Saturday, February 27, 2010

Holy guacamole!

Today was one of those rare occasions where it was raining in San Diego. Good thing my morning plans were taking place indoors. Today was the 7th annual Guacamole Bowl at Balboa Park. For $5 at the door you got a bag of Mission Tortilla Chips and some stickers for voting for the best guacamole.

The event took place inside the Balboa Park Club and several hundred people were in attendance. All funds raised were to support Sports for Exceptional Athletes, a non-profit group that helps special needs athletes.

My roommate attended the event with me. When we walked into the big open room, we both looked at our bag of chips and said we should have brought some more from home. We worked our way around the room walking counter-clockwise. There were four different categories of competitors: law enforcement, Kiwanis, open and professional.

Medals to be handed out to the winners.

Or first favorite guacamole came at one of the first tables we stopped at. The CH(i)Ps threw down a pretty spicy guac with jalapenos. It was the perfect blend of avocado flavor and spiciness.

Our first favorite, the CHiPs and Dip spicy guac.

There were some so-so guacs and some that we could have done without tasting (one with mango and another with some crazy homemade mayo).

One of the cleverly decorated booths (and team members), but with so-so guac from South Bay Kiwanis.

Our favorite team name was an open category group called Our Lady of Guac who had pictures of Mary with glowing avocado surrounding the booth. There weren't a ton of professional teams but the standout was Marieta's Grill in Escondido. I'm now interested to see what other delicious food they serve there. A road trip might be in my future.

Ultimately my favorite guac came from a Kiwanis group. This team roasted most of their vegetables and it gave the guacamole a great smoky flavor without using too many crazy spices.

A winner in my eye.

We were at the event for just over an hour. Before we went I read over the event Web site and saw that Calavo donated some 2,000 lbs of avocados! We tasted probably about 25 different guacamoles (maybe a total of 2 avocados each). By the time we walked out the door we were very happy we didn't bring any extra chips because someone would have had to carry us back to our car from being too full. All-in-all, a great way to spend a rainy Saturday morning. And who knows, maybe I'll start perfecting my own guac recipe and enter in the open category next year. Yum.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New kitchen gadget

Ever since watching the movie Julie and Julia I desperately wanted a dutch oven to cook with. I have no idea how to make boeuf bourguignon (which was made in the movie), nor have I ever looked at the recipe, but I at least wanted to own the proper tools in case I wanted to make the dish.

As luck would have it I received a 7-quart, cherry red, cast-iron casserole dish by Martha Stewart as a gift recently. I couldn’t wait to try it out so I searched the web for some dutch oven recipes. There were lots of tasty sounding recipes, but that one that stood out the most was a twist on a traditional French dish Coq au Vin from the Food Network called Classic chicken in red wine.

For this meal I found a pack of quartered chicken with legs and thighs at Vons. The chicken was not butchered very well, so if I were to do it over again, I would buy one pack of legs and one pack of thighs rather than buying them still connected.

After getting all the ingredients prepared, I started by cooking the bacon in a little olive oil over medium heat. Any recipe that starts out with bacon is fine by me. In no time at my entire apartment took on the deep, smoky aroma of the delicious meat. Already off to a good start.

After the bacon was good and crispy, I set it aside on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the grease. Next I seasoned the chicken quarters with salt and pepper and in two batches I browned them in the oil and bacon fat. Then set them aside.

Once I drained a little of the grease I added the pearl onions, garlic and carrots. I decided to use Ukon Gold Potatoes instead of Russet Potatoes, so I added them a little later. I also didn’t want my mushrooms to get too soggy, so I added those in with the potatoes. I switched up the mushrooms too and got a half pound of button and a half pound of baby bellas.

The rest of the directions I followed straight from the recipe. After I braised everything for 40 minutes, I did leave the lid off for about 20 minutes to get the sauce to thicken a bit.

I served the chicken and vegetables with a big chunk of sourdough bread to slop up the tasty juices. The dinner was great the first night and just as good for leftovers the next night.

Bon app├ętit!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New twist on childhood favorite

When I went away to college, my mom was kind enough to supply me with multiple care packages each semester. Inside she would pack all the comforts of home (well, a few at least), including the always popular RiceKrispy Treat.

On occasion after I finished college I would get a craving for the tasty treat and make the typical recipe from the back of the RiceKrispy box. They were good, but not great. And then I came across this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Once you try it, you'll never go back to anything else.

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats

What’s different about these? Oh, just a bit more (coughdouble) butter which you toast until it’s brown and nutty and help along with some coarse salt, just minor things. But it changes everything.

Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

Let cool, cut into squares and get ready to make new friends.