It is time to take advantage of the remaining warm summer nights and enjoy an evening with friends, sparkling wine, and charcuterie. Entertaining does not get any easier than this. There is no cooking unless you want to make the pâté or a spread. Just assemble and relax. What you place on your charcuterie platter is up to you, but you want to keep in mind how many people you are entertaining, variety in texture and flavor, plus add your personal stamp to the meal. A charcuterie platter is a perfect meal for hot summer nights when it is too hot to cook, or just enjoying a sunset from your deck with friends.
But what is a charcuterie platter? By definition, charcuterie is a French name for a deli, or market, that sells cured meats, especially pork. Charcuterie also means the products that are sold in a charcuterie. With that understanding, a charcuterie platter is a platter or tray layered with smoked and cured meats and other specialty food items, like cheese and pickles.
Traditionally, a charcuterie platter is very meat focused and consists of a variety of cured meats like prosciutto, soppressata, and pâtés, with add-ins like pickles, spicy mustard, bread, or crackers. However, for my platter, and because I believe it is still in the realm of the definition of a charcuterie platter, I added cheeses, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Build a Charcuterie Platter
How does one put together all those different foods so that it looks appealing and covers all the bases of complementary tastes and contrasting textures? First, organize all your ingredients in groups, then arrange all of the ingredients in a decorative yet easy to reach manner.
Start with the meats. A good rule to follow is 2 oz of meat per person. Charcuterie platters contain very rich foods, so you do not want to overdo it. Pick three types of cured meat with different flavors and textures. The meats pictured on my charcuterie platter are soppressata, prosciutto, and bresaola. These three types of cured meats offer a variety in texture and flavor, although a subtle one. A common rule is, have meat that you slice like the soppressata, one meat that comes sliced, like prosciutto, and meat that you spread like pâté.
Other meats you buy sliced are Guanciale or Mortadella.
Meats for spreading are smooth or chunky pâtés or terrines.
What is missing on my charcuterie board is pâté because my family does not care for it. Smoked fish or gravlax is also a nice alternative and an option for people who do not like pork or beef. Keep in mind you want to make something that you know you and your guests will enjoy.
Similar to the cured meats, it is nice to have 3 different types of cheese on your charcuterie board as well. Although, if you want this to be charcuterie platter that is more meat-focused, one selection of cheese is fine.
Like the meats, your cheeses should have different textures and flavors. I usually follow this rule for building a cheese board, one soft rind triple cream cheese, one hard or sharp-tasting cheese, and one blue cheese. The possibilities are endless. If you do not like blue cheese swap in a soft goat cheese.
Other cheese selections are:
This is where you can get creative and add your personal spin to a charcuterie platter. Yet, keep in mind the additional accoutrements have a purpose other than tasting great and looking pretty. The add-ins provide a break from the rich meats and cheeses, provide textural contrast, and clear the palate.
Fill your platter with a wide selection of any of these foods.
Fruits like figs, grapes, berries or dried fruits like apricots or figs are nice selections.
Pickles like cornichons are a must, but you can use other pickled vegetables like carrots, fennel, and chilies.
Briny olives like Kalamata or good green olives.
Fresh vegetables like fennel, cucumber, radishes, or carrots add an important textural contrast with their crisp crunch and are very refreshing.
Mustard is also an important ingredient to a charcuterie platter as they complement the cured meat wonderfully.
Spreads like hummus and tapenade taste great with charcuterie.
Nuts. Any nut like walnuts, almonds or pistachios you can’t go wrong. Just make sure there are no nut allergies before you add them to your platter.
The list is long, but choose a selection of three fruits and/or vegetables, with a couple of specialty items. Don’t be redundant. If you have olive tapenade, do not put out olives. If you have fig jam don’t put out fresh figs, pick another fruit instead. Although, when in season fresh figs are delicious with charcuterie.
Just remember one thing, do not forget the mustard, sweet or spicy or both, it doesn’t matter. In France, it is sacrilegious to serve charcuterie without mustard.
It is nice to arrange everything on one platter and serve with bread or crispy crackers. You can also arrange your charcuterie selection on more than one platter. This is especially important if some of your guests eat a plant-based diet. They might not want their selections mixed in with the meats or cheeses. By the middle of the evening, the charcuterie platter will get messy, so it is thoughtful of you to keep the foods separate. Serving the charcuterie selections on multiple platters works well for larger parties when you will have more meats to arrange on your board.
Toasted French baguette makes a more substantial selection and looks nice when sliced thin on the diagonal. I especially like to serve charcuterie with bread when I want my charcuterie platter to be a meal. Thin crispy plain crackers work well with the cheese and meats too. Also, I found people really enjoy breadsticks as well.
Serve your charcuterie platter at room temperature. You will need to slice the meats and cheeses when they are cold, but everything tastes better when they are at room temperature.
Chilled sparkling wines like a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco, Lambrusco, or a dry rosé are perfect for this type of meal, especially on hot summer nights. Some dry reds that are not too heavy pair nicely as well. Dry sparkling wines help cut the richness of the cheese and meats and clear the palate so you can keep on sampling.
Beer is another good beverage of choice, but I would not do anything too rich. I really enjoyed the pairing of a red ale with my Irish Cheese Platter, so I imagine it works with charcuterie as well.
My son Andrew recommends Saisons because they are dry and spicy, or a good Pilsner. These types of beer will help clear the palate. He also loves Lambic, a Belgium Sour, with charcuterie. Low alcohol beers work nicely because they do not fill you up and you can easily snack on your charcuterie.
For a non-alcohol beverage, seltzer is perfect. Mixed in with lime, or lemon and/or cucumber is very refreshing and helps clear the palate. Anything bubbly that is not sweet. Stay away from soda. You won’t taste the charcuterie if you are drinking a coke.
I hope you enjoy the remains of summer and the ease of the season with charcuterie and friends.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a nice alternative to the more traditional Caprese Salad. Both have their place as an exceptional first course or appetizer and both feature ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella nicely as the star ingredients. Yet creamy tomato and mozzarella salad have an element of surprise with heat from the jalapeño chilies, a slight brininess from the capers, and a bright lemony creaminess from the dressing.
To make this mozzarella salad sing like the opening act of an all-star concert, be very particular about the ingredients you use.
First and foremost, only use perfectly ripe tomatoes and locally grown tomatoes if you can get them. This mozzarella salad is at its best when the tomatoes are in season and bursting with sweet sun-ripened flavor. Out of season tomatoes just won’t do the salad justice. The juices from ripe tomatoes will blend into the dressing creating a sauce perfect for soaking up with good crusty bread. If you must make this salad before or after tomato season, use cherry or grape tomatoes as you can get a good tasting and ripe, hydroponically grown grape tomatoes during the year.
Also, use any variety of tomato, as long as the tomatoes are ripe. If you like to mix things up, use a variety of tomatoes with different shapes, sizes, and color. Yellow tomatoes are especially nice in this mozzarella salad as they have less acid than the red variety.
Second, use only fresh mozzarella. The vacuum sealed mozzarella you find in the dairy section of the store is no substitute. Even the brand that looks like it is fresh mozzarella. If it is vacuumed sealed it is not fresh. Don’t even think about it. That cheese works nicely on a pizza but not in a salad. Fortunately, several markets make their own mozzarella, so it is not hard to come by. Often the mozzarella is kept in water, or just freshly wrapped in plastic wrap and sold the day it is made. Buffalo mozzarella is another alternative if you can find it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Third, use the best tasting extra virgin olive oil you can afford. Don’t use the generic extra virgin olive oil that is really a blend of oils, but real extra virgin olive oil with a fruity and peppery note and body. You do not need to buy the most expensive one, just a good one that you like.
More tomato recipes
By using the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is hard to resist. It is immensely satisfying as only food made with fresh quality ingredients is. Both tomatoes and fresh mozzarella taste best when they are at room temperature, so serve the mozzarella salad at room temperature. Though, it is easier to slice mozzarella when it is cold and right out of the refrigerator. I recommend making the salad no more than an hour before you want to serve it. Unfortunately, mozzarella salad is not a make-ahead meal.
Additionally, I recommend slicing the mozzarella and tomatoes into reasonable size slices. My yellow tomato was very large, so I cut each slice into quarters. It was a lot more manageable that way. Also, I cut each mozzarella slice in half, especially the middle slices.
If you wish, you can rip large bite-size pieces of the mozzarella and scatter the pieces over the tomatoes instead of layering each slice. This looks especially nice when you have different varieties of tomatoes in your salad and you arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella in a random pattern.
Mozzarella Salad makes a delicious first course or an appetizer with slices of grilled crusty bread like a baguette. You are going to want something to soak up the delicious juices from the tomatoes and dressing. Either way, this tomato and mozzarella salad is a fine addition to your salad repertoire.
August and September are the best months to enjoy ripe tomatoes so go get some before they are gone.
This recipe is adapted from Marinated Mozzarella with Crème Fraîche and Lemon and Marjoram by Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, and Lemon Cream from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.
My Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad recipe is part of a social media collaborative project featuring tomatoes. Below the recipe is a list of all the talented Instagramers and food bloggers who are participating in the #wesaytomatoes collaboration. Please check out their tomato recipes for more tomato inspiration
Creamy Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
Creamy tomato and mozzarella salad is a wonderful change from the traditional Caprese Salad. Like a Caprese salad, creamy tomato and mozzarella salad showcase both the tomatoes and mozzarella as the stars of the meal. Yet in this salad, the fresh mozzarella and sun-ripened tomatoes get a subtle yet complimentary embellishment from the lemon cream, minced jalapeño chilis, and fresh herbs. The layer of heat from the chili pairs nicely with the fresh cheese and creamy dressing and adds a crisp bite within this yielding salad. I like adding a subtle but briny tang to the salad, so I added capers for some extra lift.
This is one of those salads that you don't really need to follow the recipe ingredients amounts exactly. Use this recipe as a guideline and adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. The food pairings are lovely, but how much jalapeño, fresh herbs, capers, and dressing is best determined by your taste. If you use the best quality ingredients, this mozzarella salad is a winner no matter how much jalapeño you add. When adjusting the ingredients to your taste, remember to start with less as you can always add more. It is much harder to take away.
If you can find fresh marjoram substitute it for the oregano. This dish benefits from the flavor of fresh herbs, so do not use dried herbs. If you are not a fan of oregano, substitute it with fresh thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary.
This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Marinated Mozzarella in Crème Fraiche with Lemon and Marjoram from his book, Happy Days. The Creamy dressing is adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Lemon Cream, in his book, Six Seasons
Best eaten at room temperature and the day it is made.
- 2 lbs (1 kg) ripe tomatoes any variety or color
- 1 lb (500 g) fresh mozzarella or buffalo mozzarella
- Kosher Salt and Fresh Black pepper to taste
- Lemon Dressing
- 1 lemon
- ½ - 1 jalapeño chili
- 1 TB capers
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Fresh oregano or marjoram to taste about 2 teaspoons or more
- ¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed remove green germ
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ½ tsp of lemon zest
- 1 TB (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
- 1 TB (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Make the lemon dressing
In a small bowl add the garlic and heavy cream and allow to infuse for a couple of hours in the refrigerator. This gives you a nice garlic flavor without the bracing bite from garlic.
After 2 hours, fish out the garlic cloves from the heavy cream and add the Kosher salt and several rounds of freshly ground black pepper, and lemon zest.
Using a wire whisk, whisk the cream by hand until the cream just starts to thicken. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk until airy but pourable. This won’t get thick like fully whipped cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover the bowl and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Best if used the same day it is made.
Assemble the Salad
Slice the tomatoes a shy 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick and spread out in a single layer on a tray or cutting board. Lightly sprinkle the slices with flaky sea salt and fresh black pepper. Slice the mozzarella in ¼ inch (.5cm) slices.
Arrange the tomatoes and mozzarella slices around a platter by alternating slices of tomatoes with slices of mozzarella.
Slice the jalapeño pepper in half and remove the stem, white pith and seeds. The white pith and seeds carry most of the heat in the chili so if you want it a little spicier, leave some of the white pith intact. However, make sure you remove all of the seeds as they would look unappealing in this dish. Mince the jalapeño chili and sprinkle it over the tomatoes and mozzarella. You may only need about half of the jalapeño chili, but use as much as you want.
Sprinkle some of the fresh oregano, and capers over the salad. Pretend like you are Jackson Pollock and paint the tomatoes and mozzarella arrangement with the lemon cream. Depending on how thick the lemon cream is, I find it works best if you wave a spoon back and forth, filled with the dressing above the salad. You will get a random pattern of the creamy dressing but not a heavy and gloppy looking one. You will not use all the dressing. Serve extra dressing on the side for those who want more.
Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad and extra herbs, capers and minced jalapeño, flaky sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve room temperature as a salad or first course. Or serve as an appetizer with crusty bread or grilled bread.
This is best eaten the day it is made. If you have some leftovers, store in the refrigerator and eat up the next day.
Check Out What The #WESAYTOMAOTES Participants Made
Whatannieseating Sun Gold Tomato + Calabrian Chili Pizza
SquareMealRoundTable Heirloom Tomato, Shallot and Thyme Focaccia
Well_fedsoul Heirloom Tomato Galette with Basil Honey Ricotta
Katie_clova Roasted Summer Vegetable Quiche Thewoodandspoon.com/roasted-summer-vegetable-quiche
MangiaWithMichele Pesto Trapanese (Sicilian Fresh Tomato & Almond Pesto)
Fufuinthekitchen Middle Eastern Tomato & Beef Skillet Dish
Floursinyourhair Tomato & Roasted Garlic Mini Galettes
Aforkfulofyum Fried Green Tomato Caprese Salad
Joyosity Tomato and Eggs over Rice
Moodyloonbakehouse Tomato Juice Spheres on Goat Cheese and Fillo
Jessiesheehanbakes Everything cream-cheese biscuits with roasted tomatoes
Wildflourchi Heirloom tomato tart
Alwayseatdessert Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata and Grilled Bread
Worthypause Paleo Tomato-Basil Cauliflower Rice
Moreicingthancake Roasted tomato & malt vinegar slaw
ShortgirlTallorder Roasted Heirloom Tomato & Vegan Pesto Toasts
Champagneandcookies Heirloom Cherry Tomato Italian Potato Salad with Basil & Gorgonzola
Whatshouldimakefor Tomato “Shortcake” with Whipped Ricotta
Smartinthekitchen Indian spiced marinated tomatoes
Lepetitchefsb Cherry Tomato & Walnut Tart (vegan)
Sixsnippets Heirloom Tomato and Salted Egg Salad
Rezelkealoha Tomato Pesto Pasta Salad
Saltnpepperhere Shrimp + Tomato Salad
Wellseasonedstudio Sunday Supper Sugo (slow roasted pork shoulder pasta sauce)
Playswellwithbutter Summer Caprese Salad Cheese Board
Thatpassionatefoodie Cold curried tomato soup with heirloom tomato tart
Kaaliberti Tomato-ricotta galette in herbed crust
Amodestfeast Turkish Eggs With Garlic Yogurt and Tomatoes
Mariannes_kitchen Eggplant Bruschetta
Bakingthegoods Heirloom Tomato & Pimento Cheese Cornmeal Tart
Thecookbooknerd BLT Salad
Marenkiersti Tomato Toast with Homemade Mayo
Appetiteforhumanity Classic tomato sandwich on homemade focaccia
EatChoFood Stewed Tomato Noodle Soup
Katiebirdbakes Heirloom Tomato Tart with Burrata
Thehealthysins Roasted Tomatoes and Feta Quiche
Justaddsalt_ Heirloom Tomato Tart
Pieceoflovepastries Upside down tomato cake w basil sugar
Flottelottehaan Tomato and Avocado Salsa
Whatskarencooking Puttanesca Open-Faced Slab Pie
FarmandCoastCookery Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
Bappygirl Beef and Tomatoes with Egg
Khabakom Onion and Tomato Tarte Tatin
Thebutterywhisk Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes & Asparagus with Fresh Pasta
Sugarsalted Summer tomato salad w/ balsamic red onion
Simpleandsweetfood Pan con Tomato (Rustic Spanish Style Tomato Bread)
Easyanddelish Tomato Basil Caipirinha
Piegirlbakes Tomato Ricotta Galette
KatherineinBrooklyn Easy Tomato Tart
JustDateSyrup Tomato + Stone Fruit Burrata Salad JustDateSyrup.com
Dukkah_queen Spicy tomato chutney with curry leaves
Cleanplateclb Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Calabrian Chili Oil & Fresh Ricotta
Mamaclarkskitchen Gazpacho cocktail
Ritualsofthekitchen Tomato Fatoosh Salad
Miminew Za’atar tomato tartine
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
This time of year I keep my eye out for ramps, a stunning wild and rare plant with a unique flavor all of its own. Ramps have two green leaves the color of spring green with an oniony stem that turns from green to purple to a creamy white at the bulb and root end. I believe they are as beautiful to look at as it is to eat, but I am a total fan of green and purple foods.
There are countless ways to prepare ramps, but my favorite way is to grill them. When grilled, the harsh garlicky bite turns sweet and compliments the smoky flavor from the grill. If you have never tried them before, grilled ramps are simply delicious and the perfect introduction to their unique onion flavor. All you need are a couple of grilled ramps to pair with your favorite grilled fish, meat or vegetables with a side of potato salad for a memorable spring BBQ feast.
Likewise, grilled ramps make an excellent hors d’oeuvres. Mix them with fresh ricotta cheese and lemon zest then smear it on grilled French bread. The ricotta tones down the sharp bite from the ramps but is makes a creamy garlicky lemon blend that tastes great on grilled toast. Only use fresh ricotta cheese and not the commercial brands. The ricotta flavor of these toasts stand out with the ramps and commercial ricotta just doesn’t sing the way homemade or freshly bought ricotta does. Seared toast with a smear of ricotta cheese and grilled ramps are a crowd-pleasing appetizer at any cocktail party, graduation party, or picnic in the park.
If you want to have a more potent grilled ramp flavor, omit the ricotta just add 1-2 grilled ramps per slice of bread. Chop them up and arrange them decoratively on each slice then add a squeeze of lemon juice right before serving.
Ramps are a member of the Allium family with a harvest season of only three weeks in May/June. The taste is like a cross between garlic cloves, scallions and leeks yet has its own unique garlicky-oniony flavor. Often ramps are referred as wild leeks or spring onions, ramps are neither. They are simply and uniquely ramps.
Because they are rare and only grow in the wild, people get ecstatic when they spot them at the farmer’s market or out in the wild. Like a lot of rare food finds they have a devoted following among chefs, home cooks, and foragers. But their popularity has led to some problems. As I was researching ramps for my post, I learned that ramps are on the protected plant list in Quebec Canada and on the watch list along the eastern continental United States.
The reason for the protection status is because of over harvesting combined with the length of time it takes for ramps to make seeds, germinate seeds and grow mature enough for harvesting. Like a lot of wild plants, it takes several years. Because of the slow germination period, as explained in this article in Epicurious, only 10% of a single crop should get harvested over the course of the season. Unfortunately, as with most trendy wild foods, they are in high demand and command a high price. The higher the price the greedier foragers get and pull up more ramps than the regulated amount and the plant cannot sustain its life cycle.
Eat Ramps Responsibility
Once I learned about ramps protected status in Canada and being on the watch list in the US, I felt very guilty not only for buying them but posting a recipe with ramps as the main focus. I take these concerns very seriously. Yet, I believe if we eat ramps as a special treat and not excessively then the ramp population can sustain itself. It is the consumer’s responsibility to demand responsible behavior from the farmer and not support foragers and markets that do not follow the guidelines for foraging ramps. If we get greedy and take more that is sustainable and buy from individuals not following the rules, there is a strong likelihood ramps will get protected status list as it is in Canada. Hopefully chefs, and especially celebrity chefs, will take action and help protect ramps like they have done in the past.
More Ways to Cook with Ramps
Add fresh ramps as a substitute for chives in Cheese and Chive Herb Bread.
Replace the leeks with chopped and sautéed ramps then add to Leek Asparagus Risotto.
Mince then sauté ramps then add to the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary.
Use sautéed ramps to replace the garlic in Garlic Bread.
Grilled Ramps, Two Ways
Grilled Ramps are delicious hot of the grill or minced into fresh ricotta cheese and smeared on toasted French bread.
Serve hot grilled ramps with your favorite grilled meat or fish like Arctic char or with other grilled vegetables. Or, mix them up with fresh ricotta cheese, lemon zest and mint then smear on toasted bread for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Perfect for a cocktail party.
Substitute grilled or braised leeks for the ramps with one clove of roasted garlic.
The toasts are best eaten as soon as they are make or the bead will get soggy and stale.
- 16 ramps
- 1 Tb Extra Virgin Olive oil
- 1 pinch of Kosher Salt
Grilled Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
- 12 slices of French baguette cut thin on the diagonal
- ½ lb. fresh ricotta cheese
- 16 grilled ramps
- Zest from half a lemon
- 5-6 small mint leaves chiffonade
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat your grill, gas or charcoal to up high with the charcoal pushed to one side.
Clean, dry and trim off the root from each ramp. Cut away any soggy parts of the leaves, if any. Place the ramps on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with Kosher salt. Toss the ramps about using your hands to get the olive oil and salt evenly distributed over the ramps.
When your grill is hot, lay the ramps in a single layer over your grill and away from the coals to cook with indirect heat. Turn them over after a couple of minutes and grill the other side until charred and beginning to get soft.
You can also grill ramps indoors with a grill pan on a burner. Depending on the size of your grill pan, you will need to grill the ramps in batches.
Remove from the heat and enjoy hot or make into an appetizer. If serving as a side dish figure on 2 ramps per person.
Crispy Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
Toast both sides of your bread until browned on your grill or under the broiler. Set aside.
Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl. Cut the green leaves off the ramps and mince the ramp bulbs . Add them to the ricotta.
Set aside a few, about 3, ramp leaves for garnish. Chop up the remaining leaves and add to the ricotta.
Grate the lemon zest into the ricotta and add the chiffonade mint. Stir everything together and taste. Correct the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spread a spoonful, about 1 tablespoon, of the ricotta and ramp mixture over each toasted slice of bread. Garnish with thin strips of grilled ramp leaves and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Guacamole is one of my all-time favorite foods, ever. I loved it since I was a child and have never stopped. My love affair with guacamole comes from an even greater appreciation for avocados. They are on my desert island list of food that I can’t live without. It is just so hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Avocados remind me of California and eating them is one way I stay connected to my home town.
For most of my lifetime, I have made guacamole and never look at it as a recipe, but something that is fluid and develops into a moment depending on place and time. There is a foundation to build on, but each time I add or omit an ingredient whenever I see fit. Over the years, my guacamole recipe is the one food that people always ask me, “What is my secret for making delicious guacamole?” My answer is not one they expect or want to hear but, I feel like I am stating the obvious. The secret to good guacamole is, making it with perfectly ripe avocados.
Ripe Avocados make the Best Guacamole
Ultimately, guacamole is only going to taste as good as the avocados you make it with. So, it pays to learn how to identify when they are ripe. It is rare to find them ripe at the market so, it is important to let your avocados ripen to that sweet spot at home. Too hard and the flesh will look pale in and taste bland. Too soft, and the avocado gets gray veins and has bruises on the flesh and tastes over ripe.
The sweet spot is when there is some firmness in the body, but also has some yield when you press on the north and south poles of the avocado. It is like Goldilocks, looking for the right chair to sit in. One that is not too hard, or not too soft. Just right. With experience it gets easier to identify that perfect state of ripeness and learn which store sells the best avocados.
Living in New York, avocados travel long distances to reach our markets and usually are as hard as a granite counter top. Typically, when I buy avocados I let them rest on my window sill for 2 days before I use them. On occasion, they need more time, sometimes less. First, remove them from any bag, even the mesh bag, but especially a plastic one. Then place them in an area where they will get some sun and air circulation. Never put avocado in the refrigerator unless they are cut open. Check them daily and handle them carefully so they do not bruise.
My kitchen windows do not get a lot of direct sunlight, and two to three days usually is enough time. If your kitchen streams with sunshine all day, your avocados may take less time. None of the tricks, like putting them in a paper bag to quickly ripen avocados, work. Time, warm air and sunlight are essential for ripening avocados.
How to Make Guacamole Without a Recipe
When your avocados are ripe, begin making guacamole with the foundation ingredients, avocados, garlic, lime juice, pinch of salt, and minced cilantro. As you make guacamole remember this rule, start with less and add more if needed. It is a lot easier to add seasoning then take away. My preference for guacamole is create a nice balance of all the ingredients to enhance the flavor of the avocados without any one flavor coming on too strong. There are other traditional ingredients in guacamole like white onion or chopped tomatoes, but I prefer a smoother guacamole. Plus, I am not a big fan of raw onions. Feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of chopped white onions or tomatoes if you wish.
Once you get the foundation mixed together, taste and assess what the guacamole needs if anything. With perfect avocados it doesn’t take much to make good guacamole. Sometimes, the avocados lack some flavor and need some boosting. The easiest way to boost up the flavor is by adding a tablespoon of salsa, either tomato salsa or tomatillo salsa. Also, a small spoonful of mayonnaise helps make the guacamole creamy. Even a scant amount of Dijon mustard can offer the right amount of tang when the guacamole needs some acid to brighten it up. However, be careful not to add too much because you don’t want to taste the mustard or mayonnaise, these flavors should be in the background.
Extra Tidd-Bits for Boosting Guacamole Flavor
Just like adding a spoonful of salsa to your guacamole, you can achieve the same effect, if not better if you roast a tomatillo, jalapeño or serrano pepper, and garlic then add them to the guacamole. Personally, I love adding these roasted vegetables to guacamole, especially the garlic. The roasted garlic becomes sweet, and the harsh bite disappears. These roasted vegetables bring a slight tangy smokiness to the guacamole that just fits, like bacon and eggs.
A couple of years ago, I discovered how fresh fruit like strawberries is delicious with guacamole. Either serve strawberries on the side or chop some up and mix in the dip. You may need to add more salt and adjust the other seasoning, so taste and build the flavor as you go.
How Many Avocados?
3 avocados are a good place to start. It should make enough guacamole for 5-6 people. However, if your family is like my family it will disappear in less than 5 minutes and you will feel like you did not make enough. Avocados are expensive, at least in NY, so buy as many as is within reason. The most avocados I ever used to make guacamole are 6-7 avocados. It was for a decent size party of 15 or more people. However, if there are several appetizers in addition to the guacamole, there is no need to make so much.
Keep in mind, guacamole does not keep well. No matter how much lime juice is in the guacamole, eventually it turns gray from being exposed to the air. The oxidation also effects the flavor. Guacamole is a dip to serve right away and at room temperature.
Family Favorite Guacamole
The secret to delicious guacamole is using perfectly ripe avocados. Avocados are ripe when they are still firm but there is some give in the top and bottom of the fruit. I find it is best to buy avocados a couple of days in advance and let them ripen on a sunny windowsill.
This is a foundation recipe to build your guacamole as you make it. Adjust any amount of your preferred seasonings to enhance the flavor of your avocados.
This is not a recipe to make in advance. Guacamole is best served at room temperature and immediately after it is made. Serve with corn chips or some fruit like strawberries and vegetables such as jicama, carrots, cucumbers or bell peppers.
- 3 avocados
- 1 -2 cloves garlic peeled and green germ removed
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tea Kosher Salt
- 2 TBS chopped cilantro
- 1 roasted jalapeño chili optional
- 1 medium roasted tomatillo optional
Cut each avocado in half by holding the avocado in one hand and with the other hand make a slice with a 6-inch chef's knife though the top of the avocado towards the middle until you reach the pit inside. Rotate your knife around the perimeter of the avocado. Set down the knife and hold the avocado in both hands then twist the avocado halves in opposite directions until they separate. Pull apart the avocado halves.
Securely hold the avocado with the pit like it is resting in your palm and the pit is facing up. Make sure your fingers are away from the edge of the avocado. Carefully, but firmly, take your chef knife and hit the sharp edge of the blade in the center of the pit until the knife sticks. With the knife blade secure in the pit, twist your knife counter-clockwise to loosen the pit from the flesh. Lift your knife with the pit still attached and remove the pit from the flesh. Whack the side of your knife against the edge of your cutting board, or the rim of a garbage pail, to loosen the pit from the knife and falls off. Repeat until all the avocados are cut in half and pits removed.
Use a soup spoon and scoop out the avocado flesh. Run the spoon around the inside edge of the avocado to loosen it free from the skin. Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it into a mixing bowl. Repeat until all the avocados are scooped out.
Mash the avocados with a fork until all the flesh is mixed together but still chunky. Add lime juice from half a lime. Stir to mix with your fork.
Mince or press the garlic and place into the mixing bowl. Add a pinch (less than 1/2 a teaspoon), of Kosher salt. and the cilantro to the avocados. Stir to mix.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Too bland add more salt or garlic. Needs more acid add more lime juice or tomatillos or salsa. Start with less and add more if needed.
The roasted tomatillo, process in a food processor first then add it to the guacamole.
The chili peppers, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds and white pith according to how spicy you want the guacamole.
Instead of the roasted tomatillo or chilies, add a spoonful or salsa verde or tomato salsa.
For extra creaminess, add a spoonful of mayonnaise. For extra tang, add a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Sliced fresh grape tomatoes for garnish or in the dip.
Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve. Best eaten immediately with corn chips or cut up vegetables and fruit.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
During the 70’s and 80’s, Deviled Eggs was a popular appetizer. Many cocktail parties had a tray of these creamy bite size egg nibbles politely passed around on a tray for your convenience. Of course, I was a teenager then, but during my teenage years I made money as a hostess helper where I prepped, cooked, served, and cleaned up at people’s parties. I loved the job because I got to see what people where serving and how they entertained.
For some reason Deviled Eggs lost some popularity in the 90’s. I believe it was because people believed eggs were unhealthy. Fortunately, eggs have made a comeback, and with that so have Deviled Eggs. I love Deviled Eggs and based on the reaction I hear from people outside my home, so do a lot of people. I believe they are a perfect appetizer for a cocktail party. One that is not too rich, are easy to eat while holding a drink, and provide some needed protein to help fill one’s appetite. In general, I believe eggs are comfort food and just like egg salad, deviled eggs have that creamy wholesome comfort I crave.
How to Cook Hard Boiled Eggs for Deviled Eggs
The key to making good deviled eggs is making perfect hard-boiled eggs. Ones that are not rubbery, with cooked but tender yolks, have an even oval shape, and have a shell that is easy to peel off. What I discovered is there are almost as many tricks as there are recipes, with most of them providing inconsistent results. Over the past couple of years, I discovered two techniques for making hard-boiled eggs that are consistently easy to peel and do not get over-coked. No technique is entirely foolproof, but these two techniques are very reliable.
First, according to Food52, warm up the eggs in hot tap water while you wait for the water to boil. Putting eggs straight from the refrigerator into a pot of boiling water causes the shells to crack and give the eggs a misshapen appearance. Warming the eggs for a few minutes helps the egg whites set into their natural oval shape and prevent the shells from cracking.
Second, if you only adapt one of these techniques, this is the one to do whenever you cook hard-boiled eggs. Shock the cooked eggs in ice water for 15 minutes or more just when they finish cooking. In layman’s terms, this technique causes the egg whites to constrict and pull away from the sides of the shell. With everything else being a constant, this one technique produces hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel.
Also, the myth about younger fresh eggs being hard to peel is true. Older eggs like store-bought or farm fresh eggs that are at least 2-weeks-old are much easier to peel. Other than the shock from the ice bath, the age criteria is the only “egg lore” I found to be consistently correct. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the best techniques for cooking hard-boiled eggs, read this article from Serious Eats.
If you are making hard-boiled eggs for deviled eggs, make more than you need so if you get a couple of eggs that don’t peel easily or are misshapen, you have extra to choose from. Use up the extra eggs for egg salad or chopped and sprinkled over asparagus with some olive oil.
Deviled Eggs Four Ways
There are endless ways to personalize this classic appetizer and I have provided four variations for you to choose from. First off is the foundation recipe which all the other recipes are a variation from. Each recipe is proportioned using 4 hard-boiled eggs, giving you a total of 8 deviled eggs. The recipe is easily adapted to doubling the amounts. With the egg yolk filling, I look for a smooth consistency with a very slight amount of grain, and a creamy balanced flavor between the mayonnaise, mustard and egg yolks.
From the foundation recipe I built two other variations. The first I made Pickled Deviled eggs with cornichons, a couple of the onions from the bottle, and pickling liquid to the foundation recipe. This added a subtle pickle flavor complimented with some heat from a light sprinkle of hot paprika. If you can’t find cornichons use sweet gherkin pickles or relish
For decadent deviled eggs, I used either white or black truffle oil and slightly adjusted the foundation recipe. If using white truffle oil, it will have a subtler flavor, but it is still delicious. The egg filling gets a double dose of truffles from truffle salt and truffle oil, which I am lucky enough to have both on hand. However, if you only have truffle oil, you will still have the truffle essence, albeit a subtler one. If you are fortunate enough to have a real truffle, mince up a sliver and add it to the egg yolks or use as a garnish. Italian truffles are not available now (early Spring), but usually become available for a couple of months in the summer, and in the winter.
The recipe for spinach deviled eggs is from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything. He made them sound so good I just had to try them out. He is right they are delicious with a great flavor of spinach and Romano cheese. The filling has a dark green color which was different from what I expected. (I thought they would have a pale green color.) Yet, I believe they will surprise and delight your guests as something delicious and unexpected.
His recipe calls for Parmesan Cheese, but I prefer the sharpness of Romano Cheese. If you wish, use Parmesan cheese, but make sure it is the Parmesan Reggiano from Italy.
Pair Deviled Eggs with any of these Appetizers
Deviled Eggs are a timeless appetizer perfect for a cocktail party. The foundation recipe is a traditional recipe made with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and some hot paprika. All the variations start from this traditional recipe with some tweaks. Listed below are four variations to choose from to suit your mood and preference. All of them are delicious.
The Spinach Deviled Eggs is from Mark Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything.
Deviled eggs are best eaten the day they are made. Assemble right before serving.
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- 2 ½ TBS mayonnaise
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- A few rounds of fresh ground black pepper
- A couple of dashes of hot paprika to taste and garnish
- Dill for garnish only for the foundation recipe
Use a sharp paring knife, cut the hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise. To make a clean cut, wipe off the knife between each egg. Scoop out the yolks and place into a small bowl. Reserve the egg whites. Mash the egg yolks with a fork until they look like small pebbles and almost a paste. Add the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and mix and mash together with your fork until it gets as smooth as you can make it by hand. Taste the mixture and adjust with any of the ingredients to get the consistency you wish. Sprinkle a couple of dashes of hot paprika, or sweet paprika if you do not want the spice.
Spoon or pipe the egg yolk filling into the body of the cooked egg whites. Garnish with a tip of dill and a dusting of paprika and black pepper.
Serve immediately or refrigerate covered in plastic wrap until needed. Deviled eggs are best eaten soon after they are made.
Cornichon Deviled Eggs
Follow the directions of the foundation recipe for deviled eggs. Once the egg yolks are mixed and add 4-6 diced cornichons and two diced pickled onions from the cornichons jar. Add about a half teaspoon and up to 1 teaspoon of the juice from the jar of cornichons. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the deviled egg filling into the body of the hard-boiled eggs and garnish with sliced cornichon and a dash of smoked paprika.
Poor Man’s Truffle Deviled Eggs
Use the foundation recipe, except use only 1 ½ tablespoons of mayonnaise and add one tablespoon of white or black truffle olive oil. Use the same amount of Dijon mustard, but add a pinch of truffle salt instead of Kosher salt. (Optional, add 1 TB of butter.) Mix until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pipe or spoon the egg yolk mixture into the egg white bodies. Garnish with fresh ground black pepper and drizzle with truffle oil.
Spinach Deviled Eggs
Steam 3 oz (81 g) of fresh spinach (cleaned and stems removed) for 5 minutes. When cool plop into a flour sack kitchen towel and squeeze out as much water as you can. Or put in a fine mesh strainer and press out as much liquid as possible. Place the squeezed spinach on a cutting board and mince several times over. In a small bowl mash up the egg yolks and add the spinach, 1 ½ TB mayonnaise, and 1 TB extra virgin olive oil, 1 TB of slightly softened butter, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, less than a ¼ tsp. Mash everything together until smooth. Add ¼ cup, (65-70 ml) finely grated Romano Cheese and stir to completely mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pipe or spoon the filling into the hard-boiled egg whites. Garnish with thinly sliced pickled peppadews.
Hard Boiled Eggs
- 1-6 eggs
- 3 quarts (3 liters) water
Fill a pot large enough to hold the eggs without crowding them with 3 quarts of water. Turn on the heat to high. Bring the pot to a boil.
While the water is heating up on the stove, add the eggs to a bowl filled with hot water. Let the eggs warm up in the bath. This step help prevent the egg shells from cracking as they cook and maintain an oval shape.
Carefully, add the eggs one at a time to the pot of boiling water. A large slotted spoon or spider are great for this job, and cook for one minute. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 10- 12 minutes. 10 minutes will give you eggs that are cooked but have a slightly soft middle spot in the yolk. 12 minutes will give you eggs where the yolks are cooked but not dried out.
Just before the eggs finish boiling, fill a large bowl part way with ice then fill it with cold water. Set aside.
When the eggs are finished cooking, immediately remove them from the pot and add them into the bowl with the ice water. Use a slotted spoon to lift the eggs out of the hot water before you add them into the ice water. Let them cool in the ice water for 15 minutes or longer, adding more ice if necessary to keep the water cold.
To peel the eggs, gently tap the egg against the side of the sink to make cracks all over the surface, then roll the egg back and forth on the counter’s surface. Starting at the wide bottom end of the egg, peel away the shell under cold running tap water. Repeat until all the eggs are peeled. Place the peeled eggs in a bowl of cold water and keep in the refrigerator uncovered until needed.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.