Monthly Archives: January 2015

Fully Loaded Minestrone…a Soup in Three Chapters

Once upon a time Mama D stayed home and cooked everyday. She created lots of wonderful dishes and wrote about them in great detail. She’s not a stay at home Mama anymore, but she is still in the kitchen every chance she gets and the wonderful dishes and stories continue to appear right here.

These days time management is the keyword in Mama’s kitchen. Working a split shift gives me a block of time in the middle of the day. Making something wonderful in these small windows of time is developing into an art form that I really enjoy. Many times I break a recipe down into smaller parts and complete each one before putting them together to create something delicious. That’s how this soup came to be.

Chapter One involved preparing the stock base. I began by sweating onions, garlic, and carrots in a little olive oil. DIGITAL CAMERAMy seasonings were simple, some Crushed Red Pepper Flakes and a healthy dose of McCormick Italian Herb Blend. (Love, love this)DIGITAL CAMERAA quart of my turkey Stock (featured in a previous adventure) went in and I let everything simmer for a good 30 minutes. I added a can of drained Fire Roasted Tomatoes and let it simmer a bit more. I stored it in the refrigerator overnight.

This soup story needed a little more meat. I found some bite size turkey meatballs that I had made a while back as well as one link of turkey italian sausage. I’m not sure why I only had one link, but it was the perfect little addition when I cut it in small pieces and baked it with the meatballs. They joined the stock in the refrigerator.DIGITAL CAMERAChapter two began the next day with cutting the vegetables that would happily swim in the soup. This task fit nicely into my mid-day window. I chose zucchini, colored bell peppers and frozen green beans.DIGITAL CAMERAThey created a vibrant splash of color, but they happened to be what I had on hand. They would go in near the end of the cooking. The shorter cooking time allowed them to keep their vivid color and a slightly crisp texture.

It isn’t Minestrone for me unless there is some kind of bean. Cannellini filled the bill beautifully. Drained and rinsed they would come fashionably late to the party. So, my mise en place was in place, ready for the final chapter that began when I got home from work.

The soup pot was ready on the stove and the tomato – turkey stock went back in. It heated slowly while I enjoyed a  glass of wine and some pleasant conversation with my husband.

When it was time to add the veggies, I wanted to give them a little extra love, so I briefly cooked them in a little olive oil and Italian Herb blend. The green beans sat this step out because they were already blanched.DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally the time was right to bring all the characters together for the denouement. The vegetables, beans, meatballs, and sausage joined together in the pot in perfect harmony.DIGITAL CAMERAA little more time over the heat and it was ready to eat. The only adornment was a little shaved Pecorino Romano. It was as satisfying as finishing a really  good book…DIGITAL CAMERAThis soup can easily be made all at once in the traditional way. That’s how the recipe is written. As always, make it your own…use the ingredients you love or what’s on hand. Use as many short cuts as you want or take the long way round. Here’s the basic recipe to get you started.

Fully Loaded Minestrone
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Fully Loaded Minestrone
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Warm a large soup pot over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and heat for 1 minute. Add the chopped onions, carrots and garlic to the pan alond with the pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon of the Italian seasoning and cook stirring occasionally 5 minutes. The vegetables should begin to soften and become fragrant.
  2. Add the stock and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the drained tomatoes and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  3. While the stock simmers cook the meatballs and sausage. This can be done in the oven at 350 degrees. It will take about 20 minutes. Set aside when cooked.
  4. In a large fry pan heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the peppers, zucchini and the remianing Italian Herb Blend. Cook for 5 minutes just until the vegetables are slightly soft.
  5. Add the meats and sauteed vegetables to the simmering soup pot. Cook for 5 minutes or so. Add the drained cannelinni and the green beans. Simmer 5 minutes more or until everything is heated through.
  6. Taste and make any adjustments to the seasonings. Ladle into bowls and serve with a bit of shaved Romano Cheese.
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A Cozy Nest and a Pot of Something Wonderful (Chicken & Poblano Chili)

Winter is here. There is snow on the ground and ice on the streets. It’s the time of the year when those of us who live in the Midwest turn our thoughts to curling up on the couch with a good book and a loving partner. Weekends at home give us time to fall in love with our new surroundings. The small apartment that seemed almost claustrophobic is becoming a cozy nest  as we add a picture here and a shelf there. Slowly the treasures we kept are finding new places and as I look around from my place on that couch it looks like home.

Nothing makes a cozy nest smell better than a big pot of something wonderful simmering on the stove. If you’ve been following along with my adventures, you know that soups (click here for some of my favorites), stews, and chili come out of my kitchen regularly. On a recent cold and snowy weekend I made some chili that was the perfect accompaniment to quality time spent inside.

i-peppers-anchochiliI started with some dried chilies, Ancho and Guajillo to be exact.guajillo chili Anchos begin their life as Poblano chilies. These are quite mild and became the repeating theme in this dish. Guajillo start out as Mirasol peppers. These are smokey and sweet with just a touch of heat. This wrinkled and leathery duo were the base for my chili. Before they could become the deep red sauce that held the other ingredients together they had to toast and soak, then whirl in the blender to finally be strained through a sieve. The beautiful sauce only needed a touch of agave and a pinch of salt to become the perfect base.DIGITAL CAMERAPoblano peppers made several more appearances. Fresh peppers were roasted and left raw as well for a wider flavor profile. I also used Ancho Chili Powder along with the essential heavy dose of Cumin.

I used “chicken bits” for the main protein. This is what I call the trimmings from chicken thighs and breasts that I accumulate in the freezer and save for just his kind of occasion.DIGITAL CAMERAI used a bit of bacon as I do in most chili that I make. Chopped finely and cooked off in the pot, it got things rolling. I drained the grease, but left the brown bits. I added a little olive oil and added the chicken to brown slightly.DIGITAL CAMERAThere had to be plenty of yellow onion and garlic along with the poblanos and jalapenos. Ground cumin and ancho chili powder cooked along with the veggies to deepen their flavor. The browned chicken and reserved bacon went back into the pot. I added a little chicken stock and more than a little hoppy beer to kick things up just a little. I added a can of fire roasted tomatoes that I had partially drained as well.

Everything simmered for a good 45 minutes, then I added a can of pinto beans that were drained and rinsed. Another 15 – 20 minutes and it was ready to eat…but not really.DIGITAL CAMERA The flavor was good, but as with many soups it’s even better in a day or two. So it camped out in the refrigerator for two days. There’s a double bonus here. It tasted great and was as easy to get on the table as heating it up and spooning it into bowls. I topped it with a little smoked gouda cheese. DIGITAL CAMERAThe smokiness of the cheese complimented the smokey undertones of the chili. It takes a bit of time to make this. The recipe is long, but it is fairly easy. It’s the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon and the resulting pot of wonderful is worth the effort.

Chicken and Poblano Chili
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This takes time, but it is worth the effort. Use different chilies to adjust the heat. It would be great with pork and black beans or what ever ingredients you love.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Chicken and Poblano Chili
Print Recipe
This takes time, but it is worth the effort. Use different chilies to adjust the heat. It would be great with pork and black beans or what ever ingredients you love.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Sauce
Chili
Servings:
Instructions
To Make The Sauce
  1. Use kitchen shears to cut open the peppers. Remove the stem and the seeds. Place the peppers in a large roasting pan. Place in a 300 degree oven and roast for a few minutes. This is to warm the peppers slightly and begin to release their oils.
  2. Heat the water to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chilies. To keep the chilies submerged in the water, place another pot into the chili pot and weight it down. Allow the chilies to soak for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Check to see if the chilies are soft. If they aren't let them soak a few more minutes. Once they are soft, remove them to a strainer and allow to cool.
  4. Working in batches, blend or process the chilies with fresh water. (1 cup chilies to 2 cups water) the mixture should be fairly smooth, but there will be bits of skin.
  5. When all of the chilies have been processed, pour the mixture through a fine sieve. Use a spoon to press as much of the liquid chili through the sieve. Discard the pulp in the sieve.
  6. Add a pinch of salt and a bit of agave syrup to taste. This makes a good 4 cups of sauce. Use in the chili recipe. Freeze the extra.
Chili
  1. Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until the bacon is browned. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Pour off the drippings, leaving any browned bits. Add the olive oil to the pot.
  2. Add the chicken bits to the pan and cook until lightly browned. Cook in batches if necessary. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the drippings in the pan. Work on roasting the poblano peppers while the chicken cooks.
  3. Use a broiler to roast 2 of the Poblano peppers. Place the peppers on the broiler rack and position the rack about 3 inches from the heat source. Broil turning frequently until the peppers are blistered and blackened all over. This may take up to 10 minutes depending on your broiler
  4. Place the roasted peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 5 - 8 minutes. The skin should come off easily. Remove the stems and seeds and chop and set aside
  5. Chop the remaining poblano pepper and add it along with the onions, garlic, and jalapeno to the soup pot. Cook for about 5 minutes until the peppers and onion are softened and the garlic is fragrant.
  6. Add the cumin and chili powder to the pan and cook for 3 minutes more. Return the chicken and bacon to the pot and stir to combine. Add the beer to the pot stirring to loosen any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so.
  7. Add the chili sauce, drained tomatoes, roasted poblanos, and the chicken stock. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
  8. Add the pinto beans and continue to cook 15 minutes more. This can be served immediately, but it is better after a day or two in the refrigerator.
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I added a salad of grape tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado that was lightly dressed with a lime vinaigrette. Warm corn tortillas rounded out the meal.DIGITAL CAMERA

Winter is sure to hang around for at least another month or two. Take the time to make your own pot of wonderful.

Turkey, The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Back around Thanksgiving, the bus company that I work for gave me (and every other employee) a frozen turkey. This kind gesture is a throwback to another era when employees were given a token of appreciation at the holidays for the work they did. That turkey or ham might have meant that a family could have a real holiday dinner. Today we are more jaded and some of us are better off so that a small turkey seems like small potatoes (sorry, odd analogy) to some. Still, it is 12 pounds more  turkey than I have ever received from any other company I’ve worked for.

The gift turkey had resided in my rather small freezer since then and the time had come to allow it to do more than take up space. So, not long ago, I thawed it and prepared it to give my family the gift of roast turkey. I prepared it simply stuffing it with lemons and onions fresh thyme and garlic. I rubbed it inside, outside and under the skin with smoked paprika herb butter. It emerged golden brown and yielded moist meat that our family enjoyed casually in shifts. This was definitely not a traditional turkey dinner. Twice Baked Potatoes and Broccoli Slaw were the only accompaniments. More than a little “picking” took place and I personally enjoyed my share standing next to the stove.

The thing about turkey is there is a lot of it. Even a small bird offers many meals. While we have enjoyed the sandwiches, pot pie, and continued “picking,” the carcass, those skeletal remains, is perhaps the best gift of all. A bit of meat, some skin, and of course those bones wherein the flavor lies are waiting to transform on the stove.DIGITAL CAMERA That’s why Mama D made turkey stock. I’ve shared recipes for chicken and vegetable stock before and the process for turkey stock isn’t all that different except maybe for needing a bigger pot. A mirepoix is sweat in a soup pot.DIGITAL CAMERA Then water, heat, and time work their magic and stock is born.DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the straining process isn’t pretty, it is necessary as is a cool down, to allow the fat to rise leaving golden goodness. To accomplish this, I used my large “walk out” refrigerator.DIGITAL CAMERAThe resulting stock was divided into manageable portions, and the next layer of the gift of turkey began.

One gift that I particularly enjoyed was a wonderful Turkey Sausage Soup. I was in the mood for something with a little spicy Southwestern feel, so I started with some spicy smoked turkey sausageDIGITAL CAMERA and added a bit of jalapeno and the requisite onions and garlic. Black beans and red bell peppers further enhanced the flavor profile. For a little twist on ingredients, I added some roasted sweet potato. I roasted it and added it to the soup near the end of cooking so that it would keep more of its flavor and texture.DIGITAL CAMERAI relied on a good bit of cumin and a modest amount of ancho chili powder to season the soup. This would be great with any chili powder that you like and you can make it as spicy (or not) as you want. That’s the beauty of soup. some aromatic vegetables, good stock and your imagination result in a pot of goodness that warms the body, soul, and heart. DIGITAL CAMERA I finished the soup with lime juice and topped it with a few home-baked tortilla strips (Cut corn tortillas in strips and lay on a baking sheet coat lightly with olive oil cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake 7 minutes at 325 degrees, turn, repeat the spray and salt routine and bake for 7 minutes more.) and some avocado. This was good lovin’ in a bowl that was even better the next day.

Spicy Turkey Sausage Soup
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Spicy Turkey Sausage Soup
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Spray a small baking pan with cooking spray and add the sweet potato cubes. Spray the cubes lightly with cooking spray and roast in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until the cubes are lightly browned and tender. Set aside.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, cut the sausage in half lengthwise then slice into 1/2 inch half moons. Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add the sausage moons and toss to coat. Cook for 7 minutes or so until the sausage begins to brown. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon leaving the drippings in the pan.
  4. Add the onions to the pan and stir to coat with the drippings. Cook for 5 minutes until the onion begins to soften and brown.
  5. Add the peppers and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes or so. The peppers should begin to soften and the garlic should be fragrant. Use a very small amount of the stock if things get too dry.
  6. Return the sausage to the pan. Add the cumin and chili powder. Cook and stir for 2 - 3 minutes. Pour in the stock. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes or so.
  7. Add the reserved sweet potato and the drained beans to the pot and cook over low heat another 10 minutes. Squeeze the juice of the lime into the soup. Stir and taste to adjust the seasonings.
  8. Ladle into four soup bowls. Top with a few tortilla chips and some avocado cubes and serve.
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The turkey will live on to bestow more gifts of love since there are several more bags of stock in the freezer. I don’t know what they will turn into, but I will think of that kind gesture of the gift of turkey when I use them.

 

A New Year, a New Grill and a New Panzanella Salad

When one reaches a certain age, the excitement over Christmas presents diminishes somewhat. It truly becomes a situation of it being better to give than to receive. That’s where we are. We lavished (as much as two people on fixed incomes can) gifts on our children and grandchildren, and enjoyed the glow of their happiness.

We have wonderful children who are raising wonderful children of their own. They were both thoughtful and generous in the gifts that they gave us. One son gave us a dinner at a small cafe in the city because he knows that we love going into Chicago and discovering out-of-the-way places to eat. The other son knew that one of the things we’ve missed most with our smaller home is grilling out. If you’ve been following my adventures over the last year or so, you know that grilling is our cooking method of choice much of the time. So imagine our delight at receiving a small grill from him for Christmas.DIGITAL CAMERA

While this grill is small, it gives us a platform to resume our favored cooking method. It meets the guidelines for the complex we live in and has ample space to grill enough food to feed two people very well. We’ve used this more than a few times since we’ve received it. Steaks and turkey tenderloin have turned out well, even though my husband, Jeff is virtually cooking in the dark. (note to self…buy a lantern or some kind of outdoor light source).

DIGITAL CAMERAOur latest team effort was some wonderful pork steak. I created aDIGITAL CAMERA smoky rub and Jeff worked his magic on the grill. In what turned out to be a genius touch, I topped each steak with Apple Cinnamon Goat Cheese. It added another dimension to the pork steak and complimented the smokey rich meat beautifully. This is most likely a seasonal item at Trader Joe’s that will be gone by the time I get back there, but there’s always next year.

As we get a better feel for what the grill is capable of, we’ll expand our grilling repertoire to include side dishes. For now, the oven has been a marvelous platform for healthy sides. A recent salad that tweaked the summer favorite, Panzanella is the perfect case in point. We’ve been having a serious love affair with roasted brussels sprouts. We often roast them to golden goodness with bacon, but a new year and a return to healthier choices caused me to choose red onions and colored bell peppers instead. DIGITAL CAMERAThey didn’t miss the bacon, and honestly, neither did we. Panzanella is after all, bread salad, so bread had to join the fun. I opted for some sour dough that had seen fresher days.DIGITAL CAMERA Cubed and lightly coated with olive oil spray it was helped along by a quick toast in the oven, to get ready to absorb the bounty to come. DIGITAL CAMERAA simple vinaigrette with white balsamic and lemon juice was a perfect partner.DIGITAL CAMERA Some mini heirloom tomatoes were tossed in to give it a touch of the traditional panzanella.DIGITAL CAMERA The result was a side that perfectly complimented the grilled pork.DIGITAL CAMERAThis turned out so well that I plan to create other panzanella salads this winter. There are lots of veggies and many varieties of bread out there that would undoubtedly love to get together in a salad bowl. 

Roasted Brussels Sprout Panzanella
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Panzanella salad in the winter? Absolutely! Roast your favorite veggies and toss them with your favorite bread and dressing. Who needs summer?
Servings
4
Servings
4
Roasted Brussels Sprout Panzanella
Print Recipe
Panzanella salad in the winter? Absolutely! Roast your favorite veggies and toss them with your favorite bread and dressing. Who needs summer?
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Dressing
Salad
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl or shake in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Set aside
  2. Place the bread cubes in a baking pan. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray and toss to coat evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes until the cubes are dry, crisp and just barely browned. Place in a large serving bowl.
  3. Combine the Brussels sprouts, red onion, and bell pepper in a large roasting pan. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and the salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly.
  4. Roast at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 minutes. The veggies should be tender and lightly browned. Pour the vegetables and any liquid over the bread cubes and toss to combine.
  5. Pour the dressing over the mixture in the serving bowl and toss to coat.
  6. Add the tomato halves and toss once more. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Toss again and serve at room temperature.
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Try this basic recipe and come up with your own bread salad. One can’t live by bread alone, but it does make life more delicious.