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):

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.
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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)

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.


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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)

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.


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)

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.


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.

Cherry Smoothie Jubilee

I love, love, love cherries.  Sadly, in the northeast we have an extremely short window each year for good cherries.  During that window (which usually starts in late June/early July and lasts about 3-4 weeks), I buy and eat an unreasonable amount of these ruby gems, and justify the price by how seldom I get to enjoy them fresh.

The rest of the year, I settle for frozen cherries, and I most often enjoy them in the form of–you guessed it!–smoothies.

Below I’m sharing my three favorite cherry-based smoothies.  Enjoy them while you’re waiting for cherry season to arrive!

This one isn’t super-thick but it tastes like vanilla ice cream.  So good!
Cherry Smoothie Jubilee

1 cup water
1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen cherries
2 cups fresh leafy greens (in the one pictured above I used a mix of collards and kale)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Blend and serve!

Though it looks dark purple, this is actually a green smoothie!
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1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup frozen cherries
1/2 cup frozen blueberries (I am currently obsessed with Wyman’s wild blueberries)
1 frozen banana
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1.5 cups fresh leafy greens (the one in the picture contains spinach)

Blend and serve!

No greens in this one (though you could obviously add some)–it’s like having dessert for breakfast!
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1 cup water
1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen cherries
2/3 cup frozen blueberries
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2-3 drops pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (optional–enhances the chocolate flavor)

Wait for it…
Blend and serve!


My cherry concoctions have really been helping to get me through the last throes of winter.  Y’know, those days where you wake up and are immediately thankful that 1) your ice scraper is still in the car, and 2) you haven’t packed away your scarf and gloves yet.
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April 007Sigh.

P.S. - I wanted to call this post Cherry Smoothi-lee but I didn’t know how well my cheesy pun would translate into a post title so I played it safe :)


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).

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.
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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.

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!
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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!
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Makes 1-1.5 cups

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)

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).

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!


Choco-berry Smoothie–a Green Smoothie that is not green!

Why, oh why, have I never added cocoa powder to a smoothie before today?

There is no good answer to this question.  I’m just going to chalk it up as one of life’s great unsolved mysteries.

What I can tell you for certain is that the smoothie I made this morning, incorporating unsweetened cocoa powder, was outstanding.  It is one that I highly recommend, particularly to anyone looking to ease into green smoothies.  I happen to love the hint of leafy goodness that most green smoothies impart, but I know it’s not for everyone, and in this one both the taste and color of the greens are artfully disguised by rich chocolatey goodness.Chocoberry Smoothie 001CHOCO-BERRY GREEN SMOOTHIE
Yield: 1 large smoothie
Vegan and gluten-free

1 cup water
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2/3 cup frozen blueberries
2 large collard green leaves, torn into smaller pieces
1-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (start with 1 and add more to taste)

Add all ingredients, in the order shown, to a blender and blend from low to high until smooth and well-combined.


  • Any dark green leafy vegetable can be substituted for the collard greens (e.g., spinach, kale, or chard).  It should come out to about 2 packed cups full.  If you’re new to green smoothies, start with less and gradually work up to 2 cups.
  • Fresh fruit may be substituted for any of the frozen fruit.  You may want to add some ice if substituting more than one frozen ingredient.
  • Use non-dairy milk in place of the water for a richer, “milk chocolate” version.

Chocoberry Smoothie 003Yes, I did toss some chocolate chips on there for garnish.  And I’m not sad that chocolate chips were part of my breakfast.  Not sad at all.

Unsweetened cocoa is chock full of health benefits so you can definitely feel okay about having it for breakfast.  It is low in calories while being high in fiber, iron, copper, and magnesium.  It also naturally contains a hefty dose of antioxidants in the form of flavonoids.  Just be aware that many commercially-available varieties have had the flavonoids removed (our American food industry at work, ladies and gents).   [Sources: Livestrong and Metabolic Effect]

I know people often achieve similar smoothie results by for example adding chocolate protein powder to a smoothie.  Personally I have never encountered a protein powder (vegan or non-vegan) that I found palatable, so the cocoa powder works out great for me.

I can totally imagine feeding this smoothie to my kids someday for a little veggie boost at breakfast time.  [Hopefully my future children aren't reading this, but if they are--SURPRISE!  You ate a vegetable.  Mama only tricks you because she loves you.]

Weigh in: chocolate protein powder or unsweetened cocoa powder?

I am firmly in the cocoa camp!

NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2014

Last Saturday, H and I headed down to New York to attend the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo.NYC HSE 026
NYC HSE 001I was so SO excited about this event.  With over 45 vendors giving out hundreds of samples, how could a spicy food lover like me not be?

I can now tell you that it was even better than I had hoped it would be.

The level of quality of both the products and the vendors was outstanding.  I mean, really outstanding.  Even the hottest sauces and foods I tried were absolutely bursting with flavor.  The freshness of the ingredients and the care put into making the products was readily apparent at every turn.  I can’t recall consuming even one sub-par product the entire time I was there.
NYC HSE 007Horseshoe was one of my favorite brands at the event.  Their kiwi jalapeno hot sauce might be the best thing I tried the whole day.  They also had the prettiest display!

H and I purchased the Sweet Spot level tickets, which give you access to the vendors plus a free bottle of a sponsor’s hot sauce and 6 drink tokens per person that you can redeem at the bar for wine, Lagunitas beer, or cocktails.  These tickets cost $35 each. I don’t think I need to explain why this is an absurd value, especially in New York City.
NYC HSE 008Throughout the day you can try as many samples as you can handle (and that is included in your ticket, obviously), but each vendor also has bottles and bottles of product for purchase as well.  Fair warning that this can become expensive quickly, especially if, like me, you simply have to have every sauce that made you say “Mmm!” to take home.

The vast majority of the sample sauces are vegan, and sampling is done either on tortilla chips or with a small spoon.  So as far as the sampling goes, it really is a vegan-friendly event.   A few of the vendors (though fewer than I would have thought) had sauces containing bacon and a few more have sauces with honey (but again, fewer than I would have thought).  Another thing to watch out for is Worcestershire sauce (which typically contains anchovies), but outside of the Bloody Mary mixes this didn’t seem to crop up very often.
Several of the vendors had food available to sample, some of it vegan (like spicy pretzels and sriracha popcorn) and some not (like beef jerky and Cabot cheese).  There was also some food available to purchase, the majority of which was not vegan (pulled pork sandwiches and tacos…although they did have a vegetarian taco option).  They had soft pretzels which looked pretty good (I didn’t try them), although some of them were wrapped in bacon or stuffed with something non-vegan.

They also had a number of stations selling (and also giving samples of) ice cream.  Imagine my utter shock and delight when I saw this:
I will have much more to say about this company in a future post.  For now, all I need to tell you is that the almond marzipan flavor is out of this world.  H couldn’t stop raving about it.

The length of the event (10 a.m. – 7 p.m.) seemed like a lot but was actually perfect, for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, you really can’t just sample hot sauces for 9 hours without a break [well, maybe you can, but I sure cannot!].  There were times when I felt like my face was actually melting, and it took me a good 20-30 minutes to cool back down, so having a nice long event meant that I still had plenty of time to get around to most or all of the vendors.

Second, the Expo got increasingly crowded as the day wore on, and the lines for the bathroom and bar lengthened accordingly (although this did correspond nicely with that 20-30 minute cooldown).

Third, as the event winds down, it is nice to have a little time to revisit booths that you particularly enjoyed and to chat with the vendors.  I met a lot of really interesting, passionate individuals and was grateful for the opportunity to learn a good deal about the art of hot sauce making and flavor development as well as their sourcing and production.
The expo took place at the Penn Plaza Pavilion, which is on 7th Ave at 33rd Street, directly across the street from the train station.  It’s a fantastic, central location and very easy to travel to.

The space was definitely big enough to accommodate all of the vendors and attendees, but I thought the layout was kind of strange and a bit maze-like.  It seemed like there were several nooks and crannies where you’d unexpectedly encounter a vendor you hadn’t seen before, even though you’d already spent 4 hours walking around.  I’m not sure the layout was *bad* necessarily , but it was different from other expo-type events that I’ve been to.

I should mention that there was nowhere to put coats.  H tied his around his waist, and I had to carry mine over my arm the whole day, which made sampling a bit awkward at times.

There also was nowhere to sit down (although possibly there is if you buy the VIP tickets…I didn’t have one so I didn’t see if there were seats in that section), which I know might deter or, frankly, prevent some people from attending.  An old friend of H’s came to the event and the two of them ended up just sitting on the floor against a support beam to be able to chat and catch up.

[But none of this took away from the] FUN FACTOR
This event was SO much fun.  It’s full of an offbeat, niche crowd of pepperheads that really gets into the whole thing.  The vendors also appear to be having the time of their lives, and there’s plenty of silliness and puns to go around.NYC HSE 010NYC HSE 005NYC HSE 015H and I couldn’t stop talking on Sunday about what a great time we had.  We already can’t wait to go back next year!  In the meantime, we will not lack for hot sauce goodness, as we came home with and outlandish amount of hot sauce (THREE tote bags full) in every flavor imaginable.

In the coming weeks I will have posts highlighting some of the companies that stood out to me, including recipes/uses I’m inventing with some of the wonderful stuff we bought.  Stay tuned!

Simple Food for Stressful Times

Work, and life in general, have really ramped up in the last few weeks.  I’ve also been traveling way more than normal this past month (taking trips to Richmond, Florida, and NYC [recap coming soon!] in three consecutive weeks).  

As a result, I haven’t been doing a ton of cooking, mainly because I don’t want to leave leftovers sitting in the fridge while I’m away, but also because the idea of keeping things super-simple is just  so attractive when you’re going through crazy times.

My days have been looking something like this:

Breakfast:  Smoothie, made with all frozen ingredients.  This is a departure from my normal practice of combining fresh and frozen ingredients, but I have resisted buying a lot of fresh produce lately, because I’ve been out of town so often.

Morning Snack:  Grapefruit or a navel orange.  My mother-in-law receives shipments of the most wonderful citrus from Florida all winter long and generously shares these with us.  This comes in super-handy for quick snacking.
Light 008Lunch:  Soup or a tofu sandwich.  Soup is either defrosted from our freezer or from a can (I always keep a supply of Amy’s soups on hand).

Afternoon Snack(s):  I almost always have two snacks in the afternoon, one at work and the other pre-workout (if I’m hungry then) or post-workout while I’m getting dinner ready.  The standard of late has been 1/4 cup of homemade hummus with carrots and sugar snap peas (one of my favorite foods!), and 1/8 cup of soaked raw almonds (I just put them in a small container with water in the morning and they soak through the day).
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Oh and if you have never had soaked almonds, you are missing out big time!

Dinner: Whatever is around!  On the nights I have cooked, it’s been something really easy, tried and true that H also loves (so I know there won’t be too much left over), like my Easiest Lentil Soup or the Red Lentil Cauliflower Curry from Veganomicon (one of the best recipes of all time).  I also always have cooked brown rice available (often in the fridge but always in the freezer) for making ultra-lazy “bowls” where I heat it up with some canned beans, spices, and steamed (or defrosted) veggies.Simple 002In this one I used Gardein buffalo “wings” that had been in the freezer for a while and added a lazy man’s “ranch” sauce that I made out of reduced fat Veganaise (which is unbelievably good, btw) mixed with some lemon juice, cumin, and dried dill.  [Note: these are not affiliate links, just links to the companies' websites so that anyone who's not familiar with the products can see what I'm talking about.]

It’s not the most exciting or glamorous daily menu but it’s been working fantastically for me during these busy times.

What simple meals help you through busy times? 

Spiced Tofu Cutlets

These cutlets were born out of a last minute, not-very-well-planned-out idea that I had at about 6 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day to make tofu with the seasonings of corned beef.  Obviously the texture would be nowhere close but I still thought the flavors might work.

Well, turns out it tastes nothing like corned beef either, but it is still delicious so I’m sharing!  #WinningFail

Spiced Tofu Cutlets 002

Yield: 2 servings (2 cutlets each)
Vegan and gluten-free

Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
2 small bay leaves (or 1 large leaf torn in two)
1 small cinnamon stick, roughly broken up into shards
4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/16 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (yellow would be fine too)
1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 block extra-firm tofu, pressed and cut into 4 slices
Additional salt for sprinkling

In a shallow dish, add lemon juice and salt and swirl around until salt is dissolved.

Add bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and sugar, and stir to combine and to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Add tofu to marinade and sprinkle the tops with salt.  Marinate for at least 10 minutes, then flip, sprinkle the other side with salt, and continue to marinate.

You can eat them right out of the marinade, or prepare them hot by pan-frying (the method I used) or grilling.  [This probably goes without saying, but please be sure to remove the bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns before eating.  The mustard seeds are okay to eat whole.]


These are great on their own as a meal component.  I enjoyed mine with colcannon on the side:
Spiced Tofu Cutlets 004

And also on a sandwich with greens and a dab of dijon mustard:
Spiced Tofu Cutlets 006I’ve been loving this cheap, quick, versatile recipe lately, as things have been rather hectic in my neck of the woods.  More on that in an upcoming post…

Quick Ragnar Update
My training has completely stalled out over the past two weeks as I’ve been dealing with a strained hip flexor.  It doesn’t bother me at all except when I run so I’ve been trying to just rest, stretch, and cross-train.  It’s hard though and I’m getting worried that I won’t be ready for the race (which is only 6 weeks away)!  If anyone else has experience with this type of injury, I am open to any and all advice :)