Sunday, August 16, 2009

Guacamole to Teach You a Lesson

During my first year of graduate school, my roommates and I invited a few people over to watch the Superbowl. Right after debating whether people could sit comfortably on each of the dollhouse-furniture loveseats in our basement apartment, we turned our attention to food. I decided to try my hand at an appetizer.

You need to understand that this was a bigger deal than it seems. After all, this was the year in which I prepared the same dinner almost every night: a piece of grilled chicken and some kind of vegetable (often broccoli) over a bed of pasta, doused with Newman's Own Balsamic Salad Dressing. For two semesters in a row, followed by a summer internship, this is what I ate. Every. Single. Night.

I know.

Cooking wasn't really my thing back then, but by early February, I was ready to try a few new dishes. Plus, The Food Network was running Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals every afternoon and as a graduate student, I had lots of time in the afternoon to watch television. The combination of taste exhaustion and a Food Network education inspired me to wander over to the avocados in the grocery store on the day of the game.

Guacamole seemed like the very thing. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, this all occurred in early February, months before avocado season. Therefore, the avocados that I picked up were little green rocks that had no chance to ripen before that evening's game. Being a total novice and the type of person who could eat the same four-ingredient meal every night for months on end, I didn't pick up on this fact.

It turned out that you cannot make guacamole out of green Hass avocados. And crunchy guacamole is never worth the effort.

The moral of the story for me was, of course, always purchase your guacamole. No, just kidding, I learned that I need to buy my avocados in season and a day (or two) before they are needed. However, it was a long time before I made guacamole again. Once I did, I found that nothing beats good homemade guacamole.

Sarah's Guacamole
A Fritter Original

Hass avocados are better for guacamole than Florida avocados because they have a buttery, nutty taste and texture that the Florida variety lacks. Also, please note that this recipe does not contain sour cream. If your avocados are perfectly ripe, you may find that you do not even miss it. If you simply must have sour cream, though, feel free to add a few dollops.

5 ripe Hass avocados
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 tomato, seeded, cored, and roughly chopped into medium-sized pieces
1 tablespoon fresh jalapeno, chopped
The juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste if needed
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
*optional: a few springs of cilantro. Some people loath cilantro, though, so I usually leave it out unless I know my audience well.

Pit the avocados and scoop each avocado from its shell into a medium-sized bowl. Mash with the back of a fork or a potato masher with wide slats just until the avocado has been broken down into bite-sized pieces.*

Combine all of the other ingredients with the avocado. Serve immediately with tortilla chips, or, if you want to make this ahead of time, prepare up to two hours ahead, then cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap actually seals directly to the guacamole (this will prevent browning), and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves: appetizer portions for 4 people

* No matter what you've seen in cheap Tex-Mex restaurants, do not, under any circumstances, put this beautiful fruit into a mixer and puree it to the consistency of baby food. Just don't; that is so wrong.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Bowl of Cherries

Remember me?

I've been gone awhile. I went to Chicago for Memorial Day weekend and that weekend-long break from posting became, um, three months long. I have missed Fritter, and I have missed you. Please understand that it's not the time commitment to blogging that caused me to stay away. Actually, it was the cooking.

Yeah, the cooking: The premise on which this blog was built. For nearly three months, I haven't cooked at all. I haven't been too interested in eating, either, and I have not visited my fellow bloggers' sites in ages - too much cooking and eating going on there.

Here's how this peculiar little turn of events began, sometime in mid-May:

That little "yes" changed everything.

My appetite politely can be described as "robust" under normal circumstances. However, the first weekend in June knocked me clean off my game. The rest of June wasn't great for cooking, eating, or even blogging. July was better, but only in a tentative, pasta-with-jarred-sauce kind of way.

Now, the fog is lifting. I feel well enough to be charmed by the way my pregnancy book compares our baby's growth with the size of different fruits and vegetables each week - it speaks my language! In fact, I like fruits and vegetables again (but not meat). I went to the grocery store yesterday and suddenly had to have some of the ripe, golden peaches piled in the produce section. Biting into one was like coming home again, and I happily let the juice run down to my elbows.

We are going to go slow here: I may post only once per week in the upcoming months, but I'm making strides. I cooked a few meals last week. I even want dessert again.

And I want to share it with you.

Quick Chocolate-Cinnamon Mousse with Cherries
Adapted from this recipe in Bon Appetit, available on

8 ounces fresh cherries, pitted
1/3 cup black cherry preserves or other cherry preserves
1/3 cup ruby Port or cherry juice

1 1/4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
1/8 teaspoon (generous) ground cinnamon
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

For the cherries:
Combine the cherries, the cherry preserves, and Port in heavy, small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens to syrup consistency, stirring frequently, about 12 minutes. I can tell that the sauce is syrupy enough by carefully swishing the back of a spoon through the sauce, then holding it over the sink, away from the heat. A slow drip is just about right. Resist the urge to drip the sauce onto your finger or into your mouth: it's hot!

Once the consistency is right, remove from the heat and allow the pan to sit for about 5 minutes, just long enough to cool down for safe handling. Pour the sauce into a heat-resistant container and cover. Chill until cold, about 3 hours. The cherry sauce can be prepared one day ahead; just keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.

For the mousse:
Combine 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and the cinnamon in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl and allow it to cool to lukewarm (5 minutes). In a separate medium bowl or upright mixer, beat the remaining 1 cup of cream until soft peaks form. Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream into the lukewarm chocolate mixture. Gently fold the remaining whipped cream into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions just until incorporated. Divide the mousse among 4 glasses or bowls, then chill until set, about 4 hours. This can be done one day ahead; just keep chilled until ready to serve.

Spoon the cherry sauce over the mousse and serve.

Makes: 4 servings