Ravioli with Tomato and Garlic Gravy

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Today was ravioli day.  Making homemade pasta is fun and rewarding and homemade tastes so much better.  Years ago I was a guest in the home of a first generation Italian family in Toronto.  Not being Italian I was unfamiliar with the number of courses that constituted a typical Italian meal.  We all sat around a table in a small dining room where the table and the fabric upholstered seats were all covered in heavy plastic.  The first course consisted of antipasto, a beautiful salad and lots of crusty bread.  The leftovers were cleared from the table and the homemade pasta arrived.  Spaghetti with a meat sauce.  And more bread.  It was wonderful.  I cleaned my plate and felt very satisfied and pretty full.  The table was cleared and in came the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and more bread.  It was all I could do to eat a few more bites and listened to everyone say, “What’s the matter?  You don’t like the chicken?”  Who knew the pasta was an appetizer.  But I’m a quick study.  I learned to take much smaller portions.  And to never wear a skirt when the chairs are covered in plastic.

Today our ravioli was the entree.

The first step is making the pasta dough.

Ingredients:

2 cups of AP flour

2 large eggs

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I used a food processor.  Put the flour in and pulse it a few times. Whisk the eggs and slowly add them in with the processor running on low.

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The dough should come together in a ball.  If it looks like small pebbles add 1 tsp of water at a time.  If it is too wet and the dough is sticking to the sides add flour 1 T at a time.  Once the dough has come together in a ball remove it to a lightly floured work surface and knead it by hand until the dough is smooth, a couple minutes.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes.

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While the dough is resting prepare the filling.

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic minced

1/2 cup sweet onion in a fine dice

1 cup mushrooms diced

2 cups fresh spinach chopped

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes diced

1 1/2 cups grated Asiago and Paramesan cheese

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In a heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the garlic, onion and mushroom just until tender and fragrant.  Add the spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from the heat.

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Stir in the diced sun dried tomatoes and the cheeses and your filling is ready to go.

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Divide the dough into six pieces.  Flatten into a disk and run through the pasta machine rollers.  Continue folding and running through the rollers until the dough is thin and shiny.  If, at any time, the dough is too sticky dust it lightly with flour.

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Stretch the dough over the ravioli form.   Fill each indentation with about 1-2 tsp of filling.  Do not over fill.

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Put a second piece of dough over the filling and run a rolling pin over the top.  Invert and remove the ravioli.

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Cover the ravioli with a clean dish towel and prepare the sauce.

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

7-8 cloves of garlic chopped

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 pint diced tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes

salt to taste

fresh basil

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In a Dutch oven heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until fragrant and tender.  Don’t brown the garlic.  Stir in the diced tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes.

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Stir in crushed tomatoes and basil.  Reduce heat and simmer.

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Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the ravioli until tender.  Approximately 5 minutes.

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Use a slotted spoon to remove the ravioli to a serving dish.  Ladle sauce over the pasta and serve with grated cheese.

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Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can fill your ravioli with a meat or a cheese filling.  You are only limited by your imagination.  I made 48 ravioli and froze half of them.  I put them in the freezer on a pizza tray and, once frozen, dropped them in a freezer bag for another day.  You don’t really need a ravioli form but I do think you need a pasta maker to roll the dough out properly.  I had extra dough and made linguini with it.

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Dog Biscuits

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Dog Biscuits.  For the very handsome, lovable canine member of our family.  I recently bought a bone shaped cookie cutter and it came with this recipe…from the Cookie Cutter People from Vermont.  The biscuits actually smell great!  Humans might even like them.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup powdered milk

1 tsp brown sugar

1 T wheat germ

1 tsp granulated bouillon (I used Better than Bouillon)

6 T bacon grease

1 egg

1/2 cup ice water

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Preheat oven to 350.

Combine dry ingredients.  Measure out the bacon fat and cut it in to the dry ingredients.  I used my food processor.

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Mix in the egg.  Add ice water until the dough comes together into a ball.  On a lightly floured surface pat the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness.  It doesn’t need a rolling pin.

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Use a cookie cutter to cut out your dog treat shapes.  Work the scraps together and continue cutting until you’ve used all of the dough.

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Bake for 25-30 minutes.  I think mine were a little thicker than suggested so I baked them for an additional 10 minutes.

Our dog loved them!  As soon as they came out of the oven he somehow knew that they were for him!

NOTE:  Your dog won’t really care if the biscuits are not bone shaped.  I’m going to look for a cookie stamp with a paw print on it and make smaller biscuits.

There are lots of reasons to save your bacon drippings.  This recipe is one of them.  Growing up there was always a metal container in the cupboard that said Grease on the front.  My mother kept bacon grease in it along with a pastry brush.  She would use bacon drippings on the top of loaves of bread hot out of the oven, to grease a pan (there was no PAM), to sauté onions or to fry an egg.  I keep my bacon drippings in the refrigerator.  Growing up, they were not refrigerated.  And we all lived to tell about it.

Matzo Balls with Chicken Soup

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This post is more about the matzo balls and less about the soup.  I make a decent chicken soup.  I fill a heavy kettle with about 6 to 8 cups of water and add a whole chicken cut up, several carrots, stalks of celery and a large sweet onion.  And salt of course.  I bring the pot to a boil, skim the top occasionally, and simmer for a couple of hours.  I take the breast piece out after about 30 minutes and set that meat aside to add back to the soup before serving.

My mother-in-law made the most beautiful chicken soup.  Her broth was a perfect golden color and was so clear.  It was amazing.  I wish I had pictures of her chicken soup.  Maybe it was the Kosher chickens she used.  Maybe it was because she’d been cooking it up 70 plus years and practice makes perfect.  (She lived to nearly 102.)   I wish I had paid more attention.  I wish I had learned how to make her chicken soup.  I wish I had learned her matzo ball recipe as well.  They were light and airy and took on the flavor of the broth.

It’s all about the matzo ball.  When my sister-in-law calls me, a picture of a giant matzo ball from a Jewish deli in the Chicago area comes up on my phone.

Matzo is an unleavened bread, much like a cracker, traditionally eaten during the Jewish celebration of Passover.  Matzo meal is made by finely grinding the matzo bread into a breadcrumb consistency.  And matzo balls are made using matzo meal.

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups matzo meal

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

5 large eggs, 3 separated

1/4 cup chicken broth or water

1/4 cup schmaltz melted

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Separate three of the eggs and whisk together two whole eggs and three egg yolks.

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Beat the egg whites until peaks form and set aside.  Whisk together all of the dry ingredients.  Add the egg yolk mixture, broth, and melted schmaltz to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.

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Stir in about 1/2 of the egg whites.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until the whites are no longer visible.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.  Scoop up about a tablespoon of the matzo and gently form into balls.  Do not overhandle.  If you find the matzo sticking to your fingers dip your fingers into a bowl of water with a little canola or olive oil.  This recipe makes 12-14 matzo balls.

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Bring your broth to a boil and gently drop in the matzo balls,  Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for 20-25 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

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Serve  with broth and enjoy!  It’s all about the  matzo ball.

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NOTE:  Schmaltz is chicken fat.  My daughter brought some to use on our turkey when she came from Chicago for Thanksgiving.  There was leftover schmaltz so I used my cookie scoop, made schmaltz balls and froze them.  You can google schmaltz and make your own if you don’t have a deli nearby that carries it.  Or you can substitute canola oil in this recipe.

If your parent or grandparent or aunt or uncle makes a dish that you adore eating, pay attention.  Ask them to show you how to make it.  Write it down.  Make a video.  They will be so proud and happy that you asked.  And one day, when they are no longer with us, you will be able to replicate that favorite dish.

Blintzes with Cheese Filling

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About a month ago I brought my Dad home to Michigan’s Upper after he spent the Thanksgiving holiday with me.  A friend came along for the ride and she and I went to Marquette to check in at some of the local breweries and do a little shopping.  Marquette has some great little shops with locally made jewelry, pottery, wood crafts, art, and candy. We made lots of stops.  A candy store called Donkers that’s been in business since 1896.  A favorite restaurant that serves organic and locally sourced foods called Sweet Water Cafe.  A unique grocery called the Flying Moose that sells UP Sushi with venison.  I have never been a mall shopper so I really love the small, locally owned stores in Marquette’s downtown area.  I know this is a convoluted trip to my blintz recipe.  But while we were at a little shop called Touch of Finland I purchased a new sauna stove, a box of rocks, and a great iron crepe skillet.  The sauna stove replaced our old stove that died a few months previous.  The new stove was installed a few weeks ago and is working great!  I seasoned my new iron skillet yesterday morning and decided to make blintzes for brunch.  The skillet is working great!

Blintzes are my sister-in-laws go-to dish for Christmas brunches.  She buys them frozen and heats them up.  Don’t get me wrong, they are good.  But homemade from scratch is better.  Blini is the Russian name for crepes.  Blintzes are crepes that are filled with cheese or fruit and then sautéed or baked.  I’m filling mine with cheese filling and baking them.

Crepe Ingredients:

4 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1 cup AP flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 T butter melted for brushing the skillet

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Filling Ingredients:

1 cup cottage cheese

6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

4 T honey

1 egg yolk

1/2 lemon juiced

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Prepare the batter by first whisking the eggs.

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Add all the other ingredients to the eggs and whisk until the batter is smooth.

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Refrigerate the batter for 30-45 minutes.  Heat your skillet over medium heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with melted butter and put about 1/3 cup of batter on the skillet.  Swirl the skillet to distribute the batter evenly and cook for 30-60 seconds.  Flip.  Slide the crepe out of the skillet onto wax or parachment paper and start the process over again.  Repeat until all the batter has been used.  (Makes about 12 crepes.)

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Preheat the oven to 350.

Now it’s time to prepare the filling and assemble the blintzes.  Beat all of the filling ingredients together with a hand mixer.  Brush a casserole dish with butter.  Put a couple tablespoons of the cheese filling on one end of the crepe.  Fold once, then fold the sides in like an envelope and roll.  Place the blintzes in the casserole dish seam side down.

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Continue filling and rolling.  Brush the tops of the blintzes with a little butter.

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Bake for 45 minutes.  I served ours with homemade apple sauce.

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Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can make fruit blintzes with an apple or cherry filling similar to what you’d use in a pie.  You can top your cheese blintzes with fresh berries or sliced banana.  Dust them with powdered sugar.   If you want to make a double batch, crepes freeze well.  Separate the crepes with wax paper and store in a zip lock freezer bag for use later.

The new crepe pan I got is a de Buyer.  It’s iron so it’s an excellent heat conductor.  Best used over medium heat.  I love my new sauna stove and I love my new crepe pan.

Stuffed Peppers

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Stuffed peppers are a perfect winter supper.  A meal in themselves.  Just add a salad and some good crusty bread and serve.   If you look up recipes for stuffed peppers there are all sorts of ethnic variations.  A Spanish stuffed pepper with Manchego cheese, cod and a béchamel sauce. An Indian stuffed pepper with meat, potato, onion, turmeric and coriander.  A Mexican pepper stuffed with cheese, covered in an egg batter and deep fried.  A Finnish stuffed pepper with rice and lamb,  finished with some heavy cream.   The pepper itself is the vehicle and almost any combination of protein, carb, and seasoning can be stuffed inside.  Today I made my peppers with lots of tomato, rice and ground pork.

Ingredients:

5-6 red, yellow or orange peppers

1 pound ground pork (or pork sausage)

2 pints of tomatoes

1 cup beef or chicken broth

2 cups rice (cooked)

1 cup red onion diced

1 cup celery diced

tops of peppers diced

2 T olive oil

4-5 cloves of garlic minced

1/2 lemon juiced

1 T oregano

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese

1/2  cup fresh parsley

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Preheat your oven to 375.

Cut the tops off of the peppers and reserve to use in the filling.  Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the peppers for 5-6 minutes until tender.  Drain on a clean kitchen towel and set aside.

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Dice the pepper caps, onion, and celery.  Heat 2 T of olive oil in a heavy skillet and sauté the vegetables over medium heat until tender.  Add the garlic and cook another minute.

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Set aside 1/2 of the vegetable mixture to use for the sauce.  Add the ground meat to the skillet and cook until the meat is no longer pink.  After the meat has cooked I put it in a strainer to drain off the fat and then return it to the skillet.

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Add one pint of tomatoes, 1/2 cup of broth, and oregano and cayenne to the meat mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Transfer the meat mixture to a large bowl.  (Or if you are into less dishes use the kettle you parboiled the peppers in.)  Add the 2 cups of rice, 1 cup of cheese, and parsley and stir to combine.  If you feel the mixture needs more moisture add a little more broth.  Set aside while you make the gravy.

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In the skillet combine the reserved vegetables, one pint of tomatoes, 1/2 cup of broth, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce is reduced and thickens.  Tranfer the sauce to a food processor or blender and purée.

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Now it’s time to assemble the peppers.  Fill each pepper with the meat and rice mixture and stand up in a casserole dish.  Once you’ve filled the peppers pour the gravy over the top and bake for 45 minutes.

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Serve with  extra grated cheese and some good bread.  Enjoy!

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NOTE:  Cooking is limited only by one’s imagination.  This recipe is a perfect example of an opportunity to substitute ingredients based on your family’s personal tastes.  Beef, lamb, turkey or pork.  Rice, quinoa, potato or orzo.  Parsley, basil, cilantro or mint.

 

 

Buttermilk Pancakes

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Pancakes are one of the ultimate comfort foods.  Everyone loves pancakes.  Crepes.  Swedish pancakes.  Blintzes.  Latkes.  Pannukakku.  Kropsu.  My grandmother made the best oven pancakes (pannukakku).  Sometimes with egg, sometimes potato.  Potato were my favorites.  She made them in metal pans with a design in the bottom.  The pancake would puff way up in the oven.  We would eat them warm with butter and sprinkle a little granulated sugar on top.  We would eat them cold.  My mother made us pancakes with left over mashed potatoes.  She made a regular egg, flour, milk batter and added any leftover mashed potatoes we had.  Sometimes she would make my little brothers pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse.  We ate her pancakes with maple syrup.  For years I made my mother’s “mashed potato pancakes.”  They were my daughters favorite.  She loved to make  pancake sandwiches with any leftovers.

A couple years ago I got this recipe for buttermilk pancakes from one of my daughter’s friends.  He was making them for his family so I decided to try them.  I’ve been making them ever since.  Occasionally when I have left over mashed potatoes I revert to my mom’s concoction.  But otherwise, these buttermilk cakes are my go to recipe.

Ingredients:

1 cup AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

2 T melted butter plus more for the griddle

1 1/8 cup buttermilk

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Combine and whisk the dry ingredients together.  Whisk the egg,  Combine the wet ingredients.

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Combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Do not over mix.  The batter will look a little thick and lumpy.

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Heat the griddle and brush with butter.  Use a 1/3 cup measure and scoop batter onto the griddle.  Cook 1-2 minutes per side.

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Add fresh or frozen blueberries, chopped pecans, grated Apple, or chocolate chips if you’d like.

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Serve with warm maple syrup, sliced banana or strawberries, meat of your choosing, or an egg.

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NOTE:  This recipe makes approximately 8 pancakes.  If you have guests and want to double or triple the recipe that works.  Keep pancakes warm in the oven until you’re done flipping and you can all enjoy eating together.  I’m sure that this batter can be made into Mickey Mouse cakes as well!  Make a memory with your pancakes!

7 Layer Taco Dip

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Several years ago we started hosting or going to house parties with a small group of good friends on New Years Eve rather than going to restaurants or bars or large organized galas.   Maybe it’s the iffy Michigan weather that makes us not want to be on the roads.   Maybe it’s because we are getting older.  Whatever the reason, it’s been a good choice.  We all bring appetizers and beverages and enjoy each other’s company, some singing and picking, and all the good food and drink.  It’s the best way to bring in the New Year.  This year I made a 7 Layer Taco dip as my passing dish.  As always we had lots of amazingly good food.

Layer 1

2 15-ounce cans of navy or pinto beans drained and rinsed

1 large sweet onion rough chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic minced

1 cup chicken broth

jalapeños and cilantro to taste

salt to taste

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Heat a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a heavy saucepan.  Cook the onions over medium heat until they are caramalized.  Add the beans and broth to the skillet and heat through mashing with a potato masher.

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If necessary add additional broth to get a nice creamy consistency.  Stir in jalapeño and cilantro.  Season with salt to taste.  This is the way I prepare beans for any Mexican dish I serve.

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Spread the bean mixture out on a large platter or pizza pan.

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Layer 2

1-2 cup(s) sour cream

Taco seasoning to taste (I used 2 T)

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Combine the sour cream and seasoning mixture well and spread over the beans.

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Layer 3

1 jar of homemade salsa or your favorite store brand

Spread over the sour cream.

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Layer 4

Pico

1 cup diced tomatoes

1/2 cup diced sweet onion

1-2 jalapeños diced (with or without seeds)

1/2 cup cilantro

1/2 lime juiced

salt to taste

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Toss the vegetables together.  Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and season to taste with salt.

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Spread vegetable mixture over salsa.

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Layer 5

2-3 Avocados peeled and diced

1/2 lime juiced

Salt to taste

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Squeeze the lime juice over the avocado and season with salt.  I love avocado but everyone does not feel the same.  So I put my diced avocado around the outer edge of my platter.

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Layer 6

Black olives and/or pickled jalapeño.  I only used the black olives.

Layer 7

Shredded cheese.

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Garnish with additional cilantro.  Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can add a meat layer if you choose by cooking ground beef or turkey and adding some tomato paste and seasonings to the meat.