April 25, 2013 at 12:05 pm , by Hilary Merzbacher
Chef and blogger Gaby Dalkin knows her way around an avocado. So much so, that she just released a comprehensive cookbook dedicated 100% to the versatile, creamy-fleshed fruit. We gave her a call to chat about blogging, her recent wedding and (of course!) all things avocado.
Tell us what inspired you to write a book devoted to avocados. Within the food blogging world I’m known as the avocado queen. Everyone refers to me when they’re talking about guacamole or avocados and I’m 100% obsessed. So when I was approached for ideas for my first cookbook I just jokingly said “avocados!” and everybody loved the idea. I didn’t think that anybody would take it seriously but now, here we are.
Did you happen keep track of how many avocados you used during your recipe development? I used over 400 avocados. The produce guys at my local grocery store and I totally became best friends.
In addition to being a cookbook writer and recipe developer, you’ve written the food blog whatsgabycooking.com for years now. What inspires the recipes you post? I like to cook with the mentality of eating healthy most of the time, then having the occasional really incredible dessert. I just made this amazing brownie-ice-cream-cheesecake that’s going up on my blog next week. I like to have a balance of everything. I know that my readers come to my website for avocado recipes and desserts most heavily, but I also post a lot of main courses—basically what my husband and I are eating. A lot of my readers are around my age and are cooking for their families too. I want to give them simple and delicious recipes they can take into their kitchen.
The avocados available in grocery stores are often a bit under-ripe. What are your tips and tricks for storing and ripening them at home? If avocados are too ripe in the store, you sometimes get them home and they’re brown inside, mushy and just not perfect. I buy slightly harder avocados that aren’t quite ready to be cut into yet—I’ll stick them in a brown paper bag with a banana and the natural gas that the banana gives off ripens the avocado faster.
I know you were recently married. Congrats! Can I ask if there was a guacamole bar at your wedding? There was absolutely a guacamole bar at my wedding! It was a late night snack to feed people halfway through the reception and I was too busy dancing to have any—I was so bummed! But it was totally gone by the end of the night, so I think that’s a good sign!
What inspired you to try making avocado chocolate chip cookies and the other sweet recipes in your dessert chapter? Avocado is a really easy substitute for butter. My husband is in great shape but has really high cholesterol—I wanted to find a way to cut cholesterol in baked goods and allow him to still eat a cookie at the end of the day.
It’s probably like picking a favorite child, but can you tell us your favorite recipe from your new book? A top three is okay too! I’ll tell you that I’m obsessed with the goat cheese guacamole—it’s my favorite guacamole. Also, the salmon with the pepper avocado relish is one of my favorite main courses. The avocado stuffed potato skins (recipe below) are probably one of my go-to appetizers for any kind of party or event I’m throwing.
Avocado-stuffed Potato Skins
Even though this recipe says it serves 8 to 10, be prepared to eat the entire thing by yourself. These little bites of potato filled with cheese, salty pancetta, and smashed avocado will totally rock your world. Serve them for a game day or a fun backyard bash and they will disappear off the table faster than you’ll believe.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 80 minutes (including cooling time)
Serves: 8 to 10
12 baby yellow potatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
11⁄2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 Hass avocados
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1⁄2 teaspoon coarse salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Drizzle the whole potatoes with the olive oil, making sure they are all evenly coated, and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Remove the potatoes from oven and let them rest until they are cool enough to handle.
Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise so that you have 24 pieces. Carefully scoop out the middle portion of each halved potato so the remaining portion looks like a little potato cup. Set aside the scooped-out potato flesh for another use.
Put the cut potatoes back onto the baking sheet, cut side up.
Add the pancetta to a small skillet over medium-high heat. Let the pancetta start to crisp while occasionally stirring. Once the pancetta is golden brown, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel–lined plate to drain the excess fat.
Toss together the pancetta, cheese, and red onion in a small bowl. Evenly distribute the mixture in the potato skins on the baking sheet. Put the baking sheet back in the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, until the cheese has just melted.
While the cheese is melting, cut each avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the pit from the avocado and discard. Remove the avocado from the skin, and cut the avocado into a small dice. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, chives, salt, and pepper and mash together with a fork.
Once the cheese has melted in the potato skins, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Let the potatoes cool slightly, and then top with the guacamole mixture.
For more avocado-filled recipes, purchase a copy of Gaby’s book, Absolutely Avocados (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), available now on Amazon.com.
May 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm , by Hilary Merzbacher
It should come as no surprise that the members of the LHJ Food Department are, well, food obsessed. Far beyond our love of cooking (and eating, of course!), we do our best to keep our finger on the pulse of the food world. Today marks the 22nd annual James Beard Awards Gala, which is, in essence, the Oscars of the food industry — covering everything from restaurant design to food journalism to cookbooks, the James Beard Foundation honors the greatest culinary accomplishments of the past year.
As a sweet treat to honor the Foundation — which celebrates is 25th anniversary this year — we wanted to share a recipe from this year’s winner in the Dessert and Baking Cookbook category. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, by Jeni Britton Bauer is the ultimate guide to creating frozen treats at home. The author’s nine Columbus, Ohio-area scoop shops have become well known for churning out creative flavors like Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk and Chamomile Chardonnay, and since they’ve started shipping, have developed a national following. We can’t take our minds of her recipe for white Rum Praline Sauce (recipe below) and can’t wait to give it a try!
Along with applauding the winning book, we’d want to send our congrats to the other category nominees — Baking Style by Lisa Yockelson and Cooking with Chocolate, edited by Frédéric Bau. Both feature the kind of recipes (and photographs!) that make us want to abandon our diets all together.
Smoothie Spectacular: Our Favorite Blenders, a Bonus Recipe, and a Peek Behind-the-Scenes of the May Issue
April 16, 2012 at 10:22 am , by Hilary Merzbacher
During the development of the Smoothie feature in our May issue, our Test Kitchen blenders got a major workout. Between crushing ice, blasting leafy greens, and pureeing frozen fruits, we put them to the test, day after day, after day. And while our counter-top standards were certainly up to the challenge, we got to thinking about which blenders available were the reigning champions when it came to producing icy, refreshing beverages. So, we arranged a side-by-side test of several blenders, and assessed them based on their overall performance and design. Here are a few of our top picks – and a bonus smoothie recipe (HINT: it’s sweet, refreshing and delicious!) to help usher you into the summer months.
Waring Pro Food and Beverage Blender, $100: We love the fun, retro appeal and streamlined design of this appliance. The blender jar/blade is one piece, which means no assembly to mess around with, and no rubber gasket to misplace – a huge bonus in our busy test kitchen. Although many blenders boast loads of pre-programmed settings, we liked the refreshingly simple, single switch operation. And with plenty of power, it stands up to the wear and tear of, say, a smoothie story (read: 10-15 smoothies per day for a week straight!). Added bonus: Fun colors and finishes – we’ve got our eye on the springy retro green model.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (SINGLE SERVING/COMPACT BLENDER):
Cuisinart Portable Blending/Chopping System, $70: In the LHJ test kitchen, we have plenty of counter space – a huge luxury here in NYC. This compact model is the one we’re eyeing for our teeny apartment kitchens. With a footprint not much larger than a standard coffee can, it won’t hog limited prep space. And it comes with a small cup/blade for smaller chopping tasks – which means for day-to-day prep, we can put our full-scale food processors away.
Farberware 10-speed Blender, $60: We appreciated the one-touch settings on this blender, including the handy “easy clean” mode. At a great price point, it’s attractive design looked great in our test kitchen.
Krups KB790 Blender, $180: For the seasoned smoothie maker, we thought this higher-end model was a winner. It performed well with a wide array of ingredients, and was noticeably quieter than it’s competitors.
Okay, so once you get your shiny new blender home, what’s the perfect beverage to break it in? Try our frozen riff on this retro, sweet and tart concoction.
Cran-Raspberry Lime Rickey
1 cup frozen raspberries
3 tbsp lime juice
1 cup ice
¾ cup cranberry juice
2 tbsp sugar
Combine ingredients in blender and process until smooth. SERVES 2.
And last, but not least, we have a few behind-the-scenes photos to share from the Blend Ambition photo shoot. Happy smoothie making!
March 12, 2012 at 11:03 am , by Hilary Merzbacher
Here in the LHJ offices, we are an army of snackers. My seat directly next to our communal snack basket confirms this – in the hours just before lunch and sometime after 3pm, when blood sugar levels begin to fall, LHJ staffers (see them in action, to the right) start wandering over to inspect the various bags, tins and boxes on offer. Between product samples, frequent test kitchen recipe results, and generous foodie staff members, we’re lucky to have a pretty bottomless supply of treats.
Although folks around the office are flexible and gracious with regard to our snack situation, it’s not overly difficult to gauge the real winners – a select few snacks manage to cause a feeding frenzy of sorts, disappearing almost as quickly as they arrive. Over the last couple of weeks, the following treats have been some of our absolute favorites:
“This popcorn rocks!” exclaimed Louise Sloan, LHJ’s Senior Articles Editor during a recent afternoon snack session. Sure, cheesy popcorn isn’t necessarily a new concept, but this fancy-pants variety by the snack experts at Popcorn, Indiana is unique – packed with real-cheddar flavor and a solid dose of smokiness, this version is an ideal solution to any savory snack cravings.
Find this delicacy near you using the Popcorn, Indiana store-finder.
Edward Marc Pretzel Bites
These irresistible chocolate covered pretzels are an all-time office favorite. And although we love all four varieties of these addictive treats, the peanut butter version trumps them all. Each of these crunchy, salty pretzels is shrouded with a creamy layer of chocolate and peanut butter, then drizzled with – you guessed it – MORE peanut butter. If you get your hands on a bag of these, you may want to think twice before sharing them. Find them online at www.EdwardMarc.com.
Nuts are heavy hitters when it comes to snack foods. Although many might argue that they’re perfect simply toasted with a dusting of salt, the folks at Sahale snacks have upped the ante with their Valdosta Pecan Nut Blend – cranberries, black pepper and orange zest bring an appealing sweet-savory zing to already tasty pecans. Try them with your favorite cereal for a sophisticated snack mix. Track this snack down here.
During a recent snack tasting, these were a sleeper standout. LHJ Creative Director Jeffrey Saks and Editor-in-Chief Sally Lee remarked on the buttery goodness these gluten-free treats, made with a hefty dose of organic almond flour. One (or three!) of these would be the perfect mate to a cup of tea. Use Amy’s online store-finder to find cookies at a grocery store near you.
When it comes to snacking, there are few pairings more iconic than the home baked cookie and tall glass of milk. If the craving for this sort of snack strikes, whip up a batch of these nutty delicacies. After sampling more than a few batches during testing, our staff can vouch for them 100%! Find this vintage recipe from The Dessert Collector in our March 2012 issue here.