Chunky Guacamole

Guacamole is one of my favorite foods and I’ve enjoyed it countless times – both at restaurants and my own. Yesterday realizing that I had everything I needed to make up a batch, I made (possibly the best) chunky guacamole I’ve ever had. Seriously, it was so good that I wrote down EXACTLY what I’d done with the hopes of capturing the magic in the future.

Chunky Guacamole

  • 3 ripe avocados 
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1 large or 2 small jalapeños
  • 1 large or 2 medium/small garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 shallot
  • 1-1 1/2 T chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3-4 t sea salt

Halve avocados, remove pits setting them aside for later, scoop each avocado half into a large bowl. Halve the tomatoes, seed and then coarsely chop them – place into a second bowl. To that bowl add the jalapeño first removing the seeds and ribs and finely chopping. Mince the garlic and add to the second bowl with the shallot after dicing it.  Add the sea salt to the second bowl and toss the mixture together.  Add second bowl to the avocados, followed by the lemon juice and half the lime juice. Used a hand chopper, do a coarse chop over all ingredients and stir to blend. Chop again until it’s the chunkiness you desire.  Add chopped cilantro, stir to blend.  

Now for the tip:  In the bowl which you are using to serve or store, push the avocado pits into the guacamole. Drizzle the last of the lime juice over the top and press plastic wrap over the guacamole, touching it to the surface rather than the bowl.  Remove the pits just before serving. These steps keep the guacamole from turning brown, I deliberately waited 24 hours to take the photos and it’s still a vibrant green.   

A perfect light meal of Chunky Guacamole, warm corn tortilla chips and a hearty red wine. Living the dream!

Stuffin’ Muffins – a kitchen hack

Thanksgiving is hands-down my most anticipated meal of the year.  My Roasted Chesnut Apple & Sausage Stuffing is hands down, my favorite part of the meal and I purposely make more than I’ll need.  It freezes beautifully and this year I remembered a kitchen hack from Rachael Ray from early in her 30 Minute Meals days – Stuffin Muffins.

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, pack the cups with unbaked stuffing and freeze for three hours.  Take them out of the muffin tin and place in a single layer into a large freezer Ziploc bag.  When you need a single-serving and savory side dish with chicken, turkey or pork simply pop out one or more and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes until they’re crunchy on top.

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Devoting a day to Basil (includes a bonus recipe)

As a retiree, it’s good to have a plan each day.  It’s also good to be able to pivot when plans change.

Yesterday I’d planned to run errands only to be foiled when the team who was to seal my driveway on Saturday instead showed up two days early.  With my car held hostage in the garage, I decided to devote a day to harvesting my basil before the imminent first frost which spells disaster for this tender herb.

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2018 was a banner year for basil.

Surrounded by the sweet fragrance of fresh cut herbal goodness, I set about the tedious task of stemming and picking only the good leaves.

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There’s about 8 cups of basil here. Now what???

Luckily the sheer volume from my harvest inspired my creative side.  First up I made a basil/walnut/parmesano regianno pesto then a beautiful basil oil and basil paste.

Feeling accomplished I quickly realized I’d used only half of the harvest.  I love compound butters (check out my recipe for my Thanksgiving Fresh Picked Herb Compound Butter) so I made a luscious Basil Butter –  add 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil to a stick of room temperature butter – blend together (I use a fork).  Place on a piece of plastic wrap, roll into a log shape and refrigerate, that’s it! Easy right?

Still facing down a sizable pile of basil, I decided to make another style pesto with basil/almond/lemon pesto which yielded 2 more jars of basil goodness.

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Realizing that it was nearing dinner time, it made sense to use the remaining basil in some way.  I created a delicious herb-centric pasta dish that was so good I had to share it.

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(Not shown pine nuts and crumbled feta)

Fresh Herb Fusilli

  • 1/2 lb fusilli
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 T chopped red onion
  • red pepper flakes
  • coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 t anchovy paste (optional but highly recommended – this is the salt component)
  • 2 garlic cloves – rough chopped
  • 6 T of chopped mixed herbs (basil, thyme and italian parsley)
  • 1 T pine nuts
  • 1/2 lemon – juiced
  • crumbled feta

Cook the pasta as directed and drain. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large saute pan with a good drizzle of olive oil and add the onion.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, adding the anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and pepper and stir to combine.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the pasta to the saute pan and mix with the onion and garlic.  Add pine nuts and the fresh herbs and stir together for another 1-2 minutes.  Take pan off the heat, drizzle the juice from the lemon over the top.  Serve in a bowl and top with feta.

Super Easy Breakfast Soft Taco

 

Breakfast of Champions

This took all of 5 minutes to make and less than a minute to eat.

Warm a flour tortilla – I put it right on the burner, flipping it one time. Top with shredded cheese, lower the heat. Prepare one soft scrambled egg – add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. While it finishes, slice 1/2 avocado, placing it onto the cheese. Add the egg and a splash of hot sauce (I used Slap ya Mama). Fold over soft taco style and enjoy.

This is the first post in my new series, Cooking for One

 

Refreshing Fruit Salad & it’s zero points

Inspired after finding dragon fruit at my local Meijer’s Grocery Store (as posted a few days ago) and seeing some stunning fruit medleys on Pinterest, I put together this recipe. It can be served as a salad, breakfast or snack.  Perhaps best of all, it’s zero points on Weight Watchers!

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Refreshing Fruit Salad – makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups

  • zest from 1 navel orange
  • 1/2 navel orange – sectioned & squeezed for the juice
  • 1 dragon fruit – halved, then scooped out with a melon baller
  • 1/2 c fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 c fresh blueberries

Place the dragon fruit, raspberries, blueberries and orange sections in a bowl.  Add zest and orange juice, using a spatula to gently combine. Chill and serve.  How easy is that?

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Having recently reached my goal weight (to achieve lifetime status) in spite of traveling and enjoying delicious foods, it remains important to me to stay on track with Weight Watchers.  At this time of year, the Farmer’s Market has so much to offer and I’m planning to make dishes that are colorful, healthy and low in points. Stay tuned – there’s more to come…

Shrimp Cocktail Wontons – an easy appetizer

Shrimp Cocktail Wontons

Makes 12

  • 12-24 cooked shrimp (medium size)
  • 12 wonton wrappers
  • 2 oz cream cheese, cut into 12 cubes
  • cocktail sauce
  •  lemon, olive oil, pepper & seasoned salt (I use Melting Pot’s Garlic & Wine Seasoning)
  • cilantro – optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a muffin tin, place a wonton wrapper into each cup, pressing in as shown below. Place a cube of cream cheese in each.

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Bake for 7-10 minutes until golden brown.

While they are baking, remove the tails from the shrimp, place on a platter.  Drizzle with olive oil, seasoned salt and pepper, then squeeze fresh lemon over the top.  Place in oven for 4-5 minutes.

Lift each wonton onto a plate.  Place a dollop of cocktail sauce over the softened cream cheese, then top with a shrimp or two and a cilantro leaf, if desired.  Serve and enjoy!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

I’ve been growing herbs for almost 30 years. For a self-taught “gourmet”, it’s thrilling for me to go into my backyard and pick lush flat leaf parsley, flavorful chives, fragrant rosemary and thyme.  With our recent freezing temps and heavy snowfall, I was certain that I wouldn’t be harvesting herbs for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Then we had a thaw and under the weather damaged herbs, I was able to find an ample supply – hooray!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Start with 2 sticks of very soft butter (I use salted butter), add  1 generous tablespoon each of chopped flat-leaf parsley, thyme & rosemary, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic chives and 1-2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.  Stir together with a dinner fork.  Cover and store in a cool (not cold place) until ready for use.

As we speak, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I just prepared mine. Making ahead allows the herbs to really flavor the butter. While there are many uses for compound butters, I’ll use this one after gently loosening the skin of the turkey breast then taking gobs of it, massaging and slathering it between the skin and the turkey.  As it roasts in the oven, the herb butter self-bastes the turkey.  Enjoy!

Roasting Chestnuts, a labor of love

The ritual of roasting chestnuts for my annual Thanksgiving Day stuffing is a labor of love.  And as with any labor, there is pain.  But the payoff in flavor and texture make it all worthwhile. So for those who might want to try this, I’ve created a pictorial “recipe” for roasting chestnuts – no roaring fire required.

1. Purchase chestnuts.  I always get two bags since one of the first years Spence and I did this we lost half of one bag that were bad nuts – moldy, dried up, unusable.  Once roasted and chopped, any surplus can be frozen for months in a ziploc bag.

2. Score each nut using a small, very sharp knife in the pattern of a large X.

3. Set your oven at 450 degrees. Lay the chestnuts in a single layer on a pan. Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and wrap them in a towel lined pan or bowl (I use two dishtowels) and cover for one hour to steam them.

Steam baby, steam
Steam baby, steam

4. Get two bowls, one for shells and one for the peeled nuts.  And start peeling – yes with your fingers (and that small knife – in case you need help).  Make sure and check the nuts over to remove any hard membranes. Your thumbs will be sore at the end of this, no sense in sugar coating it.  But these little beauties are so worth it!  When you’re ready to build your stuffing, just give  these a coarse chop!

Want to know how to make my famous Chestnut Stuffing?

https://spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/my-famous-roasted-chestnut-sausage-apple-stuffing-or-dressing/

Chilli and Cayenne Pumpkin Seed Snack….

Just in time, a delicious twist for pumpkin seeds….

Loving Leisure Time

“Which came first: The pumpkin or the Pumpkin seed?”

-Pumpkin Nook

Love October…Love Pumpkins! 

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Lanterns, soups, pies and roasts, but don’t through out those seeds! 

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Cut the pumpkin in half and scape out the seeds with a spoon.

Ingredients:

  • Seeds from an edible pumpkin
  • Grinding of sea salt and black pepper
  • Chilli flakes
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Olive oil

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Remove the stingy beards…

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Rinse with cold water…

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Lay out on a baking tray, then oil and season using your favourite flavours.

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When crisp and golden, leave to cool on the tray.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven at 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
  2. Scape the speed from the pumpkin.
  3. Clean and rinse the seeds.
  4. Spread out on a baking tray.
  5. Drizzle on the olive oil.
  6. Add all the seasoning and mix.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden.

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Cool and store in an airtight container.

Great for a savour snack with a cold beer!

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I sprinkle these seeds…

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Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal

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Within the last two years, a former co-worker turned our little band of foodies on to baked oatmeal, a concept we’d known nothing about but that has since been showing up everywhere.  The variations are endless and delicious and it’s a great way to start the day making enough for a quick breakfast for the rest of the week.

I hadn’t made it for a while yet it’s been on my mind, especially during these cold winter mornings.  So today, culling a myriad of suggestions from Pinterest and other sources, then surveying my ample pantry and freezer ingredients to see what I had available, I came up with this delicious recipe of my own. Enjoy!

Raspberry Walnut Baked Oatmeal                              serves 6

2 cups old-fashioned whole grain oatmeal

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Mix dry ingredients together, set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 baking dish.  In a separate bowl mix together:
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Add to dry ingredients.  Fold in:
  • 1 2/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 2/3 cup coarse chopped walnuts

Pour into baking dish.  Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  Serve with or without milk.

Chef’s note:  you can substitute blueberries, strawberries, dates, dried apricots, pecans, almonds, almond or soy milk – you get it.  It is the ultimate easy way to use what you have on hand, what’s seasonal and what sounds good.