Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers for Football Season

Football season is upon us, and that means finger foods.  If you have people coming over to watch or find yourself over a friend’s house because your TV doesn’t work (ahem), these Jalapeno Poppers are truly addictive.  I brought some over to my friend Dina’s 30th B-day celebration.  Without hyperbole, every single one had been eaten within 5 minutes.

These poppers are what I call a triple threat.  With theater people, a triple threat is someone who can act, sing, and dance.  A Triple Threat Jalapeno Popper similarly performs in 3 gustatory categories: salty, sweet, and spicy.  Move over Barbra Streisand.

Warning these Jalapeno Poppers have an unexplained phenomenon of turning normal humans into ravenous wolves.  Use caution when setting them out.

The management recommends that you double the recipe whenever making them.
Thank You.

Get the recipe already: Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers

We’ll be using a wire rack placed inside a cookie sheet to help crisp up the bacon and catch all the drippings.

Cut 11 pieces of bacon into thirds.  I know my picture looks like I cut the bacon strips in half; that’s because I didn’t think to take a picture until I was 1/3 of the way done, so this is a picture of 2/3 of the bacon I used.  The strips should be just enough to wrap around the jalapeno.

Now the filling: 3 tablespoons of raspberry preserves (please don’t go cheap on me here) and one 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened overnight on your countertop.  (Or just whip everything together in a handy-dandy stand mixer.  Nothing like pure brute force to cover up lack of planning)

Add 1/3 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Next, prepare your jalapenos.  Lop off the stems.  They’ll look like little hats.

Cut them in half.

Remove the seeds with a spoon.

Don’t touch any part of your face for the next 48 hours.  OK, not specifically that much time, but be careful especially around your eyes.  Optional, for sensitive hands, use gloves.

Take a small spoon and fill each jalapeno half with about a teaspoon of the cheese filling.

Then wrap a piece of bacon around the stuffed jalapeno.

Secure with a toothpick or two.  Although if you don’t have toothpicks because you forgot to pick them up at the grocery store (awkward cough, cough), make sure to wrap the bacon in such a way that the ends meet on the bottom of the jalapeno.  Then place them seam side down when you put the popper on the wire rack to bake.

Lovely.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  Then flip the poppers over to crisp up the bacon on the other side.  Use a fork and extra carefulness if you don’t have toothpicks securing the bacon wrapped jalapenos.

Bake another 10 minutes until crisp.

Enjoy these Triple Threat Jalapeno Poppers for any football game.

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Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes, Kale, and Olives

Skip the cooking tutorial, print the recipe, and get cooking: Herb Poached Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes

Ever poached anything besides eggs?  Even if you haven’t poached eggs, which is delicious and makes them creamy and delicate, poaching is an underrated cooking method.  It gets no love.

Poaching is actually very easy and fool-proof, my favorite way to cook.  At its heart, here’s the poaching equation:

liquid+something to cook=poaching

Of course variations exist for everything.

What kind of liquid? Water, chicken or vegetable broth, wine, dessert wine.  With herbs?  With vegetables like beets to add color?

What are ya cooking? Eggs, chicken, pears, fish….  You get the idea.

Today we’re making an easy herb-poached chicken with a sweet and piquant taste.  This method of poaching will make your chicken absolutely, flawlessly moist and flavorful, but here’s the caveat.  You have to follow directions to a tee.  I know this is hard (look who’s talking), following a recipe word for word makes me feel like I’m in a straight jacket sometimes.  However, due to some awful baking disasters recently, I’ve learned that directions have a purpose, especially in something where the method guarantees delight.

OK, I exaggerate, you don’t have to follow every single direction for ingredients, but THE METHOD of poaching including timing and taking it off heat MUST maintain its purity.  I repeat.  Follow the method like your life depended on it, but you can improvise with ingredients.  (In my personal opinion, though no one asked, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, piquancy of the olives, and extra healthiness of the kale are a very tasy and colorful combo).

Start with your poaching liquid.  I have 2 cups of water and 2 cups of chicken broth.  I’m going to have so much herb-flavor going on that I wanted a diluted chicken broth.  Here’s the list of herbs: 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, and 10-12 fresh basil leaves.  Oh yeah, plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  If you are flavor-phobic, just halve the fresh herbs; it’ll still give the chicken a subtle herb taste, just not as robust.

Don’t be intimidated by the amount of herbs here.  Or for that matter your hands smelling like an herb garden.  This is goodness.

Liquid- check.  Now place 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the poaching liquid.

Warning: this is the part where you HAVE to follow directions.

Bring the pot up to a boil.  Cover it.  Bring down the heat so the liquid has a nice simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  TURN OFF THE HEAT, and let the chicken sit, covered, in its poaching liquid for 15 minutes.  After you’re done, take the chicken out.  Don’t keep it cooking in the pot otherwise it’ll get dry and over cooked.  Make sure you use your microwave or oven timers to remind you about this process.

OK, that’s the end of the mandatory method.  Let’s get to work on the topping for this chicken.

Start with prepping the kale.  I have 1 bunch of dinosaur kale.  I love how the grooves on the leaves look like dinosaur scales.

We’ll need to remove the woody stems.  Fold the leaves in half.

Then carefully, slide your knife along the stem to cut it out.

When you open the kale back up, it’ll look like it has legs.

Once you have all the kale trimmed of the woody stems, rough chop it.

Next.  Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and heat it over medium-high heat.  Add the cherry tomatoes.  Cook for about 3 minutes.  You’ll see the skin start to crack open like a flower bursting on some tomatoes.  Others will begin to gush their sweet, red juices.

Sprinkle the kale on top.  Now add in about 1/2 cup of dry white wine.

Don’t forget to pour yourself a glass.  Cooking is tough stuff.  If you don’t cook with alcohol, use chicken broth or, worst case scenario, water.

Cook this about 5 minutes until the kale starts to wilt and look like it’s hugging the cherry tomatoes.

Now add 1/2 cup of mixed flavorful olives.  I like kalamata and pimiento-stuffed green olives.

Have I told you that I now have 3 jars of kalamata olives in my cupboard?  Just gotta make sure we’ll never run out of them.

Cook the olives, kale, and cherry tomatoes another 3-5 minutes.  Make sure some cherry tomatoes have maintained their shape- oh Lord, when you bite into them, warm sweetness will explode on your tongue.

Once you’re ready to serve, cut up the herb-poached chicken in slices, then top with the Cherry tomatoes, kale, and olive mixture.

I promise, your taste buds will dance in delight.

Veracruz-Style Tilapia (Tilapia Veracruzana)

We’re riding the end of summer produce wave here in NorCal.  It started with zucchini, now we are in the midst of a tomato influx.

For more tomato recipes see Homemade Tomato Sauce and Chilled Gazpacho.

Skip the story and get a cookin’ with the printable recipe: Veracruz-Style Tilapia

Some of my favorite foods are from what Christopher Columbus intriguingly called “The New World.”  These foods include tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, avocados, and let’s not forget potatoes from the land of the Incas.  As much as we equate tomatoes with Italian food, it was a Central American ingredient first, and indeed some of the tastiest uses for summer-ripened tomatoes can be found especially in Mexican food.

Veracruz-style fish is the most popular fish dish in Mexico, followed closely by fish tacos.  OK, I made up the fish tacos taking second place, but Veracruz, a state on the eastern edge of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea, is well-known for its seafood.

Traditionally it’s made with red snapper, a medium-firm white fish, but bass and (in this recipe) tilapia make fine substitutes.  The only thing to remember with tilapia is that very thin fillets have a tendency to fall apart since it is such a light fish.  You can see this evidenced in my above final dish picture.  What this means is you have to cook the fish at the absolute last minute before you’re ready to serve so it doesn’t totally fall apart.  OK the last 6 minutes; they do need to cook.  Another option would be to cook the sauce and fish separate, then top the fish with the rich, red sauce when ready to serve.  Your delicious choice.

We’ll start with tomatoes, about 1 large tomato per serving.  We’ll need to peel these with a paring knife which is a short, sharp knife, usually with an edge about 2-3 inches long and a handle that just feels like it’s made for the palm of your hand.  It’s used for precise cutting requirements, like peeling tomatoes.  Adult supervision is required for anyone over age 18.  First hint: be careful.  Second hint: have confidence in your abilities; the knife, not to mention the tomato, can feel it.  Third hint: don’t use overripe tomatoes since there is a higher chance of cutting yourself as you peel the skin off.

Start at the top, where the core is.  Slide your paring knife just under the tomato’s skin.  This is the kind of cutting task that will let you know if you have a sharp knife or not.

Making a circular path, continue cutting the peel until you reach the bottom.  With practice, it should come off all in one long, funny looking concentric circle piece.  Don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like that.  We all need a goal to work towards sometimes.

When you get to the end, sometimes you can just pull the last chunk off.

Rough chop your tomatoes and place in a food processor.

Whir them until they look like this.

Many people like to puree half the tomatoes and chop up the other half for a chunkier sauce texture.  This is a delicious variation.  I’m lazy, so I just puree them all.

Dice up 1 onion of your color choice.  Dice up a bell pepper of your color choice.  There can be a lot of color combos here.  I’ll leave the algorithms to people who know how to figure that out.

We’re also going to seed and de-membrane 2 fresh jalapeno peppers.  This means cut the peppers in half and slip your knife right under the membranes to cut the white parts out.  Can you handle a lot of heat?  Then be lazy and leave the seeds and membranes in and just dice the pepper up.

Saute these pieces of aromatic bliss (onions, peppers, jalapenos) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Don’t forget about the 5 cloves of minced garlic.  This recipe is not for the flavor-phobic.  Then again, none of my recipes are.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Slice up some pimento-filled green olives.  Those are the ones with the little red peppers stuffed inside, but don’t worry they’re not hot peppers.  Think 4-5 olives per serving.

Oh goodness this makes me want to have a dirty martini.

Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Or, if you’re in a rush, make a slurry by dissolving 2 teaspoons of corn starch in 2 teaspoons of water in a small cup.  Once it turns a murky white color, drop it into the tomato sauce, then continue the simmer until thickened.

Add your tilapia fillets.  Drown them in sauce as best you can so they soak up all the delicious flavor. Cook until flaky, about 6 minutes for super thin fillets, like mine.

Serve with sliced, boiled potatoes for a true New World dinner.  This dish gets along with white or brown rice also.

Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

Here’s another recipe for all the zucchini that stares at you on your counter-top because you cannot keep up with cooking all the harvest.

Skip the tutorial, print the recipe, and get a-cookin’: Cilantro Marinated Grilled Zucchini

I’ll be using my double burner indoor grill pan for this recipe, but it would be pretty uh-mazing if you did cook the zucchini over a BBQ.

First off, I have to make a disclaimer.  Every time I use my grill pan, my fire alarm goes off from all the smoke, so I have to take a few precautionary measures.  Does this happen to anyone else when they use an indoor grill pan?  It happened at my last apartment too, and I wonder what on earth am I doing wrong?

First, I have to open up all the windows to the kitchen and dining room.

Second, I take out our trusty Hawaiian Breeze fan that is about the size of a small watermelon, but packs a punch.  This is the best fan we own.  I’ve nicknamed it Napoleon, small but effective.

Third, I position Napoleon (the fan) towards the grill pan and the stove vent-fan.

Fourth, I get our stove’s fan going.  It’s not a true vent, just recirculates the smoky air.  I’d like to give whoever invented that a gold star (sarcasm).

Fifth, I open up the garage door.

Here’s the set-up.  Notice the strategy to use Napoleon to divert smoke away from the evil smoke detector.

I can’t believe I just showed an open doorway to our garage online.  It could be worse, I suppose.

Slice up your zucchini into either length-wise or width-wise pieces, depending on your preferences.  Normally I cut mine along the length, but I had a 10-pound zucchini that I forgot about while we went on vacation to Seattle, and I went the circle route.  Eventually it’ll all get cooked and chopped and deliciously marinated.

After all this prep, then I get a-grillin’.  Preheating the grill pan is necessary, but once it’s ready, the process moves quickly.

Make sure to put oil on the zucchini to get grill marks and make sure they don’t stick- not a pretty sight.

Make a single layer, packing the slices in like sardines.  You’ll still have to do a second batch most likely, more if you have a single burner grill pan.

We’ll cook these on the hot grill pan for about 4 minutes on each side.  DON’T TOUCH!!  We want those enticing grill lines all over the zucchini for taste as well as color-interest.

After about 4 minutes, flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes until cooked through but the squash maintains a slight crunch.  Repeat grilling the rest of the zucchini.  Set the grilled zucchini aside to rest while you prepare the marinade.

You’ll need a food processor or a blender.  And these ingredients: 2 bunches of cilantro, a couple sprigs of Italian parsley, 1 lemon, and 4 cloves of garlic (come on, don’t be shy from flavor).

Remove the tips of the cilantro stems.  Not too much, the stem flavor balances the exuberance of the leaves.

Rough chop these.

Rough chop the parsley.  Add cilantro, parsley and 4 minced garlic cloves to a food processor.  Also grate in the lemon zest and squeeze the juice in.

Pulse 20 some-odd times to break up the greens.  It’ll look like this.

Now we’re going to smooth it out a little bit more.  Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  Pulse until desired consistency.

Pour the marinade into a large bowl.

Chop up your cooled grilled zucchini and drop into the marinade.

Mix well.  With hands optional.  Let marinate at least 1 hour.  This dish makes a flavorful side and a drop-everything-and swoon topping for any salad.  There’s no need for dressing as the marinade has plenty of flavor and salad green coating capacity.

Gazpacho- the Perfect Antidote to August Spanish Heat

Wanna skip the story and get to cooking?  Printable Chilled Gazpacho with Garlic Croutons

If you’re getting ready to travel to Spain, everything you read will say, don’t go in August when the heat is near unbearable.  So, of course, that’s exactly when Kris and I go for our honeymoon in 2009.  Yes, I read all those warnings, but for for some reason the dozens of times I saw that warning in print didn’t register.

Spain in August is hot.  An understatement.

Spain in August is a constant wrestling match with the sun who always wins.  Even if you are going half of a block, the sun is fixated on you like a child cooking a bug under a microscope.  It shows no mercy, just like that masochistic little child.

Here’s another thing.  In Spain, as in most of the world, they use Celsius for temperatures.  Like most Americans, I’m not familiar with the conversion factor and so walked around much of Andalusia in a state of heat that I couldn’t give a number to or rather that was numbered in what seemed like a foreign language.

My husband, on the other hand, is  a scientist and familiar with both Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature equivalents.  He knew what the temperatures were in Fahrenheit but for his own safety didn’t release the information until the end of the day in our air-conditioned hotel room.

As you go inland in Spain, the temperatures increase.  Logical.  The further you get from the ocean, the more intense the heat.  Sevilla is an inland Southern city in Spain, truly one of the most beautiful.  I loved Sevilla for its Alcazaba (pronounced, Al-ca-tha-ba, the Spanish way) castle and gardens especially.  When we made our tourist stop there, on the hottest day, of course the day we do the most walking, the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius.

“Forty-two degrees,” I mention, sweat accumulating on every known and unknown surface of skin.  “That’s definitely the highest we’ve seen here, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” says my husband cautiously, and then he steers the conversation to the points of interest we’re checking out for the day.

I maintain my cheerfulness (I am on my honeymoon, right?) until about 1 or 2 pm, just after lunch, what should aptly be siesta (nap) time.  Something in me snaps and a monster rises from the dead.  I truly cannot go on walking another step in this heat.  I drag us back to the hotel and, like the locals who obviously know how to live in this heat, take a siesta.  Once the hottest part of the day has passed, we continue our tour of Sevilla.

For Americans (like me) 42 degrees Celsius is 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  We were walking around for miles in 42/107 degree heat, checking some of the most fascinating historical and artistic remnants of Moorish Spain.  It was one of the most insane things I’ve ever done.

Lucky for us, the Spanish, who’ve had to survive this heat for sometime now, have created the perfect antidote for it: Chilled Gazpacho Soup.  It is also one of the best ways to use up summer produce including tomatoes, cucumber, and sweet peppers.  Chilled gazpacho is the only way to combat heat waves that make psychedelic pictures around your face.

Don’t close your eyes, you might miss the making of this ingenious respite from the heat.

We’ll start with the ingredients: 4-5 tomatoes, 1/2 large English cucumber (or use a regular one, just peel off the waxy skin), 1 bell pepper, a little less than half an onion.

And of course, the secret ingredients: a couple of tablespoons of roasted garlic olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar which will give a sweet acidic taste to the Chilled Gazpacho.  If you don’t have sherry vinegar you could substitute apple cider.

Do try to go all Spanish on this recipe if you can.

We’ll also need 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

Some people insist on a clove of garlic.  I err on the side of caution and rely instead on garlic infused olive oil.  Since everything about gazpacho is raw and raw garlic has a big ego, I feel it will generally try to predominate the taste of the soup.

Roughly chop up everything and place in in a fabulous blender, tomatoes on the bottom for their liquid.  Puree until you reach a smooth consistency.

Love that pinky-green color.

Now- you must, must, must chill gazpacho.  Every single Spanish grandmother is in agreement about this.  It’s written into the Spanish constitution.  We’re trying to fight the summer heat; the soup must be cold.  Put it in the fridge for at least an hour for desperate cases, more if you have patience and forethought (ahem).

When you’re ready to serve, make garlic flavored croutons out of bread and roasted garlic olive oil.

Pan fry 1 inch cubes of the bread in a generous amount of Roasted-Garlic olive oil.  My favorite used to be called Consorzio, a brand I found at Costco; they are now Annie’s Naturals.  Crisp the croutons up by cooking each side for 2-3 minutes until golden, brown, and delicious.

Then flip each bread piece over and golden-brown-delicious the other side.

Drain the croutons on a paper towel and sprinkle 3-4 croutons on top of each soup serving, maybe add a little Parmesan, Manchego if you are a Spanishophile (I just made that word up).

Ratatouille Lasagna

Ratatouille is French for recipe that uses up everything from summer produce.

Zucchini- check

Eggplant- check

Peppers- check

Tomatoes- check

Basil- check

It’s very versatile too.  We can make it, like the famous Pixar movie, into a gratin.  We can use it as a jazzed up spaghetti sauce.  A calzone.  A quiche.  An omelet (very French).  Wrapped up like a cigar in crepes (very, very French).  You get the idea.

Today we’re making a Ratatouille Lasagna because in an attempt to clear out my pantry, I noticed that I have 3 1/2  boxes of lasagna noodles.

Wanna print this recipe and get on with the cooking? Ratatouille Lasagna

This recipe is a Choose Your Own Adventure style based on 4 key components: noodles, sauce, cheese, and yumminess (veggies, meat, leftovers, you get the idea).  I’m gonna give you options at each step, except for the yumminess part because I’m a control-freak, and this is a Ratatouille Lasagna

Part 1: Noodles.  You can (A) save yourself about 1/2 hour by going with the no-boil which means 10 seconds of opening a box or (B) neurotically obsess over whether the noodles are just under al dente as you boil them in preparation.  We’ll need 9 noodles.  Choose wisely my friends.

Part 2: Sauce.  Since ratatouille is tomato-based, we’re sticking to tradition.  You can (A) save yourself 2-3 hours of work by opening a jar of your favorite tomato-sauce (or the one that was on sale this past week) or (B) neurotically obsess over the thickness of Homemade Tomato Sauce from the avalanche of tomatoes your garden has bequeathed you.  I will be the first to admit that some days you want to go all Anne-of-Green-Gables and do things from scratch and some days you just want to open that jar of tomato sauce and call it a day.  No judgement here.  We’ll need 2 to 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

Part 3: Cheese.  You can (A) use 1 cup of cottage cheese or (B) 1 cup of ricotta.  Mix it in a small bowl with 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of salt.  The egg helps thing to bind.  Set this aside until layering time.

Mixin’ it up.

You will also need some grated mozzarella, about 1/2 of an 8-ounce package.

And about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  If you are a cheese-nut (not to be confused with a cheese-head Packers’ fan) feel free to add more grated cheese.

Part 4: The Ratatouille Yumminess.  All adventures lead here.

First we’ve got the classic summer vegetables.  Forgive me for not photographing the diced onion.

We’re going to saute the onions and peppers over medium-high heat in a little olive oil (1 tablespoon) to give the house a mouth-watering aroma.  Be sure to beat off stray husbands who wander in with a wooden spoon.

Next add the eggplant and 1 more tablespoon of olive oil.  If I had remembered to take a picture, you’d see that I’ve got half of a large one chopped into 1-inch pieces.  When eggplants cook their color changes to a brilliant yellow and they turn sweet.  They need a little more oil to help them along in the cooking process.  As little sponges, the eggplant will soak up the extra olive oil you add to the pan.

Saute about 4-5 minutes, occasionally stirring to avoid burning.  But don’t get obsessive, we do want some edges to caramelize.

Add 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and the zucchini.  The eggplant should look halfway softened and sweeten even more as the zucchini cooks, another 4-5 minutes.

(Side note: if you’re using store-bought tomato sauce you’ll need to add some flavor: oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, a couple of minced garlic cloves, whatever suits your mood for the day.  You could also just buy one of those all-in-one Provencal spice mixes and use that.  Choose your own Ratatouille adventure.)

Now the layering process.  My theory is this: first, it needs to start with a little cooking spray and sauce on the bottom to prevent sticking; two, it needs at least 3 layers of noodles to be called a lasagna, and finally 3, it needs to end with sauce and cheese on top.  Everything else in the middle really doesn’t matter as long as these 3 requirements are met, so below is just a suggestion for layering.

Start with a light spray of cooking spray (extra prevention against sticking) and 1/2 cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a 7 1/2″ by 11″ baking dish.  (Requirement #1 met)

Layer 3 lasagna noodles.

Top those noodles with about a third of the remaining sauce and half of the ratatouille vegetables.

Make sure you have everything around you, assembly line style.

3 more noodle layers.  Try to mix up how you layer the noodles.

Plop on half of the riccotta-egg-salt mixture.

Isn’t that graceful?  Spread it around as best you can.  I doubt it will cover everything, don’t worry it’ll melt and spread out in the oven.

Top this with half your mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and another third of the sauce.

Also spread around the rest of the ratatouille vegetables.  Realize you’re reaching the top of the pan and need to somehow cram the rest of the ingredients in; this is an expected situation when making lasagna.  Remember, it all bakes down.

Cover with 3 more noodles.  I had to reach for another box (remember I have 3 other boxes of noodles) which is why 2 of these noodles look like they don’t belong.  (Requirement #2 met, 3 layers of noodles).

Now finish it off with the rest of your sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella/Parmesan mix.  (Requirement #3 met: end with cheese.)

Cover with foil (quick hint: spray the foil with cooking spray to prevent half of your cheese topping from coming off when you remove the foil).

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes until your cheese is browned to perfection.

Merci l’été.

How to: Make Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

Tomato Zeal (noun): an April/May induced state of fervent excitement for growing tomatoes that causes people to have 2-3 times as many plants as needed without foreseeing the future consequences of an amount of tomatoes that becomes unsustainable to stay on top of.

I am a victim of tomato zeal.  Every year.  Last year, I grew 4 tomato plants, moderately sustainable.  This year, the zeal possessed me to plant 8.  Yeah, I know, 8 plants for 2 people.  The main way that I convinced myself that I could handle this many tomatoes was to learn how to make fresh tomato sauce from them.  I can make tomato sauce from a can of tomatoes, but all freshness?  That was a challenge that I couldn’t pass up.

So, a little research entailed.  A 2009 article from the San Francisco Chronicle (“From Vine to Freezer”) helped me get the basic technique and proportions, then, the sauce went with the imagination.

This recipe is perfect for using up unloved, neglected tomatoes or brand new ones.  In short, it is the best way to temper tomato zeal.

Printable: Homemade Tomato Sauce from the Garden

We’ll start with tomatoes.  The rounder the easier it will be to take off the peel, but heirlooms have an unbeatable flavor.  In the end, the peel comes off even the wild-shaped ones.

This one is old.  Perfect for tomato sauce the ultimate don’t judge a tomato by its peel.

To get the peel to come off easier, we have to score each tomato.  This means make and X with a knife on the bottom.  (If you have a food mill, you can skip this step.)

X marks the spot.

Some larger heirloom tomatoes may need a 6-pointed star because they are too good for an X.

We’re going to dunk these tomatoes in boiling water for about 45 seconds.  Just enough to blanch them.

The peel will start to roll up, the tomato may look like it’s about to burst.  Kind of like this.

That’s your cue to take ‘um out with a slotted spoon and place them in a colander to cool off under running water.  It sounds obvious, but we don’t want to use our hands to peel tomatoes that are recently out of boiling water.

Run the tomatoes under water to cool them.  Then take off the peels starting at your X/score mark.

Set the peeled ones on a LARGE cutting board that you can fit inside a cookie sheet.

Why the cookie sheet?  It traps the escapists juices that inevitably wonder off while you chop the tomatoes up, and we want to keep everything (except the the peels and cores) that these garden joys offer us.

I realized I needed a cookie sheet in the chopping process and lifting up pound of tomatoes with juice running over the sides was not a clean process.

We want to take out the cores of the larger tomatoes.  The cores of the small ones can stay in- don’t make too much work for yourselves.

Chop them up.  Doesn’t really matter how.  This is a forgiving recipe, and besides they will all just disintegrate into sauce anyways.

Tomatoes peeled, cored, chopped.  Check.

Everything else is pretty easy from here on out.

Dump the water from the tomato blanching process and use that giant pot to make your sauce.

Saute 1 onion in olive oil until the color becomes opaque and translucent, about 3 minutes.

Dump in chopped tomatoes.

Don’t forget about the juice that trickled over the edges of the cutting board that you ingeniously captured with the cookie sheet.

Press 4 cloves of garlic into the pot.

Add herbs.

And honey.  For a hint of sweetness.

Mix everything well and bring to a simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.  It’s good to make a lot of tomato sauce in a batch so you rarely have to do this looooong simmering process once.

Now go do something important around your house- like attempt to conquer the laundry.  Or shirk your chores and cuddle down with a great book.  Guess what I did…

Every 20-30 minutes, about the length of one chapter, check on the tomatoes.  Mix them so the bottom doesn’t burn.  The sauce thickens as it cooks.  It’s done when you can stand your spoon in it, a monument to handling your tomato zeal with finesse.

Cucumber Salad with Ginger and Mint

Have you ever read a Day in the Life of a Dog and Cat?  I love it!  It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it, and as a dog owner, I can completely relate to everything being a dog’s favorite thing.

Ginger is my new favorite thing.  If I had a tail, ginger would make it wag.  I love its sweet spiciness and freshness.  Ginger has an ego; no matter how little of it you put in, it will always get noticed.

This salad is a winner for summer produce.  Cucumbers are producing like it’s the end of the world (I suppose for them it is since they are annuals), so are the peppers.  Fresh ginger  gives the soft flavors of cucumber and sweet pepper a little wake-up call.

Printable Recipe: Cucumber Salad with Ginger and Mint

Don’t close your eyes…you might miss the making of this salad; it’s that fast.

Start with olive oil and rice wine vinegar in your salad bowl.

Rice wine vinegar is ideal because it acts like a secondary character- letting the cucumbers, peppers, and ginger take center stage.  It has a tangy sweetness to it.  Other possible variations- keep it light- apple cider vinegar or white vinegar.  I think balsamic would be a little too heavy, but that’s just me.

We’re going to use a microplane to grate in a 1 inch piece of ginger.

There’s a lot of goodness that hides behind the grater.  Give it a good tap on the bowl or use your fingers to get every last fresh bite.

Don’t forget to sniff the ginger.  It smells like childhood.

Sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Add your sliced cucumbers.

And a diced up sweet pepper.  Forgot the picture because the ginger mesmerized my sense of smell and rendered me frozen for a few minutes.

Grab some fresh mint, and stack up the leaves.

Sniff it because you just can’t help yourself.  (If you have a tail, wag it because the smell of mint is happiness.)

Roll up your mint leaves-

We’re going to chiffonade these as best we can by cutting them into little ribbons.  It just looks prettier than if we rough chopped them.  Though, of course, to each his/her own.

If you have it, add in the juice of 1 lemon to help the mint and cucumber retain their gorgeous green color.  I love that green- it sings.

Mix well.  Serve at room temperature.  Taste summer.

Salsa Verde or Tomatillo Salsa or Green Salsa

I couldn’t make up my mind what to call this post.  Do I use the Spanish?  Will that alienate people?  Offend people?  Confuse them?  Make them try to say it out loud with awful accents?  Oh, well, ni modo.

Green Salsa, Salsa Verde for the true Mexican food aficionados or Spanish speakers, is a tangy salsa based on tomatillos which are small green tomatoes wrapped up like a present in a husk.  These are not under ripe tomatoes, but rather a firm tomato that must be cooked to eat, or if kept raw, liquified into salsa.

Printable: Salsa Verde

Here’s the short version.  Pile all tomatillos, onion, cilantro, garlic, salt and jalapeno into the food processor (tomatillos on the bottom) and pulse 15-30 times to the beat of a great song, like “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” until it looks like this.

Here’s the longer version.

Remove the husks by taking the stem end of the tomatillo and pushing the fruit out.  Like so.

After a whole pound of these, actually after like 2, your fingers will get sticky which is fine, just don’t go around touching everything in your kitchen.

Wash them (and your hands, please) thoroughly and rub with your fingers to remove any excess film from the husks.

Good tomatillos come in a variety of sizes, so use your best judgement for how to cut them.  We want the pieces to be approximately the same size.  Halve the small ones and quarter the larger ones.

Place the tomatillos at the bottom of a food processor.  A food processor is ideal because it will still leave the salsa having small bits and pieces, giving it a thick consistency.

If you don’t have a food processor, a blender will work too.  No blender?  Really?  OK, break out the mortar and pestle.  Don’t have that either?  You poor soul.  Don’t worry I won’t leave you out from the fun.  Go outside and find 2 rocks- one like a bowl and the other like a pestle.  Make sure to wash them really well.

Roughly chop up 1/2 an onion.  Yellow, red, white, doesn’t matter, we’re equal opportunity here.  Whatever you have on hand.

Rough chop a good handful of cilantro, about 1/2 cup.  Don’t be afraid of the stems, that’s where the goodness is.  Just cut off the stem tips.

Or, you can waste your time just breaking off the leaves, if that’s your preference.  This is a free country/recipe.

Now make sure to dice up 2 key ingredients very small: the jalapenos (with gloves if you can, otherwise don’t rub or touch your eyes for awhile)

and the garlic (with a press)

Don’t forget 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Now, pulse everything together to a good song, like “Livin’ La Vida Loca.”  Make sure to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Here’s the Salsa Verde at about 15 pulses, when I scraped the sides down.

Another 15 pulses (“Upside, inside out, she’s livin’ la vida loca…”)

And we’re done!  Easy, huh?  Just don’t cut yourself while cleaning the food processor blade.

If you’re going to make Chilaquiles Verdes, resist all the temptation to gobble up the Salsa Verde with tortilla chips.  I know it’s hard, but sometimes, we have higher purposes for things.

No Bake Stuffed Peppers

It’s HOT and the last thing I want is to have my oven going for 45 minutes to an hour baking a stuffed pepper.  This recipe makes life much easier.  The peppers get seared in hot olive oil, giving them a roasted flavor in less then 8 minutes.  Though a word of caution- there’s lots of spattering oil, so keep a healthy distance.  The stuffing is a basic meat-potato-tomato one that cooks up very quickly.  Your choice if you want to use ground beef or a package of spicy seasoned ground tofu for a vegetarian option.  This recipe is inspired by an empanadas recipes from The Passionate Vegetarian.  The pepper preparation method is also from this book.

Printable: No Bake Stuffed Bell Peppers

1.  Start with prep.  Boil 1 large or 2 small potatoes in water until done.  If you are using ground beef now is the time to cook it and set it aside until needed.
2.  While the potatoes cook, prepare the bell peppers by searing them in hot oil.  Click here for the step by step tutorial.
3.  Saute 1 diced onion and 2 diced jalapeno (seeds and membranes removed for less heat) in the left over pepper-oil.
4.  Mix in 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and 3-5 cloves of minced garlic, depending on preferences or the number of vampires in your neighborhood.


5. Add in the cooked ground beef or 10-ounce package of spiced ground tofu.
6.  By this point, your potato should be finished cooking.  Chop into approximately 1-inch pieces.  Some of the skin may fall off.
7.  Spoon in 1/2 can of tomato paste and enough water to help you disintegrate the paste with a wooden spoon.


8. Gently mix in chopped fresh parsley and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.


9.  Heap each pepper half with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of stuffing.  Serve with a garden salad or rice.