, 805.278.9895,


Creamy Lemon, White Bean and Kale Soup
Megan Roosevelt, RDN, founder of, is also a spokesperson for Limoneira’s One World of Citrus. This recipe, using the Santa Paula grower’s award-winning produce, features tangy lemon juice, smooth white beans and crunchy kale. It comes together fairly quickly — just a little chopping, sautéing and simmering are all that’s required — so it’s a fantastic choice after a long day at work. With coconut milk and coconut oil instead of cream and butter, it makes a delicious dairy-free meal, too.

1 bunch curly kale
1-1/2 Limoneira classic or Meyer lemons
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 (15 ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt

Begin by rinsing the kale thoroughly, then rip the leaves from the vine, and roughly chop.

Heat coconut oil in a deep pan over medium heat, and add the onion, garlic and seasonings. Stir together and saute for 5 minutes. Add the kale and stir and saute for another 5 minutes.
Add the stock, coconut milk, juice from one and a half lemons and the white beans. Stir together and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve.

Makes 4 servings
Courtesy of Limoneira Company, 1141 Cummings Road, Santa Paula, 805.525.5541,

Mayan Spice Chocolate
Smooth, luscious chocolate is the very definition of decadence. When savory flavors are added to the mix, they bring a depth and complexity that is deliciously addictive. Jennifer Smith, co-owner with her daughter, Sophia Smith-Grunder, of chocolate boutique Ex Voto, has developed two tempting recipes — a hand-rolled truffle and a rich sipping chocolate — that combine piquant seasonings and rich dark chocolate to create a harmonious marriage of sugar and spice.

Mayan Spice Blend
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground dried habanero chile (found online or at specialty food markets)
1 teaspoon ground dried ancho chile

Hand-rolled Mayan Spice Truffles
4 ounces 60-75 percent dark chocolate
4 ounces heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons Mayan Spice Blend (or to taste)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup cocoa powder

NOTE: This recipe can be made in the microwave or on the stove.

MICROWAVE: Place the cream in a small microwave-safe bowl, add the spices and gently heat to around 150 degrees F. Do not boil. Allow the spice and cream mixture to cool while melting the chocolate.
Place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Continue to microwave chocolate for 30 seconds at a time, making sure to stir between each interval until melted — chocolate will burn if not stirred frequently.

STOVETOP: Follow the directions above, heating the cream in a small pan (again, being careful to not bring to a boil) and melting the chocolate in a bain-marie (a bowl set upon a pan of simmering water) or double boiler.
Pour the cream and spice mixture into the melted chocolate and stir with a soft spatula or small whisk until an emulsion is formed. The mixture should have the consistency of pudding. Stir in the softened butter until it’s fully incorporated.
Let the mixture set up for 1-2 hours or overnight, unrefrigerated.
To shape the truffles, use a melon scoop or teaspoon to scoop out 1 inch balls of chocolate. Gently roll the truffles between the palms of your hands to form rustic orbs, and then roll in cocoa powder to coat. You may also roll the truffles in melted chocolate and then in finely chopped nuts or cocoa powder to coat.
Truffles can be kept at room temperature for 2 days, but really should be eaten fresh. To keep truffles longer, place in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Bring truffles to room temperature before serving.

Makes 16 truffles.

Mayan Hot Chocolate
“There are two keys to making great hot chocolate,” Smith explains. “First, use high quality chocolate, not cocoa powder. Brands such as Guittard, Valrhona, Trader Joe’s or a handmade bean-to-bar chocolate make excellent hot chocolate. Second, heat the mixture thoroughly for at least 5 minutes. When the chocolate is well blended into the milk, it will thicken and create a rich creamy texture and full-flavored taste.”
Smith also notes that the recipe may be adjusted depending upon the type of beverage desired. Hot chocolate can be made to taste richer like European hot chocolate by reducing the quantity of milk. Alternatively, a lighter, American-style hot chocolate can be achieved by reducing the amount of chocolate. “The level of sweetness is determined by the percentage of chocolate used,” she cautions. “A high percentage of chocolate will be less sweet.”

6 ounces milk
2 ounces chocolate
1/8-1/4 teaspoon Mayan Spice Blend (or to taste)

Place the milk, chocolate and spice mix in a small pan and gently heat on the stove for 5-7 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent scorching and to thoroughly incorporate the chocolate with the milk. Top hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of spice mix or cocoa powder, if desired.

Makes 6-8 ounces.
Courtesy of Ex Voto Chocolates and Confections, 2646 East Main Street, Ventura, 805.667.9228,


Spicy Orange and Jalapeño Margarita
They might look and taste like summer, but oranges are at their best in winter, and their sweet juice makes a brilliant complement to tart lime and tongue-tingling jalapeño in this sunny margarita which is guaranteed to make the season bright. Any quality tequila will do, but for added depth and flavor, infuse the tequila first with orange and chile. Simply add 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of sliced oranges and one sliced jalapeño to a liter of tequila and store in a cool, dry place for 4-6 hours. Remove the chile and let the alcohol sit overnight or up to several days with just the oranges. Strain and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

1 barspoon of sugar (approx. 1 teaspoon) muddled with a generous slice of orange and a thin slice of jalapeno (use more if you prefer it spicier).
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
1/2 ounce triple sec
2 oz. tequila infused with orange and jalapeño
1 glass rimmed with equal parts salt and sugar
Lime slice (for garnish)
Shake all ingredients in a shaker two-thirds filled with ice and strain into glass. Garnish with a slice of lime and serve.

Courtesy of Pamela Solomon, Rumfish y Vino, 34 North Palm Street, Ventura, 805.667.9288,


Soothing Lemon Cold Cure
The hot toddy is a traditional remedy for sore throats and raw nerves. Megan Roosevelt’s version skips the alcohol and infuses the lemon juice with savory herbs, pepper, cinnamon and ginger for a little heat, adding a generous dose of honey at the end to help the “medicine” go down. But with flavors this good, there’s no reason to wait until you’re under the weather to enjoy!

1 Limoneira Meyer Lemon
4 cups filtered water
1 inch ginger root
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cinnamon sticks
1 serrano pepper
2-3 tablespoons local honey

Rinse the lemon, ginger root, rosemary and serrano pepper.
Remove the stem of the serrano pepper, then slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Peel (if desired) and thinly slice the ginger. Slice the lemon into rounds about 1/4 inch thick.
In a small pot, heat the water over medium heat. Add the rosemary, ginger, pepper, cinnamon sticks and lemon slices. Drop the heat to low and simmer for at least 10 minutes. The longer the concoction simmers, the stronger the drink will become.
Add about 1 tablespoon of local honey into each mug and fill with the steeped drink. Stir well and serve.

Makes 2-3 servings.
Courtesy of Limoneira Company, 1141 Cummings Road, Santa Paula, 805.525.5541,


Char Man Verde Mac and Cheese
Ojai-based Char Man brand of hot sauces are made from locally available chiles and other ingredients, roasted, steamed and bottled right here in Ventura County. Char Man Verde is on the milder side, with a bright and tangy blend of fire-roasted guero, jalapeño, serrano and Thai chiles. It adds a touch of zing to this grown-up macaroni and cheese, developed by Char Man founder Chris Sutton and made with Monterey Jack and mild green chilis. Comfort food at its best.

8 ounces elbow macaroni (2 cups uncooked)
6 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-1/2 cups milk
1/2 bottle (2.5 ounces) Char Man Verde Hot Sauce
1 can (4 ounces) mild chopped green chile peppers
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese (about 2 cups)
Salt, to taste
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, ground fine

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 2-quart baking dish.
Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water, following package directions. Drain and rinse well.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Stir in flour and pepper until well blended and bubbly. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk to the butter-flour mixture (roux), stirring constantly. Cook until thickened.
Stir in Char Man, chile peppers and cheese. Cook, stirring, until cheese is melted. Add salt to taste.
Combine the cheese sauce with the drained macaroni, stirring well. Spoon into the prepared baking dish.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss it with the breadcrumbs until the crumbs are thoroughly coated. Distribute the buttered bread crumbs over the macaroni and cheese, and sprinkle lightly with paprika.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly.

Serves 4 to 6.
Courtesy of Char Man Brand,,


Back to top