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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- I used my fingers to fill the hollowed potatoes with this mixture; it should mound a bit. Sprinkle on the cheese.
- 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.
P.S. For another tasty holiday appetizer, click here to view the recipe for Curried Scallop Cakes.
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’…
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve right from the oven.
I’m in love, and yes, my husband knows all about it. It’s quite scandalous indeed. I did have this long running affair with chocolate, but recently my affections have been directed elsewhere and my husband is to blame.
He just returned from a trip to visit his cousin Gerry in Petaluma, California. While he was there they went to a farm where they could pick their own produce, and he brought me home several bags filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables. In fact, one entire bag was just filled with the most gorgeous selection of heirloom tomatoes. So, needless to say we’ve had a real “tomato fest” at the house this week. Heirloom tomatoes are at their peak of perfection in these summer months and these were sweet and full of flavor.
For dinner my husband made mahi mahi with roasted tomatoes, I made this Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart, and my son Erik made a tomato tartare. Erik is a chef at an upscale Los Angeles restaurant and my husband and I were dazzled by what he created with the tomatoes. I’m a proud mama!
The Heirloom TomatoTart is a great combination of flavors and textures. What could be bad about a crumbly pastry crust, creamy goat cheese and sweet heirloom tomatoes. If you don’t have access to heirloom tomatoes, certainly you can use any variety you have. But, if you’re looking for flavor, the heirloom is your best bet.
Heirloom Tomato Tart
Ingredients for the crust
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
Ingredients for the filling
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4-5 heirloom tomatoes, sliced and seeded (do not slice the tomatoes thin)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 ounces goat cheese (chèvre)
- 1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves ( plus more for garnish)
- For the pastry: in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the flour and salt and mix on low for 15 seconds.
- Add the butter and continue beating until the mixture resembles pea-size crumbs. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time, adding more water as needed, until the dough comes together.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press it together to form a rectangular shape. Wrap with plastic wrap for about an hour.
- Place the rack in your oven in the lower third and preheat to 400 degrees F.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8″ thickness to fit a 13 3/4 by 4 1/4 inch tart pan. ( I also have made mini tarts instead of 1 large tart). Press the dough into the pan and trim the dough leaving a 1/2″ overhang around the rim. Fold in the excess dough and press it into the sides so they are thicker than the bottom. Refrigerate at least 10 minutes.
- To make the filling: warm up the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Do not let it burn. Remove the garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper and cook in the pan for about 2 minutes without flipping them over. Remove and transfer them to a platter.
- Remove the pan from the heat and empty the olive oil leaving behind about 1 tablespoon. Stir in the goat cheese, garlic basil and salt and pepper to taste until smooth.
- Brush the prepared pastry with olive oil and spread the goat cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of the pastry.
- Top with the tomatoes and drizzle with some olive oil.
- Bake until the crust is golden and crisp, about 50 minutes-1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh slivered basil.
I suppose the thing I’m learning about life is that it’s always changing, and that things can’t always stay the same. When I became a mother I was very comfortable in that role, and I believed that my job as nurturer, caretaker, maid, cook and pain-in-the-ass, would go on forever. However, it seems that both of my sons are ready to cut the proverbial apron strings. I don’t think I’m ready to let go yet. My mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of how will they navigate the world without me telling them what to do. Will they remember to brush their teeth?
What has brought on all this unwanted anxiety, was the trip I made today with my youngest son to look at a school and an apartment in a beautiful college town about an hour from our house. I was so excited for him, and the adventure that was ahead of him. If I’ve done my job well, he will be able to venture out into the world and do just fine. I know I’m not the first middle-aged broad to go through this, I just didn’t realize it would happen this quickly. But it did.
So what, you may ask, does all this have to do with shrimp? Nothing much really. As it is now, the boys are rarely home to eat dinner, and usually never at the same time. But yesterday, they were both home for family dinner and they asked if I would make fried shrimp. Well, that’s my job, and I aim to please. So, here’s the panko crusted shrimp dish I made for them. I highly suggest you make the chive aioli. It’s cool and creamy, and a little lemon-y, and a really nice contrast to the crunchiness of the shrimp.
Panko Crusted Shrimp with Chive Aioli
From Cooking Light
- 1 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, divided
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons cornstrach
- 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- canola oil for frying
- 1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup canola mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Combine 1/2 cup panko crumbs, parsley and red pepper flakes in a mini processor; pulse to combine. Combine this mixture with the remaining panko crumbs in a shallow dish. Place the cornstarch in a shallow dish and the egg whites in a another separate shallow dish. Sprinkle the shrimp liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the shrimp in the cornstarch, shaking off the excess; then dip into egg whites. Then dredge the shrimp in the panko mixture and press to adhere.
- In a large non-stick skillet, heat enough oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp, but do not crowd them and cook about three minutes per side insuring that they cook through. When the oil starts to get dark, I cleaned out the pan and heated fresh oil.
- Whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, chives, lemon juice and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Serve with shrimp.
Note: I suggest buying large shrimp instead of extra large; as the extra large tend to be tougher and have a little less flavor.
My husband and I have this weird obsession with French onion soup. We order it in every restaurant we go to that has it on the menu. Although it’s a fairly simple soup, you would be surprised how differently, different restaurants prepare it. He and I took a vote, and we decided the best we’ve had so far is at a place called Cafe Cigale in Oak Park (the Agoura/Thousand Oaks area, if you’re a local).
During the winter I like to make this soup at home, it’s really a no-fail recipe. This rich and hearty soup is perfect for dinner parties, or just cold, blustery nights when you need your insides warmed-up. (It was in fact 80 degrees here today, but I made it anyway!) You might want to use a variety of onions such as yellow, red and sweet for a little more complex flavor. Either way, I just love the melt-y, crust-y, bubbly cheese on top when you first take it out of the oven. It’s so good!
French Onion Soup
Adapted From Williams Sonoma
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 1/2 lbs. yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 8 cups beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 French baguette
- 3 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
- In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes until the onions are tender and a deep golden brown.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions until combined. Stir in the wine, then the stock and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf.
- Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. You can use eight, 1 1/2-cup broilerproof soup crocks, (or I used smaller ramekins because I was making more servings and wanted a smaller appetizer portion). Cut the baguette into 1/2″ slices and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler (12″ from heat) turning once so that they’re toasted on both sides.
- Ladle hot soup into the crocks (or ramekins). Place ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place 2 slices of toasted bread on top of soup, overlapping if necessary. Don’t let the bread sink down into soup. Sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cheese on top. Place under broiler until the cheese is bubbling. Serve at once. This will make 8, 1 1/2 cup crocks or even more if you’re using smaller ramekins.
Food is a fun part of my life, but having friends to share it with is what really matters. Everyone has commitments, family responsibilities and jobs, so it’s rare that we can get the girls together for a few days all at the same time. However, we managed to do that at my friend’s house up in Santa Barbara the other day.
For our first night in Santa Barbara we decided to stay in and make a home-cooked meal. Earlier in the afternoon we had walked up to the farmer’s market on State Street in downtown, and purchased fresh produce for that evenings dinner. We literally spent hours perusing the vendor’s booths, marvelling at the beautiful array of fresh vegetables, artisanal breads and home-baked fruit pies. Everyone had a job to do in preparing the meal which really made this effort a good time. My friend Joni, who had her own restaurant in Palm Springs and has run many other high-profile restaurants in the past, was serving us her Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta.
The fresh ciabatta was perfectly grilled, and the heirloom tomatoes which had probably been picked that morning were full of flavor. I loved the dish so much, I decided to share it with you.
Joni’s Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
5-6 medium to large Heirloom tomatoes cut in large dice*
handful of fresh basil leaves chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
fine sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
fresh Ciabatta loaf
olive oil for grilling
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Allow the tomato mixture to sit at room temperature while grilling the ciabatta.
Cut the Ciabatta into 1″ thick slices. Lightly brush each side with olive oil and grill until well toasted on both sides.
*A serrated knife works best when slicing tomatoes.
All I could hear out in the middle of the Pacific, was the rhythmic sound of the water slapping the side of the boat. My surroundings seemed so muted. No cell phones ringing, no car horns honking, only the occasional squawking of a sea-gull looking for it’s next meal. The sky was pale, the sea appeared gray and the white sails of the others boats almost disappeared against the sky. We were just a mile off shore, but a world away from that whirling dervish they call Los Angeles. Rodolfo was the skipper of the boat, and my husband Neil and Rodolfo’s wife Sonia were in charge of operating the ropes that controlled the sails. My job, lunch of course.
I got up early in the morning because I wanted to bake fresh French bread for the sandwiches that I was making for our 4th of July sea adventure. For me, the bread is the key to a tasty sandwich. I thought back to the sandwiches we had had in tiny cafes in Europe and my favorite was always the Serrano ham. This is a dry-cured Spanish ham, and I love it’s salty, buttery flavor. I added to it Manchego cheese which is a firm, Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk. I spread fig jam on the bread, and finished it off with arugula and thinly sliced red onion. The layering of these flavors set off fireworks in my mouth! It was a happy July 4th.
Serrano Ham Sandwich
crispy French baguettes
thinly sliced Serrano ham
sliced Manchego cheese
fig jam (at most upscale markets)
red onion (sliced thin on mandoline)
I usually have a baguette or two left over, so the next day we had Serrano ham crostini. I sliced the day-old bread about an inch thick, brushed it with olive oil and placed it on the grill for a few minutes. This makes a great appetizer.
When I was in culinary school, we were having a class on wine tasting and Chef had asked each student to bring in an appetizer to pair with a wine. I made these scallop cakes, and I served them as a slider on a lightly toasted mini bun, topped with a chili-lime aioli and a smidgen of tomato concasse (Kon-Kah-SAY, sounds fancy, but it’s a diced tomato that’s been peeled and seeded. It was a nice touch, anyway). Well, the cakes were gone in sixty seconds. It’s my go-to appetizer whenever I’m asked to bring something to a gathering.
The panko crumbs give them a nice crispy crunch on the outside, while the inside bursts with the combination of the curry and the sweet butteriness of the scallop. My little tip is, when I’m forming the cakes, I take a 2 1/4 inch cookie cutter and press the scallop mixture into it. By compressing the mixture, the cake won’t fall apart when you fry it. It also insures that all your cakes will be the same size. However, if you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can still roll them into balls and then flatten them with the palm of your hand.
To insure total scallop yumminess, don’t chop the scallops too finely. When you take a bite of one of these cakes, you want that taste of the scallop to be prominent. And, just to kick the dish up a-notch, I found scallop shells at Cost Plus to serve them on. Perfection!
Curried Scallop Cakes
Makes about 30 cakes
1 1/2 pounds fresh sea scallops cut into 1/4 inch pieces or gently pulsed in food processor
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 large egg yolks
3 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Mix first 9 ingredients and 1 1/2 cups of panko in a large bowl to blend. Cover mixture and refrigerate 1 hour.
Place remaining 2 cups panko on large plate. Take one heaping table spoon of scallop mixture and roll it into a ball and coat completely in the panko crumbs. Then, if you have a cookie cutter or ring mold, press it into the mold to form a round cake.
Heat enough vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat to come 1/4 inch up sides of pan.
Working in batches, saute scallop cakes until golden and cooked through. Transfer scallop cakes to paper towels to drain.
These can be made 4 hours ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat on baking sheet in 350 degree oven for 8 minutes. They also freeze well. I place them in an airtight container, and then reheat in a 350 degree oven until heated through.