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Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog, passed away June 2, 2007. He was 42.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us.

We will miss him terribly.

photo by lindsay beyerstein


Sara Robinson: "Hot Stuff - Salsa Verde Recipe"


Thanks to Sara Robinson of Orcinus who didn't forget we love FOOD here at The News Blog - THANKS SARA!

Dave Neiwert, my only blogfather, is a truly wonderful human being with only one real shortcoming: in four years to date, he has never allowed food blogging at Orcinus. It is, apparently, Not Something We Do There. ("Orcinus: Home of the Orca Burger!" Uh, no. How about: "Covering KKK barbecues since 2003!" Big no.)

But Gilley and Jen do it here, and I'm hoping they'll let me fulfill my lifelong food-blogging dreams, just this once, while Steve's off getting better.

On a personal level, the hardest thing about moving from California, where Mexican food is still our native cuisine, to Canada, where Mexican food isn't even Taco Bell, is that I've had to get serious about learning to cook my own. Once I realized I'd been exiled to a place where the local Mexican restaurants were run by Iranians (dill in taco meat? Yes. And never again); the tortilla company was run by the Olafson family; and the cheese shops featured 200 offerings, none of which were Oaxaca, casera, or Jack, I knew desperate measures were called for. So, two summers ago, I flew down to central Mexico for three weeks where I brushed up on both my Spanish and my cooking skills, so I could amaze my new neighbors -- most of whom think Mexican food is anything wrapped in an El Paso taco shell, and can't cook beans without sweetening them -- and satisfy my own cravings.

The biggest treasure I came back with was this two-way recipe for green and red salsa. These two salsas are the basic component of most Mexican dishes. Mexican family cooks typically make up a big batch of both the red and green varieties once a week or so, and keep it in a big pitcher in the refrigerator. If you've got this, cheese, a chicken, a pot of beans, and a stack of tortillas, you've got everything needed to keep toda la familia fed for days.

Makes about 4-5 cups
Green tomatillos (10-12 large or 15-18 small)
Medium-sized white onion, cut into large chunks
1/2 cup minced cilantro
Juice of 3 limes
1-2 serrano chiles
3/4 cup cooking oil (corn or other light oil; NOT olive oil!)

1. Peel husks off tomatillos, and wash under cool water. Place clean tomatillos in a large, shallow skillet, and add water to cover. Add a little salt. Put over high heat, and simmer until the tomatillos turn from their bright green color to a darker brown/yellow. When the skins begin to crack, they're about done.

2. While tomatillos are cooking, prepare the other ingredients. Cut onion into chunks, mince cilantro, juice limes.

3. Cut the serranos in half lengthwise, and scrape out all the seeds. For a milder salsa, use only one or two halves. For the real hot stuff, toss in all four. (Fun fact: You can reduce the heat in any chile by cutting it into narrow lengthwise strips, then soaking the strips in a small dish of 1T salt in 1/4 C water for 10-30 minutes. The longer you soak it, the more capsacin is removed, thus cooling the chile while still retaining its unique flavor.) Be careful not to touch your eyes for several hours after handling the chiles.

4. When the tomatillos are cooked, use a slotted spoon to move half of them from the pan into a blender. Add half the onion, half the serranos, half the cilantro, and half the lime juice, plus 1/2 t salt. (Don't worry if you don't get the proportions just right -- it's all ending up in the same place in the end.) Pulse-blend 15-20 times, until all the ingredients are well-mixed. Be careful not to overdo: it should be a bit chunkier than a puree, finely-mixed but still retaining a nice thick texture.

5. Pour blended mixture into a large bowl. Repeat the process with the other half of the ingredients, and add them to the same bowl. Stir both batches together for a consistent mix.

6. Pour the cooking water out of your skillet. Add the cooking oil, and heat over high flame until oil is spattering. Pour the salsa mixture into the hot oil. (It should sizzle.) Simmer and stir for 5-10 minutes until the entire mixture is cooked through. You'll know it's about done when it starts taking on a yellowish, almost avocado-green color.

6. Remove from heat, cool, and use. The salsa will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Once you've got your salsa verde, you can go in dozens of directions. Some suggestions:

-- Use as a baking, simmering, or finishing sauce for chicken, beef, or pork dishes
-- Use as a marinade or dipping sauce for fish (cod is particularly good), or as a sauce in fish tacos
-- Make chicken, crab, or cheese enchiladas, and top with green salsa and a white cheese (jack if you have it; Havarti if you live in the outback, like me) before baking. Top with a dollop of sour cream for traditional enchiladas suizas.
-- Use as a topping for scrambled eggs or cheese and avocado omelettes, with a dollop of sour cream
-- Add to quesadillas and breakfast burritos
-- Eat it straight as a dip with tortilla chips

And, for your second act:

Repeat the above recipe, substituting red Roma tomatoes for the green tomatillos, and cutting back on the cilantro by about half. (For New Mexican-style cooking, add a tablespoon -- or more, if you dare -- of a classic NM chile powder. Nambe is my first choice.) Salsa rojo can be used in most of the above ways (though it's less good with fish, and better with red meat), but it's also essential for:

-- Soup: Add about 1/4 cup of salsa rojo per 2 cups of chicken broth to make the basic Mexican-style soup base. Add grated white cheese, avocados, and tortilla chips for tortilla soup; or meatballs for albondigas soup; or just make a rockin' regular chicken veggie soup with an extra-fresh edge. Don't forget that dollop of sour cream. Most Mexicans don't.
-- Rice: Salsa rojo is also what puts the Spanish in Spanish rice. Just replace 1/3 of the water in the rice pot with salsa.

Buon probecho!

- posted by Sara Robinson

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