Slate's Culture Blog

July 19 2014 9:31 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Jalapeños

Jalapeños are typically thought of as a seasoning, something to chop up or slice to make something else taste spicy. We mince them for salsa, slice them for pho, pickle them for tacos. Rarely is the jalapeño treated as an end in itself, unless you are the kind of person who downs whole, raw hot chilies for kicks.

Yet jalapeños, being among the mildest and largest of the piquant capsicums, have quite a bit of potential as a stuffed hors d’oeuvre. They’re just the right size for a party snack—unlike cavernous bell peppers and poblanos—yet they have more room inside of them than other stuffable finger foods, like mushroom caps. As long as you fill jalapeños with something palate-soothing, you can eat a few of them without breaking a sweat, fearing your tongue is going to burn off, or suffering any of the other unpleasant physiological effects of capsaicin, the compound that makes chilies spicy.

The most obvious palate-soother is cheese. As my colleague Nadia Arumugam has explained in Slate, dairy contains the protein casein, which “pushes capsaicin away from pain receptors and binds to them in its place, bringing almost immediate relief.” The punningly named jalapeño poppers (poppers puns on peppers) are typically filled with a cream-cheese based filling, which makes sense: Cream cheese is both perfectly smooth and impeccably mild, which makes it a great foil for the jalapeño’s sharpness. Add a melting cheese, like cheddar or gouda, and some cilantro, and you have the perfect filling to offset the slightly painful effects of biting into a jalapeño.

Stuffing, breading, and deep-frying jalapeños—as one does for jalapeño poppers—is more hassle than it’s worth. It’s much easier to make a simpler version of stuffed peppers: Halve jalapeños lengthwise, pull out the seeds and veins (you can use a paring knife or, if you’re careful not to rub your eyes afterwards, your fingers), pack your filling into each receptacle, and bake them.

Obviously, everyone’s personal tolerance varies, and jalapeños occupy a fairly wide swath of the Scoville scale, so I can’t promise your nose won’t start running after you swallow one of these stuffed peppers. But stuffed jalapeños are like the best Cat Power tearjerkers—they might make you sniffle, but they’re still so, so good.

Stuffed Jalapeños
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Time: About 30 minutes

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated cheddar or gouda cheese (about ¼ pound)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Black pepper
1 pound medium to large fresh jalapeños

1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Put the cream cheese, the cheddar or gouda, and the cilantro in a medium bowl. Season with black pepper, and stir to combine.

2. Halve each jalapeño lengthwise. Trim off the stem, and scrape out and discard the seeds and veins.

3. Using a spatula or spoon, fill each jalapeño half completely with cream cheese filling. Transfer the jalapeños to a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

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July 18 2014 7:31 PM

Silicon Valley Is Trying to Make Vegan Cheese That’s Actually Cheese

At long last, the environmentally concerned food enthusiasts of Silicon Valley are devoting themselves to a serious culinary problem. Forget Hampton Creek, the startup that last year earned great critical acclaim for making passable vegan mayonnaise (never mind that passable vegan mayonnaise already existed).* A team of self-described “biohackers” has taken to Indiegogo to raise money for a project that aims to overcome one of the biggest obstacles to more widespread veganism: cheese.

The name “Real Vegan Cheese!” sounds like the recent spoof ad for “a veggie burger that contains REAL BEEF!” But the project is quite serious: The scientists behind the Real Vegan Cheese project are trying to genetically modify yeast to produce casein, the protein found in cows’ milk. By combining this synthetically produced casein with water, a vegan sugar comparable to lactose, and a plant-derived fat, they hope to produce a realistic vegan milk that can then be processed into “real” cheese. (You might think of it as real in the way that lab-grown beef is “real” meat.) If all that sounds a bit mind-bending, it’s explained in more detail in the video below:

The project is still in its very early stages, and there’s no guarantee it will succeed. But if it does, it will be a huge improvement on the not-very-cheeselike cashew and soy cheeses currently on the market. And it will make veganism—the most ethically and environmentally sound diet—much more appealing to people who, like me, have a hard time imagining life without gorgonzola.

(They’ve already passed their funding goals, but you can donate here.)

*Correction, July 21, 2014: This post originally misstated Hampton Creek’s name as Beyond Eggs. The startup began in 2011 as Beyond Eggs but has since changed its name to Hampton Creek.

July 18 2014 12:38 PM

The World’s Fastest Way to Tie Your Shoes, Explained in a 30-Second Video

People have passed around versions of this method, called the “Ian Knot,” before, but for his new show Going Deep, David Rees went straight to Ian himself. In this exclusive clip, Ian explains how to do it, and shows just how much faster the knot can be.

The result is the same as a regular shoelace knot—it’s just a faster way to do it.

July 18 2014 11:41 AM

People in North Carolina Are Really Upset About Their New Poet Laureate

Who the hell is Valerie Macon?”

She is the new poet laureate of North Carolina, and North Carolinians are not happy about it. In a press release last Friday, governor Pat McCrory announced that Macon, a disability determination specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services, would take up the two-year mantle. She succeeds the celebrated writer and university professor Joseph Bathanti. But this is no peaceful, bittersweet changing of the guard.

Chris Vitiello, a poet and professor, recently posed the question I opened with in a piece for North Carolina’s INDY Week. Over the course of his article, he asks several more questions, such as whether McCrory is “sacrificing the hapless Macon in an effort to eliminate the laureate program altogether” and whether Macon has “ever read a poem by another poet.” He asserts that “this embarrassing appointment hurts every writer based in the state” and speculates on the governor’s thought process leading to the appointment: “Hey, doesn’t that nice lady on the first floor write poetry? I think I saw something pinned to her bulletin board. She should be poet laureate.” Vitiello concludes by pronouncing Valerie Macon “Pat McCrory’s middle finger, pointed at North Carolina’s literary tradition.”

July 18 2014 10:44 AM

The Best Way to Film New York City, According to Pop Stars


Earlier this week, RZA and indie band Faulkner released a music video for their song “NY Anthem.” As with many songs about the place, its lyrics describe a city where big-time success is there for the taking (“Go to New York, New York/ And take over the world”). Another thing the song has in common with many NY-themed ditties? Its video is shot in black and white.



Call it the Manhattan Effect, maybe: Woody Allen’s 1979 classic is rightly held up as a gold standard in depicting the city on film, and could be an influence here. Or perhaps NYC is just more aesthetically pleasing in black and white than it is in color. Maybe it’s the nostalgia many people feel with regard to New York: People who live here love to long for an older New York that never really existed.



Whatever the reason, NYC and black and white just go together.


July 17 2014 7:13 PM

Tweedy’s Newest Single Is a Throwback to Wilco’s More Experimental Days

“Diamond Light – Part 1,” the latest single off of Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s forthcoming album Sukierae, is unquestionably their most interesting yet, and the one most reminiscent of more experimental early Wilco. We’ve mentioned before that Tweedy’s recent output has been pegged pejoratively as “dad rock.” Not that Tweedy takes offense—“I don’t find anything undignified about being a dad or being rocking,” he told Rolling Stone—but this song might help to quiet some of those detractors, anyway.

July 17 2014 7:01 PM

Jeremih and Shlohmo’s No More EP Is the Perfect Bedroom Soundtrack

You might remember Chicago R&B singer Jeremih for his debut single, 2009’s instant-classic baby-maker “Birthday Sex.” He’s still delivering big club-pleasing tracks—like the “Rhythm Is a Dancer”-interpolating “Don’t Tell ’Em”—but his sound now reflects the more down-tempo, minimalistic trend of alternative R&B. Most recently, he’s collaborated with rising L.A. producer Shlohmo for an EP, No More, which they first teased over a year ago with its seductive first single, “Bo Peep (Do U Right).” Today, they’ve finally released the entire project for free download here, and it’s as good as promised.

July 17 2014 5:00 PM

Which Summer Tour Gives You the Most for Your Money?

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

If you are looking to spend mountains of money in order to see a famous person dance around a stage, then you have plenty of options this summer: Bey and Jay, Drake and Wayne, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, One Direction, and more. But if you are only looking to spend as much money as you have to—if you would like to get the best bang for your concert buck—then we have you covered. Using the best of our mathematical abilities, and a good amount of set-list-peeking and YouTube-watching, we have ranked this summer's biggest blockbuster tours in order of worst deal to best deal.

Please note: Ticket prices can vary city to city by a few dollars. We’ve done the best we can to assemble the average tour ticket prices in general rather than by specific city. Fees are also included in the average ticket price.

July 17 2014 4:30 PM

Watching Welcome to Sweden With My Sweden-Born Wife

Welcome to Sweden, the new NBC sitcom, features Greg Poehler (brother of Amy) as Bruce, an accountant to the stars who quits his job to move to Sweden and live with his Swedish girlfriend. It’s a classic fisk out of water story. It debuted last week to mediocre—but not bad, considering it’s July and the show had a crappy lead-in—ratings. Reviews ranged from a bona fide rave to an emphatic “meh.” Having watched a few episodes in advance, I think the New York Times got it right: The show is “pleasant, inoffensive, and quite charming,” though perhaps “more good-humored than it is humorous.”

Still, Will Ferrell guest stars on tonight’s episode—in the world of the show, comedy giant Will Ferrell is one of Bruce’s clients—playing the ideal American husband to a Swedish woman (drawing, no doubt, on his own experience). Since I am myself a less-than-ideal American husband to a woman who was born and grew up in Sweden, I thought it would be fun to watch the show with my wife, Kristine, and see if the jokes rang true to our own lives.

July 17 2014 4:10 PM

Stritch on Stritch: The Actress Looks Back on Her Most Famous Performance

The actress Elaine Stritch, who died this morning, was a brilliant talker. In talk show appearances, she could always be relied upon to say something shocking, perceptive, and brilliant—sometimes in every single sentence. She was also a brilliant critic of her own performances, a talent that is on display in her 2001 DVD commentary track for D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary, Company: Original Cast Album. The film, which chronicles the album’s marathon recording session, climaxes with Stritch’s epic struggle with her big number “The Ladies Who Lunch.”