Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

The craziest thing happened the other day, true story… My son, son #2 that is, who is home from school on spring break, brought packaged blueberry muffins into my house. You know the kind that are filled with all kinds of preservatives, calories, and lord knows what else. I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I spotted them sitting on the kitchen table. I said, dude, your mom writes a blog called Mama’s Gotta Bake! Think man, think!

Naturally I did what any good food blogger and mother would do, and raced to my kitchen and made my son homemade Blueberry Muffins with fresh, yes, fresh blueberries. I felt like I had restored order to the universe…

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from Williams – Sonoma

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup granulated  sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, (equals = 1/2 cup, 4 ounces or 8 tablespoons) melted and cooled
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Using a pastry brush, thoroughly brush the insides and tops of a 12 well muffin tin. (I was able to make 12 regular sized and 12 mini muffins).
  2. Melt your stick of butter in a small dish, and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Then give it a good whisk to fully disperse the ingredients. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk and cooled butter and add the eggs making sure that the milk/butter mixture is sufficiently cooled so that the eggs won’t scramble when you add them. Fold in the flour mixture and blend until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Gently add the blueberries, mixing to disperse them throughout the batter.
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each one 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes (mine were done at 15 minutes, 12 minutes for the mini-muffins), or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Run a sharp pairing knife around the edges and gently shake out muffins.

Makes 16 regular size muffins, or 12 regular size and 12 mini muffins

Baking Blueberry Muffins

Baking Blueberry Muffins

 

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

Recipe: Easy


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


Sweet Rolls with Cardamom and Orange Glaze

rolls with CardamomSweet

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

When I began my first year away at college, I had heard about the dreaded “freshman fifteen”. It’s that bizarre anomaly that occurs the first time students go away to college and experience eating in the campus cafeteria where there’s not much that’s healthy, low calorie or pleasant tasting. Legend has it that most freshman will pack on fifteen pounds their first year. And sure enough, it happened to me. My mother claimed that when I came home for my winter break she hardly recognized me.

So do you know what the culprit was…Sweet Rolls. It was the one thing that the cafeteria at Rider University served that was actually edible. I used to eat them in mass quantities. So much so that the cafeteria ladies used to hide trays of them when they saw me coming so there would something left over for the other students. So that folks was how I began my lifelong obsession with the Sweet Roll.

Today I made these Sweet Rolls with Cardamom and Orange Glaze. This is not an overly sweet treat, they’re definitely more a roll than a pastry. I like to add cardamom which gives the roll a spicy-sweet taste and pairs very well with the orange glaze.

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom rising in the pan

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom 

Adapted from the LA Times

  • 2 packages of active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 – 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons, softened butter
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (or brown ones, doesn’t matter) re-hydrated
  • 1/2 cup nuts, roughly chopped (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or I used pistachios)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Directions

  1. Place 1/2 cup of warm water (between 105-115 degrees F) in a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir it to dissolve it and let it sit to get foamy.
  2. Take your raisins and place them in a bowl covered in warm water and let them sit until you’re ready to use them. This will hydrate them and plump them up. When ready to use, drain and pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. In a small pan, heat the 1/2 cup of milk until just simmering, then add the butter and stir until it’s melted. Next, stir in 2 teaspoons of the cardamom, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let this liquid mixture cool to about 110 degrees F.
  4. Pour this mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the yeast mixture to it. Using the paddle attachment, beat in the eggs one at a time.  Now, change the paddle attachment to the dough hook and add 3 cups of flour to this mixture until dough is smooth. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides and bottom to incorporate all the flour.  Add more flour in small increments until the dough starts to come together. (I ended up using about 4 1/4 cups). Mix with the dough hook for about 5 minutes.  Lightly flour your surface, and with floured hands turn the dough out onto you board. Knead the dough until it becomes elastic.
  5. Take a large bowl (or large covered container) and spray it with cooking spray, or brush it lightly with oil.  Put the dough into the bowl, and turn it to coat it with the spray or oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough sit in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.
  6. *Side Note: once the dough has risen, you can now punch it down and cover the bowl and put in the refrigerator overnight if you wish to make the rolls fresh for the next day. If you do that, the next day, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit a room temperature for about an hour, punch down dough again, and roll out to make rolls.
  7. Punch down the dough, and roll it into a 20″ x 15″ rectangle. Make sure the dough is rolled out fairly thin, about 1/16″ so you don’t have overly “doughy” rolls.
  8. I melted my 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave, in small time increments, just so that the butter became smooth enough to spread with a pastry brush or offset spatula but not so much that it was liquid. Spread the butter over the top of the dough. Whisk together the 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Sprinkle over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the raisins and nuts over the top also. Using a microplane, zest the orange over the top of the dough.
  9. Now the process may get a little tricky, so hang in there. Starting at the longer side of the rectangle, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. If the dough became a little sticky a lightly brushed a little flour on top of it. I took a ruler and made little slit marks every 1  1/4″ so that I cut my slices all the same width so that they would bake evenly.  Then place the cut rolls into a 9″ x 13″ buttered or sprayed baking dish. Cover with plastic and let rise until they double in size, about one hour. Place in a preheated 350 degree F oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. I rotated my pan after 15 minutes. Let cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes.
  10. To make the glaze: Sift 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl and add just enough fresh orange juice to bring the sugar to a good drizzling consistency. Mix with a whisk or fork. Drizzle over the buns. You can also sprinkle some more chopped nuts on top if you like.
Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Mama’s Tips: 

If the rolls are browning too quickly on top, cover the top lightly with a piece of foil. You still want the rolls to bake all the way through and not be doughy inside.

If your room where you’re baking is cool, while the dough is rising, I take my bowl that’s covered in plastic wrap and wrap it in a bath bowl to keep the bowl warm to encourage rising.

Many times when I’m using raisins in my baking, I will re-hydrate them to plump them up because I think they taste better. You can rehydrate them in just warm water, simple syrup, orange juice or wine. Either way, I think they come out real tasty!

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

Sweet Rolls with Cardamom

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.

DSC_0088
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


Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts

Apple Loaf Cake with Pinenuts

Apple Loaf Cake with Pinenuts

I love”homey” food, but you already knew that, didn’t you. Some people like to curl up with a warm blanket and a book, I myself, like to curl up with a hot cup of tea and a piece of cake. When curling up, it’s always best not to have a piece of cake that’s too sweet and sugary. No, proper curling should be done with a less sweet, almost bread like cake that will perfectly compliment a cup of tea. Ta Da! That’s where this Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts comes in.

This cake is the BFF to a cup of tea. The “not-so-sweet” cake is filled with chunks of juicy apple and topped with earthy, crunchy pine nuts. Really, a perfect combination of flavors. This recipe will make two, 8″ x 4″ loaf cakes, so guess what, keep one for yourself and give the other to your BFF. Wrap it up in parchment paper and tie it with baker’s twine, and I guarantee, they’ll be very impressed.

Apple Loaf Cake with Pinenuts

Apple Loaf Cake with Pinenuts

Apple Loaf with Pine Nuts

Adapted from Real Food, Winter 2013

  • 3 large, crisp tart apples peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ slices
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 5 large eggs
  • 10 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. For this recipe I used two, 8″ x 4″ loaf pans. I sprayed the inside of the pans, then I cut parchment paper to fit in the pans and sprayed that too. I like to use the parchment insert because the cake will lift out effortlessly.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
  3. Next, in a large bowl, I added the lemon juice and lemon zest. I cut the apples into 1/2″ slices and as I added them to the bowl, I tossed them in the lemon juice so that they wouldn’t oxidize. Then, sprinkle the apples with 2 tablespoons of sugar, and gently toss.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 1 cup of sugar for 2 minutes.
  5. Slowly, stir in the butter and vanilla. In several increments, add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter over the apples and gently fold it in.
  7. Evenly divide the batter between the two pans, and sprinkle the pine nuts on top.
  8. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 2, 8″ x 4″ loaf cakes

Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts

Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts

Mama’s Tips: 

In baking, size does matter. Make sure you always adjust your baking times if you’re using a pan that’s not the one specified in the recipe.

  • An 8″ x 4″ loaf pan holds 4 cups of batter
  • An 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan holds 6 cups of batter
  • A 9″ x 5″ loaf pan holds 8 cups of batter

Whenever working with fruits like apples, pears and bananas, toss them in a little lemon juice to keep them from oxidizing. Brown fruit is definitely not appetizing.

When baking, remember all ovens do not work the same, so baking times are always just an estimate. I always check my cakes 5-10 minutes before they’re supposed to be done to make sure they don’t brown too quickly.

I always like to put a parchment paper insert into my pans (which I spray along with the pan) so that cakes will always lift out effortlessly. It’s a bummer when the whole cake doesn’t come out intact!

Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts

Apple Loaf Cake with Pine Nuts

Recipe: Easy


Banana Cream Pie Dessert Shooters

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

Each year, I live for that two month period that begins with Halloween and sees me through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I’m totally grateful that it’s filled with family, fun and way, I mean way too much food. It’s a whirlwind of turkeys, hams, cookies, cakes and lots and lots of sugar. In fact, I think I need  to detox from all the sugar still in my system.

But alas, it’s January 6th and the party’s over. The east coast friends have all gone home, the kid’s back at school and Mama is left jonesing for her next gig. Just business as usual. And so, I set my sights on Super Bowl Sunday.

The truth is, I don’t even like football, (did I just hear a gasp from all over America). But I love all the commercials, and who doesn’t love a good ‘ol half-time show. Ok, so just me. I know it’s a little far in advance, but I’ve already started planning my menu for game day.  For dessert, I decided to serve these Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters.  Their taste scores a touchdown, but their small size won’t hit ‘ya in the end zone if you know what I mean. I know, lame football humor…

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

Banana Cream Pie Dessert Shooters

  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean – split down center
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons baker’s sugar (superfine)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 6 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)
  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • 1 medium banana
  • 5 graham crackers
  • 1/3 cup almonds (blanched or sliced, optional)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Extra almonds for garnish

Directions 

  1. In a medium size pot over medium heat warm the milk and the vanilla bean just until boiling.  Just as it reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and the sugar on medium speed until it becomes pale and thick.  Reduce the mixer to low and stir in the flour and cornstarch, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides periodically. Remove the vanilla bean from the milk, and slowly stir the milk into the egg/flour mixture.
  3. Pour this mixture back into your pot and heat gently over a medium heat. Using a wire whisk (if you don’t have one, a wooden spoon will work also),  continuously whisk the mixture until it thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for one minute and keep on whisking so that lumps do not form and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for a minute or two then pour the mixture into a large bowl to cool. Cover the surface of the mixture with plastic wrap so that a skin doesn’t form.
  4. You can make this pastry cream a day in advance and keep it covered in the refrigerator.
  5. When you’re ready to use the pastry cream, take the ripe banana and with a fork or the back of a spoon, mash the banana until it’s almost like a puree. Then whisk it into the pastry cream. If you choose to use the coconut, whisk it into the pastry cream.
  6. Place the graham crackers and almonds in a food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs, transfer to bowl and set aside.
  7. In a medium bowl beat (either with a stand mixer with whisk attachment, hand mixer or wire whisk) the heavy cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. You can make the whipped cream in advance too, just cover and keep in the fridge a day in advance.
  8. To assemble the shooters:  Place two teaspoons of the crumbs into the bottom of the shot glass. Slice the remaining banana into 1/2″ slices, and  place the banana on top of the crumbs. You can spoon the pastry cream into the shot glass or you can pipe it in with a pastry bag. Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe the whipped cream on top of the pastry cream layer. Garnish with sliced almonds, sliced bananas or toasted coconut.

Makes 10 shooters (approximately 2.5 ounces each)

Banana Cream Pie Dessert Shooter that looks like an Ice Cream Soda

Banana Cream Pie Dessert Shooter that looks like an Ice Cream Soda

Mama’s Tips:

The pastry cream can be made a day in advance. When the cream has cooled, cover the surface with plastic wrap so a skin will not form and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to  use it.

The whipped cream can be made in advance also. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form and then transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The graham cracker crumbs can be made a day in advance. Just store in a covered container until ready to use.

I add the nuts to the graham crackers because it gives the crumbs some added texture which is a nice compliment to the banana cream. However, if you or someone else has a nut allergy then just eliminate them from the recipe.

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

Banana Cream Pie Mini Shooters

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


Lemon Glazed Cookies

Lemon Glazed Cookies

Lemon Glazed Cookies

So, Mama’s sportin’ a new tattoo these days that reads, “I never met a cookie I didn’t like!”. Anyone who knows me, know’s that that’s true. In some circles I’m known as the Countess of Cookies or the Duchess of Dough. Come on, everyone needs a cool nickname, right. So now that I’ve established that I may have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with our friend, the cookie, let me tell you how I put that obsession to good use.

This month, I had the privilege of participating in the fundraiser Cookies For Kid’s Cancer, a non-profit organization that raises funds for pediatric cancer research. They’re an awesome organization. Over 600 foodbloggers from around the world participated in the event which raised over $13,000 for the charity. That’s a lot of dough, for a lot of dough if you know what I mean. This was a worldwide cookie swap. I sent a dozen cookies each to three foodbloggers, and in return I received cookies from three fellow foodbloggers. Yes, Mama was in cookie heaven, and no, I didn’t share.

Lemon Glazed Cookies

Lemon Glazed Cookies

The cookie I chose to send to my designated recipients were these Lemon Glazed Cookies. I packaged them in white, vintage canisters, and I hope my fellow bloggers enjoyed them as much as I do. I also wanted to acknowledge the two bloggers who worked so hard to put this event together. They are Lindsay, from Love & Olive Oil, and Julie from The Little Kitchen. So let’s give these ladies a big round of applause. And so my dear readers, I wish you all a warm and wonderful holiday season, however you may celebrate it. And, if you’re so inclined I urge you to click on the Cookies For Kids Cancer website and send a little love their way.

Lemon Glazed Cookies

Lemon Glazed Cookies

Lemon Glazed Cookies

From Great Cookies by Carole Walter

  •  1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats. In a medium bowl, sift together the all purpose flour, cake flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and lemon zest together until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar in a steady stream, mixing for about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks mixing for about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and vanilla, and scrape down the sides of the bowl so that all the ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until incorporated. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. You can even make the dough the day before, and chill overnight.
  4. When dough is chilled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Using a dough scraper or a sharp knife, cut the dough in half, cut that half in half and then those halves in half. Repeat with the other dough half, until you have 16 equal pieces. With lightly floured hands, roll the dough piece into a ball and place on the cookie sheet. Flatten the dough ball with the heel of your hand until you have about a 3″ inch disk. Place 6 disks on a sheet, about 3″ apart. I baked the cookies for about 13 minutes, until the edges turned golden brown. I also rotated my pans 2/3 thru baking. When you remove the cookies from the oven, let them sit on the cookie sheets for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
  5. While cookies are cooling you can prepare your glaze. Use an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the glaze over the cookies. Allow the cookies to sit out until the glaze has hardened.

Lemon Glaze

  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3-5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to achieve nice spreading consistency

Directions

Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix with a large fork or wire whisk until you achieve a good spreading consistency. It should drip in a steady stream from a spoon.

Glazed Lemon Cookies

Glazed Lemon Cookies

Recipe: Easy


Apple Pie in a Bag

Apple Pie baked in a brown paper bag

Apple Pie baked in a brown paper bag

It’s getting closer to the big day, you know what day I’m talking about, right? Thanksgiving, of course. It’s my most special meal, well it seems every meal is my most special meal, but this one definitely is. In fact, I am so excited I can hardly contain myself.  It’s the one day I will eat with reckless abandon. For me it’s a food version of a perfect storm. Every food I consider to be one of my favorites will make an appearance at my Thanksgiving table.

I embrace this holiday not just for the food, but for the fact that I truly am thankful for the food, and for my family.

I was speaking to my sister-in-law, Wanda the other day and she told me about a pie she makes that is my brother’s favorite. Since Apple Pie is a requisite for any Thanksgiving dinner I thought I would try it out before the big day. I was intrigued because this pie was baked in a brown paper grocery bag. She said that the bag kept the crust from over browning and that the apples became soft and tender and stayed juicy. Hmmmm, sounds like Mama needed to give this a try. Well Wanda, I was quite pleased with the results. I used a pre-made crust for this pie, but hey, if you’ve got the energy then go ahead and make your own crust.

Apple Pie baked in a bag

Apple Pie baked in a bag

Apple Pie in a Bag 

  • 7 crisp, tart apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup sugar – divided
  • 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 stick, unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 box pre-made refrigerated pie crust, 2-9″ crusts
  • 1 large brown paper grocery bag

Directions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.  Peel, core and thinly slice your apples placing them in a large bowl. As you slice them, sprinkle a teaspoon or so of the sugar mixture over the apples to coat them so they won’t turn brown as you slice them. When all the apples are sliced and in the bowl, spoon in the remainder of the sugar mixture and toss to coat all the apples.
  2. Place one of the 9″ crusts into a 9″ pie dish. You may need to roll it out a little, so you should do that on a piece of parchment paper.  Spoon the apple mixture on top of the crust.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 stick of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour this mixture over the apple mixture.
  4. Place the remaining crust on top of the pie. You may have to roll it out a little so that it fits over the pie. Seal the edges of the 2 crusts together. With a sharp pairing knife, poke 5-6 slits on top of crust so that the steam can escape.
  5. Place the pie into a large brown paper grocery bag and then staple the ends shut.
  6. Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Leave pie in bag for 5 minutes after removing from the oven.
Apple Pie baked in a bag

Apple Pie baked in a bag

Mama’s Tips

I sprinkled my apples with a teaspoon of the sugar mixture as I sliced them. The sugar mixture kept the apples from turning brown.

When pie is done baking, if you like a browner pie crust, remove the pie from bag and bake a few minutes more til browned on top.

Place bagged pie on a cookie sheet to avoid messy spills in the oven while baking.

Removing Apple Pie from the paper bag

Removing Apple Pie from the paper bag

Recipe: Easy


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


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