Guaco de Mayo

Guacamole. It’s not as complicated or as challenging as many want to make it seem. As long as one has ripe avocados and a citrus, it is nigh impossible to screw up. Because an avocado is a delicious thing. And many, mashed together with various flavorings and served with crunchy chips, are even more delicious.

Here’s my preferred version.

Per avocado:

  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 thinly sliced green onions (white and light green parts)
  • 1 Tbsp of finely minced jalapeno or serrano (seeds and membrane included if you want it hot you want it)
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced cilantro (take the big stems out before chopping)
  • 2 Tbsps finely chopped red onion
  • pinch of salt & pepper

Here’s how it goes: cut that avocado in half around the pit. Scoop it out (it should slice and scoop very easily if it is ripe). Squeeze the lime over it, and smush that avocado (easy to mash with a fork). Add the rest of the ingredients, and fold/mash them in.

Now, you might notice no garlic. Though I love garlic, I prefer my guac without it, as I find it overwhelms the avocado. But if you like it, I suggest a clove or two of roasted garlic, which is mellower and will also incorporate easily with the avocado.

If you don’t like cilantro….sigh, you’re not alone, and I’m sorry for your birth defect. In that case, I suggest adding some spices to zhush that guacamole for me – I think the cilantro brightens the recipe. So, a 1/4 tsp each of freshly ground cumin and coriander will similarly enhance.

Other tasty customizations:

  • 2 Tbsps chopped, seeded tomato
  • dash of cayenne and/or paprika
  • 1/2 Tbsp finely minced chipotle in adobo sauce (for some smoky heat)

All tasty, but to me, gilding the lily. Now get out those tortillas, pour yourself a margarita, and get smushing.

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Avocado Alert!

Just a reminder – if you’re thinking of going all guacamoly for Cinco de Mayo – buy those Hass avocados today, to have the best chance of them being ripe enough. Look for dark green skin, and a slight give to light pressure. If you can’t find any that are ready you can buy slightly underripe ones and store in a brown paper bag.

While you’re at it, pick up some cilantro, green onions, red onion, limes and jalapeno or serrano peppers for the guacamole recipe I’ll post in two days.

But if you don’t have ripe avocados, don’t even bother with the guac. Ignacio Zaragoza SeguĂ­n would want it that way.

I’m Imperfect, Too.

My computer crashed! Taxes were due! I wrote a play! I was basting a turkey!

Lame, I know. Nothing you haven’t heard before, but all semi-valid reasons for not posting for a year. Well, except the last one. I still leave the turkey to my mom, and I don’t think she bastes.

Nonetheless, it’s time to kick it back up. I’m becoming more organized, and people still tell me I have some creative cooking tips and fun recipes. So I’ll be sharing those with you. I’ve figured out what my process on recording those recipes needs to be as well – make it once with in my carefree, non-measuring way, take some notes, and then remake it with some guidelines I can actually pass on. For the past ten years I’ve moved away from my teaspoons and measuring cups for all but baking, so it’ll be a challenge for me to return to them. But that’s the best way to be useful to any readers I might have. And regimenting myself might just mean I actually enter some cooking contests, a semi-demi-sorta-kinda goal of mine. (More like the glimmer of an idea than a goal, but it could become a goal.)

I also realized…I’m not going to hold back on the chocolate. I love chocolate, and I like to talk/write about chocolate. So every other recipe on here might end up being chocolate, and I’m not going to fight that.

A hint of what’s to come….chocolate covered almonds a la Nick Malgieri, guacamole, grilled portobellas, red cabbage slaw and more…

M’Aidez! What to do with ginger syrup?

As promised, a few uses for yesterday’s ginger syrup recipe. The quickie ideas are using to sweeten and flavor tea and coffee, either hot or cold. These are just starting points – adjust the balance to your preference.

Homemade ginger ale is also easily created by mixing 1/3 cup of the syrup with 1 cup of seltzer or sparkling mineral water. It will taste much fresher and lighter than store brought.

But the ginger can also add some sweet heat to lemonade – start with the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of the syrup and add 1 cup water. Or seltzer. Or…vodka. (if you’re adding the vodka, you should also add at least one friend. And a bunch of ice cubes).

And just in time for the rebels at Churchill Downs…ginger juleps. Can you have a julep that’s not mint? If you’re a purist and think not, you can just call this a Ginger & James. A tablespoon of ginger syrup, and one and a half ounces of Jamesons (or some other whiskey, if you must). Stir gently, add a 2 ice cubes and a twist of orange zest if you’re fancy, and enjoy the smooth and gentle burn. Zing!

Simplicity = Versatility: Ginger Syrup

Warm weather is on its way (well, it’s come and now gone for a bit, but I’m 99% sure it will return). Warm weather means cold drinks. And simple syrups are a superior way to spruce up your cold drinks.

Simple syrup is merely water and sugar, boiled together very briefly. The sugar dissolves, which means that when you want to sweeten your beverage you can just add syrup and not have to deal with that nasty grainy sludge of sugar at the bottom of your glass which not only fails to adequately sweeten your drink, but is also a annoying and sticky to clean if you have to wash all of your glasses by hand because you live in the typical NYC apartment that sadly does not have a dishwasher. But I digress. The syrup – not very thick – blends easily and uniformly with all other liquids.

This ginger syrup takes less than 15 minutes to make, and will keep for at least 2 weeks. It will start to lose its zing after that time, but will only weaken, not go bad. It turns a lovely pale pale gold. Tomorrow I’ll post a few suggestions for use.

Simple Ginger Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1″ fresh ginger

Steps:

Peel the ginger – this is most easily done by scraping the skin off the ginger with the back of a spoon. Grate or microplane the ginger into a small saucepan. Add sugar and water, and heat over medium. Stir gently just to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain syrup to remove ginger particles, and store in the refrigerator.

How I screwed up so you don’t have to: Well, it’s not called a “simple” syrup for no reason. But mistakes can be made. Overstirring the syrup while it cooks can lead to crystallization when it cools. This is especially a problem if any sugar crystals end up on the side of the pan – those crystals will encourage the sugar in the syrup to take crystal form. When I make syrup, I do increase the water quotient a little bit (traditionally, syrup is a 1:1 ratio) – this also helps prevent crystallization (but that’s not a guarantee). By the way, if you don’t have a zester, you can also thinly slice the ginger. Of course you can also increase or decrease the amount of ginger – I like to flavor my syrups strongly, so that when I mix I add a lot of the flavor without as much of the sweetness.

I like to store my syrups in clear plastic squeeze bottles, which you can buy at most craft stores, usually for under a dollar a piece. I keep several on hand, especially in the summer, for mixing cocktails, iced teas, iced coffees, etc. They are a very cheap and quick way to add a little ‘zazz. An iced peach tea sweetened with ginger syrup? That Platonic ideal of liquid refreshment almost makes me wish I had a lawn to mow.

Tea Time: Radish Sandwiches

I love the romantic notion of tea time, but I have to say, I’ve yet to have a Sunday afternoon tea. Or any other afternoon. My group prefers to socialize late in the day, or to meet up for a brunch in Manhattan before we scatter to our separate shopping, errands, appointments.

So I’ll confess that these little radish sandwiches were actually served as hors d’oeuvres at the Easter egg dyeing party I had last year. To my utter surprise, people were crazy about them. To me, they were a little bite of something fresh and pretty and spring-like (sliced radishes are like that) and inexpensive to serve at what had turned into a dinner party for a dozen. The April 2008 Bon Appetit had a recipe for radish sandwiches, which was my inspiration, but with ginger and sesame it didn’t speak to me. So I simplified, and they flew off the plates.

Radish Sandwiches

  • 1 bunch radishes
  • 1 baguette
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or ground sea salt

Steps

Start by making an herbed butter: mince the shallot, and then combine 1.5 Tablespoons with the softened butter, herbs, salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste. Slice the baguette thin, 1/4″ slices. Spread thinly with the butter (you’ll have leftover). Finely slice your radishes (the slicing edge on a rotary cheese grater or even a box grater works like a charm!). Cover each slice of bread with overlapping radish slices. Sprinkle with some additional salt and pepper, garnish with any remaining shallot, or additional chopped herbs.

How I screwed up so you don’t have to: There’s not a whole lot to screw up here. You won’t use all the butter or all the radishes, but if you have an extra baguette on hand, and it’s easy to whip up additional sandwiches if they run out. I recommend not using salted butter in this case, because it’s a fresher taste without, but if you do, don’t add any salt. Lastly, you could absolutely make these into traditional tea sandwiches with white bread – cut off your crusts and cut into little triangles.

Results: These were surprisingly popular. I…didn’t know my friends were such radish fans. Maybe everybody is a radish fan if they are served with enough bread and butter.

Sassy Spanish Chicken Stew

I don’t know if you’ve noticed…but it’s still cold outside. At least it is in Pennsylvania, where I spent the weekend. And NYC where, fortunately, my landlord is diligent about heat. So today I revisited a little chicken dish of (I think) my own invention. It’s got a Spanish feel to me, because there’s orange and sherry and paprika involved. I say sherry, but I never actually have any on hand, so I usually end up using a ruby port. Madeira would probably also work.

This dish is pretty easy – there’s enough time between each step to cut the next veggie. I like to serve it with couscous – especially Israeli couscous, if you can find it – though saffron rice would also be a classy side. It is a one-dish wonder. I make this in a 10″ sauteuse, and you could certainly increase the amount of chicken. I like it heavy on the veggies.

Spanish Chicken Stew

  • 4 chicken thighs (skinless, with or without bone)
  • 1/4 flour
  • 2 tsps sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder (optional)
  • dash cayenne powder
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 cup port, sherry or Madeira
  • juice of 1 medium orange
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 red bell peppers
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

Steps:

Preheat pan with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Mix the flour, 1 tsp paprika, onion powder, cayenne, dash of salt & pepper onto a plate. Lightly dredge both sides of the chicken in the flour, and add to the pan. Cook chicken until golden, about 5 minutes, and turn over. Chop onion – quarter inch pieces are good – and add to pan with a tablespoon of butter or more olive oil when chicken is halfway through second side.

Chop the pepper into large chunks (should be roughly 2-3 cups). Cut the garlic cloves into halves or thirds. When onions are translucent and soft, add the peppers and the garlic cloves and the other 1 tsp paprika. Saute for 2 min, then add the port. Cook down for one minute, stirring. Add the orange juice, simmer for 2 min. Add can of tomatoes, salt & pepper to your taste, and simmer over medium low for another 20 minutes (25-30 if chicken is on the bone).

How I screwed up so you don’t have to: Today, actually, I had everything I needed for the dish except the orange. I suggest adding the juice of a lemon. Heck, you could add the lemon in addition to the orange if you really like your food bright and citrusy. Other ways you can play around – add one or two tablespoons of the leftover dredging flour when cooking the onions to thicken the stew. Conversely, you can add half a cup of chicken or vegetable stock with the orange juice. Chicken thighs work much better for this than breasts, which will end up a little overcooked.

Results: It’s warm and satisfying, but still tastes fresh and healthy. And leftovers are pretty fantastic.