Thursday, July 2, 2015

Heart ’n’ Soul Guacamole

I’m always surprised to see that I haven’t yet posted a recipe for Guacamole - but who needs a recipe? Guacamole is something you make from the heart and soul - no need for a cookbook.
The ingredients vary by cultural and individual preference, but the basic avocado, tomato, salt, hot seasoning, and lime (or lemon) juice are always present. A short while ago, I found a Guacamole recipe that uses mayonnaise - yuck, yuck, and yuck - not to my taste, but perhaps to yours. 
Guacamole offers many variations on a theme, the worst of which resembles a menacing shade of green once prevalent in toothpaste and on the walls of institutions for the incurably, criminally insane. I speak from experience. Of the former. Not the latter. Not yet, anyway.
Some supermarkets try to pass off this glow-in-the-dark horror as Guacamole. Make no mistake: It is not. Watch as it slowly slithers and slides from its opaque plastic container - a congealed brick of glop. Avoid this product lest you land in an institution for the incurably, criminally insane 
For those of you Dollinks who have been duped and brainwashed into thinking this is how Guacamole tastes, I’ve got news for you. The recipe below is proof positive that you can make a very decent Guacamole for very little money and very little time. The ingredients, quantity, and proportions are approximate - taste it until you like it, but don’t taste it all or youll have nothing left. 
Guacamole is excellent served with chips, small crackers, or beside the salsa and sour cream you serve with quesadillas. We aim to please, so if you want to make some of those quesadillas, youll find my Three-Pepper Quesadillas indexed under Mexican. Happy eating, muchachas y muchachos!

Heart ’n’ Soul Guacamole:

1/4 c. finely chopped onion
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1-1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice (or half a lime, juiced)
1-1/2-to-2 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. chopped fresh garlic
3/4 tsp. salt (do not reduce)
1/4 tsp. chili powder
2-to-3 ripe avocados, peeled at the last moment and lightly mashed (see Note)
Cilantro sprigs, as garnish

In a work bowl, combine all except cilantro. Cover and let flavors blend at least 45 min. This is mandatory, unless you miss the good ol school days when you thought library paste was a food group. Consider yourself warned. Transfer Guacamole to serving dish; garnish with cilantro.

Note: I’ve found that the very best place to mash avocados is on a clean chopping board. From there, they just slip into your work bowl, never giving them a chance to brown. Don’t over-mash them or you’ll purée it; a light mashing produces the irregular, appealing texture that sticks to the cracker, crisp, or stomach onto which you heap this Heart ’n’ Soul Guacamole. 

Guilty Secret Note: The best way to combine this mixture is with clean fingers and hands. A spoon, fork, or (No! No! No!) electric mixer is a poor second-best to your Hände.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Carole’s Superb Roasted Veggies

Meet Carole Dickinson Ridley, my friend for the past 40 years. ACK! ACK! ACK! Carole’s going to kill me! I can’t seem to remove
the photo on the left! Carole’s a great cook who rarely uses recipes (She rarely reads this blog, either, which is also great: The photo won’t go away). Carole and I have laughed together (which goes without saying) and cried together. There was a time when we were so close that she even suggested we trade outfits. I politely declined without giving a reason, but hinted that she had big shoes to fill and I couldn’t possibly be as stylish as she is.  

Carole’s also in the  shot on the right - hair askew, no makeup on her face. 
Shes very brave to allow herself to be photographed that way. Personally, I wouldn’t dare. I’ve never been caught without makeup, mostly because every photographer whos tried has run from the room, screaming. 
I stayed at Carole’s house last week, enjoying her hospitality and - ta dah! - her superb vegetables roasted in coconut oil. I said I wanted the recipe. She said she didn’t have one.  Carole says this method works with any vegetable, though she went through some trial and error before she achieved success. Preheating her oven to 350 deg. F., then she set to work. So here’s what I watched her do!

Carole’s Superb Roasted Veggies:

Use your choice of assorted vegetables such as broccoli, red onions, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, and so forth. Peel and prepare veggies as you would for boiling or steaming. Salt and pepper them to taste.
Carole leaves the skin on small potatoes, sprinkling the spuds with garlic powder and/or fresh rosemary on top of the usual S&P. Dot these veggies with generous lashings of refrigerated (see Note) coconut (or olive) oil, with the amount of oil dependent on the amount of potatoes you’re preparingToss everything to thoroughly combine the oil and spuds well; roast, uncovered, about 35 min. Toss them once or twice as they roast, checking their tenderness. 
Cauliflower, Carole trims into biggish chunks in a separate uncovered casserole dish, following the same method, temperature, and time. 
Broccoli and red onions, Carole roasts together, in one casserole dish, because she likes the blend of flavors. Be sure to combine veggies of the same approximate cooking times rather than adding mushrooms to carrots, for example. If one type of vegetable is finished before another, she simply covers it with foil so it wont over-roast before the rest is done.
Once again, Carole pours coconut (or olive) oil over everything, tossing everything well before placing it in the oven, uncovered, to roast as she does above. 
Carole does mushrooms differently: She baked the ones she served me (also at 350 deg. F.), slicing them directly into a little coconut oil in a small casserole, giving them a little toss, and covering the casserole to keep them from drying out. How long, I asked? “I don’t time these, but they don’t take very long,” she says.

Note: Refrigerating the oil will solidify it, allowing it to be dabbed rather than poured. 

Postscript: Meet Bud Ridley, Carole’s loving mate. Everyone says they have so much in common ...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Banana Frappe

This hot summer weather means bananas ripen fast (Sorry, Australia, but we’re sweltering in the Time Zone and at the Latitude Where I Live). So here’s a way to use ’em up even faster.

Banana Frappe:

2 ripe or brown-spotted bananas
1 egg
1 c. cold milk 
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. ice cubes

Add all ingredients to blender. Buzz like H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks, until most of ice is crushed or has disappeared. Serve at once. Yields 2-to-3 large glasses.

Note: If you want to substitute a splash of cold coffee for half the milk, reduce the milk to 1/2 cup. 

Banana Frappe: Thick, creamy, and nutritious! 

Totally anonymous woman slugs yummy Banana 
Frappe while showing off costly dental work. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookie

When I recently discovered that I’d lost my very best peanut butter cookie recipe, I went on the rampage/on the hunt for a new and better one. This is it! My 10-year-old grand-daughter Sydney made these as I looked on.

The Ultimate Peanut Butter Cookie:

1 c. butter or margarine, softened
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars about 5 min. or until no grainy feeling remains when you rub a little batter between finger and thumb. 
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Slowly add to batter, beating on low speed between additions. When well combined, beat in vanilla extract. 
Roll into balls the size of whole walnuts. Flatten using the floured 
bottom of a glass. Using a floured fork, make a criss-cross pattern on each cookie. Bake 6-to-7 min. for soft, puffy cookies and 10-to-12 min. for chewy ones, watching that the cookies don’t over-brown. Makes 4 dozen.

Sydney stands on a stool to measure the ingredients.

Success! Ready for the oven! 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Summer Brunch

Come for coffee! Why not an easy brunch, instead? Fill purchased  croissants with scrambled eggs, add juice, some fresh fruit, and yes! - a cuppa tea or coffee. Now isn’t that better than a mere “cup of coffee”? The good news is that this simple brunch is quick and memorable. We enjoyed it on our deck a couple of days ago.

For a hit of piquancy, add chopped green onion to your eggs. 

Broccoli Slaw

My trusty friend Lorna, who is full of good ideas, sent me this recipe four years ago. As the organized person I am, I’d neatly tucked it into an unlabeled file and completely forgotten about it. So there it was, staring me in the face, and there I was, with every single ingredient on hand. How could I not try it? Once I did, I knew Id be making this gorgeous salad over and over again. 

Add some cooked chicken, and this is all you’ll need for a main course summer meal, but I like it just fine as a scrumptious summer salad! The quantity below serves 2 or 3.

To Prepare the Salad:

Broccoli Slaw:

1-1/2 c. chopped broccoli, trimmed into flowerets and peeled, sliced stalks
1 or 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 apple, unpeeled and diced into 1/2-in. pieces
1/3 c. dried cranberries
3 tbsp. sunflower or pumpkin seeds, toasted 5 or 6 min. 

In workbowl, combine all ingredients except seeds. Toss lightly and set aside.

To Prepare the Dressing:

Yogurt Dressing:

2 tbsp. full-fat, plain yogurt (such as Greek yogurt)
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. maple syrup

Shake together in a covered jar. Pour over salad, tossing well. Transfer to serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate two or three hours ahead, adding seeds immediately before serving.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Nicole’s Watermelon-Tomato Greek Salad

This is the best and most refreshing sweet variation on a Greek salad that you’ll ever taste - just as good at a picnic as it was for the Dinner Party Ron and I hosted last night! 

NicoleWatermelon-Tomato Greek Salad

NicoleWatermelon-Tomato Greek Salad:

1-3/4 lb. (795 g) heirloom grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise 
1 seedless mini-watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1-1/4-in. cubes
3/4 tsp. coarsely ground salt
Generous grinding of coarsely ground black pepper, to taste (see Note)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar, to taste 
¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar or blood-orange vinegar 
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
10-to-12 pitted kalamata olives, whole
1 c. soft goat cheese, crumbled 
3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley

In a medium work bowl, lightly combine tomatoes and watermelon.   In a small covered jar, shake together salt, pepper, sugar, oil, and vinegar. Pour over tomatoes and watermelon, tossing lightly. Let stand 20 min., stirring occasionally. Add bell pepper and kalamata olives, again tossing lightly. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkling with soft goat cheese and parsley. Serve at once. 

*   *   *

Now, then! I greatly modified this recipe from one I found in the July, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine - so much so, that I can call this salad an original. Because I made it for a Dinner Party, I’ll show you how the table looked! But first, a couple of notes on making everything sparkle: Would you offer wine glasses with lipstick on the rim? Plates that are chipped or marked with thumb prints? No, you would not. So pay the same caring attention to your cutlery, whether its silver or stainless steel.

I have a brick-load of silver plate cutlery I began collecting it when I was 18, more than mmmffff-mmmfff years ago. I use it and polish it regularly, storing it in plastic so it will stay clean longer. It’s a myth that you can’t store silver in plastic: What’s good enough for silver museums is good enough for me. Use and enjoy your precious possessions!

Store your silver in plastic bags!

What’s already clean doesn’t take long to clean again. If I can avoid it, I’d rather not have tarnished forks at my table. Adding cutlery to each place setting requires thought and precision: Walk yourself through each course so you won’t forget anything important.

Clean cutlery with a cloth impregnated with  
jewelers’ rouge for a residue-free job.  

I enjoy tablescaping: If you don’t, do whatever feels good for you. It usually takes me awhile to achieve the look I want. Part of my fussing involves arranging the cutlery, plates, glasses, and serving dishes on the table in a way I find pleasing. I dont measure anything, but try to do my best to ensure the cutlery is an inch from the edge of the table and equidistant from the plate for each setting. 

Fussing at this early stage is well worth the extra time.

It takes awhile to build the look of any table. Have patience and work slowly. I chose a blue-themed table because it reminded me of my favorite Greek restaurants - and this was a Greek meal.

We sampled Retsina - white wine flavored with pine-resin. 
The Greeks have made this type of wine for more than 
 2,000 years. I served it in this $8 decanter I found in a 
tiny Italian town some 20 years ago ... a nice memory

At the very last minute, I added some blue glasses 
for our taste-testing. Retsina is definitely an acquired taste! 

Our guests had fun ...

And so did Ron and I ... 

And thats what its all about! To set the mood, Ron played Greek music on his iPod. You’ll find other entertaining tips under the Dinner Party Series heading in this blog’s Index.

Note: If you enjoy a cool summer salad, try my Watermelon-Feta Salad, indexed under Salads: Watermelon-Feta.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Chocolate-Bran Muffins

Another favorite! My long-ago friend, Elaine McAndrew, gave me this recipe. I think of her each time I make it. Your recipes are part of your legacy. Share them! 

Delicious - and nutritious!

Chocolate-Bran Muffins:

1 - 16 oz. (500 g) pkg double-layer chocolate cake mix
1-1/3 c. water (or the amount the package stipulates)
8 large eggs
1-1/2 c. natural wheat bran (see Sickening Blech! Note)

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Combine all ingredients, mixing well (as you would for a cake, rather than for most muffins). Spoon into ungreased paper liners in muffin pan, filling each 2/3 full. Bake about 18 min., or until a toothpick comes out clean. Makes 2 dozen.

From start to finish ... Less than 30 min.!

Note: Serve with butter. These freeze well.

Sickening Blech! Note: One fine day, tra-la-tra-lee, I decided to make these with oat bran (which is pebbly) instead of natural wheat bran, which is flaked. They looked and smelled so-o-o-o delicious that I donated them to a community group before Id sampled them. This is where the “blech! part came in. I later learned that they were awful. Use only natural bran!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

No-Bake Peanut Butter-Chocolate Bars

These outstanding, five-star cookies taste exactly like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups - if not 
What foods these morsels be! Delectable - and easy.

better! I’ve slightly modified the original recipe (from Cruising Cuisine, by Kay Pastorius, 1997).

No-Bake Peanut Butter-Chocolate Bars:

1 c. graham cracker crumbs
2-1/2 c. icing sugar 
1/2 c. melted butter or margarine 
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. creamy peanut butter (do not use natural)
2 c. chocolate chips, melted

To a large bowl, add graham crumbs, icing sugar, butter or margarine, vanilla, and peanut butter, combining well with clean hands or gloves. Press evenly into ungreased 9x13-in. (23x33 cm) baking pan. Place in refrigerator, uncovered, 10-to-15 min. to harden. 

Pour melted chocolate over top, swirling evenly and gently, ensuring chocolate touches edges of pan. Chocolate will be thin, but sufficient. Refrigerate, uncovered, about 15 min. or until chocolate is firm (but not fully hardened) before slicing into bars. Return to fridge, chilling until chocolate hardens completely. Makes 32. 

Finger Lickin’ Note: Because this is such an incredibly delicious bar cookie, the recipe yields just one serving!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pommes de Terre Rissolées Rapides

Doesn’t the name of this recipe sound ... pretentious? This is how to - BING! - make Pommes de Terre Rissolées Rapides aka Instant Hash Browns without peeling, shredding, julienning, or doing anything else that requires work. 

Have you ever stared at a mountain of restaurant french fries you couldn’t eat because the serving was too big? And your Cousin Vinnie owns the joint and he’s in the mob and you wouldn’t look good in cement boots and you can’t stand the waste when the restaurant throws stuff out and you’re scared to tell Vinnie hes over-serving and his customers are getting fat and it’s all his fault. Is that what’s bothering you, Bunkie? 



Dice ’em!

Heat ’em on a griddle or on the slammers electric chair!

Dish ’em up for breakfast! And never let Vinnie know.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thunder and Lightning

Punster Peter Battistoni aka P.B.
My Facebook friend P.B., whose identity I have sworn to keep secret, has a punny sense of humor. P.B. shares his puns with his Facebook friends almost every day. One of P.B.’s puns inspired me to make this simple scone recipe. But first, his latest bon mots: 

I was almost caught in a lightning storm. Luckily, I bolted inside.

Har-har-har-har! Um ... I guess you had to be there. My response:

Knock knock! 

Who’s there? 
Thunder who?
Thunder enlightening. 

Har-har-ha- ??? Really??? Oh. Well, now. Let
’s move on, shall we?

Thunder and Lightning:

1 c. currants or craisins  
2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. shortening
Enough milk to make a soft dough, about 3/4 c.
Oil for frying, as needed

Plump currants or raisins (see Note); set aside. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and fruit all at once, stirring just until moistened. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough with floured pin until dough is about 1/4-in. (0.7 cm) thick. Cut into 2-1/2-in. (6 cm) rounds. Fry in a small amount of oil at medium-low heat until golden, about 2 min. per side. Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without jam. Makes 2 dozen.

Note: See Index for How to Plump Dried Fruits

Further Note: My guess is that these scones got their name after being cooked over a fire during an electrical storm. Maybe the lights went out? Maybe P.B. presented everyone with another pun? (Lord, I hope not). As for this punster’s identity? His secret
s safe with me.

Play time’s over! I need to return to my writing project! xox Nicole

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dinner Party Series: Fabulous Femmes Film Fest

Alice, our lovely photographer!
This year marks the 4th annual Fabulous Femmes Film Fest, a little party I try to give each May, gathering a few friends to enjoy a meal and a couple of Oscar-nominated films. I encourage you to host your own FFFF if you have a flat-screen TV and enjoy watching movies. 

As you may know, I love to play with color. This year, I used a pea-green cloth with matching plates and accessories. From time-to-time, the tables I set dont use conventional dinner table items. I like to pluck objects from all around the house, setting the table with oilcloth or newspapers (if that works with the theme I’ve chosen), tying cloth napkins with butcher twine, using an oil lantern on the table, using baskets plucked from here and there, and generally trying to put together fresh, fun ideas. 

With my mental plate piled high this year, I prepared a simple lunch that involved only minimal effort. If youre phobic about giving parties, why not do the same?

Using three cans of condensed tomato soup to make seven large servings, I prepared Looped Soup, an economical and dead-simple recipe youll find in the Index under Soup (Hot): Tomato (Looped). 

Slicing bagels in half, I arrayed three types of fillings so my guests could prepare their own sandwiches. I bought sliced turkey breast, sliced Swiss cheese, lettuce, sandwich pickles, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I also bought sliced smoked lox, cream cheese, capers, and red onion. I diced and prepared eggs so my guests could make their own egg salad sandwiches. And I bought the third course - a small, tiramisu-style cake - to save myself some time. 

My past blogs indexed as Dinner Party Series say a great deal about simplifying home entertaining, but these three points bear emphasizing:

1/ Given your level of energy, experience, and the size of your work space, don’t try to do more than you can do. Entertaining friends at home isnt a contest.
2/ Start your preparations early! Thats important. Set your table a day or two ahead. Plan your menu, taking out the utensils, serving dishes, and everything else youll need, well in advance.
3/ Place small notes on or into each empty serving bowl and tray, reminding yourself what needs to go in each. Make a tick list of each task necessary to get there, and you’ll feel more organized. Be sure to watch the clock!

So here’s how the meal looked! I set the tray of empty mugs on the table for show, removing them to the kitchen to be filled with gin-laced soup, which I served in the living room. Using a funnel will keep the soup from splashing against the sides of the mugs as theyre being filled. 

This was a casual meal - the FFFF is always a casual occasion - so after everyone had their mugs of soup, we allowed a good pause before the next course. After my guests made their own sandwiches, we once again retreated to the living room.

With lunch over, we were ready for main event - movies!with popcorn, lots more talking, and later, cake and tea. All in all, plenty of fun and not too much work. I hope these photos will inspire you to do something similar! 

Best Tip Ever: Fill a 30-cup coffee urn with water, bringing it to the boil midway through your party. When you offer coffee, use instant granules, filling your pot or cups with boiling water from the urn. When you offer herbal or regular tea, fill your pot or cups directly from the urn, too. This is my #1 tip for keeping things simple at a large party. The best place to buy these urns is on Craigslist or at a restaurant supply house. If you buy a used urn, be sure it functions as it should before you hand over your money. Getting a seven-day written warranty is also a smart idea.  

Start with a basic buffet setting: I often change it many times!

I usually add an extra setting and extra cutlery, just in case!
I served a gin-splashed tomato soup in these mugs.

Imagine where each food item will go after placing the basics.

Fresh, cold water is an essential! Water was more popular 
than the champagne cocktails I served as my guests arrived.

Among the basics: A good supply of napkins - 
with extras on hand in the kitchen, just in case!

Bagels dont dry out and are sturdier than sandwich bread
for making build-yer-own sandwiches.

Cream cheese, lox, thinly sliced red onion, and capers.
Do your grocery shopping a couple of days in advance.

Let your table be a happy jumble of candles, flowers, and food!

Use parsley to fill those otherwise-empty spaces.

Your gracious host! Let this photo be you!