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Brussels Sprout Love

I do believe that Fall is here. Pumpkins are everywhere along with what I consider the essential Fall vegetables. In Mama D’s Kitchen the Love extends to squash, sweet potatoes, and those lovely little green cabbages,

Back in our California Days, we would drive by Brussels Sprout fields.Brussels Sprouts, the stalks standing proudly, perfuming the air with their mild cabbage scent. Driving along highway 1, we would keep a lookout for a beat up old station wagon on the side of the road. Every time we saw it, we would stop and greet a man older and more beat up than his car. His name was Dutch and he sold Brussels Sprouts and artichokes out of the back of that old station wagon. Every visit resulted in a bag of sprouts and a baby artichoke or Brussels sprout (Dutch’s gift) for both of my sons. They would each hold on to these treasured gifts all the way home.

These days, we get our Brussels sprouts from the store and at this time of year they seem to be the sweetest of all. I want to share some of the ways that I love these “little cabbages” in the hope that you will invite them into your kitchen. My very favorite way to prepare them is roasting. All they require is a drizzle of olive oil and whatever seasonings your heart desires. Salt and pepper go without saying, but earthy herbs, smoked paprika, and cumin are always welcome additions.

Brussels Sprouts play well with others. Onions have a strong affinity, as do sweet potatoes, Red and Yukon Gold potatoes. Even peppers and fruits like apples or cranberries can co-mingle . By themselves or with other vegetables they make a wonderful side dish, and in the case of this Panzanella Salad, a one dish side.

Roasted Brussels Sprout Panzanella
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Panzanella salad in the winter? Absolutely! Roast your favorite veggies and toss them with your favorite bread and dressing. Who needs summer?
Servings
4
Servings
4
Roasted Brussels Sprout Panzanella
Print Recipe
Panzanella salad in the winter? Absolutely! Roast your favorite veggies and toss them with your favorite bread and dressing. Who needs summer?
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Dressing
Salad
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl or shake in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Set aside
  2. Place the bread cubes in a baking pan. Spray lightly with olive oil cooking spray and toss to coat evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes until the cubes are dry, crisp and just barely browned. Place in a large serving bowl.
  3. Combine the Brussels sprouts, red onion, and bell pepper in a large roasting pan. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and the salt and pepper. Toss to coat evenly.
  4. Roast at 350 degrees for 35 - 40 minutes. The veggies should be tender and lightly browned. Pour the vegetables and any liquid over the bread cubes and toss to combine.
  5. Pour the dressing over the mixture in the serving bowl and toss to coat.
  6. Add the tomato halves and toss once more. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Toss again and serve at room temperature.
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While roasting brings out the sweetness and imparts color beyond compare, Sprouts are very happy when they meet a hot skillet. I like the results, too. Did I mention that sprouts enjoy a bit of pork love? Here they join forces with bacon, but pancetta is also delightful.

Skillet Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes
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This is an easy side dish that combines a vegetable and starch in one pan. The bacon and onions make this a fabulous side dish for any protein.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Skillet Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes
Print Recipe
This is an easy side dish that combines a vegetable and starch in one pan. The bacon and onions make this a fabulous side dish for any protein.
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Heat a large fry pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook stirring occasionally until crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings out of the pan.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the potatoes, sprouts and onion to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until everything is tender and lightly browned. This should take about 15 -20 minutes, but let your eyes and taste be the judge.
  3. Add the freshly ground pepper and serve.
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As you can tell, I really enjoy cooked brussels sprouts in various forms, but lately I have come to discover their beauty raw. They make a wonderful salad and though the slicing is a bit tedious, the resulting crunchy sensation is worth the effort. Think of it as an earthier cole slaw. This salad is dressed with a warm Shallot Vinaigrette. The shallots ( and there was a good amount of them) are sautéed in olive oil. Sherry Vinegar and honey give it the perfect sweet and sour sensation that makes this salad a perfect counterpoint to rich meat. Why it could even top a burger and be happy.

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Brussels Sprout Salad
Servings: 2
Ingredients
  • 8 Ounces Brussels Sprouts Thinly sliced
  • 1/3 Cup Shallots Chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbsp. Sherry Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Honey More or less to taste
  • 2 Tsp. Fresh Thyme Or other herb of your choice
  • Salt & Pepper
Instructions
  1. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and allow it to heat up for a minute or so. Add the shallots.

  2. Cook the shallots for 5 - 7 minutes. they should be soft, fragrant and slightly golden.  Add the thyme, vinegar, and honey to the skillet. Allow the dressing to cook for a couple of minutes to let everything heat through and blend together.

  3. Give it a taste and add salt, pepper, and more honey to your taste. Pour the dressing over the sliced sprouts and toss to coat evenly. Serve.

So there you have three of my favorite ways to enjoy Brussels Sprouts. There are many other variations on these themes that are waiting to enter your kitchen.

Sprouts have been showing up everywhere. Restaurants as well as social media are jumping on the Brussels Sprout bandwagon. I’ve had a wonderful Brussles Sprout Salad served as a bed for Lamb Pastrami and a frizzled egg for brunch at River Roast in Chicago. I’ve noticed variations on roasted and even fried Brussels Sprouts showing up on more appetizer menus and as a side dish as well.  I just saw a recipe for Bacon Wrapped Brussels Sprouts that would make an awesome Game Day appetizer.

Nobody is putting this “Baby Cabbage” in the corner any more. Let her grace your kitchen and take center stage.

Bringing Back Summer…Grilled Turkey Tenderloins

Remember a short time ago when I was gushing about Fall coming to the Midwest? Well, this is the Midwest after all and seasons are relative. My last casserole adventure had barely been seen when the weather decided it wasn’t quite finished with Summer. For what seems like an eternity we have been plunged back into hot humid weather and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in the foreseeable future.

Here in the Midwest grills never really get put away. Oh, we may cover them, but we never seal them because we know that we might wake up to another summer day when we least expect it. So, I’d like to share a mostly grilled dinner that happened recently. The protein is Turkey Tenderloin. This has been a staple all summer long.

These come from Aldi. a grocery store chain that is re-inventing itself and the way people look at buying food. These stores have been a “no frills,” limited inventory, house brand, haven for people looking to save money. This year they began a multi-million dollar project of revamping their stores to expand their product line and tap into the shopping habits of more consumers. To illustrate this, everything on the plate came from Aldi; Organic Rainbow Baby Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas, and Sweet Potatoes. Even the Memphis Barbecue Sauce that glazed the sweet potatoes was an Aldi find.

I didn’t set out to create an “All Aldi” dinner. It just happened and it is happening more often thanks to the fact that I can once again walk to my local Aldi (the above mentioned re-vamping caused the store to close for a month, yes, a month). They reopened brighter, bigger, and more grocery store like. The quality of their products has been improving over the last few years and this remodel is the final step to compete with, if not the “big boys,” at least the smaller more boutique chains that are expanding everywhere. Yes, they are a cousin of Trader Joe’s.

Now back to this End of Summer, Please! dinner. These tenderloins come marinated. I like the Cracked Pepper Flavor. There are two large tenderloins in each package, so there is plenty for dinner with leftovers for salads and sandwiches through the week. Just open the package, drain off the marinade and they are ready for the grill.

The sweet potatoes went on the grill, too. The wedges browned beautifully and were brushed with a bit of barbecue sauce for a little extra flavor.

The only part of the dinner that didn’t make it to the grill, the carrots and snap peas, roasted in the oven dressed, in a little brown sugar and olive oil. I am in love with Rainbow Carrots. Besides being lovely to look at, they are delicious to eat. Once I had to hunt for them, now I find them everywhere in every shape and size. From 2 pound bags of large carrots to bunches of baby carrots still sporting their ferny crowns, to these baby versions all peeled and pretty and waiting to be cooked.

I even attempted to grow them in my tiny garden this year. My pitiful harvest attested to the fact that “trash gardening” doesn’t work for everything. (magnified to show detail)

Roasting carrots is by far my favorite preparation technique. They only need a drizzle of olive oil and maybe a pinch of brown sugar and some salt and pepper. I like to keep additional seasoning to a minimum so that the sweetness of the carrots comes through. If I want to change things up I may add a little fresh thyme or some cumin, but I don’t often gild this lily.

They can roast by themselves or as in this case be joined by some onions and towards the end of roasting some snap peas. They go with everything color and taste wise.

Non- Recipe, Recipe:

Roasted Carrots

For one pound of carrots you need about one tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2  teaspoon brown sugar ( more is all right, too), salt and pepper to taste. Toss these together in a bowl. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so, stirring once or twice. 

This is one dish that really doesn’t have a season. Carrots, rainbow or not, baby or big are available year around and are usually cheap. They will continue to grace the plates of many meals in the Kitchen of Love. Oh, and before I forget….

Fall, please come back. I miss you.

Melrose Peppers, Another Love Story

This is a story about Melrose Peppers. It is also a story about growing up in Melrose Park surrounded by family. Not everyone can claim that their hometown has a pepper named after it, but I can.

The Melrose pepper, an Italian sweet variety, came to Melrose Park along with many Italian Immigrants. My grandfather was one of those settlers and like so many others he had a garden. When I was little, I was fascinated with the garden across the street from our house. I remember my grandfather spending hours tending the tomato and pepper plants. There were lots of other vegetables, but those are the ones I remember most. I grew up taking for granted that everyone had a giant field of food within walking distance.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away and before long, so did his garden. The field became home to a trio of brick three flats. The tradition of garden fresh produce continued in Melrose Park, however. There was a converted school bus that came down our street several times a week in the summer. Inside was a veritable wonderland of fruits and vegetables. There always seemed to be plum tomatoes and Melrose peppers. That was a convenience that is no longer a reality.

If for some reason we missed the bus, there was always Tom Naples stand. To call it a stand is an understatement. It was huge (at least to an 8-year-old) and had every vegetable imaginable. There were fields of Melrose peppers growing behind his stand. I think he supplied the entire Chicago area Italian population with these sweet little beauties.

They were a staple in Italian kitchens in the summer. Fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt they crowned sausage and Italian beef sandwiches. They could simmer in tomato sauce and in a time when there was plenty of time they could be stuffed with sausage. My favorite treatment was when they were added to scrambled eggs for that Friday Supper Favorite, Pepper and Egg Sandwiches. Tucked into crusty Italian bread there was nothing better. It was delicious enough that I never missed the meat.

Years passed and access to the peppers did too. With all the bounty of produce we experienced living in California, there was never a Melrose Pepper. Once we moved back to Illinois it took some time before I re-discovered them. I have sung the praises of Caputo’s Fresh Market before, but I may love them the most because they reunited me with my cherished peppers.

This year my love affair reached a new level. I actually found Melrose Pepper plants and two have lived happily in my tiny garden plot. They have withstood heat, rain (and lack thereof), and rabbits and have given me if not a bounty at least some tasty meals.

Since I am always interested in the next “Can you grill it?” adventure I thought it was time to put my small bounty of Melrose beauties to the test. What better way then to pair them with one of their most popular partners, Italian sausage. I chose Scratch Family Chicken Italian Sausage because I got to talk to the creator at my favorite Caputo’s and his passion was as remarkable as his sausage. The sausage which is made with natural ingredients tastes remarkably like its pork cousin. The company is local, based in Montgomery, serving a limited market in the Chicago area. I think it’s due to get more widely known.

This sausage is also fully cooked which made it an even better choice for Mama D’s Grill Basket of Love.

While not traditional, I added a few red bell pepper strips for some color and some sliced sweet onions for a bolder flavor. Everything cooked together so the flavors really had a chance to blend. The result was a one dish meal that would have made my grandfather proud.

There isn’t much of a recipe to write. All you need is enough sausage, peppers, and onions to feed your family. Olive oil, maybe a bit of Italian herbs, and a sprinkle of some Pecorino Romano and you are good to go.

As my lead picture indicates, the last batch of peppers are turning their fully ripe crimson, an event that makes them even sweeter. The last peppers are waiting to be picked and I will miss them. A year is a long time to be without them. The season for these little guys is short and they may be hard to find but, keep an eye out for them, they are worth the hunt.

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.

Summertime is Pesto Time

Summer is here in all of its radiant (and humid) glory. I love this time of year. Flowers are peaking, showing their most vibrant color and gardens are beginning to give forth their bounty. Basil plants are thriving and beg to be snipped back almost daily. Basil always brings pesto to mind. I’ve shared my version of the traditional Pesto recipe and it is still number one on my Hit Parade, but this summer I have stepped out of my comfort zone (a little) and experimented with some different flavors and ingredients.

First off is a Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Pesto. Grape tomatoes and garlic are roasted to perfection before they are added to ricotta and pine nuts. Basil actually plays a supporting role here, but is present enough to lend some color and lots of flavor.

This is wonderful on pasta. or as a base for bruschetta.

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Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Pesto
Servings: 2 Cups
Ingredients
  • 1 Pint Grape Tomatoes
  • 4-5 Large Garlic Cloves Skin on
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil Plus more for roasting
  • 3/4 Cup Ricotta I used Part Skim
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/4 Cup Pine Nuts I toasted mine
  • 1/2 Cup Basil Leaves Firmly packed
  • Salt and Pepper To taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Toss the tomatoes with a generous dose of olive oil, add a bit of salt and pepper. and spread them out on the baking sheet. 

  2. Place the garlic cloves on a piece of foil. Drizzle with a little olive oil and pull the foil up around the cloves to make a nice bundle. Seal well, but leave a little room for steam.

  3. Roast the garlic for about 30 minutes until it is very fragrant. Roast the tomatoes 15 - 20 minutes until the begin to blister and give off a little juice. Remove things from the oven as the are done and set aside. 

  4. In a processor combine the tomatoes, garlic, pine nuts, oil, and the cheeses. Process until fairly smooth. Add the basil and pulse just long enough to coarsely chop. You want those pretty green flecks.

  5. Use with your favorite pasta or as a base for bruschetta or pizza.

This pesto takes its inspiration from what is flourishing in my (balcony) herb garden. These are my standbys that are always planted. Nothing exotic or fancy just some rosemary, basil, and lemon thyme. Just out of camera range is a chive plant that is happily snipped at everyday.

This Garden Herb Pesto is based what’s in my garden. You can make it your own by snipping in you own garden. Lemon juice and zest along with some toasted almonds join the traditional pecorino, olive oil, and roasted garlic to create a bright blend. Once again, basil doesn’t take center stage, it co-stars with thyme. Rosemary is there but in a quantity that imparts flavor without hitting everything else over the head. Parsley would be a welcome addition here. Sadly, my success with parsley has never been great so I use it at times that I have enough. This was not one of those times. Herb Pesto is the perfect sauce for some angel hair pasta. It also shines as a topping for grilled or roasted vegetables. I’ve even added bread crumbs and a little stock and used it to stuff chicken breasts and pork chops.

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Garden Herb Pesto
Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 Lemon Zest & juice
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic Roasted
  • 1/2 Cup Thyme Leaves
  • 1/3 Cup Basil Leaves
  • 2 Tblsp. Rosemary Leaves
  • 1/4 Cup Chives
  • 2 Tblsp. Slivered almonds Toasted
  • 1/4 Cup Pecorino Romano Grated
  • 3 Tblsp. Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper To taste
Instructions
  1. Roast the garlic by wrapping the skin-on cloves in foil. Add a bit of olive oil before sealing the packet. Roast 30- 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

  2. Combine all of the ingredients, except the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but not to the point of being a paste.

  3. Drizzle in the olive oil blending until it is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper as needed and it's ready for its culinary adventure.

There you have two quick pesto recipes that are ready for their day in the sun. I know that these are only a small corner of what can be done with garden bounty. Let your green (and red if you are using tomatoes) flag fly and make pesto your own. Its time is now.