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They call ’em cowboy candy and they’re loaded with sweet heat and a bit of crunch–along with that element of surprise: how hot will this one be? Seems the heat level can vary even within different bites of the same pepper. I ate a particularly spicy ring last summer, experienced an all-over “I’m melting” sensation, then fainted and literally hit the wall. For a while, I was afraid to eat more of them, but I soon got over it and ate the rest because a) they’re damn tasty and b) Yankee thrift prevents me from throwing away perfectly great food. 🙂

What to do with them? Whether you eat ’em like candy, perch them atop a spicy margarita or add them as a garnish for tacos, they’re a welcome guest at a variety of sweet or savory parties. And, as a bonus, the by-product is a fiery syrup you can use to make kicked-up margaritas. I even made my own spicy sugar for dipping the glasses–there goes that Yankee thrift action again. Let’s heat things up, amici!

CANDIED JALAPEÑO RINGS: COWBOY CANDY
And a spicy syrup by-product to boot!

6 jalapeños, cut into thick rings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground chile (I used 1/4 tsp. chipotle and 1/4 tsp. ancho)
additional 1/2 cup sugar for dipping
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Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Dissolve water, spices and half cup of sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over medium high heat till it boils. Add jalapeños and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Using a toothpick, dip each jalapeno ring into granulated sugar. Coat the rings generously. Place on foil-lined cookie sheet.
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Bake sugared rings at 200 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Let them cool and air-dry for several hours. You can even leave them uncovered for a day or two.

But wait! Save that syrup and stick it in the fridge–it contributes to a mean margarita.

You’ll see you have a bit of leftover sugar from dipping the rings–to that, add 1/4 teaspoon of the syrup. To make it pretty, add about 7 drops of food coloring. Stir thoroughly to combine. Now you can dip each margarita glass (dip first in a shallow dish of tequila or run a wedge of lime around the top) in the spicy sugar to make a colorful presentation.

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Be sure to have some tortillas or bread or crackers on hand just in case you need to rescue yourself from the ring of fire. 🙂 Cheers!
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