TDB Homemade: Guacamole

Super Bowl weekend is rapidly approaching, and for some, that means hosting a party and making numerous appetizers to stave off hunger during the hours it takes to watch the game. With ballet in our blood, the Dancing Buckeyes are more at home in the theater than the stadium. But considering that the NY Giants will be playing, I’m sure my New York City household will at least watch some highlights from the game, and guacamole is certain to be gracing our menu that day!

Guacamole is one of those beloved accompaniments to the ubiquitous game-watching tortilla chip. You can tweak it to your liking, adding more or less spice, plus it’s extremely healthy, which you can’t claim about numerous other chip dips. So whether or not you will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend, you may eventually have a need to enjoy a dip or two of guacamole.

1  ripe avocado
4-5 grape tomatoes
1 Tbl. finely diced onion (red or white)
1 clove garlic, pressed
small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
twist of lime (about 1 tsp.)
1 small dried chile, crushed (optional)
salt to taste

Slice lengthwise through the avocado , around the seed, to divide the avocado in half. With a spoon, scoop out the flesh from the shell. Remove the avocado seed by hitting a knife into its center, then twisting clockwise. The seed should easily be removed if the avocado is fully ripe. If, for some reason, the knife won’t remove the seed, you should be able to push it out with a spoon.

Place the avocado flesh in a medium bowl and mash with a fork until you have a smooth, silky texture. If you prefer, leave a few medium size chunks of avocado for a slightly different texture. Add the onion and garlic. Squeeze the juice and seeds from the tomatoes and chop them into quarters. Add to the bowl. Add the cilantro, dried chili (optional), and salt. Add the twist of lime. You may also add some lime zest if you choose, which adds another level of zesty citrus. Combine all the ingredients together. Taste and add more salt if you need. If you choose not to add the dried chili, you may want to add a good grind of fresh pepper. Serve with some blue corn chips (my favorite brand is, Xochitl) for an added burst of color. Go team…..and go guacamole!!!!

Tips and variations:

  • Guacamole is very versatile and should be made to taste. Feel free to adjust the amounts on any of the ingredients.
  • Add a bit of finely diced jalapeñ0 or a pinch of chili powder for another dimension of flavor.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled!) depending on your crowd and appetites.
  • Guacamole is best when made fresh because it oxidizes very quickly. If yours must be made a few hours ahead of time, or if you have any leftovers, preserve its freshness by covering it with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent air contact.
  • Guacamole makes a great spread on sandwiches, by itself or mixed with a just a bit of mayo.

Oven Roasted Tomato & Pepper Pasta

For one reason or another, I have been on a veggie roasting spree. I came up with this recipe one afternoon, when I saw that the bowl of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter looked like they didn’t have more than a day left in their life span, and I recalled that red pepper sitting in my fridge that could use a culinary rescue asap. Once you’ve assembled your vegetables together and placed them in the oven, you can sit back and relax- ok, or clean the house, do the laundry, bathe the children, etc- until they’re done roasting. Chop some basil, boil some water, cook your pasta, and you are good to go. During the winter months, when summer heirloom tomatoes are a distant memory, grape and cherry tomatoes tend to be sweet and ripe, which is why I tend to have them on hand to use in salads and just as snacks. This dish is quite easy on the pocket with fabulously delicious results. Then, again, it’s usually the simpler things in life that are (and taste!) better.

1 lb. (box) of pasta, whatever shape you prefer
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in halves or quarters
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in halves
1 red pepper, seeds removed, chopped roughly
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
medium handful of fresh thyme stalks (optional)
1 large handful of fresh basil, torn in pieces by hand
1/2 c. olive oil
1/3-1/2 c. chicken stock
2 Tbl. butter (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, for grating

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Meanwhile, in a large roasting pan, place all your sliced tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and thyme (if using). Add the olive oil and sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. With your hands, toss the vegetables, making sure everything is coated nicely with oil. Pour the chicken stock into the pan from one corner, as you just want the liquid to remain at the bottom of the pan and not remove all the spices and oil from your vegetables. Place the pan into the preheated oven and allow the vegetables to roast for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until the tomatoes and peppers’ skins are wrinkled and browned nicely, and you begin to smell that lovely roasted smell wafting from your oven. From time to time, while the veggies roast, check to see if you need to shake the pan a bit to loosen any pieces that may be sticking to the pan, or if you need to add any more oil or liquid.

While the vegetables are roasting in the oven, bring a large stock pot of salted water to a rolling boil. About 10 minutes before your veggies finish roasting, begin to cook your pasta. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, making sure to reserve a bit of the cooking water (about a cup or so). Toss in everything from your roasting pan, making sure to remove any of the thyme stalks, if you chose to include this ingredient. Add the butter and torn basil. Give everything a few good stirs. Adjust the seasonings, and if you need some more liquid in the sauce, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water. This dish is fantastic on its own, but if you crave something heartier, you could always include a few meatballs on the side.

Marcona Almonds

It’s that time of year, when I get excited to come up with numerous appetizers to lay out for guests during the holiday season. Recently my family was invited over to a friend’s house, where we were served some toasted rosemary Marcona almonds in garlic oil. They were absolutely delicious! I somehow situated myself on the corner of the table where those lovely, round delights lay, popping one after another. I didn’t eat the entire plate, but without some personal restraint, I most likely would have.

Originating from Spain, Marcona almonds are shorter, rounder, and sweeter than the almond variety you most likely are familiar with. It is possible to purchase raw Marcona almonds, with the shell removed, but the seedcoat still attached. However, it is more likely that you will find at your local grocer Marcona almonds that have been blanched, which is the process of soaking the nut in hot water to soften the dark seedcoat to facilitate its removal,  exposing the white embryo.

This dish is perfect for a cocktail party, or in a medley of appetizers, much like mezze, prior to a dinner party. I like the addition of rosemary and garlic oil, however, you could simply sauté the almonds lightly in plain olive oil with equally delicious results.

6-8 oz. Marcona almonds, blanched
1/4 c. garlic oil
1  sprig rosemary (about 4″ in length)
salt to taste

In a small sauté pan, on low heat, add the oil and rosemary sprig. Allow the rosemary to infuse into the oil for about 4-5 minutes. Remove the rosemary; set aside. Add the almonds and allow them to toast until they have a nice golden color. Remove the almonds and place them on a piece of paper towel to soak up any extra oil. Sprinkle a small amount of salt over the almonds and arrange on a plate with the rosemary sprig as a garnish.

Arugula Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

I love to eat pomegranate, so I always become excited when the winter holidays roll around and pomegranates are in season. There’s a certain hidden beauty about pomegranates. When you cut through their unassuming leathery skin, luscious seeds, just waiting to explode with dark red juice, reveal themselves. I have fond childhood memories of myself spurting red juice all over the kitchen while I attempted to remove the seeds from their membrane casings. The intensity of each little pomegranate seed’s juice, followed by the crunchy inner core will forever remain one of my cherished holiday memories.

The spicy, peppery taste of the arugula pairs nicely with the sweetness of the pomegranate. If you don’t have any garlic oil on hand, don’t feel that it is absolutely necessary to run out and buy some. Making your own is ridiculously easy. All you need are 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into fourths. Heat about 1 cup of olive oil in a small butter pan on low heat. Add the garlic and allow its flavor to infuse into the oil. Make sure that you keep the flame as low as possible, or else the garlic will burn too quickly. Continue cooking the oil for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the oil to cool. Strain the oil into a glass container and toss the leftover garlic.

7 oz. baby arugula, cleaned and dried
1/2 a pomegranate
1/3 c. garlic oil
2 tsp. fig balsamic vinegar
2 Tbl. pomegranate seeds
2 Tbl. toasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste

Remove about 2 Tbl. of the pomegranate’s seeds; set aside. In a small bowl, gently squeeze the sliced half of pomegranate, allowing the juices to flow. It’s ok if a few loose seeds fall out into the bowl as well. *Please wear an apron while squeezing the pomegranate. No matter how “careful” I think I will be, I almost always end up squirting bright red juice someplace!* Add the fig balsamic vinegar. While whisking, slowly pour the garlic oil into the bowl. When the dressing is mixed together completely, taste and adjust ingredients according to your taste. Set aside.

Place the arugula greens into a large salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the pine nuts and pomegranate seeds. Pour over the dressing. Toss to coat. Serve immediately. If you would like to dress up this salad even further, feel free to add some small pieces of chopped orange, or even turn the salad into a main course by including some pan fried potatoes with rosemary.