The Best Potato Salad – My Mother’s Recipe

I grew up in Texas where potato salad is a staple at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings and I believe the best potato salad is my mother’s recipe.

The Best Texas Potato Salad

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

Potato salad is pretty much a blank canvas that you can prepare to your own tastes. So what is it about a recipe that makes it go from a good to great tasting side dish? Are there secret ingredients that can make potato salad special? I believe that my mother had the answer to those questions.

In Texas smoked meats and potato salad are a real crowd pleaser at backyard cookouts, graduations, family celebrations and even weddings. Texans know good potato salad and most every family has their favorite recipe but to my thinking, my mother’s recipe was and still is the best. Like many other home cooks, she used hardboiled eggs, onion, celery, and mayonnaise but what made hers special were dill pickles, some of the pickle juice and mustard. The zesty flavor of mustard and briny pickles brighten the flavor of the potato salad and goes especially well with the smoky goodness of barbecue. She did one other thing that made her recipe special and that is to “cook the potatoes in their jackets” as she used to say. She cooked the potatoes with the skin on then peeled them so they retained their nutrients and flavor, didn’t get watery and didn’t fall apart.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad Made With Eggs, Dill Pickles And Mustard

My mother never measured when cooking, everything was done to taste. Like her, I usually don’t measure unless I’m sharing a recipe with my readers then I measure all of the ingredients until the flavor is just right. I like to taste as I go and you should as well. The last thing you want is bland potato salad and the potatoes you use will determine how much seasoning your potatoes will need. This recipe creates a flavorful potato salad that has a zippy taste from the pickles and mustard while the red onions and celery add a nice crispness to counter the softer eggs and potatoes.

The Best Potato Salad - My Mother's Recipe

The Best Potato Salad Is My Mother’s Recipe

My Mother’s Potato Salad

  • 3 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 1/2 large red onion diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 or 2 dill pickles, diced, I use Claussen’s refrigerated pickles
  • 1 c. mayonnaise, I used Duke’s
  • 5 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 – 2 tsp. salt, to your taste
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp. pickle juice (if needed add an addition Tbsp., one at a time, until the taste is to your liking) I needed a total of 8 Tbsp. for the potatoes I used
  • 6 hardboiled eggs, peeled (5 cubed and 1 sliced for garnish)
  • chopped parsley or dill for garnish

Place the whole potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by 2 – 3 inches and salt water generously. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium, cook at a gentle boil until tender about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Add additional water, if necessary, to keep the potatoes covered. Drain the potatoes and let rest on a large tray until cool enough to handle then peel and cut into cubes.

Place the potatoes into a very large mixing bowl then add the onions, celery and pickles. In a small bowl, mix together the mayo, mustard, salt, pepper and 4 Tbsp. of pickle juice. Pour over the potatoes and mix gently until all the potatoes are well coated then taste and adjust seasonings and pickle juice, if necessary. Add the cubed hardboiled eggs and gently mix. Cover and refrigerate several hours but preferably overnight for the flavors to blend. When ready to serve, taste one last time to see if any additional seasoning is required, then garnish with sliced hardboiled eggs and parsley.

Notes:

  • Use good quality waxy potatoes, I used Yukon gold.
  • Use potatoes that are firm, with no dark spots, deep cuts or sprouting eyes.
  • Try to use potatoes that are all the same size. If not, you may need to remove smaller potatoes when cooked while larger potatoes may need to cook a little longer.
  • Make sure the potatoes are cooked through. There is nothing worse than eating undercooked, crunchy potatoes.
  • Potatoes are done when a long metal skewer, fork or thin knife can slide all the way through without resistance.
  • Remember that potatoes need to be well seasoned. You may need to increase or decrease some of the ingredients so I would suggest to taste several times before refrigerating.
  • Don’t over mix or you will end up with mashed potatoes.
  • Add eggs at the end and mix gently so that they don’t completely fall apart.
  • Potato salad tastes better after being refrigerated for several hours or even better made one day in advance.
  • Garnish the potato salad with sliced hardboiled eggs, parsley, dill or paprika, if desired.
  • Depending on your taste, you can add or remove ingredients to your liking. Make the recipe your own by adding chopped bacon, sliced scallions, olives, capers or even sweet pickle relish but then again, it won’t be My Mother’s Recipe.

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Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer and backyard cookouts so I thought this was the perfect time to share this old-fashioned recipe of my mother’s with my readers. It is one of my favorite summer sides to serve with barbecue, hamburgers, hotdogs or sandwiches, it is great to take to a potluck meal for a group of friends or to serve with southern fried chicken or baked ham at your family dinner table. Tell me, do some of the foods that you love come from recipes that your mother originally made for you. My mother’s fried chicken and potato salad will always be my favorites.

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Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Jamaican Curry Shrimp brings the flavors and tastes from the Caribbean island of Jamaica into your own home. The easy recipe can be on your table in 30 minutes making it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

This delicious Jamaican curry shrimp has a warm and robust flavor without being hot. It is different from Indian or South Asian curries, especially those traditionally served in Britain, because Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and has less heat than curry powders from other countries. While somewhat spicy, this recipe is not hot as it gets its taste solely from the curry powder. You can easily adjust the curry to your own heat preference by either adding some hot pepper sauce or a fresh chopped scotch bonnet or habanero pepper to the recipe if you really want to go for the heat.

While not all Jamaican curries call for coconut milk, it does add a wonderful flavor and richness to this island recipe. I like to serve this Jamaican shrimp curry, which is a little spicy and rich tasting, over rice and then garnished with sliced green onions and a wedge of lime.

Jamaican Curry Shrimp

Recipe serves two, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. Jamaican curry powder or to taste * see note
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 green onion (scallion) sliced for garnish
  • sliced limes (optional)

Note: For an authentic flavor, use Jamaican curry powder. If you can’t locate it where you live, you can use Madras curry power and add some allspice but know that the flavor will be different. Instead of a yellow color, it will be darker and spicer because of the red pepper found in Madras.

Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent. Add the curry powder, mix well, and cook about a minute. Pour in the coconut milk, stir well, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomato, thyme, salt and pepper and simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer in the sauce until they are firm, pink, and cooked through, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Make sure to not overcook or the shrimp will be tough. Spoon the shrimp curry on top of cooked rice, if you wish, and garnish with green onions and a slice of lime.

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Jamaica is the first Caribbean island that I’ve visited where the food really impressed me. Huge succulent shrimp, known locally as “janga”, that were almost the size of small lobsters served in an upscale restaurant. Homestyle curried goat served under florescent lights at formica tables in a tiny shop where the locals ate. The most memorable meal, however, was jerk chicken that was being sold at an open air shack at a road’s edge that was recommended by a local. The chicken was smoked in a pit over pimento wood logs under a piece of corrugated roofing metal, chopped then sold by the quarter, half or full pound and eaten with your fingers. The chicken was charred yet moist, smokey and savory from the herbs and spices of the jerk seasonings. Needless to say, there was a scotch bonnet jerk sauce if you wanted to eat it like the locals…really hot. One small spoonful made your eyes water and your nose run. My curry shrimp recipe won’t do that.

When you want a quick and easy weeknight dinner, think about this Jamaican curry shrimp recipe. Served over a bed of rice with a squeeze of lime juice, it will bring the flavors and tastes of the Caribbean to your own kitchen table. Have some reggae music playing in the background, open a bottle of Red Stripe beer and perhaps this delicious curry will inspire you to start planning a tropical vacation to the island of Jamaica.

 

 

 

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Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs are a delicious twist on two Italian American classics, chicken parmesan and spaghetti and meatballs. Juicy chicken meatballs coated in crunchy breadcrumbs, baked with marinara sauce and topped with mozzarella cheese.

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs On Fettuccine

Top your favorite pasta with these crispy chicken parmesan meatballs or use them in a chicken parmesan meatball sub or sliders. For a tasty appetizer, just make them bite size and serve the mini chicken parmesan meatballs with a side of marinara dipping sauce at your next party. Anyway you try them, you are going to say “that’s a really good meatball”.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

For this recipe, ground chicken is seasoned with Italian herbs and parmesan cheese, formed into golf ball size meatballs and rolled in a crisp coating of panko breadcrumbs. They are pan sautéed in olive oil until golden, topped with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese and then finished in the oven. The result is a new twist on an Italian classic that I believe you will enjoy.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Recipe serves 4, adjust the recipe according.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • 1 large egg, whisked with 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1/2 c. of homemade or flavored Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese plus an additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 – 2 tsp. chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • a pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp. olive oil (if needed)
  • 1 c. panko breadcrumbs
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 3 c. homemade marinara sauce or a jar of your favorite bottled sauce
  • 1/2 c. freshly grated mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl combine the ground chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese, onion and herbs, season generously with salt and pepper and mix well. Take a small piece of the mixture and cook it then taste for seasonings. If the chicken is bland, add more salt. If dry, add 1 or 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the mixture. Refrigerate the chicken about 10 minutes then form into 12 meatballs. Place the panko breadcrumbs plus 2 Tbsp. of parmesan cheese into a shallow bowl, mix then place the meatballs into the crumbs, one at a time, and roll until completely covered in crumbs.

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add meatballs and brown on all sides. Transfer meatballs to a foil lined baking sheet or a large casserole dish. Top with a spoonful of marinara sauce and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with mozzarella cheese then return to the oven and bake until cheese melts and chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

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Notes:

  • You can buy either ground breast of chicken or a mixture of breast and thigh meat. The mixture will produce a slightly moister meatball than just breast meat alone.
  • Ground turkey can be substituted for chicken if you wish.
  • If the chicken mixture appears a little dry, you can add 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil to produce a juicier meatball.
  • Refrigerating the ground chicken mixture 10 minutes will help you form the meatballs without the mixture sticking to your hands. You can also moisten your hands with water to help keep the chicken from sticking.
  • You can just bake the meatballs in the oven until they reach an internal temperature of 165, about 30 min. but they will not be as crispy as browning them first then baking.
  • I made a quick homemade marinara sauce from one large 28 oz. can of San Marzano whole tomatoes but you can use your favorite bottled sauce if you wish.

If you have leftover meatballs, they can be reheated but they will not be crunchy like the first day. This is when the meatballs make a great chicken parmesan meatball sub. Place a couple of the meatballs in each sub roll, ladle marinara sauce over the top, sprinkle with a little extra mozzarella and bake in a 350 degree oven until they are warm and the cheese has melted. It doesn’t get much better than that…it is real comfort food.

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

Crispy Chicken Parmesan Meatballs, Hot Out Of The Oven

Whether you have chicken parmesan meatballs with pasta, a chicken parmesan meatball sub in front of the TV for game day munching or make mini versions of the crispy chicken parmesan meatballs to serve as an appetizer next to a side of marinara sauce, I believe you will enjoy this versatile recipe…a twist on two Italian American classics.

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Shrimp and Black Bean Hummus Tostadas

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas, a Mediterranean meets the Southwest recipe. Crispy corn tostadas layered with black bean hummus, topped with spicy marinated shrimp and cooling cilantro yogurt sauce. A dish that’s big on flavors but healthier and lighter than most tostadas.

Black Bean Hummus Tostada With Shrimp

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas, Mediterranean Meets The Southwest

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas are a healthy, light dish that combines both Mediterranean and Southwest flavors. The tostadas start out with baked, not fried, corn tortillas that are layered with black bean hummus and shredded lettuce. Then shrimp, red onion, jalapeño peppers and cilantro are marinated in a light and tasty dressing of olive oil, lime juice, and jalapeño tabasco and piled high on the tortillas. They are then topped off with a cooling cilantro yogurt sauce. You will be happy to know that the shrimp and black bean hummus tostadas are loaded with flavor but don’t have as much fat as your typical tostadas so they are a lighter and healthier option. The tostadas are also a quick and easy recipe to prepare, making them perfect for either lunch or part of a weeknight dinner.

Shrimp And Black Bean Hummus Tostadas

Recipe serves 4, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 4 baked corn tortillas, recipe below
  • 8 oz. black bean hummus* see note below
  • 1 c. shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 lb. marinated shrimp, recipe below
  •  cilantro yogurt sauce, recipe below

Spread 3 – 4 Tbsp. of hummus on each tortilla and top with shredded letter. Mound each with a 1/4 of the shrimp and top with a large dollop of yogurt sauce. Plate and serve with additional yogurt sauce on the side as a dip with tortilla chips or veggies.

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 c. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 small pickling cucumber or 1/2 of a regular cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro or to your taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly salt the cucumber, place in a sieve over a bowl and let drain for 10 minutes. Warm the olive oil and garlic in a small bowl in the microwave for 5 seconds (this mellows the flavor of the garlic but is an optional step) then let cool. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary

Spicy Cilantro Lime Shrimp*

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • juice of half a lime or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. green jalapeño tabasco sauce or to your heat preference
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, more or less
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 c. finely diced red onion
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. finely chopped cilantro

*The shrimp have heat but don’t burn your mouth. You can adjust the spiciness of the shrimp up or down with how much jalapeño tabasco sauce and fresh jalapeños you use as some peppers are hotter than others. If you like a lot of heat, leave in the jalapeño seeds.

In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients through the black pepper and whisk well to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Stir in the shrimp, jalapeño, red onion and cilantro.

Baked Tortillas

Place 4 corn tortillas on a baking sheet and brush both sides of the tortillas with a small amount of olive oil then season with a little salt. Bake in a 400 degree oven about 5 minutes, turn over and bake for another 5 minutes (watch so they don’t burn) until brown and crispy. If you want really flat tortillas, you can place a wire cooling rack on top of the tortillas while baking.

Note: * I used Boar’s Head Hummus Southwest Style* which contains steamed chickpeas, black beans, water, roasted garlic, lemon juice, sesame tahini, sea salt, cumin, white vinegar, tabasco chili peppers and salt. (I did not receive any products or compensation for mentioning this brand. I find it to be an excellent hummus but use whatever brand you might prefer or you can make your own.)

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The shrimp and black bean hummus tostadas would be perfect on Cinco de Mayo. If you would like other ideas of what to serve, you might want to check out these recipes:

Click on any photo to enlarge and see a slide show.

Whether you are planning a southwestern style dinner for your family or for a group of friends to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo holiday, I believe any of these dishes alone or combined would be perfect. Have fun and enjoy!

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Barcelona’s Famous Mercat de la Boqueria And Kiosk Universal

If you are a lover of food, you must visit Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market. Keep in mind that you won’t be alone, thousands of shoppers as well as tourists visit every day so plan a visit early in the day if you can. 

Mercat de la Boqueria

Entrance At Mercat de la Boqueria

My husband and I are traveling foodies and if you have been one of my readers for a while, you know that we appreciate good food whether we dine at a Michelin starred European restaurant or eat at a small clam shack along the coast of New England. When visiting a new city, one of the things we like to do is walk through local markets to learn about the culinary traditions that we might encounter during our stay.

When planning for our visit to Barcelona last year, we both knew that we had to visit the Mercat de la Boqueria. It is the city’s most famous food market where some of the top restaurants in Barcelona shop for their fresh ingredients for each day’s special offerings.

During my research on Barcelona, I read that the market gets thousands of shoppers and tourists visiting the market each day. From our visit there, I would suggest planning to go to la Boqueria between 10 A.M. and noon, 9 A.M. if you want to have breakfast there.

Click on any photo below to enlarge and see a slide show.

Wander up and down all the food aisles and marvel at the huge selection of carefully stacked fresh produce, tropical fruits, all kinds of seafood, meats including Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, thought to be the finest ham in the world, fresh baked pastries and sweets that are all beautifully displayed.

One of the pleasures of visiting la Boqueria, is being able to sample some of the wonderful food that you have admired like croquetas, empanadas and fresh fruit smoothies.

If you are like lots of the people visiting the market who plan to have lunch there, know that space is extremely limited at the small food counters. I would recommend trying to eat a little earlier than the regular lunch crowd. Check each of the small restaurants blackboards listing their daily specials and decide where you want to eat. If the restaurant’s counter is full, keep an eye out for people who are just finishing their meal and perhaps you can grab their stools as soon as they pay and leave.

On our visit, we decided that we wanted to eat at Kiosk Universal, which is located in the middle of the market. It specializes in grilled seafood such as Galician octopus, scallops, razor clams and baby squid. They also serve meat for those that don’t care for seafood. What also made us decide on the restaurant was the giant platter of seasonal wild mushrooms on display along with platters of fresh vegetables and potatoes that you could order as appetizers or sides.

Kiosk Universal has a very large counter with stools and a half dozen or so tall tables in a seating area just to the side. They will take your name and put you on a wait list if there are no seats available but we were lucky enough to get two stools at the counter when a couple stood up to leave right when we walked up.

Kiosk Universal has a large blackboard above the grill that lists their specials of the day in both Spanish and English which makes ordering easy. There is also a printed menu in both languages. What we thought was fun about sitting at the counter is that you get to watch the cooks preparing each order right in front of you. A lot of the fresh fish and vegetables are displayed along the counters and if you see something you like, you can just point to it.

The mixed grilled vegetables we had as an appetizer were great, the fresh seafood was simply prepared with olive oil, lemon and seasonings and cooked to perfection, the mixed grilled wild mushrooms had amazing flavors and they all went well with chilled glasses of white wine. While you may be able to eat cheaper somewhere else, the atmosphere and freshness of the food couldn’t be better…we think it is a must try if you love seafood.

Local Farm Stands Outside la Boqueria

Additional Local Farm Stands Outside Mercat de la Boqueria

The market can be very crowded at times with local shoppers as well as tourists but we throughly enjoyed our visit and lunch at Kiosk Universal. After all, where can you go nowadays and not find tourists and the Mercat de la Boqueria has become one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions. The atmospheric market is a must see if you happen to be foodies like we are and want to get familiar with the culinary traditions of the region.

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There are nearly 40 wonderful food markets in Barcelona where locals do their shopping but if you are a first time visitor, you should try not to miss Mercat de la Boqueria which is also called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boquería by the locals. The market is located just off Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street which you will surely be visiting before the end of your stay. Note that the market is closed on Sundays and that during the week, some stalls close around 2 P.M. so plan your visit accordingly.

 

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Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast with Lobster Salad is the ultimate party appetizer. It is easy to make, easy to eat and it is “the most popular appetizer” I’ve ever served. I guarantee that this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre will get rave reviews from your guests at your next cocktail party or special occasion.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, The Ultimate Party Appetizer

Avocado toast, one of the most popular trends for breakfast, lunch or dinner, can become the ultimate party appetizer when made in a mini version that is then garnished with lobster salad. If lobster isn’t available in your area, make it with crab salad or shrimp salad for an equally delicious appetizer. The toasted brioche is a light but study base for the avocado and lobster salad, adding to both the taste and texture of this elegant one-bite hors d’oeuvre that you should serve at your next cocktail party or special occasion. Just imagine the buttery goodness of brioche, the velvety richness of avocado and succulent lobster all combined in one little mouthful of decadent deliciousness. You must try it.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Making the mini avocado toasts couldn’t be any easier. Toast the bread, mash the avocado and make a simple lobster salad…even the least experienced cook should have no trouble preparing this appetizer. The brioche toast and lobster salad can be prepared up to two days in advance. I would suggest preparing the avocado shortly before serving so that the avocado doesn’t turn brown. If you must make it a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture and refrigerate. To assemble, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with a little chopped chives, if desired.  I made mine 30 minutes before taking them to a dinner party. During the cocktail hour, they stayed crisp…but keep in mind that the longer the appetizers sit, the avocado may start to soften the crisp brioche toast.

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad, “The Most Popular Appetizer I Ever Served”

Mini Avocado Toast With Lobster Salad 

Makes 24 pieces, adjust the recipe accordingly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Brioche Toast

  • 6 slices of brioche bread sliced 1/2 inch thick

Cut crusts off the brioche slices then cut each slice into 4 pieces and place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven until lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool.

Lobster Salad

  • 6 oz. pre cooked lobster meat, diced very small (I used 2 small Florida lobster tails)
  • 1 stalk of celery (a tender stalk from the heart), finely diced
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. chives, finely chopped plus extra for garnish, if desired
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • salt to taste

Place the lobster, lemon juice, celery and mayonnaise into a bowl and mix. Add tarragon, chives, cayenne and salt then mix gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Avocado

  • 2 small avocados
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper or to taste
  • salt to taste

Slice the avocados in half, remove the pits and scoop flesh into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mash with a fork until smooth then season with the white pepper and salt.

To assemble the appetizers, spoon about a teaspoon of avocado on the toast, top with a teaspoon of lobster salad and garnish with chives, if desired.

Tips:

  • When you buy your lobster or lobster tails, ask your market to steam them for you. Most fish markets will gladly do it at no charge.
  • When dicing the lobster and celery, you want to cut them very small as you will only be using about a teaspoon of the salad on each little toast.
  • Do not use too much mayonnaise, just enough to hold the lobster together yet not be dry. You may substitute one tablespoon of the mayonnaise with a tablespoon of crème fraîche, if desired.
  • The lobster salad can be made up to two days in advance, covered and refrigerated.
  • The brioche toast can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
  • If you must make the avocado mixture a couple of hours in advance, smooth plastic wrap directly on the avocado mixture to keep it from turning brown and refrigerate.
  • Do not assemble the appetizers too far in advance so that the brioche toast stays crisp.

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The mini avocado toasts topped with the lobster salad were the most popular appetizer I’ve ever made and over the years, I can tell you that I’ve made a lot. I expect that when I entertain that one of the women might come up to me and talk about something I have prepared, perhaps even ask about the recipe. But when I brought the avocado toasts to a dinner party recently, everyone commented. One of the men said he could have eaten a whole plate full, another asked when was I planning to make them again. Enough said.

 

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Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna, a delicious layered pasta dish of flavorful lamb ragù and creamy béchamel sauce, is so good that it will be featured as the main course this Easter Sunday. A savory Italian Easter pie called Pizza Gaina will start the happy celebration.

For centuries Easter has been a feast day and the most popular main course in Italy, where the holiday is known as Pasqua, has traditionally been lamb, most often grilled or roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. While delicious, I wanted to prepare something different this year.

Lamb Lasagna

Lamb Lasagna

A pasta course is also served on Easter but we are eating lighter now. With that in mind, I decided to combine two Italian traditions, pasta and lamb, and just make lamb lasagna. Lighter than lasagna made with lots of mozzarella, ricotta, and a thick Bolognese sauce, the Italian lamb lasagna I’m making will make a delicious Easter lunch.

Lamb Lasagna

Recipe serves 4, adjust accordingly

Lamb Ragù 

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil plus additional 2 Tbsp.
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 c. beef stock
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. dried basil
  • l large bay leaf
  • a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a pinch of sugar, to adjust the acidity of the tomatoes, if necessary

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the lamb and season with salt. Cook until brown, about 5 min., stirring and breaking the lamb up into small pieces. Remove the lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the meantime, put the celery, carrots and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Drain the lamb fat from the pot and add the additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half then add the stock.

Puree 1 can of the tomatoes and add to the pot. Squash the other can of tomatoes with your hands until broken down then add to the pot. Add all the seasonings and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lamb back to the pot and let simmer until the sauce is the consistency you desire. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Béchamel 

  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour (I used Wondra)
  • 4 Tbsp. grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and ground white pepper to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour, making sure any lumps dissolve. Pour in the milk a little at a time and continue to whisk until it starts to thicken. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the béchamel thickens. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk.

Assemble the lasagna:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  • 1 8 oz. box of oven ready lasagna (I used Ronzoni)
  • ragù, recipe above
  • béchamel sauce, recipe above
  • 4 Tbsp. of grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese

Start with a layer of ragù in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch lasagna pan then place 3 pieces of pasta on top. Add a layer of ragù topped with a layer of béchamel. Repeat with pasta, ragù and béchamel two more times. Finish with the remaining 3 pieces of pasta. Spread the remaining béchamel sauce completely over the pasta, then sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is golden about 10 minutes. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting so the lasagna firms up.

Italian Lamb Lasagna

Italian Lamb Lasagna For Easter

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While the lasagna is baking, I’ll serve a small portion of an Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Gaina, you can find the recipe here. Similar to a quiche, they go by many names, Tarta Pascualina, Pizza Rustica, Pizza Chena, or Pizza Gaina and are made with ricotta cheese and sautéed greens or a variety of cheeses and cured meats. It is one of my husband’s favorite Italian Easter dishes that his mother always prepared. Served to celebrate the end of lent, it can be a meal all by itself.

Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

Savory Italian Easter Pie Called Pizza Gaina

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Notes:

  • Lamb fat can have a strong taste, so I like to drain the fat after browning, and replace it with a mixture of olive oil and butter.
  • I like to use no boil lasagna in place of the traditional boxed noodles that you pre-boil, I find that they are thinner, more tender and I think much like homemade. Of course, you also have the option to use fresh sheets of pasta for the recipe.
  • The lasagna can be created ahead of time and not baked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake for  35 minutes, remove foil and bake 10 minutes to brown.
  • If frozen, bake the lasagna for about an hour and a half, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  • You can also bake the lasagna a day ahead. Reheat covered at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 until hot and bubbly.
  • If you want to serve ragù on the side with the lasagna, add an additional can of tomatoes to the ragù recipe.

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I served the lamb lasagna to friends over the weekend and everyone enjoyed it. My husband said he now prefers the lasagna made with béchamel over one that is made with ricotta and mozzarella, saying it is much lighter. When I prepare the lamb lasagna for our Easter lunch, I’ll be serving a salad made with fresh spring peas and asparagus topped with sliced hard boiled eggs. Garlic bread and a good bottle of red wine and we will be happy. Whether you decide to prepare the lamb lasagna for your Easter meal or serve it for a weekend dinner during the year, I do hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.

 

 

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Party Antipasto Salad

This easy Party Antipasto Salad, loaded with a large selection of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables, will seriously impress guests. Whether served at your own dinner party or taken to a potluck or backyard barbecue, this traditional Italian first course salad, with its variety of flavors, textures and colors, is always a crowd pleaser.

Party Antipasto Salad

Party Antipasto Salad

You will love the salad recipe as it can easily be cut in half if you are serving it to a small group of friends or doubled or even tripled if you are serving it to a large crowd at a party. If you don’t care for one of the Italian cured meats that I have suggested, substitute another cured meat, perhaps hot capicola. Want to add a pasta, by all means do so. One thing I would suggest though, save a bowl of the salad for yourself or your family for the next day, it is delicious. Served along with a loaf of crusty bread, I know that it certainly makes my husband very happy.

Party Antipasto Salad

  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of mortadella, cubed
  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of sopressata or other hard salami, cubed
  • 2 or 3 slices, about 1/2 in. thick of picante (sharp) provolone, cubed
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 pint carton cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 14 oz. cans baby artichoke hearts, drained well and cut in half
  • 1 12 oz. jar marinated mushrooms, drained
  • 1 c. pitted green olives
  • 1 c. pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 7 oz. jar cocktail onions, drained
  • 1 16 oz. jar deli sliced roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 15 oz. can garbonzo beans (chick peas), drained

Italian Vinaigrette

  • juice of 1 lemon or 1/4 c. red wine vinegar, whichever you prefer, adjusting to your taste, if necessary
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the Italian Vinaigrette by combining the lemon juice or vinegar, olive oil, garlic, dried oregano, basil, salt and pepper in a jar. Top with a lid, shake and taste to adjust for seasonings, if necessary. An alternative vinaigrette that you might prefer would be my Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette which you can find here.

Put all the remaining antipasto ingredients in a large bowl, mix gently then add the vinaigrette. Mix everything well and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours then serve.

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I made the antipasto salad to take to a party of 50 people. The hosts had prepared roasted pork tenderloins and eggplant parmesan. Other guests brought appetizers, salads, sides and desserts. When making a dish for a large group, please don’t feel that you need to prepare a serving for each guest. There are usually so many different dishes that everyone wants to try and each person will probably just take a small portion of each. When trying to determine how much to make for this group of 50, I felt the quantity in this recipe was appropriate…even keeping a little for my husband and I to enjoy the next day. That is what you see in the photographs. If I was serving this as a plated first course, I would say it would serve 8 to 10, perhaps with leftovers.

Antipasto Salad

A Small Bowl Of Antipasto Salad

I must admit that this can be an expensive dish if you are preparing it for a large crowd. You can certainly cut down on the amount of meat and add pasta such as tortellini or a sturdy green such as romaine. If you add greens to the recipe, make sure that you don’t add the salad dressing or toss until right before serving.

Antipasto Platter

Antipasto Platter

An antipasto platter like the one above, can be found at many Italian family gatherings, they make a presence on our table often. A trip to your local deli counter plus a stop at the produce counter can provide you with a delicious first course that is not only simple to put together but your guests will enjoy as well. The next time you entertain, for either a small gathering at your home or for a large crowd, think about a traditional Italian antipasto salad or platter, you can’t go wrong with either one.

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White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Warm white beans tossed with a homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette is a simple dish with flavors that bring back memories from my travels in Italy. White Beans / Lemon / Parmesan / Anchovies / Garlic / Olive Oil / Herbs…simple ingredients that season the beans so well that they almost outshine whatever you happen to serve them with.

Chicken And Roasted Tomatoes On A Bed Of White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

I have to thank my very best friend for introducing me to these delicious beans. She served them as a first course at a summer dinner party in Nantucket. Over the course of the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe depending on what I’m serving the beans with but most of the time I tend to serve them with chicken. I’ve pan sautéed chicken thighs and served them on a bed of the white beans along with oven roasted tomatoes. I have also served the beans as a warm salad with cherry tomatoes from our local market. On a busy weeknight, the bean and tomato salad and a store bought rotisserie chicken topped with a quickly made fresh green herb sauce makes for quick and flavorful Tuscan inspired dinner.

Warm White Bean And Tomato Salad Alongside Chicken With Green Sauce

When you have time, you can create this dish using dried cannellini beans that you cook with fresh herbs much like a cook in Tuscany would do. I’ve included the recipe if that is what you prefer. If you are short on time as many of us are, you can use canned cannellini, great northern or whatever white beans you might have in your pantry. Either way you decide to prepare the beans, I think you will find them to be a delicious side dish.

White Beans With A Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • juice of one small lemon, about 1/4 cup
  • grated zest of 1 lemon, about 1 tsp.
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. anchovy paste or 2 to 3 anchovy filets, finely minced
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Locatelli Romano cheese

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper, mustard and anchovy until well blended. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking until emulsified then stir in the parmesan cheese. Taste and adjust for seasoning…it should be very flavorful. The vinaigrette can be made ahead and refrigerated up to a week. Bring to room temperature and whisk to recombine before using.

White Beans

Serves  4 – 6 as a side dish, adjust the recipe accordingly.

  • 2  19oz. cans cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed or 4 c. cooked white beans of your choice* (recipe below)
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 c. chicken stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, halved (If you are making a warm bean salad)
  • 1/4 c. chopped basil or parsley (If you are making a warm bean salad)

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large sauté pan then add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme then cook for another minute. Add the stock and cook for an additional minute. Add the beans to the pan and simmer until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the beans into a large bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the warm beans and gently fold until the beans are well coated. Let sit for a few minutes as the beans gradually absorb the vinaigrette. Toss several more times, being careful not to mash the beans when tossing. If the beans appear too dry, drizzle in a little extra olive oil. If you wish to make a warm bean salad, add the tomatoes and the basil or parsley and carefully mix together. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary, and then serve.

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*Cooked White Beans:  Place 1 cup of dried cannellini beans in large pot and cover with cold water by 3 to 4 inches (about 6 cups) and let soak overnight. Wash and drain beans. Place in a large pot and cover with water again by about an inch or two. Add a half onion and  couple sprigs of rosemary, thyme and parsley tied together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour, stirring occasionally. Season the beans with salt and pepper to taste and continue to simmer until beans are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour longer. Add more water, if necessary, to keep beans covered with liquid. Cool beans in liquid for about 15 minutes then remove the onion and herbs. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a large bowl and keep warm. If you are not using the beans right away, reserve some of the cooking liquid in case the beans appear dry when continuing the recipe.

White Beans With Lemon Parmesan Vinaigrette

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The homemade vinaigrette is light yet very flavorful and is what gives the beans such a terrific taste. It is so good that you might want to double or triple the recipe and serve it on salads made with fresh ingredients from your seasonal vegetable garden or from your local farmer’s market. Pour what you are not immediately using for the bean recipe into a jar and refrigerate up to a week. For the best flavor, bring what you need to room temperature and whisk or shake to recombine.

My girlfriend shared her recipe with me (which of course I’ve changed a little over the years) and now I’m sharing it with you. I hope you will enjoy the white beans with the homemade lemon parmesan vinaigrette as much as my husband and I do and perhaps you will end up sharing the recipe with one of your friends.

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Pimento Cheese, A Southern Staple

Pimento Cheese is one of the south’s most cherished staples and is often referred to as the “pâté of the South”. You will see it served at ladies luncheons, picnics, church potlucks, weddings, funerals and even at the Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National.

Pimento Cheese And Crackers, A Southern Snack

If you are not from the southern part of the U.S., you may have never heard of pimento cheese and might wonder why it is so popular. This creamy cheese spread is true southern comfort food made with a blend of sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, roasted sweet pimento peppers and various seasonings. Ask any southerner for their recipe and it will probably be different from the next person you ask. They might make it with just cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimento like my mother did or they might add garlic, grated onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, jalapeños, pickles or even bacon.

Husk Is One of Charleston’s Most Well Known Restaurants

Husk, a well known restaurant in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is noted for its farm to table meals. After entering through the front door, there is a huge chalk board that has a list of ingredients used in the days cooking and the farms they came from. When my husband and I visited for lunch one day, one of the signature items on the menu that we had to try was their “House Made Pimento Cheese, Grilled Crostini, Pickle Relish, Crispy Country Ham and Chives. It was different from what I’d had before and we both enjoyed sharing the appetizer to start our lunch. I knew then that one day I would have to try making their version.

Pimento Crostini With Sweet Relish And Bacon On Crostini

Chef Sean Brock, a James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef Southeast”, founding chef and now culinary advisor at Husk shared his very popular pimento cheese recipe in his cookbook called  “Heritage” and it was the inspiration for the pimento cheese recipe I’m sharing here.

Pimento Cheese

  • 7 oz. jar of diced pimento, drained well
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c. mayonnaise (Duke’s is the brand I used)
  • 1/2 tsp. hot sauce such as Tabasco or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 8 oz. block extra sharp white cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 8 oz. block sharp cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles with some of the brine (I used Mt. Olive Simply Relish, deli style sweet)

Grate the cheese on a box grater or food processor and set aside. Place the cream cheese in a medium bowl and stir until softened. Add the mayonnaise, Tabasco, spices and mix well. Add the grated cheese and relish and mix until well combined. Fold in the diced pimento. Taste and  adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tips and Notes:

  1. I used jarred diced pimento but if your market has fresh pimento peppers, you can roast, peel, seed and dice them like Chef Brock.
  2. In the past, I used Hellman’s mayonnaise but Chef Brock and most southerners prefer Dukes. I bought it and am now a convert as the taste is more like homemade. Start with 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and if the mixture seems too thick add 1 or 2 Tbsp. more.
  3. Don’t use pre-shredded packaged cheese, it is too dry.
  4. I used two 8 oz. blocks of cheddar, one white extra sharp cheddar and one sharp cheddar but you can use 1 lb. of sharp cheddar if you wish.
  5. Chef Brock’s recipe called for 1/4 cup pickled ramps, chopped, plus 1/2 cup of the brine which I doubt anyone will find. He suggested to substitute finely chopped bread-and-butter pickles and brine. I only used a 1/4 cup of sweet relish that included a little of the brine in the measuring cup.
  6. Chef Brock used a 1/2 tsp. of salt and 1/4 tsp. sugar in his recipe but I didn’t add either to my recipe.
  7. If you want a creamier spread, blend with a hand mixer for a minute or two.
  8. For a more flavorful pimento cheese, prepare it several hours in advance of serving.
  9. When I had the appetizer at Husk, the pimento cheese was spread on grilled crostini and topped with sweet relish, crispy country ham and chives. I have served the pimento cheese in a similar fashion, using either toasted crostini or crackers and topped it with a sprinkle of the sweet pickle relish and crumbled bacon.
  10. The brands I mentioned are just personal preferences (not endorsements) and may not be available in your area. Use the best ingredients that you can find.

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I grew up eating pimento cheese sandwiches because my mother was trying to stretch a dollar. Now you can find various versions of pimento cheese on menus in some of the best restaurants in the country. You can have it as a starter at Husk in Charleston, in a sandwich at the Masters Golf Tournament or as an ingredient in the mac and cheese served at Churchill Downs. Whether you decide to have pimento cheese in a sandwich, as a snack with crackers or celery sticks or perhaps as a topping on baked potatoes or burgers, I think you will enjoy this recipe…it is true southern comfort food.

 

 

 

 

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