Put a trip to the Caboose in Fort Davis on your itinerary

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

You can’t drive through Fort Davis without spotting the bright green caboose across the highway from the Fort Davis National Historic Site. With no train track for miles, the Caboose is the local ice cream parlor, open seven days a week, here in Fort Davis. Adults and children alike enjoy climbing the steps to the caboose entry to place their order, and exit through the other end with ice cream in hand.

Yani Ponce and Troy Hernandez enjoy the shakes at the Caboose.

Kendra Miller and Abby Naegle are ready to serve you.

In 2006, Deanna and Lonnie Hebert moved to Fort Davis from Alvin, a town outside of Houston. I met Lonnie several years ago, and we discovered that we both grew up in the same area in Houston – neighborhoods literally next door to each other and separated by a bayou – but lived there at different times. Again, West Texas is such a small world.

Deanna shared with me a picture of two small children standing in front of the Fort Davis National Historic Site in 1971. Turns out, it was her first trip to Fort Davis when she was a little girl. I bet she never imagined she’d grow up and end up right across the street from where that photo was taken. Or, perhaps like it does for many of us, maybe it got into her blood, even as a child, and finally drew her home to Fort Davis as an adult. What a great photo to have.

Since 2013, Deanna and Lonnie have offered ice-cream-hungry crowds sweet treats served inside an actual Burlington Northern train caboose. They purchased the Caboose, which had also previously been an ice cream shop, in the fall of 2012. After some painting and a little remodeling, they were up and running by summertime.

By December of 2013, they opened their antiques store, Hebert’s Heirlooms, next door to the Caboose.

The Caboose features 24 flavors of Blue Bell ice cream, hand-dipped in a variety of cones and cups, or served as milkshakes, malts and sundaes. They serve chocolate-dipped waffle cones with all sorts of colorful goodies in the chocolate. They’ve been told their banana split “looks like a party” in a bowl. I was not personally brave enough to order up a party in a bowl, but they are very popular. They also serve 28 flavors of shaved ice, for those wanting a cool treat other than ice cream. As far as I know, it’s the only place you can get shaved ice within 30 miles of Fort Davis.

(Not my hand pictured below – the lady didn’t want to be photographed with her shaved ice 😉 – I’m a pina colada, dreamsicle or chocolate-coconut shaved ice gal)

Cherry shaved ice belonging to a lady that didn't want her picture taken.



While you can’t eat inside the Caboose, there’s plenty of outdoor seating with picnic tables and umbrellas. It’s not uncommon for folks to stop into Hebert’s Heirlooms and browse, go grab an ice cream to enjoy, and then come back to shop for antiques, furniture, glass and other collectibles in the store.

Did I mention they also sell fresh yard eggs? Their current flock of about 60 chickens supplies locals and tourists with fresh yard eggs. Ask about them in the antiques store.

Whether you’re just passing through Fort Davis, live here or make a special trip, be sure and stop at the Caboose and at Hebert’s Heirlooms. You can’t miss them – they’re located directly across the highway from the entrance to the Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Summer hours, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, are noon to 9 p.m. every day. Seasonal hours change after Labor Day. Find them on Facebook at “The Caboose” and give them a “like”… find them in person and give the Caboose a “love”!


Party in a Pan Banana Split Ice Cream Cake
(inspired by the Caboose’s Banana Split and a welcome addition to any dessert time)

3 bananas, sliced
15-20 NILLA Wafers
2 pints strawberry ice cream, softened
2 pints chocolate ice cream, softened
12-15 Oreo cookies
chocolate syrup, for serving
chopped walnuts, for serving
Sprinkles, for serving
Whipped cream, for serving
Maraschino cherries, for serving

Spray a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray (I prefer coconut oil spray) and then line with plastic wrap.

Start with the banana, laying the slices in the bottom of the loaf pan to make a full single layer. When you serve the cake, this will be the top of it so make it pretty! Place large scoops of softened strawberry ice cream on top and smooth with an offset spatula. Create another layer of banana slices on top, then create a layer of Nilla wafers. Freeze for about 2 hours, or until the ice cream is firm again.

When the ice cream is firm, place large scoops of softened chocolate ice cream on top and smooth with an offset spatula. Add another layer of banana slices and finish with a layer of Oreos, to create a chocolate cookie crust (the bottom crust). You may need to halve some Oreos to completely cover the bottom. Cover the cake with plastic wrap and freeze for another 2 hours, or until the ice cream hardens.

When the ice cream is set, run a knife around the plastic wrap to loosen the cake, and invert the cake onto a serving platter. Remove the plastic wrap. Garnish with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, walnuts, sprinkles and maraschino cherries, just like a banana split. Slice crosswise and enjoy.

Cilantro chimichurri … my new favorite condiment

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

A few weeks ago, we went to a friend’s birthday cook-out where grilled rib-eyes were on the pit. Someone brought a dish of chimichurri – a perfect addition to the potluck meal we enjoyed. Ever since eating that chimichurri on my steak, I’ve wanted more.

What is chimichurri? Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce that can be a marinade for all cuts of beef, as well as an accompaniment. With Argentinian origins, it’s traditionally green or red – “chimichurri verde” and “chimichurri rojo.” Translated loosely, the word chimichurri means, “a mixture of several things in no particular order.” It’s a staple condiment in Argentina, and grilled beef is never served without it on the side.

Chimichurri is made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes and white or red wine vinegar. Other spices that can be included are paprika, cumin, thyme, lemon, basil, cilantro and bay leaf. In red chimichurri, tomato and red bell peppers are often added.

A couple years ago, I discovered dried chimichurri sold in the spice section of my grocery store. I’ve purchased several bottles and use it when certain recipes need an extra kick. To rehydrate it, you simply add oil and watch it come back to life. The chimichurri we had at the cook-out was certainly not brought back to life from dehydration, and I wanted more of the real thing.

I started researching different chimichurri recipes online and found that while parsley and cilantro appeared to almost be used interchangeably in many instances, true chimichurri does not have cilantro in it because cilantro was not a common herb found in Argentina.

I went to both grocery stores in Fort Davis in search of fresh parsley, and came back empty-handed. I did however, have cilantro.

It is a proven scientific fact that people are genetically predisposed to either love cilantro or hate it – there is no middle ground. I could eat cilantro with just about anything. Something about a particular chromosome makes people love it or hate it. I can’t remember scientific details, but I know I’ve got the cilantro-loving chromosome in me.

So, I made a batch of cilantro chimichurri to go with the steaks my husband was grilling for dinner. Talk about delicious. I even poured a little on my fried eggs the next morning. That little bit of bright green sauce took my Saturday morning breakfast to a new happy place.

Whether you’re on Team Cilantro or Team Parsley, chimichurri is a wonderful marinade and basting sauce or condiment that adds tangy, fresh flavor to any cut of beef, as well as chicken. Eggs, too. It takes just a few minutes to prepare, and is even better the second day after the flavors have melded. Store it in the refrigerator for up a week, in an airtight container.

Cilantro chimichurri is my new favorite condiment.

Cilantro Chimichurri

1 cup packed cilantro (you can use parsley instead of cilantro – or both – whichever you prefer)

2 cloves garlic

½ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons red or white wine vinegar (I used red)

1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

Place garlic in food processor (or blender) and “pulse” until finely chopped. Add cilantro, vinegar, oregano, pepper flakes, cumin, and olive oil. Process it until it’s smooth. Add your salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup.


Newly-remodeled Sagebrush Café in Fort Stockton, same great food!

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche
On a recent trip through Fort Stockton, we stopped at our favorite place to eat when we’re in that neck of the woods… the Sagebrush Cafe. We’ve eaten there half a dozen times, and it’s always been a pleasant experience. The parking lot was packed since it was lunch time, but we figured it was worth it to know what we were getting into for lunch. No false rave reviews for this place.

With a recent remodel that includes a new bar and new wing of the original diner, we quickly learned that the packed parking lot was the Rotary Club lunch meeting that was taking place in the new dining room.

In our experiences with the Sagebrush Café, we’ve always had very nice and attentive wait staff, short wait-times for our meals, and food that was made when we ordered it.

The first time we went to the Sagebrush Café, we ordered the Chili Cheese Cheeseburger (open faced burger smothered in chili, cheese and grilled onions), the Green Chile Burger (with layers of green chili strips and Pepper Jack cheese), with a side of sweet potato fries and a side of onion rings. We shared burgers and sides, and agreed we’d be back for more.

There are ten different kinds of burgers to choose from, as well as sandwiches, steaks, seafood, catfish, pork chops, and ribs. Of course, no diner would be complete without country-fried steak and chicken, steak fingers and chicken strips. Ten different salads include a Blackened Shrimp Cobb Salad that I might try the next time we’re there, if I can break away from the burgers and sandwiches.

Sagebrush Café serves breakfast all day. You can order just about any kind of omelet combination you can think up, stacks of fluffy pancakes, biscuits smothered with gravy, and good ol’ bacon, ham or sausage with eggs and toast. I am an omelet-lover and their omelets passed my scrutiny with flying colors.

One morning, I had the “Hog Omelet” that was bacon and cheese and added the extra “variety of vegetables” that included onion, bell pepper, mushrooms and spinach. It was delicious. And huge.

On our most recent visit, he had the Bacon Egg Burger (Hickory smoked bacon topped with an egg cooked to your specifications and topped with cheese) and I had a BLT because I love a good BLT. We both got orders of onion rings so we wouldn’t have to share, since we both know how crispy and tasty they are.

When our waitress brought our food, she told us she went ahead and brought us some Ranch dressing for our onion rings. Turns out, it was house-made ranch dressing. You don’t find house-made ranch dressing just anywhere, and it was just right. No bottled ranch-ish dressing there.

If you find yourself in Fort Stockton and want a satisfying, home-style meal, check out the Sagebrush Café. They have something for everyone. Did I mention they have house-made ranch dressing? That’s a good sign, y’all.

Located at 2003 W. Dickinson Blvd. in Fort Stockton, they are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

1/2-3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2-3 tablespoons sour cream

1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, dill, parsley, chives or celery leaves (or a combination)

1 clove garlic, finely minced with a microplane grater

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

A few dashes Tabasco sauce (or hot sauce of your choice, but a little vinegar twang is what you’re looking for)

Combine all ingredients into a mason jar and shake it. Open it, taste it, and season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Close it up and shake again. Keeps for a few days in the refrigerator, but will get more garlic-flavored the longer it sits.



Dry Aged Beef from Sul Ross’ Retail Meat Store? Yes, please!

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche
About a year ago, my husband and I learned of the Sul Ross Meat Retail Store. The man that told us about it said that the “Meat Lab” was the only place he bought his family’s beef and pork products. We were immediately intrigued.

The idea of buying meat from a lab conjured images in my mind of test tubes and bubbling beakers… not exactly what you’d associate with buying meat. But the fella we’d spoken to raved about it and we knew we’d have to check it out.

The Meat Lab at Sul Ross is a state-inspected research and teaching facility that just happens to sell beef and pork. Students in the meat science field get to take care of the entire meat processing process from harvesting the animal and cutting it, processing it, packaging it, freezing it and then selling it retail in the store on site at the Turner Range Animal Science Complex.

They also have a computerized smokehouse where they smoke the bacon, hams and jerky they sell in the retail store. This state of the art lab was revamped in 2006 to include a slaughterhouse, chilling coolers, a processing room, freezer storage and the retail sales counter, where the public can purchase reasonably priced beef and pork.

Students are required to follow all the rules and regulations for inspection, food safety and sanitation at all times.

On a recent trip to Alpine, my husband happened to stop by the Meat Lab retail store and came home with some of the prettiest bone-in ribeye steaks I’ve seen in a very long time. And, as if the price and the marbeling of the ribeye wasn’t enough to make this meat-eating gal’s day, the steaks were dry aged. Dry aged ribeyes?! What a treat!

Adding only salt and pepper to our dry aged, bone-in ribeyes before grilling them, they were the tastiest steaks we’ve eaten in a very long time. With scalloped potatoes and a green salad on the side, these steaks were incredible.

If you’re not familiar with dry aged beef, it is essentially a process where the beef is exposed to precise temperature and humidity levels to increase tenderness and alter the flavor, which happens through a combination of bacteria, enzyme breakdown and oxidations. Many say that the water loss during dry aging makes the “meat” flavor more concentrated. Dry aging requires expensive refrigeration equipment, which the Meat Lab just happens to have. The Meat Lab dry ages the beef for 28 days. Fourteen to 28 days is the most effective time period to taste and see the results of dry aging.

You can also find at the Retail counter ribeye, rump, tri-tip, and arm roasts; various steak cuts including tenderloin, blade, flank, skirt, round, T-bone, sirloin, Porterhouse and strip; stew meat; ground beef, short ribs and brisket.

If red meat isn’t your thing and you’re looking for the “other white meat,” you can choose from boneless pork ribs, Boston Butt steaks and roasts, pork loin chops, Baby-Back and Spare ribs, smoked bacon, smoked ham and breakfast sausage. Everything is sold by the pound. Check out the menu board that has all of their in-stock offerings and prices listed.

It appears the students at the Meat Lab will also harvest and process your meat for a fee of $35 to harvest and $0.75 on the rail. Check out their website at http://www.sulross.edu/meat-retail-sales-counter.

Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and can be reached at (432)837-8208.

Scalloped Potatoes

(perfect with our grilled steaks)

2 tablespoons butter    

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour    

1 teaspoon salt    

1/4 teaspoon pepper (or more if you love pepper like I do)   

1-1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Gruyere – whatever you prefer – or you can skip the cheese altogether and it’s still delicious)  

5 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I use russets because I like the tenderness)

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

In a small skillet, melt butter. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper until smooth; gradually add milk. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in cheese until blended. 

Place half of the potatoes in a 1-1/2-qt. baking dish coated with oil; layer with half of the onion and cheese sauce. Repeat layers.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Uncover; bake 10-15 minutes longer or until bubbly and potatoes are tender. Serves 6.

Getting back to my roots… root vegetables, that is

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

“What are you going to write about this week?” asked my husband.

“Root vegetables.” I replied.

With a turned-up nose, he asked, “Root vegetables? In the springtime?”

I’ll admit, at first thought, root vegetables conjured up an image of crisp fall days with a pan of these underground vegetables roasting in the oven.

In reality, we eat root vegetables nearly every day. Some examples of root vegetables are potatoes, yams, beets, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, horseradish, radishes, and ginger, just to name a few.

Roots have been shown to be some of the most nutrient-rich vegetables grown. Each root vegetable has its own list of health benefits, but they all share one common characteristic – they are grown underground. 

Since they grow underground, they absorb a large amount of nutrients from the soil, and are excellent sources of highly concentrated antioxidants, Vitamins C, B and A as well as iron. Full of fiber and slow-burning carbohydrates to make you feel full, they also help regulate blood sugar levels and aid in keeping our digestive systems in good shape.
When you’re buying root vegetables, keep in mind that you’re looking for the hardest veggies you can find in the bin, without cuts or bruises. If you’re buying beets or any other root that comes with leafy greens, make sure the stems and leaves and firm and healthy. You can cook the greens and stems, too… I like to chop and sauté them with olive oil, garlic and a little onion. Throw in some bacon grease and the flavor is taken to another level, not to mention you have no waste factor.
Store your root vegetables in a cool, dark space. If you store them in the fridge, be sure they’re in a paper or plastic bag in the crisper. Left uncovered, they go bad too soon.

You can easily start your own root vegetable garden from leftover carrot tops, onion roots, and old potatoes with the funky little sprouts growing from them (also called “eyes”), or any other root veggie you have. I take fresh garlic cloves that have passed their peak freshness and start sprouting little green things, and stick them in dirt. Add some water and sunshine, and they’ll start to grow in just a few days.

The garlic will eventually grow a large, round flower that is made up of hundreds of little flowers… you can use those garlicky little blooms in your cooking. After the big flower blooms, gently pull it from the ground to reveal a clove of garlic you grew yourself! Each clove leaves behind a smaller clove that will continue growing for the next season. I stuck some old garlic cloves in a pot just last week, and they’ve already sprouted four inches.

Lucky for us, root vegetables are available year-round, although peak season for many of them is fall through spring. Roasting roots changes the flavor and adds a touch of sweetness to the vegetable.

Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of chopping up carrots, onions, potatoes and yams, roughly the same size, tossing them with freshly minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in the biggest pan I can fit in the oven. They are delicious as a side dish with lunch or dinner, served with eggs, or even used in tacos.

The last time I made a big pan of roasted root vegetables, I threw in some beets and radishes from the crisper. I loved the extra flavors added by the beets and radishes. Mr. Johns wasn’t a huge fan – but he also doesn’t love beets and radishes like I do. I’ve also taken to tossing my seasoned chicken pieces on top and roasting the meat and veggies for a delicious one pan meal.

My One Pan Roasted Roots and Chicken

(While there are many recipes out there for root veggies and chicken one-pan dishes, lots of them call for Brussels sprouts. I am the only person at our table that likes the little sprouts, so we omit that. They’re not roots, anyway!)


1 small white onion, chopped

4 Russet potatoes (baking size), unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces, thick ends halved lengthwise

6-8 whole radishes

1-2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 beet, cut into 1-inch pieces

Note: Or use any combo of chopped roots you have available – just make sure it’s enough to fill a one-gallon zip-top bag.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or vegetable oil

6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or a handful sprigs of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, leaves only; split

3½ pounds bone-in, skin on chicken pieces (breasts, drumsticks and thighs)

salt and pepper


Place onion, potatoes, carrots, radishes, beets, whatever roots you chopped up along with 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, 2 teaspoons thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon rosemary in 1-gallon zip-top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Place the chicken, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, remaining 1 teaspoon rosemary, salt and pepper in a separate 1-gallon zip top bag. Press out the air and seal; toss to coat.

Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spread vegetables in a single layer in rimmed baking sheet, discarding any excess liquid and arranging Brussels sprouts in center and potatoes and carrots along the outside. Season vegetables with more salt and pepper if desired.

Place chicken skin-side up on top of vegetables, arranging breast pieces in the center and leg and thigh pieces around the perimeter of the sheet. Bake chicken until breasts are 160 degrees and drumsticks and thighs are 175 degrees, for about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through baking.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want, return vegetables to oven and continue to bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Toss the vegetables with the chicken “juice” in the pan, and transfer to platter with chicken.

Another note: You can refrigerate the chicken and veggies in the bags up to 24 hours before cooking, just be sure and flip the bag a couple times for even marinating.

There’s nothing like fresh eggs from the Miller Ranch

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche

Every week, I get a much-anticipated text message from my friend Jill Miller, my own personal egg lady. “I’m coming to town tomorrow… do you need any eggs?”

She lives on the C.E. Miller Ranch in Valentine, about an hour from Fort Davis, and lets me know when she’s headed to town and bringing her beautiful brown eggs… I usually buy between two and four dozen, depending on what I’ve been cooking.

My egg lady Jill, with one dozen of her brown eggs…

Jill Miller and one dozen of her eggs

I’ve known Jill for several years now. We met through the Big Bend Photography Club (she’s a professional photographer as well as a rancher). She’s been raising chickens for about five years, out on the Miller Ranch, where their water supply comes from springs in the Sierra Vieja Mountains. The spring’s natural power is breathtaking to behold in person.

The Miller Ranch is an amazing piece of the earth, and I feel fortunate to have been out there and explored the ranch’s very own fort – Camp Holland – which was, according to the historical marker, where, on, “June 12, 1880, the Apaches made their last stand in Presidio County when four Pueblo Indian scouts of General Benj. H. Grierson, USA, fought and defeated 20 Apache warriors.” It’s steeped in history.


I don’t always take selfies when I’m alone in a spectacular place with my camera… wait, YES, I DO… took lots of selfie-timered pics on this particular day at Camp Holland at the Miller Ranch. I got home with 480 photos of the day. WOW.


According to the Miller Ranch website, “Established in 1925, the C.E. Miller Ranch is nestled at the base of the Sierra Vieja Mountains in the Chihuahuan Desert.  Located in Jeff Davis and Presidio counties, it is comprised of grassland and oak and juniper woodlands with madrones and colorful bigtooth maples.  The nearest town, Valentine, Texas, is 11 miles east, or about a 30-minute drive along a lonely dirt road.  The C.E. Miller Ranch headquarters sits at an elevation of 4,400 feet and the mountains rise to 5,800 feet in elevation.

In good years, the ranch can support 500 Angus mother cows.  During the most recent drought years, the Millers have sold many of the cattle to maintain the land’s productivity.

ZH Canyon, located behind the C.E. Miller Ranch headquarters, boasts a spring that supplies drinking water throughout the year for people, livestock and wildlife on the south end of the ranch.  A young cowboy named Tom Moore stated that when he worked for Mr. Finley in 1900, the pipeline which still “snakes” through the canyon and carries water down to the headquarters, was already there.  This spring was the reason the army built Camp Holland in ZH Canyon 1918 in response to Mexican bandit raids.”

Pictured below, Jill led some of us to the springs…



That’s the spring that supplies the entire ranch with water. It’s quite a hike to get to it… and like an oasis, it’s tucked away in a lush green grove of trees. It’s fantastic!

Couldn't resist taking a selfie with the spring that flows from the Vieja Mountains... it provides water for the entire ranch.

When Jill retired from teaching in Van Horn, she and her husband Bill began living full-time on the ranch. Bill grew up on the Miller Ranch, and they moved back to his family homestead in the early 2000s. She keeps about 60 hens, and one beautiful rooster named, “Mr. Fancy Pants.” Her chickens are free range, and although they do have a pen to sleep in at night, many of them choose to roost in the trees above the pen. Mr. Fancy Pants is one happy fella, no doubt.

Jill sells her eggs at the Marfa Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. If you go to the market, be sure and take cash. If you can’t catch her there and want to buy her eggs, you can email her at rimrockphotography@ymail.com. For more information about the Miller Ranch, visit their website at cemillerranch.com



Huevos con Tortilla Fritas
(I make this every Saturday morning, sometimes on Sundays, too. Some people call it “migas” and some call it “chilaquiles”, but there’s a big argument over which is correct. So, to keep it simple, it’s “Eggs with Fried Tortillas” and it’s delicious.)

6 corn tortillas, cut in small pieces (I usually cut them into nickel-sized pieces)
6 large eggs, beaten
1-1/8 tablespoons milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat, and brown the corn tortilla pieces until slightly crispy. Lower the heat. Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl. Pour egg mixture into skillet with tortillas and cook over low heat until eggs are cooked, turning often to ensure even cooking. Serve with salsa, or sprinkle shredded cheese on top. This is one reason I order so many eggs from Jill.


So many salsas, so few winning trophies…

Printed with the permission of the Alpine Avalanche 

This past weekend, the Big Bend Brawl came to Fort Davis. The Big Bend Brawl is a day-long boxing tournament sponsored by the Alpine Boxing Club and the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce that brings boxers from clubs all over Texas and New Mexico to compete for trophies, medals and belts. 

Local youth performed Folklorico dancing during intermission, and food and beverages were provided by the Fort Davis High School FFA and the Alpine Boxing Club. The Chili Macho Salsa Contest took place and winners were announced during intermission.

No sporting event is complete without “football nachos”… and I didn’t share… once a year doesn’t hurt, right???

While I ate my nachos, my husband had a Cowboy Burrito. 

On a whim, I entered the salsa contest. I’ve never entered a salsa contest before, and the only rule was to make it with tomatoes generously provided by our local tomato growers, Village Farms. I often make my own red chile sauce for enchiladas from dried chiles, and love roasting Anaheim chiles for green chile sauce. I’ve been making salsa for years… why not throw some salsa in a contest?

My usual salsa that I’ve made for 20+ years is a pureed blend of tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, garlic, cilantro, lime, a little vinegar, salt, pepper and a little sugar. Throw it in a blender until it’s smooth. Easy and tasty stuff. But for the contest, I wanted to try something different… why not?

With Mr. Johns as my personal salsa consultant, I was ready to jump in. I wouldn’t mind having a chile pepper trophy of my own, after seeing all of the trophies lined up on our friend Frank Lopez’s kitchen cabinets (he won first place again, by the way). Competition among friends can be fun.

We were grilling steaks for dinner, and decided to throw all the salsa-veggies on the grill first. Tomatoes, three kinds of chile peppers, garlic, and onions were nicely charred and ready in no time. I let them sit for a while, then got to chopping and dicing. We decided we wanted most of it hand-chopped, and blended about a quarter of the ingredients so it would have a little more body than just chunky vegetables.

I left the food processor boxed and in storage, and relied on the Magic Bullet blender and my favorite knife for this batch of salsa. While most recipes I found called for the juice of one or two limes, I got carried away and used three… they were so juicy and easy to squeeze… I forgot I was making salsa and not margaritas. Oops.

I handed Mr. Johns a chip with salsa on it, and his first comment was, “Too much lime, but otherwise really good.” Oops again. 

I ate several chips loaded with the salsa and noticed it was very bright with lime, although I liked the flavor. We added a little sugar, but it didn’t really do a whole lot to calm the twang. I think at that point, it became “my” salsa rather than “our” salsa.

My salsa didn’t place, but I’m glad I entered the contest because now I have a new recipe that I can tweak, and there are several jars of fresh, homemade salsa in the fridge.

After the contest, I took a look at the other entries… two were chunky like mine, one was a creamy green and the other was a blended red. I spoke with a judge who told me mine was his second choice, but that all the judges agreed there was too much lime.

Maybe next time, I’ll leave the limes for the margaritas.


A Roasted Salsa Recipe

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered

2 small white or yellow onions, cut into wedges

4 garlic cloves, peeled

3 Serrano chili peppers, stemmed (use less for a milder salsa)

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I use avocado oil because of its tolerance for high heat and mild flavor)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (plus more if needed but don’t overdo it like I did!)

Using a grill, place your veggies that have been tossed in oil and salt on the grill and cook for about five minutes or long enough to char the skins and soften the veggies.

Using an oven, preheat the broiler and set an oven rack about 5 inches beneath the heating element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, whole Serrano chile peppers and vegetable oil directly on the prepared baking sheet and toss with your hands. Broil until softened and charred, 10-15 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables and juices to a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a blender. Add salt and cumin and pulse until just slightly chunky. If you left out some of the Serrano peppers because you were afraid it would be too spicy, taste and add more if you want more heat. Add cilantro and fresh lime juice, and pulse until the cilantro is chopped. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and more lime juice if necessary.