Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brightest Sunshine in a Jar:McQuade's Elgin Habanero Chutney

What happens when Scottish creativity meets a Central America chili pepper in San Francisco? My choice for the Taste Everything Independent Food Festival Awards is what: McQuade's Elgin Habanero Chutney. Alison McQuade handcrafts chutneys that are bright and deliciously spiced with just the right amount of heat. She uses only natural ingredients and doesn't overcook the chutney keeping it chunky and fresh tasting, not gooey. All her chutneys reach the perfect balance of spices, sweet and sour flavors that gives them their distinctive tang.

Alison began making chutney as a gift for friends and neighbors, using her grandmother's Spiced Apple Chutney recipe. But she quickly went beyond the traditional with seasonal flavors like Cranberry and Mandarin, Melon and Peach and even Persimmon. Now her chutneys can be found on local menus and in shops, although they are still popular with her neighbors. Look for them in places like Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building Marketplace, because they pair so well with cheese.

Though I like all of McQuade's chutneys, Elgin Habanero Chutney, a combination of apples, onions, chilies, crystallized ginger and a mix of Indian spices has got to be my favorite. I use it more as a condiment like salsa than traditional chutney. Sure it's great in a grilled cheese sandwich or with roast lamb, but try it on a hamburger, on a baked potato, or a quesadilla. Wow!

While Alison pays homage to her native Scotland in the naming of her chutneys, her inspiration comes from what's fresh, what's new and sometimes even what's on the cocktail menu (could a Mojito chutney be next?). When it's a little warmth I crave, Elgin Habanero Chutney is just the thing. McQuade's chutney is the perfect antidote to the foggy days of Scotland or San Francisco. (that's also why the jar is only half full)

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For more information, please visit the Taste Everything Independent Food Festival Awards.