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If you’re headed to a Memorial Day party and you’re not sure what to bring, make a bowl of this. In fact, quadruple this recipe, just to be on the safe side.

And go easy on the jalapeños… I nearly killed a good friend Friday night because jalapeños are totally in season where I live right now. It’s easier to add than to take away, people.

Homemade Guacamole
Serves 2

You will need:
2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
1/4 onion, diced
1 jalapeño, diced and seeded (leave the seeds in for more of a kick)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 2 limes
2 large ripe avocados, skinned
Generous handful chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper

Combine tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, garlic, lime juice, and cilantro in a small bowl. Congratulate yourself, because you’ve just made pico de gallo! You won’t use it all, so serve whatever you don’t use alongside the guacamole.

Place the skinned avocados in a larger bowl and mash with a fork. Make a well in the avocados and add several tablespoons of the pico de gallo. Mash well, and add more pico de gallo as desired. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with extra pico de gallo and cilantro. Congratulations, you’ve made delicious guacamole!

Sever with warmed tortilla chips. To warm them, spread onto a baking sheet and heat in oven at 250 for a few minutes. Watch closely so they don’t burn.

You know how the best part of the muffin is the top? Well, the best part of the chicken… is the thigh.

The thigh is so much more forgiving than the breast. When I cook chicken breasts, I invariably overcook them to a dry mess. The timing needs be perfect for a chicken breast, and I completely lack timing. I’m frequently watching reruns of Glee while I cook, so my chicken sometimes gets an extra moment or two while I watch the latest duet. Baking, frying, sautéeing, poaching, whatever. I overcook chicken breasts. It’s my secret shame.

But the thighs are so good to me. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are cheap, easy to cook, and go with everything. I’ve adapted so many chicken breast recipes for thighs, and they are always so much tastier than the breast version. The thigh is juicier, more tender, and easier to cook. Searing it develops that crisp exterior skin that’s so satisfying, and it’s worth the extra few calories for something so delicious.

So I got to thinking: why not make fajitas with chicken thighs? Wouldn’t that be tastier? I love fajitas and order them at any restaurant that serves them, but when I make them at home, I’m always disappointed with the chicken breast. What would happen if I used the extra-special, easy-to-cook thighs?

I was so right.

So here’s the rub: The store sells bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. Stores also sell boneless, skinless chicken thighs. What you want is boneless, skin-on chicken thighs. Keeping the skin adds that extra moisture and forgiveness in the cooking, and boning the thighs makes slicing the chicken for the fajitas a cinch. So you have some choices: You can use the skinless chicken thighs and take your chances. You can cook the bone-in thighs and shred the chicken off the bone once it’s cooked. Or you can make your other half bone the chicken thighs for you! (Guess which option I recommend?)

Chicken Fajitas
Serves 2, with some leftovers
Note: This recipe was made in a skillet on the stovetop, to excellent results, but feel free to follow the same recipe on a grill. I’m sure it would be lovely.

You will need:
3 boned, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 tbsp. soy sauce, divided
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, divided
Juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp. chili powder
1 onion, sliced thin
1 bell pepper, sliced (I used half a green bell and half an orange bell)
Salt and pepper
Flour tortillas

Toppings:
Pico de gallo
Avocado slices
Shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream
Fresh cilantro

Trim the chicken of any excess skin.

Combine 1 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for about half an hour.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin-side down, and cook about 5 minutes, until skin is deep golden brown. Flip and cook another 5 minutes. Cover, lower heat to medium, and cook an additional 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and pepper and toss with rest of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove to a plate for serving, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Remove chicken from heat and slice into strips. Warm tortillas in the oven. Serve chicken, vegetables, and toppings with flour tortillas. Assemble and serve.

This is what I’ve learned in the eight or so months I’ve had an herb garden.

Cilantro doesn’t like the heat, despite the fact that I really want to use it when it’s above 90 degrees outside. All of my cilantro right now comes from the grocery store, but it’s only 29 cents a bundle so I’m not too sad about that. The cilantro in my garden has a hard time wanting to live, though.

Basil loves to grow and is incredibly easy, but when the first frost hits, it will die an amazing, spectacular death. Its cells literally explode inside itself, so from one day to the next it just falls completely apart. Fresh basil tastes terrific on everything.

Sage is awesome. I’m growing a silver and a purple sage, and they are both marvelously tasty and miraculously hardy. They survived The Great Austin Snow of 2011 without being covered, and still produce huge, fragrant leaves. The silver sage also sends up stems covered with tiny purple flowers that resemble a smaller larkspur. Clipping these flowers makes a very pretty bouquet, and makes your house smell marvelous.

I’m good at growing chamomile, which is apparently difficult to grow in this climate (who knew?), but I have no idea what to do with it.

Oregano goes crazy. My oregano is a huge bush with long, strong stems. No matter how much I cut it back, it comes back immediately. There will be a lot of Mexican and Italian in my cooking this summer, so I can use up as much of that oregano as possible. Also, you’re all getting jars of homemade dried oregano from me this Christmas. I have plenty.

Chives behave oddly. When they get too mature, they wilt, fall down, turn yellow, and look generally unhappy. Essentially, chives pout when underused. If your chives look unhappy, though, cut them down to about an inch, and four days later you will have tall, straight, marvelously happy chives.

Rosemary, when first transplanted, needs to be watered. Otherwise, like most plants, it will die. If you try to harvest your baby rosemary plant before it’s grown big and strong, it will die. Essentially, when rosemary is young, it’s quite easy to kill. I’m now on rosemary plant #3, but thanks to a rainy couple of weeks, I think this one is going to stick around. Once its taken root, the rumor is that it’s impossible to kill.

And drying herbs is a cinch.

Do this: make an herb garden. Use the sunny part of your porch and an old container, and plant 2-3 herbs per large pot. When you think the herbs are getting too big for the container, clip a few bundles with a pair of scissors. Tie them with some kitchen string and hang them in your pantry or another dark closet or cabinet, and enjoy a few days of that closet smelling herbacious and lovely. When the herbs are dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container. Don’t mince or crush the herbs until you’re ready to use them. They keep for about a year. And give them as gifts!

I remember completely futile and pointless lemonade stands. My childhood best friend, Lindsey, and I would mix a batch of Country Time, pour it into a plastic pitcher, and wait by the road behind a table for cars to stop and taste our wares. Over the course of the five or so years we lived on the same street, I think we got fewer than ten customers, mostly because no one really drives by residential streets. Had we been smart, we would have begged our parents to drive us out to the park or the community pool, where the foot traffic and thirsty children might better help us rake in the dough. Instead, we left ourselves a convenient “out”: after about ten minutes of sitting in the stifling Texas heat, we grew bored, abandoned our posts, and did something more worthwhile with our time. Like play in the sprinklers or torment my little sister.

If we’d been really smart, we’d also have secretly spiked our lemonade. Once word got out, I bet cars would have lined up for blocks to pay a quarter for a quick, refreshing, boozy pick-me-up on a hot summer day. Soccer moms from all over could have subsidized the fun of two ten-year-old entrepreneurs while secretly getting tipsy during little Jimmy’s Saturday game. How young we were, that it never occurred to us to try anything at all to increase our profits.

But profits were never the point of the lemonade stand. I think we manned our stand once a summer because we were supposed to. The commercials made it look exciting and fun, and although the prospect of buying all that grape soda from the convenience store (which was too far away for me to venture alone, but to which Lindsey occasionally talked me into venturing anyway) made the stand enticing, it was fun to have a project on a dull day. It was an adventure– mixing the lemonade, stealing plastic cups from our parents’ cabinets, dragging tables and chairs outside, decorating a sign to attract thirsty locals. Even abandoning the project was fun, because it led us to our Next Big Thing, which usually involved pretending to get ourselves in trouble.

This lemonade has the potential to get you in trouble. The booze is entirely optional, but why would you skip it? The beauty of this, and any of the spiked drinks you see on this site, is that you can tone the booze down, or boost it, to your comfort level. Personally, I’m a lightweight, but I suspect Lindsey would have been made of stronger stuff.

Spiked Mint Lemonade
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes 1 pitcher
Note: to make it alcohol-free, just skip the booze!

You will need:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (65 or 6 lemons)
3-4 cups cold water
1 oz. per serving liquor of your choice (I used tequila, but rum and vodka would both be delicious)
Fresh mint sprigs

Combine sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan over medium heat, and heat until sugar is completely dissolved. This makes simple syrup!

Meanwhile, juice 5 or 6 lemons to get 1 cup lemon juice. I use my hands, but if you have a juicer, go for it.

Combine simple syrup, lemon juice, and water in a pitcher, and add ice. Add lemon slices and mint to the pitcher. Now you have Virgin Lemonade.

To spike the lemonade, either add the booze to the pitcher itself, or (my personal preference), sugar the rim of a tumbler, add ice and about a shot of liquor, and fill the glass with lemonade. Garnish with a lemon wedge and a mint sprig.

It’s a miracle this meal ever got made.

The night I made this meal followed a 24-hour period in which I got a flat, tried to fix it, couldn’t, tried to put on the spare, couldn’t, learned that my rims are too cool for school and for most regular tire tools, had my car towed, called my insurance company several times, and paid an ungodly amount of money for a whole new set of tires. I also had my busiest day at work yet.

So what I wanted to do was order pizza, have too many beers, and feel sorry for myself. I was trying not to feel like my trip to the grocery store to obtain the ingredients for tonight’s meal had somehow caused my flat tire. After all, it was the first time I’d bought curry paste, and my first flat since high school. There must be a cosmic connection.

But I’m just too smart for that, so I cooked this meal anyway. (Actually, I’m pretty sure the red curry paste caused the flat, but it was worth it.)

If I were to do this again, I would cook the chicken the Julia way. The Cook’s Illustrated way is very specific and probably very good, but I’m more comfortable with the traditional saute method and I find it more forgiving. The recipe adaptation below reflects this change, but if you’re curious, Cook’s Illustrated sautees the chicken skin-side-down for about 6 minutes, flips it, adds 3/4 cup chicken broth,and  covers for 15 minutes. It then has you remove the chicken, pour the broth into a container, and cook the chicken another 8 or so minutes, skin down. The chicken was, admittedly, very moist and flavorful, but I burned the skin before the chicken was done, so I’ll stick to what I know.

I’ll also warn you: the sauce smells weird while it’s cooking. It’s something about the strong flavors, the sugar, and the acid, but it doesn’t smell appetizing until it’s reduced quite a bit. It smells… funny. But then it cooks down and things start to mellow, and it turns into this complex, fresh, and utterly unique sauce. Just trust the process and wait for it to smell good.

I’m glad I didn’t order pizza.

Chicken with Spicy Thai Sauce
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (you need a subscription to access this recipe)
Serves 2
Note: This is excellent with cilantro-lime rice, coming soon!

You will need:
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 c. light brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. red curry paste
3/4 c. chicken broth
2 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high until the oil shimmers. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet, skin-side-down, and cook about 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Flip chicken and cover pan. Cook, shaking occasionally, about 15 minutes. Check for doneness (Thighs should be about 165 degrees in the thickest part, if you actually take your chicken’s temperature. I don’t, and will someday get salmonella, but you should.) and remove chicken from pan. Keep warm either in oven or by tenting with foil.

Add 2 tbsp. lime juice, sugar, garlic, fish sauce, and red curry paste to the hot pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until a spoon dragged through the sauce leaves a thick trail. Add the chicken broth and reduce to about 1/2 c. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lime juice and cilantro.

Pour sauce around chicken and serve immediately.

I’ll keep this brief: This rice is so, so versatile. I’ve served it with fajitas, alongside enchiladas, with Chinese dumplings, and with Thai chicken. The flavors are fresh and unique, but work well with half the meals I make. If you’re in a hurry, or you’re bone tired, toss some chicken thighs with Goya Adobo seasoning, roast them, and throw this in the rice cooker. About twenty minutes later, the chicken and the rice are done, and you have a reasonably healthy meal with almost no effort.

Cilantro-Lime Rice
Serves 2

You will need:
3/4 c. basmati rice
3/4 c. + 1 tbsp. water
1 tsp. olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro

Rice cooker:
Add the rice, water, and oil to the pot. Stir, and turn the pot on.  When ready to serve, stir in lime and cilantro, and serve immediately.

Stovetop:
In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add rice and cook about two minutes, stirring constantly. Add water and bring to a boil. When boiling, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 15 minutes (and this is so approximate). When done, stir in lime juice and cilantro, and serve.

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