Monday, June 28, 2010

Guacamole -- Make it now while avocadoes are cheap

I don't know whether this is a traditional guacamole recipe or not. It's the one that I have developed over the years and my family likes it. Summer is a great time of year for guacamole because avocadoes are cheap and plentiful. Not as cheap as they were in my childhood, when I remember avocadoes at a dime a dozen on more than one occasion, but still inexpensive enough that it's worth buying up a bunch.
Ripe avocadoes tend to be on the darker side. They should "give" slightly when gently squeezed at the stem end. Firmer avocadoes can also be used, but rock-hard avocadoes are not a good idea. Let them ripen in a paper bag in a warm place for a few days instead. It's worth taking the extra time.

Cut the avocadoes in half along the long axis:
And scoop out the innards into a bowl (discard the avocado seeds unless you want to try sprouting one):
After all your avocado innards are scooped out, mash them up:
I like to use a pastry blender, but a fork works just as well. You want to have a relatively homogenous mixture when you are done, with no big lumps.

I chop onions very, very fine (in little itty-bitty pieces) for my guacamole:

I also use a garlic press to add some fresh garlic:
The amount of onions and garlic I add varies depending on how many avocadoes I have used or how I'm feeling about onion and garlic on the particular day I make guacamole. So I guess that's an "add to taste". As is the salsa. Salsa is essential -- in fact, I used to make guacamole just from smashed up avocadoes and salsa. The onions and garlic were a later addition.
The salsa we use right now is a local organic product that we are very fond of and use for all kind of things, including just to dip corn chips into.
I can't give you quantities on the salsa, either. My advice is to add some salsa and then taste.
Repeat this process until you have the degree of spiciness that makes you happy. No matter how much salsa I add to the guacamole, by the way, my husband always says that it could use a little more.

And that's it. Very simple and very good. If you have to store the guacamole for a while before serving, cover it with plastic wrap that is pressed down onto the surface of the dip to prevent any air from getting in. Some people recommend keeping an avocado pit in the salsa, but I only do that for leftovers -- which I also cover with plastic wrap pressed right down onto the dip, even if it's stored in something like Tupperware. Air is the enemy of fresh food.

I would have included pictures of how to store the leftovers, but....
There really wasn't enough to store. Instead, we just grabbed some chips and finished it off.

Next week -- another cold fruit soup for summer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ice Cream the Old-Fashioned Way

I am actually not a big fan of ice cream, but I really love home-made hand-cranked ice cream, if only because it brings back memories of long hot summer days when I was a child.

This is the ice cream recipe that I got from my mother. It contains raw eggs and I know that some people are leery of using raw eggs. I've done a fair amount of research on this issue over the years and the potential dangers using raw eggs simply don't worry me very much. If you are concerned about raw eggs, there are plenty of recipes for ice cream in which the eggs are cooked before freezing -- just use one of them.

Start with six whole eggs:
Beat them really well in a mixer and then add sugar:
And canned milk:
This is not sweetened condensed milk, but evaporated milk. This is a very important distinction. I add three cups of sugar and 3 cans of milk, alternating additions and mixing well after each. I also add 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract:
It's very important to make sure that the ice cream ingredients are thoroughly mixed, so check the beaters and the bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure there's no eggs or sugar that did not get blended in.

I then add whole milk -- not skim, not 1 per cent, not 2 per cent -- whole milk.
I usually add an entire quart of milk, but I only pour in about half a carton to start with, mixing it in thoroughly:
At this point, I pour the ice cream mix into the canister of the ice cream maker. This is usually a tall metal canister that has a removal mixing beater:
The ice cream mix will not fill the canister:
And here's where I have to insert a small confession. Our current ice cream maker is a 6-quart machine and the recipe my mother gave me is for only 4 quarts of ice cream. I just haven't gotten around to increasing the amounts yet to fit the new machine -- but I'll do it at the end so that you can make either 4-quarts or 6 quarts of ice cream, depending on the size of your ice cream maker.

Now I take the rest of that whole milk and rinse out the mixing bowl with it to make sure I've gotten all the good stuff out of the bowl.
The rest of the quart of milk is used to rinse out the bowl (and is then added to the ice cream canister) or goes directly into the canister.
Even in a 4-quart canister, this amount of ice cream mix will not fill the canister. The mixture will expand as it freezes, so there needs to be room for the finished product.

Put the top on the canister and place it inside the ice cream maker bucket. There is usually a depression on the bottom of the canister that fits into a space on the bottom of the bucket to make sure that the canister is seated properly.
Add ice around the canister:
And put salt on the ice. My mother used to use coarse salt or kosher salt until she realized that table salt works just as well. Use whatever salt you have.
The salt lowers the freezing point of the water, making the ice colder and the ice cream freeze faster. So use salt!

Continue adding layers of ice and salt until the bucket is full:
If you have an electric ice cream maker, add the motor unit and turn it on:
If you don't have a motor unit or if -- like us on the day we took these pictures -- your motor unit isn't working, add the hand-crank attachment and find some enthusiastic children to turn the crank:
At first the crank turns very easily. This is a good time to let children work. They are usually eager to get to the ice cream and don't mind the effort. Eventually, however, the crank will become harder and harder to turn. That's when you need to get teenage boys or adults involved.
When there's a lot of resistance to the cranking (about 30 minutes on a hot sunny day), you can check the ice cream to see whether it is done.
As I mentioned, the recipe I made isn't enough to feel this particular freezer. In a 4-quart freezer (or if I'd increased the recipe amount), sometimes the ice cream will expand enough to start coming out of the top. Stop cranking at that point.

Regardless of your method for determining doneness, the ice cream will resemble heavy cream at this point. It needs to be "packed" for further freezing.

Packing Homemade Ice Cream in the Ice Cream Freezer
Carefully remove the top of the freezer assembly, then the top of the canister. Gently remove the paddle/turner from the canister and give it to someone to lick (this is a messy treat). Put some foil around the top of the freezer canister, rinse off the top (it may have some salt and ice on it), and replace the top on the canister over the foil. Add additional ice up to the top of the freezer canister, cover the freezer with a towel folded up nicely so that you can sit on it, and leave the freezer in a shady area until you are ready to eat the ice cream.

Packing Homemade Ice Cream in Your Electric Freezer
Carefully remove the top of the freezer, then the entire freezer canister. You will need to take the top off, remove the paddle and give it to someone to lick, and then replace the top. I strongly recommend rinsing off the outside of the freezer canister as well as the top and using some foil to cover the ice cream as described above. Then stick the entire freezer canister into your freezer or refrigerator freezer compartment until you are ready to eat the ice cream.
We had to leave ours in the freezer, but one of these days I'll take pictures of packing the ice cream the other way. I check the ice cream every 30 minutes or so and stir it up really well to prevent it from separating:
The ice cream on the sides of the canister needs to be stirred in as well. I usually wait at least 2 hours before actually eating the ice cream (though some people can't wait that long). The ice cream will still be very soft, almost soupy at this stage:
But it tastes yummy and is great with fruit or chocolate sauce, if you are so inclined.

The leftovers from the first rush to ice cream are frozen until they are much more solid. Unless I continue to stir it up every hour or so, some separation will take place:
It's hard to see in this picture, but the bottom of the ice cream (I put it into a shallow container to freeze overnight) is slightly darker. When this happens, I just scrape it all out and put the frozen stuff into my mixer:
And then beat it until it is mostly smooth and homogenous:
The ice cream is still soft-serve at this point, but also still delicious:
After I've mixed up the frozen ice cream, it almost never separates again, so I put it into containers and freeze it yet again:
There's not often much left at this point, but after several hours more of freezing, the ice cream is still somewhat softer than commercial ice cream, but it also looks more frozen:
And yes, it still tastes delicious. Especially for breakfast with some Grape Nuts on top.

Ice Cream -- 4 quarts (6 quarts)

6 eggs (9 eggs)
3 cups sugar (4-1/2 cups sugar)
3 cans evaporated milk (4-1/2 cans evaporated milk)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (1-1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract)
1 quart whole milk (6 cups whole milk)

Beat eggs thoroughly, then add sugar and canned milk alternately, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla and about half of whole milk. Pour mix into the freezer canister of your ice cream freezer, then use whole milk to rinse out your mixing bowl, adding this to the freezer canister until it is about 2/3 full (or as full as your manufacturer suggests). Refrigerate for at least one hour before transferring to the ice cream maker and freezing.

Red Chile Enchiladas -- Stacked, (almost) the way my mama made them -- Part 2 of 2

Okay, so I forgot to put in the recipe quantities and it isn't tomorrow. But here's the rest of the enchilada process.

Speaking of process, this really is a method more than a recipe. It is going to seem long and complicated because we took lots of pictures, but putting stacked enchiladas together really doesn't take all that long. The most important part is getting everything in place before you start. There are four essential ingredients -- enchilada sauce, grated cheese, chopped onions, and tortillas.

While gathering items and grating and chopping, etc., I preheat the oven, usually to 250 degrees Farenheit. I usually heat up enchilada sauce in a skillet unless I've just made a fresh batch, in which case I just use the big pot full of enchilada sauce. In any case, I warm up the sauce on low heat -- it really shouldn't be bubbling, just warm.
And a generous amount of grated cheese. We use Monterey Jack and Colby Longhorn Cheddar, and the amount varies depending on the number of enchilada plates being made. On the particular occasion on which these pictures were taken, four people were having enchiladas. Not that we worry too much about extra grated cheese -- somehow, it always gets used up within a few days.
Not everyone likes raw onions, but I chop them finely for those of us who do:
Most of us prefer corn tortillas in our enchiladas, but one of the offspring has decided that he prefers flour tortillas instead. I found small flour tortillas, a size generally called "gorditas", that are about the same size as corn tortillas and I have been using those for this particular child.
In this picture, the corn tortillas are on the right and the flour gordita tortillas are on the left.

Once all these components are assembled, and the sauce is warm, it's time to begin by cooking the tortillas lightly in the enchilada sauce. I drop in a tortilla (flour in this case):
Make sure it is entirely submerged in the sauce:
And then let it cook long enough to soften the tortilla. The first tortilla is the only one that really needs checking because the other steps are done while the next tortilla is cooking. When the tortilla kind of flops when you pick it up out of the sauce, it's ready.
Transfer the tortilla to an ovenproof plate. You can see the stack of plates waiting in the pictures above and below.
Before moving away from the stove to do anything else, place another tortilla in the enchilada sauce and make sure that it's covered. Each subsequent tortilla will cook while you assemble the rest of the dish.

Take the plate with the tortilla to the area where you have the grated cheese and chopped onions prepared. Ideally, this area should be no more than a step away from the stove.
And sprinkle grated cheese on the tortilla.
Chopped onions can also be added at this time. As you can see, the grated cheese and chopped onions are right next to each other for easy loading. Once you have enough cheese on the first tortilla, go back and take the next tortilla out of the sauce and put it on top of the first tortilla.
Put another tortilla in the sauce to cook, and then add more cheese and (optional) onions on top of the second tortilla.
This process can be repeated for more than two tortillas. There was a time when my husband ate a stack of 4 tortillas in his enchiladas. It's all in how much you want to eat -- cheese can be very filling.

When you have enough tortillas layered with cheese to fit your appetite (or the appetite of the person for whom you are preparing the enchilada), put the filled plate in the heated oven.
And then start on the next enchilada. Basically, this process is repeated for each enchilada plate you are preparing.
I can fit more plates into the oven, if necessary. It's a balancing process.

A couple of special cases should be mentioned here. Sometimes a person wants only one tortilla. It's possible, of course, to "stack" only one tortilla, but I prefer to put cheese and onions on half of the tortilla:
Then fold the tortilla over the filling:
And put more cheese and onions on top:
This method yield the "look and feel" of stacked tortillas without the extra food.

The other special case that occurs in my family is the family member who wants more sauce (and thus more spice). I just pick up some enchilada sauce on the spatula I use to remove the tortillas:
And then drip it onto the tortilla on the plate:
It is possible to transfer quite a lot of sauce this way and some people really prefer the additional sauce.

Once the oven is fully loaded with as many enchilada plates as we are making, I take the enchilada sauce off the heat, put away any leftover cheese, and take a short break so that the cheese can get all nice and bubbly in the oven.
There's no hard and fast rule for how long this break is. Sometimes I speed things up by turning up the heat on the oven to 300 or 350. I rarely leave the enchilada plates in the oven more than 15 minutes or so before starting the next step.

I said this was how my mama made enchiladas, and my mama cooked eggs to put on top of her stacked enchiladas. Not everyone likes an egg on top, not even in my own family. So do what works for your family.

You can fry the eggs in a traditional manner, but I poach eggs in enchilada sauce. I put a small amount of enchilada sauce in the skillet I use for making the enchiladas and add as many eggs as I need:
Then I cover the pan and cook the eggs over low heat until they are done:
This takes me about 10 minutes, but I check them frequently and move the pan around to make sure that all the eggs get cooked.

When the eggs are done, they are transferred to the top of a stack of enchiladas.
Typical accompaniments for stacked red enchiladas are refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, chopped lettuce, olives, or green onions.

Enjoy! Just remember -- just like they tell you in restaurants -- be careful, the plates are hot!