Recipes: Scott’s guacamole, In-N-Out-esque burgers, margaritas

Recipe time! These are not necessarily super-healthy (or, well, ordinary-healthy) recipes, but they make use of (mostly) things purchased in yesterday’s shopping trip, and they’re very tasty!

Scott’s Guacamole

3 small, ripe avocados
2 fresh jalapeños
6-8 cherry or grape tomatoes
3 green onions
About 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp lime juice

Wash and dry all ingredients. If you’re a germophobe like I am, you can appreciate the importance of this step.

Dice cherry tomatoes; chop green onions; seed and chop jalapeños; chiffonade cilantro. Place these ingredients in a small bowl and stir gently to combine. (Side note: if in the next step you discover your avocados are unusable, stir your salt and lime juice directly into this mixture to salvage your efforts thus far with an excellent pico de gallo.)

Prepare avocados. This can be a challenge at first but there are a few tricks. First, make sure the avocados are ripe. They should “give” slightly if you squeeze them: not rock-hard, but not mushy. If they’re rock hard, place them in a paper bag for a day or two (if you can put off making the guac until then). If they’re mushy, throw them away and go to Dominguez instead.

If your avocados seem slightly under-ripe, you can go ahead and prepare them with the press-and-roll technique. Place the avocados on the counter, press down firmly with the palm of your hand, and roll them around until they’re slightly soft. This will make them easier to scoop out.

When the avocados are ready to go, take a large knife, slice into them lengthwise all the way down to the pit, and roll the avocado around on the knife blade until you’ve cut around the full length of the skin. Twist slightly to separate into two halves. The pit will be in one of these halves. Whack your knife blade directly into the center of the pit, then twist slightly to remove it easily. (I just tried this technique for the first time tonight, and it was unbelievably easy.)

Now take a spoon and scoop the flesh out of the two halves, being sure to keep the tough skin and any brown bits out. Place the scooped-out flesh in a separate bowl from the rest of the vegetable ingredients. Repeat for all 3 avocados.

Next, add the salt and lime juice to the avocados, and using a fork or potato masher, mash up the avocados into a paste. (Side note: the lime juice, in addition to providing some tartness, helps keep the guacamole from turning brown — that’s ascorbic acid, a.k.a. vitamin C, at work.) Stir in the black pepper.

Now, add the other vegetable ingredients into the avocado mash and stir gently to combine. Place the guacamole in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap (removing as much air as possible), and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Variations: add minced garlic, substitute red onions for green onions, or substitute blanched and peeled tomatillos for cherry tomatoes.

A well-prepared guacamole is good with just about anything: quesadillas, burritos, tortilla chips, on a burger, on eggs, in place of whipped cream on a warm slice of cherry pie. Well, OK, maybe not the cherry pie. But just about anything else.

In-N-Out-esque Burgers

Having lived for two years in southern California, the one thing, without a doubt, that I miss the most is In-N-Out Burger. Nothing else anywhere on the planet even comes close. But at its heart the In-N-Out burger, or more specifically, its best on-the-menu variant, the Double Double, is not so complicated: stuffed between the bottom and top bun are two beef patties; two slices of American cheese; fresh lettuce, onion and tomato; and a special sauce fairly close in composition (or so it would seem) to thousand island salad dressing. And so, with that concept in mind, I present my take on the classic In-N-Out Double Double.

How I cook a burger
Everyone who makes hamburgers probably has a different technique, but over time I’ve developed one I’m pretty happy with. It comes down to three steps: 1) form the patties; 2) season the patties; 3) cook the patties. But the devil is in the details.

Seasoning mix: Most chefs have a secret seasoning blend, emphasis on “secret.” I have a seasoning blend of my own, but since I’m no chef, I won’t keep it secret. My burger seasoning blend is a combination of ground mustard, chili powder, granulated onion, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. The ratio is imprecise; roughly equal amounts of each will do just fine. I take about a teaspoon of each ingredient and smash them together with a mortar and pestle until they take on the consistency of fine beach sand, or brown sugar. But the important thing is just that they’re mixed.

Forming the patties: No big trick here either. I generally start with a pound of ground beef (my current preference is for Thousand Hills Cattle Company 85/15 — you can go leaner, but the fat is a key ingredient in a juicy, tasty burger), divide it into either 4 or 6 equal portions, and form the patties. The key rules to good patties are: 1) as thin as possible; 2) even thickness; 3) handle the meat as little as possible. The last rule is probably the most important: the more you mash the meat around in your hands, the more the protein strands in the meat curl up and the tougher the resulting burger. I find it best to use a knife to cut the chunk of meat into equal-sized portions, and then basically just squish each piece into a thin, flat patty between the palms of my hands, rounding it slightly as I go. Once the patties are formed, sprinkle them generously on both sides with the seasoning mix.

Cooking the patties: Start with a fairly hot skillet or grill. You want to sear the outside to keep the juices in. Assuming you’re inside with a skillet, as I was on this rainy evening, set the heat on medium-high, get the skillet nice and hot, and set the patties in. Give them 2-3 minutes to sear, then flip. Sear the second side for a minute or so, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low, and cover. From this point on, we’re cooking with steam. It keeps the burgers juicy and tender. Steam the burgers for 5-7 minutes, depending on how thick they are. If you’re making cheeseburgers, once the steaming is done, remove the lid, add the cheese, and leave on medium-low heat for about a minute or two, just until the cheese melts.

Once your burgers are ready, put ’em on a bun and eat. If you’re going with the In-N-Out style Double Double, as I did tonight, I suggest toasting the bun, then stacking two melted-cheese-covered patties, followed by a bun-sized piece of romaine lettuce, a few slices of fresh tomato, and some raw or grilled onion, then about a tablespoon (or two, or… well, you probably can’t have too much) thousand island dressing. Yum! Just watch out… it’s slippery. Hold on tight.

Scott’s Margaritas On the Rocks (As If There Were Any Other Way)

There’s almost no occasion when you can’t justify margaritas. Maybe they’re not so good with guacamole on cherry pie, but if you’re actually considering that combination, abandon all hope.

As with guacamole, I’ve experimented with a few “standard” margarita recipes, before settling on my own immensely satisfying (and surprisingly intoxicating) combination.

1/2 cup gold tequila
I typically use Jose Cuervo or Sauza, but use the best you can get.
1/2 cup triple sec
If money is no object, use Grand Marnier or another highfalutin orange liqueur.
1/2 cup curaçao
Orange or blue; I prefer orange, but if you feel your margarita must be green rather than orange in color, use blue.
1 cup lime juice
Ideally, fresh squeezed; otherwise, ReaLime or Florida Key West key lime juice.
ice, salt, sugar

In a drink shaker (or a quart Mason jar), pour liquid ingredients over about 8 ice cubes; shake vigorously to combine and chill. Vigorous shaking also results in a slightly foamy head on the drink, which I find appealing. Once shaken, set aside.

Using two small salad plates, fill one with water and the other with a roughly even mixture of salt (preferably, fine-ground sea salt) and granulated sugar. Dip the rim of each glass in the water, and then in the salt/sugar mixture, to coat the rim. Fill each rimmed glass about 2/3 full with ice cubes.

Pour margarita from shaker into each glass up to rim. Makes approximately 4 servings, depending on the size of your glasses.

Our meal tonight also included sauteed fresh sweet corn, homemade tortilla chips (from store-bought corn tortillas), and couscous-green onion-cherry tomato salad, all prepared by SLP.

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