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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


~Fresh vs. Canned: How Pineapple Reacts w/Protein~

IMG_5757It's natural to assume fresh fruit is better than canned, and, if your eating fresh pineapple, fresh not only tastes better, it is indeed better for you and your digestive system.  That said, nothing is more disheartening than taking the time to prepare a marinade for your favorite protein made from fresh pineapple juice, or, folding a cup or two of diced pineapple into a favorite casserole and have the protein rendered mushy. The cause is an enzyme found in fresh-cut pineapple.

Why did my marinated meat (poultry, seafood or fish) turn to mush?

IMG_5589The enzyme's name is bromelain (in papaya it's called papain and does the same thing), and it is a powerful tenderizer.  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains -- it's sold in supplement form in health food stores as a digestive aid. It's why:  Pineapple processors are required to wear gloves and masks (as it eventually eats away at the flesh on the hands and face).  When cutting up pineapple, if poked by a spiny edge, it's common to develop dry skin or a small sore.  Pineapple, on its own, won't form a jam or jelly.

The enzyme in fresh pineapple, bromelian, is a powerful tenderizer.

IMG_5684Tenderizing protein is good to a point, but, when fresh pineapple juice is used in or as the marinade, the enzyme works fast -- in as little as 30 minutes for poultry and meat, and, in the case of fish, 10 minutes. That's great if time is short and the clock is ticking.  That said, if fresh pineapple chunks are stirred into a casserole, if left to sit just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it renders the protein mushy -- a problem when things need to be done in advance.  While keeping the marinating protein or the casserole mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down:

Here's the information every cook needs to know:

IMG_5708Bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked first, separately from the protein, (prior to marinating it with or stirring it into raw or cooked protein), the bromelain gets neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple chunks or pieces or simmering fresh pineapple juice, crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.  So, if you want to buy some time in order to marinate your protein a few hours ahead or put your casserole together the night before, either cook the fresh pineapple first, or, without compromise, bypass the fresh produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle.

Oh My Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:

IMG_5746"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018) 


~ Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole ~

IMG_5746Thai-Malaysian pineapple-fried-rice is a classic Thai dish that's easy to get addicted to.  It's divine. Grains of fragrant jasmine rice bejeweled throughout with bits of golden pineapple, cashews and raisins -- it's a taste unlike the fried rices of China and Hawaii.  It's a staple item on the menu of most Thai-American eateries, the choices being pineapple-fried-rice, or, pineapple-fried-rice with chicken or prawn.  It can be served in a pretty bowl as a side-dish or a main-dish, or, as they do in the tradition of Thailand, baked and served in a carved-out fresh pineapple.

IMG_5739A hearty 4-season casserole w/all the taste of the tropics:

IMG_5749If you're a fried rice fan, you're gonna love my American-home-kitchen version of the iconic Thai fried rice.  Every bite is a bit different. Sometimes the sweet and savory combination of pineapple and chicken stands out. Other times, the herby-spicy flavor the cilantro, chiles and onions shine through.  Still others, the contrasting textures of the the rice, raisins and nuts blow you away.  Considering the yummy end result, this dish, relatively speaking, isn't difficult to prepare.

Using fresh vs. canned pineapple in recipes containing protein:

IMG_5708Fresh vs. canned pineapple:  If this is a meal you would like or need to prepare a day ahead, without any compromise to the recipe, bypass the fresh pineapple in the produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle of your grocery store.  

Why?  Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, a natural tenderizer (in papayas it's called papain and does the same thing).  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains. Culinarily, when used as or in the marinade for protein, it does the same thing -- quickly.  Read on:

Tenderizing any protein is good to a point, but, be forewarned, if the assembled casserole is left to sit for just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it can render the chicken (the protein) mushy.  Keeping the chicken mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down, but, here's the information you need to know: bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked separately from the other ingredients first, (prior to marinating it or cooking it with protein), the bromelain is neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple pieces or simmering crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.

Fresh = Assemble & bake immediately.  Canned = Can be assembled a day ahead.

IMG_5684Oh my Thai chicken & pineapple-fried-rice casserole:

IMG_56314  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, diced into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces 

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

8-12  small, minced, bird chile peppers, more or less, your heat choice

1  ounce cilantro, some leaves and some stems

2  20-ounce cans sliced pineapple, packed in 100% juice, well-drained (1 can puréed in food a processor, 1 can diced into bite-sized pieces

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

8  ounces whole, unsalted cashews, roasted on center rack of 350º oven oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly-toasted and fragrant, or, "dry-fried" in a skillet or wok*

1/4  cup sesame oil

1  teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 cans (1 can + 1/2 can) from 2, 14 1/2-cans coconut milk

3  tablespoons Maggi seasoning

6  tablespoons Squid brand fish sauce

6  tablespoons light brown sugar

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole (Note:  Use 1, 4-quart casserole, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, not, a 3-quart 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.)

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice

1/4-1/2  cup additional minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623~Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed:  Trim and dice chicken tenders into bite-sized, 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  Thinly-slice white and light green parts of green onions and mince the bird chiles.  Mince cilantro — prep and set aside some additional minced cilantro, for garnish, as well.  

IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604~Step 2.  Place 1 can of the pineapple slices in a food processor fitted with steel blade and purée (there will be about 1 1/2 cups). Dice second can of pineapple into bite-sized pieces (there will be about 2 cups).  Roast cashews on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12 minutes, stopping to stir about every 5 minutes, or, "dry-fry" in a skillet or wok:

6a0120a8551282970b019103c69803970c 6a0120a8551282970b0192ab8f1e2c970d 2*Note:  In Asian cuisines, the method of quickly-cooking an ingredient, be it nuts, seeds, meat or even seafood, without adding oil or fat to the wok or skillet is referred to as "dry frying".  I mention this so if you come across a recipe that instructs to "dry-fry cashews", you will understand the process.

IMG_5641~ Step 4.  Start the rice to steaming just prior to cooking the chicken mixture.  By the time the rice is done, the chicken will be done too. 

Using the cup/measure from the steamer, place the rice in steamer. Using the same cup/measure add 4 cups cold water and give it a quick stir. Turn steamer on. When rice steamer shuts off (which takes about 15-18 minutes depending upon how much rice being steamed), open the lid and rake through ice with a fork to separate the grains.  While the rice is steaming, cook the chicken mixture.

IMG_5633 IMG_5633 IMG_5633~ Step 3.  Heat sesame oil in a large 14” skillet.  Stir in the white pepper and add the chicken, scallions and bird chiles.  Increase heat to sauté until chicken is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook or brown.

IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5658 IMG_5658~Step 4.  Stir in the pineapple purée, coconut milk, Maggi seasoning, fish sauce and sugar. Adjust heat to simmer gently and continue to cook until mixture is foamy around the edges, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and stovetop.

IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5674~Step 5.  Stir in the diced pineapple, cashews, raisins and cilantro.  In large scoopfuls, add and fold all the steamed rice into the chicken mixture in pan.  Allow to sit in pan, 10-15 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Rice will absorb excess liquid and mixture will thicken.  Transfer to a 4-quart casserole* or two 2-quart casseroles* sprayed with no stick cooking spray.

Note:  I recommend using clear glass casserole(s) in order to clearly monitor browning process.

IMG_5683 IMG_5683 IMG_5683Step 6.  Spray 1-2 pieces foil with cooking spray. Place foil, prayed side down, over casseroles and seal foil tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 more minutes, or until lightly-browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Work this main-dish casserole into your family's meal rotation:

IMG_5701Or make & share with friends at your next get-together:

IMG_5704Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 4-quarts; 16 cups; 16-20 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, food processor, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, skillet or wok; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon 4-quart casserole dish, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, preferably clear glass; electric rice steamer; fork; aluminum foil

IMG_5282Cook's Note:  In Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as street food.  This doesn't mean they're inferior,  it means they're different from what we purchase in America. In my Thai-American version of another Thai classic, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.  To learn more, click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


~Greek Hummus, Steak & Arugula-Salad Pita-Pizzas~

IMG_5549Everyone knows anything one can sandwich between two slices of bread can be tucked into a pita pocket to eat on the run.  Almost everyone knows that the flat round pita (or any flatbread) is a great foil for all sorts open-face knife-and-fork sandwich meals too.  What all busy moms know is: if the ingredients on the pita are amicable to being baked in the oven, and you refer to it as pizza, it's a sure-fire way to get children to venture into trying just about anything.

It's called "bending the rules for the common good", and, when my kids were young, I did it in creative ways.  If it looks like a sandwich and it's eaten like a sandwich, it must be a sandwich -- even if it is not between the definitive two slices of bread.  If it looks like a pizza and it's eaten like a pizza, it must be a pizza -- even if it doesn't have the typical tomato sauce and cheese on it. That said, in a world when no two family members will ever agree on sandwich stuffings or pizza toppings, make-your-own personal-size pockets or pizza for dinner is a solid solution.

IMG_5224My Greek-style pita pizzas, inspired by my recipe for ~ Greek-Style Flank-steak Salad or Pocket Sammies ~ start with a slathering of hummus and a layer of mozzarella. Next up, onion, briny olives and feta, and a few cherry tomatoes.  When these show-stopping snack-pizzas emerge from the oven, a mix of lightly-dressed arugula leaves and diced cucumber with bits of rare-cooked flank steak top them off. If you've made my steak salad, all you need is pita bread and hummus to quickly turn leftovers into pizza.* 

IMG_5462Greek pizza per se refers to the type of dough/style of crust -- in the same way New York-Neopolitan- or Sicilian-, Chicago- or Detroit-, or, St. Louis- styles refer to theirs. Greek-style crust is baked in a shallow, heavily-oiled pan, instead of directly on the bricks of a pizza oven, which renders it somewhat thick and puffy with a crispy, fried-like exterior and a tender, chewy interior, and, it's referred to as "Greek pizza" even when it has non-Greek toppings.  Because pita bread is common to all sorts of Greek-style sandwiches (like the iconic Greek Gyro Beef & Lamb Pita Sandwich), I'm gonna call it a day and suffice it to say:

IMG_5568My pita pizzas are sophisticated Greek-style savory w/snazz.

*Note:  I won't lie.  Making these with ingredients leftover from my salad is quick and easy.  That's what I'm doing today.  That said, if you're looking for a sophisticated pizza snack to serve as an hors d'oeuvre,  making them in multiples and slicing them into wedges is well-worth the effort. 

IMG_54992 pita pockets, whole-wheat or white, your favorite brand

4-6  tablespoons hummus

4  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese

1/4  cup very-thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion

6-8  Greek kalamata black olives, well-drained and  cut in half

6-8  pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives, well-drained and cut in half

6-8  grape tomatoes cut in half tomatoes

1/2  cup crumbled feta cheese, divided (1/4 cup for pizza, 1/4 cup for salad)

3/4-1  cup baby arugula leaves

1/4-1/2  cup peeled and diced Kirby cucumber

2  tablespoons Greek-style vinaigrette, preferably homemade, or high-quality store-bought

1  teaspoon Greek seasoning blend

6-8 small flank steak roulades, marinated in Greek-style vinaigrette as directed here and broiled as directed below (Note:  Feel free to skip the steak and serve these Greek pita pizzas a meatless meal.):

IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061~Step 1.  Position oven rack about 8" underneath heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove the room temperature flank steak from the marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place the flank steak under the broiler and cook for 8-9 minutes, until steak is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and flip steak over.  Return to broiler and cook 8-9 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to slicing*.

*Note:  My favorite way to serve my Greek salad is with warm steak.  For my pita pizzas, it's best made with steak that's been chilled and returned to room temp (take it out of refrigerator about an hour prior to slicing), so, wrap the cooked steak in plastic wrap, refrigerate it, and slice it later.

IMG_5150 IMG_5150~ Step 2.  Slice meat in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  Roll each meat strip up roulade-style*, placing them in a bowl as you work.

*Note:  A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_5485 IMG_5485~ Step 3.  Typically the roulades are used as they are in my Greek salad.  Leftovers are stored in my refrigerator.  To turn yesterday's leftovers into today's pizza topping, "chiffonade" them (a Fancy french word meaning "to cut into ribbons").

IMG_5501 IMG_5501 IMG_5501~ Step 4.  Place two pita breads on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment. Use a knife to slather the top of each pita with 2-3 tablespoon hummus, to within 1/4" of the edge of the perimeter.

IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507~Step 5.  Place two slices mozzarella cheese (atop the hummus) on each pita.  Scatter with shaved red onion, then arrange Greek and Spanish olives, followed by grape tomatoes over the cheese.  Sprinkle on half the crumbled feta.  Bake pita pizzas on center rack of 350º oven until mozzarella is melted and feta is just starting to show signs of browning, 11-12 minutes.

IMG_5524 IMG_5524~ Step 6.  While the pita pizzas are in the oven baking, in a medium bowl, toss the remain feta crumbles, arugula leaves and diced cucumber with 2 tablespoons of the Greek vinaigrette and 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning blend.  Remove pizzas from oven.  Plate pizzas and serve pizzas, whole or cut into wedges, topped with salad.

Cut into wedges & served as sophisticated appetizers:

IMG_5586Left whole & served as a hearty, personal-sized pizza meal:

IMG_5562Greek Hummus, Steak & Arugula Salad Pita-Pizzas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 Greek-style pita pitas/8 appetizers/2 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0451Cook's Note: I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kinds making various versions of them at home for my kids for years (Philadelphia cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken and Texican taco to name three), before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started using this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Click here to get my basic (Crazy for Caprese) recipe for ~ Pizza' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)