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!






Virginia is for Bloggers


This is an interesting little group of blogs that I stumbled upon recently. (Click on the graphic above to check out to their site.)  The majority of the blogs focus on food, and all seem to be Virginia oriented. And since Exploding Potatoes covers both aspects, I thought I would join the fun.

Caveat – somehow, when I filled out the brief information required to associate with the blogfest, the only option available for me to choose was “Richmond,” our capital city. You long time readers know “that ain’t me.”

I haunt the vast expanses (chuckle) of the Eastern Shore, across the Chesapeake Bay, the highway and byway for New Englanders to drive through (way too fast) on their way to the Outer Banks for vacation. In fact, I am still hoping to get that interview with the owner of Brown Dog Ice Cream in Cape Charles, Virginia, the southernmost “city.”  The only problem is: whenever I am there she is making ice cream! So alas, I have to order something, and of course then eat it. By the time I am finished, I am so stuffed like a pig happy that I forget about asking any questions and go home for a nap!

Next time!

Breakfast Frittata with Oven Roasted Potatoes


Tourist season is starting here on the Eastern Shore.  It’s not really beach weather yet, but I have noticed more and more fishing boats floating around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  That means many of the vacation rental houses around town are inhabited by small groups of guys living on frozen pizza and trips to the only McDonald’s within 40 miles.

Guys – we can do better.

The mornings can be quite chilly here on The Shore. A hot breakfast frittata can do wonders for the soul. Shoving off before sunrise? That’s okay – make it the night before and warm it up before you leave the house. Beats the heck out of “value meal number two” or a convenience store coffee and Danish.

Put on your ball caps chef hats – here we go!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

This dish starts out as oven roasted potatoes. When completed, half of the potatoes are reserved as a side dish, the other half becomes the foundation of the breakfast frittata!

Oven Roasted Potatoes, serves 8 alone or 4 when made as a side for the frittata.

9 x 13 inch glass baking dish

3  Russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 medium Vidalia onion, peeled and diced

2 Tablespoons smoked paprika

1 Tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Breakfast Frittata, serves 4

1 oven-safe, glass pie plate, 9.5 inch diameter

12 oz. chicken sausage ( I use Johnsonville’s fully cooked, chipotle Monterrey Jack version) sliced into 1/4 inch coins. Bonus – no MSG, either!

4 eggs

1/8 cup milk

What you need to do:

For the oven roasted potatoes, place the diced potatoes and onions in the baking dish. Add the remaining ingredients, then gently mix until all of the potatoes are lightly coated with oil.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Stir, recover, then bake for another 30 minutes.

Take potatoes out of the oven, set aside for the moment. Do not turn off the oven yet.


For the breakfast frittata, place the sausage coins into the pie plate and cover with a paper towel. Heat in a microwave oven for 2 minutes or in the already preheated oven (without the paper towel,) for about 10 minutes.

Once the sausage has been warmed, add half of the oven roasted potatoes. Gently mix the two ingredients.

In a separate bowl, add the milk to the eggs and lightly whisk with a fork, as if you were going to make scrambled eggs. Pour the egg mixture on top of the potatoes and sausage, gently mixing until the egg has coated all of the potatoes and sausage.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Get the plates out – you are ready to eat a hearty breakfast!

Now, some of you may not want to have a potato-based frittata with a side of potatoes. Fair enough. There are options:

  1. Double the sausage and eggs and make one big batch. This is a good idea if you need more than 4 servings. Heck you could just use the 9 x 13 baking dish instead of a smaller pie plate.
  2. Make two frittatas – one of them with the sausage and another substituting 2 cups of chopped broccoli florets and 1 cup chopped red bell pepper. Great concept if you have vegetarians in the crowd.
  3. Make two frittatas – one of them with the sausage and another substituting 2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. I mean, really – you can’t go wrong with cheese, can you?

Any way you make it – this frittata hits the spot on a cold or rainy day. And good luck with the fishing!

Snowed In


Snow smacks the Eastern Shore of Virginia

The snow started falling last night, which was technically still December 25th, so I guess we can say we did, indeed have a white Christmas on the Eastern Shore.
The good news – we have plenty of food. Leftover salmon from our Asian-Pacific themed holiday dinner (did I tell you we almost never have “normal” meals?) along with deli turkey, Havarti cheese and some nice Boule. Given that Santa gave me three bottles of wine, all is not lost.
The bad news – the main road is clear, as is the bridge leading back to Virginia Beach, but farm roads like ours are still covered with snow. I would try to traverse them tomorrow to get to work, but the farmers dig deep ditches alongside the country roads to keep people from driving into their fields. Now those trenches are filled with snow, so you won’t know that you are driving into one until…well, you get the picture.
Once I do get back to the mainland, I have a culinary plan.

Turkey Chili.

Stand by. It’ll be good. Perfect for the cold days of Winter.

Rayfield’s Pharmacy & Soda Fountain!


Rayfield's Pharmacy in Cape Charles, VA. Notice the fish with Christmas spirit!

While many people enjoy visiting a ski resort, theme park or just spending a week on a cruise ship sailing to warm water islands to spend all of their cash in trinket shops and on dolphin tours, some of us still thrill at finding that off-the-beaten-path place, full of local character and perhaps a bit of history. Today we happened to be in Cape Charles, Virginia, an old railroad town that is experiencing a slow, but steady resurgence in population and vitality. Located about ten miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, in lower Northampton County, train enthusiasts will know of Cape Charles as a key location for the old Eastern Shore Railroad, but that is the subject of a different blog. Quite interesting, look it up on the Internet sometime.

But eventually you will get hungry, and when you do, stop by Rayfield’s Pharmacy located at 2 Fig Street. It is off to your left as you come into town, just past the Cape Charles Museum.

Rayfield’s Pharmacy, owned and operated by pharmacist Berkley Rayfield with the help of family and friends, is a place to pick up your allergy medicine or what-not, as well as a little convenience store with everything from soap to tourist items such as postcards and t-shirts. We, however, like Rayfield’s for something else – the diner and soda fountain!

You won’t find Kobe beef here, and none of the entrees come with decorative truffle sauce carefully framing the food by way of the dreaded “spoon push” taught in the finest culinary schools. What you will find is good food, prepared fresh when possible, in a nice family atmosphere.

The ambiance is almost 1950’s Americana. There is a counter, complete with stools on chrome pedestals, facing the grill so you can almost reach out and touch the person cooking your meal. Across the tile floor is a row of booths; in between are a few tables that can be moved for the occasional sock hop. I would think that this does not happen anymore, but the mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling and the newer Wurlitzer jukebox in the corner say otherwise?

Breakfast is served until 10:30 AM, lunch and dinner afterward. We were there for lunch so I had the cheeseburger platter with fries. My teenager ordered the grilled cheese sandwich and my wife had the egg salad sandwich. The food was excellent, the service prompt and friendly, three attributes that you do not find in most chain restaurants or fast-food joints.

I am sure you have your own criteria for what makes for a good diner or cafe. Here are some of the benchmarks at Rayfield’s that I appreciated:
– hot coffee…plenty of offers for a “warm-up” too.
– no pre-formed, frozen burger patties. Mine was hand made, probably a third of a pound.
– “crinkle” style french fries.
– Heinz Ketchup AND mustard on each table. No cheap imitations.
– a real soda fountain for ice cream treats and malt and shakes!
and lastly…
– a mounted, 76 pound Channel Bass overlooking the entire place.

Like I said, ambiance as can only be found on the Eastern Shore of Virginia!

If you are in the area, you gotta stop by Rayfield’s Pharmacy in Cape Charles, Virginia for a bite to eat. It’s probably a rule. If it isn’t, it should be!

Chesapeake Bay Flounder…that Bites Back!


Horseradish-encrusted Flounder with stir-fried Vegetables

It’s the middle of Summer here on the East Coast of Virginia and that means one thing: the flounder are getting bigger! Almost iconic in status in these parts, flounder (sometimes referred to as “door mats”) are right up there with striped bass and bluefin tuna as a prized catch. If you have a boat, great. If not, do not despair – go to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, pay the $12 toll and stop at the South Island, where you will find the Seagull Pier, a great fishing pier that extends out into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. $12 a bit much for a toll? Try paying for a seat on a charter boat. Head boats go for $40 to start and often go higher. Heck, I spend more than $12 when I go to Starbucks!

So luck was with you and you have landed a flounder big enough to keep. What to do? Why, let’s fire up the oven and have us some…

Horseradish-encrusted Flounder

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Flounder fillets (let’s assume you have 4 medium-sized fillets)
2 cups of plain bread crumbs
8 oz horseradish sauce (I use Boar’s Head)

First check the fillets for errant pin bones. You don’t want those pesky little bones, pull them out with a tweezer or a pair of pliers.

Next, slather the fillets in horseradish sauce. Then dredge them in bread crumbs. Repeat the process one more time.

Place the coated fillets in a greased. glass baking dish.

Bake for 12 minutes. Check for doneness by using a fork. If the fillet flakes easily, it is done. If it looks really, really moist on the inside, let it cook a few minutes more – it won’t hurt since the breading will keep the fish nice and tender.

When done – eat!

The horseradish taste comes through well, but is not overpowering. This is a nice alternative to the usual fried flounder or flounder stuffed with crab filing. Be adventurous. Live a little!

Now – for those of you who always go one step further, try this with Wasabi mixed in the horseradish. Add a little shredded Parmesan cheese to the bread crumbs. Cook the same way. Heck, do one fillet this way and put it in the same baking dish as the original flounder. Call it Flounder Roulette!

Try it – goes well with a nice glass of Fish Eye Merlot.


Virginia Farmer’s Market Week is here!


Celebrate Virginia's Farmer's Markets!

Once you take a drive along Lankford Highway, also known as Highway 13, the nice scenic drive that follows the spine of the Eastern Shore of Virginia from the Chesapeake Bay into Maryland, you will notice during the summer the plethora of local farmers selling extra vegetables at roadside stands.

Some of the stands are permanent structures, often selling fireworks and Virginia hams in addition to veggies. Other stands are simply pick-up trucks, parked alongside the shoulder of the road, accompanied by a handmade sign planted about five feet in front of the lowered tailgate. One of my favorites is a guy who is selling 50 pound sacks of potatoes for about ten bucks. You just can’t get that kind of deal anywhere else!

I had mentioned earlier the “secret – locals only” market, known as the Fresh Market. This is the stand where you take what you want, and leave the money in a box. Totally on the honor system…and it works. See the pics above and below for a sample of their wares.

Since moving to the Eastern Shore, and getting to know many of the farmers, I have a new appreciation for how hard they work for us. One of the best things a parent can do is teach their kids that foods don’t just show up at the supermarket – they all start one way or another with the farmer. Willie Nelson knew this years ago when he started the Farm Aid concerts.

I know President Obama is quite busy these days, what with trying to solve the ills of Wall Street with a reorganization of the Health Care System, all the while trying not to slip on oil washed up from the BP Oil Spill, so I give two “green thumbs” up to the fine Commonwealth of Virginia for helping Mr. Obama out with this one.

That’s right, August 1 – 7, 2010 is “Celebrate Virginia Farmer’s Markets” week. No matter where you are, there is probably a Farmer’s Market somewhere nearby. I just spent a week up in the Shenandoah Mountains and saw plenty of them. For more information on Virginia’s Farmer’s Markets, check out

Know your food – thank your farmer!