Category Archives: Main Dish

A Tale of Three Dressings (and Their Salads)

Spring is here and thoughts of food often lead to thoughts of lighter meals and to the variety of fresh vegetables that seem to be expanding in availability every day. Peas and asparagus boldly take their place on plates everywhere, and while these are wonderful, it is also a time for all vegetables to take center stage. An easy way to do that is to  have salad as the main dish, and that is what has been happening in Mama D’s Kitchen.

Time for a definition and a short history lesson: Salads are defined as small pieces of food that are mixed with a sauce or dressing. They have been around since early times. Greeks and Romans enjoyed “salata” as part of their meals. That Latin word basically means “salted things” and the vehicle of choice to bring that salt to the food was a dressing, usually consisting of oil, vinegar, and of course, salt. So, I guess that it is safe to say that any food that can be cut into small pieces can be a salad and Dressings are what makes the salad.

The dressings I’m sharing today all meet that basic “salata” formula. There is oil and some kind of acid, always vinegar but often some tangy citrus, too. I like my salad acid forward (and a bit lower in fat) so I tend to use a little less than the 3 to 1 ratio of oil to acid. Use the ratio that makes you happy, there are no rules. The same goes for the ingredients you choose…if you like it, use it, if you don’t try something else.

First up is a Beet and Goat Cheese Salad. The leafy base is a Spring Mix so it is seasonally correct in spite of the beets (no rules, remember). Roasted red and golden beets were treated  to a warm vinaigrette. Pancetta fried up in olive oil along with a chopped shallot were the basis of this honey sweetened dressing. My vinegar of choice was Champagne, but white balsamic or apple cider would be just as delicious.


Warm Pancetta and Shallot Vinaigrette

This is great with bacon, too. Add any fresh herbs that tickle you fancy and use the vinegar that you love the most. This is great on any vegetable salad. It is very close to a classic German Potato Salad Dressing.

  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 4 Ounces Pancetta Chopped
  • 1 Small Shallot chopped
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. Honey More or less to taste
  • Pepper and Kosher Salt to Taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Of your choice, optional
  • 3 Tbsp. Champagne Vinegar Or other vinegar of your choice
  1. Heat Olive Oil in a medium skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until it is almost crisp. Add the shallot to the pan and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes 

  2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for several minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Toss with the salad of your choice.

As a kind of tribute to “salata’s” Mediterranean roots, the next salad encompasses the flavors of Italy and Greece. Garbanzo beans, feta cheese and olives sit atop Romaine and are dressed with a blend of lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs.


Mediterranean Vinaigrette

A twist on the classic vinaigrette with plenty of lemon and more than a hint of garlic. Add any fresh herbs of your choice. This is wonderful on a Greek salad, but it would be equally delightful as a dressing for grilled vegetable or a pasta salad. It makes a great marinade as well.

  • 1 Medium Lemon Juice and zest
  • 2 Cloves Garlic Grated
  • 1/4 Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes Optional, to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Herbs Parsley, thyme, basil, or you choice
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper To taste
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Olive oil
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until completely blended. Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Finally in a nod to the flavors of the Southwest, a Salad featuring grilled skirt steak, peppers and onions. Fire roasted corn and pepitas joined in as well. This dressing started out as fresh salsa, then lime juice, olive oil and red wine vinegar came on the scene, accompanied by cumin and ancho chili powder.


Salsa Dressing

This starts with salsa, you choose the type. Tangy lime and robust red wine vinegar join forces. Cumin and whatever type of chili powder you love come into play. Add some fresh cilantro or oregano to increase the fresh taste. This makes a wonderful marinade as well as a salad dressing.

  • 3/4 Cup Salsa Any kind that you love
  • 1 Lime Juice and zest
  • 2 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. Ground Cumin Or to taste
  • 1/2 Tsp. Ancho Chili Powder Or to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Chopped Cilantro
  • 1/2 Tsp. Agave Nectar Optional, to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • Kosher salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until well blended. allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

A few final notes: As I said before, there are no rules for the dressings here. If you like a more homogenized dressing, give the ingredients a whirl in the processor (probably not a good idea for the warm dressing). If you like a touch of sweetness or feel the need to temper the acidity a bit, try Agave Syrup. a little goes a long way,but it can bring just the right touch of sweet to make everything come together.

The weather is getting warmer each day, lighter meals are more appealing and your salad bowl is a wonderful catalyst to meals that salute the season.

Pantry Raid! Tortellini and Chick Pea Salad

They say that knowledge is power. This applies to many things that help one live a full life. The phrase can also apply to the more mundane matters of life like making dinner. Having recently learned a great deal about what is in the pantry, Mama D has used this knowledge to create some pretty interesting things (and a few mundane things as well). Since “Meatless Monday” is on the horizon, I thought I’d share a recent solution to the question: “What can I make for dinner without having to run to the store?”

Tortellini salad sounded good. Having discovered that I had one of those little bags of dry cheese tortellini in the pantry, and knowing that they really only work in soup or a salad, the choice was easy. It honestly could have gone either way, but another “Midwestern Warm Spell” made the salad idea more appealing.

Further investigation of the larder revealed several cans of chick peas, the refrigerator yielded some zucchini and grape tomatoes, and the freezer revealed several bags of pesto (remnants of a distant summer). Not bad for starters, I thought. The zucchini was roasted, the tortellini cooked al dente, and the pesto was blended with some buttermilk to create a light and creamy dressing. Now what?Nothing like some sliced red onion and sweet pepper rings to add some crunch and color. The pepper rings were discovered in the back of the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I do not remember why I got them in the first place, but it had to be for something because the jar was half empty; or was it half full?  It seems that no part of Mama D’s Kitchen is immune from hoarding or philosophical musings.

The Buttermilk Pesto Dressing was perfect. The tangy low-fat dairy gave the rich pesto a healthy balance. Two more refrigerator discoveries; some Romano Cheese (a staple actually) and Kalamata Olives (original purpose unknown) rounded out the bowl. As this salad was kind of thrown together from what was on hand, it can be adapted to anyone’s pantry and I would recommend adapting it to your own needs.


Tortellini and Chick Pea Salad
Course: Main Course, Salad
  • 8 Ounces Dry Tortellini
  • 1 Can Chick Peas Drained and rinsed
  • 2 Small Zucchini
  • 1/2 Medium Red Onion
  • 1-1/2 Cups Grape tomatoes Halved
  • 1/4 Cup Pickled Pepper Rings Any kind
  • 1/4 Cup Kalamata Olives Quartered
  • 1 Bag Italian Lettuce Blend
  • 2 Tblsp. Grated Romano
  • Cracked Black Pepper To taste. Optional
Creamy Pesto Dressing
  • 1/3 Cup Basil Pesto
  • 1/3 Cup Buttermilk
  • 1 Tblsp. White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tblsp. Olive oil
  1. Cook the Tortellini according to the package directions. Drain well, rinse and drain well again. Place in a large bowl.

  2. Quarter the zucchini lengthwise and chop into 1 inch pieces. Spread out on a baking sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray. sprinkle with Italian herb blend. Roast at 375 degrees for 15 minutes turning once to brown both sides. Add to the bowl .

  3. Slice the red onion into thin vertical slices. Toss with a little vinegar and set aside for 15 minutes. Blooming makes raw onion less strong tasting. Drain the onion and add to the bowl.

  4. Add the chick peas, olives, tomatoes, and pepper rings to the bowl and toss to combine everything.

  5. Shake the Pesto Dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Pour about half of the dressing over the salad and toss to coat well. Cover the bowl and chill for several hours.

  6. About 30 minutes before serving remove the bowl from the refrigerator and add the remaining dressing. Toss again.

  7. To serve: Place a couple of handfuls of the lettuce blend on each of the plates. Top with the tortellini salad and sprinkle with the Romano. A generous sprinkle of black pepper is a nice finishing touch.

Like a perfect storm, this salad will never happen in quite the same way again. The next version will most likely be different no matter whose kitchen it comes from. 

Confessions of an Impulse Buyer – Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I’m an impulse buyer. Sometimes something calls to me like a Siren. I’m drawn to it, my reason somehow clouded by its alluring song. The temptress isn’t a designer bag or a beautiful pair of earrings; far from it. Quite often it is a jar of imported olives or an intriguing blend of ancient grains. Grocery stores and markets are my weakness, and I’m forever a sucker for the new and unusual.

Many a routine shopping trip meant to replenish our staples finds me coming home with some culinary treasure or another. My need to have whatever it is doesn’t care if there is little room to store it. So much so, that I’ve converted an entire closet in our minuscule apartment into a pantry. (Thank you Papa D for humoring me).

From time to time I pull myself out of my gastronomic reverie and take stock of my larder. I repentantly vow to use what is on hand before I buy anything else that could be considered non-essential. The time has come to take stock, take a vow, and start getting creative.Here is my counter of shame…yes all of these came out of my pantry. Sadly, this isn’t everything, I left the more plebian things out; actually I ran out of room. Some were actually purchased for a specific recipe, but many were acquired just to have. What’s Mama D to do?She made Stuffed Peppers for starters. Poblano peppers were stuffed with a quinoa rice blend that was good the first time around, but has been languishing in the dark ever since.  Since we were in a  “South of the Border” kind of vibe, I started with a Sofrito of sorts. In this case it was poblano, onion, garlic, and cilantro chopped finely and sautéed in a bit of olive oil. The liquid was predominantly Guajillo Chili Sauce (click here for the recipe). This gave the grain a hearty depth of flavor. I created lovely Poblano boats by cutting a large oval out of their sides. This also gave them great stability in the oven.The chopped up pepper scraps, some red bell pepper, onion, and Chipotle Chicken Sausage.Sauteed in a bit more olive oil, they gave the filling substantial substance. 

I added the rice to the above mixture and tossed everything together. I also added some Pepper Jack Cheese because I was feeling the need for an even bigger comfort food sensation ( nothing says comfort to me like adding some cheese). I over – filled the pepper boats because that’s how I roll. I even put some of the filling in the pan to act as a tasty platform for the peppers. They spent some time in the oven under a foil tent, when they were almost ready, I topped them with more cheese and let the broiler work its magic.

These were very tasty. The flavor was rich but surprisingly not too spicy. If you wanted to turn up the heat, you could add some chopped jalapenos or use a spicier chili sauce. By the way, if you don’t have the time or inclination to make scratch chili sauce, canned enchilada sauce would work as well. 

Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Servings: 2
  • 2 Tblsp Sofrito
  • 2 Tblsp Olive Oil Divided
  • 1 Cup Chili Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 2 Tsp Cumin
  • 2/3 Cup Brown Rice Or other grain blend
  • 2 Large Poblano Peppers
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Red Bell Pepper
  • 3/4 Cup Chopped Onion
  • 1/2 Cup Chicken Broth More or less as needed
  • 2 Links Chipotle Chicken Sausage Quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 3/4 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese divided
  1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the Sofrito and cook for 3 - 4 minutes until it is fragrant.

  2. Add the rice or grain blend and stir to mix in the sofrito. Cook another 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

  3. Add the chili sauce, water, and cumin and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

  4. Cut a large oval out of the side of each pepper. Carefully remove the seeds and membranes. Each pepper should look like a little boat when you are finished. Chop the pieces that were cut out and add them to the onions and red peppers. Set the pepper boats aside.

  5. In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions, red peppers, and chopped poblano pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally until everything softens and browns slightly. Add the chopped sausage to the pan and cook for several minutes more

  6. Add the reserved grain mixture to the pan.  Add enough broth to loosen the mixture slightly. It should be moist but not soggy. Cook for a few minutes then remove from the heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the grated cheese.

  7. Spray a casserole pan with cooking spray. spoon a little of the ric mixture into the pan. Fill the pepper boats generously with the rice mixture. Place the pepper in the casserole.

  8. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the peppers. Set the oven to broil return the pan to the oven and broil for 3 -5 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.

  9. Remove the peppers from the oven and serve.

So, there is one less bag of grain in the pantry and finding the bag of gajillo chilies was a surprise that lightened the load a little more. I can say with pride that my last two forays at the grocery store were essentially only essentials…except for the Fish Sauce (I was almost out) and the Anchovy Paste (it was on sale). Baby steps….

Nonna’s Cookbook: Entry #1 Scampi

I’ve been sharing my cooking  (and life) adventures here for several years. Here, I’m Mama D, home cook and blogger. I answer to a few other names as well. I’m Mom to my sons, Wife to Papa Diehl, and proudly, I’m Nonna to my beautiful grandchildren. As the holidays draw to a close, the magic of family is the star on my Christmas tree.

Sitting under that tree right now is a small book that was a special gift from my grandson, Jakob. It’s a “fill in the blanks” book designed to preserve recipes. As a new year dawns, one of my “resolutions” is to use this book to record my favorite recipes. It is an exercise in an art that has been lost to me for many years, and perhaps something my grandchildren will look at one day.

I know in this day and age most of us preserve our recipes and many of our thoughts and ideas, for that matter, on the computer. We post them on social media to be shared with an audience of friends, family, and total strangers. It’s easy, it’s quick, but there is a certain amount of de-personalization in the whole process. We don’t write letters any more, and the paper trail we leave is in the “Cloud” wherever that may be. Most children aren’t learning to write cursive and struggle to read the few words that are written on a birthday card. I’ll get off my soapbox, now. I’m not against modern technology, far from it ( this blog is small proof of that). So, while I will continue to share my recipes here, many will also live on in that little book that’s under the Christmas tree.For the first entry in my cookbook I’m sharing my Scampi recipe. I’ve learned that the word Scampi in Italian means prawn (a.k.a. a large shrimp) thus making “Shrimp Scampi” somewhat redundant. Translations notwithstanding, this is my favorite way to make shrimp, no matter where they are going to wind up. In this recipe, the magic is in the marinade. The ingredients are simple and always available in Mama D’s Kitchen.Lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and parsley mingle with lemon juice, dry vermouth, and quite a bit more than a little extra virgin olive oil. This mixture gives the sweetly bland shrimp a culinary pair of big girl panties and prepares them for any kind of introduction to heat.After a few hours resting in-robed in plastic within the cool confines of the refrigerator, they are ready for anything; a hot grill basket, a quick bake in the oven, a turn in a skillet, or a brief visit under the broiler. Where they go after that is up to the cook’s imagination, but it is always delicious and never results in left overs.

So here without further ado is Mama D’s Scampi recipe.

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  1. Dry the peeled and deveined shrimp between paper towels, then place them in a zip top bag.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour the marinade into the bag of shrimp. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but no longer than 5.
  3. Grilling: Heat a grill basket over a medium high fire. Spray the basket with non-stick spray. Remove the shrimp from the bag and add to the grill basket. Cook stirring gently until the shrimp turn pink and curl slightly. This takes 7 -10 minutes.
  4. Broiling: Place the shrimp in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with a little of the marinade. Broil 3 - 4 minutes. turn the shrimp and broil for 3-4 minutes more.
  5. Baking: Lay the shrimp on the baking sheet as for broiling. Bake 3-4 minutes, turn the shrimp and broil 3-4 minutes more
  6. Frying: Heat a large skillet and add about 2 tablespoons of the marinade. Add the shrimp and saute, turning frequently until they turn pink .
  7. Once the shrimp are slightly curled and pretty in pink remove them from the heat source and serve as an appetizer or main dish.
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The recipe will live on as part of this blog post. It is also preserved as the official first entry in “Nonna’s Cookbook.”

Happy New Year!

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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Lentil and Chicken Sausage Casserole
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  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.