Guacamole and Salsa

Most avocados are grown on family farms in California.  It is good farming to support, and the results are a tasty treat.  I adore avocados prepared in many ways, but often revert to the simplest way imaginable: halved, pitted, sprinkled with good salt and doused with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  Grab a spoon and have a snack!

Guacamole

Guacamole is a favorite of mine.  Actually anything with avocado suits me just fine.  Give me a big bag of crispy, crunchy tortilla chips and a big bowl of guacamole and I am one happy camper.  I can call it lunch, dinner, snack, whatever.  Guacamole, like so many things in life, is so much better when you make it at home.  Forget about that weird bright green goopy stuff you see in plastic tubs at the grocery store or the so-called homemade in the plastic bags.  That stuff, is just wrong!  Make the real thing and I promise, you won’t regret it!!

guacamole ingredientsjpg

Really, it can be as simple as mashing up some avocado with fresh lime juice, salt and pepper.  I like to add in some fresh cilantro for an extra bit of deliciousness.  My favorite renditions are ones that have a bit of tomato and bacon or that have a little bit of a Thai flair going on: fish sauce, shallots, Thai chili, lemon juice and lots of freshly cracked black pepper.  Of course, if you aren’t the adventurous type, you can do a straight up classic guacamole.  I’ve included three different variations here.  Go guacamole friends and be spicy!!

Guacamole and Salsa
 
Classic Guacamole
Author:
Recipe type: Appetizers
Cuisine: American/Mexican
Ingredients
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted (I prefer California Haas avocados)
  • Juice of 1 lime, or to taste
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Place avocados and lime juice in a bowl and roughly mash with a fork
  2. Stir in onion, cilantro and jalapeno
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed

If you’re adverse to spice but want a little bit, just de-seed the jalapeños.  The membranes (white parts) and seeds of a pepper are the hottest.  Some people just do not like cilantro (something I just don’t understand) but you can substitute Italian (flat-leaf) parsley for the cilantro if necessary.

As I have stated, I love, love guacamole and this southern version keeps it pretty simple – when you hit that toasty goodness in the pecans, it just plays up the rich, fresh flavor of the avocado.

Mississippi Guacamole
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Southern Mexican
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • ⅓ cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Place avocados and lime juice in a bowl and roughly mash with a fork.
  2. Stir in onion, cilantro, jalapeno, pecans, salt and pepper.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

 
Thai-Style Guacamole
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Thai Mexican
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 to 2 Thai chili peppers, seeds and membranes removed, finely diced
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly coarsely ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Place avocados and lemon juice in a bowl and roughly mash with a fork.
  2. Stir in shallot, cilantro, mint, chili peppers, fish sauce, salt and black pepper.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

 

Tomato Salsa Cruda

Fresh salsa, or salsa cruda, is an excellent way to showcase the natural sweetness of raw summer tomatoes.  Fresh, chunky salsa emphasizes the tomatoes, not the add-ins.  To limit wateriness and concentrate the flavor, drain tomatoes in a colander.  To combine the ingredients, simply layer them on top of the tomatoes while they drain.  Once the tomatoes are ready, the salsa needs only a few stirs.  Salsa can be made 2-3 hours in advance, but hold off adding lime juice, salt, pepper and sugar until just before serving.  A great accompaniment to grilled steak, chicken or fish.

Ladies, good news about salsa – it’s figure friendly!  The tomatoes contain fiber and water, which helps you stay fuller longer.  They are also loaded with lycopene, which helps build strong bones and protect your skin from the aging rays of the sun.  It takes grilled salmon and chicken breast to a whole new level.  When served with veggies, it’s a dieter’s dream.

Tomato Salsa ingredietns

Salsa Cruda
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Condiment
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 1½ pounds fresh tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • ½ cup finely diced red onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 large jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice, plus extra for seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Instructions
  1. Place tomatoes in a colander over a bowl and let drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Layer onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and garlic on top of tomatoes.
  3. Shake colander to drain excess juice. Discard juice; wipe out bowl and transfer ingredients to bowl and toss gently to combine.
  4. Add salt, black pepper, and ½ teaspoon sugar and toss gently.
  5. Taste and add additional lime juice and/or sugar, if needed.
  6. Serve at room temperature or chill and serve.
  7. Amounts of lime juice and sugar depends on ripeness of tomatoes.

 

While fresh tomato salsa with tortilla chips is one of summer’s greatest pleasures, corn salsa is an excellent alternative (or addition) to the norm.  Corn salsa is nothing new, but most versions taste wan and under seasoned compared to lively tomato salsa, and the corn can be soft and unappealing.  Deep flavors and crunchy texture is what you should strive for.

Toasted corn has a deeper, more concentrated flavor and crunchier texture, both of which contribute to a superior corn salsa.  Corn’s high sugar content makes toasting it in a nonstick skillet an easy and quick preparation.  The following recipe features red bell pepper for more crunch and garden-fresh flavor, half of a jalapeño  gives just the right amount of heat, fresh lime juice adds brightness, cumin contributes warmth, cilantro and scallion provides a fresh finish.

Spicy Corn Salsa (1)

Toasted Corn Salsa
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Appetizer, Condiment
Cuisine: American Mexican
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ears fresh corn, kernels removed
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, fine dice
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin, white and light green parts only
  • ½ jalapeno, seeds and membrane removed, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high until shimmering.
  2. Add corn kernels and cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly.
  4. Add bell pepper, lime juice, cilantro, scallion, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper to corn and toss gently to combine.
  5. Tase and adjust seasonings if needed.
  6. Cover and chill for 1 hour before serving.
  7. Just before serving stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil.

 

Watermelon

When a heat wave hits, few things taste as good as a wedge of ice-cold ripe watermelon.  Make it even more irresistible with a sprinkle of homemade herb-sugar and a squeeze of lime.

Watermelon Herb Sugar

Watermelon with Herb Sugar
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Snacks
Cuisine: American Southern
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup fresh herbs (basil, mint, cilantro)
  • Fresh lime slices
  • Basil pairs perfectly with watermelon.
  • Add jalapeño pepper to the processor with the sugar and herbs for a spicy kick.
Instructions
  1. Put sugar and herbs in bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade.
  2. Pulse until herbs are finely ground and mixture is well combined.
  3. Squeeze lime slices on watermelon slices and sprinkle with herb sugar.

There is nothing more refreshing than watermelon granita at the end of a meal, or on a hot summer’s afternoon rocking on the back porch or stretched out on the deck in a hammock or on a chaise lounge.

You can use this recipe for any fruit or vegetable juice.  Make a cucumber or carrot granita to serve with shellfish – an unexpected twist, but one that absolutely works!


Watermelon Granita
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 2 cups
Ingredients
  • 4 cups watermelon cubes, rind and seeds removed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
Instructions
  1. Place watermelon, sugar and lemon juice in the container of a food processor or blender.
  2. Process until pureed and smooth.
  3. Pour into a shallow pan or dish and freeze for 2 hours.
  4. Remove from freezer and using a fork or spoon, rake the granita.
  5. Return to freezer and freeze for 2 hours.
  6. Repeat process.

Remove the pan from the freezer and gently scrape the top layer with a spoon or fork.  Return to freezer for a couple more hours.  Repeat this process until it’s all scraped.  The great thing about granita is that the light, scraped ice on top stays perfectly frozen int he freezer.  It never clumps up or crystallizes.  It’s always light, cold and perfect.

Summer is the season that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so the moment is right for equally lighthearted, easy-drinking (and inexpensive) thirst quenchers like the following Watermelon Martini.

watermelon martini

Watermelon Martini
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Beverages
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 5 cups watermelon cubes (rind and seeds removed)
  • ¾ cup lemon vodka
  • 6 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Instructions
  1. Place watermelon cubes in container of a blender or food processor and process until pureed.
  2. Add vodka, lime juice, orange liqueur and sugar and process until combined.
  3. Pour into a pitcher and chill for 4 hours or place in freezer until very cold.
  4. Stir before serving.
  5. Rim martini glasses with lime sugar, if desired and chill until ready to serve.

 

Today’s Wisdom

We all have crummy days and seasons of life, ones in which we’d prefer to float over instead of linger; but every great story needs conflict.  Just remember that those hard and depleting parts of our lives make the sweet parts sweeter.

“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…..And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.”    Ron White

“Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work.”  Robert Brault

 

Being Southern

Mother and daddy both came from families of 10 and 11 children, so I had lots of cousins to play with growing up.  Even though my parents didn’t have a lot, they knew how to enjoy their lives and how to appreciate all the little things that made life worth living.  They were honest, hardworking and grateful and taught us to be the same way – and that’s a recipe for a very happy and contended life.

Let me tell you little bit about my childhood.  We lived two houses up from my maternal grandparents, Granny and granddaddy and boy did I love them.  When I was 2 our house caught on fire and we lost everything.  However, it didn’t seem to bother me because as they were fighting the fire, I sat down in a mud puddle and exclaimed, “Oh, goody, I get to stay with granny all the time”.

Ideally, the love of a grandmother is pure and unconditional, spoken uniquely throughout her life with countless gestures – often by what she created with her hands and heart. Some of us have tangible keepsakes handmade by our grandmother – quilts, blankets, dollies, etc. – yet for most of us the real keepsakes are intangible, built on years of rich memories made at the table with loved ones around it. There will always be certain foods, scents, sights and sounds that can transport us right back to our places at our grandmothers’ tables. Our senses can evoke such sweet thoughts of those incredible southern dishes that have become our favorites – it’s no wonder then that this cuisine is best described as comfort food!

Daddy, granddaddy and a couple of my uncles built us another house – 2 bedrooms, living room, kitchen and a room that served as a bathroom.  And when I say bathroom, I mean we used it for bathing in a round, aluminum tub filled with water that was heated on the stove.  The bedrooms were never heated so we slept under loads of quilts in the winter.  Many times, I would sit so close to the heater that I would singe my eyebrows and lashes.

Daddy worked in the coal mines and we didn’t have much in the way of material things but that never mattered.  We had the love of family and togetherness and that meant more than anything you could buy.  I never once heard my granny or granddaddy say a curse word or an unkind word about anyone.  They were devoted Christians and trusted in God and they loved each other and their family.

When I was almost five, my brother was born premature.  He was such an ugly little baby, no fingernails, gray hair and wrinkled skin but I loved him just the same.  What the doctors didn’t tell mother and daddy was that he had a heart condition because they thought he would outgrow it by the time he was five or six weeks old.  Well, he was six weeks old when he had his first episode – he passed out and turned blue.  They had to rush him to the hospital and that’s when they found out about his condition.  He could not be startled or frightened in any fashion or he would pass out and turn blue.  He was such a tiny little boy and I was very protective.

I attended Hopewell Elementary School, which only went through the third grade.  It was a two room school with a coat room between the two rooms.  Half of the third grade was in with the first grade and the other half was in with the second grade.  We ate lunch at our desks because there wasn’t a lunchroom.  The meals were prepared in a small area off the second grade classroom and had a cutout where they gave you your lunch.  You ate what you got or you went without – most families couldn’t afford to provide a separate lunch so no one brought their lunch to school.  When I was born, I had six blood transfusions by the time I was six weeks old.  The doctors finally discovered that I was allergic to milk.  School lunches came with a pint of milk and nothing else to drink.  For the first week, my teacher would make me drink the milk.  I tried to tell her that I couldn’t but she just thought I didn’t want it.  Needless to say, I would have to leave school shortly after lunch because I was sick.  Finally, mother talked with the teacher and told her that I was allergic.  Not a very good experience for a six-year-old just starting school.

I walked to and from school almost everyday with my two best friends, Nancy and Gail, and a couple of other kids.  There were seldom any fights among the kids at school, we all played together and knew if we misbehaved, we would get a spanking when we got home.   We were taught to respect our elders, not to talk back, and to not interrupt adults talking to each other.  Too bad kids aren’t taught the same values and principles that we were taught back then.

Family is a very important element of the south.  However, we have a tendency not to think about family a lot because they are always there.  And then one day ….. they’re not.  I also find that spending time with family isn’t as important among the younger generations.  Back in the day, we all gathered together at least once a year and spent the day together as one big, big family – all of my cousins, aunts and uncles – with lots of delicious, homemade food, good music, games and wonderful memories.  We still do this on my daddy’s side of the family.  For more than sixty-five years, on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July, we have a family reunion.  The tradition started with a huge ice cream supper Saturday night – everyone brought a different flavor of ice cream in old crank ice cream freezers.  Granddaddy had killed and dressed a pig and goat earlier in the day and put it on to cook.  A pit was dug and an iron grate was placed over the hole.  A fire of hickory wood was started and the embers would be spread around the outside edges of the pit all night long.  The pig was placed on the grate and a piece of tin was laid over the pig so that it would get a concentration of the smoke and heat from the hickory embers.  The result was always succulent, juicy and tender meat.  Granddaddy’s special mopping sauce was put on the meat during the last couple hours of cooking.  Extra sauce was served along side the meat.  On Sunday, everyone would come, bringing their family favorites and spread the food on homemade tables connected to trees.  This tradition has continued with the exception of cooking the whole pig – about 7 years ago, my father bought a huge smoker and began cooking Boston butts.  The meat is still delicious but I do miss that whole pig.

Oftentimes we like what we like because it’s what we know.  And what we know is based on the experiences and traditions that we learned growing up.  So many of our best memories and time-honored traditions are wrapped up in food and time spent with loved ones around the table.

Whether you’re lucky enough to still be invited by your grandmother or if you’re now part of the next generation doing the inviting, it’s important that we continue to come together and celebrate when we can – both to showcase our time-honored rituals and traditions for younger generations and to create new experiences for stories yet to unfold.

 

Summer Corn and Crab Chowder

Finished Dish

My way of eating in the summer is usually just a simple reaction to what’s already in my kitchen.  If I have ripe tomatoes, I slice them, sprinkle on some salt and line them up on a mayo-swathed slice of fresh bread.  It is a reaction to the heat and humidity.

Farmers markets abound for us in June, July and August.  They are plumb full of tomatoes, peas, beans, corn, squash, okra, cucumbers, plums, peaches, blackberries, blueberries and so much more.  it makes the long summer days bearable.  It is a time to preserve early in the morning, when it’s cool enough in the kitchen without overworking the air conditioning.  It’s time to jam and jelly that fruit for the perfect biscuit or toast in September, to pickle the okra for a future Bloody Mary, to can those vegetables for a winter’s feast.  It’s also a time to make that feast of many vegetable-rich dishes and celebrating the family you love and the friends you adore.  So get cooking, because the summer bounty lasts only so long.

My Corn Chowder recipe is a rich but not heavy chowder bursting with corn flavor.  It’s a soup you’ll want to enjoy again and again until the season ends.

Summer Corn and Crab Chowder
 
A rich but not heavy chowder
Author:
Recipe type: Soups, Stews, Chowders
Cuisine: American Southern
Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
  • 10 ears fresh corn, shucked
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • ½ pound slab bacon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped well-washed leeks (white and some of the light green part)
  • 3 medium celery ribs, chopped
  • ¾ cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups small dice yellow potatoes
  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, garnish optional
Instructions
  1. Cut close to each ear of corn and slice all kernels off by holding an ear of corn with the small end in the center hole of a bundt or tube pan; set kernels aside.
  2. Combine milk and chicken stock in a large stockpot on medium-high heat. Add corn cobs and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Pour off most of fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon bacon drippings.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons butter to skillet and melt over medium heat; add leeks, celery, bell pepper, garlic, salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes or until softened. Transfer to paper towel lined plate to drain.
  5. Remove cobs from broth and cool. Carefully scrape all of the residue from the cooled cobs with the edge of a knife. Discard cobs and add scrapings to the broth.
  6. When vegetables are well-drained of fat, transfer them to the broth. Place stockpot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
  7. Add potatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  8. Add reserved corn kernels and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 6 minutes or just until corn is barely cooked.
  9. Remove 2 cups from pot and place in a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process to a thick puree. Pour puree back into the chowder and gently stir in the crabmeat. Simmer for another 5 minutes; remove from heat and stir in reserved bacon. Taste, and if necessary, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

 

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Cooking corncobs in milk and stock infuses this chowder with an intense corn flavor, making the most of the season’s sweet bounty.  If you would like to add a little heat to the chowder, add some shopped chili pepper along with the leeks and bell pepper.  The crab is not necessary, but it adds some heft and sophistication to what is  normally a home-style soup.  You can substitute 1 pound of large shrimp for the crab or use a combination of both for a heartier chowder.  Left over soup can be pureed and served chilled with a swirl of heavy cream or yogurt.