Category Archives: Salads

In Praise of Gas Grills…and Roasted Red Peppers

Summer is at its peak and fresh vegetables are overflowing their bins. Grills everywhere are fired up and working up a major sweat. Vegetables and grills have a special affinity that is at its best at this time of the year.

Purists will swear by charcoal and I do love me some char-grilled meat, but there are times when the convenience of gas has many of its own attributes. Disclaimer: I have no choice other than using a gas grill. Apartment living requires it for safety reasons (at least in my complex). That being said, I used gas long before I had to. It is at times a love hate relationship but, lately I love it and here is why.

The biggest plus (in my book) is how quickly it is ready to cook. Turn on the gas and press the button and you have a flame.  In a few minutes it is hot and ready to cook. What I love the most about this almost instant grill gratification is that it allows me to grill only the ingredients that I want. These ingredients can then come inside and become part of a pasta dish, frittata or salad. and yes all of those have happened this past week.

Woodman’s, a local mega grocery store, discounts their slightly sad produce. The discount is deep (think large bags of produce for 99 cents) and it is done daily with Mondays seeming to be the biggest day. While there are often some things that are sadder than others, there is usually enough usable produce to be well worth the under a dollar price. Quick processing then becomes the top priority. My bag of peppers, all of which were usable went in several directions. I chopped up a few and froze them for later, some where good enough for a salad and the rest went on the grill.

Grilling peppers accomplishes two things. The peppers cook into a silky textured scarlet bite of deliciousness and the charring allows the skin to easily be peeled.  This peeling step is a must do. For as silky as the pepper flesh gets the skin becomes tough, chewy and isn’t fun to eat.

As with peeling chili peppers, covering with plastic wrap and allowing the peppers to sit for a few minutes makes the skin easy to remove. The jewel like flesh that is revealed is a thing of beauty.

I opted to roughly chop the peppers for the recipes that I made, but slicing them into strips and adding some herbs, vinegar and olive oil create the perfect star for your next relish tray. As I said they made several appearances in the kitchen. My favorite was their co-starring role in a Panzanella Salad.

Cucumbers, cannellini beans, red onions, tomatoes, and whole wheat baguette joined the peppers and some kalamata olives to create a Mediterranean main dish salad that was wonderful. 

A Mediterranean Vinaigrette laced with lots of Rosemary gave a light yet zesty flavor to the salad. A sprinkling of Feta and it was ready to enjoy.

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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.

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

As far as Panzanella Salad Recipes go…anything goes. Tomatoes and cucumbers seem to be a must and of course crusty bread has to be present as this is a “Bread Salad.”

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Cannellini and Roasted Red Pepper Panzanella Salad

Another variation on the classic Panzanella Salad.  This is totally open to your own interpretation. add or subtract what you want, just make sure the tomatoes and bread stick around.

Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • Can Cannellini Beans Drained and rinsed
  • 2 - 3 Roasted Red Peppers Chopped
  • 1 Cup Sliced Cucumber
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced Red Onion Scliced vertically
  • 1/4 Cup Kalamata Olives Sliced
  • 1 Cup Grape or Cherry Tomatoes Halved
  • 2 Cups Crusty Bread Cubes Day Old is best
  • 3/4 Cup Mediterranean Vinaigrette Recipe above
  • 1/3 Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
Instructions
  1. If the bread cubes are soft toast them lightly in a 325 degree oven. they should be dry and lightly golden. Combine the peppers, tomatoes, onion, olives, bread, and beans in a large bowl.

  2. Add the dressing and toss to coat everything nicely. cover and chill for several hours.

  3. When you are ready to serve, re-toss the salad adding a little more dressing if necessary. Sprinkle with the Feta cheese and serve.

So now that I have “said my piece” about grills and peppers, I will leave you with this bit of philosophy: Grills and peppers come in all shapes and sizes. Kind of like everything else in the world. Find what works, find what you love, and make it your own.

Hail Caesar!! The Salad Dressing of Summer

This is shaping up to be the “Summer of Salads” in Mama D’s Kitchen. Posts here and those published directly on Facebook have definitely had a vegetable forward approach. It just feels right because here in the MIdwest we are experiencing a very warm June, in fact it has felt more like August for the better part of a week.

Salads can be easy to prepare and are the perfect light supper for those warm Summer evenings. This post is paying tribute to Caesar Salad Dressing as I make it. This is not the traditional coddled egg and anchovy version though these ingredient are present in slightly different forms. Even with these “shortcuts” the result is creamy, tangy, and worthy of reining over anything.

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Caesar Salad Dressing

This is a basic dressing that can be adjusted to your tastes. The recipe can be doubled and because it can be used in many different ways this is a good idea.

Ingredients
  • 1 Clove Garlic Smashed
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1- 1/2 Tsp. Anchovy Paste More or less to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. Mayonnaise Olive oil based is nice
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tsp. White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp. Cayenne Optional, to taste
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredient in a small food processor. Pulse until everything is nice and smooth.

  2. Give it a good taste and adjust the flavors to make you happy. Store, in the refrigerator  in a jar with a tight fitting lid. 

Once you have your dressing made, use it in whatever way you like. The two dishes I’m sharing are pretty basic, but they are a great place to start. First there is the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad. Classic, easy, and delicious. Marinate Chicken Breast in a bit of the dressing. Use boneless/skinless whole breasts or use tenderloins like I did. Threaded on a skewer they cook in no time and have more grilled surface which means more flavor.Torn Romaine Lettuce, the cubed chicken and a couple of tablespoons of dressing are tossed together. Once plated add some shaved Pecorino (or Parmesan) and a few croutons. Heaven on a plate. Swap the chicken for shrimp or salmon or even leave out the added protein and enjoy it as a delectable side.Caesar dressing is wonderful on any vegetable salad. It can turn grilled vegetables into the perfect accessory for grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

Toss your vegetables of choice with a little of the dressing and let them get well acquainted in the refrigerator for several hours. Cook them in a grill basket over medium heat. For this dish I used zucchini and yellow squash, asparagus. red onion, and Yukon Gold potatoes. You want everything to be barely tender so depending on how hot your grill is, this will take 15 – 20 minutes.

A note here: The potatoes take longer to cook. To even the cooking time out, steam them for about 10 minutes or cook them in the microwave for 3 – 5 minutes.

Toss the vegetables with a little more of the dressing and allow to mellow in the refrigerator for several hours. This type of salad tastes best slightly cool or at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge accordingly. You can add a few grape tomatoes, some chopped fresh herbs and a grating of cheese if you are so inclined. Take as many liberties with the vegetables as you would like. green beans, eggplant, or peppers would enjoy this royal treatment.

There is no need to stop at salad and marinade. Use it as an ingredient in burgers, drizzle a bit on a sandwich, or use it as a dip for artichokes. The possibilities are almost endless and summer is only just beginning.

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.

 

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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.

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

 

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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.

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

 

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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.

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

Mama D’s Fall Kitchen Adventures

There  is more than just a hint of fall in the air. Cool days and cooler breezes make it abundantly clear that the season has changed here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m ready for Fall, at least I think I am. I enjoy the cooler days and the leaves changing colors. No longer having to rake them makes the whole process even more enjoyable. While I’m not anxious for Winter, I am ready for this change and the change in my cooking focus that it brings.

I want to share a few quick picks of what’s been happening in Mama D’s Kitchen. Many of these are Non-Recipe Recipes; that is they really are just musings on what’s in season and more importantly what’s in the house. So come join me as we a take a culinary walk back over the last couple of weeks.

I bought some Nan bread (the garlic variety) to go with a curry dish. The curry wound up being paired with some Brown Basmati Rice and the Nan was left to fend for itself. In case you’ve never thought of it, Nan makes a great quick pizza crust. It’s the perfect shape and size for personal pizza and works in the oven or on the grill.

I opted for a version of White Pizza using some of my Homemade Ricotta (thanks, Ina Garten) and Pesto. I mixed the two together to create the “sauce” I drizzled the Nan with some olive oil and toasted it in the oven briefly before adding said sauce. The toppings were Italian Sausage and Mini Heirloom Tomatoes both of which were on hand and waiting for their moment to shine. The cheese was a marinated mozzarella that was purchased on speculation, but perfectly suited to the pizza.2015-09-29 19.07.46 Once baked it was topped with some basil, olive oil, and served with baby greens dressed lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. Now, that was a delightful and very easy supper.2015-09-29 19.17.31

I found some lovely beets at the store and since they are one of Papa D’s favorites I had to bring some home. My preferred method of cooking is to roast them. This also is the most stain proof way, in my opinion. Wash them off and remove the greens leaving a little of the stem. Lay them on a couple of sheets of heavy foil, drizzle with a little olive oil and wrap them up tightly. Let them roast at 375 – 400 degrees until they are easily pierced with a knife and the kitchen has the earthy aroma of beets. This can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on the beets.2015-09-27 19.45.11 Let them cool long enough to make them handle-able. I love beets, but beet red is not my color, so I opt to wear gloves to rub the skins off. If you enjoy red fingers go ahead and use bare hands and paper towels. Once peeled, I cut them into chunky chunks and dressed them lightly with a Balsamic Vinaigrette that was laced with some orange peel. Any dressing that you love would work here. I set them on top of some baby greens (left from guess what?) and garnished them with some goat cheese. Wonderful!2015-09-28 19.34.01

Finally I have to share another “Pork Love” dish, Stuffed Pork Chops. I have recently re-fallen in love with pork chops, particularly the thick cut, bone in, center variety. They are eating perfection. The thin ribbon of fat on the edge and the succulent bone along the side create a depth of flavor that is divine. They are wonderful simply prepared on the grill or in the oven, but I knew they were just begging to be stuffed.

This stuffing was inspired by what I had on hand and included some frozen chopped spinach, red bell peppers, and whole grain bread. Honestly anything could go into the stuffing. Leave out the bread and go all veggie, or use rice, quinoa or any other grain you have within easy reach. I started my stuffing with onion and garlic that I sautéed in a little olive oil (Is there any other way to begin?). The spinach and bell pepper jumped in and got very friendly with them. I put the bread in the toaster and then crumbled it into the veggies. I added a little chicken stock to moisten everything and packed it generously, albeit lightly, into the pockets that I had cut. I added a little wine to the pan and salt and pepper to the chops. For a crowning flavor boost I topped them with some sliced onions.2015-09-28 18.42.53

I let them bake covered for 20 minutes or so then I lifted their foil blanket and let them roast another few minutes to get lightly golden. I opted for 350 degrees because that seemed right. Baking time depends on the thickness of the chops and what’s inside…use your best guess, but do not overcook them.2015-09-28 19.38.31

The chops were scrumptious; moist and tender and positively dripping with flavor. I’ve started a mental list of what to add the next time; herbs, sausage, cheese, the ideas are endless.

So there you have it, three quick and easy kitchen adventures. Now it’s your turn to take my ideas and run with them.

 

Greenie Beanie Salad with Warm Bacon, Shallot, and Garlic Dressing

Don’t laugh at the title of this post. Greenie beanies was how we always referred to this vegetable when my kids were growing up. Maybe it helped them eat them more willingly, maybe I just made up silly words because I was that kind of mom. Whatever the reason, we still refer to those lovely green spears as greenie beanies. They are still a family favorite and if you took a poll, half the family would like them as a salad and the other half would like them as a warm side dish, though everyone would eat them both ways.

The garden has given us a veritable bounty of beans. The beans have survived being nibbled down to almost nothing by deer, shivering through cold beginnings, basking in very warm sunshine and way more than enough rain. Thanks to care by many residents especially wonderful Lois, the beans are sweet and tender and just beg to be eaten simply. Green Bean Salad in Mama D’s Kitchen consists of blanched green beans in a dressing of olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar. This is how my mother made it except that the beans were more than blanched and  the dressing usually featured mint as the herb of choice. I think she used mint because it was very plentiful in our backyard. Anyone who has grown mint knows that it knows no boundaries, so there was always a steady supply for bean salad and the requisite summer iced tea.

When I fix green beans as a side dish I fry up some bacon and add shallots. Then I toss the blanched beans in this deletable bath and heat until everything is happy. Green beans and bacon have a natural affinity and the shallots add a subtly onion-y flavor that is perfect with almost anything.

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I couldn’t decide which of my preferred preparations to make so I opted for a mash-up of the two.The beautiful beanies would be lightly cooked to the perfect tender crispness and dressed with a vinaigrette of garlic, olive oil and balsamic. The dressing would be further enhanced with shallots and bacon. While I decided to chill the beans slightly, the dressing would be warm.

Blanching green beans seems to work the best for me. Cooking them briefly in boiling water then plunging them into an ice bath, while seeming cruel and unusual punishment, results in bright green beans that crunch ever so gently when you bite into them. It sets the stage for whatever they will become.

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On this occasion, they chilled briefly  while I prepared the dressing. Two slices of chopped peppered bacon crisped up in a pan. Out came the bacon and away went the drippings. The pan was left with all those beautiful brown bits. They weren’t alone for long. I added some olive oil followed by some diced shallots. Once they were soft and fragrant I added some garlic and let them cook long enough to become really good friends. Then a bit more olive oil and some balsamic vinegar and the dressing was perfect.

By this time the beans were slightly chilled and ready to welcome their rich brown dressing. The bacon crowned the dish and a new family favorite was born.

Green Bean Salad with Warm Bacon Shallot and Garlic Dressing
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Green Bean Salad with Warm Bacon Shallot and Garlic Dressing
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, bring a good amount of salted water to boil. Add the green beans and cook for 3 - 4 minutes (they should be just barely tender and quite crisp).
  2. Drain the beans and place in a bowl of ice water. Stir to cool as quickly as possible. Drain well and store in the refrigerator while you make the dressing.
  3. Chop the bacon and cook it in a small skillet until it is crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all of the drippings but leave the browned bits.
  4. Add the olive oil to the pan and let it get hot. Add the shallots and cook for 3 minutes or so until they begin to turn golden.
  5. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often.
  6. Add the vinegar and reduce the heat to low. Let the dressing simmer for a few minutes. Check the flavor and add salt and pepper if needed.
  7. Put the beans in a serving bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle the reserved bacon on the top and serve.
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It looks as though there will be more beans to come as well as tomatoes and peppers (as long as the squirrels don’t sample too much).  In spite of everything our community garden is giving us lots of food and a different perspective on apartment living.