About Mastering and Enjoying Home Cooking. Drink, Cook, and Live Well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guacamole Avocado Dip

This authentic guacamole dip is simply a favorite of our guests and truly superiorly made with fresh Hass avocados.  California has a large population of permanent Mexican residents and migrant workers.  Because of this, there is an abundance of great authentic Mexican cuisine in California available border to border.  No self-respecting Mexican establishment would serve guacamole dip without cilantro and chopped tomatoes. Great served in a molcajete [Mole - kah - HEE – tay] the  Mexican version of the mortar and pestle.

3 Large peeled and diced Hass avocados
1/2 Red onion, diced fine
1 Large glorious sun ripen tomato, seeded and chopped
3/4 cups finely chopped cilantro
1/2 tablespoon vinegar (to retard oxidation)
Juice from a lime
4 cloves finely diced crushed garlic
1/2 - 1  finely diced fresh red jalapeño pepper1
Correct the seasoning with pepper and salt

Molcajete for Serving
Chopped tomatoes into fine chunks no larger than ¼ inch cubed discarding the seeds and watery portions.  Diced the onions, chopped the cilantro, crush and dice the garlic. Chopped a whole or half of a jalapeno pepper depending on how much heat you want.  Peel 3 large avocados. Combine all ingredients (except salt and pepper) by coarsely hand chopping but do not overly so.  The guacamole should be somewhat chunky. Correct the seasoning with pepper and SALT. Guacamole should not be salty as the chips usually are. Serve with chips of your choice.
The acid from the vinegar and lime helps prevent the guacamole from turning off-color. (Skip vinegar if serving right away.) If not serving the guacamole right away, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.  The resting period will enhance the flavor of the dip and allow the garlic time to permeate the mixture.

Guacamole is useful as a garnish on any Mexican platter and is useful in burritos as a heat moderator for hot and spicy ingredients. Serve with fresh corn tortilla chips - homemade are the best.

  1. Jalapeño peppers have moderate amount of heat while Serrano peppers a lot less in case you want to tone it down. Use green if you cannot find red ones. The white ribs inside the pepper provides almost all of the capsaicin which may be trimmed away to reduce heat.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vichyssoise or Leek and Potato Soup

The culinary origins of Vichyssoise, if French or an American invention, is debated by chefs but generally if the soup is served cold it is referred to as Vichyssoise and warm as Cream of leek soup. No matter what it’s called, it is wonderful and one of my favorites. This is also a base soup from which many cream of  xxxx soup may be made.

4 medium Leeks, white sections, washed well
1 medium potato, peeled
White pepper
Pinch fleshly ground nutmeg
1 cup good clear chicken stock
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup heavy cream

Use just the white portions of the leeks and cut lengthwise in half. Wash all traces of dirt away. Sauté the chopped white part of the leeks in butter. Cut up and add the potato, sauté gently for ten minutes, then add chicken stock. Cover and cook on low until the potatoes are just done (al dente) (15-20 minutes). Process the soup to smooth with a post blender. Add white pepper, pinch of nutmeg, and cream. Correct salt level.

Serve warm or cold with a sprinkle of very finely chopped chives.

Spiced Bananas Flambé

 This recipe is not unlike Bananas Foster which is made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with the sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The Café de Paris French dessert Crêpe Suzette, consisting of a crêpe with a caramelized sugar- butter sauce, was a precursor to Bananas Foster created almost 100 years later by chef  Paul Blangė at Brennan's - New Orleans. To make this more Caribbean (think Martinique where the French first grew bananas) use rum instead of Brandy and use Orange Curacao liqueur.  Have a match handy to ignite the alcohol.

2 Firm ripe bananas split length wise down the middle.
4 tablespoons of turbinado or Demerara sugar (natural brown sugar)
1/2 cup of Napoleon Brandy
3 tablespoons of sweet butter
Top each banana slice with a mixture of ground cinnamon, allspice and cloves
¼ cup Contreau or orange Curaçao or Triple Sec

Heat a frying pan on medium high. Cut bananas down their middle length-wise. When the pan is hot, add the butter, and, when melted, add the bananas cut side down on buttered surface. Sprinkle each banana with a tablespoon of sugar. When the bananas begin to clear, turn each slice over carefully so as not to break the slices. Again, sprinkle each banana with a tablespoon of sugar. Cook for several minutes then add Contreau and Napoleon brandy. Hold back your face from the pan and use a long match to ignite the fumes. If you have a microwave above your cook top, you may want ignite the fumes when the pan is away from the cook top. When the flames settle down, return the pan to the cook top. Cook to reduce liquids to a thick bubbly sauce. Use a spatula to carefully remove the bananas to the serving plates. Spoon some sauce over each banana.

Bananas and the resulting caramel sauce can be used to top a premium vanilla or pecan ice cream.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chicken Hunter Style - Pollo alla Cacciatora

The chicken is the “hunter style” the Roman way (bianco) and it is modestly simple. If you were from Tuscany, they would tell you the dish is Tuscan, and the Sicilians from Sicily. Every one loves this one. Mario Batali makes his with tomatoes but for me, there is no place for tomato in this dish. One does not typically “hunt” for chicken unless poaching the neighbor’s yard. The dish is based on wild rabbit, which was loved well but was not available in the dead of winter.

One 3 pound chicken, cut up into pieces
1 Cup or so small whole boiling onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Sprigs of rosemary, stemmed, chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper
Salt to taste
1 Cup or more Italian dry white or red wine

Heat olive oil in a fry pan equipped with a lid. Add onions and sauté on low, turning often, until onions take on some color. Remove onions for later. Add crushed red pepper to oil and chicken pieces. Sauté the chicken, turning pieces as they cook until lightly golden on all sides. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.  Add back onions. Add wine and cover. Simmer 25 minutes and more wine as necessary as chicken needs to simmer with a little liquid to braise. To finish, remove lid on pan. Correct seasoning. Raise heat to reduce the pan’s sauce. Serve with rustic Italian bread like Casareccio.


1.      Casareccio means bread made at home. In Rome the most representative version is made as Pane casareccio di Genzano

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Abruzzese Bucatini alla Amatriciana

This dish is named after Amatrice, a mountainous town on the border between Lazio and Abruzzi, 2 hours northeast of Rome. On the Sunday after Fer Agosto, August 15 (Market Day), Bucatini alla Amatriciana is the corner stone dish for local celebrations and uses the long, hollow Italian pasta (bucatini, literally means small hole.) No self-respecting Roman restaurant would dare leave this dish off the menu, but it is often made with other types of pasta, including rigatoni or spaghetti.

"Fair August" is one of the most observed Italian public holidays when practically all of Italy grinds to a halt. For some reason, unknown to me, around the coliseum in Rome is a favorite hangout at this time.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 ounces of guanciale (cured hog's jowl), finely diced (substitute ½ pancetta, ½ salt pork)
3 Tablespoons sweet butter or 50-50 with olive oil
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon or more crushed red peppers to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Romano pecorino cheese
1 pound bucatini pasta
A little chopped basil

Heat a large covered pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Taste the water to insure salt level. Initially, under salt as the cured pork product is very salty and so is the pecorino cheese.

Sauté the onions in melted butter until limp and nearly transparent. Add the peppers and guanciale and sauté until onion is golden about 8 to 10 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat stirring occasionally. Make sure sauce does not burn, cook about 15 minutes. Correct seasonings

Cook the bucatini in rapidly boiling water until “al dente.”

Drain pasta well, and combine with sauce. Toss well for at least a minute. Turn out on a warmed serving platter, top with cheese, garnished with fresh chopped basil.

  1. Normally, in August, we are at the height of the tomato growing season when fresh tomatoes are at their best. The San Marzano region near Naples is considered one of the best tomato growing regions in the world, and cans stamped with the DOP seal signifies that it contains only those tomatoes grown in the province of Salerno, vine-ripened, peeled and tender. These make a good substitute for fresh.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vegetables the Roman Way

The Romans have a way with vegetables that always seems to elevate them to a higher plateau. For example, simple peas are combined with a bit of prosciutto and onions to punch up their appeal. Adding a few ingredients can highlight your vegetables and greatly promote their flavor.

Its important that the vegetables are fresh and not over cooked – after that, your imagination is the only limit. Think about color, texture and flavor. Bland textures can be improved by toasted bread crust crumbs, nuts; bland flavors can be enhanced with garlic, onions, smoked meats, bacon, salt-pork, vivacious cheese like parmesan or pecorino, salty cheeses, herbs, lemon, balsamic or mint. Many of the better dishes have at least three ingredients like any of the following:

Artichokes, garlic, olive oil, anchovies
Roasted peppers, balsamic, onions
Tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil
Spinach, toasted pinenuts, eggs
Rice, parsley, garlic, olive oil
Cauliflower, mint, toasted bread crumbs
Cannellini beans, basil, red onions, fava beans, peas
Steamed carrots, garlic, basil, oregano
Roasted red pepper, leeks, porcini mushrooms
Tomato, chunks of crusty bread, olive oil, vinegar, herbs
Sausage, salami, clams, scampi, sardines, lobster, crab

There is no end to the combinations – let yourself try whatever appeals to you!

I will try
Garlic, olive oil, wilted spinach, steamed Yukon Gold potatoes, vinegar, and herbs.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Celeriac, Leek, and Potato Soup

This soup is inspired by Laura Calder’s Celeriac Puree on her French Food at Home Episode. Celeriac (celery root) is often cooked in acidulated liquid or even milk to keep it white. The slight lemon flavor enhances the natural flavor of the root vegetable. The final ratios of the three vegetables determine the soups flavor. The potato adds a creamy mouth feel while butter contributes richness.

Burpee Seed, Celeriac, Brilliant
1 Large celeriac, peeled, chopped
1 Bay leaf
Juice from half a lemon
2 cups low fat milk
4 Whites of Leeks, split, washed, chopped
1 Medium Yukon Gold potato, chopped
3 Tablespoons sweet butter
White pepper and salt to taste
1 Cup chicken stock
½ Cup heavy cream or more to taste

In a large pan, combine celeriac, Bay leaf, lemon juice, and milk. Cook covered until tender. Drain and discard liquid and discard bay leaf. Sauté leeks and potatoes in butter until leeks are clear but do not brown. Add chicken stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer 25 minutes. Add cooked celeriac and blend with a hand blender, until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper. Blend with enough cream to make the soup elegant, do not over dilute as cream thins the flavor.

To add additional richness try adding a tablespoon of classic roasted-chicken-demi-glace.