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Fresh avocados make excellent guacamole for that Super Bowl get-together

If you're an avocado lover, you'll know that the green pear-shaped food is plentiful in the produce areas of all the local grocery stores.

Even though avocados are high in fat and calories, they still pack a healthful, beneficial punch by containing folate, potassium, monosaturated fat and a high fiber content.

The avocado is widely considered a vegetable, since it is commonly used in salads; however, it is actually a fruit that tastes like a vegetable, and most markets display it with other typical fruits. Its rich, pale yellow-green flesh has a texture likened to a firm ripe banana, smooth and buttery, with a faintly nutty flavor. The skin is not desirable to eat, so most recipes say either to peel or scoop the avocado meat.

When you're selecting avocados, it is important to know that they do not ripen until picked, so fresh ones will be as hard as rocks. Look for an even and unblemished texture, uniformly hard or soft over its entire surface. They should feel heavy for their size. Avoid any with bruises or soft spots, and those with a hollow between the flesh and skin. Shake the avocado to test it. If the pit is loose, don't select it. The flesh of ripe fruits will yield when pressed gently. Ripe fruits bruise easily in the markets so it's best to ripen your own at home. This can be accomplished by storing them in a brown paper bag at room temperature for two to five days, away from direct sunlight. Adding an apple or banana to the bag will hasten the ripening process.

Do not store unripened fruit in the refrigerator. Ripe fruit may be stored in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. To freeze avocado, puree flesh with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 2 avocados, and place in a tightly-closed container with the air removed. Frozen avocado can be kept three to six months in the freezer.

There are hundreds of varieties of avocados, but most cooks develop a preference for a particular type. The Haas avocado, small and dark green, almost black in color, is a particular favorite with many chefs and is the one prevalent in our area this time of the year.

The following recipes are all excellent prepared with the Haas variety. The "Fast Guacamole" is one of the best recipes I've tried. You can throw it together so fast; you'll wonder why you ever bought ready-made guacamole. Just make sure the avocados you use are ripe. The guacamole is delicious served with chips, partnered with salsa. If you are making this for a crowd you are going to want to double or triple the recipe. You can also make more and use it in the "Delicious Six Layer Dip."

A little extra tip for the guacamole, if you want to make this in advance, go ahead, but be sure to sprinkle fresh lime juice all over it. It will help prevent the dip from darkening so quickly.

I've also included a third "Avocado Burrito Bake," that is also simple to prepare when you're in need of a quick fix meal.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking.

Fast Guacamole

2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled

1 tbsp. lime juice

2 tbsp. picante sauce

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Six-Layer Dip

1 can (16 ounces) refried beans

1 recipe prepared fast guacamole

1 container (16 ounces) sour cream

1 pkg. dry taco seasoning mix

2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

1 medium-sized ripe tomato, chopped

1 small bunch garden onions, chopped

Spread the refried beans on a 12-inch round serving platter, then spread the guacamole over the beans. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the sour cream and taco seasoning; mix well, then spread over the guacamole. Sprinkle with the cheese, then the tomato and onions. Serve immediately with chips, or cover and chill until ready to serve.

Avocado Burrito Bake

1 pound ground beef

1 can refried beans

1 cup Bisquick Original baking mix

1/4 cup water

1 avocado, sliced

1 cup thick salsa

1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Sour cream

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease pie plate, 10 x 1/2 inches. Cook ground beef in skillet, stirring frequently, until brown; drain.

Mix beans, baking mix, and water. Spread mixture in bottom and halfway up side of plate. Layer with beef, avocado and salsa.

Bake 20 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 2 to 3 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream.