15 October 2012

Holy guacamole! So many handy hints!

Cooking dinner tonight, I had another one of those lovely moments where you realise you are making something that until quite recently you had no idea how to do!

Back before the Mexican renaissance of late, we used to frequent a Tex Mex bar in Perth known as Santa Fe, I used to impress people with my ability to scarf down the entire serve of ribs, and guacamole was a mysterious delicacy of avocadoey goodness wrapped in a riddle, served as an enigma.

I have since taught myself to make guacamole, with a lot of trial and error, and a little help from Ready Steady Cook, a fervent conversation with my friend Luke and some heated debate with my ex-boyfriend Chris - which has led to a very flexible recipe. I'd love to know other people's variations!

I was making guacamole today as a filling for my steak sandwich/wrap; plus a few family gatherings of late have featured bro-in-lo's bro Tim's taco salad, which will have to have its own dedicated blog post soon (when I attempt to make it myself!) so I was feeling the avocado vibe.

Avocado and tomatoes are a staple on my grocery list, and guacamole is definitely a go-to now that I've mastered it.

In my mind, you MUST have:

- lots and lots (tonight's recipe featured one and a half Hass avocados, my breed of choice)

Handy hints with avocado:
#1 - when buying an avocado, very gently squeeze the narrow top part between thumb and forefinger. If it's unripe it will be too firm to have any "give". Too ripe and you'll lose your fingertips into it from squashyness. Just right and you'll feel a bit of give but no permanent dentage.

#2 - chop citrus (eg lime or lemon) with your knife first or drip some citrus juice on it to prevent oxidation of the cut edges.

#3 - to chop an avocado, halve it lengthways and give the halves a twist and pull apart. To remove the stone, slam your knife into it firmly at 90∘ to wedge the blade in there (fortune favours the brave, be firm). Turn the knife handle clockwise (and attached stone) like a lever and it should just plop the stone right on out of the flesh without too much hassle and slipperydippery. Now half your halves again ie cut the avocado into lengthways quarters. At this size, it is very easy to simply grip the skin firmly at one tip and peel the skin off the flesh, as if you were peeling a banana. No more wasted flesh smooshed into the skins!

- I then dice the avocado very finely and transfer it to a bowl to mash with a fork; or if it is very very ripe you can just mash it without dicing.

- a bit, finely diced (I prefer to buy a punnet of Grape tomatoes when I do my regular grocery shop, but this time I used the slightly larger Mini-Roma tomatoes; for tonight's guacamole I used 8 of them to go with my one and a half avocados). Here's a pic, with a teaspoon for scale, and my pretty new red knife (it comes with its own red blade sheath too!):

- a generous amount (I used the juice of one lime to the above ratio of ingredients)

Handy hints when juicing a lime (or any citrus fruit):

I'll assume you are using your hands - as Rick Stein's Spain programme has taught us, "citrus juicers are for wusses"!

#1 - Microwave the lime for 10-20 seconds to release the juice more (or run it under hot water briefly)

#2 - Cut it in half transversely:
Once you have squeezed "all" the juice out of the half segment that you can (squeeze with one hand and use the other to catch the pips if you are pip-phobic, or two hands and then just pick the pips out, up to you) - cut the spent half-segment in half again (transversely, as shown):
You will see exactly how much more than "all" the juice you got out is left! Now you can squeeze the end stump and totally bleed that cheeky cheek dry. Mmm, juicy.

#3 - Whilst you cannot compost what's left, unless you have a major problem with alkaline soil; you can save those skins and use them to make natural cleaning solution which I now make (with lemon, mandarin, any citrus peel) and pretty much use for everything around the home.

Ground black PEPPER (20 grinder turns)
A pinch of SALT (2 grinder turns)
The extra zing can come from ONION (very finely diced red onion or spring onion or chives); SHALLOTS and/or GARLIC; but I find this is not always to my liking, depends on your mood.
CHILI is fun, but not really my preference. Cayenne or paprika or even finely diced capsicum are sometimes called for in recipes but I don't really swing that way (capsicum gives me the toots, and a sore belly sometimes so it's best to avoid it in my case).
I do enjoy adding some finely chopped fresh PARSLEY. As I am currently growing a small 'living spice rack' on my kitchen bench and the parsley was plentiful I did go for it tonight.

Handy hint with parsley and fresh herbs:
#1 - Invest in a good pair of sharp small scissors for the kitchen garden. Harvest herbs with scissors instead of pulling or plucking as the plant will be much healthier and happier.
#2 - Plonk the harvested herb into a tumbler or mug, stick the scissors in and chop chop chop; I find this so much easier and less messy than trying to wrangle them all on a board with a knife as I am not a chef with mad knife skills!

Some recipes (and fanatical people) really like adding sour cream to the mix presumably to extend the avocado and bulk up the volume. In fact I will admit to trying this and even using Philly cream cheese when I'm running low on avocado. However, I actually think I prefer my avocado nude, as I feel that filly ingredients tend to also dilute the flavour, but I can see how people do prefer the creamy texture that comes from a mix.

Guacamole handy hints:
#1 - If you do have some left over, you can keep it for a day or two. To prevent oxidisation and that horrible brown appearance, place glad wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole, and squeeze out as many air bubbles as you can with the back of your hand:
#2 - Enjoy and experiment to find the way that you like to make it most, and try to use it in many different ways - as a dip with corn chips or crackers, as a topping or condiment for nachos and other delicious Mexican dishes, as a spread on toast, or as a flavour packed filling in sandwiches and wraps. Its fresh taste is so yummy, it's easy to make and the bonus is it is also very healthy!

06 October 2012

Inspiration of the day - Rick Stein and the Spanish Ringo Star

Thanks ABC for airing Rick Stein's Spain - just caught up on Episode 3 over on iView (sorry non-Aussies you might not be able to view it).

I'm finally settling in to my new place in my old city, now single once more, and I am warming up to the idea of some more experimental cooking. I find at a time like this, when I'm still trying to find my feet, and my centre, I do tend to stick to tried and tested "experecipes" and comfort food. Now that I'm a bit more sorted, the urge to set fire to things, erm, and make tasty new dishes is coming back slowly but surely.

Tonight I had a simple home-made sukiyaki dish, which is one of my top ten "go to" dinners (but more about that later). As I nommed and slurped and watched Rick Stein's iView Ep, his conversation with Antonio, the lovely "Spanish Ringo Star" (a man who used to be in Spain's equivalent of The Beatles) about how he used to be a drummer, but now he cooks pretty much summed it up for me:

"Why do you cook?"

"It’s a mystery… passion… I mean, cooking is an artistic thing, I cannot paint a nice picture but I can do something here full of colour, but not only colour… smell... taste... everything! Everybody must do that. Why not?"

Ah, cooking. So universal, so beautiful and always something to learn from so many different people! Bring it on!

Handy hint - let's twist again

I still cannot thank Jamie Oliver enough. He's taught me about a very large proportion of what I like to cook, in particular, he unexpectedly helped me conquer (and pretty much own) the lamb roast.

I was on a plane recently, and had one of those fancy back of the seat tv set entertainment systems to play with, and I was lucky enough to watch his sustainable seafood show as part of the Fish Fight campaign. Sadly, I haven't been able to find the show online, but here are some great recipes on the Fish Fight site.

The crusade for sustainable seafood is extremely worthy (please, do have a look at the Fish Fight recipe and also for my lovely readers in Australia, there is an amazing Sustainable Seafood app for us too on the Australian Marine Conservation website.

However, (wait for it) - in regards to today's amazing handy hint, sustainable seafood is just... a red herring! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Jamie was demonstrating a delishy fishy recipe, and his handy hint made me gasp at the simplicity of his genius. Out loud. On a plane.

When you cook long pasta (fettucine, linguine, spaghetti) - grab it in both hands, then GIVE IT A TWIST before you drop it into the pot. GASP! This way it all fans out evenly into the boiling water, and is less likely to stick and get gluggy or clumpy. Blows my mind to think that something so simple is able to help so much when preparing a great meal instead of a merely 'okay' meal. Mind blown.