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The Coming of Winter and Lentil and Sausage Casserole

Winter is creeping in, making its presence known a little more each day. I have been turning more often to heartier fare, things that cook a little longer and in the process fill the house with aromas that warm the heart as the oven warms the kitchen. This dish came about for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that there were cooked lentils in the freezer.

These lentils were left from a recipe that I adapted from Cooking Light img_2902Magazine. Dubbed “A Perfect Pot of Lentils” it lived up to its name. A pound of green lentils were flavored with garlic and shallots and seasoned with thyme, tomato paste and dijon mustard. Once they simmered for 45 minutes or so,I was in possession of a lot of very tasty lentils. There was enough for a surprisingly good Lentil Shepherd’s Pie (also adapted from Cooking Light) with more than enough left to get relegated to the freezer until another inspiration dawned. That inspiration came a few days ago in the form of a hearty Lentil and Sausage Casserole.

This casserole boasted some Chicken Italian Sausage along with Crimini Mushrooms, Onions, and Garlic. These elements were sautéed to expand their flavor before joining forces with the lentils.img_2898

Everything nestled cozily into the casserole along with some fresh rosemary, Italian seasoning, and a little chicken stock. Off to the oven it went, snuggly covered in foil. Half an hour later it smelled wonderful, but when its foil blanket was removed, it was sadly was very brown ( the color, not the effect). To remedy that and add another layer of flavor sliced tomatoes and Toscano Cheese were placed on top. A drizzle of olive oil and a return trip to the oven along with a brief shot under the broiler resulted in a much prettier offering.img_2911

It now looked good and smelled divine. All that was left to do was taste it and see if that too would be in the plus column. It was determined that we had a winner on all levels, always a good thing.img_2917

Lentil and Chicken Sausage Casserole
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Lentil and Chicken Sausage Casserole
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Put the lentils in the dish and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the sausage into 1/2" coins. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add the sausage slices and cook until lightly browned on one side, 3 - 4 minutes.
  3. Turn the sausage and cook another 3 - 4 minutes. When the second side is browned, remove the sausage from the pan add to the lentils in the casserole.
  4. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or so stirring often. Add some of the chicken stock if things seem dry.
  5. Once the veggies are soft and fragrant, add them along with any drippings to the casserole. Add the rosemary and Italian seasoning.
  6. Mix all the ingredients together and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until things are bubbly.
  7. Layer the tomato slices on top of the casserole. Sprinkle with the cheese and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  8. Return to the oven uncovered and bake another few minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften and the cheese melts.
  9. Turn the oven to broil and let the casserole go 3 - 4 minutes until it is golden. Remove from the oven and let set 10 minutes before serving.
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All of these recipes have instilled a significant dose of “Lentil Love” in my soul. As winter continues to arrive, these protein and fiber rich little pulses (I learned that nifty term from the same Cooking Light article) will be making more appearances in Mama D’s Kitchen. Besides being nutritionally amazing, they are cheap, which leaves more money in the budget for Christmas Shopping…which is one more reason to give lentils and all their wonderful pulse cousins a try.

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Autumn Connections; A Tale of Two Pizzas

img_2802Pizza and I go back a long way. I remember the pizza my aunt made. It was thick and chewy, baked on a rectangular sheet pan. She would cut it into what seemed like giant squares with scissors. It was lightly topped with tomatoes, cheese and the occasional anchovy. It was heaven. One can’t live in Chicago without experiencing the Pizza at Gino’s or Due’s. The buttery crust baked in a pan, with cheese on the bottom smothered in sausage and sauce is memorable. Then there were the Friday nights I spent with my own sons. The family feasting on a pizza before we gathered around the TV to watch Full House and Family Matters.

Now I have a slightly different relationship with pizza. It’s a occasional indulgence in carbs and cholesterol that satisfies like nothing else. Still there are times when assorted toppings presented on a baked crust come out of Mama D’s Kitchen.

The tale of these two pizzas starts with a bag of fresh whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. I must say that this is the best store-bought crust I’ve ever had. It is however, a lot of dough for two people, and therein lies the birth of two pizzas.img_2791

The first pizza, I’ve named Chicken Pot Pizza. It is similar to the filling that I usually make for my Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie with only a few changes (mainly less gravy). It baked in a small cast iron skillet that was the perfect size to serve 2.

img_2793I like Leeks, Artichoke Hearts, and Crimini Mushrooms in my filling, along with a few Carrots and plenty of Thyme. I had some grilled chicken breast on hand, but you could use the rotisserie variety as well. What is pizza with out cheese. For this pie I used some Smoked Gouda, but again, use whatever you think would be wonderful. This pie stacked up a bit more like lasagna than pizza and would definitely be in the “deep dish” category.img_2800

Once baked, it was a marvel of flavor and texture. This (and its inevitable variations) will become a feature in the Kitchen of Love.img_2805

Chicken Pot Pizza
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Chicken Pot Pizza
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place a 8" cast iron skillet in the oven. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Leave the skillet in the oven while you prepare the filling.
  2. Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet.
  3. Add the vegetables to the pan and cook until they are soft and fragrant. This should take 7 -8 minutes or so. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
  4. Melt the butter in the same skillet. Add the flour and cook and stir for several minutes to create a smooth roux.
  5. Add the milk and stock and whisk constantly. Add the thyme leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, stirring often.
  6. Add the reserved vegetables and the chicken to the pan and continue to cook until everything is nice and thick.
  7. Flatten the pizza dough out to a circle slightly larger than the bottom of the cast iron skillet.
  8. Remove the cast iron skillet from the oven and carefully fit the crust into the bottom of the skillet. Return the skillet to the oven to bake the crust slightly. (4-5 minutes )
  9. Remove the skillet from the oven and layer the grated cheese and chicken/vegetable mixture on the crust. Starting and ending with cheese.
  10. Bake 10 -15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and everything is bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and cut into wedges.
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The second pizza was born of some leftover ingredients from the firstimg_2857 pie. I already mentioned the dough I had left, but I still had another Leek that was ready to be part of something else wonderful. It joined in a perfect Autumnal match up with Butternut Squash and Gala Apples. Rosemary and Thyme provided the herbaceous background. Everything was roasted to intensify the flavors and add a bit of “fall color.”

I opted to create a “thin crust” pie this time. A bit of olive oil and pre-baking on my trusty pizza stone created a light and crispy crust. All that was needed now was the cheese factor. I used Goat Cheese that I added a bit of honey to. While the combination was far from traditional, it was extremely tasty.img_2866

Butternut Squash, Leek, and Apple Pizza
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Butternut Squash, Leek, and Apple Pizza
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the squash, leek and apple slices in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss until everything is nicely coated.
  2. Spread the mixture in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper. Place the herb sprigs on top of each pan.
  3. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until everything is tender and beginning to turn golden.
  4. Raise oven heat to 425 degrees. If you are using a pizza stone, place it in the center of the oven.
  5. Stretch and roll the crust into a circle slightly larger than your pizza pan. Spray the pan generously with the non-stick spray.
  6. Place the crust on the prepared pan and gently stretch into shape. Pierce the crust all over with a fork and bake in the oven (on the pizza stone if you are using it) for 6-8 minutes.
  7. Allow the goat cheese to soften slightly. Fold the honey into the cheese.
  8. Remove the crust from the oven. Top with the vegetable and apple mixture. Drop the cheese by teaspoonfuls evenly over the vegetables.
  9. Return to the oven and bake 6 - 8 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly golden. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve cut in wedges.
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So, it took a bit of time to get this post out there. Life isn’t too complicated, it just seems to be taking more time lately. Since it’s been a while, I’ve tried to give you as much bang for the buck as I could (2 recipes and a link). I hope you try them in your own Autumn kitchen. There have been lots of wonderful things coming out of the Kitchen of Love, hopefully more of them will make it to this site soon. 

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A New Chili and a New Season

After a wait that felt far too long, I can say that it is unequivocally Fall. There is crispness in the air. Windows and doors are finally open to let the act of breathing real fresh air become a daily occurrence. Mama D’s Kitchen is ready to produce some heartier fare. So, it is time to get the Slow Cooker out of its hiding place and let it do some of the work of producing something delicious.

I feel the need to go on record that I have a love/hate relationship with the Slow Cooker. I love how whatever you cook in it envelopes the house with wonderful aromas. I like the fact  that once the ingredients have been prepped and added, there is nothing more to do. You can set it and forget it and go out and enjoy a perfect Fall afternoon, knowing that when you return home, wonderful smells and tasty comfort food will be waiting. Even though these are great pluses, I have a few issues with this “counter top time saver”. In my opinion there are some things that shouldn’t go in a crock pot. I’m not a fan of pot roast in a slow cooker. I know that borders on blasphemy, but I find the taste and texture of both the meat and its accompanying vegetables to be a bit watered down. I also take issue with the fact that in order to set it and forget it, one must do a certain amount of cutting, measuring, and even pre-cooking to have everything ready to spend the rest of the day getting happy. I’m not afraid of a little work, but at times it seems that there is a lot of active prep time to get to the passive cooking part of the equation.

That being said, I do respect this appliance enough to make space for it in my very small kitchen. The things it does well, it does very well. My favorite things to make in a slow cooker are soups and chilies, which brings us to this recipe; Chicken Chili. Once again I must give credit to a food magazine for the inspiration for this dish. The initial idea came from the October Cooking Light Magazine. It featured a Slow Cooker Chicken Chili. Reading through the recipe, I was taken by several things. The combination of Butternut Squash and Hominy blending with chicken sounded like a “million dollar trio.” There was also a step that called for pureeing a can of beans to add body and thickness to the dish. Now comes the point where I incorporate some Mama D magic.img_2593

The recipe was obviously going to be a chili on the “white side,” but I had something a little different in mind. I also had a random array of ingredients that I wanted to use up. I did puree a can of beans, Pintos, to be exact. I blended this with some homemade chicken stock and a decent amount of homemade chili sauce that had been living in the freezer. Another one of my issues with a slow cooker is that the cooking process creates a lot of liquid. I was making chili not soup so I wanted a thicker sauce. I took the liberty of adding some Masa Harina to act as a thickening and add a little more earthy corn taste. Then there was the matter of vegetables. I added a lot of onion and garlic (this is Mama D’s Kitchen after all) along with some chopped Poblano Chilies. This along with canned green chilies upped the ratio of veg. to meat to about 3 to 1. A can of Black Beans jumped into the pot as well. img_2597The chicken part came from a bag of scraps that was also lounging in the freezer. Any time that I buy boneless/skinless chicken parts, I save the trimmings for some future use, like chili. Waste not, want not is my motto.img_2601

I put the ingredients into the Slow Cooker in a specific order. The veggies went in first and were mixed with the liquid ingredients. I topped this savory bed with the chicken, much like most Slow Cooker recipes suggest. Then, finally, came the set it and forget it part.

We enjoyed a walk and a cocktail and returned home to wonderful smells. A tip of the lid and a rise in temperature (to complete the thickening process) and in a brief half hour it was ready to serve. img_2607

The garnish involved some Queso Fresco and Sour Cream laced with salsa and cilantro. A wedge of lime added some brightness. This is chili on the mild side. Using a hotter chili like Anaheim and Chipotle Chili Powder would definitely up the heat. You could add a different bean or add more of them and it will be great. Since I respectfully borrowed the idea from Cooking Light, any modifications are more than all right.

Chicken and Butternut Squash Chili
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Chicken and Butternut Squash Chili
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Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Spray a 6 quart Slow Cooker lightly with non-stick spray. Add the squash, peppers, onion, garlic, hominy, chilies, and black beans to the cooker and stir to combine.
  2. Combine the pureed beans, chicken stock, and red chili sauce in a bowl. Add the masa harina and stir or whisk until the mixture is smooth.
  3. Add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano to the liquid ingredients and stir once more. Pour the liquids into the cooker and stir to combine everything well.
  4. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. Lay the chicken pieces on top of the vegetable mixture. Cover and cook on Low for 6 - 8 hours (the heat on every slow cooker is different so adjust the time according to how yours cooks).
  5. At the 6/8 hour point, stir the chicken into the other ingredients. Give things a taste and add more of any seasoning you think it needs.
  6. Tilt the lid slightly and turn the heat setting to High. Allow the chili to cook until it is the thickness that you like.
  7. While the chili is cooking on High, mix the sour cream, salsa, and cilantro together. Set aside.
  8. When you are ready to serve, ladle into bowls. Pass the sour cream mixture, lime, and cheese at the table.
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Another thing to remember with Slow Cookers is that the long cooking process pulls lots of moisture out of the ingredients. Once the dish is cooked it is a good idea to taste test for seasoning levels. That sauce with a  spicy zing at the beginning may have gotten watered down over the hours and will be in need of a booster shot of seasoning.

I am very happy that Fall is here and that there will be many more hearty and healthy dishes coming from the Kitchen of love. There may even be a few more Slow Cooker adventures, within reason, that is.

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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
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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.