Easy Chicken Bone Broth

Right now, it’s not the easiest of times for all of us.

Most of us (I’m in California so this is me) have been ordered to ‘Shelter in Place’ or basically stay at home unless you need to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, doctor or get gas for your car – the essentials. For a lot of us that means that we are cooking more than we normally do and, if you’re like me and single, you’re also freezing things in portions for easy meal preparation.

All this extra cooking means that we lean toward comfort food. Comfort food is different for all of us, but some form of chicken soup is in every cuisine I know, and it all starts with a base of simple chicken stock.

A while ago, when bone broth was just starting to become popular, I was talking with a girlfriend of mine about finding a simple recipe for chicken stock. Everything I knew about making my chicken soup involved not just chicken but also carrots, onions, celery, parsnips, parsley and herbs and spices. Needless to say, it is a ton of prep work just to get it together on the stove. She told me that she had the easiest recipe for the absolute best bone broth. Fortunately for me she was happy to share it and now I’m sharing it with you. The worst part of this recipe is the 5 hours on the stove but right now we’re all at home anyway so it’s not that much of a time sacrifice.

Tips:

  1. Have the butcher cut the chicken wings at the largest joint (each wing is now in two pieces) this exposes more bone.
  2. I like clear broth – so I wrap the chicken wings in cheesecloth and tie it up. This prevents almost all of the stray bits of chicken from floating around.
  3. Because I like it as clear as possible – when it’s time to strain the broth I place a layer of cheese cloth inside my fine mesh strainer and pour the broth through that.

Recipe:

4 pounds chicken wings (I use organic)
3 ½ quarts of cold water

Place the wings in cheesecloth and create a packet – tie in a knot to secure. Place the wings in the cold water in a Dutch oven. Bring to a boil on high and then reduce the temperature to a simmer. Skim the ‘muck’ that rises to the top as needed. This will subside after about 30 minutes. Let simmer for 3 hours.

After the 3 hours add:

1 Red Onion – chopped. This doesn’t have to be pretty because you’re going to strain it out after you’re done cooking.
2 Bay Leaves
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt (not more and do not use table salt – it’s much saltier than Kosher Salt) I know it doesn’t sound like much salt, but it is all you need – trust me.

Continue to simmer 2 more hours. After the 5 total cooking hours your broth will have reduced quite a bit. Strain through a fine mesh strainer (add the layer of cheesecloth inside the strainer if you have it). Then chill in the refrigerator till it is set. It will actually be like jello – very firm. I put my broth into 8”x 8” square pans but a Pyrex baking dish will work just as well. I then cut my ‘chicken jello’ into 2”x 2” squares. Line a cookie sheet with saran wrap. Carefully slide a knife around the edge of the chilled ‘jello’ and then lift each square out of the pan and place it on the saran wrap. Put the cookie sheet with the ‘chicken jello’ squares in the freezer. Once they are frozen put them into a Ziploc bag and leave in the freezer until you need them.

You can either melt the squares on the stove or place them frozen directly into a microwave safe dish and heat them. I either just drink it warm in a mug, or add cooked pasta, or cooked chicken. You can really do anything that you like with it. My girlfriend loves this so much that she makes it every week because she drinks it every day!

I hope you enjoy this. Stay safe and stay well.

The Lost Art of the Thank You Note

thank you note

Or, “Do I really have to write that?”

I always talk about entertaining at home but what about when you’ve been invited to someone else’s home for a dinner party or an afternoon in the back yard?  Do you need to send a Thank You note (I’ll get to email later) or is just saying ‘thank you’ as you leave enough?  Expressing your gratitude at the end of the day or evening is critical but so is taking the time to actually write a thank you note later and here’s why.

Think about how much time you put into planning and executing a gathering at your own home.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just family, business colleagues or your best friends who are the ones on the invite list.  You expend effort and energy on the planning of the guest list, the menu, cooking or picking up from your favorite restaurant, décor, setting your table (al fresco or even at your breakfast table), and then making sure everyone is having a great time during the party.

And, your host has spent just as much effort on their event as well.  So, when you take the time to send a personal thank-you note it’s simply a lovely reminder for the host that you appreciate everything they did and that you’re glad you were included.

Send it as soon afterward as possible – don’t wait a week.  Just that small gesture of writing a short thank-you note will be remembered.  Try to make it as personal as you can, say ‘thank you’ at the beginning of the note and add a detail or two from the evening.  It will show you put some thought into the message.  Even if you didn’t like the food or the group, find something positive to say – maybe you loved the way the table was set.  It does not have to be a novel; a short note is perfectly acceptable.

I promised a note on sending an email thank-you and here it is:

Email thank-you notes don’t carry as much weight as ones that are hand-written.  When you write one by hand it shows that you have taken the time to express how much your host’s invitation meant to you.  I know it seems a bit old-fashioned to actually put a stamp on an envelope and use snail mail, especially in these tech heavy times, but it will impress.

However, email notes are more likely to get written AND, more importantly, actually sent. And, it’s much better to send an email thank-you than no thank-you note at all. If you are ‘hand-writing challenged’ and you can’t even read your own writing, then an email is preferred! They may not be as nice to receive but at least it will be legible! Depending on who is receiving the note, they may appreciate that an email is ‘greener’ than pen, paper, and stamp.

Having said that, write a thank you and you’ll get on the next invite list for sure!

thank you note

In the picture:

Flower Market or Farmer’s Market?

flowers-fresh

The best places to get the freshest flowers for your home.

I love how fresh flowers look in my home.  I have some in my foyer, some on my breakfast table and usually a few stems in the powder room and in my bathroom (of course!).  I even make sure I have a stem or two next to my bed.  Of course, if I’m entertaining, I add flowers to wherever we are having cocktails and they are ever present as part of my tablescape in the dining room.

Fresh flowers brighten any room and bring life to any space they’re in.  It’s interesting, guests mention that my home always feels welcoming but they don’t equate part of that feeling to the fresh flowers that are always present.  But, I’m here to tell you that those flowers absolutely contribute to it.

Many people think that you need to go to a florist to have fresh flowers in your home and that you have to spend a lot of money on arrangements created by professionals.  That is absolutely not the case.  You can find fresh flowers at most grocery stores but they’re usually not the freshest.  They’ll certainly do in a pinch – like if you can’t get to your local Flower Market or your local Farmer’s Market was a few days earlier and you need them ASAP.  So, don’t completely write off your grocer’s flowers if that’s what you can get to in the minute – they will do just fine.  But, with just a bit of planning you can get the freshest flowers from the flower or farmer’s market for a fraction of what it would cost you at a professional florist.  Loose flowers from your grocery store will cost less than from a florist as well.

fresh flowersTalk to the flower merchant at the farmer’s market about which flowers are in season at the minute or simply find ones that you love.  Ask which ones will stay freshest longest so you can enjoy them for a few extra days.  If I don’t have a particular color theme I’m working with I like to find unusual colors of flowers – like the Mahogany Sun Flowers in the photos – I’d never seen them.  Look at all the stems in whichever bunch you are choosing to make sure you don’t have any ‘sad’ flowers.

Be sure to recut the stems when you get home before you place them in water.  Any container that can hold water can be used for your arrangements – they don’t have to be vases.  In fact, sometimes the more unusual the container the more interesting the flowers look so canning jars, pitchers, glasses, almost anything can be the perfect ‘vase’ for your blooms.  Cut them different lengths placing the shortest ones in front and the longest towards the center.  I like them just loose.

And now that you know about where to find fresh flowers and how to have them in your home year-round you can save those visits to your local professional florist for when you absolutely must have that perfect arrangement for a special occasion.

How Many Plates do I Really Need?

plates for entertaining

4 is not a number no matter how many chairs are in your dining room!

My kitchen table seats only 3 and my dining room table has only 6 chairs.  So, how many plates do I really need?  I need a lot more than 6!  I can honestly say that I get asked that question by almost every client I have.  The answer is that everyone needs at least 10 even if you only seat 6 at your table and here’s why:

First, you will sometimes choose to use some regular plates (not serving pieces) just for serving the food that you’ve made.  Perhaps the meal is more casual and you don’t feel the need to pull out your platters and, whatever you’ve created will fit just fine on a dinner plate.  That’s why if your table is like mine and you’re serving 6 you will need more plates.

Second, you might be having a casual dinner and somehow a plate or two gets cleared into the kitchen but your guests aren’t quite finished with the meal – you need more plates!

Third, for some holidays you might add a folding table or two with folding chairs to seat 12 and you need more plates.

Or, maybe you’re serving a buffet and a guest wants a clean plate – all of a sudden you need more plates.

Then there’s always the dreaded and unexpected ‘plus one’ that wasn’t on the original guest list but someone brings to the party. You can scramble for another chair that you pull up to your table but, if you don’t have extra plates, how are they going to eat their dinner?

And, what if you’re being very careful with cleanup but a plate slips through your fingers and goes crashing to the floor?  Or, the garbage disposal decides to eat a spoon? Or any number of other mishaps and disasters that could descend on your evening?

You can see where this is headed.  The number of chairs at your table is only the start of how many plates, bowls, glasses, spoons, forks, etc. that you need to have on hand.  My rule of thumb is an additional 4 of everything.  This holds true no matter what shape or size your plates, bowls or flatware are.  Extras are always the answer.

I used to throw an annual New Year’s Eve party for all of my friends.  The last several years the number of guests grew to 100.  After I pushed back all of the furniture in my living room I squeezed in 10 tables for dinner.  But, you can imagine how many dishes etc. I had for those parties – service for 115!!!  I just never knew if someone was bringing an ‘extra’ and I always needed to be prepared.

Count your plates and be ready for anything!

Help! I’m Having a Party – How Much Wine do I Need?

wine-math-made-easy

Do the Wine Math: It’ll save your party every time.

I get asked a lot about how much wine is needed for a party and my answer is always the same: do the Wine Math.

No, it’s not New Math which is very complicated and completely unnecessary. It’s Old Math where we use addition, multiplication and a very small amount of division. All you need are some numbers to start.

Wine math is just that simple. First you have to know how many glasses are in a bottle. Then you need to figure out the kind of party you’re having, how long it will last, the number of people that are coming, and exactly who you’ve invited (meaning what type of wine drinkers they are). Once you figure all of that out, it’s a very quick calculation.

Of course, if you’re having a break-up pity party with just you and a friend then who cares about math at all? Important fact:  two very large mason jars will hold about a bottle of wine.  Simply add your favorite chick flick and you’re good to go!

Let’s get back to the very important wine math. A standard bottle of wine is 750 ml which is approximately 25 ounces.  You will find that the suggested serving of a glass of wine is 5 ounces so that would mean that each bottle would pour about 5 glasses.  However, I don’t think anyone pours exactly 5 ounces of wine – it usually ends up closer to 6 ounces – which means that, on average, a bottle of wine will hold about 4 glasses of wine.  Use that as your ‘rule of thumb’.

So, think about how your guests will drink.  You will pour one glass before dinner, a couple more will be consumed during the meal, and probably one more after dinner.  That means, assuming that there are 4 glasses in a bottle, that you would need about one bottle per guest.  But, as I’ve said above, you also need to consider a couple of other variables before you hit the wine store.

Guest Count – hopefully your friends are the type that will actually RSVP and not just show up unannounced.  Always add two more people to the count because someone will bring a random extra that they ‘forgot’ to tell you about or you have that one friend who never RSVPs and never shows but who will decide to come to your fabulous event.

Here’s where you pull out the calculator for the wine math:

Multiply the number of guests times the number of estimated glasses filled per guest.
THEN divide that number by 4 (approximate glasses per bottle) and that equals the number of bottles needed.

How much wine will they drink? Nobody can perfectly predict this but there are a couple of ‘rules’ that you can always depend on.  If your guests at least like wine they will drink one glass in the first hour but if they enjoy wine or even love it the number will be closer to 2 glasses in that first hour.  For each hour after that add one more glass to the count.  Following this logic – if your party will last about 4 hours most will drink close to 5 glasses of wine. You will need both a red and a white and enough of each in case most of your guests want to drink one or the other.

Now, if you’re like me and you are pouring Champagne, the whole calculation goes out the window because a bottle of bubbles will pour approximately 8 champagne flutes.  Unless, however, you’re at my house then a bottle will only hold 6-7 flutes because I have really large champagne glasses!

See? “Wine math” made easy. Now go and enjoy your party!

Wines in the picture:

Sophisticated Living – What is it?

sophisticated_living

More important, how to I obtain it?

I often talk about sophisticated living and how everyone can live their lives that way.  But, I think many people are confused about what I mean and how to achieve it in their daily routines.

Most people assume that to live a sophisticated lifestyle you have to have a lot of money and spend it lavishly.  I’m here to tell you that sophisticated living has absolutely nothing to do with how rich you are or your spending habits.  Instead, it has everything to do with putting effort into what you choose to surround yourself with – the items you touch on a daily basis, the things that you use not only with your family but also with your friends and colleagues when you entertain.  It has to do with everything that lives behind the cabinet doors in your home.

Your cabinets should be filled with things you enjoy touching and using, the feel of them, the weight and balance of a favorite kitchen knife or dining fork, even the casual water glass you use on a daily basis.  They don’t have to be silver or cut crystal – they just have to be something you love to use.  That’s not to say that I don’t love beautiful silver and crystal (because I do!) but everything doesn’t have to be formal and it definitely doesn’t have to belong to only one manufacturer or only one pattern.

The things that we surround ourselves with and use are a reflection of ourselves and should be items that we love to share with others.  Whether it’s because they have a great story to tell or are handed down from someone we loved or because we simply happened upon them on a trip!  They could be the silliest BBQ plates that were found in a second-hand shop on a road trip that turn a casual afternoon barbecue into a long night of laughter.  All of these contribute to sophisticated living.

The photo includes some of my most cherished items – the one piece of silver my mother had (the simple Revere Bowl), the first champagne glasses I ever purchased when I was 21, the beautiful Baccarat Mille Nuits champagne flutes that were a gift from my best friend that started my collection, the box of salt cellars that are clearly missing one little dish and two spoons but were so sweet I had to buy them from an antique dealer, various silver serving pieces bought at flea markets all over the world – even my cherished wooden cooking spoon (burn marks and all) that I’ve moved from home to home over the last 40 years.  All of these items are a reflection of me, who I am and what I want to share.

The joy has been in the collecting of these things and it continues every time I reach for one of them to use.

It’s Summer So It Must Be Corn Season!

corn

Corn etiquette: how to pick it, store it, and fix a bad choice.

I look forward to summer every year for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fantastic produce that’s perfect and in season for these few months.  There are so many to choose from but one of my absolute favorites is corn!  Some of my best food memories are from BBQs that either I attended or threw and there was always fresh corn in one form or another on the menu.  In fact, I’m usually teased about how neatly I eat corn off the cob– one row at a time – I can’t help it – it just tastes better that way!

The sweetest and freshest corn (no matter the color – white, yellow or bicolor – color is not an indicator of sweetness) is found at your local stand or farmer’s market.  But, even if you must go to your local grocer for fresh corn know that peeling back the husk will dry out the cob for the other shoppers no matter where you are buying the ears.  A serious etiquette No-No.  Just look for full, heavy ears with tight, green husks and shiny silk at the ends.

corn_and_FranUnfortunately, corn will start to lose it sweetness as soon as it is picked which is why I recommend buying local.  But, it’s also the best reason to eat it as quickly as you buy it – eating it the same day as you purchase it would be ideal.  If you must, keep unhusked ears in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for no more than 3 days.  If you can’t use them all up then blanch the cobs (peeled and without silk) in boiling water, cut off the kernels and store in plastic bags in your freezer. They’ll last up to one year and you’ll have fresh corn available no matter the season!  Just lay a shucked ear on the cutting board and (with a sharp knife) slice off a strip of corn.  Continue turning the cob until all kernels are removed.

A question that is always asked – boil or grill?  Here’s the answer – for the sweetest more ‘corny’ tasting corn – boil.  If your corn is fresh from a local stand or the farmer’s market simply place shucked ears into a pot of boiling water for 1-3 minutes.  Corn that’s purchased at the market is, more than likely older, a bit less sweet and tender and will require a few more minutes of cook time – maybe 5-8 minutes.  But, if you are looking for the charred smokiness that can only come from the grill then by all means – grill!  Leave the ears in the husks – you don’t need to soak them in water prior to placing them on the grill – and set them on a medium high pre-heated grill.  Turn them occasionally until the outside of the husks are charred evenly – maybe 15-20 minutes.  If you want a bit more color on the kernels loosen the husks slightly before grilling.

The trick to having sweet corn that may be a bit past its prime?  Add ¼ cup sugar for every 4 quarts of boiling water.  It’s nobody’s business if the sweetness is from the corn itself or a little extra ‘help’!

Recipe Idea: Prepping Roasted Veggies for Later

roasted veggies yum

Great way to spread out the goodness of great tasting veggies.

I know it’s July, but here in Los Angeles we have finally gotten what we lovingly call ‘June Gloom’.  It stays overcast all day and isn’t quite as hot as it’s going to get for summer.  That’s not to say it’s actually cool out but, because it’s ‘gloomy’ outside you sort of think that it is.  It was the perfect time to hit the market and prep some roasted vegetables for the week.

When you slowly roast fresh veggies (any combination that you love) with some aromatics you have the basis for any meal of the day.   I always make enough for a couple of days – that way I can use them for breakfast with my eggs, lunch over some baby spinach or as the perfect side for my favorite crispy skin salmon.  I have a few rules that hold true no matter which vegetables you choose.

Always buy organic when possible. But not everything ‘has’ to be organic so check the ever-changing list of the Dirty Dozen to see which ones must be organic and the Clean 15 to see which contain the least amount of pesticides.  You can always depend that a thick-skinned vegetable, like butternut squash, is fine if it’s not organic.

Start roasting with the vegetables that will take the longest to cook.  That way as you’re adding more vegetables to your roasting pan everything will end up cooked the right amount of time.  For this group of vegetables- baby potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, onions, garlic, asparagus, mushrooms- the potatoes will need to cook the longest.  Cut the vegetables so that they are basically the same size.

I’m a sucker for potatoes (in any form) so if you’re like me you will want some roasted potatoes in the mix.  I used the baby multi-colored (just because they look good) ones.  Whatever potato you decide to use- boil them in fairly salty water till just barely fork tender, drain and let cool slightly.  Smash them which will allow for more crispy edges and place on a sheet tray.  Drizzle with good extra virgin Olive Oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, some fresh ground pepper and any herbs you want to start with (I used some Italian Rosemary that I brought home from Sicily on my last trip).  Toss them so all sides of the potatoes are coated and start roasting at 450°.  Check the potatoes after about 15 minutes for crispiness.

In this group the onions and fresh garlic (smashed as well) went into the pan next. Add a drizzle of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and more kosher salt and pepper with each new add of vegetables.  I know it sounds like a lot of salt but you will need it for flavor.  Remember to use only kosher salt as regular salt is way too salty.

Toss the mixture together every time you add new vegetables and then spread evenly across the sheet pan to evenly roast.  Next, I added the asparagus (you can see I peeled the stems – check out my blog on asparagus for tips on the prep).

The zucchini and summer squash next and then finally the mushrooms.  Check every 7-8 minutes after you add a new group of vegetable to make sure you don’t overcook.

Be sure to taste with each new addition so you can adjust seasoning.  If you think you have enough oil in the mix – stop adding it.

Let the mixture cool and place in a sealed container in your refrigerator.  It will last 2-3 days unless you eat it all sooner!  I’m going to take some of these roasted vegetables tomorrow morning, reheat them in a skillet, add some chopped tomato, crack an egg in the middle and cover to cook the egg.

Breakfast!!!  I can’t wait.

What’s the Best Summer Beverage in this Heat?

summer spritzer

The simplest spritzer to help keep you cool in this heat.

It’s summer. It’s hot, even in the evening. You have friends coming over and no one wants red wine. Even rosé just doesn’t seem cold enough. What to do? What to serve?

Spritzers are a great summer beverage for a group at any time of year but when the temperatures rise they are especially good. Depending upon who you ask there are as many variations and nuances as the number of people in the conversation.

Some who are more cocktail aficionados might have definite opinions as to what is a ‘real’ spritzer. They could say that it is a combination of any Prosecco with the addition of an aperitivo (think Aperol or Campari), served over a lot of ice with a dash of club soda and a twist of some citrus or perhaps an olive. There’s even one that would be better for when the weather cools down that uses a very dry Spanish style hard cider instead of the Prosecco and Amaro instead of the aperitivo. Of course, there is the option of serving an Aperol Spritz (found all over Italy and for some the only way to drink them) which is 3oz of Prosecco/2oz of Aperol and a splash of club soda all served over a glass filled with ice. There are even recipes using super chilled white wine and club soda or ginger ale or any lemon-lime soda (which of course will completely change the taste of the wine – which might actually be your goal).

You can use sparkling water (water that is naturally carbonated and comes from springs or wells with all the bubbles already in it) or seltzer (plain water than has been artificially carbonated and contains no added minerals to enhance the flavor) or club soda which does contain added minerals which gives it a slightly saltier taste with a bit more tang. But, do NOT use tonic water for a spritzer. Tonic water is artificially carbonated and contains minerals like club soda but with one very big difference. Tonic water contains quinine which changes the flavor and makes it the perfect partner for gin-friendly cocktails. Also, tonic water does contain sugar which means it will add calories to your beverage.

I guess you’d say my tastes for a summer beverage in the heat run to simplicity. When it’s this hot outside and an ice-cold glass of rosé sounds like it would be almost right, I know just the recipe to make that glass perfect. I simply fill my wine glass about 2/3 the way up with ice, pour in my favorite rosé about 2/3 the way up the glass and then top it all off with a fun club soda I just picked up at the market. This drink is perfect for a serve yourself bar and the little glass bottles of club soda look fabulous on your beverage station!

So, for your next get together for a group this summer or even just for yourself after a long work day try my simple recipe for a spritzer – you won’t be disappointed!

 

Summer spritzer

In the picture

Tips on Storing and Serving Wine

storing and serving wine

How do you know if you’re doing it right?

Picture it:  You’re at a good restaurant with friends and one of them is a self-proclaimed wine snob so you hand him the wine list.  He chooses what he says will be an amazing wine.  You take a sip and you are seriously underwhelmed.  What happened?  There could be several reasons – you don’t enjoy the same wine profile (but you could swear that this was a wine you loved the last time!), the bottle is ‘corked’ (i.e. the wine has been contaminated by a fungi from the cork and it smells like wet dog!) in which case it won’t hurt you but it does indeed stink and affect the taste of the wine, or it wasn’t stored or served properly.

This can happen at home even easier than at a good restaurant but here are some easy tips to avoid it.

First, all wines, red and white, should be stored in a cool (heat is the biggest enemy for wine), dry, dark place.  That means no sunlight, on their side so the cork stays moist, away from heat and ideally at approximately 55° Fahrenheit.  Temperatures higher than 70ºF will age wine more quickly and any warmer than that and you will have ‘cooked’ your wine.  On the other hand, don’t keep wine in a place where it can come close to freezing either.

Now for the fun part – serving and drinking the wine.

Everyone has heard that red wines should be served at room temperature but what they don’t say is that ‘room temperature’ is basically the temp of a wine cellar in Europe!  So, it’s not REALLY room temp.  When red wine is served too warm it loses its nuance, it will taste flat and very often jammy.  On the other hand, whites are often served way too cold which will mask any flavor or dimension the winemaker has worked so hard for.

So here are the serving temperature tips that will help your wine taste as wonderful as the winemaker hoped.

  1. Light bodied white wines like Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, sparkling and rosé – serve them cold straight from the refrigerator. Once poured they will warm up to about 40°-50°F which is ideal.
  2. More full-bodied whites like Chardonnay, Chablis, Viognier and even light, fruity wines (think Beaujolais Nouveau) taste best between 50º-60ºF. Just take the bottle out of your refrigerator about 15-20 minutes early so that it warms up just enough before you want to serve it and you’ll be very close!
  3. If you’re like me and you love a more full-bodied red (a big Cabernet anyone?) then you want to start sipping them at about 60º-65ºF. You will notice there will be a difference in complexity.  Again, just take them out of the refrigerator about 15-20 minutes before you want to serve and you’ll be good.

Now that you know how to store and serve your wines – get creative with the bottles you pick.  Have a wine tasting party or just friends over to taste your new choices.  The more you taste the more you know.  Enjoy!

tips on storing and serving wine

Wines in the picture:

Tips on How to Ripen that Rock-Hard Avocado

ripe-avocado

Can’t find a ripe avocado and you need one (or more) to make guacamole tomorrow?

You invited friends over tomorrow night for a viewing party of the finale of your favorite TV show and you want to make your famous guacamole.  You head to your local market for avocados and every single avocado they have is rock-hard!  What do you do besides scream at the produce manager or drive all over town hoping to find ripe avocados?  Here is my tip on how to solve your problem and have perfectly ripe avocados in time with no screaming.

First, you need to understand a little bit about avocados and how to pick them at the store.  Avocados don’t ripen or soften on the tree – this happens after harvest so depending on how those avocados were shipped and stored they might be ripening just in time or still be hard like baseballs.

A perfectly ripe avocado will be firm when held in the palm of your hand but will yield to gentle pressure.  Don’t be fooled by the skin color as different varieties are different colors – some are black and some will never get any darker than light green.  But, do avoid those with dark blemishes on the skin or have areas that are much softer than the rest of the fruit.  These ‘spots’ are likely bruises – pick a different avocado.

Avocados (and some other fruit) produce ethylene gas.  This gas causes the fruit to ripen and is normally released slowly.  But, what if you could only find unripe avocados in the store and you need that avocado to go from a rock-hard fruit that could hurt someone if thrown at them to a perfectly ripe item that will be transformed into your guacamole for your friends?  And you need that to happen in a day.

Here’s my tried and true tip that never fails:

You only need a brown paper bag, either bananas, kiwi or apples (these release ethylene gas at a much faster rate than avocados), hard avocados and about 24 hours.  Place the hard avocados into the brown paper bag, add at least one banana or kiwi or apple (the more fruit-the more gas is released-the faster the ripening), fold over the top of the bag and leave on your counter top for at least a day.  If you choose to add apples to the bag find either red or golden delicious varieties – these have not been bred to ripen slower (like a Gala apple) and will release more ethylene gas than some other types of apples.

I don’t recommend using the oven or the microwave to ‘ripen’ avocados.  These methods may indeed soften them but they don’t really ripen so they won’t have the same creamy, buttery texture and nutty flavor that a ripe avocado does.

My last tip: only put already ripe avocados into your refrigerator.  So, if you can only find fully ripe avocados at your market (lucky you!) and you don’t need them for a day or two then definitely refrigerate.  Now that you know how to ripen that avocado – have a party and make some guacamole for me!

Recipe for Summer Punch: Champagne, Fruit, and Fun Ice

summer punch feature

An adult drink with champagne that only looks fruity sweet (it isn’t).

It’s summer and that means outdoor or indoor fun with friends and family and usually in a group.  I always recommend greeting your guests with an adult beverage when they arrive.  A summer punch sets the tone for the party and lets everyone know that you want them to have a great time.

The easiest way to serve an adult summer punch to a group (with very little effort from you-the host) is with a batch cocktail or fun punch.  Punch can be colorful and is definitely made ahead of your guests’ arrival which takes a lot of the stress out of making sure that first glass of ‘welcome’ is ready when they walk through the door.

Set up a beverage area with the punch bowl, cups or small multi-colored glasses and, of course, napkins.  Add flowers and you’ve created a focal point for the party and a place where everyone can simply serve themselves and you can focus on food or other aspects of the party and not on making cocktails.

summer punch prepOne of the downfalls of most punches is that they are very sweet.  This recipe for Champagne Punch with Brandy from epicurious is not. The addition of plenty of citrus – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit juice and fresh mint combats any sweetness in the mix.

Even though you use cold juice and cold champagne the big bowl of punch will never stay as cold as you want it to be for the whole party.  The rule is (even if you are having only a single drink) that the larger the ice cube the slower it will melt.  It will keep your beverage, and in this case the punch, cold longer without diluting it.

Instead of just adding the cut citrus to the entire bowl of punch, I used some of the cut fruit in the mini-bundt cake molds that I was using for the large ice shapes.  The more interesting the shape of the ice the more fun your punch will look.  I found my mini bundt mold from Nordic Ware at Williams-Sonoma.  I wanted the cubes large enough to melt as slowly as possible and still not worry that they would fit into my punch bowl.  After the molds are frozen solid simply run warm water on the OUTSIDE of the mold and the ice will release easily.

The great thing about this punch is that you can make a second pitcher of the juice mixture (no bubbles yet) to make the ice molds.  This absolutely insures that when the ice eventually melts (and it will) that your summer punch will not be diluted.  Alcohol will not freeze completely so do not add champagne to anything that you want to freeze solid.

Pour the fruit punch mixture into your punch bowl, add some of the cut fruit, add the beautiful ice and at the last minute before your guests arrive add the champagne.  Now you’re ready for a party!