Category Archives: Weeknight Supper

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.

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.

 

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Tortellini and Chick Pea Salad
Course: Main Course, Salad
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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. 

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Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Servings: 2
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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….

Soup Season Has Arrived: Chipotle Cheddar Cheese Soup

It’s soup season. The calendar tells me so, but here in the Midwest we have had a very mild January…in fact it is almost one for the record books. There has been virtually no snow and the temperature has flirted with the 60’s. Still, it is soup season so soup is making many appearances in Mama D’s Kitchen.

Armed with plenty of homemade stock in the freezer I am embarking on serious soup adventures. My first stop was revisiting a pure comfort soup, Broccoli Cheddar Cheese, to be exact. What could elevate this creamy classic? Enter a block of Chipotle Cheddar Cheese. This is a white cheddar studded with bits of chipotle pepper. It is available in a few markets and while bringing a bit of heat is still a sharp cheddar that will please most tastes.

I started with onions, carrots and garlic softened in a little olive oil. My stock of choice was vegetable as “Meatless Monday” was looming. I simmered these together for half an hour or so before transforming it into creamy cheesy goodness. There was going to be a lot of cheddar cheese going into this so I dialed down the dairy fat by using a combination of evaporated skim milk and low-fat buttermilk. A flour and stock slurry insured pleasant thickness and some Worcestershire Sauce and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce added some zip. I added a little Chipotle Chile Powder. Depending on how hot you want to go, this could go as high as your palate can bear.

I blanched the broccoli to help keep its vivid green color and added a cup of frozen corn to keep things interesting.

This is actually a very quick soup to make. It would also lend itself to many variations. The addition of buttermilk was an experiment that succeeded. It added creaminess as well as a little zing to the flavor. If you can’t find chipotle cheddar use any sharp cheddar cheese.

Chipotle Cheddar Soup with Broccoli and Corn
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Chipotle Cheddar Soup with Broccoli and Corn
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or until the veggies are beginning to brown.
  2. Add 1/4 cup broth to the pot and stir scraping up any brown bits. Cook for a minute or so to reduce slightly.
  3. Add 3-1/2 cups of stock, the allspice, and chipotle powder to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 - 15 minutes.
  4. While the stock simmers, blanch the broccoli. Dump the broccoli into a pot of salted boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove the broccoli and submerge in a bowl of ice water. Drain well and set aside.
  5. Once the stock mixture starts smelling wonderful, add the evaporated milk and the buttermilk. Shake together the remaining 1/4 cup of stock and the flour. Slowly pour it into the soup stirring constantly. Continue to stir until it thickens.
  6. Add the broccoli, corn, Worcestershire Sauce and Chipotle Tabasco. Cook for several minutes.
  7. Over low heat, stir in the cheese, continuing to stir until it is melted. Give it a taste and adjust any seasoning. Serve.
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The soup pot sits at the ready for its next great adventure…I wonder where we will wind up?

Autumn Connections; A Tale of Two Pizzas

img_2802Pizza and I go back a long way. I remember the pizza my aunt made. It was thick and chewy, baked on a rectangular sheet pan. She would cut it into what seemed like giant squares with scissors. It was lightly topped with tomatoes, cheese and the occasional anchovy. It was heaven. One can’t live in Chicago without experiencing the Pizza at Gino’s or Due’s. The buttery crust baked in a pan, with cheese on the bottom smothered in sausage and sauce is memorable. Then there were the Friday nights I spent with my own sons. The family feasting on a pizza before we gathered around the TV to watch Full House and Family Matters.

Now I have a slightly different relationship with pizza. It’s a occasional indulgence in carbs and cholesterol that satisfies like nothing else. Still there are times when assorted toppings presented on a baked crust come out of Mama D’s Kitchen.

The tale of these two pizzas starts with a bag of fresh whole wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. I must say that this is the best store-bought crust I’ve ever had. It is however, a lot of dough for two people, and therein lies the birth of two pizzas.img_2791

The first pizza, I’ve named Chicken Pot Pizza. It is similar to the filling that I usually make for my Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie with only a few changes (mainly less gravy). It baked in a small cast iron skillet that was the perfect size to serve 2.

img_2793I like Leeks, Artichoke Hearts, and Crimini Mushrooms in my filling, along with a few Carrots and plenty of Thyme. I had some grilled chicken breast on hand, but you could use the rotisserie variety as well. What is pizza with out cheese. For this pie I used some Smoked Gouda, but again, use whatever you think would be wonderful. This pie stacked up a bit more like lasagna than pizza and would definitely be in the “deep dish” category.img_2800

Once baked, it was a marvel of flavor and texture. This (and its inevitable variations) will become a feature in the Kitchen of Love.img_2805

Chicken Pot Pizza
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Servings
2
Servings
2
Chicken Pot Pizza
Print Recipe
Servings
2
Servings
2
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Place a 8" cast iron skillet in the oven. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Leave the skillet in the oven while you prepare the filling.
  2. Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet.
  3. Add the vegetables to the pan and cook until they are soft and fragrant. This should take 7 -8 minutes or so. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
  4. Melt the butter in the same skillet. Add the flour and cook and stir for several minutes to create a smooth roux.
  5. Add the milk and stock and whisk constantly. Add the thyme leaves and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, stirring often.
  6. Add the reserved vegetables and the chicken to the pan and continue to cook until everything is nice and thick.
  7. Flatten the pizza dough out to a circle slightly larger than the bottom of the cast iron skillet.
  8. Remove the cast iron skillet from the oven and carefully fit the crust into the bottom of the skillet. Return the skillet to the oven to bake the crust slightly. (4-5 minutes )
  9. Remove the skillet from the oven and layer the grated cheese and chicken/vegetable mixture on the crust. Starting and ending with cheese.
  10. Bake 10 -15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and everything is bubbly. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley and cut into wedges.
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The second pizza was born of some leftover ingredients from the firstimg_2857 pie. I already mentioned the dough I had left, but I still had another Leek that was ready to be part of something else wonderful. It joined in a perfect Autumnal match up with Butternut Squash and Gala Apples. Rosemary and Thyme provided the herbaceous background. Everything was roasted to intensify the flavors and add a bit of “fall color.”

I opted to create a “thin crust” pie this time. A bit of olive oil and pre-baking on my trusty pizza stone created a light and crispy crust. All that was needed now was the cheese factor. I used Goat Cheese that I added a bit of honey to. While the combination was far from traditional, it was extremely tasty.img_2866

Butternut Squash, Leek, and Apple Pizza
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Butternut Squash, Leek, and Apple Pizza
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the squash, leek and apple slices in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss until everything is nicely coated.
  2. Spread the mixture in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper. Place the herb sprigs on top of each pan.
  3. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes or until everything is tender and beginning to turn golden.
  4. Raise oven heat to 425 degrees. If you are using a pizza stone, place it in the center of the oven.
  5. Stretch and roll the crust into a circle slightly larger than your pizza pan. Spray the pan generously with the non-stick spray.
  6. Place the crust on the prepared pan and gently stretch into shape. Pierce the crust all over with a fork and bake in the oven (on the pizza stone if you are using it) for 6-8 minutes.
  7. Allow the goat cheese to soften slightly. Fold the honey into the cheese.
  8. Remove the crust from the oven. Top with the vegetable and apple mixture. Drop the cheese by teaspoonfuls evenly over the vegetables.
  9. Return to the oven and bake 6 - 8 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly golden. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and serve cut in wedges.
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So, it took a bit of time to get this post out there. Life isn’t too complicated, it just seems to be taking more time lately. Since it’s been a while, I’ve tried to give you as much bang for the buck as I could (2 recipes and a link). I hope you try them in your own Autumn kitchen. There have been lots of wonderful things coming out of the Kitchen of Love, hopefully more of them will make it to this site soon.