Tomatillo Salsa with a Garlic Kick



It’s definitely Fall here on the Eastern Shore, and that means the deer have come out of their hiding places to graze everywhere. Especially when darkness sets in. By the way, did I tell you I drive to work at 4:30 am every day? I see plenty of deer. And I drive slowly because they love to eat the grass on the other side of the road. As the saying goes – it’s always greener.

What does this have to do with tomatillo salsa?

Deer out in the Fall means deer hunters will not be too far behind. And if the deer are out and about early, the hunters are up even earlier. Now, I am not a hunter, I’m just surrounded by them here on the Shore. But I do hear the complaints about the cold temperatures, the damp weather, the misery. Makes me want to run right out a get a hunting license. Join me? Didn’t think so.

But having been on more than my fair share of overnight hikes and campouts, I know exactly what these deer hunters need. They need a breakfast that will stay with them for hours as they tromp through the forest, looking for enough venison to last a few months, and maybe a set of antlers to hang on the wall, much to their significant other’s dismay. They need something that will heat up the fires inside the old gut. Something to ward off any cold or flu bug that might fly by.

If we were in England, this might call for Bubble and Squeak. However, in Northampton County, Virginia we prefer the Deer Hunter’s Breakfast Special (from my Nanowrimo novel in progress. The Apple Pie Alibi.)

[This takes a few days to prepare so some advanced planning is in order.]

Day 1: Bake up several russet potatoes. Plan on two per person, at least. Three might be better. Once they have been thoroughly baked, put them in the cooler. You are done for today; go open a bottle of wine.

Day 2: Make the tomatillo salsa


6 tomatillos, husks removed

6 cloves of garlic – with the skin still on. (This is the kick!)

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 package of chocolate truffles

1 bottle of good red wine


In your oven, broil the whole tomatillos and the garlic, two minutes for the garlic and about five minutes for the tomatillos. You don’t want the garlic to burn and you do want the tomatillos to char and get soft. Leave the char on because it will give the salsa umpff (that’s a technical culinary term, I believe.)  Once you have taken the garlic away from the broiler, you can peel the skin off the cloves, assuming you either have very thick skin or you have let the garlic cool enough.

Once the tomatillos have choicely charred, let them cool for a minute whilst you find the blender or food processor. It is undoubtedly in the lowest kitchen cabinet, behind several cookery machines you use more often. It’s the dusty one right next to that new Panini maker you wasted 45 dollars on bought for yourself for your birthday one year, yeah, at least five years ago. Make a note to try a second time with that one. But later. For now, you need the blender way in the back. Yes, that’s the one. Don’t forget the lid.

Put all of the ingredients (except the chocolate and the bottle of wine) into a blender and pulse the blades until the salsa has the consistency you desire. Some people like to keep their salsa rather on the chunky side, others like more of a smooth sauce-like feel and as such blend the mixture until all of the pieces have been pulverized. Your choice.

Once everything has blended, put into a mason jar, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. This is important because it allows the flavors to meld together and intensify. In the meantime, eat a few chocolate truffles and then take the bottle of red wine and go watch some television. With enough wine, all of the shows will look appealing.

Day 3: Dice up the baked potatoes and put them in a large skillet. Add a good hunk or two of butter and some salt and pepper, then turn on the heat and fry the taters up. Once some of the potato cubes start to brown and crisp up, it is time to ladle on a bit of the tomatillo salsa. Let the heat sink in until the salsa and potatoes seem hot.

Now, as the potatoes and salsa are heating back up, in a separate pan scramble some eggs, again two to three per person.

Putting it all together

Put a layer of potatoes and salsa on your plate, and top with the scrambled eggs. Add salt and pepper if that’s your habit. The salsa should be enough spice today.

Eat like there’s no tomorrow. And don’t worry about the calories; remember you are going to be out in the elements so take every advantage you can.

The Deer Hunter’s Breakfast Special – you can’t go wrong!






Green Beans fresh from the farm!


One of our neighbors recently had an excess of fresh-picked green beans from their farm. How fortunate we were to receive a large brown bag of these string beans! Unfortunately, with only two of us regularly living in the parsonage, there was no way we could possibly eat all of those beans before most of them would go bad. What to do, what to do?

Green Beans from the farm

Give them away? A noble idea except most of the people we know probably received their own bags of green beans.

What about all those stories from mom and dad? You remember – schools closing so the kids could be forced encouraged to help out with the family farms by “bean walking,” that (I am sure) ever so popular activity of hand-picking the bean pods from the stalks. My parents are probably laughing right now. They worked hard to get away from the truck (vegetable) farms, and here we are, decades later, living across the street from a field that alternates soybean and wheat. Behind the parsonage is the other field, one on the wheat and corn plan.

At least the guy with the bi-plane that used to buzz the house crop dust has retired.

Why not spend a few hours of “together” time? Time without an electronic screen? Time where people can [gasp] talk – to each other? We tried it yesterday. It wasn’t as bad as you think. And we had sharp knives, too.

In case your parents, or even grandparents now I suspect, did not show you the easy way to freeze those fresh green beans, let me share!

1. Sort through the beans, picking out the obvious bad ones and pulling the remnants of stems off the pods. This is a great time to wash the beans in cold water. Since you didn’t farm them yourself, you just never know what may have come in contact with the veggies.

2. (optional) Trim the ends of the beans and then cut the long pods into halves.

Green Beans ready to par boil

3. Par-boil the beans. This means boiling the beans in lightly salted water for a few minutes, then stopping the cooking process by placing the beans in ice water, then draining and packaging into freezer bags. I used a long-handled strainer big enough to hold 2 cups of trimmed beans. This way I could safely hold the beans in the boiling water while watching the clock on the stove. It was also easy to move the beans to the bowl of ice water and finally into the colander to drain.

There is no exact science to this process, since every bean is different. However, if you are using bean pods that have been trimmed and halved, I found that 2 – 3 minutes in boiling water will bring out the deep green color in the pod. After you see that change of hue, put the pods in ice water for about 30 seconds. (Whole pods would take about 3 – 4 minutes in the boiling water, at the most.)

We used 2 cups of beans as our unit of measurement since each bag of frozen beans would be enough to make a nice side dish for the two of us here. If we get visitors we can just pull another bag or two from the freezer. Since the beans have already been partially cooked, it won’t take long at all to steam them, stir fry them, bake them, add them to whatever casserole. And they’ll be just as fresh as the day you froze them. Fresh frozen beans prepared in this manner will be good up to 8 months in your freezer!

Is it easier to buy flash-frozen beans in the freezer section of your supermarket? Easier, yes. But – by snapping and freezing the beans yourself, you actually ‘know’ what went into the process. No preservatives. No chemicals you cannot pronounce.

Just fresh from the farm green beans!

Don’t have a neighbor with a truck farm? No worries. Just go to the supermarket and buy your own fresh green beans. And as more and more markets are becoming carbon-aware, fresh vegetables may soon be available only when “in season.” For those old enough to remember, this is the way it used to be. And maybe the way it used to be wasn’t such a bad way to be.

Green Beans ready to freeze

We spent a few hours of quality time together and ended up with 11 bags (22 servings) of fresh green beans!

43 Types of Garlic? Now we’re cooking!


Garlic 1I don’t care what the people at Taco Bueno say, my Aunt Sue is okay in my book. She sent me a care package the other day, a box with two brown paper lunch bags inside. While I enjoy a decent peanut butter and jelly sandwich as much as the next guy, I was not disappointed when I peeked inside.


A sampler pack of 10 varieties, sequestered in their own little individual-sized brown paper sacks and accompanied by a small slip of paper identifying the type of bulb. The notes also had a few lines about the taste, cooking suggestions and other nifty tidbits.  Where did my aunt acquire such bags of goodness?

Why, she’s a member of a “Garlic CSA,” of course.

Now stand down, ye Johnny Rebs, I am not referring to the Confederate States of America. No, this CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” A very cool agri-business model where people, regular people like you, buy a portion of a small farm’s crop in advance. In other words, you pay the farmer $100 up front and at the end of the growing season, you get at least $100 worth of crop. Some farms offer a number of different products, others specialize, for example Garlic!

No huge agriculture / industrial corporations needed. Just plain old, organically grown food – hold the pesticide.

My aunt belongs to the Dyer Family Organic Farm’s garlic CSA, a family owned and operated Michigan farm that is planting 43 varieties garlic this year (yes, 43.) You can learn more about Dyer’s by checking out their website here. All sorts of info and tips about garlic on this site: storage, planting, recipes, everything but the vampire stories. I am thinking garlic tomatillo salsa. Christmas is coming, people at work. Guess what you’re getting!

The really best part? One of the variety is called “Transylvania.”

Oh, the stories I will write…

photo 2

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Food trends – like haute fashion from the runways in Paris, the latest and greatest food trends seem to change with the seasons. For those old enough to remember, in the 1960s we all loved to buy anything labelled “space-age.” In fact, as a kid I remember all of my classmates drinking Tang because it was the breakfast drink of the astronauts!  Personally I prefer real orange juice, from real oranges, but I know – I have always been a marketing department’s nightmare.

More recently, we have seen everything under the heat lamp seasoned with something “chipotle” even though there still remains disagreement as to how to pronounce the word. I mean, is it chi-po-tal or is it chi-po-tlay? Then there was the trend of customized cakes, which eventually fell to “cup-cakeries.” I think gourmet doughnuts are next.

Regardless, a trend worth trying is the “good for you” food known as the tiny little quinoa. Pronounced “keen-wah,” it looks a little bit like couscous, but the important difference here is that quinoa is neither a pasta nor a grain. It is a seed! Originally a staple of the Inca, this complete protein in a micro-pod has become the newest cash crop in many dry and arid lands. My quinoa came from Israel by way of the grocery store across the bay. There was no slight intended, Inca, it was the only brand in the store. Nothing to lose your head over. Especially mine.

Sorry, I digress.

So – just what do you do with a keen-Wah, I mean, quinoa?

Well, if mac-n-cheese comes to your mind, you are not alone. I did a quick and highly unscientific Google search and found healthy chef and fitness expert Monica Nelson’s blog. And lo and behold – there was a recipe for Quinoa Mac N Cheese.

Had to try it.

Of course, like always, I changed a few things to fit what I had in the pantry, but I am confident you could follow Monica’s recipe verbatim and end up with a great vegetarian and gluten free entree. Here’s my version (it’s very close, actually.)

Monica’s Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Prep time 10 minutes if you are slow. Cooking time: 60 minutes plus or minus a few depending on your oven, etc.

Serves 4 – 6 people, or three teenagers.


2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 medium leek – trim off the tip of the white end. Slice and chop the rest of the white and some of the pale green parts. No leaves. Rinse and pat dry.

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups of quinoa. Rinse in a bowl of water and, using a strainer, drain

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of seasoning salt (I used Emeril’s Bam!Burger Seasoning)

3 cups of water

2 large eggs

1 cup of milk (again, your choice. I used organic 2%)

3 cups grated, medium-sharp, Cheddar cheese

Topping: 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs mixed with 1/2 shaved Parmesan cheese


Using a medium heat setting, heat the oil in a 2 quart sauce pan.

Add the chopped leeks and diced tomatoes, stir, cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the quinoa; add the garlic. Stirring occasionally, cook uncovered for 4 minutes.

Add your seasoning salt and stir once more.

Pour in the three cups of water; stir. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes or so, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remover from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. (I actually skipped this part – I was too hungry. The awesome smell made me do it.)

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together with the milk. Remembering that a lot of heat transferred from the stove top to the sauce pan, carefully add the quinoa mixture into the egg/milk bowl. Using a spatula, fold the quinoa into the liquid until fully combined. Add cheese here. Add more if you want. Go ahead – it will be okay.  That said, I think three cups of Cheddar cheese made for a great dish, so try more cheese the next time you make this dish.

The whole thing will look kind of drippy, soupy, watery, gruel-ee. But we want that. Don’t panic.

Spray some cooking spray into a 13×9 baking dish, then add the quinoa “batter.”

Optional: top with the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese shavings.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until the edges start to brown up. I’d start watching it around 20 minutes, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer than thirty minutes. The key to success, I think, is the 13×9 pan. You will end up with a mac n cheese that is about an inch thick, and this works very well on the plate. If you use a round casserole dish, 2 quart size for instance, the cooking times go awry and you may end up with soupy mac-n-cheese on the inside topped by burnt bread crumbs on the outside. But hey – it’s your choice.  (go 13×9, hint hint)

When it’s done – it’s done. Stop reading. Start eating!

Buen provecho, amigos!

Veggie Sub with Creamy Sriracha Sauce

Veggie Sub with Creamy Sriracha Sauce

Veggie Sub with Creamy Sriracha Sauce

This veggie sub sandwich is a nice, light and tasty lunch item, suitable on its own as a summer snack while you relax on the veranda or, in colder weather a warm companion to a hearty soup. To give the sandwich its first layer of flavor, I sauteed the  vegetables with a bit of olive oil, adding in some cracked black pepper and a spoonful of minced garlic to create a culinary scrum. And for those who know me, going the extra step to spice things up should be of no surprise, hence creamy Sriracha Sauce.

This recipe made 4 sandwiches, and we have enough veggies left for a different meal tomorrow!


Start with the bread. Bake your own if you choose, but to save time we went to the store and picked up Bolillo rolls (think a 6-inch long, Mexican version of classic French Bread.) Cut them horizontally to create the platform for the veggies to rest upon.

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and sliced

1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

2 medium zucchini, sliced into planks

* Chop the bell peppers into very small strips; cut the zucchini into small, thin planks. My zucchini planks were about 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles so as to fit nicely on the bread base.

(optional: sliced yellow squash, cremini mushrooms, or any other vegetable suitable for the saute pan)

4 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

cracked black pepper to taste

Put everything into a large pan and saute until the vegetables are soft and pliable.


Creamy Sriracha Sauce (based on an original recipe from the talented New York City chef, Serena Palumbo)

In a separate bowl, mix together the following:

1 cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons Sriracha Sauce

1 teaspoon lemon juice


Putting it all together:

This is the easy part. Layer from the bottom: bread, sauce, zucchini, bell peppers, sauce, bread.

This veggie sub is a healthy treat with a little bit of everything. It has a nice crunch from the crust of the bread, set off by the soft texture inside the roll. And the sauteed vegetables have a savory flavor perfectly complementing the creamy yet spicy bite of the Sriracha sauce. Just grab some napkins and a cold glass of milk and you are ready to enjoy!

I’m hungry again just typing the description!

Buen Provecho, amigos!







Slow Cooked London Broil – Success!


Fact: Most of us are too busy.

Fact: Most of us get hungry after working all day.

Fact:  You really can’t go wrong with gravy.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could cook up a tasty slab of inexpensive meat, without taking up a lot of your time, so everything would be ready when you got home from the cubicle farm – and it had hot, savory mushroom gravy?

No, this is not gourmet cuisine. You certainly would not make it past round one of Top Chef. But, if you need some good old comfort food that will impress even the most picky of carnivores. Here’s what you need:

1 small bag of baby carrots

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and rough chopped

1 can of Cream of Mushroom Soup

1/2 can of water – using the soup can

1 Tablespoon of minced garlic

1 1/2 – 2 pounds of London Broil, or chuck roast -whichever is less expensive.

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of dried basil

Salt / Pepper to taste


We will be building this meal in layers, stacked in a large crock pot or slow cooker. First layer: baby carrots and chopped onions. Next – add the cream of mushroom soup concentrate (In other words, the stuff in the can. Don’t actually cook up the soup.) Using a spoon or spatula, spread the soup around the carrots and onions. Follow on with the half can of water, drizzled on top of the whole mixture.

To make it savory, add the minced garlic. This has a side benefit of keeping vampires away from your kitchen.

Now place the London Broil directly on top. Season with the oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cover the slow cooker and set to “low.”

The bottom line: prep time – 10 minutes at the most. Cooking time? I returned 11 hours later and the meat was so tender you could easily separate it with a fork.

What you end up with is an awesome, very tender London Broil – and slightly browned mushroom gravy covering melt-in-your-mouth onions, and carrots that are thoroughly cooked yet still have substance and texture. You could serve this is a restaurant and no one would know how easy it was to make. And as for using a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup? You probably don’t want to know how many “fine dining” establishments are charging you big bucks for covers that utilize “fresh ingredients” from a red and white can somewhere in the kitchen, out of sight.

Too busy? Still hungry? Try this recipe and let me know what you think. It worked for me! All I needed was a fork and a piece of bread to sop up the gravy.

Variations: some people add potatoes with the carrots and onions, sort of like a pot roast. Other people add a half cup of red wine. You could even go so far as to sub a half cup of beef bouillon for the water.  Your choice. I prefer to drink my wine. And that is next up on the agenda.

As Chef Rudolf would say – “Happy Eating!”




Can a Regular Guy Cook?


Most of my readers are women. That’s okay – most bloggers and blog readers are women, especially when it comes to the topic of cooking.  But that doesn’t mean regular guys don’t like to cook. Far from it. The problem, as I see it, is that most cooking blogs are written by women for women. Us guys try to follow along, but since we don’t understand the language, we tend to open a can of something and then put cheese on top. The microwave is our friend.

So today I am posting the first in a randomly written series called “Can a Regular Guy Cook?”  These will be recipes written in a manner that most men, if adventurous enough to try, will end up with a good tasting, and hopefully nice looking plate of food to share with someone special.  And while I am certainly not the expert when it comes to relationship advice, if a man knows how to cook – and doesn’t mind doing it – it will only help him get / keep the person of his dreams. (see disclaimer)

Disclaimer:  No promises are made and no results are guaranteed. This is Exploding Potatoes, not e-Harmony or the like.  Cook at your own risk. Please be cautious – some utensils are sharp, some plates are hot, and please do not drink alcohol until after the food is on the table AND the stove / oven is turned off.  It wouldn’t hurt to know where the fire extinguisher is, either.

Today’s Dish – Vegetarian Lasagna – written in “cooking-challenged man-language.”

Veggie Lasagna, by yours truly.

Why cook something vegetarian first?  Because for most of us omnivores, cooking meat-less is a challenge. And if your significant other is a vegetarian, you can’t just fry up some bacon and slap it on bread – there won’t be a second date.  Plus, you can always add meat to your plate after the fact.

What you will need:

9 x 13 glass Pyrex baking dish. Don’t worry that the measurements aren’t exact. It’s just the way it goes. Just be sure to use an oven-safe glass dish, or you will have a whole ‘nother problem.

One box of “No Bake” lasagna noodles. For your purists, we will explore making our own pasta at a later time. For now, baby steps. Brand isn’t important. If it has an Italian sounding name, it’s probably good enough.

One Jar of Marinara Sauce. I prefer Newman’s brand, but only because he was great in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and he drives race cars.

One big tub of Ricotta cheese. You will use all of it, and (bonus) you get a nice container for spare parts and other stuff.

Some Mozzarella  cheese.  This is a white cheese; the same stuff that is on pizza. You really can’t have too much of this stuff so don’t worry about the quantity. You can even buy it shredded. In a bag. It’s great. Less work!

Parmesan cheese.  You can buy a “triangle” of this in the fancy cheese section of the grocery store, or pick up a bag of pre-shredded parm when you get your shredded mozzarella!

5 – 6 Carrots – Save a few pennies and buy regular carrots. If you aren’t handy with a vegetable peeler, buy the little carrots called baby carrots. Costs more, but less work for you.

2 Green Zucchini – Okay, this is important – Cucumbers ARE NOT zucchini. If you need help at the store, ask someone.  (Ahem, this is a good ice-breaker to meet someone. Just don’t start channeling Animal House.)

1 Yellow Squash  – usually found right next to the zucchini.

1 handful of fresh spinach – man, fresh spinach comes in a bag. It just doesn’t get easier than a bag, does it? All you gotta do is open it, and you can use whatever cool knife you want. (see disclaimer, again.)

Spices – this one is easy. You probably have some sitting in the pantry already. A little garlic, some oregano and some cilantro would be perfect. Now, can you use fresh spices instead of dried? Absolutely! But, man, I hope you have a bottle of wine. Using fresh spices takes this to a whole new level! (see disclaimer, one more time.)

Here’s what you do:

First – shred any Mozzarella and grate any Parmesan cheese that hasn’t already been shredded or grated. If your cheese grater is one of those four-sided jobs, it’s probably on the shelf. If it’s one of those wooden handle graters, it’s in the junk drawer with all the other miscellaneous kitchen things.

Now – get a big bowl and put in the Ricotta, shredded Mozzarella, and half the grated Parmesan cheese – mix it all together. Save the other half of the Parm. You will need it at the end.

Next – Using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrots, then chop off a half inch off each end (and discard the ends.)Don’t peel the zucchini or squash, but do chop a half inch off each end and discard, like the carrot ends. Now chop the carrots, zucchini and squash up into little bits. If you have a food processor, that would be even better.  Mix the chopped veggies in with the cheese.

Alright Popeye – pull the stems off that fresh spinach and add to the cheese-veggie mix.

Then – add four to five good shakes of the garlic, oregano and cilantro. If you are using fresh, try three cloves of garlic (smash ‘em then chop ‘em) plus a hand full of the oregano and cilantro leaves.

Mix it all up one more time. I usually hum will I do this. Makes me sound more authentic.

Putting it all together

First, get your oven going. Dial in the temp control to 350 degrees. Once the ding “dings” or the beep “beeps” – your oven will be hot enough.

While you are waiting for the oven:

Spread a thin layer (quarter inch for those engineering types) of the cheese mixture into the bottom of the glass baking dish.

Put a single layer of the noodles on top.

Now add a layer of the cheese; this time a little thicker than the bottom layer. Be sure to cover all of the noodles.

Add a thin layer of marinara sauce next.

Now just repeat: noodles, cheese and sauce until you either run out of something or run out of room in the baking dish.

Top it all off with the rest of the Parmesan cheese.

Carefully open your pre-heated oven (watch out for the blast of hot air) and put the lasagna dish in the middle rack, in the center of the oven. Close the door and set the timer for 30 minutes.

After the timer dings/beeps, reduce the temperature down to about 300 degrees and cook for 20 more minutes. If it starts to look like it is burning (edges turning black) then set a piece of aluminum foil on top of it. (see disclaimer – the part about things being hot.)

If all goes well, and it should – once the timer dings/beeps, you should have an awesome dish of veggie lasagna!!

See?  A regular guy CAN cook!