Category Archives: Vegetables

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.

Another Meatless Monday Creation (yeah, really) – Zucchini Pasta Frittata

We are still enjoying Meatless Mondays in Mama D’s Kitchen. I’ve shared many meatless recipes here and not to flog the proverbial dead horse, but one more is about to be shared. You can consider this your spoiler alert. My feelings will only be hurt a little if you choose to bypass this offering, but before you turn away, give this little treasure a “lookie see”, you may be impressed.069

Eggs were speaking to me one recent Monday and they were telling me that they wanted to be a frittata when they grew up. That seemed like a reasonable request, so I embarked on a search to find worthy companionship for them. The refrigerator yielded several zucchini and a jalapeno, the pantry offered a jar of roasted red peppers, and onions and garlic left their place of honor on the counter to join in the merriment. I even found a lonely sliver of mozzarella cheese that begged to tag along.

I wanted to do something different with the zucchini, after all it is pretty standard fare in the frittatas that come out of the kitchen. I remembered seeing several recipes for Pasta Frittatas that made use of left over spaghetti. I had no left over pasta and it being Monday and all, I was trying to get things on a less “carb heavy” track after the weekend. We all know that “Zucchini Pasta” is a current darling of lighter cooking, so it was a natural leap to get out the spiralizer and crank out a pile of green (and white) goodness to replace the starchy alternative.049As with any good fritatta, it is at its best when layers of flavor come together. Mama D’s Trinity (Garlic-Onions-Olive Oil) was joined by the chopped jalapeno. They cooked to golden loveliness before I added the zucchini.057The zucchini took mere minutes to cook to “al dente” creating a bed of veggie delight ready for their egg bath. The eggs were gently cooked to the point of almost being set. everyone has their own technique for cooking a frittata. I’m of the shake, lift, and be patient school. All of this paid off, and the eggs cooked to almost set perfection. As a crowning touch, I added some shredded mozzarella and roasted red pepper strips before dispatching it to the broiler.

A quick note here: I do not have an “oven friendly” medium skillet. I know, shame on me. I did however, have a skillet with a non-ovenproof handle and some foil.  Wrapping the foil tightly around the handle made the pan more or less oven safe. See, it was worth reading this just for that handy little tip.  070The magic happened and the frittata came out golden and bubbly. This was the perfect  size for two (we’re talking Mama D size servings here), but it could easily serve three or maybe four if you added some crusty bread, a nice salad and a killer dessert. 073

Zucchini Pasta Fritatta
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Servings
3
Servings
3
Zucchini Pasta Fritatta
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Servings
3
Servings
3
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium oven friendly skillet. If you don't have one, wrap the handle of a non-oven friendly one tightly with foil.
  2. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook for 3 minutes or so until things get soft and fragrant.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until everything is golden and smells heavenly.
  4. Add the zucchini and toss to combine with the oil and veggies already in the pan. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the zucchini begins to wilt and takes on some color.
  5. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl with the half & half. Add a little salt and pepper or any other seasoning of your choice.
  6. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables in the pan and shake the pan to distribute the eggs and begin the "not sticking" process.
  7. As the eggs cook around the edge, lift gently with a spatula to allow the uncooked egg to get to the bottom. Continue to cook, shake, and lift until the eggs are almost set.
  8. Top with the red pepper strips and the grated cheese. Place the pan under the broiler and allow to cook until the top is set and the cheese is melted and golden.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.
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With warmer weather more or less coming to stay (except for the almost frost last night), light suppers will be occurring more often. Eggs are such a versatile base and the choice of vegetables, herbs, and seasonings are as wild as your imagination. Give a frittata a try. It’s easy, quick and almost foolproof.

Smiles of a Spring Evening and Grilled Vegetable Stacks

In spite of occasional days of rain and cold, Spring is finally settling into the Midwest. Trees once bare are now laden with blossoms or sprouting leaves. The days are longer and on some days sitting out on the balcony is a downright pleasure. This all makes grilling out much more enjoyable. We are ardent year round grillers, but it is nice to be able to actually attend to it without having to put on a winter coat.

It was just such a recent (Meatless) Monday night that gave life to these vegetable stacks. The weather was perfect for a grill meal that needed a little attention but still allowed time to sip a glass of wine. It was also necessary to have time to admire the beauty of our park like courtyard complete with the sounds of children chasing balls and bubbles. A light breeze sent the blossom scents wafting through the air and made for an almost perfect evening.012

While this does qualify as a quick weeknight supper, there is a bit of earlier in the day prep involved. The vegetables need to be cleaned, cut, and marinated. I started with Portobello mushrooms.004 These were an interesting size, labeled “Mini” Portobello, they were more like “Giant” Crimini. Whatever the nomenclature, they were the perfect size to create a base for the veggie stacks once the were stripped of their gills and given a little wipe down. The rest of the veggies were cut in thick chunks to fit nicely in the caps. Everything got  popped into zip top bags and marinated in a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Any marinade of your choosing will be perfect.007

When the time came to grill , I reached for my trusty Grill Mat. This is possibly one of the greatest inventions of the millennium. This mat allows you to grill the gooiest marinated food, the smallest pieces of anything edible, and anything that is likely to stick, come apart, or fall through. While possessing all the above attributes, what I find the most amazing is that food still comes out tasting smokey and for lack of a better word, grilled.014 There is an infomercial that offers these, but I know that mine came from a Groupon offer (thank you Loren) that is unfortunately no longer available. If you don’t have these mats, I would strongly recommend a grill pan.

I started with the mushrooms which take the longest time. Once they were almost done I moved them to the top rack. They finished cooking and the mushroom drippings found their way onto the vegetables below. This was a very good thing. Put the veggies on the grill in order from the longest cooking time to the shortest.017This is where the time to sip wine and tend to the grill come into the picture. The veggies seem to require almost constant moving, turning, and otherwise attending too, but on a beautiful spring evening it’s a perfect excuse to spend time outside. You may notice that the onions are sporting the latest in toothpick accessories. This isn’t just for show, the picks help keep the onions together, the better for them to be a stable layer in the stack. Just remember to take them out before assembling.

Once everything was perfect, I took them inside and began the assembly. While this was happening, I put the tomatoes on the grill. Opt for Roma Tomatoes or any other firm fleshy variety. These will hold together and keep their tomato integrity.023Toothpicks again came to the rescue again. Once the stacks were assembled complete with their lovely mozzarella hats, I used the picks to give them and me an extra level of security.028  It was worth the effort and use of wood, not a single stack was lost. They were beautiful and ever so tasty.  030

Grilled Vegetable Stacks
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Grilled Vegetable Stacks
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Use a spoon to scrape the gills out of each mushroom. Wipe them with a damp paper towel and place them in a gallon zip top bag.
  2. Place the remaining vegetables in another zip top bag. Try to lay them flat.
  3. Divide the Balsamic dressing between the two bags. Seal the bags and turn them a couple of times to distribute the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  4. On a grill set at high heat and using a grill mat or pan, cook the mushrooms, turning as needed until they are somewhat soft. If you have a second rack on your grill move them to it top side up.
  5. Add the vegetables to the grill. Start with the onions. It is helpful to use toothpicks to hold the slices together.
  6. Once the onions begin to brown, add the squashes. Continue to cook the vegetables turning occasionally until they are beginning to soften and are browning.
  7. Remove all the vegetables and the mushrooms from the grill. Add the tomatoes. These will cook while you assemble the stacks. Enlist a lovely/handsome assistant to keep an eye on them while you do this.
  8. Assemble the stack as follows: Mushroom, onion slice (don't forget to remove the toothpicks), zucchini slice, pepper chunks, and yellow squash slice. You will have some squash slices left over, do with them as you wish, but they do fill out the plate nicely.
  9. Remove the tomatoes from the grill, and add them to the stack. Top each stack with a slice of the mozzarella.
  10. Anchor each stack with a toothpick. Trust me, don't skip this step. Return the stacks to the grill and cook, covered until the cheese begins to melt.
  11. When everything looks beautiful, bring the stacks in and remove the toothpicks. Serve with a nice salad and the remaining squash slices.
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As always, feel free to use any vegetables that you like. Think of the possibilities when the Farmer’s Markets really get rolling. A light and delicious dinner will be stacked in your favor.

Inspired Supper: Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu-Italian Style

I absolutely love coming up with recipes. It’s so much fun to ponder, “What should I make for supper?” and then let my mind wander until the perfect blend of ingredients comes to mind. I must confess, however, sometimes my ideas are not always completely my own.

I like nothing better than to read a cookbook as if it was the hottest best seller. There are so many things to learn from the pages of any given culinary tome. Another source of inspiration comes from the myriad cooking magazines that are available. I make it a point to pick up two or three every month, choosing something different each time. The inspiration for this recipe comes from one of those magazines.

Food Network Magazine featured a Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe in its September issue. It was a classic recipe turned inside out and prepared on the grill. It was interesting enough to catch my eye. Once my eye was caught, my brain started thinking about how I could make it my own. It was easy to prepare and the ham and cheese wrapper was definitely open to interpretation. The question became, “Where should I go with this recipe?” The answer was quickly obvious. Why to Italy, of course. I kept the chicken breast and the grill leaving the other ingredients behind. Except, that is, the zucchini which is always a pleasant partner in any Italian caper. Prosciutto and provolone cheese became the wrapper. A few sage leaves came along to provide an earthy surprise.2015-09-20 18.58.24

I decided that boneless, skinless chicken breasts can always use a little help in the flavor department, so I marinated them in olive, oil, lemon juice, and some Italian herbs. A bit of onion and some garlic also joined the mix. Then the grill did its magic and when the chicken was almost done, I added the sage, cheese, and prosciutto, 2015-09-20 19.35.29The beautiful bundles returned to the grill for a few minutes to turn a lovely pale gold. I decided to top it with some of my pesto to round the final turn for a classically Italian dish.2015-09-20 19.46.00Then there was the matter of the zucchini. My grill isn’t very large and can only provide a friendly and hot haven for one thing at a time, so the zucchini roasted in the oven. It was paired with red and sweet onions a glug of  olive oil and some Italian herb blend.2015-09-20 18.51.15Towards the end of the cooking I added a sprinkle of finely grated Romano cheese and let it brown up under the broiler. A little roughly chopped parsley and it was ready.2015-09-20 19.38.26This was a very satisfying supper, not too heavy and bursting with flavor. Other than marinating the chicken, everything was ready in about  half an hour. Perfect for a weeknight, but great for a weekend meal after a busy day.2015-09-20 19.48.05

Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu: Italian Style
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu: Italian Style
Print Recipe
Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken in a zip top bag. Mix together the lemon juice, grated garlic, chopped onion, one teaspoon of the herb seasoning, and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Pour into the bag with the chicken squeeze and turn the bag to coat the chicken evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours
  2. Remove the chicken from the bag and place on a hot grill. Grill until lightly browned. Turn and grill until the second side matches the first.
  3. Remove the chicken from the grill and lay three sage leaves on each breast. Top with a slice of the cheese and wrap with the prosciutto. Return the chicken to the grill cheese side up and cook for a few minutes to melt the cheese and crisp up the prosciutto.
  4. While the chicken is grilling, combine the zucchini, onions and the remaining olive oil and herb blend in a baking dish. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 - 25 minutes.
  5. Top the zucchini with the Romano cheese and broil until the cheese is golden. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
  6. Top each chicken breast with 1 tablespoon of the pesto. Plate it up and serve.
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I’m happy that this recipe inspired me and happier that the inspiration turned into something delicious. The moral of this story is that any recipe worth “borrowing” is worth making your own.