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05/25/2016

~ Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites~

IMG_7238Things I know:  I know I will always choose a chocolate brownie over a slice of chocolate cake.  I know I will always choose chunky over smooth peanut butter too.  I like the informality of the pick-up-and-eat moist and cohesive user-friendly brownie over the refined use-a-fork-and-don't-get-any-crumbs-on-my-floor, moist and grainy cake.  As for peanut butter, I choose Jiffy over Skippy, never was a fan of Peter Pan, and I adore the flavor and texture that roasted peanuts add to it.  I know that chocolate and peanut butter is an irresistible combination.  Put peanut butter frosting on a chocolate brownie and I'll follow you anywhere.

The brownie is an all-American chocolate confection and the first printed recipe referencing a "brownie" to describe a mildly-chocolate cake-like dessert appeared in 1896 in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  By 1910, the brownie had taken on its current form and the word "brownie" was the term used to describe a rich, chewy, fudge-esque, chocolatey dessert that is eaten out-of-hand -- a cross between a cake and a very soft cookie.

IMG_7214Unlike the American Toll House Cookie, which has a sort-of true tale to tell about its origin (Ruth Wakefield did invent it, but it wasn't an accident), no one can say with certainty that the brownie is not the happy result of a cake mistake -- like forgetting to add the baking powder or adding too few eggs.  

That said, one story about the brownie's origin is: In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a Chicago socialite whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel, asked the pastry chef to create a cake-like confection, smaller than a piece of cake, for boxed lunches suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.  It's said that the Palmer House Brownie (which they still serve on their menu today), a small chocolatey square containing walnuts and an apricot glaze, while well-known, was not published in any cook books or written about by any journals of the time.

Brownies fall into three categories:  fudge-y, chew-y & cake-y.  I love them all.

IMG_7260These are cake-y, but very moist, with a perfect balance of peanut-y salty & sweet too.  Tip: For chewier brownies, only use 1 egg.  For cakier brownies, switch to granulated sugar.

IMG_7168For the chocolate & peanut butter brownies:

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature (4/ounces/1 stick)

1/4  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces)

1/4  cup crunchy-style peanut butter (2 ounces)

1  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup all-purpose cocoa powder, your favorite brand (Note:  My favorite all-purpose cocoa powder is Hershey's, natural, unsweetened, 100% cacao powder.)

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1  cup peanut butter chips

IMG_7223For the peanut-butter cream-cheese frosting:

1/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces/1/2  stick)

1/2  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (4 ounces/1/2 of an 8-ounce brick)

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter (4 ounces)

1/2  cup Confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)

IMG_7173 IMG_7170~ Step 1. Spray the inside of a mini-cheesecake pan (the kind with removable bottoms) with no-stick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.

IMG_7175 IMG_7176 IMG_7178 IMG_7180~Step 2.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and brown sugar together until thoroughly combined and uniform in color, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined, about 30 more seconds.  

IMG_7183 IMG_7184 IMG_7189 IMG_7191~Step 3.  Lower mixer speed to low and add the flour/cocoa powder mixture, all-at-once. Continue to beat, on medium-low speed until the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off.  Using the rubber spatula, add and thoroughly fold in the peanut butter chips.

IMG_7194 IMG_7201 IMG_7204~ Step 4.  Spoon the brownie batter evenly into each of 12 mini-cheesecake cups, about 3 tablespoons in each cup.

IMG_7220~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of 325 degree oven until set, about 14-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and place pan of brownies on a cooling rack to cool about 20 minutes prior to removing brownies from pan to cool completely on rack. When brownies are completely cooled, which takes about an hour, remove the round pan bottom from each one and frost tops as follows:

IMG_7228 IMG_7226~ Step 6.  To prepare the frosting, in a medium bowl, on medium-high speed of mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese and peanut butter.  Add  Confectioner's sugar.

On low mixer speed at first, working your way up to high speed, until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 1- 1/2 minutes.  

Transfer frosting to a pastry bag fitted w/your favorite star tip & decoratively pipe the tops w/a pretty peak of frosting:

IMG_7244Three-four bite brownies are perfect for indoor or outdoor, &, casual or upscale gatherings or celebrations any time of year!

IMG_7237Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites:  Recipe yields 1 dozen brownie bites -- 3-4 bites each.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; mini-cheesecake pan w/removable bottoms or 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_9703 Ruth_Graves_Wakefield-800x0-c-defaultCook's Note: To get the full story about ~ The Original Nestle's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~, which details the facts vs. the fiction, just click into Category 7, 11 or 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2016)

05/23/2016

~ Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry ~

IMG_7139Thai curry meals 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). Thai curry dishes are also a staple in Thailand.  They range from soupy to stewlike and are ladled over steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles.  In many homes they are made from ingredients growing around the house and are eaten on a daily basis.  They typically contain less protein than Westerners like me often add, and, they're are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_7140Thai curry meals are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_8760The starting point for every Thai curry is Thai curry paste, and, in Thai cuisine there are three, which are identified by color:  green, red and yellow.  Each one is a pulverized blend of fresh ingredients and herbs, which balances the classic Thai flavors: hot, sour, sweet and salty.  To learn more, just click on the Related Article link below to read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries:  Green, Red & Yellow ~.  It explains in detail how the three differ.  Once you understand how each one of these curries is typically used, you can mix and match proteins, fruits and/or vegetables with a curry paste to suit you and your family's taste.

IMG_8954Curry pastes are traditionally made from scratch in the Thai home kitchen using a kruk (a mortar and pestle) to pulverize the ingredients -- to release the essential oils and fully develop the flavors.  While purists disagree, in my kitchen a food processor is a viable substitute for this ancient tool.  While I make Thai curry pastes the traditional way on occasion, for quick weeknight meals, I take a different approach:

IMG_9142Nowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red pork curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic  Thai-style too.  Read on:

IMG_7095Thai-style is family-style.  All food is placed on the table at the same time, each dish in its own serving vessel.  Everyone, all at once, sits down and the food is passed.  It's impolite to take too much of any one item at any one time, but, please go back for more of any leftovers.  You won't find any knives at a Thai table.  Because the food (proteins and vegetables) is all sliced, chopped or pulverized into small bite-sized bits and pieces, they provide only a plate and/or a bowl, a fork, a spoon and a glass to drink from, at each place setting.

Thai red pork curry -- my kids took to this dish immediately!

Thailand is no different than any other culture.  For every dish cooked, there are many versions of it, and, they vary from region to region, family to family and cook to cook.  After all, that is what cooking is all about -- pleasing those you feed.  My three boys took to the red pork curry recipe that Kanya taught me how to make almost immediately.  That said, our middle son Eliot, who particularly loved Thai peanut sauce and all dishes made and served with Thai peanut sauce, made the suggestion that I stir some peanut butter into this curry -- it was and is wonderful!  

IMG_71063 1/2  pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, sliced into 1/2" slices, slices cut into 1/2" cubes and coarsely-ground (directions below)

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil + 1-2 tablespoons for wok-roasting the peanuts

1  tablespoon curry powder

1  tablespoon powdered turmeric

2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Feel free to drop back to 1 can, or 1 1/2 cans to suit your taste.  I always use two cans.)

2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted)

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

1-2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Note:  Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

3-4  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

4  tablespoon palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted)

6-8  tablespoons crunchy-style peanut butter

1 1/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts (directions below), from 1 1/2 cups blanched, unsalted peanuts

8  kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (Note:  I keep fresh kaffir lime leaves stored in my freezer at all times.  I drop them whole and frozen into whatever I'm cooking.)

1  cup  minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

12  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_7103 IMG_7100~ Step 1. Place the meat cubes in the work IMG_7101bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of 20-22 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the meat and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_9155 IMG_9151~ Step 2.  To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl it to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop peanuts.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970cNote:  I like to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this Thai dish for my family.  Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted.  

IMG_7108 IMG_7110 IMG_7112 IMG_7115~Steps 3 & 4.  In skillet, heat the sesame oil over 250 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop). Add the curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a nonstick spatula, work the curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the pork/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, onion and straw mushrooms. Using a large spoon, stir until all ingredients are evenly coated in the curry and spices.

IMG_7117 IMG_7119 IMG_7123 IMG_7128 IMG_7133~Steps 5 & 6.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until pork is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm sugar, peanut butter and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, about 1-2 minutes.  Add kaffir lime leaves. Adjust heat to simmer steadily at 225 degrees (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

~ Step 7.  Turn heat off and cover skillet while steaming the rice and mincing cilantro garnish.

Ladle red pork curry atop a bed of steamed Jasmine rice...

IMG_7148... sprinkle w/wok-roasted peanuts, cilantro garnish & dive in! 

IMG_7164Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; wok; 16" electric skillet or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large nonstick spatula; large nonstick spoon

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  Thai food is user-friendly and its bold, fresh, flavors adapt well to the American family. For another kid-tested, mother approved favorite, click into Categories 2, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ E-Z Ginger Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

05/20/2016

~ Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce~

IMG_6882Get out the turmeric and attire yourself in something you don't mind discarding because we're making satay today.  If your manicure is French, put on a pair of latex gloves too.  Why? Because, in case you don't know, turmeric (TER-muh-rihk), that earthy-colored, pleasantly-fragrant powdered-spice (that rarely gets used in American cooking) will permanently paint your world a vivid yellow-orange.  Made from grinding the rhizome root of the curcumin plant and a close relative of ginger, it's a prime ingredient in curry and mustard powders, and, it's used to give many of the rice dishes, soups and sauces of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa a mildly-spicy, earthy flavor along with a signature yellow-orange color.  

IMG_6976Turmeric is a necessary ingredient to make satay as it is always used in the marinade.

IMG_7021Turmeric can & will permanently paint your world a vivid yellow-orange!

IMG_7092Are you ready to eat some Thai-style satay today?  I sure am!!! 

IMG_6865A bit about satay (sah-TAY):  Satay originated in Java, Indonesia.  It's said that the Javanese street vendors adapted their version from Indian kabobs after the influx of Muslim Tamil Indians and Arab immigrants to Dutch East Indies in the early 19th century.  Its popularity spread quickly to other Southeast Asian countries.  In Indonesia and Malaysia, satay is primarily made with lamb or beef, and, in China and Thailand, chicken and pork is preferred.  All satay consists of  IMG_6877small marinated cubes or thinly-sliced meat or poultry threaded on bamboo skewers and grilled.

Throughout Southeast Asia a wide variety of satays are served and sold in numerous ways:   it's a favorite snack food that's grilled and eaten at home; it's sold by traveling satay vendors as well as street-side vendors in tent-restaurants;  it's on the menus of fine-dining restaurants, and; it's found at private and public festivals, celebrations and ceremonies too.  

Satay is mostly served as an appetizer or snack, but, occasionally you'll come across it served as a main dish accompanied by noodles and crudité.  Satay is always served with peanut sauce (directions below) and often accompanied by a crunchy cucumber salad.  Click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Oh My Thai:  Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish ~.

IMG_6867A bit about peanut sauce:  Like turmeric, this sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar. A spice paste made from red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and/or lemongrass, are added too.  My recipe contains one can of Thai red curry paste, which contains all of the above spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste*

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or crunchy-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar** (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777 IMG_9781 IMG_9783 IMG_9787 IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature. Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

Slicing the pork loin & the chicken tenders:

IMG_6982To make satay, I use pork loin (not the smaller pork tenderloins) or chicken tenders exclusively.  You'll need 1-1 1/4 pounds of loin or tenders.  That is 1/8th of this IMG_6980inexpensive 8-pound pork loin or 6 large chicken tenders.

IMG_7033Slicing the pork is simple. Slice the loin into 12, thin ovals of 1/4" thickness.  Trim each slice of all visible fat, then thread each piece of pork onto an 8" bamboo skewer.  

IMG_6984To more easily slice the tenders, place them on a cutting board and freeze for about 35-40 minutes (no longer), to firm them up a bit.   

IMG_6989Slice each one in half lengthwise, to form 2 thinner pieces.  Set aside for a few minutes to allow them to thaw completely.  Thread each piece onto an 8" bamboo skewer.

Thread each piece of pork & chicken onto its own 8" bamboo skewer:

IMG_6995Making the marinade & marinating the satay:

IMG_6999For the marinade:

1/4  cup peanut oil

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1 13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

2  tablespoons Madras curry powder

1  tablespoon powdered turmeric

2  tablespoons palm sugar (light or brown sugar may be substituted)

1  teaspoon sea salt

6  tablespoons smooth or crunchy-style peanut butter

IMG_7003 IMG_7024                                          ~ Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, place all marinade ingredients.  

Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a steady simmer, stirring almost constantly.  When the peanut butter is thoroughly incorporated, continue to simmer, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. The marinade will be slightly-thickened and smooth with small bits of peanuts throughout.  Transfer to a 2-cup measuring container.

IMG_7039~ Step 2.  Tip from Mel:  The cleanest way I have found to marinate the skewers, which keeps the bamboo "handle" clean and dry (which is a big help when grilling), is to pick up each satay, dip it into the marinade then stand it up in a 1-quart disposable plastic container. Don't worry if the top of the skewer does not get coated -- that will IMG_7041happen in a few minutes.  

Note:  I save containers from cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt each year just for the purpose of marinating satays and kabobs of many types.  If you don't have any on hand, 1-quart-sized wide-mouthed mason jars work well too.  I just throw the plastic ones away when the satays or kabobs go on the grill -- how easy is that.

IMG_7053Once all of the satays are in the containers, you will still have about half of the marinade left.  Drizzle it into the centers of and evenly between the two containers. Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the marinade over the tops and work it down in between the skewers.

Cover containers with plastic wrap, place them in the refrigerator and marinate for 4-6-8 hours or overnight and up to 24 hours.

Grill the satay on your own terms under your own conditions:

Use what you've got -- anything that looks and acts like a grill will work.  Just be well familiarized with how it works so you can control the heat perfectly.  Joe and I do it outside on our gas grill over indirect heat, and, I've done it over medium-high heat on my stovetop using a large, rectangular double-burner grill pan too.  In both cases, the satays cook in 4-5 minutes per side. 

My favorite: this vintage & inexpensive countertop DAZEY "bar-b-grill":

IMG_7055Circa 1995.  I came across this less-than-$20.00 countertop appliance at our local K-Mart.  It was Fall and I was hosting a tailgate party in our home for a PSU away game.  I was serving Thai food, and, satay was on the menu.  For the price, I decided to buy one.  I tried it out.  It exceeded my expectations.  The black ceramic base keeps the unit cool to the touch, which means it is safe to place on any type of surface.  It works like an electric skillet does, which allows me to control the heat perfectly too.  I went back to K-Mart and bought a second one the next day. I set them both up on our rec-room bar.  I grilled and served satay appetizers to our guests while Joe mixed and poured drinks.  To this day I use one or both grills, placed on my kitchen countertop, exclusively for grilling satay over medium-high for 5 minutes per side.

Grill over medium-high heat indoors or indirect heat outdoors...

IMG_7058... until golden & just cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side:

IMG_7066Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups peanut sauce and instructions to marinate and grill 12 pork satay and 12 chicken satay/24 total appetizers or snacks/6 servings at 4 satay per person/8 servings at 3 satay per person.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; 2-cup food storage container; 2-quart saucepan; 24 bamboo skewers; 2-cup measuring container; 2, 1-quart sized disposable plastic containers or wide-mouthed mason-type jars; silicone pastry brush; plastic wrap; small indoor electric countertop grill, large, double-burner stovetop grillpan, or, outdoor gas grill

IMG_6958Cook's Note:  When my three sons were growing up, they loved it when I made satay, and, when I served it, it was usually for a Summertime dinner on the deck.  My relatively easy-to-make ~ Cold 'Chicken Noodle Salad' w/Thai Peanut Sauce ~ was hands down our whole family's favorite side-dish for satay.  The recipe can be found in Categories, 2, 3, 10, 13 or 14.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)