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Bay Area Memories and Pot Sticker Soup

We have many memories about the time we spent in the San Francisco Bay Area. My sons consider it home and if you asked them, they would tell you that the experiences they had growing up there are as vivid and varied as ever. A young family living in an area with an incredibly high cost of living (that was then..now it’s insane) had to look for adventures that were off the beaten path and low-cost or free. The Bay Area has plenty of that. Beaches, forests, and mountains were our playground and everything was within reasonable driving distance.

While dining out was an occasional treat, we managed to have some favorites. There was Jack’s for Pizza, Fernando’s for Mexican, and for Chinese, there was Uncle Chen. None of these could be called fine dining. They all were comfortable, family friendly, and reasonably priced which back then was a three run homer. Fernando’s and Uncle Chen’s are still around, while Jack’s has been gone for many years. I don’t know how the survivors have fared over the years, but the memories of the sweet fried wonton skins and the pot stickers at Uncle Chen are a fond memory indeed.

I guess I was thinking back to those days when I decided to create my version of Pot Sticker img_2405Soup. The main inspiration came from a bag of Trader Joe’s Goyza (a.k.a. Pot Stickers)  that had been in the freezer for quite some time. I had seen a simple recipe for a Pot Sticker Soup and decided to take it up a few notches. Onions, garlic, ginger, and chili flakes joined forces in a bit of oil. Then I added some Red Curry Paste and a lot of homemade chicken stock. I let all of this simmer for a bit. You could leave the stock as is at this point or add some Fish Sauce for umami, Hoisin Sauce for a touch of sweetness, or some Sriracha to bring the heat. Hey. if you’re feeling randy, add them all.img_2408

I added a serious amount of vegetable matter. Napa cabbage, bok choy, and bell peppers to name a few. Then there were the pot stickers. I browned them as is the usual procedure, then added them to the soup. I kept their cooking time short to preserve there shape and texture.img_2419

The result was a very delicious soup made all the better by a drizzle if sesame oil, a few dots of sriracha, and some sliced scallions. Will this become a staple in Mama D’s Kitchen? Why yes, I believe that it will. Do I think you should give it a try? Absolutely. Here’s the basic recipe to get you started. You know that you can run with this in whatever direction you chooseimg_2423

Pot Sticker Soup
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Pot Sticker Soup
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or so, long enough for everything to get fragrant.
  2. Add the red curry paste and stir it into the onion mixture. Add the chicken stock and stir until the paste is well blended. Bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook, covered for 15 - 20 minutes.
  3. Uncover the pot and add the vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes...about the time it takes to brown the pot stickers.
  4. In a large skillet heat the remaining oil over medium high heat. Add the pot stickers and cook until the flatter side is golden brown.Drop the browned pot stickers into the soup and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  5. Divide the pot stickers into 4 soup bowls. Ladle the rest of the soup evenly among the bowls. Garnish with sesame oil, sriracha sauce and the scallions. Serve.
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Fall is here and the official start of “Soup Season” has descended into Mama D’s Kitchen. Now if the weather would just cooperate…

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A Very Grill Worthy Side: Artichoke and Mushroom Pilaf

We are finally seeing a change in the weather. The humidity has left the building so to speak, chased away by rain and a more than welcome cold front. Stores are decked out for Halloween and Pumpkin Spice everything is invading earth as we know it. That means that Fall is just around the corner, at least according to the calendar.

Cooler weather doesn’t mean that the grill is going into hibernation. Far from it. These are the evenings that were made for grilling. You can keep your grilling food company outside without breaking a sweat. That little bit of coolness in the air makes me think once again of comfort food. While I’m not ready for hearty casseroles and soups, a bit of a starchy and filling side dish is just what Mama D ordered. That’s how this little gem came to be.img_2319

I have taken some short cuts in the interest of time (school is back in session and so am I). I used one of those cooked rice pouches. These are surprisingly good when mixed with vegetables and seasonings. They have a firm texture meant to soften in the microwave, but when used on the stove with a flavorful liquid, the result is perfect al dente rice. There are several brands out there and they come in various flavors. I used a Long Grain and Wild Rice package. It had a little added flavor of its own without being too unhealthy, but I added a good amount of fresh thyme and homemade chicken stock for more personalized flavor.

You are more than welcome to cook your rice from scratch. If you do, cook it early in the day and let it chill out uncovered in the refrigerator for a few hours. This allows the rice to dry out resulting in more flavor absorption and less mushiness. 

The vegetable array consisted of artichoke hearts (Trader Joe’s Frozen), crimini mushrooms, and shallot. Then there was that generous handful of garden thyme….img_2325

The veggies sautéed in a skillet with a bit of olive oil and several splashes of chicken stock. When everything sported a late summer golden tan, I added the rice. and the thyme leaves. Then it was just a matter of letting everything get better acquainted while being plied with more chicken stock.img_2333

All of this took about as long as the chicken breasts needed to grill. The plate was finished with sautéed green and wax beans with baby carrots. Simple to make, quick to get ready and delicious to eat.img_2337

Artichoke and Mushroom Rice Pilaf
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This recipe uses a package of pre-cooked rice. you could cook your own, but do it early in the day and let it chill before adding it to the vegetables. Use any type of rice that you like. You could even do this with quinoa, farro, or barley.
Servings
3
Servings
3
Artichoke and Mushroom Rice Pilaf
Print Recipe
This recipe uses a package of pre-cooked rice. you could cook your own, but do it early in the day and let it chill before adding it to the vegetables. Use any type of rice that you like. You could even do this with quinoa, farro, or barley.
Servings
3
Servings
3
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Swirl the olive oil into a large heated skillet. Allow the oil to get hot. Add the artichoke hearts, mushrooms and shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until everything is lightly browned and tender. Add a little chicken stock if things seem too dry.
  2. Squeeze the package of rice to break it up. I used a Long Grain and Wild Rice Blend, but brown rice or any other grain would work. Open the package and add the rice to the skillet.
  3. Remove the thyme leaves from their stems by sliding your finger from the top to the bottom. Add the leaves to the skillet
  4. Toss to combine the ingredients and use a wooden spoon to separate the rice if necessary. Cook over medium heat, adding the chicken stock as needed. You want things to move around easily and to be a bit juicy.
  5. Continue to cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the rice is tender and the flavors are well blended. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. drizzle with a little olive oil.
  6. Serve with grilled meat, poultry or fish.
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As I write this it is a lovely afternoon, perfect for a walk, which I intend to do shortly. Enjoy this wonderful change in the season and give a hearty side dish a whirl.

 

 

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Mama D’s Day in the Country and a Visit to Whiskey Acres

Distilleries are popping up everywhere these days. They are joining the movement that includes micro breweries and local wineries. Yes, even here in the Midwest, we have a wealth of choices when it comes to ” Artisan Alcohol.”

Several years ago you could count on one hand the number of local breweries that were around. Now, you need an App to keep track of them all, (and yes, there’s an App for that, in fact there are several). We have spent many a Saturday afternoon checking out the suburban brewery scene; going to industrial parks, old store fronts, and state of the art facilities. The adventures have been many and some of them will appear here in the future. This however, is about distilleries.

Distilleries, while not as plentiful, are opening around the area and as it turns out in some pretty unusual places. Take the case of Whiskey Acres: This distillery has been open for just over a year. and to say it’s off the beaten path is a huge understatement. It is along a country road nestled in the corn fields of DeKalb County. In fact it is located on a working farm. That seems odd until you think about what whiskey is made of. That’s right, corn and other grains are the main ingredients needed to produce distilled spirits and farms, especially farms around here have plenty of corn.20160827_143245

This is a small operation producing bourbon, whiskey, and vodka in small batches. It is one of only two “Estate Distilleries” in the country. What this means is that “from seed to spirit” all the ingredients are grown on the farm. The water used in the distilling also comes from the farm’s well.

Distilling is a labor intensive act of love. From mash to the still, barrel, and ultimately into the bottle can take years. The bourbon here is very young, but has a flavor that will only get better through the years. It has even won several awards. The “rick house” holds many barrels in different sizes all of them filled with bourbon and rye in various stages of reaching perfection.20160827_155343

The vodka is made entirely from corn and has a subtle sweetness and character that would make a pleasant cocktail but could stand up in a martini as well. Vodka isn’t aged, but it does go through the distilling process twice. Again, time and labor intensive. This “hybrid still” is responsible for creating this and all the other tasty spirits.wide angle still

This small operation isn’t going to limit itself to the typical spirits. There is some serious experimentation afoot. Whiskies made from Red Corn , Blue Pop Corn, and Heirloom Oxacan Green Corn are aging in the barrels as I write. There are also a few novelty spirits including an Apple Infused Whiskey and an  “age it yourself” corn whiskey that comes with an “oak infusion spiral.” You won’t get the depth of flavor that comes from years in a barrel, but it is a fun gift to give or receive.

So our afternoon in the country was worth the trip. We took the tour (very interesting and well done); we sampled the spirits and had a cocktail (an Old Fashion that was quite tasty). In case you want to make a day of it , you can also visit a winery (Prairie State) and a brewery (Cademon) both of which are in Genoa just a few miles up the road. There’s even a throwback restaurant in Sycamore (Sorrento’s) complete with a relish tray, a basket of crackers and enormous prime rib.

Northern Illinois has some of the richest soil in the country. While some of the corn fields are giving way to the suburban western migration, there is still plenty of farm land. There are still small country towns that have the simple charm of a bygone era with touches of the city that make them a lovely place to visit. Check them out.

 

 

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A Semi-Grilled Supper: Bruschetta Pasta with Sausage and Zucchini

Summer marches on at a breakneck pace. Not only is the time going by far too quickly, but the school year will be starting in just over two weeks. Summer has been wonderful even if I’ve only made a small dent in the plans I had for this time. Here in the Midwest, the weather has been on the hot and humid side. Yes, I know that’s what summer in the Midwest is like, but the hot and humid seems to cling to the days like static cling to polyester.

Grilling is still the cooking style of choice, but Mama and Papa can’t live by the grill alone. Once in a while we want pasta. I do not intend to put pasta to the “Can You Grill It?” challenge, at least not in its uncooked state. There is certainly the possibility of grilling the sauce ingredients and that’s what I did not long ago.

It really started because I had some tomato bruschetta ( click here for more about bruschetta) left over. It met all the pasta sauce requirements. Tomatoes in a highly flavorful liquid complimented with red onions, basil and garlic. I also had some Chicken Italian Sausage and zucchini (it isn’t summer without it). I had just enough whole grain penne left to make it a meal.IMG_2167

So the main characters were assembled and the sausage and zucchini begged to be cooked on the grill. Well, I may have had something to do with their decision. The whole grilling process was pretty quick since the sausage was already cooked and the zucchini (combined with some onions and dressed with some olive oil and  Italian seasoning) doesn’t take long to char lightly.IMG_2172

While everything was cooking I pondered what else might make this dish even better. A little fresh mozzarella and a hearty handful of basil seemed like the perfect additions. These were already on hand so it was one of those “no brainer” choices.IMG_2170

When the pasta was cooked to my liking, I saved several ladles of the pasta water to give the sauce a little more “umph” Everything came together in rapid fashion and a simple yet delicious supper was on the table.IMG_2173

Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the Zucchini, Onion, Italian Seasoning, and Olive Oil in a bowl. Toss to mix and set it aside.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook to your favorite level of "al dente" Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
  3. While the pasta cooks, heat your grill to medium high. Place the sausage on the top rack. Heat a grill basket and add the zucchini onion mixture. Grill until the sausage is browned and the zucchini is lightly charred.
  4. Slice the sausage into 1/2 inch thick coins.
  5. Combine the drained pasta, sausage, zucchini and the reserved pasta water in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss to mix everything together. Add the mozzarella and basil and toss once more to combine.
  6. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
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This is a wonderful way to use the bounty from the garden or the farmer’s market. Use whatever sounds or looks perfect to you. There is never a right or wrong when it comes to a supper filled with freshness and love.

 

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Can You Grill It? Potato and Green Bean Salad, Revisited

Yes, the grill on Mama D’s balcony is still working its grates off. It is after all, grilling season and everything is fair game. That’s where my “Can you grill it?” test comes into play. Taking a recipe or food that is usually made in the comfort of the kitchen into the great outdoors can be an adventure. Sometimes the result is wonderful, every once in a while, not so much. This potato salad, however, was a rousing success.

I’ve made this salad before and I’ve even shared the recipe. I don’t know why it took me this long to realize that it would be awesome on the grill. Well, thankfully it did (dawn on me, that is) and I wanted to share it with you.

Baby red potatoes got steamed until almost tender and green beans were blanched before meeting up with some sliced onions.IMG_2057

Everything got tossed with a little salt and pepper and a generous glug of olive oil before diving into the grill basket. Can this really count as a grilled dish if some time on the stove was required?  Why yes, it can. Partly because I said so, but primarily because the potatoes would burn before they cooked through and the green beans would lose their beautiful green-ness if this step wasn’t taken. So there.

My original recipe used a vinegar based dressing featuring a combination of balsamics (white and other wise) with olive oil, garlic, and grainy mustard. For the grilled version I lost the vinegars and went straight to the lemon juice. I know they are available all year, but fresh squeezed lemon juice just says summer to me. I have a condiment crush on grainy mustard right now, so it played a major role in the dressing. Some garlic, olive oil and a few snips of rosemary from the herb garden and I called it dressing.IMG_2052

Once the veggies were suitably golden, I tossed them with the dressing and lo and behold, a perfectly delicious side dish was born. In this case, it was paired with some grilled chicken thighs, but I think that any protein would enjoy sharing a plate with this “Can you grill it?” winner.IMG_2064

Grilled Potato and Green Bean Salad
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Grilled Potato and Green Bean Salad
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Steam the potatoes for 5 - 7 minutes or until they are barely tender. Set aside.
  2. Blanch the beans in boiling water for 2 -3 minutes until barely tender. Remove from pan and plunge them into an ice water bath. Drain and set aside.
  3. Combine the potatoes, beans, and onions in a large bowl. Add a bit of the olive oil and some salt and pepper and toss to coat everything evenly.
  4. Spray a grill basket with non-stick spray and set on a grill over medium/high heat. Spread the potato mixture evenly in the basket.
  5. Cook, tossing occasionally until the potatoes are golden and tender and the beans are tender with a bit of crunch. How long this will take depends on your grill. Don't go too far away.
  6. When the vegetables are cooked place them in a large bowl.
  7. Combine the remaining olive oil and the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until blended. Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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You can be sure that the grilling adventures will continue. There will be more “Can you grill it?” tests that will hopefully result in some fantastic recipes that will find their way into these posts. Until the next time, Happy Grilling!