Thursday, July 29, 2010

Zero to Hero [in the kitchen]

When I moved to Virginia three years ago, I had no idea how to cook. I didn't even know how to scramble eggs (I know, pathetic!). My mom always did the cooking at my house, so I was never forced to learn. In college, I lived in a sorority house, which meant I could rely on the house-cook who prepared our meals everyday. Needless to say, when I moved out here I had yet to learn how to cook much more than shells and cheese and canned tomato soup. That counts as cooking, right?

It's funny thinking back to my first summer in Virginia, when making over-easy eggs would nearly bring me to tears (I can't lie, I still get upset when I break a yolk in the pan) and every time I grilled any sort of meat, I insisted that Jesse double-check it to make sure it was done. After a few months of practice though, I started to settle into cooking. And after a year or so, I noticed that I was modifying the recipes I found to work better for Jesse and me. I took pride in what I was making and the fact that I could be so successful with something that felt so challenging.

My first homemade lasagna (Spring 2008)

Looking back to my first days at the stove makes me laugh. I can't believe that at one point I was intimidated by raw chicken or that eggs made me feel defeated. During my three years of home-cooking, I finally feel like I've found my sea-legs and that I can do just about anything.

While I know many of you are already settled-in in the kitchen, I have a little advice for anyone that is new to cooking - start small, but reach far. There have been several times when I've stretched way out of my cooking comfort zone to try a new dish or cooking method to prove to myself that I can do it, and 99% of the time it pays off. I usually try to pick one part of the meal to jazz up, while keeping everything else simple. For example, taco night - Jesse and I eat tacos just about every week. I usually use ground beef or turkey and I either mix up my own taco seasoning or cheat and use store bought mix. But one thing I love to make from scratch, that takes taco night to the next level, is guacamole. I never realized how simple it is to make homemade Guac. Restaurants charge anywhere from fifty cents to $1.50 extra for a tiny cup of Guac, but a whole avocado only costs about $1.25 ... talk about major markup!

The thing I like about making guacamole is that you can modify it based on your personal tastes and what you have on hand. But beware, avocados have a very short shelf life. It's best to buy them the day before you want to use them because it only takes about 24 hours for a medium-hard avocado to ripen.

I know there are many variations of guacamole, but here is my very easy, pantry-friendly, version. The nice thing about this recipe is that it's very easy to multiply the ingredients and prepare for a larger group. I've made this for several weeknight dinners and it's always a hit! I am giving you exact measurements for each of the ingredients, but I've found that it's best to go by taste. Some avocados seem to be a little more needy than others. :)

Holy Guacamole!

Serves: 2
Time: 10 minutes, plus chilling time

1 large ripe avocado
1 medium roma tomato
3 tablespoons diced red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

1. Start by prepping all the ingredients. De-seed and dice the tomato. De-seeding prevents the guacamole from getting watery. Then, dice the red onion and the avocado (tips for slicing an avocado are below the recipe).

2. Place the chunks of avocado into a medium mixing bowl. Take a fork and mash the avocado until no large chunks remain.

3. Add the diced tomato and red onion to the bowl and mix together.

4. Add the lime juice, tasting as you go to make sure there is enough "zing," but not too much. Next add the salt until the zing, otherwise known as acidity, is balanced out. Finally, add a little freshly ground black pepper for flavor.

5. Chill for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 3-4 hours to maintain freshness. Serve with tortilla chips or on tacos.

Ways to jazz it up:
For a little bite, mince one small garlic clove
For a lot of bite, dice up one small jalepeno pepper (be sure to discard the seeds)
For extra creaminess, spoon about 3 Tbsp. of sour cream into the avocado mixture
For a fresh bite, chop a little fresh cilantro into the guacamole

Slicing an Avocado
Start by slicing the avocado in half, keeping in mind the pit in the center. Once you've cut around the avocado, you should be able to twist each half apart.

Remove the pit with your knife by chopping into it and twisting the knife to loosen the pit from the avocado.

Deeply score each half horizontally and vertically being careful not to break through the skin.

Finally, separate from the skin using a spoon or your fingers.


  1. You're so cute! Can you come cook for me? How did you learn all your fancy cooking ways?

  2. Stef, I'd love to come cook for you! I guess I learned "my fancy cooking ways" from watching Food Network, reading cooking magazines and practicing! When are you coming back to VA to visit?


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