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


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


My Burger Bible

Hamburger with Grilled Onions

Hamburger with Grilled Onions

By now you all know that Mama’s Gotta Bake, and oftentimes Mama’s Gotta Cook, but now that the warm weather has rolled into Southern California…Mama’s Gotta Grill. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you would think that I live on nothing but cake, cookies and the occasional scoop of ice cream.  But if the truth be told, what I’m totally obsessed with is burgers. Oh please, spare me with your turkey, chicken, lamb, salmon and veggie burgers, I’m a purist and it’s nothing but good ‘ol beef burgers for me.

For years I’ve kept a tiny, tattered notebook in the over-stuffed utility drawer in my kitchen. I call it My Burger Bible. Every time I see a tip in the newspaper, the internet, a cookbook, YouTube or the television on how to make a better burger, I write it down in this notebook. So, as summer approaches and you begin to fire up your grills, I thought I would share some of the information I’ve accumulated with you.

Tips for making the best burgers

Tips for making the best burgers

The Meat

  • When it comes to a tasty burger, fat is your friend. Fat will add tons of flavor and moisture to your burger, and it will shrink less. I usually choose a meat mixture with a 70/30 fat ratio. If that sounds too fatty to you, then go with an 80/20.
  • Never use frozen or pre-formed patties, that’s just an insult to any decent burger. If you can, have a butcher coarsely grind a combination of chuck and brisket.
  • When forming the burgers, use wet hands so that the meat will not stick them. Don’t overwork the meat to form the patties. The less you handle the meat the better, otherwise the resulting burger will be dry and dense.
  • Season you burgers with salt right before you’re ready to grill them. Salt takes the moisture right out of the meat and you’ll end up with some pretty dry burgers.
  • When you’re cooking a lot of burgers at once on the grill, it helps to weigh and size the patties, this way they will cook uniformly. (Serious Eats)
  • Bobby Flay suggests that when you’ve formed your patty, take your thumb and make a well in the center of the burger. This will help it to keep it’s shape. Also, chilling your patties for several hours before cooking will aid in them keeping their shape.

Grilling the Burgers

  • You will want to place your burgers on a very hot grill because you want to sear the outside of the burger. Searing the burger seals in the juices.
  • When the burger is on the grill, don’t press down on it with a spatula, or you will squeeze the juices right out.
  • When the burger is properly seared, it will no longer stick to the grill.
  • Like other meats that you grill, let your burgers “rest” for several minutes before serving them, so that the juices will redistribute. (Huffington Post)

The Bun

  • My friends, never take bun selection lightly. One must carefully consider bun to burger ratio seriously.
  • When forming your patties, make them approximately the same size as your bun. You can make the patty a little bit bigger than the bun, as the patty will shrink a bit on the grill.
  • Don’t choose a bun that is too soft because they tend to fall apart if your burger is juicy. However, don’t choose a bun that too hard as the burger will shoot out of it when you take the first bite. My personal favorite is a brioche bun.
Take the pointier end of an egg and use it to make a "well" in the center of the burger

Take the pointier end of an egg and use it to make a “well” in the center of the burger. This will help the burger to keep its shape.

So, how does Mama like her burger…simple. I like a little crispy lettuce, fresh tomato, lots of ketchup (yeah, I do!), but most importantly I’ve gotta have the grilled onions. They take 5 minutes to make and my burgers wouldn’t be caught dead without them.

Grilled Onions

Grilled Onions

Grilled Onions

  1. Slice 2 large onions thinly, or for best results, slice them on a mandolin (on the thicker setting) for uniform size. Toss the onions with a tablespoon of olive oil, Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and some red pepper flakes until coated.
  2. Set your grill to medium-high.
  3. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and place on the hot grill. With tongs, spread the onions out over the foil and toss occasionally so all slices cook evenly. Remove from the heat when the onions have begun to caramelize and are softened. About 5-8 minutes. Use immediately.
  4. Enough for 4-5 burgers.
Grilled Hamburgers

Grilled Hamburgers

Recipe: Easy