Monthly Archives: March 2015

In Search of Inspiration and Spaghetti Squash Lasagna

All of us that love to cook find inspiration in many places. The most exciting inspiration is the kind that just pops into your head. You see a beautiful vegetable or a marvelous piece of meat and immediately begin to create a recipe around it. You rush home and begin to cook virtually by the seat of your pants. Most of the time it pays off, but once in a while it doesn’t. So you go back to the drawing board, changing an ingredient or adding another until you have the perfect dish. The result is something that you can call all your own.

There are many other sources for cooking inspiration. It could be one of the myriad cooking shows, a treasured cook book or a magazine featuring recipes of the season. While the idea may not be original, it is still a source of inspiration. When I see a recipe in one of these places, my first thought is how can I make it my own. I may occasionally make it as written, but more often I’ll substitute an ingredient or add something to the mix. The process is not too different from that of creating an original recipe, and the result is something that I can call my own.

Spaghetti-Squash-Pie-58829This recipe came to be in the latter way. I saw a recipe for Spaghetti Squash Lasagna in a Kraft Foods magazine. Ironically, when I spaghetti squash lasagnasearched for the recipe online to provide the above link, I found many recipes for the same dish. The variations were amazing. In the shell, out of the shell…who knew that so many great minds could think in such a similar manner. In the world of online recipes that is vast beyond ones imagination, finding a dish similar to your creation is pretty easy. The good news is there’s room for everyone’s ideas; the more the merrier I always say. So I’ll share my take on the recipe and you can do with it whatever strikes your fancy.

I liked the idea of cooking the filling right in the squash shell. It made for an interesting presentation. I found a smallish squash that once cut, seeded, and baked was the perfect size for two generous servings. DIGITAL CAMERA

I made the ricotta filling much like I would for a traditional lasagna, that is, I added spinach, garlic, and a little Pecorino Romano cheese along with an egg. The sauce started with sweet turkey Italian sausage links, casings removed. I added plenty of onions and garlic, of course before I added about a cup of pasta sauce, remnants of a previous adventure, that I found in the freezer.DIGITAL CAMERAI used a fork to loosen the squash strands. I thought this would allow the flavors to get better acquainted. I layered the ricotta, sauce, and Romano cheese before topping it all with a good handful of grated Italian cheese blend.DIGITAL CAMERA

It baked in the oven for about 30 minutes and spent a few minutes under the broiler. It came out crowned with a golden brown cheese crust, the bubbly filling peeking from beneath it.DIGITAL CAMERAIt tasted wonderful and I have to say we didn’t miss the pasta. I wanted this to be on the healthy side so I used part skim ricotta, minimal oil, and turkey sausage to cut some fat and calories. Use whatever you like. This would be great with ground beef, pork or even meatless. Use this as the source for your own inspiration and join the ranks of inspired cooks.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cut squash in half and the remove seeds. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray. Spray the cut sides of the squash as well and place cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. The shell should give slightly when pressed with a finger. Turn right-side up and allow to cool a bit.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a medium fry pan. Add the onion and cook for 1 -2 minutes. Crumble the sausage into the pan and add the garlic. Cook 5 - 7 minutes until the sausage is cooked, stirring often.
  3. Add the tomato paste and raise the heat to medium high. Stir to coat the sausage mixture. Cook for 3 minutes adding chicken broth as needed to prevent scorching.
  4. Add the marinara sauce to the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat
  5. In a small pan heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Add the spinach and Italian herb blend. Cook stirring frequently until the spinach is wilted. This should take 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  6. Combine the ricotta, egg, garlic powder, and 2 tablespoons of the Romano cheese in a small bowl. Stir in the cooled spinach.
To Assemble
  1. Use a fork to loosen the squash threads slightly. Divide the ricotta mixture between the two squash halves. Spoon the sausage mixture on top of the ricotta. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of Romano Cheese. Top each half with the Italian cheese blend.
  2. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes. If you prepared and assembled ahead of time increase the cooking time to 30 minutes or so. The mixture should be bubbling slightly.
  3. Turn oven to broil and cook until the cheese is light golden, about 2 -3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.
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Thoughts of Spring and Lemony Asparagus, Chicken, and Penne

The Midwest has seasons. Four very distinct ones to be exact. Here changes aren’t subtle, they are sudden and intense. Humidity shows up one day unannounced and it’s summer. The leaves change color seemingly overnight and it’s fall. The first frost comes out of nowhere and winter is upon us, Then one day you wake up to puddles where piles of snow used to be and it’s spring.

The Vernal Equinox is a few days away, but here, in my part of the Midwest, spring arrived last week. A week that started with down coats and scarves, ended with light sweaters. Early in the week outdoor activities involved scraping ice off windshields and brisk walks to get out of the cold. Was that Monday? By week’s end there were bicyclists peddling their spandex covered butts down the road. People were outside walking in shirtsleeves and enjoying it. Children were playing outside joyously unbundled. That’s how spring starts here and after a tough winter we all revel in it.

Everyday on the bus, I ride by fields of corn-stalk stubs that are hosting nothing but the bold Canada Geese and brave Mallards. These optimistic fowl nibble at the few corn kernels missed at harvest or bob in puddles of melted snow for some forgotten morsel. There are tastier things Spring has to offer with its own menu of foods. Eating fresh and local is now a fine art. While nothing is actually sprouting in our still slightly frozen Illinois ground, foods like strawberries, beans, and peas are being sourced closer to home. As the saying could go, it’s always spring somewhere. This is true of that iconic harbinger of spring, asparagus. DIGITAL CAMERADIGITAL CAMERAI must confess that I do eat it in the non-spring months, but it alwaysDIGITAL CAMERA begins to taste wonderful as the air starts to warm up. It is a delicious and nutritious vegetable that lends itself to so many preparations. I’ve extolled its virtues here many times. Sharing adventures in grilling, roasting, and even pickling. I usually allow this magnificent spear to stand alone as the perfect side dish to enhance a meal, but sometimes, especially when it comes from far away, it is the perfect addition to a main dish. That’s how Lemony Asparagus with Chicken and Penne came to be.

DIGITAL CAMERALemon is a wonderful flavoring agent. It adds zing, acid and a fresh DIGITAL CAMERAfruity taste of sunshine to everything it touches. I carried this flavor into several levels of this dish. it started with some chicken breast bits that I let chill out with some lemon pepper seasoning. This was the salt free variety so there was no danger of the chicken “cooking” before its time. A quick saute in a large fry pan and it was ready to go. It sat on the sidelines while the vegetables took over. A good amount of red onion and slightly more than a little garlic joined in. A touch of olive oil kept everything moving and when things got a little tight some chicken broth loosened it up. Finally it was time to add the asparagus and I added a lot of it. This dish is about spring after all.DIGITAL CAMERA

My pasta of choice was a whole grain penne and I used just over a cup of dry to serve two.DIGITAL CAMERAI wanted to continue on that lemony sunshine theme, so the sauce included the zest and juice of a whole lemon. The complimenting sauce flavor came from dry vermouth though chicken broth could also fill the bill.  A generous grinding of Italian Herb Seasoning (McCormick Grinder once again), some grape tomatoes, and kalamata olives rounded things out.DIGITAL CAMERA

When it was time to serve, I added a sprinkling of feta cheese. The result was a dish that felt like spring in the Mediterranean.  Lots of fresh vegetables, a little lean protein and some whole grains to tie it together made this a poster child for the diet that bears the name. Give this one a try while asparagus is having its heyday.DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Lemony Asparagus and Chicken with Penne
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Lemony Asparagus and Chicken with Penne
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Toss the chicken with the lemon pepper seasoning. Cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours in the refrigerator.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and cook for 4 minutes or so. The chicken should be light golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve. Leave the drippings in the pan.
  3. Add the onions to the pan and saute for 3 minutes or until the onions begin to become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
  4. While you prepare the vegetables, cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 2 minutes less than the package directs. Drain and set aside.
  5. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Toss frequently to insure even cooking. Add a little chicken broth if things seem dry.
  6. Add the vermouth (or broth) and the juice of the lemon to the pan. Lower the heat slightly and allow to cook for 3 minutes or so.
  7. Add the Italian seasoning and the lemon zest, stirring to combine. Return the chicken to the pan. Toss to mix evenly.
  8. Add the olives, tomatoes, and pasta to the pan and continue to cook 3 minutes or so until everything is heated through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
  9. Spoon the mixture into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the feta cheese and serve.
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The weather is back in the 40’s this week. Nights are cool and mornings are chilly but, I believe we’ve made the leap and spring is not just around the corner but right next door.

 

 

Frittata For Two and Other Thoughts

This is a story about making a frittata for dinner, but there’s more to it than that. Let me start by saying we have been feeling a little under the weather. Call it a cold…call it the flu…whatever, we have been struggling to stay upright for several days. I wanted to fix something for dinner, but I wanted it to be light and easy. Eggs are always a good choice when it comes to filling that particular bill, and a frittata is a simple way to prepare them. It also is a good way to clean out the refrigerator.

Frittata starts on the stove and is finished in the oven. This requires an oven proof cooking DIGITAL CAMERAvessel. Enter the cast iron skillet. I discovered my mother’s old skillet when we moved and it was the perfect size for a two person frittata. There was just one problem. My mother was a dish washing fanatic and the skillet was no exception to that rule. While it had seen its fair share of eggs, it had also seen a lot of dish soap. I gave it a quick seasoning in the oven that helped the sticking factor a bit. It is getting a formal seasoning as I write this and it should be ready for its next close-up soon; that is to say, now.DIGITAL CAMERA

I decided to go for an Italian flavor profile with a nod to healthy choices. The key ingredients would be chicken sausage and baby spinach. Things couldn’t be Italian without  a fair amount of onion and garlic.DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a big fan of the Chicken Sausage that Meijer sells. They have several varieties. The Garlic and Asiago is my favorite, but they have a spinach and mozzarella as well as a chipotle pepper version. They are lower in fat but big on flavor. They are also pre-cooked so prep time shrinks while the sausage doesn’t.

I added a roasted red pepper for a little color. A week or so ago I scored a huge bag of red bell peppers for 99 cents. I sliced and froze some and roasted a few more. I created little roasted pepper packets each holding a whole roasted pepper (peeled, skinned and quartered, of course).DIGITAL CAMERA It was just the amount I needed for color and flavor in my frittata. So, I chopped everything and threw the skillet on the stove with a good dose of olive oil.DIGITAL CAMERAI started with the onion since it needs a little more love.DIGITAL CAMERAThen I added the sausage, garlic, roasted pepper, and eventually, the spinach. Since a little olive oil is a good thing, I opted to add a bit of chicken broth to keep things moving and the fat content in check.DIGITAL CAMERAWhile all this deliciousness was going on, I cracked some eggs and beat them with some low-fat half & half and a shredded Italian cheese blend.DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the time was right I added the eggs to the pan and began the shimmy shake and lift process that is the basis for any omelet, Italian or not.DIGITAL CAMERAOnce everything was beginning to set up, I topped it with a bit more of the cheese blend along with some sliced tomatoes.DIGITAL CAMERAIt spent some time in the oven and a brief interlude under the broiler. The result was golden goodness that received a sprinkle of fresh basil before coming to the table.DIGITAL CAMERAI served it with some toasted  Rosemary Soda Bread that I made earlier in the week. A quick drizzle of olive oil and it was ready to eat.DIGITAL CAMERA

I chose a Barbera wine from Cooper’s Hawk that complimented the dinner beautifully. It had just the right body and flavor to bring out the best in the food.DIGITAL CAMERA

So here’s how Mama D does Frittata. It more or less follows the traditional process. I opted to let it bake in the oven before turning on the broiler. You know the drill by now…use this as a starting point and make it your own with the ingredients you love.

Frittata with Spinach and Chicken Sausage
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Frittata with Spinach and Chicken Sausage
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a small oven proof skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally 5 minutes or until the onion begins to soften.
  2. Slice the sausage links in half lengthwise then slice into thin half moons. Add these to the onions in the pan and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add the garlic and roasted red peppers and cook for several minutes until the garlic becomes fragrant.
  4. If things seem dry, add the chicken broth and toss to coat. You could add a little more olive oil instead of the broth if you like.
  5. Add the chopped spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted.
  6. While the vegetables cook, crack the eggs into a bowl. Beat well. Add the milk and beat to combine. Add half of the cheese and stir to blend.
  7. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Give it a good shake to begin the setting and minimize the sticking.
  8. Continue to cook the eggs gently lifting and shaking to maintain even cooking.
  9. When the eggs are almost set, sprinkle a little of the remaining cheese on the top. Cover the top with the sliced tomatoes and the rest of the cheese.
  10. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or so. Turn on the broiler and cook for another 2 minutes until the cheese is lightly browned. Remove the pan from the oven and let it to rest for 5 minutes.
  11. Sprinkle with the basil and drizzle with a little olive oil. Divide between two plates and serve.
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The frittata was wonderful, the bread and wine were a perfect compliment and we really did feel much better after we ate. Healing is another wonderful result of cooking with love.

Thoughts of Spring and Roasted Shrimp with Cannellini Beans

It’s that time of the year. The time of year when thoughts turn to seafood for dinner. For some it is religious or cultural. For others it may be a way to bring warmer weather to mind. For many of us it is a quick and healthy dinner that feels like dining out. Whatever the reason, seafood is a great dinner alternative and here’s Mama D’s latest seafood adventure.

Hands down, my favorite seafood is shrimp. They come in at a relatively reasonable price which is always a plus for me. They cook quickly which means dinner can be ready in less time. They are versatile and can adapt to many cuisines. They are delightfully sweet and just the right amount of bland so that they take well to whatever you choose to dress them with.DIGITAL CAMERA

Where I live, we are landlocked and fresh shrimp are usually an unattainable luxury. Fortunately, there are many varieties of frozen shrimp available and some of them are quite good. It is a little “you get what you pay for” and a lot ” buy the ones that taste best to you.” I found the ones that I like best at Aldi. They are Jumbo E-Z Peel and come in a 12 ounce bag. Once they thaw and you peel and devein them you wind up with about 9 ounces of delicious shrimp which in Mama D’s book feeds two people very nicely.DIGITAL CAMERAMy current favorite way to prepare shrimp is to marinate them in olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic and pepper flakes.DIGITAL CAMERA In recent adventures I have taken these marvelously marinated morsels to the grill. DIGITAL CAMERAI skewered and broiled them for Christmas Eve dinner too, but my current favorite way to cook them is to roast them in the oven. This is quick and easy and with a foil lined baking sheet easy to clean up.DIGITAL CAMERARoasting the shrimp only takes about four minutes. The result is perfectly tender and subtly pink bites of heaven.DIGITAL CAMERA

The inspiration for this dish came from a recipe in Cooking Light Magazine. I took their recipe for Roasted Shrimp and White Beans and ran with it. It started and ended much like the recipe, but I took some liberties, well a lot of liberties, in the middle. I used cannellini beans and red onion  just like the recipe.DIGITAL CAMERA I added some garlic, well a lot of garlic, and a few red pepper flakes.This mirrored the marinade ingredients. I added some dry vermouth and sliced Kalamata olives. My herb of choice was basil and I used the juice and zest of  a whole lemon for extra zing. I garnished with crumbled feta cheese much as the original recipe called for.

This resulted in a side that was the ideal compliment to the shrimp. It was a plate of love with the kiss of the Mediterranean.DIGITAL CAMERAFeel free to adapt this to your own taste. Other herbs like mint or parsley would be great. Adjust the amount of lemon to match the amount of pucker you like. Go ahead and use more pepper flakes or leave them out. I’d really like you to make this your own.

Roasted Shrimp with Cannellini Beans Olives and Feta
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Roasted Shrimp with Cannellini Beans Olives and Feta
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Shrimp and Marinade
Beans
Servings:
Instructions
Shrimp
  1. Place the shrimp that have been well dried in a container with a lid.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and stir to coat the shrimp evenly with the marinade. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes and as long as 4 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray the foil generously with olive oil cooking spray. Place the shrimp on the sheet in a single layer making sure that they do not touch.
  4. Bake for 4 minutes. Shrimp should be translucent and pink. Remove from oven and keep warm.
Beans
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large fry pan. Add the red onion and cook 5 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook another minute.
  2. Add the beans to the pan. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the vermouth and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and Kalamata olives. Cook another minute or two. Add the basil and toss to combine.
  4. Divide the bean mixture between two plates. Divide the shrimp between the two plates.
  5. Top each serving of the beans with half of the feta cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired and serve.
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All this needs is a salad, and perhaps some crusty bread. Never fear if you don’t have either, it’s wonderful on its own.

If shrimp are on the menu, can Spring be far behind? I hope so… Love, Mama D