Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guacamole Ring

How do you improve upon the creamy perfection that is homemade guacamole? Well, if you’re the good folks at Knox, you sprinkle some of their magic gelatine powder on your avocado dip and mold it into this retro Guacamole Ring.  Now it’s happy hour!

How do you improve on perfection?

The name alone had me itching to try this recipe since I first cracked open the Time Capsule. I envisioned a beautifully molded dip that was the centerpiece of my appetizer spread, both lovely to look at and delightful to dunk into. Instead, I got this: The Jabba the Hutt of hors d’oeuvres.

I have many a fond memory of my mom’s guacamole (which she unapologetically made with mayo) served with original Doritos. Likewise, my longtime go-to guacamole recipe comes courtesy of that fabulous classic The New Basics Cookbook. This recipe, which veers toward the bland side, is your basic guac – with avocados, onions and a smidge of hot sauce.  After dissolving the unflavored gelatine, you mix it all together and pour it into your JELL-O mold.

What’s that? You don’t own a JELL-O mold? Well, neither do I. Do you know how difficult it is to find a JELL-O mold these days? I should have started hitting the garage sales weeks ago! Two kitchen shops and one Fred Meyer failed to turn up a JELL-O mold, and Mom’s was one county away.

But the devil drives me when necessary, and I made do with a glass bowl lined with cling wrap. After chilling overnight, the guacamole bounced out of the bowl so easily it seemed possessed. (It should be noted that my Guacamole Ring wasn’t exactly a ring per se – more of a Guacamole Mound.)

The Jabba the Hutt of hors d'oeuvres.
After adorning the Mound with blue and yellow tortilla chips, it was time to dig in. Or try to. After breaking off the tip of half a dozen chips, I got a knife. And that’s the truth about the Guacamole Ring. It’s more cheese spread than guacamole. The taste and texture were both fine, but you’ll want one of those cute little appetizer knives to spread it on your tortilla chip.

(And herein lies a secret advantage of the Guacamole Ring: It takes longer to serve and therefore eat, which means you’ll end up eating less of it than you would of, say, a big bowl of your favorite recipe. Hmmm, guacamole as diet food …)

But, if you, like me, have a penchant for old-timey things (and canned, jellied cranberry sauce, which falls firmly into this camp), this could become a regular addition to your buffet. Imagine the possibilities: Christmas tree-shaped guacamole! Leprechaun-shaped guacamole! Some kind of Halloween-theme-green-alien guacamole!

When food is good, it doesn’t need any dressing up. So, my blessings go with you should you mold your guac, but it will really just be gilding the lily.

Guacamole Ring
2 envelopes Knox Unflavored Gelatine
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
4 medium California avocados, peeled, seeded, mashed
1/4 cup finely chopped onion

In small saucepan, sprinkle Knox Unflavored Gelatine over cold water; let stand 1 minute. Stir over low heat until gelatine is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, salt, garlic powder and hot pepper sauce. In large bowl, using wire whip or rotary beater, combine gelatine mixture with avocados, stir in onion. Pour in 5-cup ring mold or individual molds; chill until firm. Serve as an appetizer salad or as a spread for crackers. Makes about 5 cups.

·      I halved this recipe, which served four adults and two kids with plenty to spare. 
·      It should be obvious, but please use very ripe avocados.
·      I used the paddle attachment on my KitchenAid mixer to combine the gelatine mixture with the avocados.
·      Leftover alert: Mash some Guacamole Ring with some canned Great Northern Beans (rinsed and drained) and spread on a Ry-Krisp cracker. A delicious light lunch – and you get good-person points for cleaning out the fridge!

Why Don’t You …
·      Substitute your favorite guacamole ingredients, than add in the gelatine?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Quick Sips: Chocolate Peanut-Butter Milkshake

The Sunday Woman strikes again, but this time she means business. And seriously, come on. How could this be anything but ultra-delicious? My only fault is that it was a little on the thin side – way too easy to gulp. Adjusting the ratio of ice cream upwards would make this good and thick.

This is as easy as Easy-Way Lemonade, but 100 times better. You might even say luscious!

The perfect start to Memorial Day Weekend 2012!

Chocolate Peanut-Butter Shake

Just Before Serving:
In covered blender container with blender at medium speed, blend 2 cups chilled chocolate-flavored milk, ½ cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter and 1 pint vanilla ice cream, slightly softened, until mixture is smooth. Pour into four chilled 10-ounce glasses. Serve with straws. Makes about 4 cups or four 1-cup servings.

·      I used creamy peanut butter (my family’s PB of choice), but I have no doubt crunchy would be splendid, too.
·      This recipe should come with a warning, so here it is: You may drink all four servings yourself.

Why Don’t You …
·      Use chocolate ice cream and regular milk?
·      Add chocolate chips?
·      Add marshmallows and chocolate chips for a Rocky Road-style treat?
·      Top it with whipped cream and a cherry?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quick Bites: Crunchy Chicken

You have no idea how much I wanted to love these. When Mom was feeling particularly flush (or particularly exhausted, probably) she would take us to dinner at Frederick and Nelson – a Northwest department store that turned out the lights for good in 1992. But in their glory days, they had an upscale restaurant in their Everett Mall location, and my dinner of choice was the Parmesan Crusted Chicken.

This recipe, courtesy of Sharon Cadwallader, The Herald’s “Naturally” columnist, and the October 22, 1986 issue, was right when she wrote “Almost everyone likes a piece of crunchy, moist chicken now and then.” True enough – but you won't find it here.

What I envisioned was a healthier, heartier chicken nugget – the succulent dark meat bathed in buttermilk and rolled in a robust, toasty coating, then oven-fried to perfection.  What I got was a dried-out clump of dinner that resembled the leavings in a cat’s litter box.

Clockwise from top left: Peanut Cornmeal, Almond Parmesan and Walnut Chili coatings.

So what’s the problem? On the face of it, nothing. The recipe conveniently includes three crunchy variations to choose from, and none of the ingredients are too far-fetched. I did, though, have to replenish our supply of wheat germ, much to my husband’s chagrin. (We just made it through the jar I bought when we moved into this house. Twelve years ago.)

Prep was a hassle, as it always is when dealing with a wet and dry coating. Here, you dip the chicken into buttermilk, then roll in the nut coating. Though I thought I’d love the Peanut Cornmeal coating best, my favorite variation was the Almond Parmesan – probably because the addition of the cheese made these the moistest.

I’ve lately joined the fans of chicken thighs, and here they hold their own against the more assertive spices in all variations (especially the BBQ-esque Walnut Chili).  The recipe is vague as to exactly which pieces of meat should be used. Sharon does note that chicken breasts, cut into four pieces, could be substituted. So next time, if there is a next time, I would try bone-in chicken pieces. While dark meat usually does a fine job staying juicy, these boneless thighs were dry as a, well, bone. 

But don't cry for "Naturally." The same page has some delicious-sounding pumpkin recipes that should be perfect for Halloween. And rest assured I won't need to replenish the wheat germ supply when October rolls around.

(I'd love to find the Frederick and Nelson recipe – if you remember their Parmesan Crusted Chicken, or even just the department store restaurant, drop me a note!)
Crunchy Chicken, three ways, with original newspaper in the background.

Crunchy Chicken

To prepare: Remove skin from chicken and wipe with paper towel. Dip into buttermilk to cover all of chicken, then roll in coating. Place on a foil-lined baking dish and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until chicken begins to brown, then reduce heat to 350. Cover loosely with foil and continue to bake for 30 minutes. Makes 4-5 servings.

Almond Parmesan Coating
1-1/2 cups almonds, coarsely ground in blender
3 tablespoons regular wheat germ
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons leaf oregano
1 cup buttermilk

Mix together almonds, wheat germ, Parmesan cheese and oregano and put in shallow bowl. Pour buttermilk in shallow bowl and follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

Walnut Chili Coating
2 cups walnut pieces, coarsely ground in blender
1 teaspoon onion powder
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 large garlic cloves, pressed

Mix together walnuts, onion powder and chili powder and put in shallow bowl. Combine buttermilk and garlic in shallow bowl. Follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

Peanut Cornmeal Coating
1-1/2 cups peanuts, coarsely ground in blender
1/3 cup coarse ground cornmeal
½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup buttermilk

Mix together peanuts, cornmeal, cumin, coriander and ginger and put in shallow bowl. Pour buttermilk I shallow bowl and follow directions for preparing chicken for baking.

·      My boneless, skinless thighs were easily done in 20 minutes.
·      I used a foil-covered cookie sheet.
·      For easiest prep, use one hand for “wet” ingredients and one for “dry.”
·      I used the Cuisinart to grind the nuts and combine the dry ingredients.
·      I had enough of each coating left over to do another half batch. I’m storing them in Ziploc bags in the fridge. They’ll probably stay there, along with my new jar of wheat germ, for another 12 years.

Why Don’t You …
·      Try with bone-in, skinless chicken – either dark or light meat.
·      Try marinating the pieces in the buttermilk for an hour or two, or overnight.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Easy-Way Lemonade

When the mercury climbs past 70 degrees in Seattle, it’s reason to celebrate – especially after a very rainy (even by this native’s measure) spring. So this warm weekend seemed the perfect time to try this Easy-Way Lemonade.

Not to be confused with Hard-Way Lemonade (which involves the exhausting task of juicing lemons), Easy-Way seemed right up my alley. Early in the day (as instructed) I sliced the lemons, mixed them with sugar and poured over my boiling water. Five hours later, I dumped it all into a pitcher and poured a round for everyone at the dinner table.

It was cold. It was pretty, with the slices of lemon floating in their sugary juice.  It was also, sadly, bitter – the result, no doubt, of the rind and pith brining in the sugar bath for five hours. It was, indeed, lemony and fresh (and Easy!), but the bitterness outweighed any time saved.

The most fascinating thing about this recipe is not the actual recipe, but the article on the flip side. It’s a revelatory quiz from the “Sunday Woman” section of some unnamed newspaper: “Do You Have Political Potential?

Just think: Margaret Thatcher on one side and a cheater’s lemonade on the other! I couldn’t resist. As I quaffed my lemonade, I answered the Part One questions about political philosophy (Thomas Paine, imperialism), and U.S. presidential history (James Madison, the Battle of New Orleans).

At Part Two, though, I paused. Because the sexism of the quiz really started to burn me, much like the bitter lemonade. Do I base my vote on “looks and personality – though I know I shouldn’t admit this?” Could I become involved in politics if “the man I loved was fascinated by them?” (I chose: “I truly thought I could accomplish some concrete good, be of real benefit to people,” only partly because it didn’t contain italics.)

Next, I circled which political role appealed to me most, bypassing a “soigne hostess for the elegant dinners of a dashing young bachelor-senator;” and “fiery orator,” until I (finally!) landed on “first woman President.”

Finally, I had to chose my favorites from a rather abstract list of political, historical women, among them Pat Nixon, Bella Abzug and Coretta King. One name on the list had even this women’s college grad puzzled: Maxine Cheshire. (Turns out she was a Washington Post reporter about whom Henry Kissinger once said: “Maxine Cheshire’s columns make you want to commit murder.”) What the hell – I circled them all.

Happily, I aced the political and historical section (I’m on my way!), but the scoring continued on another page – a page that apparently had no tantalizing recipes on the reverse to tear out. So, sadly, I take comfort in my admiration of Barbara Jordan and Lady Bird Johnson and immense comfort in the fact that women running for office today seem to be doing so for reasons other than “meeting charismatic men. “

This is the Culinary Time Capsule at its fascinating best – a trip back to not only how the decades of my childhood tasted, but also how they behaved (italics mine, quizmaster!). The Sunday Woman of yore apparently loved luscious mocktails, the overuse of italics, and being a “back-street comfort and delight to a great man” (one of the “political” roles I did not check).

I so wish this newspaper came with a date. 1980s political icons Margaret Thatcher and Geraldine Ferraro are noticeably absent from the quizmaster’s list of women of import (“Who seems to you admirable enough to emulate?”). So too are Rosalyn Carter and Nancy Reagan – the list of political spouses ends with Pat Nixon. Is it possible this Sunday Woman is from the early ‘70s? In which case, maybe Mom wasn’t interested in the Easy-Day Lemonade at all, but in the thought of political office.

I sip my lemonade and ponder. My mind reels when I realize how far we’ve come – in the list of admirable women in politics, and the demise of such targeted but ultimately superficial newspaper sections. There was no Easy-Way – we got here through a lot of hard work and determination. I voted for Hillary – and I’ll drink to that.

Easy-Way Lemonade

Early in day:
Into large heatproof bowl or pitcher, measure 2 large lemons, thinly sliced and ½ cup sugar. Pour in 4 cups boiling water; stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate mixture until well chilled.

To Serve:
Pour mixture over ice cubes in chilled 12-ounce glasses. Garnish with additional lemon slices. Makes about 4 cups lemonade or five ¾ cup servings.

Why Don’t You …
·      Skip it, but consider running for office.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cherry Dream Squares

I dreamed a dream that these childhood recipes are turning me into a Sandra Lee “semi-homemade” clone. This recipe walks the same line as Beefaroni Stuffed Peppers and Rainbow in a Cloud, reliant as it is on boxed cake mix and cherry pie filling.  And, like many of these recipes, Cherry Dream Squares hew to my newly developed Sugar Cereal Principal – that I was drawn to what I didn’t eat on a regular basis (like sugar cereal), lending it a mystique and fascination.

This dreamy dessert comes courtesy of the Pillsbury Co., whose cake and brownie mixes are certainly a lifesaver to many a harried cook. It’s nice to see a variation on a standard use for a cake mix, and this one – essentially a cakey bar cookie – is easy. The finished squares are pretty and festive, with their licorice-red filling peeking out of the crumbly oat topping.

I have a somewhat tortured relationship with canned pie filling. I admit, I have heeded the siren song of cherry filling – most memorably for Fourth of July 2003, when I made a pie that looked like the stars and stripes and relied, yep, on cherry pie filling for two third of its innards. (The backdrop of the “stars” being blueberry.) The pie was deliciously patriotic – a total work of art. But I’m not sure even Paul Revere would have enjoyed the gluey filling. (That original recipe was from Woman’s Day, though I don’t know the year.)

I recollect playing at my friends Tasha and Sam’s house when I was about four years old. Their next-door neighbor, an older girl, came to join us in the back yard – snacking on a can of lemon pie filling. Let’s stop to let the awesomeness of that sink in. She was snacking – spoon into can – on lemon pie filling. She must have seen my mouth drop open, because she generously offered us each our own can – and our own spoon. Tasha and Sam took the offer – and their cans – it as a matter of course – maybe this was an everyday occurrence in their neighborhood. But I don’t think I’ve been so high on sugar or elation before or since. Sugar Cereal Principal indeed.

I busted out this recipe for a staff luncheon celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week at my daughter’s school. The 13”x9” pan made a generous amount – so generous I was able to take smaller portions to my daughter’s classroom the next day. Because the school has a strict “no nuts” policy, I substituted shredded coconut in the topping.

My problem with Cherry Dream Squares, surprisingly, is not the cherry filling. It’s the cake mix – the annoying fake vanilla flavor dominates even the sugary fruit filling. I miss the nuts, too, which I believe would have made the topping a bit heartier, but the coconut was tasty, and if I made this again I would probably use both.

I’d also take a page from Sandra Lee, who usually advocates adding some type of extract – vanilla, orange, rum – to boxed cake mix to cut the chemical taste. Almond would be a natural choice here to accompany those cherries. Instead of being a dream come true, though, Cherry Dream Squares left me thinking about how much better this dessert would have been with fresh fruit filling and homemade cake batter.

Cherry Dream Squares
1 pkg. Pillsbury Plus White Cake Mix
1-1/4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 egg
21-oz. can cherry fruit pie filling
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

Heat oven to 350-degrees. Grease 13x9-inch pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, 6 tablespoons margarine and 1 cup rolled oats. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup crumbs for topping. To remaining crumbs, add 1 egg; mix until well blended. Press into prepared pan. Pour cherry pie filling over crust; spread to cover. To reserved crumbs, in large bowl, add remaining 1/4 cup rolled oats, 2 tablespoons margarine, nuts and brown sugar. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle over cherry mixture. Bake at 350-degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. If desired, serve with a dollop of whipped cream. 12 servings.

·      I couldn’t find the “Pillsbury Plus” cake mix called for in the original recipe. I substituted their “Super Moist” mix.
·      I found the instructions a bit overzealous in their encouragement to "beat thoroughly" the topping ingredients. To take a page from my perennial fave, Ina Garten, "clean hands are the cook's best tool." I rubbed the ingredients together with my fingers.
·      I used ½ c. shredded coconut in place of the nuts.
·      I find these firmly in the bar cookies camp and, as such, think a "dollop of whipped cream" would be misplaced. Maybe you find them more cobbler-esque, though, in which case, dollop away!
·      Twelve servings? Easily 24 cookie-sized portions.

Why Don’t You …
·      Add ½ tsp. of almond extract to the cake mix, or the cherry filling.
·      Mix up the nuts. The original recipe doesn't specify, but toasted almonds, walnuts or pecans would all be yummy.
·      Try chocolate cake for a Black Forest-type dessert.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Barton's Table of Contents Taco Salad

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo comes this delightful creation. And no mystery about its origins: Barton’s Table of Contents was one of those quintessentially ‘80s eateries, complete with a semi-underground entrance and ferns hanging in the rounded windows. It was the place for soup, sandwiches and salads for the workday crowd, and especially loved by me because occasionally my mom would treat me to a weekday lunch there. Oh, the glamour of lunch out, mid-week! I was sure this had to be one of the very best things about being a grown-up, with no pesky school to interfere with dining adventures.

Everett, WA may not have had a huge Hispanic population when I was growing up, but far be it from my hometown to let a trend like taco salad pass it by. I’m not sure when the deep-fried taco shell bowl came into vogue, but you’ll notice it missing here. What’s not missing is a plethora of ‘80s health food: sunflower seeds, alfalfa sprouts. Sprouts!? When was the last time you had sprouts on your taco salad? (In addition to homemade yogurt, Mom used to grow her own sprouts in a canning jar with a mesh lid.)

This recipe comes courtesy of the “Forum” food column of the Everett Herald, date unknown. The restaurant opened in 1977, so it’s safe to assume this ran a few years later, after it had built up a clientele clamoring for their original recipes. My ‘80s cookbook is full of recipes like this, straddling the still-crunchy-granola vibe of the ‘70s and a headlong rush into the “We Are the World” gastronomy of the ‘80s. As far as I can remember, I never ordered the taco salad at Barton’s. In fact, I didn’t develop a taste for Mexican food until my teens.

But I love it now, and this salad doesn’t disappoint. For one, it’s a looker and features everything, really, but the kitchen sink. The three-part prep is a hassle – salad, seasoned meat and dressing – but I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.

Though there is much said about the huge portions offered up in restaurants today, Barton’s seemed to be ahead of its time. The portion sizes on this salad are enormous. True, the restaurant, not wanting to look chintzy, may have inflated the quantities to appease the diner’s bottom line. (Or maybe restaurant portions have always been huge?) But the last time I ate this much ground beef in one sitting was after I gave birth to my daughter and promptly inhaled a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in 30 seconds flat. And don’t be fooled – this salad weighs in with some impressive calories of its own with all the beef, cheese and guacamole.

Speaking of, the Guacamole Dressing is a bit euphemistic, and a bit too heavy for my dressing tastes. My husband solved that dilemma with the addition of some buttermilk ranch dressing – and we all paused to dunk our tortilla chips in it to make homemade Cool Ranch Doritos. (With an eye to your own bottom, er, line, you could also thin the dressing with salsa instead of ranch.)

If anything, this salad is a little on the bland side. I’m so used to throwing cilantro into guacamole that I really missed its vibrancy.  And though I love mushrooms, I’m not sure I love them raw. (Apologies to my good friend Megan.) But sunflower seeds – where have you been all my life? I vow to top every salad I eat from here on (taco or no) with these nuggets of deliciousness.

Barton’s Table of Contents still graces downtown Everett, though I haven’t been back to see if they’re still offering their taco salad. Stayed tuned for an update. For now, though, their tasty legacy can live on in your own kitchen – olé!

Barton’s Table of Contents Taco Salad

Equal amounts romaine and iceberg lettuce
Green onions, chopped
Cucumber, chopped
Tomatoes, chopped
Raw mushrooms, sliced or chopped
Radishes, chopped
Alfalfa sprouts
Sunflower seeds
1-1/2 pounds hamburger
Packaged taco seasoning or onion salt
1 cups bottled hot sauce
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 cup crushed taco chips
Guacamole Dressing

In a large bowl prepare a tossed salad to serve 4, using the lettuce, green onions, cucumber, tomatoes, mushrooms, radishes, sprouts and sunflower seeds. Chill while preparing remainder of recipe. Brown hamburger; drain fat and season with taco seasoning or onion salt. Prepare Guacamole dressing. To serve, divide salad among 4 individual plates. Top with hamburger, bottled hot sauce, cheese and taco chips. Top with Guacamole dressing and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Barton’s Table of Contents Guacamole Dressing
2 ripe avocados, peeled, seeded and mashed
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped tomatoes
¼ cup bottled hot sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped onions
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine avocado, mayonnaise, lemon juice and hot sauce; blend until smooth. Stir in tomatoes and onion; season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes enough dressing to serve 4.

·      I halved the recipe and still comfortably served two adults and two children, with leftovers.
·      I substituted lime for lemon juice in the guac.

Why Don’t You …
·      Spice up the dressing to your taste with cilantro, chilies or extra hot sauce. Or, try my husband’s trick and cut it with ranch dressing. Or salsa!
·      Substitute black or pinto beans for the meat – or simply add them in addition to the burger.