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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

11/18/2017

~ My Twenty-Five Minute Chicken Thigh & Rice Soup ~

IMG_0555During the past few months, due to the illness of a family member, I've had to cook and eat more than a few meals in a hurry and on the run.  Even with a sort-of unlimited budget, I found out quickly how time constrictions affect purchasing decisions.  I'd never shopped the aisles of "quick cooking" or "instant" before.  I'd always had all the time needed to leisurely cook breakfast, lunch or dinner, so, I admittedly found this frustrating.  That said, I had decided early to look upon the drive-through windows as last resorts.  Successes intermingled with failures, but, before long, I was preparing a few good-tasting, satisfying meals using new-to-me convenience foods.

Six-plus years of writing a food blog has taught me that no recipe is too easy to write about.  As long as it tastes really, really good, it will undoubtedly "hit a home run" with someone "out there". It took me years to learn this, and, I believe it is one of the best lessons I've learned.  Simply stated: One-going-on-two generations never learned to properly cook or food shop, and, they're just realizing the ramifications of it.  It's why, when I temporarily found myself in my own "situational food conundrum", I decided to scribble down these seemingly insignificant recipes as I was experimentally testing and eating them, along with a few of my thoughts on my experience too.

Sharing is sharing & any tested, tasty recipe is worth sharing.

IMG_0568Some high-quality earthy stock, a few full-flavored chicken thighs, a jar of sliced mushrooms & some heat-in-the pouch rice = a nicely-seasoned completely satisfying soup meal. 

IMG_05301 1/2-2  cups Kitchen Basics unsalted vegetable stock, chicken stock may be substituted (Mel's commentary on and critique of this product:  I fell in love with with the rich, earthy flavor of their vegetable stock.  I loved it so much, I didn't even try their other flavors -- it's the perfect foil for additions of uncooked chicken, beef or seafood. Kudos to folks at Kitchen Basics!)

1 4 1/2-ounce jar Green Giant sliced mushrooms, undrained (optional, but recommended) 

1  1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds

1 8.8-ounce pouch Uncle Ben's Ready-Rice (Mel's commentary on and critique of this product: Ready in the microwave in 90 seconds.  It's not perfect, meaning, freshly steamed rice is better, so if you have leftover rice use it, but, when this is stirred into soup, it works and tastes great.)

fresh parsley leaves, for garnishing each portion (an optional but nice, homey touch)

IMG_0533 IMG_0533 IMG_0533 IMG_0533~Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, place the chicken thighs with enough stock to cover.  Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to simmer gently for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thighs are cooked through.

IMG_0546 IMG_0546~ Step 2.  Remove saucepan from heat and transfer thighs to a cutting board.  Using a large chef's knife, chop the thighs into bite-sized chunks or small bits and pieces (your choice), returning them to the soup stock as you work -- the thighs are going to be unbelievably tender.  They will cut like butter.  Note:  The alternative to this is chopping the chicken prior to simmering it.  Doing that will indeed shorten the cooking time (by about 10 minutes), but, for me, it is more appealing to chop a cooked thigh than a raw one.

IMG_0544~ Step 3.  Heat the pouch of rice as the package directs:  1) Squeeze package to separate grains.  2)  Tear two inches, along the tear line at top of package, to provide a vent for steam to escape.  3)  In microwave, heat package on high for 90 seconds.  4)  Remove from microwave using the appropriately marked "cool touch" area on the untorn side.

Divide rice between 2-4 soup bowls, add soup, garnish & eat:

IMG_0566Relatively quick & simply-divine comfort food on the run:

IMG_0572My Twenty-Five Minute Chicken Thigh & Rice Soup:  Recipe yields 4 luncheon-sized cups of soup, 2 large dinner-sized bowls soup.

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; ladle

IMG_0526Cook's Note:  Another one of my newly-invented favorite quick meals involved simmering 2 cups of vegetable stock with 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables, then, at the end, dropping a block of dried instant ramen noodles (sans the seasoning packet) into the saucepan.  Three minutes later I was eating a luscious lunch.  It was wonderfully satisfying.  To learn more, ready my post: ~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~.

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

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

11/15/2017

~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~

IMG_0495While watching a late-night episode of "Locked Up" on MSNBC last night, I learned an interesting fact about those super-curly square-block instant ramen noodles:  They are the #1 selling item in prison commissaries.  That didn't surprise me as much as the reason:  Prisoners buy them for the seasoning packets, not the noodles.  It seems that prison cafeteria food is so lacking in salt, those packets get sprinkled on or stirred into almost everything.  Get in my my soup!  I learn something new every day (or night).  In my kitchen, we use the noodles, not the seasoning packets.

IMG_0502Amongst other things, in the course of a year, I make several soup stocks:  beef, chicken, Thai chicken, veal, shrimp and vegetable.  They're carefully-simmered, seasoned to suit my palate, portioned into containers and stacked neatly in my freezer.  As every well-seasoned cook will tell you, homemade stock turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  There's more:  If I get a soup craving, I thaw a 2-cup container of stock, simmer it with a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables, then, I drop a square block of ramen noodles into the saucepan.

  2 cups soup stock + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables +

IMG_0526a block of instant ramen = (3 minutes later), a luscious lunch. 

Perhaps it's because I never had to live on instant ramen noodles in college that I agree with a Japanese poll done in 2000:  They voted "dried noodle blocks" their best invention of the 20th century -- noodles that simply need to be cooked or soaked in boiling water before eating.  The main ingredients used in dried noodles are usually wheat flour, palm oil and salt.  The ingredients in the seasoning packets are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasonings and sugar.  

Invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in 1958, these inexpensive (cheap) dried noodle blocks are created by flash-frying cooked noodles (the main method used in Asian countries), and, air-drying (to sell to Western countries).  Both types have a shelf-life of well over a year, and, while they might not look like it in their dry state, they have higher elasticity than other types of noodles (like udon or flat noodles).  They cook up perfectly in a short 3-4 minutes too.

51rTOVjBYwL._SY450_Instant Ramen Trivia includes: When first introduced, instant ramen was considered a luxury item in supermarkets.  It's the #1 selling item in prison commissaries, and, guards are permitted to provide hot water to cook them in the cells. Only "Oriental" and "Chili" flavors of Nissin ramen are vegetarian.  David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, reminisces about uncooked ramen sprinkled with seasoning as an after-school snack. "Ramen" is the Japanese word for the Chinese word "lo mein".  China consumes more instant ramen than any other country.  The Japanese consider ramen their best invention. It would cost about $150 to eat instant ramen for every meal.  There is a museum in Yokohama, Japan, dedicated to the history of "cup noodles", called The Cup of Noodles Museum.  The first noodles eaten in space were instant ramen noodles.

Three minute instant ramen noodles...

IMG_0514... sans the seasoning packet:  Get in my soup! 

IMG_0519Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie:  Recipe yields 2, 2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; colander (optional); soup ladle

IMG_9113Cook's Note:  Much like learning to make sushi, learning to make real-deal ramen noodles is a highly-respected art form in Japan.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience both of them on a trip to Tokyo back in the 1990's.  To learn a bit more about the rich history of real-deal, scratch-made ramen, read my recipe for ~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~. This cold salad is another one of my favorite quick-to-make lunches (when I've got some leftover steak).

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

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

11/13/2017

~ Dare to be a Square: Individual Breakfast Frittatas ~

IMG_0468As an egg lover, for me, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make hunger-satisfying meal any time of the day -- for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can also be a tasty way to use up leftovers from a previous meal, in some instances, no knife is required.  In my food world, making individual-sized frittatas, a perfectly-portioned quick-as-heck protein-packed meal or snack that I can reheat and eat in seconds, is an efficient use of my time. 

IMG_0418My girlfriend Elaine is a Pampered Chef representative.  Over the years, from time to time, I've purchased gadgets and specialty items, and, I've never been disappointed in the quality.  A few weeks ago, while browsing through the catalog, when I came across these "individual brownie pans", with shallow, "square cups" (for folks who want four crispy sides on each and every brownie), I ordered two.  

That said, I didn't buy them with the intent of baking brownies.  I bought them to make individual frittatas because:  the size (2 1/2" x 2 1/2") and depth (1") of each cup makes for perfect portions that cook up evenly each and every time.  If you've ever baked individual frittatas in traditional muffin tins, you know that the depth and shape of that cup is not exactly ideal for this eggy concoction.

IMG_6400To know a traditional frittata, is to love any frittata.

IMG_6345Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and real-deal cream, sliced, diced or chopped always-previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe (usually cast-iron) skillet the vegetables and/or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why? Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery. Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop. Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms. They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

IMG_6376When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

Making individual frittatas is efficient & just plain smart.

The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   Making individual-sized frittatas is not much different than making a frittata in a casserole, but, you've got to know the capacity of the cups in the pans, and, shorten the cooking time, to accommodate the smaller size of each one. Each square cup in this Pampered Chef pan holds slightly less than 1/2 cup, so, to fill all twelve, I need 6 cups total filling -- the same amount used for a frittata baked in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

IMG_62911  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood, or, 8-ounces uncooked ground beef or sausage (Note:  I'm using sweet sausage today.)

1/2  cup diced sweet onion

1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

3/4  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

6  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup cream (Note:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

sliced or diced tomato, cilantro leaves & your favorite hot sauce, for garnish & accompaniment

IMG_6295 IMG_6295 IMG_6295Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 ~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium.  Add onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stirring almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming flavorful), 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the sausage.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0445~Step 4.  Spray the inside of each "square cup" with no-stick spray. Portion some of the vegetable/meat mixture into the bottom of each one, about 3 tablespoons in each. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated cheese over the top of the vegetable meat mixture.  Using a fork, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, and, slowly, in a thin stream, gently fill cups to just short of the top.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven 16-18 minutes, until puffed up in centers. Remove from oven and cool in pans about 5 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to serve. Frittatas deflate and firm up as they cool.  Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & your favorite hot sauce.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 16-18 minutes:

IMG_0440Cool in pans 5-6 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0448Frittatas will deflate a bit & firm up as they cool:

IMG_0460Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & serve w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_0483Dare to be a Square:  Individual Breakfast Frittatas:  Recipe yields 6-12 servings/1-2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; thin spatula

IMG_9460Cook's Note:  In the event you need to feed a lot of people for breakfast or brunch, an eggy casserole is always a crowd pleaser.  ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is in actuality a frittata disguised under a different name, is an example of a frittata baked in a casserole dish.  It contains ham (in place of sausage) and has a distinctive Southwestern flair.  It's been a favorite of our tailgate group for years.

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

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