Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

When I first migrated to LA back in the late 70′s, I moved into one of those sprawling apartment complexes in the San Fernando Valley. It housed transplants literally from all over the world. Young people who came seeking fame and fortune and hoping to get their big break, and people like me who were just looking to escape the cold, brutal weather of the east coast. I came with nothing but a suitcase and $400, so moving into a furnished apartment meant I could live with some of the comforts of home. It was a lovely place really, gold shag carpeting, plaid sofas and avocado colored formica counter tops. It had all the warmth and coziness of a Motel 6, but it was home.

I remember those first months living in LA all by myself so well. It was lonely and exciting all at the same time. Everyone at this complex was very friendly. We all seemed to be in the same boat; without family, little money, and crappy jobs, but very intoxicated by the perpetually blue skies, balmy weather and swaying palm trees. (You didn’t see many palm trees in Philadelphia.) My neighbors across the hall were a brother and sister team from North Jersey named Theresa and Anthony. He called her “Tree” and she called him “Ant”.  I guess being east coasters we connected. Every night they saw me come home from work with a McDonald’s bag in hand, so they decided to teach me how to make Tomato Sauce and Meatballs. I’m not sure they were necessarily very good cooks, but I’ve been making their sauce (or gravy as they called it) and meatballs ever since.

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Homemade Tomato Sauce 

  • 3 cans (28 ounce) crushed tomatoes – I used San Marzano
  • 5 large basil leaves
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Empty the 3 cans of crushed tomatoes with the juice into a large stock pot. I used a deep pot because tomato sauce splatters like crazy. If you have a splatter shield, now’s the time to bring it out.
  2. Add the basil leaves, thyme sprigs, salt, brown sugar and butter, and heat on medium until the mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, and stir until the butter is melted.  You’re going to cook the sauce low and slow for about 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so. When sauce is ready, pull out the basil leaves and thyme sprigs and discard.
  3. As the sauce cooks it will begin to reduce, so you will have to add some water to it to get your desired consistency. I wanted a smooth and creamy sauce, so at the end of cooking I used my immersion blender for about a minute or two. You could also pour it into a blender for a smoother consistency.

Meatballs

  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 3/4 pound ground veal
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated romano cheese
  • 1/2 small onion, pureed in food processor
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

Directions

  1. Place your onion in a food processor and process until it’s finely minced. (I used my mini food processor). Put the onion and all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix with your hands. Make sure to incorporate all the ingredients evenly throughout.
  2. Form into balls, a little bit larger than a golf ball. Don’t work the meat too much, because you don’t want the meatballs to be dense (like golf balls).
  3. Put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat, and brown the meatballs just til you get a nice crust to form on the outside. You are not cooking them through in the skillet.  When the meatball is a little crusty, then pop it into the pot of sauce, and let all the meatballs cook for about 30 minutes on a very low heat. The meatballs will flavor your sauce as it cooks, and then it will taste awesome!
Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Homemade Tomato Sauce & Meatballs

Mama’s Tips:

Cooking the meatballs in the sauce is what gives the sauce it’s amazing flavor.

This recipe makes enough meatballs (about 30 – golf ball sized) and sauce, that you can have some now and freeze the rest for another meal.  Just place in an airtight container.

Meatballs don’t always have to be served with pasta. I make these as an appetizer all the time. Put the meatballs on a dish with a fancy toothpick through them, hit them with a dollop of sauce and sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

For Friday night dinners with the kids, I get some good Italian rolls and make some awesome meatball sandwiches.

Fresh Minced Parsley

Fresh Minced Parsley

Recipe: Intermediate


Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill

Golden Beets with Smoked Trout &Dill

Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill

As a kid, I never looked twice at a beet.  Back then, they were a vegetable I was usually forced to eat, but never consumed by choice. I think a lot of it had to do with how they were prepared or maybe integrated into a dish. As a youth, no one ever showed me what an absolutely awesome vegetable the beet actually was.  When they’re perfectly roasted, the beet’s natural sweetness and earthiness is developed.

I was invited to a birthday brunch last weekend, and was given the task of bringing an appetizer. I thought these Golden Beets with Smoked Trout and Dill was the perfect choice to bring. Growing up in Philadelphia, bagels and lox was a Sunday morning staple, so this was my take on that dish. The combination of the sweet beets, the smokey taste of the fish and the tart cream cheese was loved by all.  I like when that happens.

Roasted Golden Beets

Roasted Golden Beets

Roasted Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill 

  • 12 medium size golden beets or 6 large
  • 1 package of Smoked Trout (usually in the deli section)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • couple sprigs of dill
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • 24 water crackers

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the green, leafy tops off of the beets. Place all the beets in a large bowl, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and then toss to coat. Wrap 3 beets (if using small ones, or 1 at a time if using large ones)  in aluminum foil to make little packets.
  2. Place the aluminum packets on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes. The size of the beet will determine how long you need to roast it. A larger, denser beet will take longer. The beets are done when you can pierce them with a fork. When they’re done, open the packets and let the beets cool. Once cooled, place the beet in between a paper towel and rub the beet skin right off.
  3. Slice the beets into 1/8 – 1/4 inch slices.
  4. Place a beet slice on a water cracker, top with a little dollop of cream cheese, a piece of the smoked trout, and a tiny sprig of dill.

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Mama’s Tips

The size of the beet will determine the cooking time. Larger sized beets will take longer in the oven. They’re done when you can pierce them easily with a fork.

You can find the packaged Smoked Trout in the deli section of your market with the packaged lunch meats and smoked salmon. I bought a 5 ounce package, and it was plenty.

Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill

Golden Beets with Smoked Trout & Dill

Recipe: Easy


Chicken Sliders with Herbed Mayo

Chicken Slider with Herbed Mayo

Chicken Slider with Herbed Mayo

When one is planning a Super Bowl get-together, one must give serious consideration to the refreshments. Because really, what is a Super Bowl party without the proper accouterments.  Like the Super Bowl itself, watching the game at home should be an “event”. I would be negligent in my duties if I only served chips and dip, and my husband and sons have come to expect more from me as the years go by. Chips and dip are still on the menu, because every sports-loving guy still loves and expects them, but I needed to serve something more substantial but still in the realm of down home comfort food.

Chicken Sliders seemed like the obvious choice, because you can hold them in one hand while your screaming at the tv and holding a beer in the other. I would call this kind of breaded and fried chicken, Chicken Schnitzel or Chicken Milanese. Basically it’s boneless, skinless chicken breast that’s dredged in flour, eggs and panko bread crumbs and then fried. The end result is chicken that’s crispy and crunchy on the outside, and moist and tender on the inside.  And, for a little extra added tastiness, I plopped on a dollop of this homemade Herbed Mayo. Yay, score one for Mama!

Pound the chicken breast to tenderize it

Pound the chicken breast to tenderize it

Chicken Slider with Herbed Mayo

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (cut into approx. 2″ x 4″ pieces)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • vegetable or canola oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 mini slider rolls ( I used King’s Hawaiian Rolls & Rockenwagner’s Mini Pretzel Rolls)
  • red onion, thinly sliced
  • Roma tomato, thinly sliced
  • arugula

Herbed Mayo

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced chives
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced chervil (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard (dijon or brown)
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse chicken under cool water and pat dry. Pounding the chicken breast will enable it to cook through consistently if all slices are of same thickness. Cut the chicken into 2″ x 4″ pieces (approximately). Lightly season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Now make yourself a “dredging station”. Take three shallow bowls, and put the panko crumbs in one, the flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, in another, and beat the two eggs with a tablespoon of milk and place in the third bowl. Using tongs (or a fork) dip the chicken into the flour and gently shake off the excess. Next, dip it into the egg mixture on both sides. Last, dip the chicken into the panko crumbs, pressing the crumbs to adhere to the chicken breast. Lay the finished coated pieces on a wax paper covered baking sheet.
  3. In a large skillet, set over medium heat, pour the vegetable oil about 1/4″ deep. Don’t put the chicken in until the oil is hot enough, but also don’t let the oil get too hot. If the oil is too hot, the outside coating will burn, and the chicken inside will not cook through. Also, do not crowd the pan, make sure there is room in between the chicken pieces. When the chicken is golden brown, remove from the pan and let drain on a paper towel.
  4. To make the Herbed Mayo: place all the ingredients in a small bowl, and whisk together until smooth. Adjust the salt and pepper to your own taste. Cover bowl and keep it in the fridge until ready to use.
  5. Just assemble the sandwiches, spread with the Herbed Mayo and enjoy.

Makes 8 Slider Sandwiches

Fry the breaded chicken in about 1/4" of oil on medium heat

Fry the breaded chicken in about 1/4″ of oil on medium heat

Fry chicken until it's golden brown and crispy

Fry chicken until it’s golden brown and crispy

Mama’s Tips:

When working with chicken you always have to be concerned about contamination. When I pound my chicken, I cover the bottom surface with plastic wrap, place the chicken on top, then cover the chicken with another sheet of plastic wrap. I never want to get the bacteria on my surfaces or on the rolling pin I’m using to pound the chicken. Always wash your hands after handling chicken and touching something else.

Make sure the chicken is always cooked through (no pink inside) to avoid salmonella poisoning. If your not sure, take a small pairing knife and cut into a piece of chicken just to check the inside.

When frying chicken, try to keep the oil at an even temperature. If it gets too hot and starts to burn, or there’s a lot of burnt pieces of bread crumbs in it, clean the pan and start with new oil. Burned, dirty oil will affect the final taste of the chicken.

If you can’t get panko bread crumbs (usually found in the Asian section of the market) you can use regular bread crumbs. but I find the panko crumbs give the chicken a much crunchier, crispier texture. It’s well worth seeking these crumbs out.

The reason I pound the chicken is that the breasts are naturally thicker in some parts and thinner in others. By pounding it, the breasts are the same thickness at all points and therefore will cook through consistently.

Chicken Sliders with Herbed Mayo

Chicken Sliders with Herbed Mayo

Chicken Sliders with Herbed Mayo

Chicken Sliders with Herbed Mayo

Recipe: Intermediate


Roasted Tomato Soup

Roasted Tomato Soup

Roasted Tomato Soup

When I got up this morning I was actually planning to do another blog posting about cookies. I know what you’re thinking, Mama, enough with the cookies already. It is an uncharacteristically cold and gloomy day here, yes, 55 degrees is cold, so I decided to re-think my strategy. I thought I should choose to make something for my posting that I could also serve to the family for dinner tonight. Ah yes, therefore killing two birds with one stone.

Due to the aforementioned gloominess, I decided that my family would probably appreciate some good ‘ol comfort food. I don’t know about you, but grilled cheese and tomato soup is about as cozy as you can get.  I rarely get a reaction from the husband and kids regarding my cooking, but the Roasted Tomato Soup got rave reviews.

It’s just a suggestion, but if you’re having a get-together for New Year’s, how about Roasted Tomato Soup Shots with a dollop of creme fraiche, or for a New Year’s brunch you can serve the soup in mason jars with a mini grilled cheese sandwich. And the best part is you can make the soup in advance, because it will actually taste better the next day.

Roasting tomatoes in the oven.

Roasting tomatoes in the oven.

Roasted Tomato Soup

  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (I used tomatoes on the vine)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cans (28 oz) San Marzano Tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, and place rack in the lower third of oven.  Wash and dry tomatoes, and then cut them in half. Using your fingers, gently squeeze out the seeds. Place the tomatoes and garlic in a large bowl and drizzle with the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss it all together with your hands. Spread the tomatoes out on a large baking sheet cut side up.  Place the garlic pieces in the tomato cavity (I don’t know what else to call it) as shown in the above photo. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Yum, now we’re creating great flavor! Then set aside to cool.
  2. Now, strain the juice into a measuring cup or bowl, from the 2 cans of tomatoes and reserve for later. You should have about 1 cup of liquid from the cans.  Next, puree the canned tomatoes, the roasted tomatoes and garlic in batches in a blender and place in a large bowl.
  3. In a large stock pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 medium, diced onion. Sweat the onion for about 5 minutes until it becomes translucent. Add  1/4 cup of flour and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and quickly whisk or stir with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Add all the pureed tomato and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, the bay leaf, cumin, rosemary spring, thyme sprigs, reserved juice and 1 cup of chicken broth. Whisk to make sure no flour has stuck to the bottom. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring in 15 minute intervals. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs. After it simmered, I used an immersion blender to blend the onion into the soup. If you don’t have one, you could run it through the blender again. You should let the soup cool a bit before you so though, because hot liquids spurt out of the blender. Cover the top of the blender with a kitchen towel.
  5. I ran the soup through a sieve to remove any seeds and tomato skin and ended up with a smooth, silky soup. I returned the soup to the stock pot to warm before serving.
  6. I like to serve the soup with a little dollop of creme fraiche for a little added creaminess.

Makes about 8 cups of soup

Roasted Tomato Soup in Mason Jars with Mini Grilled Cheese

Roasted Tomato Soup in Mason Jars with Mini Grilled Cheese

Mama’s Tips:

You can store the soup in a sealed container. It’s actually better the next day after all the flavors meld together. Just gently reheat to serve.

If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, you can substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.

To add extra creaminess to the soup, you can garnish it with creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone.

If your soup comes out too thick, then just thin it with a little extra broth or water. But remember, add just a little at a time to achieve your desired consistency.

Roasted Tomato Soup - Soup Shots with a dollop of Creme Fraiche

Roasted Tomato Soup – Soup Shots with a dollop of Creme Fraiche

Recipe: Intermediate

Roasted Tomato Soup

Roasted Tomato Soup


Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

I’m sure when I grew up in the “olden days” there was a variety of apples available, but really, all I remember was the Red Delicious Apple. Now I certainly don’t want to offend any apple growers out there who grow the Red Delicious, or insult avid fans of the Red Delicious, but it’s because of that particular fruit that I never really took a liking to apples.  Unfortunately the Red Delicious is a mealy apple that’s not crisp or sweet or appealing in any way. Please don’t be mad at me for saying this, but I think it’s the truth.

Okay, fast forward to modern times. So, I walk into my local Whole Foods the other day and was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of apples they had for sale. You name it, Gala, Fuji, Jazz, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia, just to name a few. I couldn’t decide which variety to go with, so I bought them all.

Now, armed with a plethora of fall apples, came the decision of what to do with them. I had been to a restaurant the day before call Gjelina in Venice, California (which was quite hip and happening, I must say) and had their apple salad. I loved it so much I decided to recreate it at home. This Apple & Cheddar Salad is the perfect beginning to an autumn dinner or a Saturday brunch. The sweet crunch of the apples goes perfectly with the saltiness of the cheese.

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 2 large crisp apples, any variety
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 4 ounces of good quality cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 head of mustard greens
  • Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Place first 6 ingredients in a small jar and shake real well. Add in the olive oil and shake vigorously again so that dressing begins to thicken. I make the dressing a day in advance so that the flavors meld together. Refrigerate for up to one week.

Directions

  1. Place pine nuts in a small, frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until nuts begin to brown and release their natural oils. Place in a small dish to cool and set aside.
  2. With a sharp knife, chop your celery stalks crosswise into thin slices, or use a mandolin. Set aside.
  3. Thinly chop your mustard greens (chiffonade) and toss into a bowl or your can individually plate 4 separate salads.
  4. With a sharp knife, thinly slice the cheddar cheese and set aside.
  5. You can use a mandolin to slice the apples in round slices, or use a sharp knife to slice the apples into thin wedges, removing the core and seeds. Place the apple slices into a bowl of acidulated water. When you’re ready to plate your salad, take slices out of water, and pat dry.
  6. Plate all ingredients onto individual plates, or combine into a large bowl and toss with vinaigrette.

Makes 4 appetizer sized salads

Mustard Vinaigrette

Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette

Mama’s Tips

To stop fruit from oxidizing, place fruit in a bowl of 1 cup cold water to 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice. Increase the amount of water/juice depending on how much fruit you are using. When you’re ready to use the fruit, just pat dry with a paper towel.

Crisp Fall apples make a perfect salad.

Crisp Fall apples make a perfect salad.

Recipe: Easy


Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Fig Crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

This weekend my family will celebrate a most momentous occasion, that being my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were of course, the Ward and June Cleaver of Havertown, Pennsylvania. (A 1960′s cultural reference only old people will get, young people, you can google it.) I’ve always said that they make marriage look fun, in fact, they’re totally “adorbs!” (Younger generation cultural reference.) So, what does this have to do with crostini you ask? We’ll be serving these tasty hors d’ oeuvres at our upcoming gathering.

What I love about these appetizers is that they are the perfect “marriage” of different tastes and textures.  Did you like the way I segued into that, huh.  Anyway, you’ve got your crunch from the toasted bread and walnuts, paired with the saltiness of the prosciutto, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweetness of the fig and balsamic all in one perfect little bite.  Actually, it’s probably two-bites, but who’s counting.

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini 

  • 12 fresh figs – Black Mission or Brown Turkey varieties
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped small
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • French baguette sliced into 24, 1/2″ slices

Directions

For the Balsamic Reduction: Pour the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar into a small but heavy saucepan and bring to a steady simmer.  Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, allow the mixture to simmer until it begins to thicken and become syrupy.  Then, pour it into a small bowl and let it cool. Set aside.

Place the walnuts that have been chopped into small pieces into a small frying pan and over medium heat stir constantly until the nuts become fragrant and their natural oils are released. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quite quickly. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Snip the stem off of the figs, and then cut them in half.  Slice the prosciutto into slices that will fit the size of the crostini. Slice the baguette into 24 – 1/2″ slices and place on a baking sheet. Once you’ve gathered all your ingredients together, place the bread slices into a 400 degree F oven and toast bread until it becomes golden on the edges. Then remove.

Top each bread slice with a piece of prosciutto, a piece of the arugula, a fig slice, then a few goat cheese crumbles and walnuts. Drizzle the crostini with the balsamic reduction and serve!

Makes 24 individual crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Mama’s Tips: 

Have all your ingredients prepared and in little bowls so when the bread comes out of the oven, you can make the crostini assembly-line style and serve while the bread is still warm.

In case you were wondering, figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber. I eat them by the boatloads.

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Fig & Prosciutto Crostini

Recipe: Easy


Grilled Shrimp Kebabs

Grilled Shrimp Kabobs

Grilled Shrimp Kabobs

I know I haven’t posted a new recipe in awhile, but Mama took a little vacation. I’m funny when it comes to leaving home, and that’s why I hardly ever leave. I find the whole traveling process very stressful, especially when there’s airline travel involved.  But, little did I know that a lovely little paradise existed 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles.

A group of my friends (Cindy, Roberta, Wendy and Lauren) go to Catalina for a week every summer.  I’ve been invited to go in the past, but I had envisioned Catalina to be nothing special, so I always declined. But for some reason my husband, and I and son #2 decided to give it a try. Well, Mama was pleasantly surprised. Actually more than just pleasantly.

Catalina is very easy to reach, no muss, no fuss. One hour on the Catalina Express and you arrive in Avalon Harbor. There’s very few cars on the island, and most people get around by golf cart.  The city center is very quaint, and filled with small restaurants, shops, bars and markets. Nothing fancy mind you, but keep in mind this is a very low-key, stress-free vacation. But what wow-ed me the most was the island’s natural beauty.  Sunshine every day, bright blue skies and water clear enough to see fish, dolphins and plenty of seals. And guess what…I can’t wait to go back.

My inspiration for this week’s recipe came from the Pacific Ocean. I find the visual, as well as the sound and smell of the ocean so relaxing. How better to pay homage to the Pacific than with a shrimp recipe of course!

Grilled Shrimp Kabobs

Grilled Shrimp Kabobs

Grilled Shrimp Kabobs

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave the tail shell on)
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion cut into 1″ pieces
  • fresh pineapple cut into 1″ chunks, or you can use a 15 ounce can of pineapple, with the juice drained
  • Metal skewers, or wooden skewers soaked in water

Directions

  1. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail shell on. Rinse the shrimp under cold water then dry with a paper towel and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients, except the shrimp, vegetables and pineapple. Pour off 1/4 cup of the marinade, and reserve for basting the shrimp on the grill.
  3. Place the shrimp in a resealable plastic bag and pour the marinade in the bag, coating all the shrimp.  Place the bag in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  4. Take your skewers and thread the shrimp on the skewers, piercing the shrimp through the center, with both the front and tail portion going through the skewer. Thread on a piece of pineapple, then another shrimp, then the green pepper and onion. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Place the completed skewers on a metal baking sheet.
  5. Spray your grill with cooking spray so the shrimp won’t stick, and heat the grill to medium high.
  6. Place your skewers on the grill and baste with the remaining marinade. Turn the skewers so the shrimp cook evenly on each side. All grills are different, so cook the shrimp until they are pink on the outside. Be very careful not to overcook the shrimp as they will become rubbery. As soon as they are no longer opaque, they are done.
  7. Serve immediately from the grill.

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Mama’s Tips

If you’re going to use wooden skewers for these kabobs, soak them in water for an hour or two so that they won’t burn when you put them on the grill.

To devein the shrimp, run a pairing knife down the back of the shrimp. You will see the black vein. Using the tip of your knife, cut out the vein and discard.

Always spray your grill with a little cooking spray, or brush lightly with some olive oil so that the shrimp don’t stick to the grill.

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Recipe: Easy


Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

There’s something to be said for fresh vegetables. Like the one’s that you get at the farmer’s market that look like they’ve just been pulled out of the ground because they still have dirt on them and all that green leafy matter attached. I love all the bright colors of vegetables, their earthiness, the smell and texture. Living in Southern California, and having a weekly farmer’s market five minutes away from my house, I’m never deprived of the best vegetables each season has to offer. On this week’s trip to the market I was presented with a bounty of juicy tomatoes, ripe California avocados and sweet bell peppers in glorious shades of red, yellow and orange.

When I returned home, I knew immediately what I was going to do with my bulging bag of veggies. Make gazpacho of course! For those of you not familiar with gazpacho, it is a cold, tomato-based soup which has it’s origins in Spain and is best served during the summer months (when tomatoes are their freshest) because it’s so darn refreshing. Gazpacho is a bowl of “earthy goodness”. It’s simple, straight forward, with nothing refined or processed…just good stuff from the ground.

Yes, there is something to be said for fresh vegetables. I don’t know what it is but I just feel smarter when I eat veggies. I notice a certain spring in my step upon consuming large quantities of vitamins and minerals. If you give this recipe a try, write back and let me know if you think your IQ just went up a couple of points. I bet it will.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Adapted From Pascal Lorange of Le Pain Quotidien

  • 1 medium red bell pepper (70g)
  • 2 ounces sourdough baguette, cut into small pieces (50g)
  • 1 1/4 cups cold water (300ml)
  • *3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced (100g)
  • 3 radishes, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into slices
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, minced (or whatever fresh herb you have in the fridge)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin

To Garnish

  • avocado slices
  • radish, thinly sliced into matchsticks
  • cucumber, thinly sliced into matchsticks
  • scallion, thinly sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place your bell pepper in the center of a metal baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, turning the pepper every 10 minutes so that all sides will turn black and blistered. Remove from the oven and let cool. When you’re able to handle it, remove the skin from the pepper and take the seeds out. Cut the pepper into strips and set aside 1/3 (3 ounces/70g).
  2. Take the small baguette slices and place them in a large bowl filled with the cold water so that it may soak for an hour..
  3. Take the roasted pepper strips and the remaining ingredients, and add them to the large bowl containing the soaked bread.   I then took the entire mixture and transferred it to my blender and mixed it on the puree setting until I had a smooth consistency. Then place the gazpacho into a covered container to sit in the refrigerator for about 4 hours to chill. As the mixture sits in the fridge, the flavors will develop.
  4. When you’re ready to serve the gazpacho, stir it well and pour into bowls. I like to garnish each bowl with scallion, cucumber, chunks of avocado, radish and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Then give a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper.

Serves 4

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Mama’s Tips

A quick and easy way to peel your tomatoes. Using a sharp knife, slice and “X” on the bottom of your tomato. Submerge the tomato in a pot of boiling water for about 20-30 seconds. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. The skin will gently peel away from the area where you made the “X”.

If you can refrain from eating your gazpacho immediately upon making it, let it sit over-night in the fridge as it will get nicely chilled, and the flavors of all your fresh vegetables will meld together beautifully.

The roasted peppers will end up looking something like these.

The roasted peppers will end up looking something like these.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Recipe: Easy


Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Many of you have approached me recently and said, “Mama, I’m having a holiday party and I need an idea for a tasty appetizer”. Well, I think I have just the thing for you if you want something with potatoes, bacon and cheese that will pop right into your mouth. You will be amazed at how much flavor is packed into this one bite. But actually, if you’re a bit more genteel, it will be two bites. But I digress.

When entertaining for the masses, I’m a gal who likes to do as much prep work in advance so I’m not so overwhelmed the day of the party. Mini Stuffed Potatoes are an appetizer you can prepare two days in advance. You can stuff the potatoes with the mixture, and then wrap them in plastic and place in the refrigerator. An hour or so before you’re ready to serve them, let the potatoes sit out on the counter to come to room temperature.  Next, sprinkle them with the cheese and place them in a 425 degree F oven for about ten minutes until they are heated through and browned on the top. It’s quite the festive treat.

This holiday season my friends, hold your loved one’s very close. Mama wishes you all the best for the New Year.

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

From Fine Cooking

  • 24 baby Yukon Gold or red potatoes, each about 2 inches across (2 to 2-1/4 lb.)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 oz. bacon (about 3 thick slices), cooked until crispy and crumbled
  • 6 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Place the potatoes in a medium sized bowl and toss with the olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. of the thyme, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and toss again. Transfer the potatoes to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the potatoes until they feel perfectly tender when pierced with a skewer, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.
  2. Carefully hollow out each potato: Decide which is the flatest surface of the potato to give it the most stability, then begin by slicing off the top; use a small spoon (I had a tiny mini spoon that worked great)or a melon baller to scoop out most of the flesh inside, transferring it to a medium bowl. Discard the tops. Mash the potato flesh with a masher or a fork, then combine it with the bacon, 1/4 cup of the chives, the sour cream, the remaining 1 tsp. thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
  3. I used my fingers to fill the hollowed potatoes with this mixture; it should mound a bit. Sprinkle on the cheese.
  4. Return the potatoes to the 450°F oven and bake until the filling heats through, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining chives and serve warm.

Recipe: Intermediate

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

P.S. For another tasty holiday appetizer, click here to view the recipe for Curried Scallop Cakes.

Mini Stuffed Potatoes

Mini Stuffed Potatoes


Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries

So, I’ve told you that son #1 is a professional chef, and the guy works all the time. Being in the restaurant business he never has a weekend off, and I suppose that just goes with the territory. Lucky for him he really loves his job. He did however have off the other day and decided to invite his buddies over to watch some football. They were just going to order some pizzas and drink beer, typical guy stuff. Now me, being the hovering mother that I am, felt it necessary to offer these guys a healthy snack. They’re grown men actually, and I probably should have just minded my own business, but I just couldn’t help myself.

I decided to make these zucchini fries for them. I think they’re the perfect snack for sitting around and watching football, all crispy and crunchy. It was just kind of funny when I walked into the family room holding a tray of these and said”hey guys, how about some zucchini!”, they all just looked up at me with this look on their faces like, yay, zucchini…

However, when I returned about an hour later, the tray was empty. Mom’s always right. I’m just sayin’…

Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries

from Oprah.com

  • 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups panko or plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the oven racks in the lower third and center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the zucchini into french fry size sticks about 3″ long.
  2. Arrange 3 shallow bowls or pie plates in a row. In the first bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. In the second bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. In the third bowl, combine the panko, parmesan and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Working in batches, first dip the zucchini in the flour, shaking of the excess. Transfer to the egg mixture and toss until coated. Let the excess egg run off, then coat the zucchini in the panko mixture.
  4. Arrange zucchini, without crowding, in a single layer on the prepared pans. Bake for 15 minutes and then rotate the pans. Continue baking until panko coating is golden and crisp, 7-12 minutes more.
  5. Serve right from the oven.

Zucchini Fries

Zucchini Fries

Recipe: Easy


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