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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie


~The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger~

IMG_0498Ninety Nine is a restaurant and pub chain headquartered in Massachusetts, with over 100 locations throughout the Northeast.  With 47 locations in Massachusetts, 10 in Connecticut, 3 in Maine, 12 in New Hampshire and 2 in Rhode Island and 2 in Vermont, they know a thing or two about New-England-Style pub grub and hospitality.  They boast no-nonsense food at down-to-earth prices and "a passion to serve".  My one-and-only experience with a Ninety-Nine restaurant was in Vermont, and it was a very tasty one, in the form of a Vermonster of a cheeseburger.

99-logoWhile a big juicy cheeseburger with cheddar and bacon on it was neither new or surprising to me, I won't lie, it was the thought of sweet and savory sautéed onions and apples piled on top of it with a creamy maple syrup-laced mayonnaise slathered on the slightly-sweet potato roll that hooked me.  Once I read those words, I stopped reading the menu.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.06 AMNinety Nine flame broils all of their burgers, and they are indeed juicy with the signature charred taste (a direct result of that cooking method). That said, I am an indoor/fair-weather outdoor kinda gal, and, even over an open flame, give me a cast-iron skillet with a lid and I'll make you a great burger that will compete with anyones.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.33 AMGive me a skillet w/a lid & I'll make a burger that'll compete w/any.

While everyone, including me, likes a 'burger made over the high, but dry, heat of a charcoal or gas grill, I love a 'burger that is pan-seared, in its own juices, in a skillet.  I grew up eating them prepared exclusively in that manner, and, truthfully, before everyone had a grill in their backyard, so did everyone else.  Our grandmothers knew how to make great burgers -- moist and juicy with no lighter fluid or propane required.  Quite frankly, it's a lost art, and, I'm here to show you how to do it on your stovetop.  That said, in the Summer and Fall, I like to make 'burgers on my portable gas burner.  Why?  I can make them on my deck, your patio, and, at tailgate any time.

IMG_8577 IMG_8586 IMG_8593 IMG_8601Meet the Iwantani 35F portable butane stove.  With 15,000 BTU's it's a high-quality workhorse that comes in a nifty protective carry case too.  If you've always wanted a gas stove but circumstances prevent it, this $75-$80 piece of equipment is, without compromise, as good as any residential gas stove and far superior to every electric stove.  It turns on and off with one easy click (which is why it's been given the nickname "click-burner" stove) and regulates heat perfectly. On high, it's hot enough to stir-fry like a pro, and, on low, it will keep sauce simmering gently without any boil overs or fear of scorching.  It runs on inexpensive butane canisters (about $20 for a case of twelve) which will last 45-60 minutes each, depending on how high the flame is set.

Part One:  Making the Maple Mayonnaise

IMG_0482For the maple mayonnaise:

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup pure Vermont maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_0486~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together the mayonnaise, maple syrup and pepper.  Cover w/plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Part Two:  Making the Toppings:

IMG_0494For the bacon and the sautéed onion and apple topping:

8  slices thick-sliced bacon bacon, fried crisp, drained & cut in half to form 16 pieces

3 1/2-4  cups peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced, "half-moon-shaped Vidalia onions, or other sweet onion (about 12 ounces)*

3 1/2-4 cups peeled and sliced Granny Smith or Gala apples (3 apples, about 8 ounces each prior to peeling)*

4  tablespoons salted butter + 2 tablespoons bacon drippings (reserved from above)

1  tablespoon sugar

2  tablespoons pure maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  To insure even cooking, it is important to slice the onions and apples to a uniform thickness.  If you want them thicker, slice them thicker.  Also, don't worry if your apples turn a little brown while waiting to get added to the pan.  They are going to turn brown anyway in the skillet.

IMG_0528 IMG_0531 IMG_0534 IMG_0537~Step 1.  In 12" skillet, over medium- medium-high heat, fry bacon as directed.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Remove and discard all but about 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet.  Over low heat, melt butter into the bacon drippings.  Add and stir in the onions, until thoroughly combined.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have lost a lot of their moisture, are limp, and steamed through, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_0539 IMG_0542 IMG_0544 IMG_0548 IMG_0550~Step 2.  Add and stir the apples, sugar, maple syrup and pepper  into the onion mixture, until thoroughly combined.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the apples have lost their volume and are limp too, another 6 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Sauté, stirring constantly, like you would a stir-fry, 6 more minutes, until golden. Remove from heat and set aside (or, feel free to cook a bit longer if you want a deeper golden color*).

Note:  If deeper golden is desired, go another 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, but watch carefully as the sugar and maple syrups in this mixture can and will go from brown to burned in an instant.  

Part Three:  Making the Cheeseburgers

IMG_0556For 4 cheeseburgers and the assembly:

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

8  slices yellow cheddar cheese

all the fried bacon

all the onion and apple topping

all the maple mayonnaise 

4  potato hamburger rolls

IMG_0524 IMG_8638 IMG_8647~Step 1.  Divide the meat into 4, 6-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 4"-4 1/2"-round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place hamburgers in the skillet and season them liberally with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Turn the "click burner" on and adjust the heat to medium high.

IMG_8655 IMG_8665 IMG_8668 IMG_8673 IMG_0561~Step 2.  Cook 'burgers on first side six minutes.  Flip them over on their second sides, and, this time, lightly season them (less than the first side) with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Reduce heat to medium- medium-low and continue to cook another six minutes.  Place two slices of cheese on each 'burger, put lid on skillet, turn heat off, and wait, for the cheese to melt, 1-1 1/2 minutes.

Slather each potato roll w/maple mayo, place a cheddar-'burger on top + two half-slices bacon & a big scoop of onion-apple sauté:

IMG_0506Enjoy every last delightful sweet, savory & slightly-salty bite:

IMG_0583The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger:  Recipe yields 4 large cheeseburgers.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; 12" skillet w/lid; paper towels; cutting board; vegetable peeler; paring knife; large slotted spoon; spatula

IMG_8160Cook's Note:  For those who don't eat red meat, Ninety Nine will happily make you a turkey burger instead.  For those who want to ~ Know the Pros & 'Cons' of Ground Turkey or Beef ~, just read my post.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ A Classic Cobb Salad: Open-Faced Sandwich-Style ~

IMG_0427 (1)A restaurant that serves a great Cobb or chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The Cobb and chef's salads are both "composed salads", meaning, they are a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.  

The making of a composed salad is:  a cooking lesson unto itself.

IMG_0455Cobb & chef's salad are two distinctly different composed salads.

250px-Chef_SaladWhile the Cobb and chef salad are both composed salads, they are distinctly different. Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  That said, Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's. (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Cobb_salad _21_July_2008The Cobb salad (affectionately called the California Cobb) was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb.  It's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners.  Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated.  Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item.

While a chef salad can contain any number of ingredients, the Cobb salad is quite specific.  It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting.  While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance.  Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese.  Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette pulls it all together.

My favorite version of the perfect classic Cobb salad... 

IMG_0388Start with a chiffonade of ice-cold, crispy romaine lettuce topped with decoratively arranged thinly-sliced fork-tender, all-white meat poached chicken breast, and some chards of crispy oven-roasted bacon bits.  Arrange some tender hard-cooked eggs (with bright yellow yolks -- no horrid gray halos), acidy tomato, mellow Hass avocado and sharp red onion atop or around the chicken. Sprinkle with a generous amount of tangy blue cheese crumbles and a few buttery French-bread homemade croutons.  It's customary to serve it with red-wine vinaigrette and my recipe takes a back seat to none.  That said, my husband prefers his Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing

IMG_0445... is served atop one big, buttery, French bread crouton! 

IMG_0348"Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes.  It is derived from the French word "croûton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread usually served with drinks.  "Croûte" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croûte" refers to food wrapped in or IMG_0350topped with a pastry crust then baked until the pastry is golden.

1  3-ounce, 6" long French demi baguette, trimmed lengthwise through the center to form 2, 1/2"-thick slices of 6" long bread

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09a6f400970d IMG_0356Over medium heat, melt garlic powder and pepper into butter in a 10" nonstick skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and fry the bread, until lightly golden on both sides, turning only once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.  Transfer bread to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes.  Do not over-crisp.

Note:  Do not over-crisp the bread-slice crouton.  Unlike croutons used on  salad, these are best if they have a bit of chew to them, meaning:  crispy yet soft enough to cut through with a knife.

IMG_0394 IMG_0398 IMG_0401 IMG_0403Arrange about 1/2 cup chiffonade of romaine atop 1, 6"-long French bread crouton.  Place 5-6 small poached chicken slices alternately with 5-6 small red onion rings on top of the lettuce. On top of the chicken and onions, arrange 3-4 thin slices hard-cooked egg, 3-4 thin slices avocado and 6-8 slices grape tomato coins.  Garnish with some fried bacon bits or chards and blue cheese crumbles over all, drizzle with red wine vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Serve immediately with a nice glass of your favorite white wine: 

IMG_0454A Classic Cobb Salad:  Open-Faced Sandwich-Style:  Recipe yields instructions to make open-faced sandwich-style salads/1 serving each.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels

IMG_0869Cook's NoteThe 1905 salad.  Never heard of it?  You haven't traveled to Florida very often.  The Columbia Restaurant, now a chain of six or seven restaurants (I've lost track) throughout The Sunshine State, is a fourth-generation family business that specializes in really good Spanish food at reasonable prices. Their signature dish is a chef's salad with a lemony vinaigrette -- it's one of my all-time favorites.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ In a Pie Shell: A Pie Filling is Thicker than Pudding ~

IMG_0286"What's the difference between pie filling and pudding?"  That was the question that came across my desk last week, and, when you ask, I always answer.  "I can't seem to find any recipes for pudding on your blog."  That was the comment that followed the question that came across my desk last week, and, when it is brought to my attention that my blog is lacking something, I fix it.  

Thank-you Missy.  You triggered my writing three pudding posts, ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~, ~ Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding ~ and ~ Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~, one pie post, ~ How to: Make a Better Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie , and, as a bonus, ~ How to: Cut, Form & Bake Small Pie Pastry Shells.  This is my last post on the subject (for now at least) and I'm reasonably certain I covered the topic thoroughly.  It was a tasty week.

IMG_0317What is the difference between a pudding & a pie filling?

There are exceptions to every rule and a lot of overlaps, but, here in the United States, "pudding" is the word used to describe a creamy, smooth milk-based dessert that is thickened by a starch, usually cornstarch.  On the other hand, "custard" is a milk- or cream-based dessert thickened by eggs and/or egg yolks.  "Cream puddings" use a custard base and are thickened by cornstarch.

My grandmother made fantastic pudding.  Technically speaking, her pudding recipes are based on the French method for making egg custard.  That means they contain egg yolks, which result in a deeper shade of yellow and a creamier texture.  For added richness, she also used a mixture of milk and cream (half and half), instead of milk.  All good news for a pudding lover like me.

Her recipes for pudding are very similar to each other (except for the flavoring), which, makes them remarkably easy to commit to memory.  The only time she changed one was when she wanted to make pie filling instead of pudding.  For a pie, she added an extra egg yolk and an extra tablespoon of cornstarch.  Why?  In order to achieve that pretty-to-look-at cleanly-cut slice of pie, pie filling needs extra thickener. This, in a pie shell, is the easiest way to define the difference between a pudding and a pudding- or custard-based pie filling.

To turn any of my pudding recipes into pie filling:

IMG_0056Add one extra egg yolk & one extra tablespoon cornstarch:


"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)