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A review and a warning:
I was once doubtful that celebrity chefs could be of any use to me, but Alton Brown is one of the strongest proofs that that’s not necessarily true. He’s a science geek who has a couple shows on the Food Network and a few books out on food and kitchen gear (highly recommend that one: Alton Brown’s Gear For Your Kitchen). His forte is explaining the hows and whys of the techniques and ingredients used in making good food—not necessarily gourmet, either, which I appreciate, being on a budget and not very comfortable with epicureanism. But I’ve come to believe that if you’re going to expend the time, energy, and resources to cook and bake, you ought to try and do it well.

I checked out the book named in the title from the library. It’s meant as a follow-up to his book I’m Just Here for the Food, which is about cooking; this book is a primer on baking. I have really enjoyed reading (most of) the technical but also practical explanations of all the major ingredients and techniques used in baking. You can read a summary on Amazon or something; I just wanted to warn anyone interested that when I went on Amazon to check prices, I found out from reviewers that there is a big problem with typos in the book’s many recipes. There is a second edition, but there seem to be major problems in that one as well. That’s a real shame, as it violates the “as long as you’re going to bake, bake well” philosophy big time. Check out the book from your library and don’t waste money on the dubious recipes.

However, I just made his recipe for banana bread (and discovered the typo problem on Amazon while it was baking!), and it turned out just fine. Pleasantly spongy yet moist, and the right amount of sweetness. I can post the recipe if anyone’s interested. But I certainly do not want to take a gamble on any of the other possibly flawed recipes, so I’ll be returning this book to the library once I finish taking notes on the non-recipe portions.

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Heidi made some variation of this green salsa when I was visiting her in Mexico, and sent me back with a recipe. It is meant to be cooked as a sauce for enchiladas but I am just going to record the salsa part of the recipe, as I haven’t tried the rest. A hint, though, is to make this salsa when you’re going to cook a chicken, or part of a chicken, in broth: you’ll use some of the remaining broth for the salsa.

Chicken broth—preferably just used to cook chicken
1 lb tomatillos, husks removed
4-5 serrano chiles, or jalapeños, depending on your heat tolerance (serranos are generally hotter, though not always!)
1/4 of a white onion
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt

Place tomatillos and serranos in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Bring to boil, and continue boiling until tomatillos turn a different shade of green (from bright green to a dull, army green).

Strain tomatillos and chiles and place in a blender with a 1/4 white onion, 1 clove of garlic, and salt. Pour in reserved chicken broth so that the liquid just covers the veggies in the blender by about an inch (I would recommend much less, if you want the salsa to have any body at all; this is apparently what I did the first time I made it, which see below). Blend until completely pureed.

(I regret not measuring the amount this makes. The original recipe yields 4 servings, but I can’t see four people eating that much salsa on their enchiladas without making them intolerably soggy. So I’d guess about 8-10 servings as paired with chips, but don’t rely too heavily on the estimate.)

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This salsa was a Hit with my husband when I made it a few weeks ago. He suggested I make it for the monthly post-worship lunch, so on Saturday I prepared to do just that. My *only* adjustments this time around were 1) to follow the original recipe in using a blender, not a food processor, to puree the salsa; and 2) to replace the several tomatillos that presented themselves rotten with one large red tomato, which after chopping I drained for a few minutes in a colander. One or both of these was a Big Mistake. I ended up taking a plate of brownies (a foolproof, just-about-perfect ATK recipe, which I’ll post if anyone is interested in scrumptious, chocolatey brownies).

My advice would be as stated above—to add less broth—and to steer clear of tomatoes as a substitution in a pinch, even if you drain it after you’ve chopped it. This was not a reversible problem as far as I could tell; reaching the “what the heck” point, I toyed with the idea of adding just a touch of flour while boiling it and seeing if I couldn’t thicken it that way, but while I was thinking, the salsa actually separated—what little bulk it had floated to the bottom, and the broth to the top. At that point I gave up.

What follows is purely anecdotal and no source of good cooking advice. Today I determined to redeem the “salsa.” I had some black beans on hand, plus some top round steak that I fairly ruined by fixing my eyes less on the meat and more on the meat thermometer, which told me that the meat was unsafe to eat even while it was becoming what my husband called, not meaning to compliment, well done. (Okay, here’s a basic tip from Alton Brown, which I read beforehand but couldn’t bring myself to trust: Disregard the FDA’s, etc., recommended cooking temperatures for steaks. Cook it to desired doneness, even if that is medium rare. On this side of my experience I daresay he’s right; I can’t imagine what my steak would have tasted like had I waited until it reached 145 degrees. . .) Anyway, having added the steak, the beans, and some celery, I brought the salsa/broth to a low boil. I poured a little into a cup, took a sip eagerly, chased it with a lot more water, and decided it might need a good amount of cooling liquid, like lime juice. Nice flavor, but my mouth was still on fire. Next I thought tomatillo-cream soup sounded promising, and might take some of the heat away; but a spoonful of half-and-half made no discernible difference. Well, I managed to get most of the cup down by taking simultaneous sips of soup and water. Which gave me the idea to pour about a cup of water into the remnant and bag it up for the freezer, to be subject to more experimentation once my mouth has fully recovered from the capsaicin. :)

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