Monthly Archives: September 2013

Mama D’s Pantry of Love

“If a kitchen is going to be filled with love, then the pantry needs to be filled with the ingredients that will create that love.” Mama D

When I was growing up we had a pantry. It was big enough to hide in and it is where I had my first taste of baking chocolate. Most every mother tells their child that baking chocolate doesn’t taste good and every child doesn’t believe it until they (in my case) sneak into the pantry and try it for themselves. I got my unsweetened revenge  when both of my sons made the same discovery for themselves without the benefit of a pantry to hide in.

Anyone watching Downton Abbey knows that pantries in England were a series of rooms where all manner of food preparation and lots of others activities took place. In America pantries evolved in much the same way to the current much desired small storage room in the kitchen. In my case, the pantry I use is 2 old kitchen cabinets that were relegated to what we laughingly call the office. A pantry doesn’t have to be big or fancy, It just needs to be a place where canned goods and baking ingredients and other non-perishables can be stored in cool dark comfort.

I like to keep a well stocked pantry.  It takes a pantry to raise a dish. What’s in my pantry? Canned tomatoes of all kinds; San Marzano, Fire Roasted, crushed, diced, there might even be a jar of pasta sauce. Canned beans, chilis, corn, roasted red peppers, and artichokes are always on hand. Rice, pasta, and other grains along with Panko bread crumbs live there as well. Flours, sugars, and other baking ingredients round out the contents of my pantry at any given time. I try to replace what I have used as well as stock up on things when I find them on sale.

This week I decided to see if I could go a whole week without running to the store to get an ingredient for a dish I wanted to make. This also was the first week that I had no severance coming in so the belt needed to be tightened. The rules were I had to use what was in the pantry, frig & freezer, and garden. I made it! The food was good, in fact some of it was outstanding. Everything started out as a recipe I’d seen somewhere, but when I came across an item I didn’t have I had to improvise from the “pantry”.

The first dish was Baked Gnocchi and Chicken. Grilled chicken, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and packaged gnocchi were baked in a creamy chicken gravy.The gravy was made from another panty staple, boxed chicken stock (Meijer Naturals) and milk.DIGITAL CAMERA It’s the kind of stick to your ribs meal that is great in the fall. It reheats very well which is important because my husband has it for dinner at work and when Mama D’s Kitchen starts selling food, reheating will be a factor.

The following night I made Tomato and Cheddar Cheese Soup. The recipe was designed to be a riff on grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Mine paid the proper respect to this iconic duo but I decided to add pepper bacon to the mix. I sautéed it and then used the drippings to sweat the onions and garlic. Fire Roasted Tomatoes, more boxed chicken stock, thyme and extra sharp cheddar cheese made up the soup.DIGITAL CAMERA Once it was blended, I added the bacon back in along with a little heavy cream. I toasted stale leftover French bread to make the croutons. Once again it was delicious and I felt so empowered by relying only on what was on hand and I used some leftovers to boot.

Weeknight number three was a Chorizo, Chicken and Rice Skillet. it was my interpretation of  recipe for chicken breasts in a chorizo, pepper and green pea sauce. I used some link chorizo and chicken thigh trimmings from the freezer. I browned the meats and  added onions, garlic, red bell pepper, and smoked paprika.DIGITAL CAMERA Some artistic license was taken in leaving out the peas. Peas have their place, but not in this dish. I cooked the rice in chicken stock flavored with a little onion and butter. I combined everything in a large skillet and let it all get acquainted. The result was smokey, savory and delicious.

Weeknight dinner number four was Fettuccine with Sausage and Brocoli. This relied more on the frig and freezer than the pantry. The sauce featured chicken sausage, brocoli, onion, and garlic along with a container of Kraft Savory Garlic Cooking Cream. This is a cream cheese based cooking sauce that I’ve found to be a great addition to both pasta dishes and casseroles. I combined this with the rest of the roasted red peppers from earlier in the week. DIGITAL CAMERA To create the sauce I blended the cooking cream and peppers in the processor then added it to the sausage and veggies in the pan. Barely al dente fettuccine was thrown into the pan and further loved with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano and fresh basil while it reached a perfect al dente.  This was great, but when I make it again I will add a little red pepper flakes or cayenne. It would be good with zucchini and summer squash.

The final weeknight dinner was Steak, Grilled Potatoes, and Sautéed Green Beans. Petite Sirloin has become my new favorite steak and when Meijer has it on sale for $4.99 a pound it comes home with me.  It is generally available in 6-8 ounce portions and when marinated and grilled is juicy and tender. Red potatoes were cut in wedges and tossed with garlic, rosemary and olive oil before going into the grill basket. The frozen green beans were from Trader Joes. They are darn close to haricot vert and when thawed need only a light saute. Bacon, red onion and olive oil were its pan companions. It was enjoyed on the deck on a lovely early autumn evening with a nice Pinot Noir.DIGITAL CAMERA

The experiment worked and it was very easy. My well stocked pantry and frig/freezer came in handy. I will be relying on these tools for budget and creative reasons. It’s also an exciting challenge to make something wonderful and filled with love from what’s on hand.

 

Bacon Love

I love bacon. There I’ve said it, I love bacon and I’m not ashamed. If you’ve been following my food adventures you may have noticed that many of them involve bacon to one extent or another. I love to cook with bacon. Mama D’s Kitchen always has bacon love available.

Bacon has been around for a long time. Records date it back to 1500BC though I’m pretty sure that’s cured pork in general. The word bacon comes from the Middle English bacoun which referred to anything pork.Pepper bacon Whenever and wherever it arrived,,I’m glad that it’s here now.                                   Thick Cut Peppered Bacon-

 

Oddly, I’m not a big fan of bacon as a breakfast meat,but any other meal, well it just makes most everything better. Lately, I’ve even been putting it in the desserts I’ve been making. One of the best is a Peanut Butter and Bacon Bar.DIGITAL CAMERA The base is made with a peanut butter cookie mix laced with crumbled bacon and flavored with maple syrup. The topping is melted chocolate chips adorned with more crumbled bacon (I used maple smoked bacon).  The bacon and peanut butter go together almost like PB&J. The ingredients make it a meal or at least a protein source. Maybe not so much…

I recently discovered an apple pie recipe that uses bacon. It also includes bourbon so it has become a favorite on many levels.DIGITAL CAMERA The filling is apples, sugar, vanilla and bourbon. Cinnamon doesn’t show up until the streusel topping which also is where the bacon is all crisp and  crumbly. The flavors were  wonderful. We had it topped with whipped cream but a good butter pecan ice cream would be spectacular. This pie could  be served naked and it would still be great.

Bacon is a tasty addition to side dishes. From potatoes to vegetables to salads, bacon can make a big statement . The rich smokey taste is wonderful when combined with roasted brussels sprouts or sautéed green beans. Even brocoli on the grill is better with bacon. When bacon comes to the potato party it brings a salty richness. There’s the classic baked potato topping, but mashed , french fries and au gratin potatoes reach new heights with the addition of bacon. Like potatoes, salads are often topped with bacon as a garnish.

Bacon is worthy of so much more. DIGITAL CAMERAI found a recipe for cole slaw that uses it as an ingredient. It combines cole slaw mix, roasted corn, cherry tomatoes, and bacon with a homemade ranch dressing. The heartiness is a refreshing change from typical sweet creamy  slaws. It’s a superb accompaniment to barbecued ribs or chicken. And I would bet it would be good with a burger, maybe even as a topping on said burger.

Bacon, where else is it wonderful? How about in and on soup. Looking back at all of the soups that I’ve written about here and on Facebook, many have bacon as an integral component.DIGITAL CAMERA Many feature bacon as a garnish and quite often that bacon was fried and some of the drippings were used to build the rest of the soup. That’s just what happened with this Cauliflower Cheddar Cheese Soup. Using a little of the bacon drippings for sauteing the vegetables went a long way to imparting a lot of flavor. Some soups let the bacon swim with all the other ingredients and that is a beautiful thing, too.

Bacon is one of the darlings of the culinary world right now. You can get your bacon fix in so many ways. There’s bacon salt and bacon jam (which might be one of the best guilty pleasures on earth.)  How about some bacon chocolate, candied bacon or bacon candy? There’s even a Bacon of the Month Club  that will deliver unique bacon to your door for a price. (The Pig Next Door)

As much as I love bacon there is a place where I’ll draw the line. You won’t find Bakon, a premium bacon flavored vodka or Baconized Makers Mark Bourbon in my cocktail shaker. I won’t put Torani Bacon Flavored Syrup in any of my coffee beverages and I won’t burn a bacon scented candle.  I will however, continue to cook and eat bacon. I’m always looking for new ways to use bacon, so please share your bacon love with me.

 

 

 

Mama D’s Meatloaf Adventure of Love

The new chapter of my life is very food-centric. I’m following my passion for cooking and  beginning the journey to share it with the world. In order to share Mama D’s Kitchen with the world and get paid for it, I need to have a menu. The menu needs to have a variety of items that are consistently delicious and full of Love.

I’m all about comfort food. There are few foods in the comfort category that sound like home and unfortunately taste like boring more than meatloaf. The Kitchen of Love has become meatloaf central, because comforting, delicious, and exciting meatloaf is what Mama D wants to make.  So it begins…Research and Development.

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The first experiment was Italian Meatloaf. This was made with equal parts of Sweet Italian Sausage and Ground Chicken. Onions and garlic, Italian breadcrumbs for binding, and Parmesan cheese for flavor rounded out the ingredients.DIGITAL CAMERA

The individual loaves were served with a spicy tomato sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan.

I shared this with friends and family, even providing a brief survey.  Response was wonderful. This one is  keeper.

Next I tried a traditional version of meatloaf. This version used equal parts of beef and pork. Lots of onions, Montreal Seasoning, and Panko bread crumbs were the foundation.        DIGITAL CAMERAThe individual loaves were topped with a Sweet and Hot Ketchup.  While everyone liked it, it felt a little too much like something they could make themselves. So, tasty though it was this incarnation will not be on Mama D’s menu. At least not until it is tweaked to the correct level of Love.

 

Tha latest meatloaf is a Bacon cheeseburger Delight.  On the healthy scale, light it’s not, with a pound of bacon and an obscene amount of canned fried onions blended into the ground beef. This smells and tastes like a diner cheeseburger, in a good way, of course.        I served it with ketchup, but I have plans to try  a guacamole sauce as a garnish.DIGITAL CAMERARemember this is R & D so things are still in progress.

I think I’m on to something with the mini loaves. The portion size seems just about right. Everyone gets 2 crispy ends which for many of us is the best part of meatloaf. They cook quickly and freeze easily. They also look cute sitting on the plate. Just imagine when they are joined by delectable sides.

There are more meatloaf ideas in Mama D’s Kitchen of Love. Coming soon; Turkey, Daddy’s Meatball, and Vegetarian. I open this up to you as well, dear reader. What kind of meatloaf  do you like? Let me know. Let’s share the love.

A Night in Tuscany

I’ve never been to Italy. Someday (?) I hope to visit. In the meantime, I can experience the flavors of Italy in Mama D’s Kitchen…and her backyard.

The showpiece of the meal was the Il Galletto Al Mattone or Chicken Cooked Under a Brick .That is the literal preparation. Chicken is grilled with a brick on top of it. The brick weighs down the chicken and creates a crisp skin and juicy meat. Usually a whole chicken is prepared, but we did it with bone in chicken breasts.  It was simply seasoned with fresh herb salt(rosemary, sage, garlic, red pepper flakes, and sea salt). Foil wrapped pavers were positioned (with quite a bit of engineering) on the breasts. Visions of my last mammogram came to mind, but I digress. Then the grill and the bricks did the work. 

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We had an Italian side dish that actually came from Italy. We had Farro. This is an ancient grain that is grown in Italy and is now being exported to the rest of the world. If oats and barley had a love child the result would taste a lot like Farro, but it would look more like barley. This grain from the wheat family has been a staple of Italian diets  for centuries. While it has gluten the amount is slightly less than its American cousin.

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I had been noticing lots of recipes using Farro. The side dishes and salads sounded wonderful, so I set out to find this new old grain. I checked the grain section of every grocery store that I went in to no avail. I turned to the internet and found that Fruitful Yield carried it. They however were sold out…so I asked to be put on a waiting list, for Farro.

I put my dream of a romantic Italian dinner on hold and went to Meijer to do the mundane grocery shopping for the week. As I cruised past the grain section, lo and behold there on the top shelf was a bag of Farro. It was right next to the red quinoa.  I’d be willing to swear that neither were there the week before, but I have no proof. So I bought the Farro and giddily brought it home. A Night in Tuscany was back on the calendar.

So the bricks and grill were cooking the chicken and I was cooking the Farro. Like rice it cooks in water but uncovered. I kicked the cooking liquid up by using chicken stock, garlic and the usual suspects of an Italian herb cabinet. Once it was cooked, I tossed it with chopped plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella pearls, and fresh basil. It was simply dressed with olive oil. I served it at room temperature but I think it would be good warm or cold as well.

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No Tuscan dinner would be complete without a Tuscan inspired wine. We had no Brunello, but we had a nice bottle of Sangiovese. Brunello is related to Sangiovese, which is the primary grape  in Chianti. So a California Sangiovese was a poor woman’s choice to grace the Tuscan table.

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After diner we enjoyed the early fall evening  with a fire in the pit and a little more wine.   We gazed at the stars, and planned our trip to Tuscany…whenever that may happen.

 

Are Chicken Thighs the New Breasts?

For years, chicken breasts have been the darling of cooks both on and off diets. They are nutritious, low in fat, and can be cooked in almost limitless ways. Price wise they are generally a bargain even if they are not on sale because there is little or no waste.  Chicken breasts for all their sterling merits, do have a few drawbacks. They are easily overcooked and this can result in a dry, tough, and less than appetizing results. 

20130625_172131 (1)Brined and Grilled Chicken Breast

As I shared  in a previous entry, I had all but given up grilling B.S (this is just an innocent abbreviation not a comment or reference to my subject) chicken breasts because of that overcooking issue until I discovered brining, that is. I  have however, continued to happily cook them indoors.  Sauteing, baking, even in soups and chilis, they are my go to protein.

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Lately, I’ve noticed there is a new B.S. Chicken part showing up in recipes . That would be chicken Thighs. I’ve even seen articles in cooking magazines about them.  How could this be? I ,who have always been a white meat kind of gal , have started to use B.S thighs in mycooking and more amazing still, I like it.  B.S  Chicken parts can co-exist in my kitchen . I usually use them in different preparations. The results are not always to my liking, but since this is all about the adventures of cooking I am bravely continuing to experiment. I like them best  in more highly seasoned dishes and I think they benefit from some serious browning with or without dredging.

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Tuscan Garlic Chicken Thighs

There is one place where I’ve found them to be exceptional and that is grilling. They stand up to the flame and that is something their breast brethren can’t always do (unless they’ve been brined).  Another grill plus for thighs is that they can hold their own with intense and spicy flavors. Thighs have a stronger chicken flavor that comes through even when the heat and spice is on.DIGITAL CAMERA            Grilled Chicken Thighs with an Orange Marmelade, Rice Wine Vinegar, and

Rosemary Glaze

Nutritionally,  calorie counts are almost identical for breasts and thighs (approximately 110 calories per 4 ounce serving). Thighs have slightly more fat , saturated fat, and cholesterol than breasts, but if you subscribe to the everything in moderation adage, eating them occasionally will not unbalance a healthy diet.

Where did that come from?

I do, however agree with Oscar Wilde,

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”