The big experiment in my garden last year was tomatillos. Initially I went around looking for tomatillo plants to put in my garden, but every time I asked about them at a garden center I was regarded as if I had two heads. What is this alien to-mah-taho that you are looking for. Eventually I found a package of seeds and decided to take a whirl at starting at square one.

It was quite a steep learning curve. For the non-gardeners out there I will pass over the gory details – but in the end everything came out all right. Better than all right in fact, because I ended up canning many, many jars of Salsa Verde. It was a fairly painful process finding the best recipe to yield the results I desired – but there were no, true, failures. And as per usual, I ended up modifying to get my own.

A baby Tomatillo in my Garden

One of the most disappointing recipes was the one from the University of New Mexico – I thought that if anyone would get it right it would be them, but it was a no go. The flavor was fine, but the end texture wasn’t particularly salsa like. Imagine taking a super chunky salsa, dumping it into a strainer over your sink and allowing it to drain for about 15 minutes – that is the textural quality of the UNM recipe. While it didn’t fly as a salsa – I did use it to great success as a green chili starter. Chuck a jar of it plus a jar of water or stock into a saucepan (or crockpot) along with a can of beans and meat of your choice and you have some delicious chili.

The UNM recipe was the second one I tried – and it turns out the first one was much more successful. From Married with Dinner this Salsa Verde was much closer to what I was looking for – although I can handle much less heat. So for my third try I went back to this recipe and tinkered with it until I produced something I wanted to eat directly from the jar with a spoon. With apologies to the lovely MWD couple – I like mine better.

All of this left me with jars and jars of Salsa Verde for the “off season” months – their consumption a chore to which I applied my most willing efforts. Hence the subject of this “Using It”.

Taco with Tomatillo Salsa

So very much better than Moe's.

Taco Verde

The husband was out of town, but I still felt like busting out the tortilla press and comal to make my own tortillas – because they are simply that much better than store bought. Starting with leftover, shredded chicken in a small saucepan I stirred in enough Salsa Verde to make it saucy and reheated. While that was coming to temp I made the tortillas and from there it was a simple matter of assembly. Tortilla + chicken verde + cojita cheese + Flashy Trout Back baby Romain from my mother’s garden. Wonderfully delicious with a balanced tangy, salty flavor on a corn tortilla that actually tastes like corn. I know my mother probably thought that the tortilla press I asked for for Christmas was going to go into the pile ‘o gadgets-that-looked-like-fun-but-are-actually-a-pain-in-the-butt-and-will-be-in-my-next-yard-sale, but it didn’t. I have been using and loving it since January.

Salsa Verde (You totally thought I was being a tease, didn’t you?)

The Hardware: see The Canning Thing, a food mill, food processor (or a knife you know), 3 to 4 pint jars, paper bag.

The Software:
3 – 3 1/2 lbs of Tomatillos
1 1/2 C Onions, chopped
1 Aneheim Chilie
1 Poblano Chilie
1 T Chopped Jalepeno
6 cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Cilantro, finely chopped
1T + 1t Cumin
1t Salt
1/8 C Lime Juice
3/8 C Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your broiler to High. Peel the husks off of your tomatillos and wash off all of the icky sticky stuff – I use a vegetable brush. Also wash your peppers. Remove their stems and cut the tomatillos in half across the equator, place cut side down on a foil lined cookie sheet. Cut the peppers in half longitudinally and remove stems and seeds, place cut side down on the cookie sheet also – you will most likely need 2 cookie sheets, or do two batches. Whichever floats your boat.

Place under the broiler for about 7 minutes, until they start turning a little bit black/brown on the top. Remove from the roaster and place the chilies into a paper bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Drain the liquid from the cookie sheet into a saucepan and dump the tomatillos into a food processor and then chopity chop – don’t puree, but get down to smallish pieces. Dump tomatillios into saucepan. Remove the chilies from the steaming device and remove skin. Chop these puppies up also and put them in the saucepan.

Put everything else except the cilantro into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then pass through a food mill with the big hole setting – do not discard the stuff that won’t go through the mill. Return everything (even the chunkies) to the pot and bring to a simmer, add cilantro and adjust seasonings to taste. The do the canning thing. Leave 1/2 inch headspace and boiling water bath for 15 minutes adjusted for your altitude (here in Atlanta I add another 5 min).

Conclusion:

When I adjusted the seasonings I added some garlic powder and additional lime juice – you can always add more acid to taste, but don’t reduce. Having this in my larder has been a menu changing event. We eat it as frequently as we can, but always keeping an eye on the remaining quantity because we don’t want to run out.

Other uses have included smearing it on the first tortilla into the pan when we make quesadillas, enchiladas and various salsa like applications such as tacos, taco salads and consumption with chips. If you have any other ideas what I can put this on, please let me know!

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It has been a crazy week, and it only promises to get crazier. But hey, who wants a boring life? I have been cooking, just nothing exceptionally interesting, or photogenic. We hosted a play-date and I made a big batch of French Dressing in anticipation of having salad for lunch. When I pulled out the lettuce it had gone to meet it’s vegetable maker- so I had to punt. Luckily I had made rice the day before and had plenty of leftovers. That might be considered a frugal tip. Whenever you cook rice make at least 2 cups (dry, which yields 6 cups cooked). Even if you do not need that much, it comes in exceptionally handy for quick meals. And you must, must, must use leftover rice to make Fried Rice.

Which is what I whipped up for the play-date mommy. Not that I took a picture of it, because that is pretty boring. But it was tasty. When I had a latecomer walk in the door starving I used the rest of the rice to make what I call “Mexican Fried Rice”. The same cooking technique as with fried rice – but instead of using soy, ginger, garlic and sesame oil I use Lizano salsa. I could also see tossing in some beans, chopped onions, corn – whatever you have. Not particularly authentic, but again very tasty. And again, not particularly photogenic.

That’s been the theme of the past week – non-photogenic foods. I tried, I really did. Here is a picture of the Stromboli I made a few nights ago:

Much tastier than it looks.

Much tastier than it looks.

Homemade pizza is one of those things that is worth the time, especially when your dough recipe makes enough dough for a pizza and then another pizza or pizza like application. We usually eat pizza one night and then I put together something else a couple of nights later. Usually it is a calzone, but the ‘fridge was devoid of the requisite ricotta – so I made a Stromboli. Which is rolled instead of folded and does not usually contain ricotta.

I think that Stromboli is going to be the default for the foreseeable future. Waaaaaay easier than a calzone. And for the life of me, I cannot seem to keep ricotta in the house.

This particular bad boy involved a thin layer of pizza sauce topped with layers of bacon, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and thinly sliced onion. Normally I would have put some caramelized onions in there, but I didn’t think of it until too late. I was afraid that the onions wouldn’t cook enough so I sliced them super thin with my Most Excellent Knife of Sharpness (all kitchens should have one). In the future I will not bother with the thin slicing or the caramelizing. They stayed in the oven long enough to get nicely cooked/steamed inside the dough.

Lack of Recipe

I am afraid that is what we have today. I am not happy enough with my pizza dough recipe to share it yet. It was delicious for the Stromboli, after sitting in the ‘fridge for several days. But  the pizza I made with the fresh dough did not do it for me. It lacked that certain “chewiness” that is needed in good pizza dough. This version was much too bread like, but it lost that characteristic in the ‘fridge.

But I will leave you with one last tip – always bake bacon in the oven, do not bother with the stove-top. By using the oven you avoid 3/4 of the mess and get much better bacon (less of the fat cooks away before the lean is done). Use jellyroll/edged cookie-sheets lined with aluminum foil and clean-up is as simple as draining the fat and tossing the foil. The bacon keeps well in the ‘fridge and even longer in the freezer. And hey, bacon fat! Wonderful stuff for cooking pretty much anything. I used it to saute some mushrooms for spaghetti.

What do you use bacon fat for?

Another non-recipe recipe, aren’t you excited? This is, bar none, my absolute favorite side dish for steaks. I have mentioned my Mother here before, and she is the one who taught me this dish, but I don’t think I have mentioned my Father. Dad is not much for cooking, he has a couple of specialties and requires a sous chef  when doing anything complex – but man-o-man can he grill a steak. I don’t know if it is on the Y chromosome but I did not inherit the talent. My family’s cut of choice is the Rib Eye and there is minimal gussying up of the meat but it turns out divine.

Once you have that slab of meat on your plate you don’t want to mess it up with anything too fancy, and that is where onions and mushrooms come in.

The Non-Recipe for Mushroom and Onions:

The Hardware: skillet, spoon, maybe a lid

Method:

Slice up a couple of onions – how much depends on how much you wanna make. (See, not a recipe)
Heat up some vegetable oil in a large skillet and toss in your onions. Stir frequently until they soften nicely.
Add in a couple of boxes of fresh sliced mushrooms, you want a fairly equal proportion of onions to mushrooms. (Still not a recipe)
Salt lightly to encourage release of liquid and continue stirring every so often. Add oil if it seems like you need it.
Add a couple of spoon-fulls of chopped garlic – to taste (nyah, nyah, nah-nah)
Cook until everything is all nice and caramelized. The mushrooms should have shrunk by between 1/2 & 2/3 their original size, come to think of it – so have the onions. If you want to hurry things along you can cover with a lid once there is a goodly bit of liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste, if you want to be totally decadent you can cook it in butter.

You serve this with your steak and spear a bit of onion & mushroom with every bite of steak. Better than any sauce that exists.

But that isn’t the subject of this post now is it? See, I made something tonight with the leftovers that is going to encourage me to make mushrooms & onions just so I can have the leftovers to make this:

Have you ever craved leftovers?

Have you ever craved leftovers?

Leftover mushrooms & onions + ~1/4 C tomato sauce (2 frozen cubes from my Foray into India) + shake of Italian Herb Blend + Salt & Pepper + Spaghetti = Delicious! Just enough tomato to bind it together a bit and I added in some of the pasta cooking water to loosen the mix. I mean really, it was so much better than I expected it to be.

Are there any dishes that you make that you think you might anticipate the leftovers more than the meal itself?

Well, new to me anyway. In my quest to actually consume leftovers instead of allowing them to languish in my ‘fridge in a misguided attempt to foster the evolution of new lifeforms I have stumbled on a new casserole technique. Now I am confident that many people reading this (assuming that many people will ever read this, which is a pretty big assumption to make) will receive my revelation with a Pshaw! Pshaw I say.

But having grown up on the Ohio River the concept of a Tamale Pie was about as unfamiliar and exotic as the pink sports-coats and palm trees on Miami Vice. And somehow, I remained blissfully ignorant of the Tamale Pie as my culinary experience grew. Possibly it has to do with the fact that some dishes are not considered classy enough to warrant an entry in a “real” cookbook. But here is where my JLC come in.

In my copy of  Talk About Good published by the Junior League of Lafayette, LA there are several versions of Tamale Pie which I have perused with much interest. When I asked my husband what his opinion of Corn Meal mush was, he made quite the face. I am pretty sure if I had told him we were having polenta for supper he would have thought me quite the gourmand.

Having made a couple of Tamale Pies I now feel fairly comfortable in their construction and can safely say that I feel they are an excellent addition to my arsenal against leftovers. So this isn’t exactly going to be a recipe as much as a technique for you to use. I am afraid you will have to find other resources for your science experiments, because your leftovers will not be hanging about much anymore.

Can you love Leftovers?

Can you love Leftovers?

Cornmeal Leftover Casserole

Basic Cornmeal Mush ratio: this makes enough to top a basic 8 x 8 casserole. Increase the amount based on your casserole size. I would say your standard 9 x 11 would start with 3 C dry cornmeal and increase everything else appropriately.

1 C Cornmeal
2 1/2 C Water or Stock
2 T Vegetable Shortening (other fats might work – I just haven’t tried them)
Seasonings to taste*

Put 1 1/2 C of water, shortening and seasonings in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix the remaining 1 C of water with the 1 C of cornmeal. When the water has reached boiling, add the cornmeal and stir. Reduce the heat and stir, cooking for about 10 minutes. You will have to stir pretty much the whole time, if it gets lumpy discipline it with a wisk.

*Because all of my leftovers for this afternoon were Tex-Mex I used the following seasoning:
1 1/2 t Salt
1/2 t Sugar
1/4 t each Chili Powder and Black Pepper

Before I started the cornmeal mush I assembled the leftovers in a small, greased casserole. Dinner last night consisted of burritos made with black beans and ground turkey taco meat. I mixed a can of diced tomatoes in with the beans and added garlic, Lizano sauce, salt & cumin then dumped it in as the bottom layer. The next layer was some chopped onion and I topped it with the ground turkey taco meat. For some added yumminess I scattered a layer of cheddar cheese on the meat.

And then you pour on the cornmeal mush and spread it all over the top to seal in the goodness. Bake in a pre-heated 350 oven for about 30 minutes and then hit the top with your broiler until it is nice and crispy. Voila! A brand new dish that kinda tastes like last night, but not really. And man will it stretch your servings of meat.

Potential Hacks:

Kinda pointless, I know, seeing that this entire “recipe” is pretty much a hack. But I was thinking about the whole “polenta” thing and it occured to me I could use this to make a casserole from leftover Italian flavored components. Put some Italian Herbs in the cornmeal instead of the chili powder and you could use it to top off … say … a leftover batch of meat sauce layered with mushrooms and mozzerella cheese. Or maybe leftover Italian sausage and peppers … it could get interesting.

note: A true Tamale Pie has cornmeal as both the bottom and top layer, to do this you will simply have to increase the amount of mush make proportionately. The positive part of this is the fact that cornmeal is CHEAP. It is an excellent method of making it possible to have large servings that fill you up – while not breaking the bank.

When I made the Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Pork I did not set out to make pulled pork. After it was done cooking I looked at the roast that the original 2 1/2 lb chunk had become and thought “If we eat that in roast form portion control will be a goner”. At 2 1/2 lbs we should be able to get 10 servings (with the 4 oz serving of meat per person rule, technically). But have you ever sat down and carved a piece of succulent, dripping pork and stopped with only a chunk of meat the size of a deck of cards? I mean really? Who does that?

Hence the decision to pull the pork. By pulling it into shreds it filled up more visual space and gave the illusion of a large portion size without sacrificing my budget. I looked upon the mountain of meat I had created and said “It is good”. Apparently the biblical reference was not a good idea because the container in our ‘fridge has turned into a never-ending repository for pulled pork – loaves and fishes have got nothing on us.

Time to get creative, so now I am giving  you a non-recipe – more of an idea than anything else. How to change the flavor of an abundant leftover so that you don’t start eyeing the dog as a scapegoat.

Mmmm, cheesy and porky.

Mmmm, cheesy and porky.

BBQ Pork Pizza

The Hardware:

Actually up to you, I used a pizza pan but some people out there have a fancy pants pizza stone – whatever floats your boat.

The Ingredients:

Leftover Pulled Pork
Bottled BBQ Sauce (what, you thought I was gonna whip up some fancy sauce for lunch, no way. I busted out the bottle of KC Masterpiece lurking in the door of my ‘fridge.)
One small onion
Cheddar and Mozzarella cheeses (or whatever you like/got)
Pizza Dough*

Slice onion thinly and saute in olive oil over low heat until wilted and slightly golden.

Combine the pork with about 1/4 C of the BBQ sauce and set aside. Par-bake your pizza crust for around 5 – 7 minutes at 425 degrees. Apply additional sauce to the par-baked pizza crust to the quantity of your liking. Don’t use too much or it will make your crust soggy.

Attempt to distribute the pork over the sauce with a spoon and then realize that pulled pork just doesn’t cooperate. Get hands dirty and evenly distribute the pork and onions over the surface of the pizza, leaving an edge of about 1/2 inch. Add cheese on top – again to satisfy whatever twisted lactose desires you might have.

Place in oven for about 10 – 12 minutes or until your crust is nice and brown and your cheese is hot and bubblin’. My crust achieved brownness before my cheese achieved bubblin’ness so I turned the broiler on high for a few seconds as I anxiously hovered nearby with the oven door slightly open so that I could monitor the process and prevent the inevitable result of an unattended broiler moment.

Slice and serve. If Wolfgang can put BBQ chicken on his pizza and found an empire, then I can very well put pulled pork on mine and find lunch.

* I would give you a pizza dough recipe but right now my attempts at pizza dough have not been what one would consider to be noteworthy. The crust on this particular attempt was very disappointing in texture, so you really don’t want the details. When I finally manage a consistent and predictable product I will certainly share it with y’all. For now, you are probably best on your own.