Tomatillo Sauce

Although I love to cook, sometimes I just want to put a few things together for a quick and easy dinner. It is so often I those days that I don’t want to cook, that I really need a healthy and comforting meal to relax after a hectic day. I try to keep a jar of tomatillo chile sauce in my pantry for one of those quick days. While this sauce is readily available at a grocery chain in Texas, I can’t buy the sauce in Michigan or North Carolina.

In the category of you never know what you will find at the farmers market, I was thrilled to find a farmer selling tomatillos and a variety of chile peppers. When I saw her bumper crop, I knew this was the answer to my tomatillo sauce woes. Now that I have finally learned to can, I quickly bought a ten pound bag of tomatillos along with a pile of poblano and jalapeño peppers. Luckily for me my CSA bag included several heads of garlic, onions and a huge bunch of cilantro.

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Tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family. The fruit resembles a small green tomato covered with a papery husk. The tomatillo is very tart with a lemony acidic flavor. When the tomatillo is mature the fruit is green and the husk is loose and easy to remove. The tomatillo has a soapy coating so  you need to rinse them well after husking.

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So on a cool rainy day, I cleared off my counters, got out my canning equipment and started husking. And seeding. And chopping. Lots of chopping. Due to my blender phobia-that is a tale of caution for washing sharp blades that I will save for another day, I chopped all of my ingredients.  You could easily use a food processor or blender to chop everything. If you do use a machine, chop the peppers, onion and garlic together and then the tomatillos separately. I like a my tomatillo sauce to be a little chunky.

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With all the husking and chopping and cooking and canning, I managed to get the job done in less than three hours. When I was finished, I had ten pints of tomatillo sauce. This tomatillo sauce is great on scrambled eggs, tacos or enchiladas. A family favorite is chicken tomatillo stew. Use your imagination, the tart and spicy tomatillo sauce is a tremendously versatile pantry stocker.

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Of course you don’t have to make this tomatillo sauce in massive quantities. It is a quick sauce to make for immediate use. The recipe that follows is for a small quantity.  Two pounds of tomatillos will yield about a quart of sauce. This would be enough for a large pan of enchilada or a pot of stew to feed a family. If  you want to make enough to can, just multiply the ingredients by how much you want to make. Excellent canning instructions are available from the Ball Jar company.

Tomatillo Sauce

  • 2 pounds tomatillos
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Seed the peppers then finely dice the peppers, onion and garlic. Add oil to a large sauce pan and then add the peppers, onion and garlic. Sauté over a medium heat until everything is softened. Be careful to not brown these or the garlic will become bitter.

Husk the tomatillos and rinse well. Chop the tomatillos into a medium dice and then add to the sautéed peppers mix. Add a half cup of water. Cover the pan and simmer the mixture for about a half hour stirring occasionally. The sauce is done when the tomatillos are softened and cooked down. If it is too watery, just remove the lid and simmer for a little longer to reduce the liquid. Add the cilantro at the very end so the flavor doesn’t cook out. If you are an anti cilantro person, try adding it earlier in the cooking process or completely omit it.

Final Sara Hardy Farmers Market of the Year

The fall chill is settling in up north in Michigan. Today was a cold misty rainy day for the final outdoor Sara Hardy Farmers Market in Traverse City. Despite the cold and rain, the market was still filled with vendors with an abundance of products and a crowd of shoppers enjoying the beautiful fall crops along with other products from baked goods, to honey and maple syrup, cheese and butter and homemade soaps and beauty products. With so much to offer it is sad to see the market come to an end, but we take solace in knowing that many of the vendors will be moving to the indoor market on Saturdays at the Grand Traverse Commons.

I love the fall crops. Today in my 9 Bean Rows CSA bag I found potatoes, onions, broccoli, acorn squash and carrots along with the usual greens, eggs and bread. I also picked up some cherry tomatoes sweet enough to compete with the Halloween candy. Another vendor at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market had a great deal on MacIntosh apples for the last market so I bought a peck of apples. I am looking forward to making and canning some applesauce.  Even when I get to North Carolina I will still be able to enjoy the taste of these deliciously sweet and tangy Michigan apples! Continue reading

Leaving Texas

Finally after a long hot summer in Austin, I am back up north in Michigan. Oh, how good it is to be home! I arrive here with a slight tug on my heart from my life I have left after twenty some years in Texas. It is time to move on to new adventures but it is with more than a little regret that I face this change. For a place I never expected to live and then never planned to stay, Texas has shaped my life in a myriad of ways. I came to Dallas a small town mother of a baby and left Austin a city woman and mother of two grown daughters.

Food provides an enduring connection to Texas, perhaps more so than most areas of the country. As with so much in Texas, the food is big and bold. We love our distinct Texas barbecue with that luscious brisket, the smokier and fatter the better. Our Tex-Mex can be had outside the borders but it is never the same without that Texas accent from the cook or server or the locally grown ingredients. College girls’s biggest regret about the move is that she won’t be able to come home to Texas for her barbecue or Tex-Mex. Needless to say we ate at Micklethwaite in Austin several times when she was home in August. If you want lasting memories, it should only be of the best! And breakfast tacos, oh my! The thought of breakfast tacos not being available at almost every corner is almost too much to bear! To cope, I will be a regular reader of The Homesick Texan blog. Fortunately, I saw Lisa Fain last year at the Texas Book Festival in Austin and bought both of her cookbooks. Little did I know I would soon be joining her as a homesick Texan-at least in terms of the food! Continue reading

Calzone with Kale, Ramps and Sausage

College girl has spoken. Enough with all this healthy food; it is time for some real grub. College girl being, well, a college student holds firm to the belief that pizza is one of the blocks of the food pyramid. In fact she informed me that the government considers pizza a vegetable. This kind of thinking makes me wonder if all our tuition payments are really money well spent.

Still how can I disappoint our darling? She is home for such a short time and I love to make her happy. Still, I think she can handle a little healthy while satisfying her pizza craving. Looking in the refrigerator I found half a bag of baby kale and a handful of ramps. Add these to some Italian sausage and we can placate her cravings and my consciensce.

My concern with using the kale on pizza is that the kale would dry out too much when baking the pizza. If I enclose it in the dough in the form of a calzone, the moisture from the dough, meat and cheese should almost steam the kale to combine it with the sausage. Now I really am the fun mom. Instead of just pizza that we have made so many times, we did something fun and different. We made a calzone! Now let’s just hope she isn’t reading this to find out she just got conned.IMG_1375 Continue reading

Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Ramp Dressing

A few nights ago, I went out to eat at a favorite local restaurant with a friend. Being in amazingly great shape, she eats the sort of food that I now only dream about. While I ordered my salad with grilled chicken and a vinaigrette my friend ordered a wedge salad. The wedge salad is the poster salad for sinful eating. All that creamy dressing, bacon and mounds of blue cheese should come with transportation to the hospital for the coronary it is sure to cause. But I still wanted one. Watching her eat it, I decided I could surely make a wedge salad that while maybe not entirely healthy, would certainly be an improvement.

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So I set out to find a dressing. Williams Sonoma has a recipe for a Wedge Saladwith a Buttermilk dressing which sounded pretty good. Well, except I didn’t have any chives. Perhaps instead of chives, I could use the ramp greens. Really, what isn’t better with ramps? Fortunately, I had a pint of buttermilk and had just made yogurt with the milk I bought from Shetler Family Dairy at the farmers market. I love it when most or all of my ingredients are locally grown.

Blender dressing Continue reading

Welcome Back Sara Hardy Farmers Market

Finally! My return up north in Interlochen Michigan dovetails nicely with the return of the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market in Traverse City. In fact, I have decided that my up north season should be defined by the start and end of this market.

Getting up Saturday morning, I was anxious to resume my weekly farmers market ritual. After the long cold winter the crops are just beginning to take off. Most of the farmers use hoop houses to grow greens and starts for more tender crops to extend the growing season. This early in the year, the produce offerings are primarily greens. Kale, lettuce and arugula were plentiful. I also found some lovely mild radishes. This is also the time for two of my favorite foods–ramps and asparagus.

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Healthy Eating

Why is something that sounds so simple, is in reality difficult for so many of us? Recently The New York Times posted an article in its column, “The UpShot”, entitled Simple Rules for Health Eating by Aaron E. Carroll. The rules Mr. Carroll outlines really should be considered a road map for a healthy relationship with food.  This isn’t another “diet” being sold as the latest greatest way too lose weight or cleanse your gut or make you a better athlete. Instead, he offers up a few simple common sense tenants to a life long way of life.

There you have it. Just follow these seven simple rules and you have the keys to the kingdom of healthy eating. Well, except it isn’t always that easy. Really, there is nothing new or novel in these steps. The problem is developing the discipline to follow the plan. For some of us, we have an unhealthy relationship with food. For me, many of my food choices are like hanging out with the wrong group of kids at school. Those “bad kids” are so much more fun to be around. They do what they want and don’t worry about the consequence. Stay out all night and skip class the next day? Sure! Eat that pasta with fatty meat and lots of cheese instead of grilled meat and fresh vegetables. Yes! I walk through the grocery store and the smells and sights of the bakery beckon me near. Watching television, the constant advertisements for snack foods and fast food restaurant make me crave chips and french fries. I watch cooking shows; I read food blogs. I love food-all things sugar, fat, baked. I just keep eating. Continue reading

Egg and a Salad Sandwich

Many lunches for me are simply a salad of greens with an assortment of chopped, sliced or diced vegetables dressed with a light vinaigrette. Often I will top the salad with a hard cooked egg for protein. Today I was craving bread. This craving was fueled by the crusty baguette I picked up at the farmers market yesterday from Artisan Oven. The ingredients available for lunch today were my usual salad fixings and the eggs I had left from last week. But then there was the bread-I wanted a sandwich. Of course I could make an egg salad sandwich. Yuck! That mooshed up mayonnaisey concoction glopped onto a couple of slices of bread just does not work for me. It always reminds me of meatless Friday school lunches and the horrible smell of sulfur that permeated the whole school. To this day, I still can’t face an egg salad sandwich. What if I just piled my salad on the bread and called it a sandwich? Now that might work.

The foundation (in my opinion) to a great sandwich is the bread. That baguette was certainly promising offering a crackly crust with a delicate interior. The main ingredient can be vegetable, dairy or protein. Just be sure it is flavorful. The toppings need to complement the main ingredient. For my sandwich I cooked my eggs until the yolks were just set. Overcooking an egg can yield the texture of a superball and a sulfur taste. For my vegetables, I wanted stronger flavors which the barely cooked yolk would mellow out. My arugula is still plentiful along with the slightly hot radish and the licorice flavors fennel bulb that I love on my salads. Those early tomatoes I got at the market would add a slight acidity. I dressed everything with a garlic vinaigrette and lightly coated the bread with mayonnaise. This made for an egg salad sandwich to wipe away those frightful Friday lunch memories! Continue reading

Texas Spring Strawberry Jam

With a week of warm weather in the low eighties and a couple of nice rain showers, my last trip to the farmers market in the Austin area before heading north to Michigan promised to be productive. After an early walk with the pups, I managed to get to the Cedar Park Farmers Market soon after opening time. What a day! Although the sky was overcast, rain was not in the forecast. So with a great growing week and good weather for the market all of the regular vendors were at the market loaded with crops. The strawberries were abundant, along with artichokes, zucchini, tomatoes and even kohlrabi which I haven’t seen in the grocery stores in weeks. Today, for me, it was all about the strawberries. I knew I had to make some strawberry jam this spring.

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Several years ago, I decided I needed to try making strawberry jam. For some reason, in my mind, making jams and jellies or really anything that goes in a jar had to be really difficult. Off I went to the store to buy the jars I needed to make the jam. And the jars sat in my pantry. We packed up and moved to Austin. The jars came along. And the jars sat in my pantry. Finally, last summer when I was in Interlochen, I decided to make apple butter. Apparently, having my own fruit tree was the motivation I needed to get going. Apples are abundant in north Michigan and our sad little tree was no exception. Well, I made the apple butter. It tasted good but had a rather unappealing color. Next, it was peaches. More jam and more success. Finally, this spring I got those long neglected jars out of the pantry and now have strawberry jam!

It turns out what had intimidated my for so long was really no big deal. All through the winter I went back to Interlochen every time I spread some of that apple butter on my toast. The peach jam brings back the late summer days of eating peaches morning, noon and night. This strawberry jam will put me back in spring when we head north and go back to those chilly days waiting for the warmth to return. Continue reading

Chicken Masala with Chickpeas and Chard

Before the newly college graduated daughter came home to visit she emailed me a few recipes she wanted to try cooking with me during her upcoming visit. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see she was taking an interest in learning to cook. Looking through the recipes, I was intrigued with the chicken and potato curry dish. It called for garam masala which I had heard of but really had no idea what it was. If the college grad wanted to try it, I was certainly game. So off I went to Whole Foods in search of spices. Whenever I need spices, I like to go to a store that sells in bulk. In addition to being able to buy quantities which I will be able to use in just a few months, it is also significantly less expensive. On this particular trip I bought the garam masala, turmeric, and ground coriander for less than a dollar combined compared to the three to five dollars I would pay per bottle of spice.

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Oh, that garam masala. My new love. It is everything I ever dreamed of all in one spice mix. Although there are infinite variations of garam masala some of the most common ingredients are cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. The mix from Whole Foods smelled strongly of these spices. The sauce made with this just filled my mouth with warmth, comfort, love. The version we made originally used chicken and potatoes and cream, not exactly eating light! While I loved the flavor profile, I knew I could lighten it up with vegetables and chickpeas in place of the potatoes and yogurt instead of cream. This new version was perfect. This recipe is full of vegetables and very low in fat. All the fabulous taste without out the diet demons! Continue reading