Ann’s Essential Guacamole

 

Ann's Essential Guac - DInner Is ServedThis post is going to be fairly short since it’s a tandem recipe to another one I will be posting later today or tomorrow.  Bottom line though, it that guacamole is something everyone should at least try making from scratch. You’ll realize how easy it is to make and how FAR superior it is to any pre-packaged guac you buy at the grocery store.

Another advantage is that you can make it YOUR way.  You control the ingredients, the creaminess (or not), the amount of spice (or none).  There is really only one ingredient that’s a must: avocados.  The rest of the add-ins are up to you. Here are the ones I love:Ann's Essential Guac - DInner Is Served2

And since I like just a hint of spice, I add some Cholula Hot Sauce, starting with about 1/2 tsp and adding a little more, drop by drop, until it’s just right.

One final note before I jump right in. Finding avocados that are just the perfect ripeness is important.  Bright green, rock hard ones just won’t work. On the flip side, mushy and overripe ones will just make your guacamole mushy and sad.  Look for medium-ripe avocados, that yield just a bit, when pressed.

Enjoy!

Ann’s Essential Guacamole

  • 3 medium ripe avocados
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 a white or red onion, diced (or you can use about 1/3 cup chopped green onions)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 small lines (about 1-2 TBS)
  • Cholula hot sauce
  • Coarse salt and pepper

Remove pit from avocados and scoop insides out into a large bowl along with the lime juice.  Mash with a fork (or a potato masher works), until desired consistency.  I prefer somewhat smooth, but with small pieces of solid avocado in act.  Gently fold in tomatoes, onions and cilantro along with about 1/2 tsp of the hot sauce, a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Taste for seasonings, adding additional hot sauce, lime juice or salt and pepper if desired.

Place in a glass or plastic container and place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the guacamole, pressing down to ensure no air bubbles (this step helps it keep it’s beautiful green color).  Refrigerate for about 1 hour before serving.

 

Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and Cilantro

Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Dressing with Lime and Cilantro1With one child already starting school, and another starting in a week, I’m beginning to feel the emotional let down of summer’s end.  Then Labor Day up in Wisconsin and the quiet rite of summer passage: swim rafts being towed ashore for their winter storage.

Some years I beg for fall to come. Those years when Chicago bakes under the hot August sun and sucks every last bit of energy out of me.  Then, there are summers like this: a bit of a rocky start in June, but July and August, oh my. Only a handful of days in the 90+ range. Cool nights spent on the patio. Just enough rain to keep my garden lush.

Please can we just make it last a bit longer?

Or perhaps, I’ll just continue to cook like it’s summer. And fresh salads certainly bring summer into the kitchen and are deserving of the most refreshing dressing (SOMETHING NOT IN A BOTTLE!).  Which brings me to this cool buttermilk ranch dressing that I could literally eat with a spoon (not ashamed).

It begins with the simplest of ingredients, most of which you probably already have on hand:IMAG1892

What takes this dressing to the next level though, is the lime/cilantro combination. Oh so good:IMAG1895

By the way, if you don’t have one of these fancy lime juicers  ^^, you’re missing out on one of the greatest kitchen gadgets that ever lived! Also note the custom Dinner Is Served cutting board (available online at Personalizationmall.Com  A birthday gift from my sister.

It all comes together so quickly and so easily. Just throw everything into the blender or food processor (my Ninja blender does a fantastic job).  The result is a cool, tangy dressing that can serve as a salad dressing or as a dip for fresh vegetables, chicken tenders or wings, poached shrimp. I know the phrase “the possibilities are endless” is overused but in this case it really does apply!Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and CilantroSo yes summer, I’m talking to YOU!  Even if you’re heading out of town soon, I can still imagine your presence in my kitchen each and every day.

Creamy Buttermilk Dressing with Lime and Cilantro

3/4 cups mayonnaise (either light or regular)

3/4 cup Greek-style yogurt

2 TBS fresh lime juice

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 TBS olive oil

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

2 TBS coarsely chopped fresh chives

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Keep refrigerated until serving.

Yields: About 2 cups of dressing

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pinot Noir

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pinot Noir| Dinner Is ServedAdmit it, you’re ready to change up Thanksgiving this year. Am I right? You’ve pinned hundreds of stuffing recipes onto your Thanksgiving Pinterest board, bookmarked all the fun, new ways to cook sweet potatoes in your cooking mags, and spent hours researching different brines.   There is pressure, of course, to stay the course. Not change a thing. Ever.  But this is the year it’s all going to change. Marshmallow yams and green bean casserole be damned, it’s the dawn of a new day!

OK, go ahead and laugh. I’m laughing myself. Why?  Because this is totally me almost every year! I talk the talk but when it comes down to making a big change, I relent just about every time. Part of sticking with the tried and true recipes is practical: big holidays aren’t always the best time for experimentation. I totally get that.  There’s comfort in tradition. “Nana’s Sage Dressing” brings back memories of Nana and that makes everyone happy.

So maybe you’re not ready to change everything, but how about one thing? Like that bland cranberry sauce that is more of an afterthought. Or worse yet, the jellied, can-shaped wonder.

This ginger cranberry sauce with pinot noir has quite a bit of intrigue thanks to the addition of fresh and crystallized ginger, sweet curry powder and pinch of Chinese Five-Spice powder.

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pinot Noir | Dinner Is Served

This recipe also gives me a perfect excuse to bring home some of my favorite pinot from Trader Joes.  Added bonus: their VINTJS Pinot from Willamette Valley pairs beautifully with turkey and sides so stock up!

Trader Joe's VinTJ Pinot Noir

Of course you don’t have to stop at Thanksgiving with the cranberry sauce! This sauce is wonderful with turkey sandwiches or spread onto your English muffin. For a quick and festive holiday appetizer, spoon over some brie cheese and bake in the oven until soft and melty.

Interested in another one of my “tried and true” Thanksgiving recipes? Check out my post on THE perfect roasted turkey. I promise on a stack of cookbooks, this is a total winner (like the cranberry sauce).

Raising my glass of pinot to all the Thanksgiving cooks out there.  To making a change (and to leaving the rest as is)!

Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pinot Noir*

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups cranberries (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cups Pinot Noir or other dry red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet curry powder
  • Large pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

preparation

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cranberries and fresh ginger; stir until cranberries begin to burst, about 3 minutes. Add wine and sugar; boil until mixture is reduced to 2 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Add crystallized ginger, curry powder and five-spice powder. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover; chill.) Serve sauce cold or, if desired, rewarm over low heat, stirring often.

Makes 2 1/2 cups of sauce

*recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

Plum Sauce with Basil & Balsamic Vinegar

Plum Sauce with Basil & Balsamic Vinegar |  Dinner Is ServedYou may be wondering why I am posting a recipe for a just a sauce.  As in “Where is the rest of the meal? Have you lost your mind, Dinner Is Served?”  I swear on a stack of Julia Child cookbooks, there were many other things that went with this meal: grilled pork tenderloin (which was served with the plum sauce), jasmine rice and glazed carrots with agave nectar and garlic chives. Oh it was very beautiful and delicious and nutritious.

Unfortunately, I have no photos from that meal.

Chalk it up to the struggles of someone who works full time (like me) and blogs on his/her spare time.  Meaning nights and weekends.  Trust me, when it’s 7:30 at night and I’m tired and the family is starving, NO ONE is going to wait around for me to take photos!

Fortunately, I did snap some nice shots of the sauce alone.  Which honestly, it was the sauce that made the meal in the first place. So, assuming you all know how to season and grill a pork tenderloin or a pork chop (or lamb chop or chicken breast), then we can just get right to this lovely summer sauce which is made with just three ingredients and (bonus time here) FAT FREE!

We’ll start with some glorious plums, which happen to be at the peak of season right now:

Plum Balsamic Sauce with Basil | Dinner Is Served

MMmmmm…I have serious love of summer fruit:

Plum Balsamic Sauce with Basil | Dinner Is Served

Chop these beauties up and add a little balsamic vinegar:

Plum Balsamic Sauce with Basil | Dinner Is Served

Then simmer on the stove for about ten minutes until the plums have softened:

Plum Balsamic Sauce with Basil | DInner Is Served

Puree, strain, and toss in some chopped fresh basil, a little salt & pepper.  DONE!  And now the fun begins: what to serve this with?  I can think of many many things:

  • Grilled Pork tenderloin, pork & fruit kabobs, pork chops, ribs
  • Turkey burgers
  • Grilled chicken thighs
  • Grilled lamb chops
  • Cornish game hens
  • Roast duck breast
  • Broiled salmon

You’re going to have a ton of fun with this one, trust me.  Until we meet again… 🙂

Plum Sauce with Basil & Balsamic Vinegar

1 1/2 pounds ripe purple plums, pitted and cut into 1-inch chunks

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup shredded fresh basil

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp salt

In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, bring the plums and vinegar to a boil over high heat. Cover and reduce the heat to moderately low. Cook the plums, stirring often, until tender, about ten minutes.

Puree the plum mixture in a food processor. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the puree into a nonreactive bowl. Stir in the basil, pepper, and salt.  Season to taste and let cool a bit before serving over your favorite grilled food.

 

Yields: About 2 cups sauce

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette | Dinner Is ServedI appear to have a complete obsession with potatoes lately.  For the life of me, I can’t tell  you why they have been popping up here on my blog page with such regularity other than the fact that I have always loved potatoes and keep coming up with new and different ways to enjoy them!  I also love grilling summer vegetables, so it just seemed natural to bring these two together with some fresh herbs and a tangy mustard vinaigrette dressing.   I also wised up and FINALLY (after, what, 20+ years of serious cooking), purchased a gorgeous, stainless steel Weber® grill pan.  I can already tell we’re going to be best friends for life:

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette | Dinner Is Served

I also made a decent sized batch of my favorite Mustard Vinaigrette dressing using a nearly empty jar of TJ’s Dijon mustard.  Just add the ingredients to the jar (minus the mustard of course because it’s already in the jar) and give it a few good shakes.  This vinaigrette will keep for a good two weeks in the fridge and is perfect not only for salads, but grilled vegetables and as a marinade.

Food prep here is quick and silly simple.  Just par boil some potatoes for about 15 minutes

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Drain and while the potatoes are cooling, cut up some fresh summer zucchini, or any other kind of squash of your preference.  Toss with some olive oil, garlic salt and pepper:

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Cut up the cooled potatoes and repeat with the garlic salt, pepper and olive oil.  Then onto the grill it goes, until lightly charred.  Toss with just enough of the dressing to flavor the salad and serve immediately warm, or you can also serve at room temperature.

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Served this last night with a fabulous Red Wine & Coffee Marinated Sirloin Steak from Fine Cooking Magazine and a nice Cotes du Rhone from Trader Joes (2013 Laurent DuBlanc).  All in all, one fine meal.   I love you, potatoes and new grill pan.  BFF’s 4EVER ♥

Grilled Potato & Zucchini Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:

1 TBS Dijon mustard

3 TBS white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

1 medium garlic clove, crushed

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 3/4 pounds of new potatoes, scrubbed

2 medium zucchini squash

Fresh herbs (basil, thyme, tarragon or parsley)

Garlic salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra Virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a glass jar.  Cover and shake until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place the potatoes in a sauce pan with cold water and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until just barely tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cool water.  Set aside to cool.

While potatoes are cooling, slice zucchini crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces, then cut each piece in half.  Toss with some olive oil,  garlic salt and pepper.

Cut small potatoes in half or quarter if large.  In a separate bowl, toss with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper.

Preheat a grill pan for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat.  When hot, add zucchini and potatoes.  Grill, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 10 minutes.

Remove from grill and place in a serving bowl.  Toss with a few TBS of the vinaigrette and some fresh herbs.  Season with additional salt and pepper and serve immediately.  Or, cover loosely and serve at room temperature.

 

Serves 6

Lee’s Crisp Broccoli-Apple Slaw

Lee's Crisp Broccoli Apple Slaw

“I could eat coleslaw every day for the rest of my life and never get bored!”

Said no one ever.

Poor coleslaw.  It really is an after thought, isn’t it?  Something you feel obligated to serve with fried chicken, or on top of a bbq pork sandwich.  You’ll order it as a side dish, if offered, because eh…it’s better for you than fries, right?  Often drowning in a bland, watered down dressing and served unceremoniously in a flimsy little paper cup.  You take one obligatory bite, and that’s it.

I honestly have not given coleslaw much thought over the years, until recently, when a good friend of mine raved about a slaw her neighbor, Lee, made.  It had apples in it…hmmmm.  Lee graciously passed on the recipe to me, and it happened to fit in perfectly with a meal I was making that week.  I was immediately smitten.

Step aside average cabbage slaw and meet your competition:Lee's Crisp Broccoli Apple Slaw| Dinner Is Served

Couple things that I love about this slaw above the others: definitely the broccoli slaw mix itself.  If you can grab some in the organic section of your grocery store, that’s a win.  Trader Joe’s also carries an organic broccoli slaw, I am pretty sure.  Most mixes include some shredded carrots and others, a little shredded red cabbage.  The crisp texture and clean flavor is a refreshing change of pace.    Alone, it’s a nice mix, but kick it up with some chopped tart apples and a slighty sweet, tangy mayo dressing , and it’s a slaw game changer.20140413_153830

Whoah…hold the horses here.  Might that be fresh rosemary in the dressing?  Oh yes indeed and it’s the secret ingredient in this dressing.   Very tempted was I to leave this out, but I’m so glad I didn’t.   Blog worthy slaw? You betcha!

Thank you Lee.  This one’s a keeper!

Lee’s Crisp Broccoli-Apple Slaw

1- 12 oz package broccoli coleslaw mix

1 2/3 cups chopped tart apple, peeled (such as Granny Smith)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (regular or light)

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

3/4 teaspoon salt

Combine slaw and apples in a large bowl, and toss well. Whisk mayonnaise, brown sugar, rosemary, vinegar and salt in a small bowl.  Combine with slaw/apple mix and gently toss.  Add a pinch of black pepper, if desired.  Cover and chill at least an hour before serving.  Yield: 8 servings – serving size is 1/3 cup.

Cilantro Lime Butter

Cilantro Lime Butter

To say that I have been busy/swamped/burning the candles at both ends these days, is a major understatement.  Aside from the usual back to school mayhem + work, we’re in the midst of college planning and applications for our daughter.  And since I can’t say “no” to anything, I agreed to be an assistant stage manager for a show at our local community theatre.  Throw yard work, laundry, etc. into the fray and well, you get the picture.

It is very tempting during times like this, to let the family meals go by the wayside.  And trust me, there are plenty of nights where take out food and frozen pizza is the name of the game, especially on week days.  But on weekends, I like to put together something a little special and still keep things simple.

Which brings me to this delightfully easy and flavorful Cilantro-Lime butter.  Just four ingredients, but add it to grilled fish, poultry or vegetables and it adds such a lovely touch of flavor.  Last night I put a little bit on some mesquite grilled swordfish.  In the past, I’ve used it on chicken kabobs, grilled corn on the cob, and even on roasted potatoes.   You can whip up a small little batch like this in under five minutes, or go for broke and make a larger batch to freeze for future use.

And now my yard, it is a calling.  Enjoy what’s left of the weekend my friends. I’ll be back in take-out land in no time!

Cilantro-Lime Butter

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.  To use,  place on any hot food, tent with foil so butter can melt, then serve.

Yields: About 2-3 servings

Simple.Spring.Salad

So yes it feels more like summer here in Chicago than spring.  I’m not complaining.  Trust me, NO ONE is complaining.

Outdoor dining tables and umbrellas are popping up all over town.  Weekend burgers on the grill are wafting through the air.  And my slow cooker is taking a leave of absence in my basement.  Heck I even wore a skirt and sandals to work yesterday.

Of course this being Chicago, we may be knee deep in snow next week, so while the going is good, I’m definitely taking advantage of it! For me, that means simple meals on the grill and always a fresh, simple green salad.  Simple, as in green greens with a sweet, garlicky white balsamic vinaigrette dressing and  sprinkle of fresh goat cheese.

The beauty here is there are no hard and fast rules for the salad.  Just keep it green and keep it fresh.  Fresh…as NOT salad in a bag.  Know there is a time and a place for bagged salads, but this isn’t it.   Spring is the time to pick up a bunch of fresh spinach, a head of butter lettuce, romaine, green garlic, tender peas, spring onions and fresh herbs.  Then take about 30 seconds of your life and make a fresh homemade vinaigrette.  Actually, make a lot of it, because it will keep well in the fridge for weeks and you may quickly reconsider bottled dressings.

Speaking of bottles, a nice Chenin Blanc from South Africa would do quite well with this salad.  Maybe a grilled salmon fillet or some sauteed shrimp.

Simple spring is simply…divine.

Simple.Spring.Salad

6 cups fresh greens, rinsed and dried (any combination of spinach, iceberg, romaine, endive or frisee)

2 scallions or spring onions, thinly sliced

1 TBS fresh delicate herbs (parsley, chives, chervil)

1 cup fresh cooked peas or edamame (optional)

1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

White Balsamic Dressing

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TSB Dijon mustard

1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar

3/4 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/4 tsp coarse black pepper

  1. For salad, combine greens until ready to serve.
  2. To make dressing, place garlic, mustard and vinegar in a glass bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Slowly pour in olive oil, whisking constantly.  Add salt and pepper and taste.
  3. Pour just enough dressing over greens to coat (you will have way more dressing than you need.  Just place the remaining dressing in an airtight container and refrigerate).  Toss lightly with tongs or salad forks.  Place in bowls or on plates.  Top with goat cheese and serve with an extra grind of black pepper.

Serves 4

Mixed Greens with Goat Cheese, Red Onions & Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinaigrette

Oh my..how I am tempted by the sample station at Trader Joe’s.  I just about cleaned out their display this past weekend after sampling a simple romaine/goat cheese salad with a delightful citrusy vinaigrette made with their Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar.   Since I regularly cruise the TJ’s aisles, surely this unique vinegar must be a new item.   And yet my “sample person du jour” informed me this specialty vinegar has been on the TJ’s scene for quite some time.   I was surprised  it hadn’t found its way into my cart before this weekend!   Thankfully…all’s well that ends well and I now have a bottle in my fridge.  Waiting for endless possibilities.  Inspired by the ideas on the bottle and wishing I had an avocado and some grilled shrimp to add to last night’s salad!   Enjoy!

Mixed Greens with Goat Cheese, Red Onions  and TJ’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinaigrette

1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Orange Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar

1 small shallot, minced

Kosher salt or sea salt

Coarsely ground black pepper

2/3 cup – 3/4 cup olive oil

1 bag (about 7 oz.) mixed greens {i used TJ’s “Champs Elysees” Mix}

1/8 – 1/4 cup thinly sliced  red onion

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

Place vinegar, shallots, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper in a small glass bowl.  Whisk together.  Add olive oil to taste, in a steady stream, whisking constantly until incorporated.  Note> After adding 2/3 cup oil, taste dressing.    If too acidic, continue to add oil until it it pleases your palate.  Season to taste with any additional salt and pepper.

Combine greens, red onions and goat cheese in a salad bowl.  Drizzle in enough dressing to coat.  Toss and serve.

Serves 4