Growing up and early in my marriage, I always thought our family dishes were full of flavor and spice until we landed in Texas and I started adding hot peppers to my recipes. I realized our northern meals, although deliciously spiced mostly with salt, pepper and, of course, Greek oregano on everything, lacked the kick of hot peppers. In our dishes were green bell peppers, sweet red and yellow peppers, and occasionally, a few imported Greek golden pepperoncini my dad would sneak into our salads; that was it. But now, wow — the sky’s the limit! We moved to the Gulf Coast in 1978; we were Midwest transplants, but the Texans we met always accepted us. Now that all three of our daughters married native Texans and most of our grandkids were born here, we are practically native ourselves. To say we embraced all things Texas is a truth that cannot be denied and that includes peppers and all hot spicy food that use these fireballs of flavor. My husband even partakes in Buffalo Wild Wing’s 30 different pepper sauces with heat levels listed by number of jalapeños next to the name of the sauce, ranking from one jalapeño as medium to six as the “Braveheart.” Once, accepting a dare from friends, those Braveheart wings almost killed him. I’m kidding, of course, but seriously, he took up the challenge and after eating all six on his plate, he lost his taste buds for an hour and switched from beer to milk to try to neutralize the heat in his mouth! That was a once-and-done event. The restaurant is right, so hot you can lose your head over it! Here at home I keep the heat level in my recipes medium to medium hot and absolutely under no circumstances do I use ghost peppers, so you are safe with my dishes. Here is a local tip … If pepper plants are grown unprotected in Texas during our hot summer months, the plants may lose their fruit buds or the fruit may roast on the stems as mine did! However, as the Texas weather gets cooler, the plants thrive, so I’m seeing pepper plants everywhere in grocery stores and garden centers and I have generous friends that share their harvest with me from time to time. So “Please Join Our Table” as we share a few of our not-so-hot Texas pepper recipes!

Armadillo Eggs

A cheese-stuffed jalapeño, wrapped in sausage, covered with a thin slice of bacon and baked, grilled or smoked

12 jalapeños, preferably the same size and shape

4 ounces herbed goat cheese log or feta cheese, softened

4 ounces shredded, smoked cheddar cheese (H-E-B carries Tillamook Smoked Extra Sharp White Cheddar) or Colby cheese

3 pounds ground spicy Italian sausage

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

2 slices of white bread or any soft bread, crusts removed

1-2 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil for frying

Jalapeño jelly for dipping (recipe follows) or buy in jars

Optional: 12 pieces of thin-cut bacon (I use maple flavored), precooked 1 minute in the microwave, then cooled to room temperature

In a medium bowl, mix the two cheeses together. Transfer to a Ziploc bag or pastry bag with a round tip. Use scissors to cut one of the corners of the Ziploc bag at an angle. Put on gloves and carefully cut off the stems of the jalapeños. Using a small, thin steak knife, hollow out the peppers, removing and discarding the seeds and membranes. Be careful not to split the peppers (I like to microwave the peppers for 30 seconds on high to get them a little softer; remove and bring to room temp or place in the fridge to cool). Pipe the cheese mixture into the peppers and top each pepper with a small piece of white bread (this will seal the cheese inside the pepper). In a bowl, mix the liquid smoke into the sausage until well blended and separate the sausage into 12 equal pieces. Flatten each into a thin oval and carefully wrap the sausage around the stuffed peppers, completely covering them with the sausage. Place in the fridge to chill 30 minutes. While they are chilling, prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper topped with cooling racks sprayed with nonstick baking spray. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the armadillo eggs from the fridge and wrap each with one slice of the par-cooked bacon, pressing it into place. Place a large fry pan on the stove and over medium-high heat, add a few peppers at a time, searing on all sides. Remove them carefully and place on prepared baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven about 15 minutes but don’t cook so long that the cheese starts to ooze out. Remove from oven, let them rest a few minutes, place on a platter and serve. I like to have a small bowl or two of jalapeño pepper jelly for dipping. Note: You can always grill these on an outside grill but watch for flair ups from the fat released from the bacon and sausage.

Jalapeño Jelly

1 1/2 cups apple cider or white vinegar 
6 1/2 cups granulated cane sugar
3 cups minced jalapeño peppers, red or green (seeded and white membranes removed). Use gloves to do this!
1 teaspoon salted butter
3 ounces Certo Liquid Pectin

Place vinegar and sugar in a stove-top pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and butter and bring to a boil again. Stir in the pectin and boil for one full minute. Carefully ladle into prepared heatproof containers or jars with lids. Wipe down jars. If you plan on keeping the jars for an extended period (up to 12 months), place the jars at this stage into boiling water for 10 minutes until the jar lids pop, sealing them. I personally place the lids on, let them cool completely and place them in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or freezer up to 6 months.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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