Salad Days! Tomatillo Salsa Recipe!

A couple lifetimes and botox appointments ago, I was a gardener. I did it for the gladiolus, not as a source of income. Situated in sleepy Westbrook, CT (Yankee Key West) There was this little cottage by the sea with knotty pine. I lived there with Sista Sal in my, ha- ha, salad days. I was an ideal tenant with christmas flaire and a penchant for landscaping. The seasons were (ivy) covered in great style. My gardening included maintaining containers, bulb planting, vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennials. I had this mad idea that the lawn should be covered in daffodils every spring. Each year the lawn got a little closer to Holland. It was great recreation to bring color and produce to our table.

Every year the “Perenial Love Garden” running the length of the property was introduced to new and inspired cast members. Hosta, bleeding hearts, anemone, phlox, allium; we had them all. One magical day friend Robin asked if I wanted some bamboo. Sharing ‘starts’ of new plants is common practice in Yankee Key West. She brought me a couple innocent looking pots. The Garden was going to look so cool.  The bamboo turned out to be a last straw (as it were). I didn’t realize it was so virile. So agro.  Bamboo spreads like a, well, like a bad idea in your early twenties. And it popped up everywhere. The Love Garden, the lawn, the adjacent driveway. The second season it made it’s way into the neighbors yard who assumed it was free white asparagus and served it with lamb one night. 86 the bamboo from the Perennial Love Garden Sista Sal asked. DIO READERS: I moved it to the far corner of my folks yard, thinking the shade would keep it dwarfish. It’s proximity to the marsh brought it a new life. Here’s a pic from a recent visit.

The Last 'Straw'

12 years later, relocated bamboo shields Uno and Due’s beach compound from attackers and paparazzi alike

Twelve years later it looks like a location shot for “Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Dragon”.

I would continue to experiment in my Garden Of Good and Evil. I had a corn period, fail. I got fascinated with castor bean plants, also known as mamones. They were freaky leaved tropicals that grew wicked gnarly (remember, it’s New England) flower buds resembling blackberries. We had to say “No to Mamones”. Mile high sunflowers and  morning glories were a triumph.  I planted broken down fish remnants in the steps of our New England forefathers as an amazing fertilizer. My garden beds came to be the stuff of Johnny Appleseed legends. They could turn it out.

Now I told you that story to tell you this one. Every year the veggie garden got a little bigger, a little more daring. There would always be a featured guest star for each growing season. After Habanero-Hot Summer circa 1977 I thought to cool it down with planting tomatillos. Tomatillos are little fruit popular in mexican cooking.


plant with care and get ready to eat.

Tomatillos grow in this charming little husk that splits open as the fruit ripens. The husks resemble chinese lanterns that I thought would match the bleeding hearts and bamboo in nearby garden beds. They produce a lot of fruit in charming little lanterns. So much so that at you can’t keep up with them as they ripen. So they may have fallen into the soil and rotten. There was so much fruit. I didn’t even think it would matter. Until the next year.

I had moved to new digs a mile away but retained liberal visitation with the Gardens. Sista Sal calls me to come over and see the fruits of my labors. All that fruit seeded the veggie garden, now in her care. Tomatillo plants were popping up all over her well appointed vegetable garden. Bamboo Redux! Almost overnight they spread like crazy. For the remainder of the growing season, there were tomatillos for everyone. Sista Sal, the neighbors, friend Robin, Uno and Due all got there fill of the tasty fruit popular in Mexican cooking. We’d leave them on doorsteps with notes saying “Freshly grown, not to be thrown”. We had to get up on what to do with this bounty, actually I had to get up on what to do with it as Sista Sal had organized a mutiny on the bounty. I had left the garden beds better than I had found them and my fruit needed to be dealt with.

I pickled tomatillos. I fried tomatillos. I baked tomatillos. I made beautiful sauces for enchiladas.

My most successful recipe for the tomatillos was for salsa. People seemed to eat it up. It was easy to assemble and always thought of as a nice gift and not “here comes Tony again with his GD tomatillos”. I thought you might like to give this a try for your summer snacking.

eat this now.

What to do with all that bounty? Salsa lessons.

When you take your first taste please think of a tiny cottage surrounded by little flowers and a madman burying fish carcasses in the backyard. You’ll understand what Sista Sal got to live with and some very special summers.

Taste a Better Life!!!!

Tomatillo Salsa

1 lb. tomatillos chopped

4-5 radishes chopped

1/2 cup red onion chopped

1/2 cup cilantro chopped

1 jalapeno chopped (seeded if you need not sweat)

3 scallions chopped

juice of one lime

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste. 

Crack’d Pot Catering; Part Deux

So the party was Saturday and here’s the recap, no guests were harmed in the making of this post.

The house is down the freeway and over in the Culver City part of town. Very nice area with charming homes, hilly streets and plenty of trees. The house is a good size with a front lawn screened in by enormous cypress trees. There’s plenty of sitting areas there and inside the house. The backyard is multi level with tons of succulents around and the top area boasting a new funky fire pit of crystal and a hot tub surrounded in rock. It’s a great house to entertain in. The kitchen was the base of operations just off is the hostess’ office. The lady was raised Jewish and converted to Buddhism along the way. A self proclaimed Bu Ju, Buddha was in the next room focusing Chi into our work space, allowing my Wa to fulfill appointed tasks from the Universe. Is this seeming a little California flakey?  Yeah, it had the potential of being that kind of a party. Industry. Where oxygen is pumped in, like in Vegas because the sucking up that occurs is audible. The hosts have three great dogs and have invited guests to bring their own. I hadn’t thought I would be reenacting Mamie Fish’s classic banquet for her dogs in Victorian Times. I’ll tell you how I know this another time. I hadn’t any menu items for puppies, this was a surprise. There’s always a little unexpected nice nice along the way with catering, a bump in the road if you please.  “Function in disaster, finish in style” is how I like to live. Ah yes, the menu;

Summer Dinner Buffet

Shrimp Crostini with red pepper rouille

Antipasto; artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, marinated mushrooms, Eva’s pickled green beans, buccancini mozzarella, salami, roasted peppers, olives and anchovies

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

Roasted Cauliflower Salad; capers, flat leaf parsley dijon vinaigrette

Fingerling Potato Salad; cucumbers, celery, fresh dill ‘ranch’ veganaisse dressing

Jackie’s Tortellini Salad;  zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, basil balsamic vinaigrette

Grilled Vegetable Platter; eggplant, portobellos, fennel, carrots, red onions, asparagus, cider house dressing

Marinated Tri Tip Tri Colore Salad; radicchio, endive, romaine, mandarin oranges Gramma Spats’ dressing

Chicken Cardone; thigh meat, escarole, cannellini beans, raisins, shitaakes, white zinfandel wine

Assorted Gluten Free, Dairy Free Cookies & Cupcakes from Breakaway Bakery

Macerated Berries Over Poundcake; strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, orange zest, sugar and balsamic

Watermelon; honey, fresh lime juice, mint

The menu had to have some particulars for the clients. There was to be low spicing of the food, little dairy as possible, and vegetarian friendly. The approved menu was really good I thought and I knew we’d make a lot of people smile that night for whatever ailment/fad/diet each particular guest was feeling that day. The night of the party I saw a vegetarian happily move tri tip of the tri color salad multiple times because they felt they were becoming addicted to my Gramma’s dressing. The sight of the steak didn’t dissuade the pursuit of happiness. Bellisima.

Tuesday I started shopping. Tri Tip was on sale and I was in for the kill. I gathered a Costco run of pantry needs, shrimp, chicken and several of the vegetables. I found this great kosher bakery starting to Yelp a great following. Gluten free, dairy free, nut free as Janice the owner/baker called it, “beyond Parve”.  Tuesday I placed the order for friday (close saturday). I made my list of To Do, Timetables and Yet to buy. I’m not really an organized person but when I do these things I make lists and play my internal soundtrack extra loud. I should have a mini brass section following me. Trumpets liven a market for me. I digress.

Foaming at the mouth

Rental loaded

Wednesday I continued to shop, and did so all the way up to the time of the event. There’s always some time sensitive item to bring, in this case it was ice for the bar. Thursday I made dressings, tapenade and rouille. I pickled green beans, marinated mushrooms and organized a very tiny kitchen. I have two areas of counter space totalling three feet to work on. I have an extra large fridge that can’t open it’s door all the way because of the adjacent wall. I have tons of cabinet space and pantry galore. The dining room became the nerve center, dry storage was the back wall and the fridge at swollen to capacity. My sanitized and dry meat thermometer was accessible and there was a mountain of towels within reach. Friday we cook!

jimmy buffet

We're done and in the hostess' bowls. A little tag saley, but it's cozy party not posh.

I was up early to fire up potato salad, tortellini salad and secure the last of the produce. We thawed the shrimp and got ready to prep entrees. We pulled the aluminum trays, foil, wrap and lysol clean-up wipes. We readied coolers, bags and tools. And flew off to the bakery, on the other side of town, to collect the goodies. Mind you this was all to be done before I made it to work at 3:45pm. Here’s where we hit a little snag aforementioned. I missed Breakaway’s driveway and busted my aged tire driving into a curb. Oy as in vey. Mini Coopers roadside service called an hour later and set me up with the tiny doughnut that is a spare. Are you for reals? It was smaller than my steering wheel, hell it gave some of the cookies a run for their money. Off schedule and slightly deranged I get myself called off of work. There’s no way I’m compounding stress by careening the canyons of Malibu on three normal wheels and a cocktail tray. Off to dealership, call for a car rental and head back to the kitchen.

An unexpected bump in the road, y’know. Friday we made great progress and end the day marinating 5 3.5 lbs. roasts. Then comes the day of the event. Up early to brown the chicken, sauce it and bake. Fire the roasts, and chill. Sous chef for the event is the lovely Shane. She brings a certain grace to this event, it being her first. She’s not sure what she’s in for but I have promised it to be painless. I’ve deemed her the Godmother of Dessert. I can’t be bothered with sweets. I don’t like my

Shane with knife

We have a berry short time together.

hands getting sticky and by that time in the meal process my ADD is kicking in and I’d rather be playing Wii than still cooking. She has to usher in the sweets on her own. She took apart the watermelon like a character from Kung Fu Panda 2 (in theaters, go see) You give that girl a knife, some room and watch out. Slice and macerated berries, yummo. Sugar, orange zest and balsamic are the new “Three’s Company” if you ask me. Chill everything down, stick them in coolers and get ready to travel. We’re on schedule and now down to the site.

We arrive and unload. Raul and Liz three dogs are very intrigued by the parade we’re showing. We seize the kitchen and the garage as ours. We claim their three refrigerators (????) as ours as well. We dress the table and pull the crockery. Ain’t that a crock? I can’t help myself sometimes. Liz was in for a down home feel by using bowls and stuff she’s garnered over time. I was down that I didn’t have to haul my stuff down in the rental car. Rental car….are we ever going to make money doing this?

red wine marinade and grandmas dressing made this a hit.

At final taste we tweak the seasonings and lay out the buffet. We light candles, and take positions as wall flowers. The guests arrive and we grade the fashion.  At any banquet or event, it is common for the staff to be serving not just foods, but grades. Some of the fine categories include ‘Best In Show’, ‘Most Likely To’ and ‘Marco! Homo!’; the details of these awards I can leave to your imagination or may surprise you in another post.  At first bite we score. One camper was eating as if the table was his plate. Two guests, like the geezers from the Muppet show, ape and point to their faves on display. A power couple arrive and nosh, now we have a bottle neck. You know you have done well if the mob is hovering the table. Shane and I away to ready the supplies. They seem to be eating but only in a Hollywood way; they taste it all. Go back for small seconds then come to the kitchen to unburden their souls. We became confessors as praise was bestowed. We learned of guests’ childhoods, habits, upcoming auditions. We learned of IBS, FBI and IRS. We studied Buddhism, Judaism, Scientology and other myths. We googled the stuff we didn’t understand walked away full informed. We were full, but how about the 45 people?

El jeffe y la sous

They ate in a Hollywood manner that left Raul and Liz with two weeks worth of food. It was sick how much was there. I cooked for normal people and that appears to be my dilemma, I always have left overs at parties. Unless the party’s at my home then my friends come in, kick off their shoes, grunt and kneel before the hors d’oveurs. There’s no need for ceremony just room. The clients were through the roof happy and we told them all of our little show here. To all a good night we bade and ran for the 405. It’s nice going into peoples houses with little to retrieve. I love going into new settings and making them functional for service. It’s always a new setting and new challenges. But when we get to leave the product and most of the wares behing, Bellisima. Going home with a couple of bags and stacked coolers is an easy unload waiting to happen at the shop.

Hopefully we’ll get to more for Raul and Liz, they were ecstatic. Shane survived the experience and surfaced three days later to tell the tale. Me? I just can’t shut up about it.

Taste a better life.