Monday, April 28, 2008

The Perfect Cocktail Snack: Prosciutto-Wrapped Parmesan-Stuffed Dates.

Prosciutto Wrapped Parmesan Stuffed Dates

I know, more Suzanne Goin - it's getting ridiculous. She didn't actually invent these, though they are served at her wine/tapas bar A.O.C. in LA which is what inspired me to make them originally. This last supper club meeting, our theme was bringing back old favorites, and we were allowed to request that other people make particular favorite dishes. Wendi requested that I make these again, so of course I obliged. We'd had them in February when we did cocktail snacks and appetizers for the Oscars - I also did the truffled popcorn then - another super easy delicious cocktail snack.
Prosciutto Wrapped Parmesan Stuffed Dates

The first time I tried making these, I made the mistake of using Niman Ranch bacon. It's too thick, and though it tasted good, it didn't crisp up easily, and had to be held together with a toothpick. But with the paper thin strips of prosciutto, you just wind a little strip around and it stays put. Nothing could be easier. I like to cut the pieces of parmesan (about 1/4 inch by 3/4 inch baton shapes) and tear the prosciutto into strips (you can get four to six out of each paper thin slice). Then I just take my dates (the softer and stickier the better) - slit them open and pop out the pit - replace it with the cheese, wrap them up, and pop them on the pan. I used the Silpat, which lets them get nice and crispy, but they don't burn - and they come right off. After about 10 mins at 375 or so - the prosciutto crisps up nicely, the cheese melts, and you have a nice sticky little bite of sweet, smoky and salty flavors to go with wine or cocktails. The best part is that there are absolutely no dishes to wash - other than the baking pans, you're just doing assembly. No stuffing mixtures, pastry or really even knife-work involved. And everybody loves them - they're pigs in blankets for the sophisticated set.
Prosciutto Wrapped Parmesan Stuffed Dates

A couple of notes - I had the best success with these when I used some small, sticky dates someone brought me from Saudi Arabia, but the organic ones from Trader Joes worked fine too. The prosciutto I used is from Trader Joes - it's smoked which gives it that nice bacon-y flavor.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Sunday Suppers at Lucques - Pastel Vasco with Blackberry Compote and Greek Yoghurt

Pastel Vasco with Blackberry Compote and Greek Yogurt
I'm a little obsessed with Chef Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" these days. This book is full of simple but inventive recipes using fresh, seasonal ingredients, and it's become my go-to when I'm looking for ideas. I've used it as a jumping off point for some creations of my own, but we'll talk about those another time. Right now I want to tell you about this cake that I made a few weeks ago.

In the book, Goin tells readers that this cake didn't sell well, until she came up with a poetic name for the menu - "Pastel Vasco, toasted in the woodburning oven with blackberries and poured cream." It sold me, and I bookmarked it to make as soon as I found myself a loaf pan. When I saw this royal blue Dansk model on eBay, I knew I was good to go. It started me on a buying jag though, and I picked up three pieces of this stuff before I had to stop - the blue loaf pan, a red paella pan and a taxi-cab yellow rectangular baking dish. The only issue is that they're quite fragile, despite appearances - and the loaf pan arrived with a giant chip out of the corner that you can kind of see down there on the left. It doesn't affect the function though, luckily.
Pastel Vasco
Pastel Vasco is a Basque dessert, and this recipe pairs the traditional rich buttery pound cake with a berry compote made with caramel. The compote sounded delicious, but I found it way too sweet, and I didn't like the sticky thick texture from the cornstarch. Assuming your berries aren't terribly sour, I think a simple lightly-cooked misture of berries with a little sugar, water and lemon juice, would work just as well, so that's what I've included here.

After baking, the cake is lightly buttered and toasted in a skillet, then served with more of the compote and some poured cream. Trying to be at least a little bit nutritionally responsible, I used a bit of stirred Greek yoghurt instead of the cream. It's not exactly low fat, but certainly better than straight cream - and the tangy flavor reminds me of creme fraiche. I didn't toast the slices, since it was just fresh from the oven and still warm when I served it - but I am sure that would be fantastic since toasting pound cake to serve with berries always improves the flavor ten-fold.

The cake itself was the teensiest bit dry, but with the compote and the yoghurt, it was delicious. I wonder if taking out that last little bit of flour (the 1/4 cup called for in the book) would solve that problem. I may try it on my next go round. Here is the recipe as I adjusted it for my loaf pan, which I believe is about 10 cups. The recipe in it's original form can be found in the book - which I highly, highly recommend. Especially as we head into summer, when the recipes are perfectly tuned to the ingredients that will be showing up in our local Southern California farmers' markets.
Pastel Vasco - Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Pastel Vasco with Blackberry Compote and Stirred Greek Yoghurt
adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin

3 1/3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons of Baking Powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

5 extra large eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons
2 and 1/2 sticks of butter, melted (oof!)
3 Tablespoons of Dark Rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup fresh orange juice

Blackberry Compote:
2 pints blackberries
2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
2 Tablespoons of water
3 Tablespoons sugar (or to taste)

For the compote:
Place berries in a medium non-reactive saucepan, sprinkle with sugar, and add lemon juice and water. Cook berries over medium heat, until the berries start to soften and break down, but don't completely lose their shape. Scoop out about half the whole berries, and mash the remaining berries in the pan with a potato masher. Place the contents of the pan and the whole berries in a bowl and set aside to cool.

For the cake:
Sift the baking powder and flour together and stir in the salt

Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl, whisk in the sugar, melted butter, rum, extracts and orange juice. Fold in the dry ingredients and let the batter rest in the fridge for thirty minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400, and lightly butter a loaf pan. Pour 3/4 of the batter into the pan and add just over 1 cup of the berries, spreading along the batter. Top with the remaining batter, allowing some of the berries to show through. Bake for about one hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

To toast the cake, wait until it cools completely, and cut into 3/4 inch slices. Butter lightly on both sides and toast in a cast iron skillet until golden brown. Arrange the slices on a platter, and spoon the remaining compote over the top. Pass a small pitcher of cream or bowl of stirred Greek yoghurt around the table.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Frozen Assets and Lemon Pie

With taxes done and over with, and the possibility of a really great sailing trip coming up in the next couple of months, we're pretty much on financial lockdown around here at Chez Robertson. What that means for you is a lot more posts about cooking at home, and fewer posts about us going out - at least for a little while. Luckily, this situation coincides with the arrival of some of my very favorite ingredients in the markets - fava beans, english peas and strawberries among them - and the arrival of a bumper crop of lemons on our tree.
Our Lemon Tree

One of the branches broke off the tree this week so I suddenly had a bucketful of lemons that needed to be used. I squeezed them all on Saturday, and stashed the pitcherful of juice in the fridge. (James: "Wow, this lemonade is really tart!") The funny thing about most lemon recipes is that they generally don't call for that much lemon juice. Still - with so many around, making something with them just seemed like the right thing to do.

On Saturday we were invited over our friends Jora and Bryan's house for dinner - and I was supposed to bring dessert. It was over 90 degrees - so nobody was doing any baking. I had forgotten to freeze the ice cream maker, which meant no homemade ice cream, so I started researching icebox pies and frozen desserts. Turns out Lemon Icebox Pie is loaded with sweetened condensed milk, and those chiffon pies are loaded with gelatin - neither of which sounded very good to me. Then I remembered a dessert we had at Lucques last summer, a semifreddo with fruit that tasted like frozen whipped cream with candied orange zest and pistachios. Bingo.

There are a lot of different ways to make semifreddo as it turns out - but the defining characteristic seems to be whipped cream either used as a base, or folded into a base - then frozen, usually in a loaf form - often with amaretti cookies or some type of cookie mixed in. I happened to have a container of gingersnaps on hand, and liked the idea of making a frozen pie. I also liked the sound of the recipes that folded meringue into the mixture along with the whipped cream - I thought it might make the mixture less icy, and I think it did.
coffee ice cream sundae

By Saturday afternoon, I had the recipe worked out - but no time to make it. So instead, I took ice cream. Jora made a pot of phenomenal Spaghetti con Vongole and afterwards, we made sundaes with Double Rainbow coffee ice cream (the best in existence except perhaps Gelato Vero's) - topped with sweetened espresso, whipped cream and crushed meringues - with biscotti on the side. I also brought vanilla with strawberries and limoncello - in case anyone (besides James) didn't like coffee desserts - 'cause some people are weird like that.

On Sunday, I finally had the chance to make the pie. We had it after dinner on Sunday night, with my copycat version of the Hungry Cat's Pug Burgers. Oh my gah. But we'll get to that in a minute.

I started with a lemon ice cream base from this recipe, cutting down the sugar to accommodate the meringue, and upping the lemon a little to compensate for the dilution with the meringue and whipped cream. (To make this into ice cream - you'd just have to stir in another cup of half and half or cream and put it in the ice cream maker.) I then made a nice sticky marshmallowy meringue with three egg whites and 3/4 of a cup of sugar, and whisked that into the custard (it's too sticky to fold in, truly - and it needs to be incorporated fully) - then, I whipped a cup of cream (no sugar, since the meringue is so sweet) and folded that into the mixture. After I baked my pie shell (in a 10 inch Pyrex pie pan) I put it in the freezer to cool - then poured in the lemon mixture - and away into the freezer it went. I also had some of those Trader Joes meringue cookies still on hand from the sundaes the night before - so I crushed some and sprinkled them over the top before freezing.

The pie froze in about four to five hours - it just has to be completely flat, which is kind of tricky. I was really happy with the fact that it didn't set up rock hard, you can cut it straight from the freezer. The sharp lemon flavor comes through despite the richness of the cream. If I do say so myself, this one's a keeper.
Pug Burger at The Hungry Cat

Then there were the burgers - oh man, the burgers. I haven't tried making these at home since our dinner at the Hungry Cat last summer, but now I don't know if I can ever make another kind of burger again. I was inspired by the blocks of Organic Ground Beef they are now selling at Trader Joes. The blocks are one pound each. Can you guess how many burgers a block made? Anybody?

Two. That tells you all you need to know right there. The good news is this burger requires absolutely no accompaniments. Anything with it would be overkill - no fries, no salad - the restaurant serves it with onion rings and even those are superflous. The meat and its garnishes are so over the top it's all one can rightly absorb by itself.

I divided the beef block into two big thick patties - just over one inch thick and about four inches around and griddled them in a saute pan in a mixture of butter and olive oil until they were just this side of bloody - then put them on toasted focaccia buns with blue cheese, Niman Ranch Bacon, sliced avocado, sliced tomato, red onion and green leaf lettuce. There's something about the combo of the blue cheese, bacon and avocado - and with the rich rare beef and the juices running all over the place? Wow. Just, wow.
Lemon Semifreddo Pie

Lemon Semifreddo Pie in a Gingersnap Crust

For the crust:
3 cups of gingersnaps
2 Tablespoons of butter, melted

For the lemon custard:
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon zest, divided
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup half and half

For the meringue:
3 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup of whipping cream

3-4 storebought meringues, crushed

blackberries, macerated in lemon juice and sugar

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 275. Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend together - press into a 10 inch glass pie plate. Bake at 275 for about 15 minutes, until firm.

For the pie:
In a medium non-reactive saucepan, whisk together 1 Tablespoon of the zest, the 1/2 cup of lemon juice, the sugar, and the eggs. Whisk in the half-and-half, and cook the mixture over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon and starts to thicken. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the zest. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of lemon zest and chill the mixture, covered with plastic wrap, until cold (or use an ice bath to chill it down.)

Place the three egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, and beat until foamy. Gradually add the 3/4 cup of sugar and beat until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Whisk into the cooled custard.

Add the whipping cream to the mixer and beat just past the soft peak stage - it shouldn't be too stiff, but should have plenty of body. Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard mixture.

Pour the custard mixture into the gingersnap crust, and top with crushed meringues. Freeze until firm - about four hours (making sure it's completely level.) Serve with blackberies.

Special thanks to Guest Photographer Brian for his photo of our lemon tree!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gourmet's Chicken in Riesling

Lately, I've been seriously digging the new Gourmet website - and the new Bon Appetit magazine, which has been completely re-done. I bought the subscription mostly to get Molly's column, but I'm loving the whole magazine too, especially the new issue on Paris - with lots of great recipes and an article from the charming Clotilde as well as Molly's piece on souffles. Gourmet also just did an issue on French bistro food, and this dish captivated my friend Jora and I while we were thumbing through it at her house a few days ago. With all this French food in mind, I was inspired to give it a try (especially when I noticed that it cooks in about an hour, which must be a record in the le Creuset!)

The dish is one of those rare birds (excuse the pun) where the payoff is disproportionately higher than the effort required to achieve it. It's easy enough for a weeknight, but indulgent and "fancy" enough for a special occasion or dinner party. It's also a virtual one pot meal - with the vegetables and potatoes in the pan - all you need is a salad, some crusty bread to soak up the sauce, and a nice crisp bottle of white wine.

Jora also made this dish this week, and said her husband mentioned it reminded him of chicken pot pie. I can definitely see that, especially if you use fresh spring peas like she did. If you went that route and served it with some biscuits you'd have a comfort meal extraordinaire.

I made this for two, and adapted it slightly - so I will give my version here. The original recipe can be found on Gourmet's website.
Gourmet Recipe - Chicken in Riesling
Chicken in Riesling
adapted from Gourmet magazine

8 thighs from an organic chicken, bone in, skin on (legs also work but I thought the white meat was a little dry. Stewing just isn't the best way to cook breasts.)
2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 leeks, white and light green parts - thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 medium shallot - minced - about 2 Tablespoons
a few springs of thyme (optional)
1 cup of dry white wine (preferably Riesling)
8-10 baby carrots (I used a mixture of red, yellow and orange)

1 pound of tender small potatoes -preferably fingerlings or red creamers.
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup half and half
lemon for squeezing

Preheat the oven to 350 with a rack in the middle.

Heat the butter and oil in a 5 quart or larger Le Creuset or other heavy dutch oven. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and brown it in the butter and oil in batches, about five minutes on each side. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the leeks and shallots to the fat in the pan (or you can change it you feel it's necessary, I didn't.) Cover the pot and saute until the leeks are soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and sprigs of thyme or other herbs if using.

Bring the mixture to a boil and add the chicken back to the pan. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Nestle the carrots in and among the chicken and pan juices, and cover and braise in the oven for thirty minutes.

Meanwhile, boil or steam the potatoes (I used the microwave in the bag fingerlings from Trader Joes.) After about 30 minutes, check the braise - if the sauce isn't well-reduced and the skin isn't nicely browned - open the dutch oven and crank up the heat to 425 for about 15 minutes. (if your pot is big enough, you might not have to do this.)

When the meat is tender and the skin on the chicken is nicely browned - take the pot out of the oven and add your cooked potatoes. Pour in the half and half, sprinkle on the parsley, and toss the mixture lightly to coat the chicken with the sauce. Serve in wide bowls by placing some of the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the bowl and spooning the sauce over the top.

Serves 4.

A couple of variations - as Jora suggested, adding some peas at the end of the cooking time would be delicious. I think you could also stir a little dijon mustard in with the cream - a tablespoon or so would do it - added toward the end of the cooking time and stewed for a few minutes. Either way - it's a new (to me) cooking method for chicken that I'll be using often in the future!

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

That Famous Chocolate Icebox Cake

Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake
Though I'd never made or even eaten this before, I was always fascinated as a kid by the picture on the box, of the cookies covered with whipped cream. It really is that simple, two boxes (plus one extra to account for breakage) of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, slathered with whipped cream and stacked. The idea is that the cream is absorbed into the wafers and softens them to give the whole thing a cakey texture. I made this for a birthday dinner - and I can highly recommend it as a weekday endeavor. It's so quick and easy, you can slap it together in the morning, and by nightfall? Cake.
For the icebox cake
It certainly looked pretty when it was freshly made...
Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake
When I cut into it after dinner though, I was a little disappointed. All of the cream in the center had been absorbed, and the cookies were a grainy, solid mass. I had used the half cup of whipped cream on each layer as recommended - but I guess I must have spread it a little too thin. I might have also whipped it a little soft - I thought it needed to be soft to soak in, but you don't want it to ALL soak in. In the end, it tasted pretty good, it was certainly easy, and fun to make, but it wasn't quite as fabulous as I'd hoped it would be.

If you're feeling extra ambitious, you could try Deb's homemade chocolate wafers, but it kinda seems like it defeats the purpose of making something so easy if part of it has to be baked, doesn't it? I bet they'd make great ice cream sandwiches too though...

There's a sad little epilogue to this story - as I was carrying the leftovers into work to fob off on co-workers, the bottom fell off of my chrome cake carrier and the cake fell out and splatted on the parking garage floor - but worse than that, my new  favorite cake plate broke!  I'm obsessively hunting a replacement.  If I could, I'd get a whole set.

Chocolate Wafer Icebox Cake
That Famous Chocolate Icebox Cake
As seen on the cookie box, Magnolia Bakery, Oprah, Smitten Kitchen, and other blogs, magazines and websites too numerous to mention!

2-3 packages of Famous Chocolate Wafers
3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons of powdered sugar

Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.

On a serving plate, arrange seven cookies in a circle, with one in the center. Spread the cookies with half a cup of the whipped cream. Don't be like me and spread it too far out to the edges, it should be at least a quarter inch thick between the layers. Repeat until you get to about four or five inches high, finishing with a layer of cream. Do a little decorative stack on the top if you like.

Cover with plastic wrap (I used my cake dome) and refrigerate for at least four to six hours. Dust with cocoa powder or top with chocolate shavings before serving.

Serves about 8-10.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A Moroccan Baby Shower in San Francisco

The beautiful spread
I've heard people say San Francisco is the most European city in the United States for a long time, but I don't think I really understood what they meant until I spent some time in the area around North Beach. With the Victorian houses converted into apartments, the walk ups, the bay windows and narrow alleys, the steep hills, the sidewalk cafes, bakeries and food stores, and the total lack of parking - it really does lend itself to a local community-oriented lifestyle.
homemade hummus
It has a number of the kind of independent everyday businesses - restaurants, bakeries, bookstores and shops - that have all but disappeared from many smaller cities, and I love the 40's style neon signs, the painted windows, and the retro style of the store-fronts. To me, it has a feeling of "otherness," without the big box stores, freeways, gas stations and fast food joints we suburbanites have come to accept as part of our everyday lives.

This dreamy quality figured prominently in a baby shower I attended recently, at the home of a friend of the mom-to-be on Lombard Street. The mother lives in the front apartment - on the ground floor (which is still up a steep flight of stairs from the street) and the shower was held in her front parlor room, featuring a huge bay window and wood burning fireplace - all decorated with Moroccan pillows, flowers and textiles. The girls were doing the cooking in the daughter's apartment, across the alley in the back - and brought the food over. It felt so much like a movie that the light even had that sort of gauzy, filtered quality.
love the gorgeous tray

We were welcomed with a spread of figs, almonds, apricots, pistachios and pecans, bowls of homemade hummus, warm pita bread, and couscous salad, served in host Sharone's beautiful collection of Moroccan dishes. To drink, there was lemonade with mint, served on a brass carrying tray with a twisted handle.
the main dish chickpea stew
Though we didn't all know each other, there was no need for games or activities to break the ice . The group just kept chatting and eating throughout the afternoon, as the sun dropped lower in the sky. At some point, the hostesses brought out bowls of a fragrant chickpea stew that we held in our laps and spooned up with more pita bread.
Cake from Stella Pastries

Then the presents were opened and the cake came out. It was not only delicious, but a little piece of San Francisco history - a "world famous" Sacripantina from Stella Pastry in North Beach. "Served to the likes of Pavarotti, the Sacripantina is a multilayered cake made with a vanilla sponge cake, zabaglione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wines) cream, and rum." They have more luscious looking choices on their website here. These old-fashioned Italian pastries look like little girl's dresses - all lace and bows and ruffles with whipped cream and cherries - and they haven't changed at all with the times. They're just classic.

I felt lucky to be a part of this gathering - it was one of those occasions where everything just came together perfectly. You just can't plan or manufacture these occasions, as much as you'd might like. When they happen, you just have to enjoy and remember them. Wishing Moira the best on her journey into motherhood!

Stella Pastry
446 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-2914

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Really Good Guacamole

Finished Guacamole

Lately, I've been so busy that I've resorted to more than a few "convenience" foods. Some of them are good enough that I would use them even if I wasn't on a time crunch (for ex. Trader Joes frozen croissants and brownies - and OMG have you tried the new pecan sticky buns??) but there is one that I've always felt especially guilty about, and that's the pre-made Cal Avo guacamole (sold at Trader Joes under the "Avocado's Number" name.) I used to make really good guacamole from scratch all the time, but since this stuff arrived it's been really difficult to justify the expense and work involved. Last night though, I found myself with all of the ingredients on hand more or less accidentally, so I decided to whip up a fresh batch for old time's sake. It had been so long that I actually had to get out the recipe book and check on the amounts of some ingredients before stirring it all together.
Avocado for Guacamole

The key to really good guacamole is - not surprisingly - the avocados. Good, smooth, buttery ripe avocados - preferably the Hass variety. The second secret is salt. It takes a good amount - in a pinch, you can even make a decent version with nothing but salt and lime juice. Some purists might add chopped onion (or garlic) to that, but nothing more. This recipe goes further though, with fresh chopped jalapeno, cilantro and tomato, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a little heat.

If you can, it really helps the flavor of guacamole to let it sit in the fridge for about an hour after it's made - just like potato salad. When it's allowed to rest, the fat in the avocados absorbs the flavors from the rest of the ingredients - the onions mellow, the salt has a chance to permeate, and the jalapenos release their oils. Just after it's made, it will seem a little bland and the onions will be too harsh.

The real question though - is it better than the packaged stuff? My answer has to be yes, because it's so much more satisfying to make something from scratch than squeeze it out of a package - you can choose your ingredients, and your friends will ooh and ahh. But... when the package is full of buttery chunks of ripe avocado, and you can swipe a hot tortilla chip through it without having to dirty a cutting board or buy half a dozen ingredients? I have to admit, it's kind of a close call.

If you've got some good avocados on hand, this recipe is hard to improve on. Mine were a little bit firm last night - but it's not quite prime season yet. In the summertime, I definitely plan to add this recipe back to the rotation. You can omit the cilantro or tomato, and the spices if you can't tolerate any heat at all - the essentials are really lime juice, salt and onion in the right proportions.
Guacamole before stirring

Really Good Guacamoleadapted from Chic Simple Cooking

4 very ripe avocados
a generous 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (a little more if the avocados are underripe)
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
2 scallions or 2 Tablespoons chopped sweet onion (I actually prefer onion over scallion because it adds a little crunch - red onion looks pretty too)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 small tomato, deseeded and chopped

Cut the avocados in half with a paring knife - twisting around the pit. To remove the pit, hold the avocado in your palm, hit the pit with the blade of your knife so it sticks, and twist slightly. Use a spoon to swipe the avocado out of the skin and place each whole half in the bowl. Add the salt, lime juice and onion, and any or all of the remaining ingredients to suit your taste. Stir it together lightly, so you have some nice big chunks of the avocado in the mixture. Spoon into a serving bowl and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so - if it will be longer than that, top with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface so the avocado doesn't brown.

This makes enough for 4 - any more than that, make double. It goes fast!

Serve with warm, sturdy tortilla chips, salsa and lots of beer or margaritas.