Guacamole: It’s All About the Avocado

Ah, my favorite summertime staple. (Obviously delicious year round, though!) Cinco de Mayo anyone??

It is one of my most raved about things I make – and it’s such a quick and healthy appetizer, suitable for any party. I assure you, it will be fawned over!

Truly, it is so simple to make. However, you need to pay attention to what I think is most important: the ripeness of the avocado. I have used avocados that are not quite ripe enough, noted, when they are tough to mash with a fork. This absolutely changes the taste of the final outcome. Make sure to use avocados that are nice and soft! Also, if you’re ripening avocados in the fridge for a few days versus the counter (which is fine, I have just noticed they ripen slower in the fridge), allow them to reach room temperature before preparation. Guacamole just tastes better if it’s served at room temp, so if you do prepare it ahead of time, try to let it sit out at least a half hour before indulging. I swear these little things matter!

4 ripe (soft to the touch when gently squeezed) avocados

1 jalapeno, finely diced (some seeds are fine if you like the heat – I do!)

1 small yellow onion, diced (red onion is fine also, I just always have a bag of yellow onions on hand)

1t lime juice

1t lemon juice

2T (heaping) of minced garlic

3 dashes cayenne pepper

1/2t onion powder

1T salt

1/2T lime salt*

*I attest this is the secret. I discovered this while living in Humboldt Park, a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago (let me tell you, my Spanish had never been better!). Unfortunately I have been unable to find it in a few brief searches in local stores, but Amazon does carry it (of course they do…).

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Hello, gorgeous

Spoon out avocado meat from their skin, remove pits. Mash them to desired consistency – a fork always works best for me, and keeps it a little chunky. Add diced onion and jalapeno. Add two healthy tablespoons of minced garlic, teaspoon each of lemon juice and lime juice. Mix well. Add a half teaspoon of onion powder, three dashes of cayenne pepper for a warming heat, and finally the lime salt and salt.

That’s it! There really isn’t a wrong way to prepare this. A little tip: if you want this for a party, but don’t want to be dicing and mashing in crunch time, but also don’t want to prep too early because then you’re in a panic about the guacamole turning brown from sitting too long (oy!), do this: prep all ingredients, add everything to your serving dish except the avocados. Right before serving is when I will spoon out the avocados and mash them right on top of the rest of the ingredients. Boom! You’re welcome.

Now go make this for all your friends and loved ones, they will want the recipe! I have been crafting this recipe for years and while it is continually under slight revisions, this is the most up to date! I know guacamole typically has cilantro in it, but I’m just not a fan. Feel free to add, but I have never had someone comment about its absence.

I always welcome comments and questions! Enjoy!

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The 5 minute (no prep!) side dish

While I love taking my time in the kitchen devising the next plated masterpiece, I also love a flash meal or side dish that literally takes no time at all. Luckily, I have that for you! It is the perfect side to balance any protein forward meal, and brings vibrant and fresh acidity to round it all out.

This dish is inspired by, and my spin, on a panzanella salad.

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If I want to make it a complete meal, it’s a very filling lunch dish, I will add a protein – here it’s pictured with Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik’n Strips, or vegan chicken strips. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but I have sworn by these little guys for years.

This dish still only takes 5 minutes even with the strips in there!

You’re probably ready to find out what you need to make this? 5 ingredients! And you probably already have them on hand! No salt and pepper needed.

3 cups escarole

1T olive oil

1/4 cup hot banana pepper rings

3T parmesan cheese

3T whole wheat panko breadcrumbs

And this recipe is so easily doubled or tripled, I’ve made the entire bag of escarole before! You can use any sturdy green here, such as kale or chard, but escarole is my favorite because I love how the center of the leaf stays crisp but the rest softens, so it’s a great balance of texture. Spinach could also be used if you prefer, just not the textural difference as it wilts completely.

Add the escarole to the pan, then turn the pan on med-high heat. (For this dish I do not like my escarole to be charred, and if you add it to an already hot pan this will happen.) Drizzle with half the olive oil. Stir frequently as the escarole begins to wilt, add banana peppers. I also like to splash a bit of the vinegar from the pepper jar, it gives the dish a nice punchy heat element (this is optional). In the last minute, add both the parmesan cheese and panko to the mixture, drizzle with remaining olive oil, and stir to combine. This will allow the cheese and panko to get a slight toast to them and add a savory component.

That’s it! And if you were watching the clock, it should have only taken 5 minutes! If you did want to add a protein, like cooked chicken or the faux chicken strips, just add at the beginning with the escarole.

I hope you love this as much as I do, and it finds a regular home on your plate!

 

 

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For the above recipe, I use one serving size (12 strips) Chik’n Strips

 

 

Prologue: My Story

Many of the great influences to the culinary world began as sidekicks in the kitchen, seemingly since infancy. Perhaps unbeknownst to these sticky-fingered novices, whether from tradition, strong family values, or well-versed from travels, began cataloguing and honing their skills. I, on the other hand, do not have such a nostalgic beginning. My cooking angst began by frying mud pies on the blistering asphalt driveway for dad to come home to after work – who was less than impressed of, what I thought, was a noteworthy accomplishment!

If only men were actually disappointed coming home to a steamy, hot-off-the-press dinner!

Whenever someone brings up cooking, the conversation seems to find its way to grandmothers. And this makes me long for more time, back then. Since my mother had been estranged from her parents since my early adolescence, my grand-parental influence came solely from my dad’s mom and dad. Having adopted my father later in their lives, they were already aging when my siblings and I were young. I have very fond memories of grandma: whether it was taking my sister and I to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger, or a walk around their neighborhood – she was such a socialite, Grandma Georgie, she knew everyone. And although we did spend many Sunday’s having shells and homemade sauce, sadly, I never learned to cook from her. Having come from off-the-boat Italian heritage, looking back, she would have been a wealth of knowledge I now would love to acquire. I was too immature then, though, to appreciate this.

What I never understood was my grandparents’ love of corn flakes topped with orange juice, instead of milk. This still is the biggest conundrum to me, and at seven years old you really think that’s the strangest thing you have ever seen! That, and their ‘magic toaster’.

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Pictured above: Grandma Georgie being fabulous through the years (also with Grandpa Frank), and me playing in leaves in her front yard, one of my favorite things!

Always on hand for beverages at Grandma Georgie’s were 7UP and Nestea Iced Tea, both in a can, stored in the garage. In their freezer you could always find a frozen, boxed Sara Lee Lemon Meringue Pie. And across the street at Ray Yager’s house were popsicles stocked in his garage freezer, for us grandkids in the neighborhood. He was a widower who had lived across the street from my grandparents since they moved in, late in the 50s.

In hindsight, these moments were all too fleeting. Both grandparents were aging faster than us kids. It was early into my teen years we lost both, to Alzheimer’s anyway. I wish I had been older, and they younger. I wish I had clung to their stories and appreciated them with more fervor. And I wish you could turn back the hands of time, but then again, who doesn’t?

So my cooking story begins much, much later.

Despite my mom’s specialty of ‘Mac and Beef’ (merely a fancy way of saying ‘I put ground beef in your macaroni and cheese tonight’…Thanks.), she was less than remarkable in the kitchen in my early years (Love you, mom!). I feel like I’ve been playing catch up in the food game, and have essentially taught myself the tricks of the trade – I do tip my hat to Top Chef and Chopped for the motivation to be a go- getter in my own kitchen!

Again, I am Shay and I welcome you to my little corner: where all meals are Shaymelessly prepared for you to confidently serve to your loved ones (or eat it all yourself!). I look forward to sharing my recipes with you and providing some insight and inspiration as to how I came up with each dish!