Roasted Pears with Yogurt

Roasted Pears

Roasted Pears

Okay, raise your hand if you like to eat dessert first! Don’t be embarrassed, I’m totally willing to admit publicly that on many occasions I will have dessert before I eat my dinner. Sometimes if I’m feeling so inclined I’ll skip dinner and just opt for dessert. Why ingest all those unnecessary calories from dinner if I don’t need to.  If ever there is an occasion to skip dinner and head directly for dessert it’s when I’m serving these Roasted Pears with Yogurt.

Which, if you ignore the sugar and butter, it’s actually a pretty darn healthy thing to eat. However, it’s the butter and the sugar that help to create this luscious, caramel-tasting sauce that envelopes the tender pears. The combination of the sweet pears, tart yogurt and crunchy, toasted nuts is out-of-his-world good! The sauce is infused with vanilla bean, fresh thyme and orange juice which creates scrumptious layers of flavor.

It’s really a very easy dessert to make as the pears do most of the work as they roast in the oven. I’ll serve this to the family for a quick weeknight dessert yet I think it makes quite an elegant presentation for guests.

For Mama’s other pear recipes, just go here and here

Roasted Pears

Roasted Pears

Roasted Pears

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Mama’s Tips: 

Dipping the cut pears in lemon water will prevent the pears from turning brown, which will make for a beautiful presentation.

A simple melon baller is the perfect tool for scooping out the seeds from a pear.

To toast the nuts, just place them in a small, dry frying pan over low heat and stir constantly until the nuts become fragrant. Do not leave them unattended as the nuts can burn quite quickly.

Roasted Pears

Roasted Pears

Recipe: Easy

 
 

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms can be such a polarizing vegetable.  I find people either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I find myself in the group that loves them.  I love their earthiness, and their musky, woodsy flavor.  I actually find them beautiful in their appearance, almost as if I expect to find little elves perched on top of them. But with all this adoration, a mushroom is basically a fungus, hmmmm…not such an appetizing word, huh.

This Mushroom Soup is a favorite at our dinner table. It’s a rustic, hearty soup yet I think it also makes an elegant presentation. As we move closer to autumn, my family loves sitting down to a bowl of this flavorful soup that I serve with crusty French bread. I know not everyone will have access to certain varieties of mushrooms, but I like to add many different types of mushrooms to the soup to give it an added layer of flavor.

For Mama’s other delicious soups, view them here, and here and here.

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

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A variety of sliced mushrooms

A variety of sliced mushrooms

Mama’s Tips:

To achieve the most flavor from your soup, I suggest using a variety of mushrooms. My local farmer’s market offered a wide variety. Be adventurous and try some of the following:

  • White Button
  • Shitake
  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Portabella
  • Crimini

To clean my mushrooms, I do not wash them under water as I don’t want to add any more moisture to the mushrooms. I simply brush off any dirt with a clean pastry brush or a damp paper towel.

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Mushroom Soup

Recipe: Easy 

 
 

Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad

 

We’re going on a picnic! It’s hard to believe that Labor Day is just around the corner, and summer is coming to an end. Although, living in Southern California it seems as though summer never really ends, and that’s just fine with me.

However, this weekend we decided to pack the family up in the car (my parents that is, my kids are busy with their own lives) and head 15 minutes west to the beach for a picnic. My all-time favorite meal to pack for a beach picnic lunch is fried chicken and Homemade Potato Salad.

My husband taught me his Homemade Potato Salad recipe 30 years ago, and it’s been a family classic ever since. An ingredient he likes to add to his recipe is prepared horseradish, which I find very few other people use. I find it just gives the dish a little “kick”, and an added layer of flavor.

We’re gonna pack our cooler with potato salad in individual take-out containers accompanied by their own spiffy little fork…and lot’s of extra napkins for the fried chicken. This is also an awesome side dish to serve at your upcoming Labor Day barbecue.

Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad 

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Mama’s Tips:

Cooking times will vary, so start checking your potatoes at 6 minutes for doneness by pulling one cube out of the water, to see if you can easily pierce it with a fork. You definitely do not want to over cook the potatoes as it will result in a mushy potato salad.

The potato salad needs to chill for at least two hours for optimal taste. It’s actually better the next day as it’s thoroughly chilled and the flavors have melded together.

It’s very important that your potato cubes are diced the same size for uniform cooking.

Use only the freshest ingredients for effect Homemade Potato Salad

Use only the freshest ingredients for perfect Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad

Homemade Potato Salad

Recipe: Easy

 
 

Fresh Peach Cake

Fresh Peach Cake

Fresh Peach Cake

 

People will often come to me with that burning question, “Mama, what’s you favorite summer fruit to bake with?”  Without wavering, I look them straight in the eye and answer, “peaches”.

I know there are those of you who stand steadfast in your belief that berries are the king of  summer baked goods.  There are yet others who rally around the other stone fruits such as nectarines and plums claiming they are best for the season’s baking. But I stand quite confidently behind the peach. It’s golden and sweet, and much like summer itself.

I found this recipe in the Sliver Palate Cookbook for Fresh Peach Cake about 15 years ago, and have been making it for my family ever since.  For me, it is the essence of summer comfort food. It’s heavenly served warm, right out of the oven. And for those of you who dare to walk on the wild side, you can add a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and dice up some fresh peaches to sprinkle over top…if you dare.

Fresh Peach Cake

Fresh Peach Cake

Fresh Peach Cake

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Cucumber and Dill Soup

Cucumber and Dill Soup

Cucumber and Dill Soup

It’s funny how everybody’s been talking about kale lately, like it’s a Kardashian or something. For the last year or so it’s been the new “it” veg. I know a lot of you out there will find this blasphemous, but I’m really not a fan.

Now a vegetable that I really love and gets very little press is the cucumber.  I’m sure many of you find it blandly simple, but I love them in salads, as part of an appetizer, or to give a sandwich some much needed crunch. But, what I really love on a hot summer’s night is this light and refreshing Cucumber and Dill Soup.

Oh, don’t give me that ho-hum look. This cold soup is like taking a bite out of a garden. Farm fresh cucumbers, fresh herbs, and some yogurt and sour cream make this soup the perfect addition to a family dinner. It’s also lovely as a soup-shot appetizer, for a brunch, lunch or for a summer’s night party.

Cucumber and Dill Soup

Cucumber and Dill Soup

Cucumber and Dill Soup

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Cucumber Soup Shots

Cucumber Soup Shots

Mama’s Tips:

I like to garnish my soup with a thinly sliced piece of cucumber, some fresh herbs, fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

To get uniform slices of cucumber, use a mandolin.  They’re sold reasonably priced in stores and on the internet. It just a great kitchen tool that every “chef” should have.

Cucumber and Dill Soup

Cucumber and Dill Soup

Recipe: Easy 

 
 

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema

I seem to find inspiration in the strangest places.

I was asked by a friend of mine who is a caterer If I would help her cater a large 50th birthday party. We needed to come up with several deliciously good, one-bite appetizers. As I sat at my kitchen table munching a bag of sour cream and onion flavored potato chips that my son had left in the pantry , I had begun pulling out an array of cook books looking for some brilliant ideas for this party.

Half-way through this bag of terribly fattening chips it hit me what a great combination potatoes and sour cream and onion is.  I make these Rosemary Roasted Potatoes all the time, especially for our Thanksgiving dinner, but for this one-bite appetizer I decided to add a flavorful Roasted Onion Crema dipping sauce.

I have found that the Peewee Dutch Yellow Potatoes from Melissa’s Produce work best for this dish, but if you don’t have access to this product Yukon Gold’s are also a good choice.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema 

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Sliced Onions for Roasted Onion Crema

Sliced Onions for Roasted Onion Crema

Mama’s Tips

You can use “spears” of rosemary to act as a toothpick for the potatoes.  Just pull off an inch or two of the rosemary leaves and push the branch part into the potato.

When roasting vegetables, make sure that they are all the same thickness and size to insure even roasting. Smaller pieces may burn, and large ones may not cook all the way through.

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes with Roasted Onion Crema

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Recipe: Easy 

 
 

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

 

I’m sure many of you are faced with the same harrowing dilemma that plagues my family week after week. You go to the market and buy one of those four-foot long French baguettes for dinner, everybody has a piece, and now you’re left with three and a half feet of bread and no clue what to do with it.

My solution to this age-old problem is the Panzanella Salad.  Traditionally a Panzanella Salad is a rustic Italian salad made from tomatoes, onion, and stale bread. I personally like  to add crisp Romaine lettuce and cucumbers to mine. But the best part of the salad is the seasoned and toasted cubes of bread that soak of the dressing, and make this dish taste more like a fresh tomato sandwich, than a tomato salad.

Summer is really the time when tomatoes are at their peak, so I urge you to give this salad a try for your 4th of July barbecue, or for a quick summer’s night supper.

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad 

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Brush bread with olive oil and toss with herbs

Brush bread with olive oil and toss with herbs

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Mama’s Tips: 

When toasting the bread cubes, don’t toast them too much so that they’re brown and more like croutons. You still want them to have a little bread-like softness to them.

To de-seed the cucumber: slice the cucumber in half length-wise and with the tip of a spoon run it down the length of the cucumber removing all the seeds.

Here’s a nice little tutorial for cutting a “chiffonade” of basil.

Mini Panzanella Salad

Mini Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

Recipe: Easy

 
 

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

It’s my baby’s birthday on July 3rd. Okay, so my baby is 26 and six-feet tall, but he’s still my baby. Every year we celebrate his July 3rd birthday with a backyard barbecue, then we bring the whole gang back the very next day to celebrate July 4th with an entirely different barbecue. Yes, we’re barbecue obsessed.

My baby, or as I refer to him in this blog as “the chef”, has requested shrimp cocktail on his birthday menu. I am not a fan of boiled shrimp, personally I think it’s a bit of an insult to the shrimp. I’m sure they much prefer to be served grilled. Grilling just brings out their natural sweetness.

Then of course there is the cocktail sauce.  Since we don’t want to offend the shrimp in any way, it is mandatory that you prepare the cocktail sauce fresh. Serving bottled cocktail sauce to these glorious shrimp is a real slap in the face, to the shrimp I mean.

And just because it’s so darn fun, I’m going to serve each shrimp in it’s own shot glass with a little spritz of lemon and it’s own personal dollop of cocktail sauce. Tell me what you’re grilling this July 4th!

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail 

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Marinated Shrimp

Marinated Shrimp

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Mama’s Tips: 

When grilling your shrimp on long wooden skewers, soak the skewers submerged in water for at least 30 minutes (or overnight) so that they will not burn on the barbecue.

I rub my grill with a paper towel dipped in oil so that my shrimp will not stick to the grill. Plus it makes it easier to clean the grill. Home Depot told me so.

Cook the shrimp just til they are no longer translucent, a minute longer and they will be dried out. That could make you very unpopular.

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Recipe: Easy

 
 

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

 

For Pete’s sake, I am obsessed with the Aqua Fresca. What is it you may ask. Well guys, it’s a drink popular in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean, and it’s simple, and refreshing and so darn easy to make. Aqua Fresca is basically sugar, water and fresh fruit, and it’s all I drink all summer long.

When entertaining friends in the backyard I like to make these with fresh pineapple, watermelon, cucumber, or if I wanna get funky I might even use some hibiscus. The key to the perfect Agua Fresca is to serve it over a lot of ice. And if you can, get those cute little, striped straws because they just liven things up!

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca 

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Simple Syrup Infused with Vanilla and Thyme

Simple Syrup infused with Vanilla and Thyme

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Mama’s Tips:

I don’t wash my berries until I am ready to use them as water will make them grow moldy quicker.  To “hull” the strawberries, I gently pull off the green, leafy top and then with the tip of a sharp pairing knife, I cut out the white core moving in a circular motion around the top of the strawberry, and discard the white part. There is a tool that you can use if you hull large quantities of strawberries on a regular basis, but I have never tried it.

Look in your cupboards and find some creative or unusual containers to serve the drinks in.

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Strawberry Aqua Fresca

Recipe: Easy 

 
 

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

 

One of the things I look forward to the most in my life, are the weekly visits from son #1, “the chef”.  He’s a hard working guy who works 5 to 6 days a week, 14+ hours a day. So I have come to cherish that hour a week he’ll come and sit at my kitchen table and just talk to me about what’s going on his life.

As we sit across the table from one another, there is usually some kind of snack or homemade treat plopped on a plate in between us, because serious talking must always be accompanied by food.  Last week I didn’t really have anything to put out, so I grabbed a bag of chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, some pretzels and potato chips. As we sat talking, we were sandwiching the two kinds of chips and the pretzels in between two large potato chips. We both kind of looked at each other and said damn, this is an amazing combination, bet it would make an awesome cookie!

I thought to myself, wow, how brilliant am I to have come up with this crazy-good flavor combination. Well, then I Googled it, and apparently thousands of other people have the same idea. So, I guess I’m not so brilliant. But you know what, I think you’re gonna really like these Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies.  You’ve got your sweet, your salty, and your crunchy all in one convenient cookie.

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

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Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Mama’s Tips:

I use an ice cream scoop to form my cookies. You want all the cookies to be the same size so that they will bake evenly.

If you can, get the “Kettle” chips as they are a sturdier chip. You don’t want the chips to get too pulverized or they won’t add crunch to the cookie.

Always add the chips, pretzels and potato chips last, and preferably mix these ingredients in by hand using a large spatula or wooden spoon.  Mix just until ingredients are incorporated.

You can take your butter and eggs out the night before or two hours before baking for room temperature ingredients.

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Pretzel and Potato Chip Cookies

Recipe: Easy