Monthly Archives: January 2014

Summer Memories in Winter’s Chill and Balsamic Marinated Chicken

DIGITAL CAMERAWinter…Mother Nature’s sick joke. As most Midwesterners and from what ! hear on the news, 75 – 80 percent of the rest of the country know, Mother Nature has some kind of crazy bug up her bustle. Insane low temperatures, more snow than anyone knows what to do with, and winds that blow that snow around like a demonic snow globe, creating wind chill factors in the negative 30 degree range (Is that a real number?)

Do you remember Summer? You know that time of year when it took 20 seconds to get ready to go outside; basically shorts, a tee-shirt and flip-flops. Once outside you were treated to flowers in brilliant Technicolor bloom, green grass soft and fragrant and sunshine that actually meant something. Summer is more than 125  days away. Winter seems to have hunkered down and shows no signs of going anywhere.DIGITAL CAMERA

I for one am settling in with warm weather memories, especially the Herbs of Summer. I remember those days when I would stroll out on the deck and snip glorious handfuls of basil, chives, rosemary and thyme. Their heady aroma released as they were plucked from a plants that seemed to have an endless supply.DIGITAL CAMERA

The basil and chives are gone now. They never make it past Indian Summer. The thyme and the rosemary are made of hardier stuff. Last year they held on to a bit of green all winter long and showed up in lots of dishes. This year winter hasn’t been as kind to these plants (or anything else for that matter). but I’ve kept them in their pots because they often come back in the Spring. Today I wanted to use some of these herbs in the Balsamic Marinade for my Baked Chicken.

I pulled on my boots, put on my coat, grabbed some gloves and a hat (it took 5 minutes at least) and ventured out to the deck. My rosemary and thyme were dry and brown, but when I gently brushed them there was still the essence of their glorious aroma as the leaves fell off. So I snipped some sprigs, gathered up the fallen leaves and brought them in the house. Washed and dried they gave off a subtle memory of their Summer glory that was still more intense than their dried brothers. They became a part of the marinade.DIGITAL CAMERA

I used a Fig and Orange Balsamic in this recipe but I think that any fruit balsamic would work well. The other main ingredients beside my thyme and rosemary were garlic, olive oil, and McCormick Italian Herb Grinder.DIGITAL CAMERA A few words about this product. It is a blend of many traditional Italian herbs including rosemary, red pepper flakes, peppercorns, garlic, onion, parsley, and sea salt. The salt by the way is subtle. The grinder can be adjusted for fine, coarse or in between dispensing. It packs more punch than regular Italian Seasoning, adding a nice touch to everything from eggs to pasta sauce.DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a Baked Chicken recipe, but when Summer is here or when you feel like braving the elements and firing up the grill, it would be delicious cooked outside.  The chicken can marinate for a few hours or even overnight. I divided the marinade in half. One part for the chicken and the other half for the glaze that would enhance the finished product. DIGITAL CAMERA

It baked at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. The glaze was the reserved marinade, carmelized shallots, some chicken stock, and a touch of honey. Served with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Green Beans with Bacon and Onion, it was a wonderful dinner that I got to share with my husband for a change (gotta love a snow day).

Balsamic Baked Chicken
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Quick and easy recipe for chicken that can be cooked in the oven or on the grill
Servings
2
Servings
2
Balsamic Baked Chicken
Print Recipe
Quick and easy recipe for chicken that can be cooked in the oven or on the grill
Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Mix the vinegar, one tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, Italian herb blend, and dried herbs in a small bowl. Put the chicken breasts in a zip top bag and add half of the marinade. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. Reserve the rest of the marinade for the glaze.
  2. When you are ready to cook the chicken. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the breasts in a cooking sprayed shallow pan. Bake until cooked through 25 - 30 miutes.
  3. If you are grilling the chicken. Heat the grill and spray lightly with cooking spray. Add the chicken and grill over medium heat turning once until cooked through 20- 25 minutes.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the glaze. Heat the remaining olive oil in a small pan. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown, 10 minutes or so. Add the reserved marinade, chicken stock and honey. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture is thick and reduced by about 1/3.
  5. Transfer the cooked chicken to the plates and drizzle with some of the glaze. Extra glaze can go in a bowl to be passed at the table.
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Ale and Cheddar Cheese Soup with a Noble Cause

I love making soup. It is my go to winter dinner. Since we’ve had more than our fair share of winter this year, I’ve been making a lot of soup. It somehow never gets old, and there is such a wealth of soups to be made and re-imagined.

DIGITAL CAMERAI also love helping my husband make beer. He’s been a home brewer for over twenty years015 and we often have a batch of beer at some point in the brewing process in the basement. I bring this up because I enjoy cooking with beer from time to time.  The beers my husband makes are wonderfully big and hoppy. Great to drink but hard to cook with (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  So most of my beer cooking adventures involve “store bought” brew.

DIGITAL CAMERASoup and beer make for a great pairing. Many a brewpub has an Ale and Cheddar Cheese soup on their menu. Now, Mama D’s Kitchen has one, too. There’s a story that goes with this soup that has to do with the beer. The beer I used to make this is called Blonde Bomber. It is an American Blonde Ale made by Veteran Beer Company. (Check out their website.)

 

This is a small company currently based in Chicago. The back story however is amazing. The company was started by disabled veterans on July 4, 2012. The executive team lead by Paul Jenkins all had impressive military careers as well as various experiences in the private sector prior to establishing Veteran Beer Company.

First production run 257 (1)They started this company to help eliminate some of the high unemployment rate for veterans by creating meaningful careers for them post service. Another goal of the company is to address many of the other issues that vets face. To this end Veteran employs only veterans and donates 10% of everything to veteran’s causes. Cool, huh? The company is small now, but they plan to employ up to 3500 veterans in the next five years. They run their business adhering to the ideals of the military; integrity, courage, and loyalty.First production run 282

First production run 285The beer is currently produced in Minnesota, but Veteran hopes to eventually have their own facility. They had their first production run in November producing two First production run 249beers: the lovely Blonde Bomber mentioned earlier and The Veteran, an Amber Lager that is also very food friendly. The beer travels from Minnesota and is distributed throughout Illinois and Indiana. Veteran plans to expand to several more Midwestern states in the near future. There are more beers on the horizon as well. Rumor has it that a Black Ale and an IPA will join the ranks. The beers are currently available at most Binny’s Liquor Marts and at many Jewel Osco Stores in Illinois and Indiana.1551563_349202748554842_1586154619_n

It’s a fine product working towards a noble goal. Give it a try. As Veteran Beer Company says, it’s “America’s  Most Important Beer”.

DIGITAL CAMERAI’m still writing a food blog so it’s time to talk about the soup. This rich and hearty soup starts with bacon that browns in a large soup pot. When it comes out, the chicken thigh bits go in and brown in the “bacony” goodness. They come out  along with most of the drippings (which are discarded) before the onion and garlic go in.

The flavors in this soup pack a savory punch that could be DIGITAL CAMERAkicked up if you roll that way. I usually do, but to showcase the beer’s flavor I kept things on the subtle side. Smoked Paprika, Worcestershire Sauce, and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce are the main players. A seasoned salt of your choice ( I used Abilene Depot Steak Seasoning from Caboose Spice & Company) and pepper round out the flavors.

Soup isn’t soup until you add the liquid and to make it thick as well as creamy, a roux. Beer and Chicken Stock go in first and  are followed by half & half (you could also use heavy cream, milk or mixture of them). The final step is to add the cheese. I opted for a medium cheddar, again in order to let the beer take center stage.

DIGITAL CAMERAA bowl of this rich and creamy soup topped with a few pretzel pieces, (after all,  what’s beer without pretzels) makes a great winter supper. All you need to add is a salad and maybe a slice of crusty bread. Needless to say, a glass of beer would be the perfect libation. While we are thinking about beer, many types of beer would work in and with this soup. Use any beer you’d like except light beer which shouldn’t even be classified as beer. Sorry, that’s just an opinion….

Since the Super Bowl is just around the corner, think about serving this at your party. For a fun individual presentation, serve it in mini pretzel rolls. Cheers.DIGITAL CAMERA

Cheddar Cheese and Ale Soup
Print Recipe
Rich and creamy with the bold flavor of craft brewed ale.
Servings
6
Servings
6
Cheddar Cheese and Ale Soup
Print Recipe
Rich and creamy with the bold flavor of craft brewed ale.
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
  2. Add the chicken to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until cooked through, 7 -10 minutes. Remove from pot and drain on paper towels. Remove all drippings except a scant tablespoon.
  3. Add the onions and garlic and cook stirring frequently until the onion is softened and the garlic is fragrant but not brown. Add a small amount of the chicken stock to the pan to de-glaze it, scraping up any brown bits.
  4. Add the butter to the pot and allow it to melt. Add paprika, salt, pepper, chipotle and Worcestershire sauces. Stir to combine. Add the flour a little at a time. Stirring to combine after each addition. Once the flour is all incorporated, Allow to cook over low heat for a minute or two, stirring frequently.
  5. Add the chicken stock stirring to prevent lumps. Add the beer stirring as with the stock. Bring mixture just to a boil, Reduce the heat and simmer stirring occasionally until mixture thickens, 5-8 minutes.
  6. Add the bacon and chicken back into the pot. Simmer for a few minutes. Add the half & half and continue to cook over low heat until everything is hot and happy. Add the cheese a little at a time stirring until each addition melts.
  7. Ladle into bowls and serve.
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Memories of the Wine Country and a Quick Pasta Dish

We were fortunate to live in Northern California for almost 20 years. We took advantage of all the things that the area offered, Trips into San Francisco, camping in the Redwoods, exploring tide pools and of course the Wine Country. All of this, and there was no snow to shovel…Why we came back to the Midwest is complicated. Suffice to say we had our reasons and we have not regretted it.

My sons were born and raised in California. We had no family around so our adventures were always immediate family affairs and that included trips to the Wine Country. Scan_Pic0013Sonoma County was about an hour and a half away. It was a great day trip destination. Back in the 80’s Sonoma was pretty rural. There were a few big wineries and lots of small ones. The small wineries were more like family run farms with the crop being grapes. That actually makes them vineyards, and Sonoma still has some of the best.Scan_Pic0017

Every few months we would take a day trip up to Wine Country. We always did this on the cheap. Back then tastings were free and a bottle of wine was under $10.00 (if we splurged and bought one).  We would visit 3 or 4 wineries and have a picnic lunch overlooking the vineyards.  Lunch was often salami, cheese and crackers; some fruit and cookies for dessert (parent and child friendly and easy to carry in a cooler).

Our sons always found something to do on these trips. They were very adaptable and quickly learned to make their own adventures. Sometimes we even joined in their fun. The time we rented a canoe and paddled the Russian River was memorable for all of usScan_Pic0012

Left to their own devices they always seemed to find something to do. Being treated toScan_Pic0011 some fresh grape juice, skipping stones, playing with the wine maker’s children or playing with the requisite “Vineyard Dog” that seemed to hold court at every winery. Looking back, they mostly remember the adventures and not the waiting for Mom and Dad to finish their wine. At least that’s the way I prefer to remember it; they may have a slightly different take.

The trip home was quiet. The boys would sleep and I would most likely doze off, Jeff, ever the good husband and father got us back across the bridge in one piece (He also took these amazing pictures of the Wine Country). Once home everyone was hungry and getting supper on the table was job number one. That’s how Salami and Zucchini Pasta came to be. It was quick, hearty and everyone liked it. The salami was left over from lunch and the zucchini was usually in the fridge. Pasta, olive oil and garlic…I’m Italian, of course it was in the house.

The most recent time that I made this dish we had been out running “errands” that included picking up our wine at Cooper’s Hawk Winery, so the wine tasting component was there. I used salami that I received in a gift basket from my son. It was made with Chianti so it seemed to fit right in with my the wine tasting memories. Still being Italian, the rest of the ingredients were, once again, already in the house.

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The salami and zucchini get cut into match sticks, the garlic gets minced and it all goes into the pan with the olive oil.DIGITAL CAMERA

While the pasta is cooking the cream gets added to the pan, simmering to velvety thickness. DIGITAL CAMERAThis coats the pasta, salami and veggies, resulting in a rich and tasty supper. A little freshly ground pepper and some Romano cheese are all that it needs. We may be far from the Wine Country, but this pasta dish always brings back memories. It also is still a favorite and fast way to create a delicious ending to any busy day. 

 

Linguine with Salami and Zucchini
Print Recipe
A quick and easy pasta dish that you can whip up after a day in the (Wine) country or a long day of work.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Linguine with Salami and Zucchini
Print Recipe
A quick and easy pasta dish that you can whip up after a day in the (Wine) country or a long day of work.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook linguine in salted boiling water until Al Dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large frying pan and add the salami, zucchini, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until the zucchini is soft and the salami is slightly frizzled. 7 minutes or so
  2. Add the cream and bring to a hard simmer, stirring frequently. This will prevent scorching. Continue to simmer and stir until slightly reduced. 5 - 8 minutes.
  3. Reserve 2 ladles of the pasta water then drain the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the fry pan. Toss to combine the pasta and sauce. Cook for about 3 minutes until the sauce comes together. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems tight.
  4. Add pepper to taste and serve topped with the grated cheese.
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The past holds so much for us. It got us to where we are now and in some small way it colors where we will go next. Reflecting on the memories leads to rediscovering good things, like pictures of happy times and pasta that still tastes like love. Mama D

 

 

Rice Torta; Love From A Dolly Sister

My mother came from a big family, she was one of seven sisters. I try to imagine what living with six other girls was like. She didn’t share much of her growing up with me other than she got in trouble once for punching a younger sister. Somehow, I think that happened more than once. I’m certain of this because I got to see the “Dolly Sisters” as they called themselves, interacting as adults and that they all made it to adulthood is amazing.Scan_Pic0008

The sisters married and had their own lives, but they would get together at holidays, weddings and six or so times a year for “Birthday Club”. This was a food showcase and very serious card playing hosted by the birthday girl of the month. My most vivid memory is of them yelling at each other when one of them made what another thought was an egregious error in cards.

As was common in the Fifties, the sisters learned to cook what their husbands liked. So, my Aunt Lu made “Bohunk Dumplings” and my Aunt Evange cooked Sicilian. My Aunt Lil’s (she’s second from the left in the picture above) recipes were different from my other aunts’. Her lasagna and ravioli were filled with spinach, the roasts were fragrant with herbs, and whenever there was a family gathering, there was Rice Torta as an appetizer. As I was researching this recipe I came upon an almost identical one that was from Genoa, so perhaps Uncle Paul’s family came from there.

By the time I was in high school, I was already exploring cooking and I asked my aunt for the recipe. In typical Italian fashion, this is what she told me. I think I wrote it down exactly as she dictated it to me.

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 The recipe covers the important points and over the years I’ve made a few changes here and there. When my sons were just starting to eat solid foods I made a garlic and mushroom free version that they loved. It spent many years as a go to appetizer and then like many of the other recipes in my metal box it sat undisturbed until a week ago. This afternoon, I made Torta.

DIGITAL CAMERA I had everything in the house so it was easy to assemble. I decided to cut the recipe in half since as tasty as it is, after three days anything gets boring. I chose to add some onion along with the garlic and mushrooms. I sautéed them in a little olive oil and added them to the cooked rice and the thawed and squeezed out spinach ( I used a little more spinach than the recipe called for).DIGITAL CAMERA

The eggs were lightly beaten and added to the rice mixture. My cheese of choice was Pecorino Romano and the olive oil was extra virgin.DIGITAL CAMERA It baked for about 30 minutes. I decided to bake it in a pie plate and serve it in wedges.DIGITAL CAMERA

This can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s wonderful on its own, but it gets along well with other foods. A few tomatoes or some sautéed peppers would be nice. Even a little marinara and additional cheese could make it a lovely lunch or light supper.DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients
Servings: Appetizer Servings
Instructions
  1. Combine cooled rice and spinach in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Heat a small fry pan and add one tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook 3 - 4 minutes until soft but not browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Add the chopped mushrooms to the bowl along with the cooled onions and garlic, stirring to combine. Reserve two tablespoons of the olive oil and add the remaining oil to the bowl. Stir to coat everything evenly with the oil.
  3. Separate one egg and set the yolk aside. Place the egg white in a small bowl and add the other four eggs. Beat lightly and add to the spinach mixture. Stir to blend. Add 2/3 cup of the cheese to the bowl and stir to combine
  4. Pour mixture into a greased rectangular glass baking dish. Smooth the top. Beat the reserved egg yolk with a little water and brush over the top of the torta. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and drizzle with the reserved olive oil.
  5. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. It should feel firm to the touch, and the edges should be lightly brown.
  6. Remove from oven allow to set for 10 minutes before cutting into large or small squares depending on how you are serving it. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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The “Dolly sisters are gone now, playing cards and arguing with each other at that “Birthday Club” in the sky. I hope many of their recipes are living on through children, grand children and great grand children.

Love, Mama D

Anadama Bread – Love From Another Era

Winter is still here, damn her. Time to go through the recipe box again. Being held captive by the weather leaves Mama D with more time on her hands, My cooking adventures usually involve new recipes, but today I pulled out an oldie but a goody, Anadama Bread.

I made this recipe back in the day…the day being the early 70’s. It was in my earth mother hippie days when I baked bread every week. I also made dandelion wine and yogurt. The yogurt was actually very good, the wine, not so much. Anyway, back then the aroma of this bread as it baked was blissful. Sweet and yeasty with just the faintest scent of corn. The taste echoed the aroma and had subtle chewiness that the cornmeal imparted. A thick slice of Anadama Bread still warm from the oven, thickly spread with butter was, and is, one of the best tastes on earth.DIGITAL CAMERA How could I have forgotten about this?

There are many different recipes for this New England bread. The ingredients are usually the same save for slightly different measurements. The way the ingredients are combined varies slightly; you either make cornmeal mush or you don’t. DIGITAL CAMERAWhy?  you may ask. The story goes that a Fisherman’s wife in Massachusetts named Anna gave her husband the same cornmeal mush for breakfast every day. Sick and tired of it, he took matters into his own hands and added molasses and flour as he muttered (undoubtedly in a thick Boston accent) “Anna, damn her.” However the bread and the name came to be, this molasses and cornmeal bread is great toasted, as a sandwich base or dipped into soup or stew.

It is made like most other yeast breads which means you’ll be spending about 20 minutes making it and a couple of hours waiting for it to be ready. Call me old-fashioned, but I enjoy making bread by hand. I mix it with a wooden spoon and spend the necessary time kneading by hand to create smooth and elastic dough, just like I did back in the “old days.” All that’s missing are the embroidered jeans and bandana.

My recipe combines the cornmeal, yeast and half the flour in a bowl. The butter and molasses are added with hot tap water to create a soft dough.DIGITAL CAMERA More flour is added until the a “kneadable” dough comes together. Then the requisite 10 minutes of kneading happens resulting in that smooth and elastic dough.DIGITAL CAMERA The dough then takes an oil bathed rest for an hour or so.DIGITAL CAMERA

It gets punched down (that always sounds so mean to me) and formed into loaves.DIGITAL CAMERA It nestles into a loaf pan and rests for another hour before it goes into the oven to bake for 30 minutes or so. DIGITAL CAMERA

The bread comes out of the oven begging to be eaten, but wait at least a few minutes to cut in. I usually restrain myself for 10 minutes or so.

Anadama Bread
Print Recipe
Delicious bread made with corn meal and molasses.
Servings
2 Loaves
Servings
2 Loaves
Anadama Bread
Print Recipe
Delicious bread made with corn meal and molasses.
Servings
2 Loaves
Servings
2 Loaves
Ingredients
Servings: Loaves
Instructions
  1. Mix 2-1/2 cups flour, salt, cornmeal and undissolved yeast in a large bowl. Mix in the butter.
  2. Alternate adding the hot water and the molasses, Beat for two minutes. Add enough additional flour to make a soft dough.
  3. Turn onto a floured board. Knead until smooth and elastic. This should take 10 minutes or so. form into a ball. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour)
  4. Punch dough down. On a floured board, turn the dough out and divide in half. Form each piece into a loaf shape and put in a greased 8 X 4 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled (45-60 minutes).
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. The top should be golden and the bottom should sound slightly hollow when tapped. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.
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It’s actually a lovely way to spend an afternoon and the end result is incredibly worth it.    Love, Mama D