Tag Archives: Food

Feliz Cinco de Mayo: Make (and Take) a Great Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo is upon us — the 5th of May, a holiday celebrated by Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and others. It commemorates the 1861 Battle of Puebla, in which the Mexicans stopped the French from annexing their country. (The French did end up ruling Mexico for a short time afterward, but no matter.) As it happens, Mexican Independence Day is much more widely celebrated in Mexico than Cinco de Mayo — it’s in September and marks Mexico’s 1810 independence from Spain. This site features a good history of Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo certainly offers an opportunity to celebrate with friends, music, and good Mexican food and drink. There is perhaps no more popular and delicious a dish than a good homemade guacamole, which is very easy to make (provided you have access to fresh avocados) and always tastes a great deal better than anything store-bought.

Because I live with Lippy, the Tequila Whisperer and a fine guacamole maker, I got to ask him for a few of his trade secrets.

Lippy’s Guacamole

You’ll need:

4 avocados (approx. 1/2 avocado per person)
1/4 red onion chopped
1 medium tomato, cut in small cubes
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 c. fire-roasted green or tomatilla salsa
4 tsp. salt or more, to taste
Lime juice, optional

When buying avocados, make sure you choose ones that are ripe, but not overly ripe. When you press in the center, there should be some give. If they are too firm,they are flavorless and hard to work with. If they are too soft, they are watery and lose their flavor and texture.

Cut avocados in half, around the pit. Remove the pit by gently inserting a knife and coaxing it out. You can remove the avocado meat many ways, either by scooping it out or by scoring pieces with a knife and releasing them. (They should remove from the skin easily.)

Place avocado halves or pieces in a bowl. Add all remaining ingredients except lime, and gently mash together. The result should be mixed but fairly chunky. Taste and add salt, salsa or cilantro as needed.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. If you’re not going to serve the guacamole right away, or if you’ll be bringing it to a gathering, you may want to employ Lippy’s trick to keep it from turning brown. (Green guacamole is so much more attractive!) Squeeze a layer of lime juice over the top of it and let it sit there, then mix the lime juice in just prior to serving. (The acid in the limes stops the guacamole from oxidizing.) An alternative (or addition) to the lime juice is a layer of sliced limes, covering the whole top, which can appear festive and decorative. Lippy cautions: Use as little lime juice as possible, just enough for a layer of cover, because lime can be a bit overpowering and not to everyone’s taste.

Serve with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment to any Mexican dish. Enjoy! Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman. Guacamole on counter: Jon Sullivan, pdphoto.org.

Miniature and Whimsical Food for Leprechauns, Fairies and Elves

If you wish to entice a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day, you’re going to need some leprechaun-scaled food. The same applies for fairies, elves, gnomes and other small, whimsical creatures. Here are some tantalizing ways to satisfy hungry leprechauns and fairies who have come to tea.

Mini Burgers

You’ll need:

A box of Nilla wafers
A bag of small peppermint patties such as York
Shredded coconut
Green food coloring
Red or yellow “Fruit by the Foot” (frosting can be substituted)
Sesame seeds, optional
Corn syrup, optional
Toothpicks, optional

1. Dissolve a drop of green food coloring into a cup of water.

2. Place about 1/4 cup of shredded coconut into a mixing bowl and pour the food coloring over it. Mix the coconut to coat it with color and then let it sit a few minutes to make sure the color is absorbed. Pat dry with a paper towel. That is the lettuce for your burger.

3. Roll out the “Fruit by the Foot” and cut small squares of red or yellow to represent tomato slices and cheese.

4. If you wish your Nilla wafer “buns” to have sesame seeds on it, place the desired number of wafers on a flat surface, covered with wax paper. Dip a toothpick into the corn syrup and dot the wafers with drops of the syrup. Carefully place a sesame seed on each syrup drop. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to dry.

5. Assemble the “burger” by starting with a wafer for the bottom bun and then adding a peppermint patty, the fruit square(s), the coconut, and, finally, the top bun.

6. Nibble with tiny bites, just like the leprechauns do.

Jell-O Rainbow

You’ll need:

One small package each of gelatins in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple
Hot water for each package, per package directions
Approx. 2 c. Cool Whip, if you want a white layer between colors
Many small containers or one large flat one (like an 8×8 pan)
Non-stick spray

1. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water (Do not add cold water). Spray large flat pan or separate bowls (as flat as possible) with non-stick spray.

2. Place each color in a separate bowl or place 2/3 of your first color in the flat pan as a layer. Chill, trying to keep the Jell-O flat.

3. If making one large pan, wait until gelatin is set to add a next layer of color, in rainbow-color order, listed above. Repeat with all colors. If you want white between your color layers, then mix 1/3 c. cool whip into your remaining 1/3 c. Jell-O and add that layer to the previous layer, letting it set before moving on.

4. If making many small pans, once gelatin is set, cut each color into uniform squares or rectangles. Place shapes on platters or plates in rainbow-color order, listed above.

5. If making one large mold, wait until the final layer has set and carefully cut the Jell-O so that it reveals the rainbow through each layer.

This is a great blog post about Jell-O Rainbows.

Other miniature and whimsical food ideas include:

Cucumber-round sandwiches with cream cheese inside

Sandwiches cut in flower or other shapes with cookie cutters

Chicken tahini salad on mini pita rounds

Mini bagels spread with cream cheese and covered with sprinkles

Mini mushroom cupcakes with red frosting tops covered with round white sprinkles

Shamrock mini cupcakes

No-bake mini heart cakes

Animal-cracker “sandwiches” with jam inside

Jell-O butterflies or other shapes using cookie cutters

Juice served in miniature tea cups or plastic mugs, available at craft and hobby stores

You may want to do more than put out food for your leprechaun. If you wish to capture one, here are three leprechaun catchers you can make.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Equinox (surely a magical time).

Photos: Saucy Dragonfly, Mark Flickett

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with Pie

I first learned about Pi Day when my daughter was in Middle School. I wondered where this day had been my whole life. Best celebrated at 1:59 p.m. on March 14 to match the first few digits of the number Pi (and the extent of most people’s memorization, 3.14159), with a pie, of course — savory or dessert version.

Math moment: What is Pi anyway? Ahem — Pi is the number expressing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s used in engineering, science and statistics and begins with 3.14 and goes on into infinity. It’s also captured a lot of people’s imaginations. The record for Longest Pi Recitation belongs to belongs to Japan’s Hiroyuki Goto, who memorized 42,195 digits. How is that even possible?? A teen holds the North American record.

It seems Pi Day as we know it didn’t catch on until about 20 years ago, when it was begun at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Now it is celebrated around the world.

I’ve gathered a few pies to help you celebrate. It seems like a more fun way to mark the day than memorizing digits. But, to each his or her own!

From the Gourmand Mom comes everything from Pumpkin Coconut Pie to Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie.

This is my own recipe for Classic Apple Pie. You could add a Pi symbol in crust (or cut out a Pi symbol)  to the top of this, or any, pie.

Seeking something savory? This Shitake, Leek and Chicken Sausage Pie comes from Pie Maven.

When I think of Pie Mavens, I think of my friend Leah Brooks and her stunning and sometimes unexpected fruit pies, like apple with thyme or double lemon blueberry, or her chocolate cream, pumpkin, lattice-topped cherry, or perfect pecan pies!

This one from Serious Eats may take the, uh, cake. It is made in the shape of the pi sign!

Enjoy your Pi Day!

Photos: Orlando News Center, Serious Eats

Image: allisonweiss.tumblr.com

Photo Friday: De Kaaskamer Cheese Shop

As I’m sure many of you know, my family loves cheese, enthusiastically and nearly unconditionally. So it was that I flagged De Kaaskamer Cheese Shop in our guidebook on our recent trip to Amsterdam. It turned out I didn’t have to. As if by homing device, we managed to sniff out this haven of cheese (the name translates to “Cheese Chamber”) and spontaneously beeline to it almost the minute our luggage hit the floor of the hotel.

We adored much about Amsterdam, as we wandered its pretty streets and canals, admiring antiquarian books and handmade shoes, art, music, beer, and the citizens of Amsterdam themselves, most of whom seemed to roll upright and speedily on two wheels apiece, in all weather and clothing, carrying paintings, floor lamps, babies, friends, and yes, food.

In De Kaaskamer, we sampled Goudas of various ages and a delicious crunchy Beemster, which is very similar to the Saenkanter cheese that is a family favorite. The clerk told us that Gouda simply designates the “wheel” shape of the cheese, rather than a type. Gouda cheese originated from the Gouda region of the Netherlands, but apparently the name is not protected by terroir (place), and all kinds of cheeses can be referred to as Goudas. We satisfied ourselves with visions of pastoral Dutch farmland, portable cubes of wonderful 3-year Gouda, and a large baguette, and took to the Amsterdam streets.


Bonus pic: Willig Cheese Shop at Night or One Can Long

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Carnival in Venice
Cheese of the Week: Mossfield Farm Organic Gouda
Cheese of the Week: Hirtenkase
Rogue Creamery: Noordhollander Gouda and More

Easy Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken in Lettuce Cups

Some good friends recently made this dish for us. It was so tasty, healthy and filling that I asked for the recipe and quickly tried it at home. When my daughter licked her plate clean, I knew I had a winner, and this dish quickly became a staple at our house.

Officially called Stir-fried Garlic Chicken with Cilantro, the dish was pioneered by inventive San Francisco chefs Anne and David Gingrass of Postrio and Hawthorne Lane restaurants. In addition to being tasty and easy to make, it’s low in fat, and the ginger and garlic offer powerful health benefits. You can adjust the spices to your tastes. I like the dish on the gingery side.

2 pounds coarsely ground boneless and skinless chicken (leg meat is ideal)
1 teaspoon chili flakes, or more to your taste
2-4 cloves finely chopped garlic (the original recipe calls for 4 Tbsp.)
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced
Leaves from 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 cups loosely packed julienned spinach leaves
24 outer leaves of radicchio or other lettuce
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken with the chili flakes and 2 tablespoons each of the garlic and ginger. Mix gently until flavorings are evenly distributed.

2. To prepare the stir-fried chicken, heat a wok or large skillet until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the chicken mixture. Stir-fry slowly over medium heat, allowing the meat to brown lightly. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons each garlic and ginger and stir-fry quickly over high heat until fragrant, then add the red wine vinegar, soy sauce and demi-glace. With the pan still on high heat, let the liquid reduce until it begins to coat the meat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the scallions and cilantro; then toss to mix thoroughly.

3. Make a vinaigrette for the spinach in a large salad bowl by whisking together 2 tablespoons olive oil with the sherry vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Toss the spinach with the vinaigrette to coat it lightly. Place 3 radicchio leaves on each plate, then fill the leaves with the spinach salad. Spoon a small amount of the stir-fried chicken over the spinach and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

Yield: 8 servings.

Here are more tasty and low-fat recipes. Enjoy!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part Two

Creating and designing gingerbread houses is a fun and classic holiday activity. It can also — let’s face it — be messy and time-consuming, what with baking the pieces for and constructing the house, gathering all the needed supplies, and having an area in your home that you don’t mind getting a little frosting-spackled.

The clever solution for would-be gingerbread architects who are a little short on time and materials? Find a spot that supplies all the needed ingredients and merely requires you to show up, be creative and pay for what you use.

One such spot is Mill Valley, CA’s Gingerbread Builders, which offers standard and custom houses and everything you need to create stunning ones, including catalogs for inspiration, staff assistance, plenty of time and all manner of frosting and candy decorations. And best? It’s open every day on a drop-in basis.

Other Bay Area spots offer gingerbread house workshops at specific times. These include the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Cake Art in San Rafael, Autumn Express in San Francisco, and Spun Sugar in Berkeley.

Across the country, in Lexington, MA, Wilson Farm offers a gingerbread house workshop on a historic farm that features lots of other fun activities. In Newton, MA, Create a Cook has a two-part gingerbread house workshop, in addition to other kids’ cooking classes.

New York City’s Taste Buds offers lots of gingerbread house and holiday cookie workshops.

Chicago’s Emerald City Theater features gingerbread house making in conjunction with other theater activities.

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chatanooga, TN, has lots of gingerbread house workshops.

In Camano Island, WA, you can decorate a gingerbread house outdoors at the Cama Beach Nature Preserve with Gingerbread Lady Alice Blandin. (Register by Dec. 6.)

In Toronto, the very special-sounding Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream offers drop-in gingerbread house creating, along with owner/ baker/cake decorator Kyla Eaglesham.

Seeking a larger project? This person in my town transforms their house into a lifesize gingerbread house each year!

So, whatever your taste, time allotment, budget and desire, there’s a gingerbread house project for you, and a place to create it!

For more ideas and how-tos, see my earlier post about Constructing and Decorating a Gingerbread House. Have fun!

Photos: Top Three – Gingerbread Builders, Kyla Eaglesham, Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part One

It’s the rare person whose imagination isn’t captured by the delight in creating a gingerbread house. There’s the architecture aspect, as the house’s pieces are baked and fitted — and icing-caulked — together in a variety of ways. There’s the decorating, which can be done with all manner of bright candies and objects and patterns that can recall familiar items — or not! And there’s the very satisfying, whimsical, one-of-a-kind structure that results.

Here are some tips and ideas from around the web for creating gingerbread and other candied houses.

From Wilton, comes this extremely informative and creative guide to decorating with icing and candies that covers everything from creating icicles to fireplaces to shutters to stained-glass windows.

Celebrating Christmas offers recipes, ideas, and enough blueprints for homes and landscaping (from ponds to flower-lined paths) to satisfy your inner general contractor.

Gingerbread House Heaven is another site with lots of ideas and beautiful pictures for inspiration. Think you can’t light a gingerbread house with real lights, for instance? Think again. This site shares how, in addition to offering instructions for melted-candy windows that will make the light glow realistically through. Roofing textures and various recipes for edible clay are among the many other things covered.

If you’re still seeking good gingerbread recipes and building how-tos, Simply Recipes has plenty.

Rather skip the headaches of building and just move in? Here are lots of turn-key house ideas, like using milk cartons or other bases, as a way of getting right to the decorating fun.

With small children, especially, the easiest and most pleasing thing to do is cover a short milk carton with frosting and let them stick on candies and other foods to decorate. The milk carton (or a village of them) can sit atop a piece of foil-covered cardboard that can also be frosted. And, of course, you can buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house and get right to the decorating.

Some decorating ideas include:

Gumdrops, cut in half – edging or decorations
Jelly beans – edging or decorations
M&Ms – ornaments or decorations
Fruit loops – decorations
Nilla wafers, crushed or whole – walkways
Ritz crackers – walkways, shingles or siding
Gummi bears – decorations
Chocolate soldiers – decorations
Chocolate kisses – bells or decorations
Chocolate nonpareils – shingles or decorations
Candy canes – gates or decorations
Licorice, small pieces – edging or bricks
Necco wafers, whole or broken – shingles, walkways, decorations
Pretzel sticks – fences and logs
Shredded wheat cereal – thatched roofs
Graham crackers, halved, and candy canes – sleds
Graham crackers – shingles
Upside down ice-cream cones, frosted and dipped in green sprinkles – trees
Brown sugar – dirt
Confectioners sugar – snow

And, for the modern home, orange-half barbecues and ice-cream cone satellite dishes!

Here’s hoping you enjoy a fun and creative holiday!

Photos: Public Domain, Wilton, Susan Sachs Lipman

Stay tuned for Part Two: Gingerbread Workshops