I love this photo:
I took it a couple weeks ago, and it will be involved in a post soon enough, but in the meantime, I just had to share.
I grew up not liking guacamole, and being pretty indifferent to avocados. I am not actually sure I didn’t like guacamole, it is possible I just avoided eating it because I didn’t think I would like it for some reason, which is funny, because there was not much I didn’t try and like when I was a kid. I know I ate avocados when I was tiny, because my mom has told me I liked them. I also liked canned black olives, as wee babes do. But as far back as I can remember, I avoided avocados and guacamole (and black olives, actually.) Now I can’t believe there was ever a time that I didn’t like them. What a fool I was. Things started to change sometime in 2003. I remember this, because in 2003 I was living in my current apartment with my then roommate Marissa, and it was cinco de mayo, and we were having a couple people over for Margaritas at our house, and I was making guacamole for only the first or second time. And I was pitting an avocado while holding it, and I put the knife right through the pit and into my hand, and had to go to the emergency room. But not before I saved the guacamole in the fridge, so the delicious avocados weren’t wasted. I was kind of dumb, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the guac. So I didn’t.
Since that night, I have learned how to properly pit an avocado without permanently losing feeling in my left pointer finger, which I suppose you can’t do more than once, but I have also learned how to do it without permanently losing feeling in any other fingers so, victory! I have also honed my technique, and come up with a guacamole recipe that I really like, and seems to please others as well.
My one rule when it comes to guacamole is to keep it green.
Save for a clove of garlic, I only use green ingredients in my guacamole: avocado, green onions, jalapeno pepper and lime juice.
The process is pretty simple, I mash the garlic into a paste with some kosher salt and the side of my big knife. I chop the white and light green parts of three or four scallions, I seed and chop a jalapeno pepper, and then I add those three things to a bowl with the juice of a lime. I mash two or three avocados in the bowl with this mixture and then chunk the last one and stir it in without mashing for a little bit of texture. I squeeze another half lime over the top and done. I serve with (preferably fresh) tortilla chips and that is that.
I don’t like it crazy spicy, but if you do, you can leave some of the jalapeno seeds in the mix. I also do not care for cilantro AT ALL, so I leave it out. Some would say that is sacrilege, and to them I say, go ahead and add it, fine by me, I just choose to do without it, and I have never had any complaints.
If I am feeling particularly plucky, I make tortilla chips instead of buying them. I buy corn tortillas, white or yellow, either works, quarter them, and fry them in oil for three or four minutes until they are golden and crispy.
I drain them on paper towels and sprinkle them with more salt than I think I need to, and they are delicious.
This is a pretty easy extra bonus step, and worth it. Except that you need to make sure you have the time to do it. This isn’t hard, but you can’t fry that many at a time in a regular cast iron skillet, so you have to do quite a few batches if you are feeding a crowd, and that can take some time.
This is great for Sunday football, which is the last time I made it. My brother was up in my neck of the woods working for about a month, and I started getting calls on Sundays at about 11 am to see what I was doing that day, which roughly translated to “there is a Giants game on and are you cooking anything this afternoon?” He and the littlest came over one Sunday and my cousin joined us, and we ate guacamole, ribs (post to follow) and mac and cheese. And it was delightful.
Guacamole (serves quite a few)
3-4 avocados (depending on size)
1 clove of garlic, mashed to a paste (use kosher salt to help it along)
3-4 green onions, white and light green parts, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded (if you would like) and minced
1-2 limes (I find that one is not enough, and two is often too much, use your judgement)
Mix the garlic, scallions, pepper and the juice of one lime in a bowl. Mash all but one of the avocados into the mixture, and then pit and chop the last one, and stir it in for texture. Squeeze juice from the second lime over the top to taste, and serve with tortilla chips.
Woah, the faithful reader is getting fired up, and I don’t want to upset my faithful reader, so I am back with a vengeance. I still have to tell you about ribs, chicken pot pie, a bridal shower, making sushi, making pizza, some good quick weekday dinners, ravioli, guacamole and salmon cakes. But today I will tell you about fried chicken.
I don’t know why it took me so long to write about fried chicken, because it was VERY exciting. Fried chicken has a certain enigmatic quality to it. Everyone has their own tricks and tips and family recipes, and good fried chicken is the stuff of legend. So I was nervous to make it. Plus there is the whole risk of a grease fire thing…spooky, scary (not unlike a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.) But never fear, there was no grease fire and according to my guests and faithful eating companions, the chicken was a success. Huzzah.
I started with chicken pieces. I had leg quarters that I separated, all drumsticks and thighs. I prefer dark meat, so that is what I went with. The night before I was going to fry it, I mixed buttermilk, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper together, and I added the chicken pieces and refrigerated overnight.
The following night was go time. I was not deep-frying the chicken, I was skillet frying it, which means I was filling my cast iron frying pans about half or two-thirds full with peanut oil, and cooking the chicken in that.
I mixed flour, a bit more cayenne, salt and pepper in a pie plate, and then I added just a bit of buttermilk to give the mixture some clumps. I learned that from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen. The idea is that the clumps that form in the mixture after the first couple pieces are dipped in get really crunchy on the finished chicken, so if you pre-emptively add a bit of buttermilk then even the first pieces get those crunchy bits. I dredged all the pieces and then laid them out to rest on a cooling rack while the oil heated up.
I used peanut oil to fry it, because according to pretty much everyone, you are supposed to. Various and sundry recipes say the oil should be about 325-350, but since I have a very untrustworthy thermometer, I tested for temperature by dropping in a bit of the flour mixture and seeing if it bubbled fiercely, when it did, I added the chicken. As soon as I did, I turned up the burner for a minute, to make sure the heat stayed fairly even, as the temperature always drops pretty significantly when you add whatever you are frying. I put several pieces in each pan, but didn’t over crowd it, so the oil could get to all the sides.
I turned the chicken pieces several times during the cooking, which took about 25 minutes. I cooked it until the pieces were evenly browned and, I hoped, cooked through. I was most nervous about it being cooked through, and I was kind of afraid it wouldn’t be, but it was great. I drained the chicken on paper towels, and served with smashed potatoes.
I must say, I was pretty proud of myself. This was wildly successful for my first fried chicken go ’round. It was crunchy and cooked through, and pretty well-flavored, though I think I could up that a little. There were no grease fires- not even any threats of a grease fire. The troops were happy, and I have no qualms about making this again. In fact, I am looking forward to it. One of these weekends I will do it again and tweak things a little. I’ll keep you posted.
There is no real recipe, because I didn’t measure anything. 10 or 12 pieces of chicken, one carton of buttermilk, a tablespoon or so of mustard powder, a couple shakes of cayenne, a fair amount of salt and pepper, and then flour to fill a pie plate, and peanut oil to fill two cast iron skillets about two-thirds full. There’s your recipe. Enjoy!
I don’t like real maple syrup. It doesn’t do anything for me, and I just don’t really like it. I like the fake stuff. Log Cabin, Aunt Jemima, full of corn syrup and other nastiness, and resembling real maple syrup about as closely as margarine resembles butter, or nacho Doritos resemble actual nachos. But I can’t help it. It’s what I like, even though I know it is totally uncivilized. Since I can’t exactly talk about making pancakes on this blog if I cover them in fake maple syrup, I decided to forgo the “maple” altogether, and come up with some other delightful topping for my Sunday morning flapjacks.
I had blueberries in the freezer, and some simple syrup in the fridge, so I put those over a low flame, along with a splash of Nantucket Nectars lemonade, since I didn’t have any lemons, and I needed some tang. That lemonade is pretty tart, so I went with it. I cooked it down until it was syrupy, and put it aside to make the pancakes.
I use the basic pancake recipe from The Joy of Cooking. They are all pretty standard, milk, flour, eggs, butter, baking powder, most recipes are pretty similar. I wanted to add some vanilla flavor. The recipe calls for optional vanilla extract, but I wanted even more flavor than that, so I boiled the milk with a vanilla bean first, then scraped out the seeds into the milk and let it cool.
Then I proceeded with the pancakes as instructed, whisk dry ingredients together, whisk wet ingredients together…
and then whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
Butter in a hot pan, then batter in the pan, then voila…pancakes. I like thin pancakes rather than big thick fluffy ones, so I often add a bit more milk than called for in the recipe. The pancakes take two or three minutes on each side until they are brown and cooked through. They each got some butter and then the tasty pile got some blueberry syrup. And I enjoyed the heck out of them.
Vanilla Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup (serves 4-6)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbls sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 3/4 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
3 tbl butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups frozen wild blueberries
1/2 cup simple syrup (or half cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup water)
juice from one lemon (or 1/4 cup Nantucket Nectars lemonade)
To make the syrup:
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, and cook over medium heat, until liquid is reduced and syrupy. Put aside.
For the pancakes:
Heat the milk and the vanilla bean to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean from milk and split lengthways, scraping out the seeds. Return the seeds and the bean to the milk, measure 1 1/2 cups and let it cool, any left over can be discarded. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the vanilla milk, the melted butter, eggs and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk together until combined.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add butter for cooking, and then use a paper towel to rub the butter on the bottom of the pan and remove the excess. Use about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. When the batter begins to bubble and the bubbles pop, the pancakes are probably ready to flip. Flip and cook for another two minutes or so, until golden brown. Remove pancakes to plate, and pour on the syrup. Enjoy!
Chicken was the theme last week.
I shopped on Sunday, and I ended up with a whole roaster as well as chicken pieces. I haven’t roasted a chicken in a long time. I love roasted chicken. It is really very easy, but so comforting, and for some reason, always seems to impress company. The best part I think is actually the leftovers. You can do so many things with them, but I opted for chicken pot pie this time around, which I will get to in a post of its own. The chicken pieces became an experiment in the heretofore unexplored world of fried chicken. That will also get a post of its own…
Typically, I roast chicken with butter and sage under the skin, and lemons in the cavity. Or occasionally I will make a paste of fresh herbs, lots of salt and pepper, garlic, balsamic and olive oil, but the roasted chicken from The Zuni Cafe in California is stuff of legend, and I wanted to give it a try.
Roasted chicken really is fantastic. You can’t get much more bang for your buck, and no meat-eater can turn down a piece of well roasted chicken, moist meat, crispy skin, a ton of flavor. And it really is pretty easy to do. You don’t want to over cook it, but with a little bit of practice, over cooking gets harder and harder to do.
The Zuni method involves a lot of salt on a chicken that has been rinsed and well dried. You salt it the day before you are going to cook it, and you leave it loosely wrapped in the fridge over night.
The idea is that the salt makes the chicken more flavorful and moist. You are supposed to use a pretty small chicken, like 3 1/2 pounds because it gets roasted on high heat, and a larger chicken might dry out at that temperature before it is cooked all the way through. I used a 4 1/2 pound chicken and thought it worked just fine, but I probably wouldn’t go any bigger than that.
So after the chicken was salted and hung out overnight, the skin seemed smoother, more taut, and drier than the chickens I usually roast. I am not sure why, but I took this as a good sign. I did a couple of things differently than I usually do, per the Zuni instructions. I roasted it at 475 degrees, and I did it in the cast iron frying pan. The instructions are to preheat the pan on top of the stove and effectively sear the bottom of the chicken on the hot pan before it goes into the oven. About half way through the cooking, you turn the bird up side down for a short time, and the sear at the beginning keeps the chicken from sticking and helps the skin get crispy.
It did look lovely when it came out of the oven…
Umm, chicken is a weird thing to photograph, raw or cooked. Which is perhaps why when you see professionally styled food photographs of poultry most of the time they are taken as part of a larger scene and not right up in the bird’s body cavity as I felt the need to do. Please pardon me for that. The photographs are a learning process for me. Trust me, I read other food blogs, blogs where the photography is astounding and makes everything look freakin fantastic, but this is real life, and this is what chicken looks like when it comes out of the oven and is photographed with a camera that has the very best intentions but is saddled with one auto focus lense and a mediocre photographer attached to it. I am just keeping it real here. Don’t want to give anyone false hope. How disappointed would you be if I took the most stunning photos ever, and then you made this chicken and it came out of the oven looking like the one in the photo and you were sad? I am actually doing you a favor as it turns out. You are welcome.
At any rate, this chicken was pretty dern tasty, and delightfully moist, as they promised it would be. My only gripe was the skin. It was delicious, and moderately crispy, but as long as the meat isn’t sawdust, I will usually sacrifice a little bit of moistness for the crispest skin ever (that may be sacrilege, but it is absolutely the truth, I like dark meat besides…) And this wasn’t the crispest skin ever. So I think it could be improved upon.
Which brings about a new project. I am embarking on a chicken roasting extravaganza this winter. I will try all different methods, and I will bring in an independent panel to taste them with me, and we will take notes and determine the best way to roast a chicken. I will report back each time I do it. This is gonna be fantastic. I need to wrangle some chicken testing volunteers. If you are interested, let me know. I will re-do the this one, so I can take appropriate notes on method and result, and I will find all the other ways out there to roast, and I will include them as well, and I will find my favorite way to roast a bird, come hell or high water. This is going to be fun.
To go with the chicken this time, I roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli. I have been wanting to tell you about the broccoli forever, because it is easy and delicious and quite frankly, was a total revelation, since until I saw the recipe in Fine Cooking I had certainly never thought to roast broccoli. Now I am pretty sure I have not eaten it any other way since. It is very easy, and very delicious. And the best part is that it is as good room temperature as it is hot, so you can do it ahead of time, or eat it left over with excellent results.
You start with a head or two or three of broccoli. I like to find ones with long stems, because I like to trim up the stems and roast those as well. I cut the broccoli so all the stems are similar in size, and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
These get roasted for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, and I flip them once with a spatula during cooking. The broccoli will be cooked through and starting to brown. The broccoli comes out of the oven and goes into a bowl, and then I squeeze the juice of a lemon over it, and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese. For three heads of broccoli I used about a half cup of cheese. Taste the broccoli and if you want to add more cheese, go for it.
This is great hot, warm, room temperature or cold. I have eaten it at all temperatures, and I am not even sure I have a favorite. So there it is, the roasted broccoli I have been wanting to share for ever. Easy, quick and by far my favorite way to eat broccoli. A great side dish for the cooler weather.
Next post: fried chicken, chicken pot pie, ribs or guacamole, how could I possibly choose?