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04/20/2014

~ Happy Easter to You All: Enjoy Your Family Feast ~

PICT1824Happy Easter!  I've been cooking up a storm for the past few days in anticipation and preparation for my family's annual Russian Orthodox Easter feast.  Whatever your heritage, if you are of the Christian faith and the family cook, you are well aware of the organizational skills it takes to 'pull off' this yearly extravaganza.  If your heritage dictates that you serve the same traditional ethnic food each year, from time-honored recipes handed down from generation to generation, you didn't learn how to do this by osmosis.  Somewhere along the line you took it upon yourself to learn how to do it, or, while you were growing up, your grandmother and/or your mother took it upon themselves to lovingly insist you learn.  In my case, I preferred being in the kitchen to being on the playground, so, perhaps I did learn a great deal via osmosis!

In an Eastern European family, brightly-colored Easter baskets containing marshmallow chickens, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and plasic eggs containing coins are reserved for the children!

IMG_0088A simple wicker basket, covered with a pristine, plain white cloth (representing the shroud of Jesus) and a candle, containing the family's 'celebration of food', are carried to church, by the family cook, on Holy Saturday afternoon or evening, to be blessed during a special service by the parish priest. Each basket contains a similar but varying list of prepared, cold foods, which vary from family to family, but they break down into three basic categories:  bread, meat and dairy (foods which the very religious people abstained from from during the recent Great Lent and/or the entire Holy Week prior to Easter).

PICT2721Paska (or Pascha)/Kulich.  A homemade, slightly-sweetened yeast bread enriched with milk butter and eggs.  It is golden in color, usually round in shape and sometimes contains raisins.  It is always decorated with the sign of the cross and the fanciest "bread art", the family baker has learned.  It represents "He (Christ) Who is the Bread of Life", and, a braided plait of dough around the perimeter represents a crown.  (BYI:  There is no  competition, but, this is a matter of great pride to the family baker.)

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f5820970c IMG_9866Ham, Sausages (& sometimes Bacon). Ham, because it keeps well cold, is the main dish at the Eastern European Easter table.  It, along with bacon, represents joy and abundance. Smoked sausages, like kielbasi (a spicy, garlicky sausage of pork, veal and/or beef), represent the rope or chain of death that Christ broke and rose triumphant over.

IMG_9898Hrutka (or Sirets) & Cheese.  Hrutka is a sweetened, custard-like egg-cheese that is shaped into a ball and sliced.  It's lightly sweetened with sugar, flavored with a hint of vanilla, and, some versions contain a few peppercorns.  It represents moderation in life, and, nowadays, other mild-flavored cheeses are often substituted or included.

IMG_9820Eggs, Pickled Eggs & Beet Horseradish: Eggs 6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970brepresent new life and The Resurrection.  They are, of course, hard-cooked.  Pickled eggs are hard-cooked eggs preserved in a briny solution of beet juice and sugar to give them a pink-red color which represents Christ's Passion.  

Horseradish gets mixed with the slightly-sweet pickled red beets to give it a bittersweet taste and blood-red color, which represents the blood and suffering of Christ.

IMG_0097A small container of salt (to flavor the world with), butter (to remind us of the pure goodness of Christ), and, sometimes a bottle of wine (for rejoycing) are blessed as well.

This Easter tradition, the foods, and even the names of the foods varies among every Slavic group, depending on the region one is from, a family's preferences, and, their financial means, although conspicuous displays of wealth are discouraged.  This post explains the traditions I grew up with in Eastern PA, explained in the most respectful way I can relay them. 

PICT1824Pysanky.  These are extremely complicated eggs containing symbols and colors which all have meaning. I made these. The one in the center represents our yellow sun shining upon green pastures. The word "pysanky" derives from the verb "pysat" meaning "to write". They are made by using a special styliss (pen) which gets dipped into melted bees wax. After each application of wax, the egg is dipped into a vibrant color of dye. When the wax is removed the glorious egg is revealed!

The cold food from the basket is sliced and served for the breaking of the fast, breakfast, anytime after the sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning!!!

(All of my recipes for Russian Orthodox Easter can be found in Category 12.)

Whatever your beliefs, enjoy your day today!

PICT2721"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/18/2014

~ E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry~

IMG_0029I'm no expert, but, I do know just enough about Jamaican cooking to NOT be dangerous.  I know that a dish consisting of ackee fruit and salt cod is their National Dish.  Since I've just spent the past week posting some luscious recipes for cod fish (I love cod), a lovely thought and tribute to Jamaica (I love Jamaican food) would have been to end the week with this uniquely tantalizing recipe.  Alas, even if I could get my hands on an ackee here in the states, I wouldn't touch it. Parts of the ackee are toxic, so, my better judgement tells me to leave this one to the experts!

IMG_9891But.  Once I started reminiscing about Jamaican fare (from barbeque to jerk, they make some of the best fish, chicken, pork, beef and lamb dishes in the world), I started salivating. They make some magnificent curries too, so, tonight, for our Good Friday dinner, I've decided to make Jamaican shrimp curry.  It's quick and easy to prepare (a 30-minute meal), full of great Caribbean flavor, and, the only "special ingredient" you'll need is:

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder!

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as, Africa and the Caribbean.  Curry powder (the commercially marketed blend of spices we buy in our American markets) doesn't really exist in any of these places.  Hand-made pulverized blends of dried spices, the amounts of which very to suit the palate of each family or cook are prepared in a mortar and pestle.  Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.  Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). 

Easter is on my doorstep, and in the midst of all of my prep...

IMG_0012... this spicy, delightful, time-saving meal is just what I need!

IMG_99331 1/2  pounds peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp (26/30 count), tails off (about 2 pounds unpeeled shrimp to start)

1  cup green bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into thirds (about 1 green bell pepper)

1  cup red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into thirds (about 1 red bell pepper)

1/2-3/4 cup green onions, cut into 1/4" pieces, white and light green parts only

1/2  cup chopped cilantro leaves + additional leaves for garnish

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, VERY well drained

3  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder, mild Jamaican curry powder may be substituted

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon habanero powder (optional) (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh, Scotch Bonnet chilies for extra heat.  I don't often have them on hand, but, the slightly citrusy flavor of incendiary habanaro powder, which I keep in my pantry, is a marvelous substitute.) 

1  14-ounce can coconut milk that has been well-shaken prior to opening

2  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 8 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note:  I use an electric rice steamer, and, I steam the rice before I start prepping.)

IMG_9922 IMG_9930~ Step 1. Steam the rice.  Once it is cooked rake through it to separate the grains (I use my vintage pasta fork to do the raking).

IMG_9954~ Step 2.  Prep the peppers, green onion and cilantro, placing in a large bowl as you work.

IMG_9940~ Step 3. Add the diced tomatoes, shrimp, curry powder, garlic powder, ground ginger and sea salt to the bowl.  

Using a large spoon stir until all ingredients are evenly coated.

IMG_9963 IMG_9960                                           ~ Step 4. Add the well-shaken can of coconut milk.  Stir again to thoroughly combine.

~ Step 5.  Set aside, 5-15 minutes, to give the flavors time to marry. Note:  30 minutes is ok too, but, any longer toughens the shrimp.

IMG_9985 IMG_9971                                        ~ Step 6. Heat the vegetable oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high.  Add shrimp mixture to skillet, increase heat to high, and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 5 full minutes. Turn the heat off, and rest, on the hot stovetop, 1-2 minutes to finish cook the shrimp. Thick sauce, perfectly cooked shrimp:

IMG_9989Portion rice into bowls, portion shrimp curry over rice.  

Serve immediately:

IMG_0052E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board;  chef's knife; colander or strainer; large bowl; large spoon; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; electric rice steamer (optional)

IMG_9309Cook's Note:  If it is a more traditional 30-minute meal you want on Good Friday, click into Categories 3, 14, 19 or 20 for ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~.  Happy Easter all!

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

(Recipe, Photos and Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/15/2014

~ A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisado (Cod Fish Stew) ~

IMG_9784Let me start by saying I am just an American girl cooking a really good Puerto Rican stew for dinner tonight -- this is not a lesson in Puerto Rican cooking.  My knowledge of Puerto Rican cooking is limited, but, my experiences with Puerto Rican food have all been good ones, so, don't ruin that for me with criticizms.  For a brief period of time we had a Puerto Rican neighbor named Yvonne.  It was from her I learned a little about Puerto Rican homestyle cooking.  Her specialties were "fritures di maiz" (corn fritters), "picadillo" (ground meat stew), and, "bacalao guisado" (cod fish stew).  Later, on a trip to Miami, I enjoyed a lovely dish of "camarones in escabeche" (pickled shrimp), followed by a luxurious "tembleque" (coconut custard)!

CulantroWhat I know about Puerto Rican cooking in general comes from Yvonne, who explained I'd find similar recipes in Caribbean, Cuban, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian food.  What sets their cuisine apart are three words: sofrito, adobo, and, achiote.  On my own I've deduced that Puerto Rican cooks seem to prefer red onions to white, use a lot of pimento stuffed green olives, and, culantro is not the same as cilantro, it's a spiny herb-cousin.  When they say "oil", it's vegetable oil!

Sofrito is used for flavoring.  It is an aromatic salsa-like mixture of processed fresh herbs and spices used as a base for countless dishes.  Like salsa, there are green and red versions. Adobo is used for seasoning.  It's a mixture of black pepper, oregano and garlic. Achiote is used for yellow-orange color.

"Bacalao" (bah-kah-LAY-oh) is the Spanish word for "cod fish".  In an authentic version, I'd be soaking dried salt cod in cold water for 2-3 days and changing the water 2-3 times daily.  I'm using fresh cod filets because I love them and they save time.  In an authentic version, I'd also be using a food processor to combine my culantro, freshly roasted peppers, garlic and onions (with tomatoes today) for the sofrito.  I'd need a mortar and pestle to make my adobo seasoning, and, I'd be cooking annatto seeds in vegetable oil to make achiote too!  Not today.  Meet:

IMG_9788Yvonne's yummy "don't sweat it" easy Bacalao Guisado recipe:

IMG_9670For the achiote potatoes:

3  cups peeled and 3/4" diced gold potatoes

2 packets Sazon Goya con culantro y achiote (seasoning mix with coriander & annatto)

1  teaspoon sea salt

For the sofrito/adobo mixture:

4  tablespoons vegetable oil

4  cups 1/2" diced red onion

1  cup 1/2" diced green bell pepper

IMG_97021  cup 1/2" diced red bell pepper

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  teaspoon Mexican-style dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon Goya adobo seasoning with pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper 

1/2  cup whole, green, pimento-stuffed olives, well-drained, about 24 olives

IMG_97401  tablespoon large capers, well-drained

1/4  cup Goya sofrito w/tomatoes

1  8-ounce can tomato sauce

1  cup reserved, starchy, anchiote-seasoned potato water

For the cod:

1 3/4-2  pounds fresh cod filets, cut into 1" chunks, about 5-6 cups

IMG_9695 IMG_9679~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place the potatoes with water to cover.  Add the Sazon Goya and sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 6 minutes.  Do not over cook.  Drain thoroughly, reserving 1-cup of the seasoned, starchy water. Set potatoes & water aside.

~ IMG_9708 Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, place vegetable oil.  Prep and add the onion, bell peppers and garlic as you work.  Add the oregano, adobo seasoning and black pepper.  Saute over medium-high heat until the onion softens, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  

IMG_9715Stir in olives and capers and cook for 1 more minute.

IMG_9726 IMG_9722                                           ~ Step 3. Turn the heat off.  Stir in the Goya sofrito, tomato sauce and potato water.

IMG_9742~ Step 4. Cut the cod fish into large 3/4"-1" chunks.

IMG_9746~ Step 5.  Add the cod to the stew mixture and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until cod it opaque in color and just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_9755Gently fold in the potatoes, wait about a minute for them to heat through and serve immediately with warm, crusty bread and butter!

IMG_9762This stew is often served over a scoop of white rice steamed in coconut milk too, but, for me, these pretty yellow-orange colored potatoes are enough starch in one meal!!

IMG_9804A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisido (Cod Fish Stew):  Recipe yields 3 quarts of stew, or, 6, 2-cup servings.  While this stew recipe doubles or triples very well, don't be inclined to make a double batch because you want leftovers, as the cod tends to break down.  Just make as much as you plan to serve that day -- but make enough for second helpings!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; colander; garlic press; 4-quart stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3aaeaa6970bCook's Note: Puerto Rican stew is a great change-of-pace to my traditional lenten fare.  For another one of my favorite lenten stews, which is quite elegant, ~ Provencal Seafood (Lobster*) Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ can be found in Categories 2, 11, 14 or 21!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/13/2014

~ Mad Men. Final Season Premier Tonight on AMC. What will Don Draper do and where will he land??? ~

IMG_9640My parents had All in the Family, my children had Seinfeld.  I've claimed Mad Men as my own. For me, aside from the adultery, alcoholism, divorce, debauchery and paranoia, watching this show is like being on the Starship Enterprise and saying, "Scotty, beam me back and pick me up in an hour".  I grew up in suburbia in the 1960's, was an executive secretary in the '70's in a place where three-martini lunches were common and every office had an ice bucket, and then, in the 1980's I was happily married, with children, and, traveling the world too!

IMG_9651I have no idea where Don Draper will land, but, I for one want it to be on successful ground.  We fans of the show are all speculating, and, one thing is for sure, tonight at 10:00PM, when I begin to watch the premier of this final season, it will be bitter-sweet.  I do not want this show to end.  For many of us in our fifties and sixties, it has been a show about how our generation began in a kind and gentle cocoon, the world events and technologies that caused us to lose our innocence while increasing our intelligence, and scarier yet, how we as a whole are turning out!

IMG_9661As a woman watching the show, there is a small piece of Sally, Betty, Joan, Peggy and Meagan in me. Been there, done that.  I get it:

I was raised to be a princess, got married, got divorced, became a working girl, managed an office, married the boss and retired.  I did it all with style and class, or, as Sinatra would say, "I did it my way" and I loved every minute of it!

Over the past couple of years, in honor of this show, I've hosted a few Mad Men premier night parties and posted my retro menus and recipes IMG_9654here on Kitchen Enounters.  This year, there is no party.  Sorry folks, I want Don Draper all to myself tonight.  I did, however, in honor of this show, add a new Category 26 to this blog today.  It's where you can go to learn everything you need to know about throwing an authentic Mad Men party:

What would Don Draper do?  Retro recipes from my past to your present!

IMG_9665"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Photos and Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)