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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

05/19/2018

~Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts~

IMG_8107One whirl around the produce section of the grocery store and it becomes crystal clear that Summer is coming to my Northeast.  There are fresh berries galore and they're plump, juicy and super-flavorful -- my indicator that our own locally-grown berries will be appearing in our farmers' markets in a few weeks. I couldn't decide between the blackberries or the strawberries, so I bought 'em both, then I picked up a fresh pineapple too.  My plan is to serve them as unadulterated and au natural as possible -- by using them "as is" in small, fresh fruit tartlets.

IMG_8103A bit about making fresh fruit tarts in general: 

IMG_8104The tart pastry.  It doesn't take too much longer to make 21-24 small, 3" individual-sized tartlets than it does to make two, large, 10-12" ones. Both are seriously pretty to look at, and they taste the same too, but when serving times rolls around, the individual-sized ones win.  That said, I won't call the food police if you use store-bought pie pastry.

The pastry cream.  Some people dream about chocolate.  I dream about pastry cream. It's both decadent and naughtily-seductive. Desserts containing this luxurious egg-custard are at the top of my favorite-sweet-things short list. To make 21-24 tartlets, cut the recipe provided below in half (to make 4 cups) and substitute banana extract for some of the vanilla extract.

The fruit & the glaze.  Choose the freshest, prettiest fruit available -- any kind or combination will work. To make 21-24 tartlets today, I used a pint each of strawberries, large blackberries and pineapple chunks. It's not an exact science, and, I had some of all three leftover.  The glaze is a concoction of 1/2 cup pineapple jam and 2 tablespoons water.

How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells:

IMG_9602Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):

IMG_8037A combo of berries &/or fruit + a light-colored jelly or jam:

IMG_8042To assemble & glaze 21-24, 3"round fresh-fruit tartlets:

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048~Step 1.  Place the empty tart shells on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Spoon and spread a generous two tablespoons pastry cream into each shell. Decoratively arrange the fruit atop the pastry cream, slicing or dicing fruit, if necessary and on an as-needed basis, to fit -- the fruit you choose will determine the configuration.  Each one of these tartlets contain: 1 large whole blackberry, 2 halves of 1 whole strawberry, 2 chunks pineapple diced. Place the tartlets in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours prior to glazing as directed below:

IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083~Step 2.  To make the glaze, place 1/2 cup of a light-colored jelly or jam in a 1-quart saucepan with 2 tablespoons water.*  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Once simmering and thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds, remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab glaze onto fruit to coat.  Refrigerate glazed tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Tarts are best served the same day they are assembled.  

*Note:  I used pineapple jam today, because I used pineapple to top my tartlets.  That said, for a clear, all-purpose glaze that complements all fruit, apple jelly is my go-to choice.

Refrigerate tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving:

IMG_8106Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts:  Recipe yields 21-24 3"-round tartlets.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-2 large baking pans; parchment paper; 1-quart saucepan; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c906c921970bCook's Note:  When I've got a whole lot of plump and juicy store-bought or home-grown strawberries, when I'm finished eating them out-of-hand and before I make ~ Super-Easy Strawberry Preserves ~ in my bread machine, ~ Seriously Simple & Sweet:  Fresh All-Strawberry Pie ~ is my favorite use for these short-seasoned Summer berries.

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

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

05/17/2018

~ Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal.

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of my pan-fried sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84b391f200cCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

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

05/15/2018

~ Everybody in the Skillet: Perfect Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8001Sweet potatoes -- of the kind that don't come out of a can and end up with marshmallows on top. I've had a love affair with this root vegetable since my first trist with a sweet potato that didn't come out of a can and have marshmallows on top.  While I have a high-enough I.Q. to discern why once-upon-a-time in-the-history-of-canned-vegetetables, cooked sweet potatoes were put in those cans, in my lifetime, I will never be smart enough to figure out why those marshmallows got purposefully or experimentally plopped on top.  Some answers are best left to the imagination.

A sweet potato is not a yam & vice versa.

A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus, who brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (which belongs to the morning glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most commercially grown are:  a pale-skinned sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety (that many Americans erroneously call "yam" -- the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light-yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid orange, sweet flesh. When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and almost creamy texture and it's the only kind I use.

IMG_8026Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, deep-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, pan-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Pan-fried sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are relatively quick easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if it's a big family you need to feed and need more than four side-servings, oven-roasting will get you the bigger batch.

One 1-1 1/4 pound sweet potato = 12-14-ounces fries.

IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938~Step 1.  When making fries, for the least amount of waste, choose large potatoes with a long, plump, oval-ish shape -- the one in this photo weighs 1 pound, 2 ounces..  The sweet potato is a hard, meaning solid, vegetable to slice.  To shape the fries, using a large chef's knife, start by trimming the ends of the potato, to make a stable base at either end.  Once that's done, stand the potato up on the stable base and use the knife to work around the exterior, shaving the tough exterior skin from the orange flesh.  After that, with the potato still standing upright, slice the potato, lengthwise, down through the center, to split the potato into two halves. Slice each half, lengthwise into 1/4"-thick planks.  Slice the planks into 1/4" thick strips (fries).

IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons, corn, peanut or vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add the cut fries.  After about two minutes, when they begin to sizzle, use a spatula to carefully turn them, to coat them in the oil -- at this point the potatoes will be softening. Continue to sauté the sweet potatoes, gently turning them every 45-60 seconds, until starting to brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.  Allow the process to continue, another 4-7 minutes (for a total cooking time of 12-15 minutes), turning the fries frequently, until they turn a deeper shade of brown, transferring them, a few at a time to a paper-towel-lined plate, on an as-needed basis -- this process will go quickly.  When all fries are on the plate, sprinkle generously with sea salt.

Is there a perfect condiment for the perfect sweet potato fry?

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal. 

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Or some sweet-potato fries as a side to that pork steak:

IMG_7718Everybody in the Skillet:  Perfect Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1-2 large servings fries or 3-4 small side-servings, and, 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb099f5ac0970d-800wiCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

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

05/12/2018

~ The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak ~

IMG_7718The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork. Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs*, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".

*Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the shoulder. They're meatier than other ribs.  They contain no rib bones, but contain parts of the shoulder blade bone.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d8b199970c"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butcher's in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f1af75970dshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

IMG_7412Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

The four steaks pictured above, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7443 IMG_7443~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454Step 3.  To slice and/or dice steaks, in order to eat them or to use as directed in a specific recipe, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips, then, if recipe directs, dice the strips.  Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.  Serve ASAP.

Goes great with Southwestern Slaw & Sweet Potato Fries:

IMG_7710To learn how how to perfectly pan-sear a pork blade steak:

IMG_4501The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil a pork blade steak/1-2 servings per steak (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_6597Cook's Note: For another cut of meat, this time beef, that loves life under the broiler, check out ~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~.  In terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week. 

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

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