guacamole (with bacon!)

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I used to be afraid of guacamole.  The thought of eating an avocado scared me.  They were green and mushy and terrifying and who oh why would anyone want to put that in their mouth?!  It seriously baffled me.  I went through almost 25 years of avoiding avocados at restaurants, asking for it to be omitted from sandwiches, shoving free guacamole to the side of my plate when i went out for Mexican food, turning my nose up at pretty much anything that came in contact with an avocado.

Then something magical happened.

Once thing that i love about cooking is that it has gotten me to try so many foods that I would never normally try.  There is something about starting from scratch and really understanding where the flavors come from that sheds a whole new light on a dish.  It somehow makes even the weirdest ingredients seem less scary.

Enter: avocados.

My boyfriend could only put up with my avocado and guacamole aversion for so long.  At his breaking point, he took it upon himself to make some from scratch and to force me to try it, and I haven’t looked back.

We’ve made this recipe countless times now and I think we’ve finally perfected it.  Although I now welcome restaurant-made guacamole into my hear with open arms, there is nothing like this version that we developed in our own kitchen, complete with chunky tomatoes and crunchy bacon bits.

guacamole
3 avocados
4 cloves of garlic
2 serrano peppers
1/2 small white onion
juice of 1/2 lime
3 tablespoons cilantro
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters*
6 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and finely chopped**
kosher salt

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Cut avocados in half and remove pits.  Scoop out the pulp of the avocados into a large bowl.

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Peel cloves of garlic and cut stems from serrano peppers.  Chop the garlic and peppers together, until minced.  Combine garlic and serranos with avocado and mash with a potato masher until you reach your desired consistency.  I like a chunkier guacamole so I don’t mash it to death in this early step.

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Finely chop half of a white onion and rinse in a colander under cold water.  This will get rid of some of the sharpness of the raw onion flavor.  Add onion to avocado mixture and mix together.  Add juice of 1/2 lime and mix.

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Chop up both the leaves and stems of your cilantro-  there is a lot of flavor packed into the stems! Add cilantro to avocado mixture and stir to combine.

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Gently mix in the tomatoes and bacon.

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Finally, salt the guacamole to taste.  I recommend salting at the very end, as the bacon will impart some salty flavor into the guacamole.

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Let guacamole sit in the refridgerator for at least an hour to allow the flavors to come together.  There are rumors out there that keeping an avocado pit in your guacamole will keep it from browning, but it’s never worked for me.  Instead, make sure to place plastic wrap directly over the guacamole and then cover with a tight fitting lid to prevent browning.

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Now all you need are some chips and a football game, and you’ve got a perfect afternoon snack!

* I like the crunch and sweetness of using cherry tomatoes, but roma tomatoes would be a good substitute if you don’t have any cherry tomatoes on hand.

** You can prepare the bacon one of two ways.  When I don’t have the time or energy to stand in front of the stove, I place the bacon on a greased wire rack over a sheet pan in a 425° oven for about 25 minutes, until crispy.  However, there is no comparing the crispiness you get from cooking your bacon on the stove-top in a skillet, preferably cast-iron.

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chipotle crusted scallops + roasted poblano and sweet corn risotto

My lack of blogging over the last few weeks can undoubtedly be attributed to the fourth of July holiday.  I had a glorious 11 day vacation from work, during which I rode my bicycle, laid on the beach, played with my dog, drank margaritas in the middle of the afternoon, and indulged in daily afternoon naps.   As cheesy as the term “staycation” may be, it was one of the most relaxing and fun vacations I’ve had in a while.  I avoided all sense of responsibility and normalcy, including cooking (and the impending pile of dishes that would inevitably clutter my tiny apartment kitchen).

But after a few weeks of take-out and meandering boozy brunches, I was itching to get back into the kitchen and make something comforting and familiar.  Nothing new and nerve-wrecking, nothing that would require research and planning.  So, I went with an old favorite: risotto.

Ingredients

Everyone always talks about how difficult and time-consuming making risotto can be, but it’s the first thing I ever taught myself to cook and have made countless variations of the dish over the last several years.  I think that with risotto, practice just makes perfect.  Lucky for you, I have plenty of practice!  I promise to share many more variations of risotto on the blog in the future, but I thought this was a great summery place to start.

I like to do as much of my weekly grocery shopping at the farmer’s market during the summer months, and this is the perfect recipe to use some of that delicious sweet corn that only comes around during this time of year.  Roasting the poblanos gives the rice a deep smoky flavor that compliments the pops of crunchy sweet corn thrown in right at the end.

Roasted Poblano and Sweet Corn Risotto
2 poblano peppers
2 cobs of sweet corn, husks removed
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minces shallot
1 tablespoon minced celery
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup queso fresco
salt + pepper

Roasted Poblanos

Spray poblano peppers with cooking spray and set on a sheet pan in your broiler.  Broil peppers about 10 minutes per side, until the skin is dark and wrinkly.  When removing the pepper from the broiler, immediately place them in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid for 15 minutes.  This will steam them and allow the skin to separate from the meat of the pepper and will make your life oh-so-much-easier.  Once the 15 minutes are up, remove the skin and seeds from the peppers, roughly chop them and set them aside.

Poblano in Pot

Next you want to prepare your corn.  The magic of sweet corn is that you don’t even need to cook it.  It is sweet and delicious on its own, so this cooking step is quick.  Turn a burner on your stove to high heat and place a cob directly over the flame.  Rotate the cob every few seconds until the corn is slightly blackened on all sides.  Repeat with remaining cobs and let cool.  When the corn has cooled cut the kernels from the cobs and save the kernels for later.

Roasted Corn

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Place the cobs in a medium saucepan with the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil and then keep at a simmer until you are ready to start adding the stock to your rice.  Boiling the corn cobs in your chicken stock will really enhance the flavor of the sweet corn in the risotto.

Corn in Stock

Veggies

Set your non-stick pan over medium heat (I love to use my ceramic dutch oven for making risottos for the evenly distributed heat).  When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil.  Once melted, add the garlic, shallots and celery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened, but not brown.  Next you will add the arborio rice.

Starting Rice

Toasting the rice is a very important step in making a good risotto. You’ll know when it’s ready by the smell.   The rice will give off a nutty, toasty aroma that will fill your kitchen.  Once your rice is toasted, add the poblano peppers and continue to toast for a minute or two to infuse the rice with the poblano flavor.

Add the wine to the rice mixture and cook until the pan is almost dry.  Remove the corn cobs from the chicken stock and discard them.  Once the wine has been absorbed, add a ladle or two of chicken stock and stir until the rice has absorbed almost all of the stock.  this is where the “babysitting” aspect of cooking risotto comes into play.  You want to allow the rice to absorb almost all of the stock before adding more, but you don’t want to let the pan completely dry out.  Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time until the rice is creamy, but still has a slight bite to it.  This will take about 30 minutes.  You may not need all of the chicken stock.

Add Stock

The trickiest part of making risotto is knowing when to stop adding the chicken stock.  Adding too little yields a crunchy risotto, but adding too much yields a mushy risotto.  You’re looking for the middle ground.  The best way to achieve a perfect risotto is to taste the rice after each addition of stock, once it has absorbed most of the moisture.

When the rice has reached the perfect consistency, season with salt and pepper.  Add remaining two tablespoons of butter .  Once the butter has melted, add the corn kernels and stir.  Add the crumbled queso fresco at the very end and stir to combine.

chipotle crusted scallops
1 pound fresh sea scallops
1/4 cup all purpose flour
salt + pepper
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
2 tablespoons butter

Scallops in Pan

Pat scallops dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Combine flour with chipotle powder.  Lightly dredge the scallops in the flour mixture, making sure to shake off the excess.

Crusty Scallops

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes.  When hot, add butter.  When the butter has melted, add scallops in a single layer and cook for 3 minutes per side.  You may need to do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your scallops

Done

Bonus:  If you have leftover risotto, stick it in the fridge overnight.  When chilled, it will be easy to roll into balls, lightly flour, and pan (or deep) fry.  Risotto cakes are a great appetizer or can be turned into a full-blown meal when served with a salad.

Dinner for 2

 

 

box lunches: chile rubbed chicken + tomatillo salsa + mexican rice

I know that Friday afternoons are not usually the best time to consider the following work week, but I do all my meal planing on Fridays.  I hate spending the whole weekend doing chores and shopping and cooking, so I plan out the following week’s meals on Friday nights, shop on Saturday, and usually spend Sunday in a whirlwind cooking up delicious things to feed me and Mike for the next week.  Spreading out the process makes it seem far less daunting (and it gives me ample opportunity to add forgotten items to my grocery list).

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This week I bring you one of the oldest box lunches in my arsenal.  It’s one that I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s a favorite in our rotation:  chile rubbed chicken with tomatillo salsa and Mexican rice.  I use this Food Network recipe for the chicken and salsa.  I use 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and usually double the marinade.  I also tend to double the salsa recipe because it’s delicious and I like to eat it with chips, on tacos, with quesadillas…you get the point.

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When I lived in my mom’s house, we would cook the chicken on the grill, which gave it a great smoky flavor.  Now that I’m trapped in a teeny tiny apartment, I cut the chicken into strips before marinating overnight and cook it on a foil-lined pan at 425° for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

This combination of recipes (and 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts) yields 8 box lunches, with some rice to spare.

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I’ve played my Mexican rice recipe over the last few years and have finally got it down to a science.  The trick for a great Mexican rice is to prepare the salsa the night before you plan on cooking the rice.  This lets the flavors deepen and creates a much more flavorful end result.

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Mexican Rice
6 medium tomatoes on the vine
2 large jalapenos
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 small white onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, divided in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups medium grain rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 lime

Roast the tomatoes on a baking sheet in your broiler for about 10-15 minutes per side, flipping halfway through.  You’ll know they’re done when the skin shrivels and blackens.  Let tomatoes cool.  Once cool, peel the skin off the roasted tomatoes and discard.

While the tomatoes are roasting in the broiler, place unpeeled garlic and jalapenos in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Roast vegetables until blackened on all sides.  (If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, this step can be done in the broiler while the tomatoes are cooling.) When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic and roughly chop the peppers.

Place the chopped onion in a colander or strainer and rinse under cool water for a minute or two, then shake out the excess water.  This will help to remove the sharp raw onion taste and will help the salsa flavors meld together more evenly.

Puree garlic, jalapenos and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor to form a paste.  Add the tomatoes and their juices and puree until you reach your desired consistency (I like to puree until smooth, but if you like a chunkier salsa in your rice, go for it).  Next, add chopped onion and pulse until everything is incorporated.  Chop half of the cilantro and add to the salsa mixture.  Pulse a few more times to evenly incorporate the cilantro.  The salsa can be used immediately to make the rice, but i find that the flavor is much better if left in the fridge in an airtight container overnight.

Be sure to take the salsa out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before continuing onto the next step.

To make the rice, preheat your oven to 350° and heat a ceramic dutch oven on the stove-top over medium heat until hot, about 5 minutes. Add oil and allow it to heat up for a minute or two.  Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes to, stirring occasionally. Don’t worry if some kernels brown.

Add the salsa mixture to rice and let it sear for 1 minute.  Then, add the chicken stock and the remaining teaspoon of kosher salt.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, stir it once before covering with a tight-fitting lid.  Baked at 350° for 25 minutes. After removing the rice from the oven, keep the lid on and let it stand for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.  Lastly, chop and add the remaining cilantro and the juice of 1/2 of a lime.  Fluff the rice with a fork and it’s ready to eat!

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My favorite way to eat this meal is to reheat the chicken and rice, then mix in the cold fresh salsa.  The salsa offsets the heat of the chicken and rice, so it’s a a refreshing way to have lunch at your desk.

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